Terrific Broth

Beijinger in Denver | 北京人在丹佛

Category: DIY (Page 1 of 3)

Building A Dream Patio – Replace An Old Window Well

Hey friends! How is your week going? It feels like a roller coaster ride here. I never knew that concrete demo could be this dusty – everything in our living room and kitchen was covered in a layer of concrete dust – even with all the windows and door closed! I caught Roxie drinking from her outdoor water bowl that was covered in concrete dust – and she was licking it because it was almost dry! I felt like such a bad mother and needless to say that she got some really good treats for being neglected.

With the framing in place and the concrete truck ordered, we did not just sit around and wait the magic to happen. There was yet something that needed our attnetion BEFORE the concrete could go in:

This window well.

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I knew that I have shown you the dirty carpet, ugly metal awnings, and the half torn garage. But believe me, I still feel embarrassed to show you this window well. I guess it is because that all the other things either have been upgraded, or at least their days are numbered. But we still have a whole bunch of these laying around, and sadly, without any plan to be replaced. There is just no point to change basement window wells until we enlarge the windows. But honestly, these window wells started bothering us more and more. With major exterior demo happening one after another, these window wells started to stand out and are definitely rising to the top of our “eyesore” list.

They deserve it. They are old, rusty, non-functional, and practically outdoor trash bins when we moved in. I will not be showing you what we have pulled out of these wells. This is a family blog – let us keep it classy.

But we will be replacing THIS particular window well today, because it will be enclosed in our new patio. It was enclosed in our old back porch, so this will be our only opportunity to replace it without breaking concrete ourselves.

Due to the concrete work, there was only a 24-hour window for us to get it replaced. And of course we had to find out that our window was not in a standard size…The window is only 32-inch wide, and our old window well was 33-inch in width. All the in-stock window wells we could get on the same day were 37-inch wide. So I spent some time googling “is wider window well a problem” but only found mixed results…

So should we go forward with a much wider window well? When there is no clear answer out there, it is time for my scientific training kicking in. All I needed to do was think logically:

  1. Is it necessary to get a perfect fit window well? No. Many egress windows rock much wider window wells. As long as the well is covered, with the sides sealed, it should protect the window as well as a smaller window well does. The only difference is cosmetic – it may look funny, or unfit; but functionally, there is no reason that a wider window well wouldn’t work.
  2. Do we want to wait for a few day in order to get a custom-fit window well? No. The concrete trunk is ordered and our contractor has other jobs lined up. Besides, even we could postpone the concrete work for a few days, the backyard is a dust bowl and my kitchen is covered in muddy paw prints. I won’t delay the work myself.
  3. Is a generic window well sufficient for our needs? Yes. The material will be the same as a custom-fit one and the price tag is actually much lower. Majority of this window well will be under the patio anyway, so instead of the looks, being strong and new are the most important things for us to consider.

We have been making many decisions during our renovation. Most of the time, we could base our decisions on scientific facts and experts’ opinions. This window well decision is an exception. Just like the work I do in the laboratory, sometimes you just have to make an educated guess based on the circumstances, when there was little previous knowledge you could trust. So I made my peace, padded myself on the back, and sent Slav to the big orange store for the most generic window well ever. He brought back this beauty one:

And this cover:

Classy. They are nothing exciting, but I actually think that they could blend in the concrete patio quite well. And I appreciate the fact that they are plastic and should never rust.

New on the left, old on the right.

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In the morning of the day of concrete work, we got up early and started digging.

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The new well is 4 inches wider, so Slav made a much bigger hole around it to make our work easier.

Just like other metal component we found on the exterior of the house, both the old window well and the screws holding it in place were badly rusted. Slav had to grind some screws off to free the window well from the foundation.

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Once the old well was off the house, we started to grading the soil at the bottom. Just like how we graded soil around the house foundation, the soil within the window needs to allow water to drain away as well.

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We then laid down two layers of 6-mil Poly. Now any water getting into the well should drain away on top of the poly layer, instead of seeping down. Some gravel will hold the poly layer in place instead of soil to facilitate drainage.

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Next, Slav drilled the new window well into the foundation.

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Then caulked the heck out of it:

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Do you see the red line on the foundation? It indicated where the top of the concrete patio would be. The rule of thumb is that the window well should be at least two inches above the finished surface (in this case, the top of the patio), and at least four inches below the bottom of the window sill. Our 24-inch well satisfied these requirements.

You may notice that there were some gravel at the bottom of the well too. We put down a thick layer on top of the entire poly layer until it reached the bottom of the well, So when we backfilled, dirt would not get into the well itself.

According to the instruction, someone need to “support the window well at all time during backfilling”. Guess who went inside…

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It took Slav about 10 minutes to backfill. He shoveled some dirt around the well, one inch at a time, then compacted it really well by doing a little dance on top of it. I, on the other hand, was busy at this one-woman show, pretending to be buried alive. So Slav started pretending he was preforming a sacrifice. It was too much fun.

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Isn’t it beautiful? I could not believe how intimated we were about installing it and how easy it actually was! We filled the well with the rest of the gravel and cleaned up a little:

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Yes you are looking at the finished patio around it! We got the concrete poured and it is curing now. I cannot get over how beautiful the whole back patio is! Here is another sneak peek:

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I will be back tomorrow to show you the process of pouring concrete and finishing the surface. The big reveal will be on Saturday (hopefully we can get our furniture here on time). Are you ready for some mimosas on our new patio? You bet I am!

Solar Chandelier for a Romantic Anniversary Dinner

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By tomorrow, Slav and I will have been married for four years. Four years! It went by so fast, but we also accomplished so much together – like getting the second dog, starting new careers, moving to Colorado, and getting our first house. For our anniversary celebration, we are gonna go to a highly rated Polish Restaurant. Then we are gonna drink some nice craft beers in our backyard.

The “new” old fence made us extremely happy about our backyard and totally brought a whole wave of backyard fever, especially after Slav got his dream grill. Since we do not have patio furniture yet, dinner-for-two will not happen for anniversary this year. But I do want to make our evening ore romantic, by adding some nice lighting to our completely dark backyard.

What about this solar powered chandelier?

We have a chandelier which used to hung over our dining table in our NC apartment. There is also a big apple tree in the middle of the yard with horizontal lower branches. It is meant-to-be.

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We hung it up on the branches to test the look. I liked it. Slav on the other hand, thought this was the most white-trashy thing ever. He even called his mom (!) to report how trashy I had become. Ironically, mom liked my idea and was totally on my side. #nastywomenstaytogether

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Is it trashy? For someone who wears cargo shorts 24/7? I think not.

With MIL’s blessing, I got to work. The current candle tubes were too tall to mount solar light directly on, so I had to find a way to make them shorter.

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Each candle tube consists of a white plastic cover on the outside, a paper filler against the plastic cover, and an electrical assembly in the center.

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The plastic tubing and paper filler simply slid off, leaving the electrical assembly which were screwed on to the chandelier arms.

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I cut the wires near the candle cup , then screwed off the assembly by twisting the bottom screw:

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For our particular chandelier, I ended up with the wire assembly, a washer, and the candle cup for each arm.

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A wire cutter is all you need really to get o this step. A pair of scissors will do too.

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The bottom screw from each electrical wire assembly holds down the washer and candle cup tightly. So I snipped them off to reuse them. It was also a great base to glue the solar lights on:

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When I snipped these screws off, I left a bit lip with the bottom screw. After it secured into its place, I bent the lips a bit, so it can cuddle around the end of a solar light and hold it in place:

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We got these lights off the internet. Make sure to test them before gluing them to the chandelier!

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You can bend the metal lip in any direction to accommodate the solar lights. In our case, they held the solar light in place and straight, which made gluing process a breeze.

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A dash of super glue would do. We held the solar lights in place with some tape, let the whole thing dry on the patio overnight.  But really, 15 minutes should be enough if you are using a fast-dry glue.

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I took the tape off next morning and these lights were holding on pretty well.

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Isn’t it pretty? We used a long chain to hang it so we could lower it if we wish. Our dinner will be so fancy! Happy anniversary, Slav!

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Doggies Use Backdoor

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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!

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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:

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

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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:

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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