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As I’ve dreamed about fixing up the front of our house, I have been taking notes on what the neighbors are doing.  Miss E and I go on walks with her in the carrier on most evenings, and sometimes in the afternoon as well.

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We live in a development built in the 1950’s and for blocks around, there are really only half a dozen floorplans or so (and their mirror images).  Since being built there have been several decades for the various owners to build additions, change the facade, move doors and windows, add porches, etc. etc.  This means that when I go on walks, I have tons of opportunity to take notes on what works and what doesn’t on our exact same house!

For comparison’s sake, here’s a reminder of what our house looks like.

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There are two houses nearby that I particularly like.  They haven’t done anything drastic but the homes are updated and have tidy front yards.

I really like gray houses with crisp white trim, which is part of why this one appeals to me.    It just looks spick and span in person.  The paint looks fresh and new, and the lawn is always taken care of.  That’s more than I can say for a good percentage of the homes around us!  All the windows have been updated and have mullions (hard to see with the reflections), which I also love.IMG_1552 (800x598)

This house has a simple ranch-style porch that fits well with the rest of the house.  It also looks beautiful at night!  They have pretty, low-care landscaping with grasses and mulch and perfect outdoor lighting.  It really makes things look high end for our modest neighborhood.  Isn’t it amazing how great lighting can have that effect?

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So as the Chief works on restoring our windows, I’m dreaming about the end result.

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His project will likely take all month at the rate it’s going so far – the old paint is diamond hard and tough to get off, then everything needs to be primed with oil based primer, let that dry, then re-glaze each pane with window putty, which takes weeks to dry, then paint it all white.  He’s working on it a sash at a time and is currently about 25% done.

Are we the only ones who go around cribbing ideas from the neighbors?  Or is this a common DIY tendency?

I’m delighted to report that the front of our house currently looks like this:

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It’s fall and that means it’s time for the Chief to stop working on car projects and switch to house projects.   I love this time of year!!

The front of the house has been getting me down lately.  The three original wood windows were in dire need of re-glazing because the putty was flaking and disintegrating.

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There were still paint swatches from a year ago next to the door.

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And there were stucco patches across the front.

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We decided to prioritize an exterior update this fall.  This is Phase One (of two) to complete our curb appeal update.

Phase One Tasks

  • Re-glaze windows
  • Re-paint windows
  • Trim out windows with new, thick trim
  • Paint front of house (yay, no more piebald look!)
  • Paint house trim white (currently dark gray)

This will definitely elevate the appearance of our home!  After that we will probably take a break before continuing with Phase Two in the next year.

Phase Two Tasks

  • Tear down ugly metal porch and build nice new one (I wish we could tear it down now but we need something to keep off the winter rains!)
  • Replace the siding and brick on the far right facade of the house
  • Pour concrete walkway
  • Add landscaping

Here’s what the house looked like at its best before we got started.

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And here’s the in progress shot from the top of the post.

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It always gets worse before it gets better!  I’m really excited.  I’ll be back this week to share some more details.

When fall arrives do you tackle big house projects?  What small updates have boosted your curb appeal the most?

Well, we did it.  The little girl is three and a half weeks old and we have managed to keep her alive and happy.  I have to say she’s our biggest DIY project yet… har har har.

I thought today I’d share what the Chief did on his paternity leave.

First thing was to put a sign on the door.  Somewhere in the middle of labor (we did a home birth) I suddenly turned to the Chief and said, “Oh my gosh, can you put a sign on the door so nobody tries to drop in?”  It was early Sunday morning and friends routinely show up unannounced to visit on the weekends.  So he made this sign for me, with his friendliest roundy capital letters and a smiley face:

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As an introvert as well as a new mom, I just didn’t want to see or talk to anybody for a long time, so that sign stayed up for more than two weeks.   It was awesome.  It even kept some Jehovah’s Witnesses from knocking.

Secondly, he installed air conditioning in the house.  I’m not totally sure of the details because I was mere days out from giving birth, but there was an old cruddy nonfunctional system up in the attic which got replaced in an epic four-day (I think) work project.  We’d never had working AC apart from a small unit in the back window, and that window had been replaced several months ago with the French doors – effectively leaving us with no air conditioning and summer on the way.  The Chief had been collecting the components to install whole-house AC for a while, but when our thermostat indoors was suddenly reading 84 degrees he realized he needed to put it in Right Now while he had time off!

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Uninstalling the old system showed that it was worse than we’d thought.  He ended up ripping out all the ducting, resulting in some impressive piles of trash.

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The poor man was covered in 40 year old insulation from crawling around the attic and dragging that stuff out.

Now we have a brand new, sanitary, high powered AC system that can keep the house up to 30 degrees below the outside temps – an excellent thing when summer highs routinely go over 100 degrees and we always get a day or three over 110.  Babe, if you’re reading this, can I just say THANK YOU again?

And last but not least, I was able to celebrate Mother’s Day as a mother this year for the very first time!  The little girl got here with great timing, and to top it off, my mom was in town from Michigan over the holiday too.  What the Chief did was to made us a succulent Mother’s Day feast on the grill.  We had lobster tails (so much better grilled than steamed!), steamed Dungeness crab, grilled asparagus, and a big spring mix salad.  Oh, and lots of melted butter with garlic.  In fact, between the asparagus broiling in a shallow pan of butter, the butter stuffed into the lobster tails while they cooked, and the butter used to dip the seafood in, we went through about two and a half sticks of butter on this meal.  A lot of it fell into the grill though so that’s not the actual amount consumed… quite…  YEAH BUTTER!

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So that’s what went on during paternity leave.  Sounds awesome, huh?

You know those old couples who sit out on their front lawn side by side in folding chairs and watch the neighborhood goings-on?  Yeah, that was us.  Except we were watching other people work on our house.  Our driveway, to be precise.

Up till now we’ve had a pitted, disintegrating asphalt driveway that we’ve just lived with.  The Chief works on cars out there and it’s not pleasant to lie on your back for hours on a surface that looks like this:

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It finally made sense to replace the driveway, and I think it might be one of the most joy inducing house projects for the Chief.  Not only was Someone Else doing the work on his property, it was going to make his life a million times more comfortable.  It would let him work under cars comfortably as well as simply and easily roll out a tool cart, an engine lift, a jack, without the hassle and danger the old asphalt presented.  To keep costs down, he did all the prep work of removing the old paving and creating the foundation and forms for the concrete.  This included spraying the dirt down to make it easier for the mini-earthmover to remove it.

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You can see how far down he had to dig – about 6″.  We did not use rebar in this pour because metal is a lot more expensive than cement right now, and it is cheaper to do a 6″ slab of concrete (very thick and sturdy) than to do 3″ of concrete with rebar.

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With the driveway all dug out and prepared, it looked about like this.  The forms have not yet been installed here but it gives you the wide angle picture.

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About 6:30AM on Saturday, a half hour before they were scheduled, the crew and first concrete truck arrived.  The Chief sprang out of bed and went to go over the morning’s plan.  They taped up plastic on our house and the neighbor’s to ward off splatters, then backed the concrete truck to the far end of the driveway.  Here’s the very first cubic foot being poured!

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By 7:15 we were out back in our folding chairs, sipping tea and coffee respectively, and having a wonderful time watching the guys make our driveway look 1000 times better.

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After a while we relocated to the front yard to watch that part of the pour.  Here the crew is leveling out the driveway.

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After leveling, they float it with two different types of floats (flat paddles on long poles) that push the gravel down and make the surface of the concrete smooth.

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Once the concrete has been floated, expansion lines are marked to create some give in hot and cold conditions.

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The weather was blessedly perfect for pouring concrete – not too hot, not too cold, cloudy and damp but no rain fell.  This gave them plenty of time to work the concrete into a perfect finish before it started to harden.  From start to finish the whole job took about four hours.  It took EXACTLY two cement mixers’ worth of concrete.  We were nervous we’d be a measly couple of yard short and have to tap into the third truck we had on call, but with a little bit of smoothing the crew was able to fill the last spot and still have one or two shovelfuls of concrete to spare  Here is the final product.

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That’s a massively improved driveway, don’t you think?

I’m remembering how just over a year ago we replaced the warped wooden garage door and beam with a new steel I-beam and a beautiful automatic garage door.  With this new driveway poured, I think we’re about done with this part of of the house.  Our neighbors have been giving us thumbs up as they drive by, so everyone is a fan and we’re the rock stars of the week on our street.  That feels pretty good!  Next up: maybe we’ll finally take that 5 gallons of exterior paint and and repaint the house at last.  Till then, I never thought I’d be so pleased with a broad expanse of concrete paving.  How do you like our new surface?

I think it’s about time I gave you a proper post about our granny flat remodel project.

granny flat, n.   Self contained accommodation within or built onto a house.

The Chief and I have dreamed and planned since we got married of paying off our current home and expanding it as our family grows.  When we eventually move, we’d like to keep it as a rental property and source of income.  The next steps we have planned over the next 3-5 years are to convert and expand the covered patio into a generous master bedroom and bath, and to build two rooms onto the back of the house for a mud room/laundry room/project room and a man cave.

The first step, though, is to get our house generating some income by renting out part of it as a granny flat.  The Chief is excited because this is allowing him to expand the plumbing and electrical capacities of our (1 bath, 1020 sq. ft) house and put in “everything this house should have had in the first place,” according to him.  We’re remodeling with cash from our recent refinance and consider it a permanent upgrade as well as an investment to produce rental income.

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I loooove planning and designing stuff, and the Chief prefers execution, so we’re a good team.  I work on graph paper and think about things like sightlines and traffic flow in the rooms, and he looks at my plans and tells me what might need to be tweaked to work with the realities of where joists and pipes and such are.

This granny flat idea has already gone through several changes on paper over the last two years (yes, I think that far ahead!) but basically here’s where we stand as we break ground.  This is the “before” corner of our house that is getting remodeled.  The main room has been our bedroom and is now becoming the granny flat.  To orient you, the bottom wall with the window marked in it is the wall in the above photo.

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Now here is the plan with the changes we’re going to make structurally – walling it off from the rest of the house, busting into the covered patio/storage room to add a full bath, putting a door and new window in the south wall, and adding a kitchenette and closet.

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The way we work, there will probably be some minor tweaks regarding placement and dimensions of things as we see what fits with the situation as we go.  For instance, we will probably do an under-counter fridge rather than a slighly larger free standing mini fridge as pictured above, and the door might not go precisely where I drew it.  Because the Chief is so handy, we can make it work that way!  It’s fun and sometimes we get our best ideas when we’ve already gotten halfway into a project.

What do you think? Are you excited to follow along with us as we make this thing happen?  Would you put a granny flat onto your own home? Aren’t you jealous of me for getting to specify fixtures and colors from scratch instead of having to work with somebody else’s bad decisions?  (I think that’s my favorite part so far!)