Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Tag: Yard

Doggies Use Backdoor


When it comes to how to use our house, we always keep our pups in mind. It is their home too and we want to make their lives as smooth as possible. Roxie and Charlie prefer outside. So one of the renovation goals is to give them free backyard access.

As soon as we got Roxie, we considered installing a doggy door. In fact, we bought one and have been hoarding it since 2013!


The storm door we had in NC was made in metal, which meant the installation would be permanent. Being a rental property, we were not sure if the future renters would like to have a doggy door, so we did not install it. Now we could use the house however way we want. It became a no brainer to install the doggy door we had.

Our back entrance situation was not good (is there anything?). For one, this was our back storm door when we moved in:


Gorgeous, wasn’t it? It even came with a “built-in” “doggy door”.


In case that you could not see, the entire bottom panel was missing. The previous owner had a small dog who could easily go in and out through the opening.

However, it would not work for us. Charlie and Roxie flat refused to even give it a try. And the opening totally defeated it purpose of being a storm door.

Slav hated this old aluminum door from hour 1. And by hour 18 after moving in, the door had been taken off and loaded on the trailer. We were left with a solid wooden door:


Not so hot either. This door was really the second biggest eyesore with our back entry. It makes my blood boil – could not wait to refinish it.

Slav and I brainstormed a little on what type of door(s) we want at the back and where to install the doggy door. We could

  1. Get an exterior door that could stand water as our only backdoor, and install the doggy door on it. Our neighborhood is really safe and we have a wrap around fence, so there is little chance that anyone would break in from the backdoor. On top of that, our neighbor is a Policeman and he parks his police car in front of our house every night. It helps. 🙂
  2. Get a new storm door and install the doggy door on it. We could lock the wooden backdoor for safety when we are out, and leave it open so the dogs have access to the backyard when we are home.
  3. Install a new storm door, and put the doggy door on the wooden door we have. Pop the storm door open and lock the wooden door when we are out, so the dogs can have access to the yard when we are not home.

After balancing security concerns, the option of having screen/windows, the way we use our backdoor, and the price, we chose the option 2. We plan to put a french or sliding door back here when we redo the kitchen, so it does not make sense to waste a brand new exterior door as in option 1. Storm door do lock, but the locks on them are very weak. So we were not comfortable with opening a hole that a skinny person can squeeze through on the solid wood door, as described in option 3. The only drawback in option 2 is that the dogs will not have backyard access when we are out. But Slav is home 95% of the time, so it is not as big of a concern.

So Lowe’s we went. And by the evening, the doggy door was installed!


Above is the view from the inside of the door. We put the doggy door on the left, away from the hinges.


We love this doggy door, which has a clear plastic curtain with a magnetic strip at the bottom. The length of the plastic curtain can be adjusted slightly to ensure a perfect seal along the sides. And the magnetic strip makes sure that the curtain stays in its place.


The doggy door also has a cover. It is a snap on and easy to take on and off. We will use it in winter to eliminate cold draft.


Roxie, the smart one, figured out how to use the doggy door immediately. As usual, Charlie learned much slower. After watching Roxie going in and out for hours, and mommy waving some delicious treats on the other side, Charlie finally warmed up to this new black hole…


Now we can take the wooden door off and refinish it! It was A MESS. This door has been painted many times over the years. I am almost certain that it contains lead paint.


Our back entrance makeover list now looks like this:

1. Replace the old storm door with something new
2. Install a doggy door on the new storm door
3. Take down the wooden exterior door (done!)
4. Clean, patch, and paint the flaky door frames (in progress)
5. Strip paint off the backdoor
6. Refinish the backdoor with stain or paint (depending on the condition of the wood)
7. Rehang the backdoor and replace the weather strip.

Water, Water, Go away

Frontbed demo

Hi friends! I’ve told you what is in store for our ranch, which included a list of things we need to do to protect our foundation from water:

1. Replace the leaky roof and gutter
2. Extend the downspouts
3. Getting rid of the front flower bed
4. Correct the sloping issues of the front and back porch
5. Seal the corner foundation cracks
6.Fix faucet leaks
7. Grading around the house

This is THE list we have to cross off before winter. The roof, gutter, and porch work will be handed to the experts, and we have started working on the rest ourselves.

1. Removing front flower bed

You’ve seen our front flower bed before. Here is a closer look:



Landscaping right against houses is such a bad idea for any foundation, but lots of people do it for curb appeals. Our flower bed is a classic example – it is right next to the foundation of the house (the grey concrete part at the bottom of the house), and there is a vertical crack at this corner of the foundation:


You can see we have extended the downspout here (and at other corners of the house). But water issue from the bed itself persists.

Not surprisingly, the window well is badly rusted:


We enjoyed our morning roses for a couple weeks, but for the foundation, the plants had to go:




The roses developed very long and deep roots. We had to cut off the main root under two feet to move them. Not sure if they could make it. On the other hand, the irises were so hardy that they may stand a move in the middle of the summer. So I dug them all up and put them in pots with some soil.


I have nowhere to transplant them now, so I put them next to the curb with a “free plant” sign and they were gone in an hour!


The wood planks holding the flower bed have become rotten. It took Slav probably five minutes to take them down bu just some kicks. With little force, they crumbled into mulch:



While Slav is transporting the soil, I weeded around the corner. After an hour, this corner of the house changed from this:


to this:



Now our foundation can breath!


2. Grading around the house

We then moved onto grading around the house. The goal was to create a 3~4 ft barrier around the house with a slop of ~1 inch per foot, so any surface water can flow away from the house instead of sipping down.

Sloping is pretty straight forward – you pile soil near the foundation, compact them down and make sure that there is a good slop, then cover the dirt with 6-mil poly layer. To improve the looks you can put gravel, mulch, or even replant sod on top of the poly layer. Instead of purchasing dirt, we decided to slowly building the slop around the foundation using free dirt generated from other yard projects.

I marked the area three feet from the foundation, all around the northern and western (front) side of the house:


The northern side – there are two bedrooms on ground level and the two windows are basement bedroom windows.


The west side (front) of the house, next to the front porch.


When Slav removed the front flower bed, he dumped the soil along the northern wall, where I marked.



Rest of the foundations (site plan here) are mostly surrounded by concrete patio, driveway, or walkway. With the front bed taken care off, our next task on the “water” list is to repair the concrete porches. it is happening this weekend, and we should have new patio next week!

Now our to-do list looks like this:

1. Replace the leaky roof and gutter
2. Extend the downspouts
3. Getting rid of the front flower bed
4. Correct the sloping issues of the front and back porch (in progress!)
5. Seal the corner foundation cracks
6. Fix faucet leaks
7. Grading around the house (in slow progress) 

Things are moving along!

Let Us Take It Outside

One of the things that drew us to this house is the yard. Being a small ranch on 1/4 acre, the house is surrounded by large pieces of green lawn.



Shortly after we moved in, we did a walk-through around the yard and discussed what action we need to take. The yard is simple – there is not much landscaping except a couple trees and a flower bed. However, there was definitely some trimming and weeding ahead of us.

First, the pine tree in the front is scraping the porch cover and the roof. Our roof is already on its last leg. We really do not want to put more stress on it until we are ready to replace it. So the lower branches of the pine tree needed to go.


The backyard has a pretty healthy apple tree in the middle. However, the perimeter of the yard was aligned with dead trees and random bushes. they were either next to the electrical line or sandwiched between neighbors fence and our chain link fence, so they needed to go as well.






There was also a pile of old fencing and old branches on the side of the shed.


Last, there were so many weeds! The Sloniowskies have no tolerant for weeds.


Trimming and weeding sound easy, just like removing carpets. But it is actually pretty labor intensive and generates tons of trash. We were blessed with a cool (cold for me!) weekend in the middle of the mid-west heatwave. And you bet we totally took advantage of it to work outside.

Slav oiled up (his chainsaw) and got to work:




He cut down three completely dead trees, and a bunch of lower branches from the living ones. Look how much he cut off!


And the backyard suddenly looked bigger and much greener after all the brown branches were gone:



While Slav was waving his chainsaw in the backyard, I tackled the weeds. They were everywhere, like one every step. And we had some problem areas along the fence, under the tree, and around the mailbox.



Aside from the mianbox area, the right side of the front yard looks pretty decent. However, the left side yard did not look so hot. The grass near the fence was completely taken over by the weeds, creating a perfect trap for loose trash over the years.



After 6 hours of weeding, things started looking up:


And these was how much weeds I dug out of the yard! Two big yard waste bags!


After cutting all the dead trees and branches in the backyard, Slav started to trim the pine tree in front of the house.


The needles and pine cones from the tree covered a good portion of the roof and filled up the front gutter. Slav jumped on the roof and hosed everything clean.



Look how much needles came out of the gutter just below the tree! We plan to buy a gutter protector for the portion directly underneath the tree branches when we replace the roof and get new gutters.

Much. Better.


Believe or not, all the branches filled our 5′ x 10′ trailer, twice. Slav spent a whole day just to dump trash – one trip to a landfill for the carpet and other loose pieces we pulled off the house, and two trips to a yard waste center. But by the end of a three-day overhaul, we owned a weed-free and open yard!


It also made squirrel-watching a lot more fun for Roxie and Charlie. The pups are so on it! Sadly the two squirrels living in our yard are a lot quicker and smarter. I am pretty sure that they tease the dogs on purpose.


Did you do any summer cleaning around the yard? When Slav went to the landfill, he also got rid of the old grill left behind by the previous owner. We are getting a brand new grill – for the first time in our life time! And when we do, it is not too shabby to have a clean yard to look over!

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