Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More early days of Fort Max

Previously, I covered the stripping of the carpet, padding, and a million staples. Let's move on to the walls since that was the next big project. Once the carpet was out, we had to clean the walls off. That meant clearing any hooks off the wall, removing any hardware on the wall, and essentially gutting everything down to the drywall.

Sounds like small stuff but like the carpet, the project grew with every passing second. Take a closet for example. We had already removed the bi-fold doors to remove the carpet. But now it was time to remove the shelves. And the brackets. And that odd cable that ran from the attic to the basement. You get the idea. The only brackets we left up were the ones in the master closet (we ended up taking them down anyway later).

We're quickly learning that we hate bi-fold doors.

Other hardware we removed included the doors, the hinges, strike plates, outlet covers, and a few other things I've forgotten. You never realize all the little things that are there until you go to remove them and suddenly you're left holding the bag with a ton of stuff to keep track of. Fortunately we knew in advance that we wanted to replace the outlet and light switch covers so we just bagged those and donated them. But we also had window blinds, closet hardware, and more.

You get the idea. Lots of stuff to take off the wall. Once that was all done, we then had to clean the walls. Just some simple dish soap and hot water. We'd attack a room with a couple of mops and do the ceilings first, then the walls. We quickly learned that one room was shut off from the world but also appeared to have the most dirt on the walls. Haven't figured that on out yet but it almost looked like somebody smoked in just that room (even though it didn't smell like that).

Probably should have mentioned that before we washed the walls, we vacuumed the floors. No sense washing the walls only to spray dust and dirt all over them again. So the floors got a good vacuum which in turn gave us a great opportunity to find staples that we missed. We did pretty good and only found a few that were missed.

During this time we also had to deal with other distractions. Like chimney swifts in the fireplace, DirecTV installing a new dish and line to the house, getting new locks for the doors, and installing a new mailbox. I drafted the kids to help with the mailbox because it was a fairly small job and they were getting bored. I mean, it's a rough a life swimming half the day and playing the other half.

My helpers for the new mailbox.

Speaking of door locks, the old ones were a pain in the ass to remove. They were the old school Schlages and had these small covers over the allen screws/bolts that you needed to get to in order to remove the locks. Well, after using a hammer, prybar, drill, and lots of muscle, we were able to remove the old locks. Only to find that we needed to drill new holes so the new locks would fit. Which meant more drilling and more muscles.

Those damn metal covers in the top lock were a bitch to remove. Totally trashed the old lock beyond repair. We didn't install them in the new locks.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Recycled Bi-Fold Doors

A quick and fairly easy, not to mention cheap, project that was completed here at Fort Max was installing some shelves in the laundry room. We've been removing bi-fold doors like crazy in this house and knew we could re-use them elsewhere as shelves so we just filed them away in the garage for later use. Well, the time came to install them.

These particular doors came from William's closet but we also have doors from our bathroom, our closet, Elizabeth's closet, the living room closet, and as of last night, the utility room. So, plenty of spare material to work with. They aren't painted pretty but that wasn't a strict requirement before installation.

Supplies needed were fairly simple. The spare bi-fold doors (in this case, one side of the closet gave me two shelves). The screws from the hinges that came off the doors. Some new brackets to hold a rod. Scrap rod from our closet (we didn't have the right size so we needed to buy more). Scrap shelf brackets from some unknown shelf in the house we ripped out. Spare nails left by the previous owner.

Tools needed were a hammer, level, tape measure, and cordless drill. A helper was also needed for some of the awkward reaches.

I measured the master closet to see how the spacing was between the upper and lower shelf. I then added a couple of inches to them so that the bottom shelf in the laundry room isn't too close to the ground. Don't want clean clothes to sit on the floor. Anyway, once I measured my two starting points, I put a bracket in the wall. from there I leveled to the next one and installed that. Since only two of the three brackets per shelf were going to hold a rod, they were pretty easy to install and keep level. The third bracket was recycled and a bit different in design but it went in well enough.

Because I didn't want the shelf to fly off, I re-used the screws from the hinges to attach the shelf to the bracket. I repeated this process for the bars. No sense having them slide off.

And that was it. Presto, two shelves, two bars, and the only thing new was a couple of brackets.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The first days of Fort Max

We closed on Fort Max on July 2nd. We did our final walk through in the morning, signed our papers, then went back to claim it as ours. I carried my wife over the thresh hold and we promptly went to work making it our new home. Yvonne focused on cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen and I had to go back to work. So we didn't really get any "solid" work done until the 3rd.

Our primary areas of work were the three bedrooms, the hallway (which included two closets), and the living room. The bathrooms were functional and dated but we left them alone. The kitchen was up to date but was also left alone. The basement and outside were left alone. We focused on the main living areas so we could prep for painting and flooring.

A before picture.

So off with the carpet we went. The old carpet and padding were ripped out. The best way to remove it is to use a utility knife to cut it into manageable sections and just yank. A mask may be needed if you don't want to breath in the crap left behind but I didn't care about that, I just wanted to get rid of the 20 year-old crap. Once you remove all the carpet, remove all the padding. In our case, it was that greenish, mottled stuff. There were remnants of the egg carton stuff under it but not much.

Some more before pictures.

Then comes the tack strip. A hammer and prybar work great. But be careful. Those things will stab you faster than you think is possible. Have a trashcan ready (but no bag) so you can toss them right in. I learned that breaking them in half (carefully) made them not stand up too high out of the trash can and therefore less likely to cut me.

The previous owner's name on the carpet.

After the tack strip comes the really hard work. Staples. Tons of them. Thousands of them. Seriously. It took my right hand a week and a half before it was back to normal. After a day I could barely grab anything. Needle-nose pliers work best but the prybar and hammer worked in a pinch. It's slow and painful, but necessary.

And then comes the baseboard. Take. Your. Time. We lost a day or two because we went a little too fast and ended up popping holes in the drywall. That meant patching and mud and more mud and sanding and more mud. Not fun. Go slow, take it easy, and it'll work. The best technique I found was to use a drywall putty knife, a wider one that's pretty stiff, a hammer, and a thin prybar. I call them the cat's paw type of prybar but it's a small one with a thin end that can slip between the wall and the baseboard. If you don't have a putty knife to pry against, use a small, thin piece of wood or plywood. Something to distribute the pressure of prying the boards off.

Once that was done, we were down to bare wood on the floors. And quickly noticed a few that needed to be replaced. Expect this to happen at every level of home repair. I'm sure there's a rule of thumb out there for it but everything we've done so far has come with some hidden cost of either money or time that we didn't plan for. But the key should always be to take the time and money to do it right.

As for the flooring, we had diagonal slats on top of the floor joists then glued sawdust on top of that. The glued sawdust has a special name that I don't know. But it's not the typical plywood you would find in the stores today. In fact, the thickness was not normal either. The flooring guys had to buy two sheets and sandwich them together to get the same height as the original floor. Anyway, the pets that had lived her before had peed all over the floor and it was readily visible in every room. So in a couple of spots the sawdust layer had started to dry rot and from our normal foot traffic with no carpet to protect it, it got worse. So it got replaced. We were tempted to just re-floor everything but the floors weren't squeaky and the sawdust layer was solid.

After a second day of staple removal, we walked around like people with claws instead of hands. But it was tons better. We vacuumed, looked, and looked again. We still missed a few staples, but generally speaking we got 98% of them the first time through.

Stay tuned for more adventures at Fort Max.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brass vs. Steel

When it comes to plumbing, or anything related to water, you want to stick with brass. Or at least avoid steel. In the continuing adventures of #FortMax, we had a toilet begin dripping water shortly after we moved in. Thankfully the leak wasn't a major one but it was certainly inconvenient to be down a working toilet right away.

The final diagnosis on the cause of the leak was a steel bolt was used to attach the toilet tank to the toilet bowl. It was clearly an after-market repair as all toilet kits come with brass bolts for that particular connection. The steel bolt rusted over time because it is in direct contact with the water inside the tank. That rust led to a leak.

My working theory is that at some point in time the steel bolt was put in during a tank repair. Because the house was not used frequently, the rust accumulated but didn't have any movement in the tank. Once we started using it, the water coming into the tank and going out caused the rust to move, thus causing the leak to appear.

Again, we're thankful that the leak wasn't a big one and didn't have any lasting impact on the bathroom floor (or basement ceiling). But it's yet again another thing to think about when doing your household repairs. Take the time (and the money) to do it right the first time. The cost difference between a brass and a steel bolt can't be that much. Maybe pennies. But even if it was a few dollars, imagine the amount of money you would need to spend on repairing your bathroom floor and cleaning up a flooded basement. All because you used a steel bolt in the toilet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

So many lessons learned, not enough time to teach them

In what I hope will be a continuing series on the lessons I've learned in home ownership and maintenance, I'll attempt to dispense with what knowledge I have. For those looking forward to these posts (or hoping to avoid them), simply look for the tag #FortMax. That's what we have dubbed our new house and the name seems to have stuck.

Which leads me to how we came about naming our new home. Once upon a time, I was a kid in the 1980s growing up with my father. We lived in a quaint little neighborhood with a pool, a couple of dead-end streets, and plenty of families that were always nice to you. Our new house is two doors down from that house I grew up in. I knew the previous (and original) owner when I was a kid. His first name was Barry. One of our favorite TV shows is The Goldbergs, a show about a kid growing up with this family in the 1980s. His older brother is named Barry. So with the 80s, the Barrys, and the shared childhood experiences, I asked Adam Goldberg to name our new house.

He came up with Fortress Maximus. I'll admit, I wasn't too impressed. But over time, I shortened it to Fort Max, started using the nickname, and it stuck. Stuck so much, my kids and my wife are using it. Not all the time but enough to know that's the nickname that'll stick.

So there you have it, the birth of a new house for us. Stay tuned for future installments of what I've learned from Fort Max.