Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Kitchen: Before & After Photos

I've finally finished the backsplash, except for the grout, but hey, the project is 95% done, so it's time to move on to something that's 0% done.

So let's compare the almost final product. Before:


Total price tag for this minor facelift, including the carpenter, plumber, dishwasher, disposal, fridge, sink, faucet, tile, tile polishing, new knobs was a little under $4500. Time that this project took me, including shopping for materials (from appliances and fixtures to tile and grout), tiling the counter, grouting, attaching new knobs & pulls, and coordinating carpenter & plumber = 45 hours. How DO those Fix-n-Flip people do it???

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Return to Good Karma?

We know Bad Things happen in threes. We’ve had a plumbing disaster and news of Impending Job Move. I’ve been anxiously awaiting Bad Thing #3, and am rather relieved that I just wrecked the car. $5000 in damage. I picked a fight with an F150 and I lost. What a shocker.

Recap: The Past 8 years

In 1999, Martin rented out his condo and I rented out my house, and we moved in to an apartment in Belltown together. I vaguely remember the Happy Carefree Lifestyle of being a renter.

7 months later, we purchased a condo in the same Vintage 1989 building. We scraped the popcorn ceiling and had it, and the cracked drywall, retextured while living there (at one point we were down to a 300 sq ft living area). We changed the outlets, light switches and heaters from icky yellowing almond to bright white. We replaced the carpet, linoleum, dishwasher, microwave, sink/faucet/disposal, tore out a kitchen closet to accommodate a larger fridge and plumbed it for filtered water and ice to accommodate our lifestyle.

Soon after closing on the Belltown condo, we learned that Martin’s Capitol Hill condo building had significant water damage and was scheduled to be shrouded in plastic for water damage repair. Shortly after the Building Condom went on, the tenant moved out. Imagine.

Being unable to afford the vacancy, we rented out our Belltown condo and moved to the Capitol Hill condo. Lucky us. Living under plastic wrap is quite depressing really, with no exterior view other than scaffolding and the occasional contractor. And believe me, these were not the contractors from the Diet Coke commercial.

Of course we could always walk outside, but when you can’t see what the weather looks like, you have absolutely no idea whether you want to.

During the 2.5 yrs we lived there, we replaced the fridge, added a wine rack above the fridge, and repainted. Lame, I know, but the Shrink Wrap Year took its toll on our initiative, and these were trying Job Years for me.
After 2.5 years, my house became vacant, and we moved to Ballardia Classic. And Classic it was. In 2 years, I tore out the kitchen and completely renovated it, finished the basement, added a second bathroom, replaced the galvanized plumbing, retiled the original bathroom and mudroom, expanded the patio, and installed a new lawn.

And now here we are in Ballardia II, and may have to move to Orange County. That will be 6 moves in 8 years! SIX!!!

I have this strong instinct to settle somewhere and nest. I mean build one, decorate it, and live in it, not populate it with Young.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Breaking News Flash

The company which employs Martin merged with another company a couple of months ago. Up until today, we thought Martin was going to work at an office across the street from his current location. Today, Martin’s boss pulled him into his office, and informed him of an “exciting new opportunity” for him – In Irvine. English Translation: “the merger has left the company overstaffed in Seattle, and you can remain employed if you move.”

My job is mobile, requiring only that I live in a major Metro area near a major airport, so we have no piddly excuses like ‘Rebecca can’t move because of her job’. And yes, I have a Day Job. Remodeling is but a Perverse Hobby.

On the plus side, most of our possessions are still in boxes since we just moved FIVE MINUTES AGO.

Injustice for All

After Mr Rooter fixed our side sewer, he informed me that sewer repairs required a permit, and I was supposed to file an emergency permit with the City of Seattle. There was what seemed to be a wink and an unspoken “but who’s to know if you just shovel the dirt back in” following his obligatory informational statement.

Because I have a folder full of Dorothy’s receipts, I happened to know that in January of 2003, Dorothy had an exterior sewer cleanout installed (instead of the prior one in the basement – again, ewwwww), which also required a side sewer permit, and for which the City of Seattle charged her $65 (and there’s no mention of a senior discount).

With this in mind, I decided to follow the law and marched myself down to the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development for my side sewer permit. Only my permit was $280.

From 1/9/2003 until 12/18/2006, we apparently had 330% inflation in the cost of side sewer permits? And let me get this straight – for my entirely discretionary choice of upgrading my woefully inadequate electrical service, I had to pay a mere $239, but for ridding my neighborhood of a public health hazard I had to cough up $41 MORE?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A very long day spending quality time with bleach and rubber gloves.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Roto Rooting

Roto Rooter has arrived, and their Rooter tool got stuck 4 feet into our side sewer. Hmmm. Mr Rooter’s professional opinion was that we should have them return with a camera (on Monday, as apparently the camera doesn’t work weekends) to diagnose the issue.

Having already been without plumbing for 1.5 days, we’d already scouted out all of the best public restrooms in our general area, and had absolutely no desire to continue ripening over the weekend. So Martin proposed plan “B”; dig a hole where the Rooter was stuck, and find the problem. Apparently common sense DOES require an engineering degree.

Several hours and one big hole later, Mr. Rooter found the problem – a fist-sized hole in our side sewer. It seems our entire side yard has been functioning as a septic drain field for who knows how long. Ewwwwww.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Power for the Prepared

It seems all of Seattle has no power, except us. Our power barely even flickered during the windstorm, thanks to our insurance policy, The Trusty Fisher Wood Stove (Vintage 1976, a fine year for wood stoves).

Too bad we don't have a backup sewer line.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lake Cesspool

Between 4 & 5 pm on Thursday, Dec 14th, Seattle received a record .86” of rain, on top of the 16” we’d received in November.
At 6pm, when I discovered the new lake in our basement, everyone else had found theirs hours earlier and had already scheduled an emergency appointment with Roto Rooter, so we are out plumbing until the first available appointment – on Saturday.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Let There Be Light Fixtures

In Seattle, where the Winter brings 7 hours of Daylight with no actual Sunlight, lighting is very important. Therefore of course, Ballardia II didn't have any to speak of.

The basement lighting has issues. It’s the pull-string kind, where the pull strings have vanished or simply no longer work. Some of them have energy-efficient light bulbs in them, so we can twist them off. Others, though, have regular light bulbs, and after having made the mistake of turning them on, an oven mitt is needed to turn them off. This may be a long term project.

The living room is devoid of all lighting. The adjacent dining room has a great art deco tiered light fixture - which supported ONE sixty watt bulb. It has to go.

Ballardia Classic had come with its own original 1930s Chevron Slipper Shade Chandelier, which was both gorgeous and functional, with a full 300 watts for the ceiling fixture, plus 60 EACH in the matching sconces. It was Lighting Paradise.

It would be fabulous to replace the dining room fixture in Ballardia II with something similar, but a quick check of antique lighting prices showed a price tag of about $1000 for that same Chevron Slipper Shade Chandelier. Sigh. I should've swiped it from Ballardia Classic before closing; what was I thinking!!!???

Well, since Antique doesn't match the budget (Shoe String), More Shopping was necessary. After a check of the market, Rejuvenation has a great reproduction in a similar style, the Nicolai, which was about 1/2 the cost of Antique. I ordered it with the Bronze Gilt finish and Velvet shade.

Had to wait 8 weeks for delivery, but it was worth the wait.

Installation Tools: Charm and Good Looks (Martin did it).

Friday, December 8, 2006

Back in the Kitchen Business

The plumber has arrived and hooked up the sink, faucet, disposal, dishwasher, and ice line for the fridge, so we are back in business with our not-quite-finished kitchen:

I still have the backsplash to finish up, as well as a knob replacement.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006


I’m not sure why it takes me 2x the time to grout than it does to tile. Perhaps it’s because I am not a Tile Professional.
Because I only do a small section at a time, I mix the grout in a Ziploc Freezer bag - it allows me to mix it with my fingers, and cleanup consists of throwing away the baggie.
Materials: grout, water, Ziploc Freezer bags
Tools: grout float, kitchen sponge (I find it easier to use than a regular grout sponge)

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Tiling the Kitchen Continues....

Tiling the kitchen counters continues. No, that's not a working sink - I just put it in to make me feel like there's progress.

And now, it's time for a little Tile Math.

Materials for this project, not including my Trusty Tile Saw, totalled around $25 per square foot, and this was for a fairly inexpensive (< $10/sq ft) granite colour. Which raises the question - is it cost effective to use granite tile?. Had I paid for labour, I suspect that the cost would have been quite close to an entry level granite slab cost.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kitchen Counters Meet Tile Saw

The secret to successful tiling involves planning ahead and filching a dental pick from the hygienist during one's annual teeth cleaning (or ok, just asking worked for me - they had a stash of broken ones). Invariably, thinset will be squeezed up in between the tiles, and anything which would be above the grout line needs to be removed. The dental pick is essential for picking and scraping out that extra gunk.

Materials: Tile, latex modified thinset, blue tape (needed to hold on that edge while it dries), earplugs, safety glasses, 1/16" spacers

Tools: Level, MK Diamond 770 EXP tile saw, 1/4" notched trowel, a bucket, 80 grit rubbing stone, dental pick, those tile crayons.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Seal early, seal often

At Ballardia Classic, we learned the hard way that light-colored granite is porous, and therefore easy to stain with oil, coffee, lemons....things that you are rather likely to spill on the kitchen countertop. Fortunately MasterWholesale in Seattle has a great selection of poultice products to "draw out" stains from granite.

You would think I would have learned my lesson and purchased nicely dense DARK granite this time, but no, I prefer the look of light colored granite. So I'm sealing 3 times - before installation, after installation and before grouting, and after grouting.
So far I've been happy with the basic TILELab sealer from Home Depot.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Prepping the Kitchen Counters for Tile

I need to tile and grout minimally the area around the kitchen sink before we can call the plumber in to install the new sink, dishwasher, and disposal, and until we do this, we have no kitchen plumbing.

I bought ¼” HardieBacker Cement Board from Lowes, in a convenient 4x6’ size which Just Barely fit in the back of my Volvo. The HardieBacker site has explicit installation videos, which I found quite educational. The score-and-snap method worked fine to cut most of the drywall sheets down to size, but I had to cut the sink cutout using a carbide tipped blade in my Jigsaw, and filed it down in a few places with a rasp. Once it was sized to fit, I set the cement board in latex modified thinset on the plywood top my carpenter built, and since the counter was going to be covered by tile, I wouldn’t care about nail pops, so I just used 3/4" roofing nails to secure it. Super easy. I secured the seams with mesh tape and more thinset.

And then…..time for my Trusty Tile saw. I bought a saw while remodeling Ballardia Classic, faced with the realization that tiling work was Expensive, but was one of those lovely remodeling tasks that simply required Patience. I can do Patience….sort of.

But Tile Saw rental proved to be a problem. They rent big burly tile saws at Home Depot, which I can’t lift. So I’d have to wait for Martin to get the saw out of my car whenever I wanted to rent it, and then I’d need a rapid completion schedule for its return. It was pretty easy to justify my own saw. I bought the MK Diamond 770. It has great reviews, and I can lift it (well, barely). It was quite pricey, but I figured I could sell it on Craigslist when done, so it might work out around the same as the lesser saws.

Tile For Less had Santa Cecilia granite tile, which looks much nicer than this picture, and conveniently blends right in with the two things we are most likely to spill on the countertop - red wine and coffee. Since I purchased the tile fromTile For Less, they charged me $7.99/sq ft to polish the edge of the tile so the countertop edge looks finished. They can also do a beveled finish, which costs more, so luckily I didn’t like it.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Kitchen Project Begins

We roped our favorite carpenter into giving us a dryer vent. Merry Christmas to us! And since he was over, we had him replace the existing kitchen countertop with a plywood top which I could tile. Now we have no kitchen plumbing, and the pressure’s on. Or off, depending on the intent of that phrase.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I’m thankful for a dishwasher, disposal, and dryer vent….
At least, I would be if I had them.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fixture Shopping

I hate shopping. If I paid no attention to price tags, shopping might be easier, other than finding footwear for my size 10 feet.

One year, Martin & I went to Florence, Italy, and for some reason the lines at all of the tourist attractions were Discouragingly Long, so we wound up shopping. Martin Loves Shoes, so Florence, with a Shoe merchant on every corner selling lovely handmade Italian shoes, combined with a Comfortably Low Euro meant a Fine Vacation for Martin. In every shop he'd find something he liked and ask for a size 44, they'd hand it over, and a Shoe Purchase would ensue. In every shop I'd find something I liked and ask for a size 41, and they'd laugh and suggest I try Men's.

At one point, I did try a clothing retailer, and found a pair of pants to buy. Curiously, the hemline was 5" too long for me. So I'd really like to know where this 6'2" Italian chick is buying her shoes!

But back to Remodeling Shopping. House Remodeling Shopping is sometimes just as challenging as shopping for my footwear, with house parts having to be appropriate for a 1930's house, actually fit in odd-size rooms, and, well, be Free. Or as close to it as possible.

The bathroom fixture shopping is easy (though not Free). I’m going to repeat Ballardia Classic’s 2nd bathroom, which I think turned out quite well, with a Kohler Memoirs toilet & sink. Generally mail order from companies like and have worked out well for me.

I'm also repeating the same Hansgrohe faucet I used in Ballardia Classic, from the Home Depot website.

Kitchen sink & faucet shopping is more work. There are not many options for the kitchen sink; I need a 33” inch white one, so I’m going for Cheap, from the Home Depot website. I miss my Franke fireclay farmhouse-style sink from Ballardia Classic, but it won’t work with the sink cabinet here.

I found a great faucet with a pull-out sprayer at, which is always worth a check for home improvement goodies.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Houston, we have a problem

At first glance, it seemed like the dishwasher installation would be relatively easy. We’d already located a super convenient 24” cabinet to the left of the sink and removed it, leaving a perfectly sized slot to slide in the dishwasher, then it would simply need to have us (and by ‘us’ I mean Martin) drill a couple of hoses and connect the dishwasher to the sink. When we were upgrading the Original Classic Fuse Box, we had the electrician give us an under-sink outlet for both the dishwasher and disposal, and a disposal switch, so we were set there.

I should perhaps explain that unless we hire a professional, Martin is In Charge of Plumbing. I don’t do Plumbing. It’s messy and smells bad. Yuk.

But I digress. What we discovered was that there was no handy location to simply plug the dishwasher hose in, as there had been in all prior dishwasher ventures (Martin’s an expert, this would be his 4th). This one requires delicate plumbing surgery. We have two options:

1) Martin could do it, and he would be very grumpy, or
2) We could call in the Real Plumber and have him do it

Option #2 is clearly the winner. But the scope creep is inevitable. If we’re replacing the sink plumbing, we should Obviously get a new sink and faucet. And why get a new sink and put it on the old, outdated countertop? We should Obviously replace the countertop. After all, I'd just gone from this kitchen (yay!):

To this one (Boo!):

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Appliance Shopping

We got the cheapest possible stainless Bosch dishwasher – must be a Bosch now; I’m a convert because of the noise. Martin would like to run the dishwasher when it’s ready, regardless of the hour. I’d like peace and quiet when I sleep. The solution? The Bosch dishwasher. Previously we had a GE dishwasher, and while we liked its better glass and stemware rack, it made loud growling noises all through the wash cycle. For Domestic Harmony, Bosch is the way to go.
We also purchased a Very Large GE fridge which only fits in the kitchen if placed directly in front of the back door, blocking access to the yard. As the back steps are completely rotted, really this is a Safety Feature.

The Plan is to wall in the back door, swap the existing back kitchen window for a set of French doors, and build an Enormous Deck.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Primitive Conditions

We are not the sort of people who can live without a dishwasher or disposal. Our sink strainer is perpetually filled with decaying Raisin Bran and our countertop is buried under the piles of every dish we own – dirty of course. Fortunately a 10% off Lowe’s coupon has arrived in the mail, and guess what we are buying.

And did I mention the dryer situation? Back in August, when we realized that we would be buying a dryer-free house, Martin upgraded the washer/dryer in his rental condo, as the tenants were complaining about it. He then retrieved the old dryer for our use in the new place, and started calling himself the Reverse Slumlord, since we’re taking the appliances snubbed by our tenants. Unfortunately, there’s a REASON the tenants wanted an upgrade. The dryer takes about 2 hrs to dry a big load, and for the last 30 minutes, it makes a loud beeping noise and HAS NO VOLUME CONTROL…

We also have no exterior vent, so every time we want to run the dryer, we have to open the window and shove the aluminum duct outside.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Nothing says "Grandma's House" like her paint colors

White walls, white ceiling, white trim....argh!

At a minimum, I've got to paint the living/dining room and FAST, before I go crazy. This of course does not bother Martin in the least, as he does not like color. At most, I know I'll be able to have one beige-ish color and an accent color. Strangely, this makes the decision process much easier.

I'd like a dark accent color, but due to the lack of lighting in Ballardia, the house won't support it.

I have my fan deck ($10 from Sherwin Williams), and the Sherwin Williams site also has this lovely Color Visualizer online, which I've never actually used, but I like knowing that it's there. After looking at the colors that I'm not changing in the house, I've chosen Heather (SW0086) as my shade of beige, and Mocha (SW6067), both in Eg-Shel, and Downy (SW7002) as a complimentary white for the ceiling.

Why Sherwin Williams? As I'm doing the painting myself, and planning on living in the finished product, I love their zero VOC Harmony Interior Latex paint. Check out the dangers of VOCs on the EPA web site.

I have a few painting tips -
1) a really good 2" angle sash brush is an absolute must. I like the Sher-Tip brushes, and have had mine for years (and at least 5 full interior paint jobs).
2) tape to carpeting with masking tape, wood floors with blue tape
3) Home Depot carries rolls of 3' wide heavy paper in the painting section. This is the best stuff to protect floors as you paint the walls - fix a line of tape on the floor, then tape the paper to the tape on the floor.
4) If you are planning on stopping the painting activity for hours, days, or months (guilty!), wrap the roller in plastic shopping bags and stick in the fridge. This prevents the paint from drying on the roller, so it can be just taken out of the fridge when ready to resume painting.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Listing Day for Ballardia Classic

I’ve failed to document the agony of getting Ballardia Classic ready for sale, but here it shines in its final splendor.

Thanks to my friend & Realtor Grace McKinnon-Weeks for her staging expertise, Realtor skills, and above all the wide-angle lens on her camera that actually made my dollhouse sized house appear to be full scale.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Original Charming Mercury Thermostat

The fun with the Original Charming Mercury Thermostat is that is works based on sliding the little lever to the desired temperature, which shifts the balance of the mercury to the “off” or “on” position. This of course depends on having the thermostat LEVEL TO THE WALL. Ours is dangling by one screw, and any adjustment to the temperature reading shifts the position of the entire thermostat, allowing us effectively two settings – Too Hot and Too Cold.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dorothy's house folder

The previous owner Dorothy lived in this house for 60 years, and finally passed away in 2006 (not in the house). Dorothy raised three children in the house, and finally lived there alone for over twenty years after her children left home and her husband passed away. Dorothy was the sort of neighbor everyone wants and we just can't even aspire to be.

With the house purchase, we also received Dorothy’s folder of house documentation. It’s pretty cool actually. We have the receipt and operating manual for the Washing Machine (10/17/1973), and the receipt for the Milgard windows, installed 11/6/1998, which have a LifeTime Warranty (unfortunately it was probably Dorothy’s Lifetime). I’ve got the documentation for the vinyl siding, purchased 4/28/1980, along with its 40-year warranty, the receipt for the backyard plum tree ($5.68 at Ernst on 3/6/1975), and the receipt for the new roof from 9/14/1999. Dorothy opted for the 40-year composite, although she would have been about 88 years old at the time the roof was installed. Love this woman.

I have the receipt for the oil furnace from 1963, the garage door from 1975, and the freezer from 1958. My personal favorite is the installation instructions for the Nutone range hood, which has no date on it, but must be pretty old as June Cleaver seems to be on the cover.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Puget Sound Regional Archives

The Puget Sound regional archives have pictures and documentation (assessments) of houses in the Seattle area, generally taken in 1937. They can be contacted at (425) 564-3942 to arrange for the purchase of copies of the pictures and/or records. This is the picture of our house. Too bad they changed the windows and the front door. I rather prefer the former garage door, too.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

200 amps

Can't move in without updated electrical…….a spanking new 200amp panel. The city charged us $239 for the permit and our miscellaneous outlet upgrades (even polarized is a step up), then Seattle City Light demanded their take of another $235. Hmmm… One would think it wouldn’t cost quite so much to get rid of the fire hazard fuse box? Perhaps the city should be giving us an incentive to be less likely to require their emergency services?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Closing Day

Closing Day.....It's all ours....ours ours ours. Let the carpet removal party begin!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

About the House

The previous owner, Dorothy, had lived in the house for 60, count ‘em, SIXTY years. Luckily for us, she did a marvelous job with maintenance (new roof, new windows) and somehow managed to keep 40 year old kitchen cabinets practically like new:

She left much of the Original Charm intact, such as the Original Charming 100 amp fuse box:

The Original (well, circa 1963) Charming Furnace:

Accompanied by, of course, The Original Charming Mercury Thermostat:

And last, but certainly not least, the Original Charming Clothesline, because the house has no dryer!

The house has 3 floors, the basement (If you look closely, you can see the backup clothesline in the basement to support our not-conducive-to-drying-anything-outside Seattle weather.):

Main floor,with the kitchen above, two bedrooms,and the one and only bathroom:

Can’t wait to shower with that plastic tile in the tub – hold me back - but it least it has hex tile on the floor

And the attic, featuring the timeless appeal of summer camp:

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Here we go again.....

I’d just about finished with the Ballard classic house ( and was starting to think about Life After Construction when Martin spotted this charming 1930’s frame tudor a short mile away. Well, to be fair, what he actually spotted was this OTHER house right across the street…..3000 sq feet on a 9000 sq ft lot, and his Inner Commercial Real Estate Appraiser couldn’t resist the value on a per-square-foot basis. Never mind the fact that it was already sold, to a developer planning on tearing it down. Just goes to show the quality of home that we look at - we're apparently willing to live in a house when anyone in their right mind would level it and start over.

Well, in the process of dragging me (kicking AND screaming) over to see this mid-century disaster house, we saw this somewhat smaller and somewhat more intact yellow Tudor across the street. It's about 600 sq ft larger than the Ballardia Classic house, with a better floor plan, and lofty 8.5' ceilings, so we put an offer on it. We knew there were a couple of other offers, so I figured it was safe, we wouldn’t get it…..HAH.