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cottage renovation: replacing the sill beam is not sexy work

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Our upstate cottage renovation is moving along at a rapid clip! Before we can start talking about any of the fun stuff (house and door color, ceiling height, kitchen planning), I need to tell you about some of the down and dirty work that had to be done. Warning: It ain’t pretty — but I think our woes are a valuable cautionary tale for all future home buyers. The lesson being — beware what you can’t see!

As I wrote in this previous post, during the winter our pipes and radiators froze and burst. This lead us to having to replace those, along with most of the interior floor. This circumstance forced us to address some issues the house had that we had been avoiding for years: namely, poor drainage was causing the sill beam to rot. The house does not have a foundation, but rather cement footers and wooden sill or support beams. The house is built on a slope, which means the back of the house has been hitting dirt for years — or I should say decades! The previous owner had disclosed that she had found and repaired termite damage, but it was under the house in an area we couldn’t see or access. Cement stucco covered the houses exterior, so we couldn’t really tell how bad the sill damage was. But we knew it was there. Along the ground in back of the house, parts of the sill were exposed to the elements — and didn’t look good.

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So off comes the stucco to see what’s underneath, and the damage on the sill beam is even worse than we expected. In some places nothing remains of the old beam, in others what’s there crumbles in your hand like Styrofoam. it runs the entire length of the house and that damage is like a virus. In the worst spot, the back corner shown here, it infected the exterior wood panels above it and some of the floor it was attached to. It all had to come out.

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The weak support had been causing the whole house to sag. We had to lift it up 8 inches to where it was meant to be. Lifting up the floor meant that we had to remove anything that was attached to it on the interior — which meant we ended up tearing out the kitchen cabinets (which were buil-in after the floor had sagged). It was a crappy little kitchen, so we didn’t cry for it’s loss — but we did cry thinking about how much a new one would cost us!

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As you can see from these photos, our contractor placed the new beams on the existing pillars, which were still solid. In replacing the beam, our contractor (Eric Carlson) had to secure multiple boards together to create a strong support. It is made from pressure-treated wood that is more durable and less susceptible to future water and as tasty to termites down the road. In addition to all this house repair work, we also dug a deep French drain around the back of the house and filled it with stones. Now the water will drain around to the side yard, rather than hitting the house.


See the first post about our renovation here.

river cottage renovation begins!

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Seven and half years ago, when we were still living in New York City and before our little girl was even an idea in our minds, we bought a small cottage close to the Hudson River. During the house inspection, several issues were pointed out to us — poor drainage around the house which caused damage to the sill beam, old termite damage that had been haphazardly fixed, patchy concrete stucco that covered the house. “Everything’s fixable,” our inspector had told us. In love the little patch of land and the quaintness of the place, we naively plunged forward thinking, we’ll take care of that, one day. Then life happened, as it does, and the big plans for our little house took a back seat.

This winter, we were served a twist of fate that plunged us into action. You may recall that especially harsh blizzard back in February? Well our furnace took that opportunity to stop working. Four or five days passed before we discovered the malfunction, and during that time all of our six of our radiators burst (yes, burst!), pipes under the house had split and the hard wood floors got water logged. We wouldn’t be able to use the house again until all that was fixed.

Fortunately, we got a bit of insurance money to help us pay for this work. But immediately we started asking ourselves — should we be installing new floors and radiators when we know that what’s under the floor, the sill beam, needs to be repaired. We didn’t want to just fix the cosmetics — as the previous owner we bought it from did. We decided to wait until the weather warmed up so we tackle the drainage, stucco and sill beam as well. Once that work is done, then perhaps we could have some fun on the interior, and bring some of my country kitchen fantasies to life. (You can see some of them here on this Pinboard.)

We found an amazing local contractor to help us with our project and set a plan. First we’d remove the floors and the old radiators. Then we’d take down the stucco, add a french drain and repair the sill be beam. None of that is especially fun or sexy work, but it had to be done. Little did we know that we would be pulling the string on a sweater ready to unravel.

Coming up next: The surprise under the floor!

not so safe: nest recalls hundreds of thousands of smoke alarms

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Last fall we gushed about a brand new smoke alarm that aimed to reinvent the way we protect our homes from fire. Nest — which also makes supremely smart, mobile controlled thermostats – had introduced Nest Protect. Rather than blasting out a terrifying, high pitched siren every time you burn a roast, this aesthetically pleasing alarm would alert you in a calm voice and tell you specifically what’s wrong. (“There’s a fire in the bedroom!”) Best of all — we thought! — it could be shut off with a wave of your arm, rather than a frantic fanning of newspapers or the removal of batteries to get the thing to shut up (our current M.O.). Well….

It turns out that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) discovered a glitch that shuts down the device accidentally. I guess the “waving of the arm” technique is open to interpretation! Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest Labs, wrote a note on the company’s website back in April saying that Nest Wave will be automatically shut down. If you own one, make sure that your device is connected to a wireless network and properly linked to your account so your unit gets the software update. He says:

Once we have a solution that ensures Nest Wave works as intended, we will update our software to turn this feature back on. This will only happen after extensive testing and once we have received approval from safety agencies in the US, Canada and UK. We expect this to take at least two or three months and we’ll continue to update you as we have more information.

According to TechCrunch, this is not a physical recall but rather a software update — and Nest expects to have things up and running and back on the market in a few weeks.

Still, considering that each alarm costs over $100, and the typical home needs at least six, we expect better from Nest (which, in case you forgot, was acquired by Google early in the year for over 3 billion dollars).

Are you a Nest owner? If so we’d love to hear about your experiences here!

need to spruce up your deck before summer? see how we did it

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This post was originally published early last summer. Things are finally starting to look green here and we can’t wait to start entertaining on our deck. The paint held up well over the long harsh winter. We’ll be getting to work on our front porch soon!

The straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back was when Isadora’s BFF Sophie got a splinter in her foot. This has become a common event in our home due delicate bare little feet and a back yard deck that is past its prime. When it is our own girl, we just grab the tweezers and muscle through the splinter extraction … but with Sophie, that was not an option. The girl wouldn’t sit still to save her life, so we sent her home early, teary-eyed and limping. The next week, Chad started investigating our deck options. At first he thought merely flipping the boards would do the trick. After testing a few, we sadly discovered the underside of the wood was not much smoother than the top surface. Our current budget and life-improvement-plans do not allocate for a brand new deck, so we went for plan B: Lets paint it. We debated using a traditional stain, but wanted something that would literally change the texture of the deck under our feet. After much debate, we went with a product called Behr Deckover. (We considered something called Rust-Oleum Restore but that seemed a bit more heavy duty than we needed.) Soon we began to embrace the fact that our deck would no longer look like wood, and instead decided to embrace its colorful future. We chose a slate grey for the floor and a pale grey for the railing. The resulting effect reminds me of a traditional Cape Cod feel. Chad also mixed in some sand with the paint, which gave it a bit of grit. That way the texture is not slippery, even when wet.

To complete this project, our deck had to be sanded, and then three coats of Behr Deckover were liberally applied. With all the rainy days we had recently, this took about a two weeks to complete. At $35 a gallon, the total project cost us about $280.

We finished it off with a new, vintage-inspired table and chairs from OnWayFurniture.com that we got on sale for $350.

could you live in a macrohouse? new documentary “Tiny” asks and answers

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We often ponder what it would be like to live in a tiny house, dreaming about having a nice self-sustaining plot of land, a sturdy shelter and no mortgage. Call it our escape plan. Could we really do it? Christopher Smith and his girlfriend Merete ask themselves this same question and document the building of their own itsy dwelling in the new documentary, Tiny: A Story About Living Small. The website offers a bundle of advice and links to sites that sell plans and will help you build your own compact dream home. Check it ou!

TINY: A Story About Living Small (Teaser Trailer) from TINY on Vimeo.