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

Category: Renovation Page 1 of 37

Merry Christmas and A New Back Entry

I cannot believe that I am saying this, but Merry Christmas, everyone! There is so much I need to update you on since September. First of all, both Daz and Xopa were adopted!


Daz and Xopa lived together in our house for just a couple weeks, before they went to their respective homes. I am glad that they got to know each other before heading to their new lives. They were so stinkin cute together.


Then we brought home our current foster, Yuki (aka Yoyo). Yoyo is a very, very, very shy dog, much more closed off then any foster dog we’ve ever had. During the first a few weeks, she was too nervous to even come out of her crate. So we had to leash her and walk her 6-7 times a day.

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But Yoyo has a brave soul. She is getting more confident and brave slowly. Now, Yoyo comes out of her room often, to hang out on the sofa with Charlie and Roxie or go outside to play.


As you could imagine, with Yoyo keeping us on our toes, we could not make much progress on the home projects. But Slav did manage to complete some electrical work, and we finally installed a new back door:


The back door project has been a long time coming. Shortly after we moved into this house in 2017, we replaced the storm door. To provide a way for our dogs to go outside, we decided to install a doggy door too.


At that time, we did not replace the backdoor (see the picture below). It was in a really rough shape. But considering we were still renovating the interior, we anticipated a lot more wear and tear at the back entrance. So the plan was to wait until most of the major renovations are done before upgrading the back door.


When I say the door was in a rough shape, it was really bad. Years of the old paint has yellowed, and started peeling off in places.







The door used to have blinds on it. But it was damaged and only the old hardware stayed.


During the kitchen renovation, we pried off all the door trims at the back entrance, left both back door and the garage-to-kitchen door bare:




After finishing the kitchen last May, we did not have time to tackle the back entrance, so these two doors remained trimless for the entire 2022-2023 winter. Without proper trim and weather stripping, the doors let in lots of cold drafts. So before this winter hit, we decided that adding trims and weather protection on the back entrance had to be done.


However, it was not an easy decision what kind of backdoor we should get. The picture above illustrates the problem we had at the back entrance – the two exterior doors both open to the same small landing. We used the garage door often and also kept the back wooden door open all the time for the dogs, so the back door almost always stayed in the middle of the hallway like this. Although the original plan for adding the storm door is to boost up security and insulation for the back entrance, but in reality, the wooden back door did not provide any insulation or security, but stay as an permanent obstacle instead.

Slav and I discussed a few days what type of door(s) we want at the back entrance, and eventually agreed on just one exterior door for the back entrance, and install the doggy door on it. In this way, we eliminated the third door, and a new exterior back door will provide a lot better insulation value than the old storm door, even with a doggy door on it. After some research, we picked up this metal one in white that could stand the elements, and Slav took the old door down:


It is always cool to peek inside the layers of walls when we do renovations. The 6-mil plastic was used as house wrap in the 60s; you can see them a lot around the doorways and windows, but only on the upper half.


The blue wire shown below was for the doorbell. We eliminated the doorbell at the backdoor so this wire was tucked back into the framing.


It is interesting how the bottom of the door frame is missing – I wonder if this was intentional for water run off? We anticipate that this is the spot where spiders and other critters came in.



You can also see the brown board lining all the framing. I suspect this was the insulation board for the brick veneer to attach. Our house, built in 1964, is not insulated. We have added insulations to the exterior walls as we renovated each room.


The header:


Slav scraped off old glues and fillers, and used the Great stuff to seal all the remaining cracks:


We had to trim the floor tiles to install the new threshold. Slav used an angle grinder to cut the tiles in a straight line, then chipped away the broken tiles and metal edge.



From the side you can see where the water damage occurs. This spot is right below the doggy door. With the new door threshold, the moisture will not get in so easily and the subfloors will be better protected.


We are not new to the game of installing pre-hung doors. Slav installed the new door frame, the threshold, and the actual door within an hour:


We also got a new double-flap doggy door for the back entry. Slav pre-cut the opening before installing the door:


This new doggy door is slightly taller than our old one, and the double flap mechanism is supposed to prevent cold air from coming in. In the picture below, we only installed one flap to let our dogs get used to this new door, before adding the second layer of flap from the inside.


This is the new door threshold! Isn’t it neat? I was very excited to see it. It is weird sometimes as a homeowner what you start to appreciate.


One nice aspect of the pre-hung doors is that they always come with everything, including the exterior trims:


The gratification was instant and very satisfying:


We were able to finish everything before dark, and Slav even had time to add the lock. We enjoyed using the keyless entry for the front door so much that we got one for the back door as well.


This was how the door looked from the inside! The pre-hung doors do not come with interior trims. But otherwise everything was in place by the end of the work day.


The new weather stripping was water tight and effectively prevented draft.


Slav added a metal trim inside the threshold to cover the cut tile edge. It looked like it was always there. I love his attention to detail.


The only thing left for us at this point was the interior trim. The next weekend, Slav spent a day to trim out the two doors using the same interior door trims we have been using for the first floor:





The space between the two doors are extremely narrow, and the width between the door frame and the walls are not consistent. Slav did a good job filling it with trims he cut longitudinally:



He also did a good job at the corners and around the existing stairs and baseboard:



After all was done, Slav caulked and I filled all nail holes with wood filler.


Then painted everything white!





We successfully wrapped this project up in early November. Since then, we have been using this new back door for over a month. It still opens inward, but without the second door it worked pretty well for our family. We could block the doggy door from the inside with its cover panel if the weather is really windy. But 99% of the time, we can leave it open and we do not feel any draft next to the door.


It feels so good to cross another project off the list in 2023. On the home renovation front, 2023 has not been a productive year at all. But we have made big strides at our respective work and successfully adopted out four foster dogs! There is always next year, we tell ourselves. Stay warm and Happy holidays, everyone!

A New Parking Pad Addition

Last week, I showed you the new concrete porch in the front of the house. Today, let us go to the backyard for another concrete project – the new trailer parking pad!


This area is located on the south side of our garage. When we moved in back in 2017, this area was part of the front yard lawn:


In 2018, we constructing a new fence here and enclosed this area behind. Since then, this side yard has been used to park our utility trailer.


Although very functional, parking the trailer here slowly killed the lawn grass beneath, and the dogs started use it as a sandbox to nap in.



The soil surrounding the trailer also became more compact. Instead of healthy lawn grass, weeds started to grow.




We had talked about pouring a proper parking pad for a couple years. This July, when we hired a concrete contractor to build the new front porch, we added this area into the concrete work, filling the space between the gravel area under the fence line and the existing sidewalk.



Before the contractors came, Slav and I removed the pea gravel and pulled up the landscape edging around the work area. These pea gravels would be put back eventually. But for then, we wanted to give the contractor some space to build the form.



On the day of concrete work, the contractors started by removing a few inches of soil from the space. Then they built the form and compacted down the soil.



A metal wire mesh was added to prevent the new concrete pad from cracking and separating. The new pad would fill the entire length from the drive gate to the end of the sidewalk.



The same contractor also worked on the garage floor for my neighbor across the street on the same day. Sharing the labor and the concrete truck significantly lowered the cost for both of us. But the parking situation on our street that day was kinda crazy.



The pups were locked in the house for good measure – we do not want hundreds of paw prints all over the new concrete patio!


By mid-afternoon, the new parking pad was poured and finished. It was amazing how a team of people worked so seamlessly that they created this in only 6 hours.


The edge of the pad is about 8″ away from the fence line. This space would be filled with pea gravel again after the concrete pad was properly cured.



We were told to stay off the new pad for 5 days. A temporary fencing was set up to block the dogs out. Although every single of them could easily clear the low fencing, lucky for us, none of them attempted.



After five days, we removed the temporary fencing, put the pea gravel back, and parked the trailer onto the new pad.


As you can see, the new parking pad was a lot longer than the trailer itself. This is intentional for easier access from the back of the trailer.


Here is Dazumble, checking out the new parking spot!


Here is a closer look of the pea gravel area along the fence. The height of the new pad is tall enough to hold back the pea gravel, so we no longer need to use landscape edging here.


Beyond the parking pad area, we put in landscape edging to better contain the small-size pea gravel, then aligned it with decorative concrete blocks that match other area of the backyard.



As you can imagine, the pups are happy to get their yard back!


A New Front Entry

A month flew by and lots have happened. We have been spending time with our first foster dog, Dazumble. She quickly came out of her shell and is now a happy, sweet, dorky, and loyal pup.

Besides working our full-time jobs and taking Dazumble to weekly adoption events, we accomplished a feel-good project at the ranch house – a new front porch.


Below was the front porch when we purchased the house. We tackled this area immediately after moving in, including demoing the awning and the old sinking concrete patio, replacing the storm door and painting the front door a new color, and laying the drainage rocks.


Then the front porch looked like this for the last six years. It was always in our plan to rebuild a concrete front porch. The drainage rock was meant to be temporary, just to hold down the plastic underneath and to prevent water penetration.


To my surprise, this gravel area has worked well for the last 6 years. The melting snow and spring rain flew down to the pathway below and the lawn smoothly, and the 3/4″ rocks stayed in place. We never needed to add more rocks. Overall, this “temporary” solution was functional. However, we still wished for a real concrete patio for better look.



Came around this June, one of our neighbors did a concrete project and brought in some contractors. We had a chance to talk to the contractor about this porch job. In early July, Slav removed all the drainage rocks (and incorporated them into other areas around the house), lifted the 6 mil plastic, and the new concrete porch was poured.


New porch was levered with the adjacent pathway and went around the window well we installed ourselves. It was finished with a nice broom finish to match the pathway.


Just like that, we have a large and leveled surface next to the house again. The new porch patio is in a cooler grey color when compared to the older door steps and pathway, but it certainly looks better than the colorful gravel!


Although we are not interested in furnishing the front porch, we do want to add a couple planters for seasonal colors. Slav also requested some screening plants in front of the pathway, just to obscure the exposed foundation and the window well from the street.


So the same week when the concrete patio was finished, I placed order for eight Green Mountain boxwood. The plan was to grow a low and evergreen hedge to hide all the concrete from the street. It will also to make the front porch look more formal and tidy.


I chose the “Green Mountain” variety for its bright green foliage, resistance to winter burn, and its upright growing habit. Leaving alone, the Green mountain boxwood grows naturally into a cone shape, so it does not require as much trimming as other varieties of boxwood. Leaving untrimmed, these boxwoods will grow into a line of connecting cones, and stay above 4′ tall. We will likely trim the sides and top to keep a more formal, smooth wall-like look.


Here are the boxwood, all planted! We cut away the sod to create a skinny flower bed, then planted all the boxwoods in line. When reaching maturity, these boxwood plants will grow over 3′ wide, so their canopies will completely cover the mulched area.


So, this is our curb appeal as of today. It might not look like not a big change when compared the “before” look just a few weeks ago, but it is a good start for something lush and lively in a few years. Imagine when the boxwoods grow into a 4′ tall green wall, with a couple tall planters behind it filled with summer annuals. The honeysuckle will cover the trellises around Slav’s office window by then. Cannot wait!


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