November 14, 2008

Tea Fire hits home

(Photo courtesy Santa Barbara Outdoors, Voskuyl Library on Westmont campus)

I woke up this morning to some devastating news. My alma mater, Westmont College, was in the midst of a raging wildfire that has engulfed much of Montecito, CA. The campus was fortunate enough to only lose 8 buildings, including one dormitory and several classrooms, and at least a dozen or so faculty homes have been lost or damaged. My heart goes out to all those who have lost their homes and I thank God that there were no lives lost. I'll be keeping the entire Montecito community in my thoughts and prayers tonight and for weeks to come.

November 10, 2008

Insulation blues

When I first purchased our home back in 2002 I noticed that our upper 1/2 story was fairly frigid during the cold weather months (roughly 9 months out of the year here in MN!) and broiling in the summer. I wasn't overly concerned about the temp disparity seeing as this level wasn't connected to the main heating system (radiant baseboard) and had a supplemental electric baseboard system. We just turn the heat on when we're using the room (which is any time we want to watch TV) and turn it off when we aren't (yay, energy conservation!). It doesn't take long to heat up as it's more like a 1/3 story than a 1/2. For lack of a photo, picture the highest point of the ceiling at roughly 6'5 for a span of 24 inches and then sloping down to about 3 ft. in height. It is indeed a cozy little nest!

But over the years this difference in temperature has been gnawing at the back of my mind. Take, for instance, this morning. After the chilliest night of the season so far (the overnight temp dipped into the 20's) and our main level thermostat set at 62 degrees I ventured upstairs only to find the temp was hovering around 57. Not too bad, you might think, except for the fact that the electric baseboard was left on its lowest setting overnight. Under normal circumstances it would probably have dropped to somewhere around 52 degrees. That's a difference of 10 degrees, and considering the fact that a) heat rises and b) we leave the doorway leading upstairs open all the time that's a pretty significant drop in temp! So I decided it was time to do a little investigating.

I've heard that the easiest way to find out whether your walls suffer from lack of insulation is to remove the switch plate from an outlet and take a look behind the electrical box. I did the next best thing and peered behind an unused phone jack. And what I found, or rather, didn't find, amazed me. There wasn't any insulation. None, nada, zip, zilch, ZERO!!! Seriously?!? Who finishes an attic, and even goes so far as to add a supplemental heating system, and doesn't insulate even an inch of the space???

Of course, now all the tell-tale signs are falling into place. The ever-increasing amount of cracks in all the seams, the darkening of all the screwheads through the mudding and paint (yes, we can easily identify each and every screw in this entire room!). Perhaps having been raised by DIY parents who built the house I grew up in themselves (aside from the foundation and framing) I naturally assumed that no able-minded person in the last quarter of the 20th century would simply forgo insulating their attic, especially in Minnesota!! Greg suspects one of the PO's was just trying to finish the space on the cheap. I think I'll stick with my conclusion of complete and utter idiocy.

That being said, we are now at a crossroads. How do we insulate this space? Do we go the seemingly easier route of blowing in insulation? Do we tear down the already craptastic walls and ceiling and start from scratch? And on top of all this, do we even dare attempt any remedy this year seeing as how I recently became a victim of the economic downturn and, like so many others, am currently out of a job? (I know, I know. I can hear so many of you screaming "hello!! no job, no income, no house projects!!" But in this case I see more of an urgency with the rising cost of utilities).

So house bloggers, I am reaching out to you all and asking for your advice. What were your remedies to insufficient insulation? Pro's, con's, things you would or wouldn't do if you had to do it over again? Oh, and if you know of any job openings in the Twin Cities area you can drop me a line as well ;)

November 5, 2008

Ch, ch, ch, changes

Wow! What an amazing 24 hours this has been! We have a new president (elect) and new sidewalks!


Yes, it's true. The city finally got around to repairing the sidewalks in our neck of the woods this past week.

We received notice that this would be coming earlier this summer and of course, two days before Halloween, the construction crew came along and ripped out the offending portions of our front walk.

Then they came back the next day and pulled out some big roots. And then they did nothing...for 4 days (granted, there were a few weekend days involved).

But yesterday morning we awoke to freshly poured concrete. What a great way to start an election day!

Now, if only the city would foot the bill instead of us....but I won't even get started on that topic!

September 2, 2008

Labor(ious) Weekend

After the busy summer we've had we decided to spend this Labor Day weekend actually working instead of resting. So many projects that we meant to complete over the past few months were crammed into 2 days and, whoooo-doggy, did we get a lot done!

First on the list was touching up the paint in the bathroom. We've only been meaning to do this, oh, for the past two months. And by meaning to do this I mean the blue painters tape has been up on the wall for TWO MONTHS. You'd think staring at that awful tape day after day would have motivated us long ago - oh no, we're great procrastinators here at Nokomis Bungalow. It's something we excel at!

Next, we hung another cabinet in the kitchen. This one above the refrigerator. Now, for some people this may not be any sort of great task. But when you combine the math skills of Mitzi & Greg you get somewhere around the equivalent of asking a 3-year-old to finish your algebra homework. Yea, we're that good! Once I get the camera back from my sister's house I'll post the pic of Greg's ingenius measuring techniques. It really is a sight to behold for sure!

After that 2-hour long task we moved on to less-taxing chores like hanging the curtain tie-backs in the bedroom, changing out the AC filter (yes, I know I was supposed to do that at the beginning of summer, not the end. See above reference to procrastination) and finally putting the switch plate on the bathroom light switch (that last one took us only 5 months to get to!)

All in all it turned out to be a very productive weekend for us, topped off with a whole family furniture move-a-thon at my sister's house Monday evening. We Minnesotan's are nothing if not, well, as I like to put it, a crazy bunch of hard workers that don't know when to take a break.

July 29, 2008

Keep a knockin' but you can't come in

What do you get when you mix a 2-year-old's non-stop penchant for getting into things with a 1920's era door lock? Nothing but trouble! My nephew is at that age where he can't seem to be satisfied until he's fiddled with every last little item in the house, including this:

You see those two little buttons on the top? A 2-year-old fiddler's dream! Push one button the other pops out - how much fun is that?! Repeating that 20 times - even more fun! Not paying attention to the last button pushed - not so much fun. When we came back from our walk this morning we couldn't get into the house, and I knew why instantly. Fortunately, there's always the back door.

Once said nephew was down for a nap my 4-year-old niece and I decided to figure out how to get the door unlocked. "Use the key!", she said. Well, that might work if we had one. So we went with the next best thing, a screwdriver. The lock wouldn't budge. So I tried taking off the inside door knob and plate. Really? What did I think that would accomplish? So I went to the computer and started searching. My niece went to her books and started searching. Halfway through Curious George she found a solution. "Really?" I asked. "Yep!", she said. I told her we might need a few more solutions and we should both keep looking. About 10 minutes later I was feeling hopeless and my niece wanted a popsicle. So we consoled ourselves with frozen treats.

Eventually 5 o'clock rolled around and my sister arrived to pick up the kids. I asked if she had any bright ideas. "Do you have a wire coat hanger?", she asked. Yep! And with one quick push our door was once again open. Omigosh, I cannot believe I hadn't thought of that! What kind of policeman's daughter am I? Needless to say I was quite relieved. And guess who snuck right in and started pushing buttons again? Dude! You are so lucky you're so darn cute!

July 24, 2008

Meanwhile, back in the bathroom ...

Wow! I can't believe how long it's been since we lasted posted. Never meant to take that long of a break. But, like many of you out there, we've had quite a busy summer. Of course, very little of that busy-ness has to do with our home. So, for lack of new content I'll wander back to one of our previous posts - the bathroom renovation!

Let's see, when last we left our little bath we were just beginning the deconstruction phase. It looked a little something like this:

And then we started doing this:

Which brought us to this:

That would be the old laundry chute you see above. The useless laundry chute. Useless because it deposits our laundry directly on top of the basement shower. So we ripped that puppy out of there!

Oh, and look at what else we found:

Our house once had a gravity furnace (or at least that's what we suspect). We can only thank our lucky stars we never had to deal with that! I did have a short-lived dream that we could use the existing hole as a possible location for the new laundry chute but we plan on expanding the basement bathroom sometime in the future, so there went that plan. If you take a close look at the wall you can see the original "faux" tile lines underneath all that mastic. Lovely! And why that mastic is even there we'll never know, unless one of the PO's ripped down a different tile job before putting up the existing drywall/tile.

At this point in the deconstruction phase we had high hopes for our first-timer skills. The wall tile came down so easily (granted, when you remove it drywall and all it is quite a breeze). But that was before we attempted to tackle the floor tile. Which I'm not quite ready to talk about....stay tuned!

May 21, 2008

Garden mystery

The weekend before last Greg and I decided to walk to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Buster's, for beer and burgers (and what a great selection of beers they have, let me tell ya!) While walking through the alley behind our house we notice that one of our neighbors had three large garbage bags filled with some sort of greenery sitting by the trash can. They turned out to contain these:

I was baffled! Who would just toss these beautiful hostas out with the trash?? Of course, we promptly grabbed all three bags and tossed them in our backyard for future planting, which I finally got around to doing this past weekend:

I think they make a nice addition. And I still have 1 bag left! I think I'll deposit that with my sister because lord knows I don't need any more hostas in my gardens!

As I came around the far left edge of that border I ran into some grass that had started growing into the bed, so I set about digging it up. Suddenly I hit something hard - a rock? Well, that's what I thought at first, so I dug a little more. "Geez," I thought, "this is one big rock!" And then, as is the case most of the time, my curiosity got the best of me and two hours later I uncovered this:

At first I thought it might be an old base for the clothesline, but the diameter of the hole is about 7-8 inches wide. I dug down as far as my arm would reach hoping to maybe find some sort of buried artifact (I think I've been watching way too many episodes of "Cash and Treasures" !). All I came up with were 4 3-inch long rusty nails that had bits of decomposed wood fragments still attached. I found them in this little space:

You see that dark rectangle towards the top? After I cleared out some small roots I noticed that I could fit my finger into either side of that little compartment. It was almost as if some sort of drainage system had been cut through the interior of the ring. I have no earthly idea what the heck this thing is!! Greg thinks it might have something to do with an early septic system but I have my doubts, what with it being only two inches below the surface. Perhaps a well? I really don't know! So now I'm relying on you housebloggers out there - any ideas? The curiosity is killing me!

May 14, 2008

Time flies...

Wow! I never thought an entire month would go by before I got to my next post. Geez, where does the time go? I guess being sick, having family visiting from out of town and spending as much time I can outside has left me little time, or desire, to get back in front of the computer. Although I've still managed to find time for little projects around the house, like this:

That would be the new coat of paint I slapped on the porch trim on one of the days I was home sick (I don't do sick very well. Believe me, I felt awful. I just get antsy!). Don't look too closely as I still haven't finished touching it up (i.e. try to ignore the blue painters tape). At any rate, it's a much needed improvement over this:

The dark green just wasn't doing it for me. Plus, the new color really brightens up the porch; makes it feel a lot bigger. Yeehaw for small projects that reap big benefits!

April 15, 2008

Adventures in bathroom renovations, Part 1 of many...

Around this time last year we decided that the stars and planets had finally fallen into the precise alignment for us to tackle our first big house project. Being that this was our maiden voyage into home renovations - and knowing that only 1 of us came from a long line of DIYer's - we decided to start small, as in our tiny main floor bathroom.

When I first moved in this bathroom screamed late 80's/early 90's - pink blinds on the window, dusty-pink tile on the floor, oak vanity, medicine cabinet and light bar (you know what I'm talking about!), ivory-speckled tile on the bottom half of the wall and ever-so-lovely Laura Ashley-esque wallpaper on the top. I know I took photos before the demolition started but I cannot for the life of me find them anywhere, which makes me sad because, whooee, what a very pretty bathroom it was indeed! The one below will have to suffice for now (ooooh, somebody's husband isn't gonna be to happy when he see's this post!)

Our plan for this project was to bring the bathroom back to somewhat original decor, using vintage items where possible. The tub and the built-in cabinets directly behind it were about the only two remaining original items in the room so at least we didn't have to start from scratch.

Like many renovationists before us our project started off with a bang. The blinds came down and we tore at the wallpaper with relish....and then we didn't do anything.....for months. Then one day I decided to paint the walls....and then we didn't do anything again.....for months. Towards the end of last summer we finally managed to drag ourselves back into the bathroom on an occasional evening here and there, mostly just to look around and wonder what the room would look like once it was finished. And then September, and cooler weather, arrived.

Like all good Minnesotans, we started preparing for the looooonnng winter indoors. We gathered our supplies and finally got to work. But much like our beloved bathroom, dear readers, you, too, will have to wait another day for the rest of this story. I will, however, leave you with this...

(That would be me and my poor attempt at salvaging the old towel bars so I could send them to the Re-Use Center. Yeah, that didn't worked out like I'd hoped.)

April 4, 2008

To MAC or not to MAC.....

Our first renovation project (or I should say MY first reno project as I was still a single gal)came in the form of a homeowners dream. Our house is situated relatively close to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, and by relatively close I mean about a mile away from the closest runway. So even though we have the advantage of living only blocks away from a beautiful urban lake we have the disadvantage of living with constant air-traffic noise.

Seeing as our neighborhood existed long before the airport did the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) created a noise-abatement program to compensate homeowners for having to deal with all the noise pollution. I was fortunate enough to be one of those lucky homeowners (lucky in the fact that shortly after I received said compensation the program was severely cut back and many homeowners were left to deal with the noise on their own. It's still a very controversial subject around these parts and perhaps one day I'll get into more detail, but not just now).

So just what sort of compensation did I receive? Well, my particular package included all new sound-insulating windows (including the storms), new doors, air conditioning (because my home did not previously have A/C) and roofing insulation (though purely for noise). Now, for some homeowners there would be no question as to whether or not to accept this compensation. Thousands of dollars worth of improvements for free? Heck yeah! But the aesthete in me really had to mull it over. My house still had all the original windows (with original hardware) and doors. The woodwork had that certain patina that only comes with 80+ years of age. I already felt so fortunate to have found a house in as good a condition as it was, I wasn't sure I really wanted to mess around with it.

In the end, knowing that all the wood work would be replicated exactly as the original, the horrid aluminum storms would be taken away and I would have A/C during those humid Minnesota summers was enough to make me a convert. In hindsight there are still pros and cons - i.e. I got a lot of improvements for no cost on my part and I got to replace the ugly vinyl windows on the upper level; but the contractor who won the bid for the job did, in my opinion, sub-par work (seriously, I could have done a better job on some parts and that's not necessarily saying a whole lot!)and even though I had true-divided-light windows to begin with, I would have had to pay hundreds to have the same style replaced (I opted for the free version with snap-in grids). Overall, I'm happy with my decision. It really did make a world of difference as far as the noise goes. Now, if they could only do something about their flight patterns during the summer months so we could enjoy a noise-free backyard BBQ we'd be all set. But we can't have everything, can we...

February 8, 2008

The beginning...

I've been meaning to get this blog up and running for quite a while now and I think I'm finally done procrastinating. The brief history with my - I mean "our" - little bungalow goes something like this:

I became the proud owner of a 1923 bungalow back in the late summer of 2002. Unlike a lot of house bloggers I know I was very fortunate to find a home in good condition. All it really needed was a dash of my own personal style - which I'm still trying to figure out. Three years later I decided to let this nice fella, Greg, move in with me. And this nice fella, wouldn't you know, he had design ideas all his own! I begrudgingly acquiesced to his pleas of putting his own touch to the homestead - he was nice enough to marry me and all - and wouldn't you know it, this guy has good taste!

We share a love of all things vintage/antique - from houses and all they contain to clothing and music - and are slowly, but surely, trying to replicate our home's original style. So here's our story, past, present and future. Hope you enjoy!