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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!

From our partners

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!

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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.

From our partners

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.

From our partners

we tried it: simplisafe home security system

Background: Ever since we have moved out of the city and into a house in ‘burbs, we’ve been thinking about getting a security system. Somehow in the city, where our apartments usually had only one point of entry and the buildings often had doormen or security, we didn’t worry about burglary that much. But out here in our own freestanding house, not only are there three doors, but lots of windows that are easily reachable. We have already taken some measures to securing our home: We have installed exterior “spy” cams we can turn on when we’re away. They’ll alert us every time a UPS man drops a package off on our front door! We also have a dog: despite his adorable looks, our labradoodle Cupcake does emit a rather fierce “warning” bark when strangers approach. Most security systems sound like they will be more trouble than they are worth. They cost hundreds to install, require expensive monthly fees to keep active, and will add an extra layer of complication to our lives. That is what we thought anyway, until reading about SimpliSafe on Apartment Therapy — which highly recommends it for apartment dwellers — we decided to give it a try on our small house.

The Lowdown: The first thing we noticed about SimpliSafe (we ordered the Classic) is that it took longer to unwrap it from the packaging than it took to install the entire system. Ours came with a base station, a wireless keypad, a motion sensor, 3 entry sensors (+ we ordered a couple of extra ones), an extra siren and a smoke detector.

After it arrives, we registered the Base station online. Then, you can either program the system via a web site or by using the provided USB key that you plug into a computer that will walk you through set up. The USB key is basically the size of a small memory stick and also serves as a portable on/off switch if you want to put it on your key chain. (Note: We found it to be slightly on the cheap side and wished they made a smaller, more high end one that wasn’t plastic — perhaps aluminum or a carbon fiber?)  The system is totally customizable so you can decide which sensors are active when you are away or at home. Pressing the Panic Button for two seconds will instantly trigger an alarm. You can also set the panic button to trigger a “Silent Panic” alarm if you want to pretend you work in a bank. If you are subscribed to alarm monitoring, the police will be dispatched. However, you’ll want to use the silent alarm setting with caution, as you will not receive a call from the monitoring center prior to police dispatch.

For ours, we chose not to use the panic button because we could imagine our little girl pressing it just for fun.  If we decide to add it later we can do it via a drop down menu in our account settings. You can also add other elements to the system a la carte style:  They make a water sensor, freeze sensor, and a Carbon Monoxide Sensor. You can even add extra key pads if you would like a second one by a back door or upstairs.

If one of the sensors is opened when the alarm is on, the base station will beep and ask you to enter your code (in effect, telling whoever just entered that there is an alarm system activated). If you don’t enter your code in time (you can determine how long), the system will send a signal to SimpliSafe’s 24/7 alarm monitoring center and a siren goes off. It uses the same cellular technology that’s in your cellphone: a system SIM card that is activated when you subscribe to the alarm monitoring service. You can customize how long you have to enter your passcode and you can also enter up to 5 different passcodes and a separate passcode to use if an intruder is forcing you to turn off your alarm and they will immediately send the police.

The motion sensors are supposed to not be triggered by pet under 50lbs but our small dog triggered it one day when he jumped up on the back of the couch. We just moved the sensor to another location and have not had any problems since.

When you go away from home, you activate the away mode — all sensors are on. You can place the system in the “home mode” if you want to deactivate motion detectors but keep the windows and doors armed. Everything is customizable so you can decide what you want on and off.

The price of the smallest system is $229 and monitoring costs between $15 -$25 a month depending on if you want to control it via a mobile device.– compared to other systems that are similar that cost about $1400 to install and $45 a month for similar services.

The monitoring comes in three different price plans:   “Standard” $14.95 for just monitoring service. “Alert” $19.99 monitoring service with text alerts if sensors are triggered.  “Interactive” $24.99 monitoring service with text alerts if sensors are triggered.  You can also receive secret alert texts which can be set to monitor sensors that are not meant to detect a burglary but meant to keep track of other things, such as a liquor cabinet door or medicine cabinet being opened. Good for houses with teenagers, perhaps? But not for us.

Or you can choose to have no monitoring plan at all and the system will still blast a siren if the sensors are triggered. The burglars won’t know if police are on the way or not but they won’t stay long to find out if the siren is blaring.

Still Curious: For more detailed information, visit SimpliSafe’s website here where you can review all the options and watch some helpful videos. If you have any questions about our experience, leave a comment here and we’ll do our best to respond quickly!

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