Monday, November 29, 2010

Our $250 Total Room Remodel

That almost sounds impossible. Especially when you remember what we were dealing with. But we made it happen. 

Toilet - $179
Faucets - $20/ea ($40 total)
Countertop - $2
Floor - $25 (vinyl tiles and luan)
Wall Paint - $0
Primer/White Paint - $5
Cabinet Knobs - $10

Monday, November 22, 2010

Brick Inside the Walls

A couple weeks after we bought the house one of our neighbors stopped over. He lives on the other side of the street, in Josiah Wilcox's house, our house's brother. The houses are almost identical on the outside, and he renovated his when he moved in. He asked if we had opened up any of the walls yet, and we said not yet. We were going to when we renovated the Kitchen though. Apparently there is brick inside his walls, between the plaster/drywall and exterior wall sheathing. 

This weekend when we installed the microwave we had to cut into the wall to install the exhaust vent. And there was the brick. Large clay bricks. It was pretty cool. They were all different sizes, and have marks on them from when they were formed. And some still have some dried plants on them (like grass) which is most likely from the bottom of the pond/lake where the clay came from.

As cool as this is, R and I (in all of our old house research and schooling) have never heard of this. Brick has no insulating value... the house is post and beam, so the brick isn't structural. What's it there for? My guess is as a fire block.. to keep fire contained either inside the house, or keep it from getting inside and spreading. R thinks it's to keep out stray arrows and bullets. Not sure how serious he was with his guess.

So I did some research. Turns out I was right. But that wasn't the only reason it was used. According to, bricks in pre-1900's homes were used mainly as an air-infiltration or wind barrier, kind of like an early insulation (even thought brick has basically no r-value). Brick also helped cut down on sound and contain fire, especially if the house was balloon framed (which ours is not, thank God). This explains a lot. Our house is very good at keeping cool in the summer (not as cool as an air conditioned house, but cool enough to be more comfortable than it is outside), and retains heat pretty well. Despite there being no insulation in the first floor walls, I never feel any drafts at exterior walls (the front door yes, but that's another story), nor do they feel cool to the touch. Houses built today have plywood sheathing underneath the clapboards, as well as an air-infiltration barrier. Our house has the clapboards nailed directly to the posts/studs.

This was called "nogging". The bricks were never meant to be seen, hence the rough, irregular shaped bricks we found. According to the site, brick nogging is most common in houses built between 1810 and 1900. Our house pre-dates that by almost 40 years. The brick in the walls could also be the reason that we have almost no electrical outlets on exterior walls.

Another interesting characteristic of homes with brick lined walls is sill damage due to the extra weight (estimated at 400 lbs PER framing cavity (roughly 16")!!). Our sill damage is due mainly to past insect damage, but perhaps it got so bad because the insects started eating away the beam, and then the wall became too heavy for the damaged sill, and it quickened it's demise.

The weird thing is that all of the pictures I'm seeing of nogging show significant mortar joints. Granted that these bricks were put in quickly and without much care, but we don't even have any mortar! At least not that we can see. All of the bricks we found just seemed to be piled on top of each other, with nothing holding them together other than gravity!
This picture (from rasala 1234 on flickr) is the closest I can find to what our walls look like.. Just bricks. Pretty cool though!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Microwave Install

Today R and my dad installed our over-the-range microwave. It is a Kenmore 30" Microwave Combo, Model 8503. We decided to have it vent to the outside, because in our last 2 apartments we have had range vents that vented back into the room and were very unhappy with both of them. The first one would constantly set off the smoke detector, and the second one was just useless.. it wouldn't do anything with the steam, smoke or heat. And we had the perfect opportunity to vent to the outside here.

In order to accomplish that, we had to cut into the wall that we just drywalled. Praying that we weren't cutting into an electrical chase (seriously, with all of the pictures I take, I couldn't have ONE picture that showed where the electrical chases were?!?), R and my dad cut a hole and discovered brick.
It wasn't too difficult for them to cut through the brick, and then through the exterior siding. It was actually a lot easier than they had originally envisioned. The new venting went in with almost no problems, and soon the new microwave was installed. It took roughly 2 1/2 hours from start to finish. Very impressive!
This microwave is amazing. I've only used it twice so far, but wow. I'm so impressed! It's extremely quiet, both the microwave and the exhaust vent. The defrost feature is the best defrost feature I have ever come across! It defrosted ground beef in a minute, perfectly, whereas our old OTR microwave would have taken about 8 minutes or more. The interior is huge... there is the standard turntable and also a metal rack (not sure about that... I thought metal wasn't suppose to be in a microwave?). And you can't beat the price. It was approximately $215! That price is more like what you'd pay for a counter microwave! I just hope that it lasts us a long time! Oh, and for me, the OCD member of this family, it matches PERFECTLY to the range.. love it!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our New Heating System

On Monday our new furnace was installed. And tonight I finally got around to getting some pictures.

The day started off with the arrival of 5... count them.... 5 Valley Oil trucks. Three in one driveway, one in the street, and one in the other driveway. We were considered an emergency case, so they wanted to make sure to get it done as efficiently as possible.
They started in the Kitchen, with the big monster of a radiator. R made the mistake of asking the guys if they'd put it in the basement. Apparently he got the dirtiest look and a big fat NO WAY JOSE. It is currently residing in our garage. Apparently the thing weighs over 500 lbs! Here's a picture of it a couple months ago... the pictures do not do it justice. It was massive! But it wasn't anything pretty (like those detailed pretty old radiators you see in some houses), so I felt no pain about getting rid of it.
The radiator came out from the wall approximately 15", but with it gone the room seems so much bigger! I can't wait to get our table in there to finish off the space! With the radiator gone we can now also access the old insulation in the wall behind it, so we can replace it all.
They then moved upstairs to my office. The radiator in that room wasn't very big, but it was leaking. Really leaking! We've had a little cup underneath one of the pipes since we bought the house, and we have to empty it every day or every other day. And if you get forgetful, it overflows onto the floor. Uncool. Another problem with the radiator is that it is very close to the wall, so it was impossible to remove the grass wallpaper from behind it. We apparently weren't the only people with this problem.. Whoever installed the grass wallpaper wasn't able to remove the old brown flowered wallpaper behind there either. So it's just a beautiful mess.
Right now, I'm most excited about having the radiator out of the office. It took me FOREVER to finish this room, and I had this small little area driving me crazy because I couldn't finish it until the radiator was gone. It felt so good to get that wallpaper down and finish painting. I still have to paint the pipes and a little bit of trim near the pipes white, though that might wait until the Spring or Summer when the heat is turned off.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The House Without Heat

Yes. You read that correct. We have been living in a house that doesn't have heat. But we knew this before buying the house. The existing furnace is... WAS.... about 60 years old. During our home inspection the inspector got it to turn on, but it wasn't circulating any hot water. He left the furnace on for about a hour and a half, but not one radiator felt warm. So we had a mechanical engineer come in and take a look at it, and then give us a quote to replace it. Turns out that the circulator was broken and therefore not circulating the hot water. Makes sense, right? Apparently this was something that could be fixed for approximately $500, but the furnace is 60 years old. And didn't appear to be in good shape. It needed to be replaced. So we asked for money off of the asking price for it, and were given it.

Fast forward to October. We are now living in the house full time. It's cold, but not unbearable yet. In September a neighbor of my parents emailed me to tell me about an interest free loan offered by the state for emergency repairs/replacements of heating systems. And we qualify for it. So R began the long process of applying (it was basically like applying for a mortgage again, only this time we kept having to go get stuff notarized). Meanwhile we're wearing 3 sweatshirts and a couple pairs of socks to bed, sleeping underneath 6 thick blankets. It was actually kind of fun... if you ignore the fact that most nights I couldn't feel my fingers. I was worried about Madison being in the house all day... but she also had about 6 blankets in her crate, plus 2 very thick blankets covering the crate, insulating her. And every day when I got home from work I'd check her to make sure she wasn't cold. At least once or twice a week my parents would call to make sure we weren't too cold (though I think they just wanted Madison! :) ). Clients of mine would also call frequently asking if we were too cold. I felt very loved.

Finally the first week of November we were approved for the loan ($6,000) plus an extra $1,200 to replace three radiators (the large one in the Kitchen, the smaller one we removed in the Kitchen to put in cabinets, and the one in my Office that didn't work and just leaked all over the floor even though it was disconnected). All in all $7,200 isn't that much money, but with this interest free loan it's only going to be $30 a month. I like that! 

The oil company reserves Mondays for emergency cases.. which we were. They scheduled us for Monday November 15th and Tuesday November 16th.  They worked very fast and efficiently... arriving at about 7:30 am on the 15th and were completely done with everything by 5 pm that night. Very impressive! Especially seeing as the big radiator in the Kitchen weighed over 500 pounds!

Pictures to come tomorrow! Right now we're just enjoying our heat!!

Kitchen Faucet - Installed

And here is the Kitchen faucet reveal. It looks even better than I imagined. The color and style fits perfectly with the rest of the house, but still has wonderful modern (well, modern compared to 200 years ago) features such as the sturdy sprayer and 180 degree turn radius of the faucet. If I had to give one complaint about the faucet it would be that it is slightly too high. I like it being so high, because it's perfect for washing large pots, cookie sheets, platters, etc, but when washing smaller things it does cause a lot of splashing. I'm messy in the Kitchen, and that includes washing dishes, so I'm used to the front of my shirt getting wet when I'm cleaning up, but I'm finding that this faucet splashes more than others. The sink isn't deeper than usual (it's 9" deep I believe), so if the faucet was maybe 1 or 2 inches shorter, it would have been perfect. But... I'm not complaining. Like I said, it'll be nice to be able to wash things without having to struggle with the faucet being in the way!

We're having a hard time adjusting to there being running water in the Kitchen. We keep finding ourselves walking to the bathroom to rinse a dish or our hands. After all, we've been in the house for 3 1/2 months now without any use of a Kitchen sink.

The Kitchen is really starting to come together and I'm 100% pleased so far! Hopefully it'll be ready in time for Christmas cookie baking!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Countertop Pictures... Finally!

Our Kitchen countertops were installed on November 1st. I love them so so much. It's hard to look at old pictures of the Kitchen and even remember what the Kitchen used to look like.

Like I said in a previous post, the countertops were purchased from and installed by Renaissance Stone in Wallingford, CT. There were a couple issues on installation day... they chipped a corner when they were putting the range back in place, there are two small nicks in the corner near the window, there was some damage (cracking maybe) around the faucet holes that they attempted to fix, and they may or may not have scratched the side of the range. But all in all, it looks great, and that's what matters right?

The countertop is Black Impala granite, 1 1/4" thick. Black Impala is a great compromise for couples who want grey and black. It has a nice, consistent pattern to it, and looks amazing in the sunlight.
Renaissance also mounted our sink for us. I love this sink. Its the perfect width and depth.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


A client of mine recommended Sears Outlet for appliances. He knew we were on a majorly tight budget, and as long as we didn't mind a scratch or two, we'd get great deals here. I never knew this place existing, but I'm glad I do now. It's a huge warehouse filled with refrigerators, ranges, dishwashers, washers and dryers, just to name a few! It was crazy! We had to restrict ourselves to the range area so we wouldn't buy all of the other appliances we eventually need! 

I knew I wanted a glass top electric stainless steel range. 5 burners would be a plus. I found a couple contenders, so similar it was almost impossible to tell the difference between them. And then I went around the corner and found the perfect range.
Love Love Love! It's a Kenmore 9290... Convection oven, warming drawer, 5 burners, one burner is a Turbo boil, one can be a warming burner, and another can vary in size from small to mega big. It has tons of special features such as oven lock-out, self cleaning (don't they basically all now?), and something called Air-Guard, which can either lock in smells or allow them to freely scent your Kitchen. Ryan doesn't really get this one... why would you be cooking something that smelled bad? But I still think it's cool. A couple features I really like are the convection convert (I enter the temperature as I would on a conventional oven and it converts it to a proper convection oven temp), the updated temperature as the oven heats up (I do miss my old oven's countdown though), and the very large oven, with an extra shelf on the bottom (it can fit 4 1/2 (the 1/2 is a small shelf that goes on top of another) shelves, and according to the manual, can bake approximately 100 cookies at a time! And everything I bake comes out perfect! And boiling water on the cooktop doesn't spill over the top of the pot. It's the little things that make me happy these days :)

And thanks to Sears Outlet, we got this amazing range for half the price we would have paid in a Sears store. And the only things wrong with it are 2 scratches on the side that are hidden by the countertop. Sweet :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kitchen Lighting

We haven't installed any of the new Kitchen light fixtures yet, but they've all been purchased. Lighting is one of my favorite parts of my job... I love choosing new light fixtures! There's so much to choose from!
The first fixture will be installed in the cabinet above the sink. I've never really seen anything done like this before, but putting an undercabinet light here didn't seem like it would provide enough light. And I'm not a fan of those small fluorescent lights you sometimes see installed under cabinets above sinks. I bought a pendant light. I've seen pendants installed over sinks when they're in front of windows and I'm not really a fan because they block the view out the window. But here, I'll just have a beadboard backsplash, which will make a nice background for the pendant light. The stem can be adjusted so that it's very very short (it almost won't look like a pendant). The shape and style match the next light fixture.
This light fixture will be installed in the general work area of the Kitchen. It is replacing a flush ceiling mount fixture. This fixture will be pretty close to the ceiling, but lowered enough so that it will throw some light onto the ceiling. It's a very simple fixture that I think will match well with the rest of the house.
For over the Kitchen table I wanted something more traditional. Since this half of the Kitchen is kind of set apart from the rest of the Kitchen, I felt it was okay to change things up a bit. This fixture will be centered above our traditional table, as well as centered on the fireplace and built in cabinet. It is very similar, but slightly less formal, to the fixture I am planning on purchasing for the Dining Room.  If you look carefully you'll notice that the shades have a similar shape as the glass shades of the other two lights.

Anyone looking to buy light fixtures, please check out I've used them for work before and have always found that they have a great selection and great prices. And you can't beat their quick delivery times! (And no, they haven't paid me to say this.. I'm just that pleased with them!)

Here's the specifics on the Kitchen Lights:

Manufacturer: Murray Feiss
Model: Barrington Oil Rubbed Bronze Mini Pendant
Finish: Oil Rubbed Bronze
Price: $70

Manufacturer: Murray Feiss
Model: Barrington Oil Rubbed Bronze Small Semi-Flush
Finish: Oil Rubbed Bronze
Price: $70

Manufacturer: ?
Model: Iron 5-Light Black Chandelier
Finish: Black
Price: $107

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kitchen Garbage Disposal

I've never lived anywhere that didn't have a garbage disposal. It's just second nature to me to throw food waste into the sink. So of course we had to get a garbage disposal.

Because we don't anticipate abnormally heavy use of the disposal, we went with a lower HP model. We chose the InSinkErator Badger 1. Purchased at Home Depot for $90.
Not only are garbage disposals convenient, they are also green, which isn't something everyone immediately thinks of. By using a garbage disposal, you're eliminating waste that would have gone into a dump. They are extremely efficient, using only about 5 kwh of electricity a year and 1 gallon of water a day on average.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Kitchen Sink

At work we always specify Franke sinks. However... Franke sinks typically have a price tag that is out of our small budget. I looked at a lot of sinks at Lowe's and Home Depot, but they all looked or felt cheap. Or they were just ridiculously expensive and I could not justify paying that for a Kitchen sink. Not when there were so many other things I needed!

That was when I discovered a small sister company of Franke. Kindred. They're basically Franke sinks, but with slight differences, such as the stainless steel gauge. I found this one at Lowe's, but unfortunately our local store didn't have any in stock. That lead me online, where I attempted to find the best deal.
I ended up buying the sink from for $105 (including shipping). Lowe's had it listed for $292 (plus tax)! So glad I looked online! The sink arrived in perfect condition (so glad, after the faucet debacle), and we handed it off to Renaissance Stone for installation. Renaissance did a great job installing.. leaving a perfect overhang of granite over the sink. In our apartment we had granite countertops and an undermount stainless sink, but it wasn't installed correctly. There was a stainless steel lip that was visible between the granite and sink where dirty food gunk (for lack of a better word) would loge itself. It was nasty and very hard to clean.

Here's the specifics on the Kitchen Sink:

Manufacturer: Kindred
Model: Single-Basin Stainless Steel Undermount Kitchen Sink (USSK100-18)
Finish: Stainless Steel Mirror Finish
Price: $105
This sink is gorgeous! The mirror finish gives it a nice shine. It seems so much bigger (wider and deeper) than I had imagined! I love it! And you can't beat that price... $105 for a huge sink! Kindred offers a lot of additional products that fit the sink such as strainers, cutting boards, etc. that I may take them up on. 

Lesson I learned with this purchase? Always shop around!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kitchen Faucet

I haven't uploaded any new pictures of the half-complete Kitchen yet because it's so dark when I get home and the pictures just don't do the room justice. The best time of day in that part of the house is in the morning... it's just overflowing with sunlight. So the pictures will just have to wait until a weekend.

Because I'm so excited about my new Kitchen, each day until then I'll share with you a part of my Kitchen. Today, it's the faucet.

The house has most of it's original door hardware, which is black. To match this, any new hardware we're adding is oil-rubbed bronze (ORB), which I just happen to love.  The new deadbolt and door knob in the Kitchen is oil-rubbed bronze, and I decided that the cabinet hardware will also be ORB. So when it came to looking at faucets, anything else just didn't look right. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find a reasonably priced ORB Kitchen faucet!

I found some at Home Depot and Lowe's that I really liked by Price Pfister. They were very simple, ORB, and had good prices. This one is the Avalon.
I had never heard of Price Pfister before, so I wanted to do some research on them. Couldn't come up with ONE GOOD REVIEW! They all said that they were cheaply made, broke all the time, the soap dispenser never worked, the sprayer has no pressure, it leaks constantly, etc. etc. etc. No way I'm spending $180 for a faucet in a brand new Kitchen that would break after using it once! But I did really like the color, and the option of a soap dispenser.

Long story short... couldn't find another reasonably priced colonial-looking ORB faucet with a pull-out spray or soap dispenser. But I did find this faucet both on the Home Depot website and Amazon. They didn't sell it in stores, which was a little upsetting because I like to see it in person and play with it before purchasing. But, we needed a faucet, so I bought it from Amazon for $125. This faucet is the Glacier Bay Lyndhurst Bridge.
The faucet arrived a couple days later via UPS. The box it was packaged in had the faucet laying down, in hardly any packaging (there was a plastic bottom shell it laid in, and the faucet itself was in a plastic bag). The box was completely beat up... holes, dents, tears, stains. Half a roll of packing tape had been wrapped around one half of the box, as if to repair these beatings. It took me 15 minutes to just get the box open. The faucet looked great! But as soon as I took it out of the box to show R I realized that the bottom piece of each base was cracked and broken. I was heartbroken. I couldn't install a broken faucet! And the granite company needed the faucet the following day for templating, so I couldn't even send it back!

R convinced me to give the broken faucet to the granite installer, telling them that it was being returned because it was broken. Then I ordered a new faucet from Home Depot this time, so that if it also arrived broken we could at least return it to the store easily. The faucet from HD arrived a couple days later in great shape. HD had the small white box inside a large thick cardboard box, which was delivered via FedEx in perfect condition. Kudos to HD on their great packing job! And on top of it all, I had $75 worth of HD gift cards, so the faucet only cost me approximately $58 including shipping!

It's no easy task to return a faucet to Amazon though... I have 2 options. I can return it myself and pay for shipping or I can request Amazon to set up a UPS pick-up. But it has to be picked up where it was delivered... so I can't have it picked up at work, where I am all day. It's a big pain in the butt... so the faucet is still sitting in our Living Room, waiting for deliberation.

I'm so glad I read those bad Price Pfister reviews... otherwise I would have bought/installed a faucet that didn't look nearly as nice as the one I ended up getting and was more than $50 more expensive.

Here's the specifics on the Kitchen Faucet:

Manufacturer: Glacier Bay
Retailer: Home Depot
Model: Lyndhurst Bridge Kitchen Faucet with Side Spray
Finish: Oil Rubbed Bronze
Price: $123
Review: Looks and works great! This faucet adds a perfect blend of colonial and modern aspects to our Kitchen. It was very simple to install. The faucet is raised very high, which is great for filling pots and washing large dishes, and also turns 180 degrees, which is great with a large sink. The sprayer has great pressure, and is not cheap at all! It is very heavy (both a good and bad thing), so I have no worries that it'll break or wear down over the years. I would definitely recommend this faucet. Gives the looks and feel of a very expensive faucet, without the high price tag. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Countertop Teaser

Our Kitchen countertops got installed this morning. We chose 1 1/4" thick Black Impala granite with a pencil edge. The granite was cut and installed by Renaissance Stone in Wallingford, CT. They did a good job for the most part, but we weren't as pleased with the installers. They showed up late both times (template and install), which was frustrating because R had to take time off from work to wait for them. But the important thing is that the countertops are in, and look amazing! I love the color of the Black Impala... it's a compromise. I wanted gray, R wanted black. Black Impala is a mid-dark gray with a slight bluish tint. The stone has a great variation to it (not a solid color, but not crazy busy).

So here's the teaser pic.. More to come in a formal countertop blog entry, and I promise they won't be cell phone quality :)