Sunday, December 31, 2006

Countertop Victory

It is safe to say that I've been a bit preoccupied by the kitchen counter top lately. But it is hard to ignore it when it is leaning against the wall in the living room. I can't even watch TV without the damn thing taunting me. The one thing standing in our way was a belt sander. I asked everybody I knew if they had one to lend out, but none materialized. My father had one that he inherited from my Grandmother's boyfriend. Unfortunately it was a table mount one, so not the correct tool for this job. Yesterday I was going to go rent one from Stephenson's Rentall for $35, but thought - why not try the palm sander first? We put the counter top in place and made pencil marks in the places that needed to be sanded, so that the counter top would meet the wall better. I got out the #60 grit sandpaper, and away we go. Alas, it worked just fine. I'm sure that it was more time consuming, but it did the job. It was hours of putting the counter top up, marking, taking it down, sanding and repeat. But, I think that we're finally ready to bolt that sucker down. Just a few more hours with a variety of levels and some shims, and hopefully we'll be done.

But wait. What about the sink? I guess that now is the time to really use that jigsaw that I got for my birthday last year. We got some special laminate blades, and re-read the internet instructions. I traced a practice curve onto a scrap of counter top and got Dan to try his hand with the jigsaw. I figured that I'd get him to do it so that I could take the photos. He did pretty well, so we figured it was time to move on to the big leagues. So, I traced the template for the new single sink on the counter top and then drilled a 3/4" starter hole. I'm sure that the neighbours were happy to hear us firing up the saw at 5 p.m. on New Year's Eve. The photo gives away the ending of my story, but I have to say that Dan did a fab job staying inside the line, and the new sinks fits in perfectly. Now it is my turn to put that plumbing course to use and get us some running water in that kitchen. That and get that dishwasher running. And tile the backsplash, install the under counter lights, install new doors on the cabinets, move the dishes back into the kitchen, and paint the wall. Yeah, I guess that we are not almost done. Oh well, for now I will celebrate the victory that the sink hole was cut out on the last night of 2006. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gender Bias at the Hardware Store

The only thing still keeping our new range hood/microwave off the wall is a toggle bolt. I told Dan that I would run to the hardware store to pick one up, because I know that he never will. I can tell that my comment offended him, but it is true. He's not that great at getting hardware. He often comes back from such an errand saying that they didn't have it. When I enquire if he asked the staff if they knew where it was, he says no. Why is it that men can't ask for driving directions and they'll rarely ask for help in the hardware store? Is it a sign of weakness to admit that you don't know where the 1/4" x 4" toggle bolts are? Are you admitting failure when you ask which silicone caulking can be used below 10C? Instead, you save yourself time and often money. If I browse around the store looking for the correct caulking, I end up buying all kinds of extra stuff that I didn't really need. (But I do like that circuit tester I got a few weeks back. It is just like the one home inspectors use!)

Maybe it is easier for women in the hardware store. Maybe the gender bias works in my favour. When I walk into my new favorite Home Hardware, they ask me right away if I need help. Is it assumed that as a woman that I wouldn't know what I'm looking for, or is it because I'm always trying to make eye contact with them, so that they will help me. Or is it that they just want a break from all those contractors? I find that they also share all kinds of useful tips too. Are they as willing to share their knowledge with another man? Does a female customer give them a chance to show off their handyman knowledge?

I have to admit that I do love hardware stores. I particularly like the old ones with a slight musty smell and the warped wooden floor boards and big boxes full of screws that you buy by weight - not an electronic scale, but a gravity scale with the little sliding weights. And I love the smocks that they wear, and how everything is so organized. Bolts, copper pipes, light switches, big spools of chainlink, slug poison - all neatly stacked up to the ceiling. I love it. I can spend hours in there, just looking at all the stuff. But usually I'm in a hurry and want to make sure that I am getting the right thing, so I take their help whenever they offer it. Now I know this is a generalization, but why can't men do that too, rather than coming home claiming that they didn't have it?

I'm starting to get to know all the staff at my fav HH, at least by face anyway. And today, while waiting at the cash, I noticed a poster in the window. Attempting to read it backwards, I slowly figured out what it said: Apply Today. It was a Home Hardware recruiting poster. It showed four different people in those red smocks and with big smiling faces. They ranged in age from 20s to late 60s. There was even a grey haired woman. And then I realized that when I'm supposed to be retired but forced to keep working because I don't have a pension, maybe the Home Hardware would be the perfect place for me. It would keep me out of trouble, and I'd be able to ride my bike to work. Sounds perfect! I worked retail in high school and hated it, but maybe I'll soften to it in my older age. Afterall, by then, the gender bias should be almost completely gone. And I can help young men figure out which silicone caulking would work on day like today, even if they don't have the courage to ask.

Monday, December 25, 2006

All We Want For Christmas...

Installing an over the range microwave/fan seems like it should be easy enough. I read over the instructions twice. I assembled together all the necessary tools. We were ready to go. Over a month ago, I had an electrician run a dedicated wire from the panel to the correct spot in the wall. I bought the necessary supplies at the hardware store and put in the outlet at the correct spot. We cut a hole in the back of the upper cabinet for the outlet. We taped the template to the wall and cabinet to drill holes as described. The harder part is finding studs for the metal bracket to be afixed to. (Is there a stud finder that really works?)

The range hood ships as a top vent, so we had to convert it to back venting. This involved some sort of vent adaptor to be attached with two screws that were not included in the kit. 1:45 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I head out on my bike looking for two #4-10mm screws. We had started our day at Home Depot getting hinges and cupboard doors, and I just didn't want to drive up there again for two tiny screws. Five hardware stores later, I had found the screws -- no charge. (Three stores were closed, one didn't have them.) I picked up some veggies in Kensington market and was home about an hour later, only to discover that they were the WRONG screws. So, we jammed in some that were closer to what we needed, and everything seems fine. But at 4 p.m. we realized that we needed a toggle bolt for the upper cabinet, so we are stuck with the microwave still off the wall, as there wasn't time for another hardware store trip.

For christmas morning, we cleared away most of the power tools to whip up some waffles with fresh strawberries and some coffee. Yum. Sadly, the new dishwasher (pictured here, behind the white chair) is not yet installed, so I had to schlep the dishes downstairs and wash them up in a red plastic bucket. Good exercise, I guess.

Just think how much fun the plumbing for the sink and dishwasher will be, if the microwave is proving to be this much of a challenge. Too bad that Santa doesn't deliver gifts to big kids too.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The House That Christmas Forgot

Unless you consider drywall scraps and old kitchen cupboards as Christmas decorations, then our house is pretty much the only one on the street that has been overlooked by Christmas cheer. Christmas lights illuminate all the walk ways. The city could save some money and turn off the street lights until Jan. 1. Some of our neighbours even have little electronic songs playing at their front doors. I have seen some illuminated snowmen, and even a few polar bears - despite the 11C weather we had last Sunday. Candy canes, Santas, and nativity scenes are also very popular. Our next door neighbours have so many strings of lights that we don't even need to turn on our living room light in the evening. I wonder what the neighbours think of us. "What, you no like Christmas??" It is almost as bad as the time that I was weeding the garden on Easter Sunday.

I thought that I'd seen it all, until I saw this on my bike ride to work. (click on the photo for an enlargement) Only a few houses down is this festive, inflatable merry go-round that actually rotates. Santa, and some cold weather animals (penguin, polar bear, etc.) are spinning around inside their weather protected plastic dome.

I'd like to blame my lack of festive spirit on the renovation, but I cannot. Beyond the Swiss Chalet Festive Special, the holidays are not that special to me. Although, I do love the parties and getting to see all my family. Tonight, Dan & I are going to the Home Depot/Rona/Canadian Tire Super Centre at the Toronto Stockyards where we will pick out each other's Christmas gifts. I am going to get him a stainless steel sink and he's getting me a washerless faucet. So maybe Christmas hasn't forgotten us after all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Point Counter Point

The countertop has got to be one of the most stressful parts of this kitchen reno, despite my belief that it should be so simple. I keep thinking of the Aldous Huxley novel that I read in high school: Point Counter Point. The intellectual characters in this novel would never worry about something so banal as a countertop. I'm sure that none of them have ever even been in a kitchen, let alone soil their hands doing manual labour. Yet I manage to have long, Huxleyesque conversations with all my friends about this damn countertop, as if we are debating human nature, like the characters in Huxley's novel.

Problem #1: Choice. I can easily become paralyzed by too many options. I spent a lot of time looking at the different surfaces available: granite, marble, engineered stone, etc. I would love to go with the high end stone, but it is at least 4 times the cost of laminate, plus you can't install it yourself. In my urban reality of a small kitchen, I assumed that a new laminate countertop would not be too expensive. I budgeted the $17 per linear foot that the Home Depot quoted me, but alas, I was foiled. That figure does not apply to the corner sink. (Damn the corner sink again!!) The cost doubled because we had to get "flatworks" or else have two seams next to the sink. So now stone is only about 2 or 3 times more expensive, yet still a ton of dough. For me, more options = less decisions. Argh. If I were living back in Huxley's 1920's novel, the choice would have been easy, but not in our modern world.

Problem #2: I decide to keep it simple and just order through the Home Depot. Dan & I made another appointment specifically for this. We were both sick with colds, but kept the appointment, with dreams of a new countertop before 2007. Unfortunately our guy at the HD is not that experienced with quoting countertops - he has never quoted a corner sink. And since it is a Saturday, he can't call the supplier. Nobody else there can give us a quote. We leave defeated again. He promises to call on Tuesday with a price. We never hear from him again. Enter the Internet. A Google search leads me to two companies: Triplast and Norwill. I fax them my sketch with dimensions and they fax me back quotes. Triplast seems very professional and they have the best prices. They tell me that my order must be in by December 1, or we won't get it before their holiday closure. We go to Triplast before work to choose the laminate, place the order and make a deposit. Decision made!

Problem #3: On the way out of Triplast, I ask to confirm the delivery cost. They do not deliver. WHAT?!?! Everybody else that I called delivers for $50. How did I overlook this question on the phone? Triplast usually works with contractors and installers, not the uneducated public. Hence the factory direct prices. They ask who my installer is, and laugh when I tell them that it's me. They can't help me. Finally I get the name of an installer. He agrees to deliver my countertop for $60 (a rip off, but am I going to take time off work and rent a truck?). He tries to talk me out of installing it myself and offers to do it for $200. I decline. I review the installation instructions on the web, reassuring myself that it won't be that bad. Now all that I need is a belt sander.

Problem #4: There are too many types of laminate. I was confident in my decision until my coworkers started to question it. "White shows stains", etc. "Even Dover White", I ask? But that was it. I was doubting our decision. I called Triplast & they had not yet ordered the materials, so I put it on hold. We made a late evening trip to HD to look at the Formica samples one more time. I spend hours talking to friends and getting their opinion on all the samples. The results are inconclusive. In the end, we must decide on our own. On the morning of December 1, the absolute cutoff date, we go with Pionite's Rock Of Ages, despite being a premium laminate and costing $100 more. I know, it is a crazy name and the song is stuck in my head too!

Problem #5: The installer goes to the wrong house. He calls me and it turns out that he's off by 100 in the address. He asks me what to do. It seems obvious to me: drive around the block and come to the correct house. I'm sure that I didn't tell him to go to #26 since I live at #126, yet he is blaming it on me. I remind myself that I must be nice to him or maybe he will scratch my countertop. When he finally arrives, he says: I hope you know what you are doing. If you make a mistake installing, it is a very expensive mistake. Well, at least it is in the correct house. I re-read Rona's website instructions which say: Installing kitchen countertops is quite an easy project for most do-it-yourselfers. Maybe I will write this on the wall for encouragement.

Some friends came by last night and they admired the countertop resting against the wall in the living room. We had lengthy conversations about countertops and backsplash tiles, which from a distance likely sounded like the deep, intellectual debates that Huxley's characters droned on about in Point Counter Point. Can kitchen renovations really be good fodder for fiction? HGTV: what have you done to drama?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cabinet Maker

By now you must be tired of seeing my kitchen from this angle, but when you live in a narrow house and you don't have a wide angle lens, your options are very limited. But this picture holds the proof that 1) the drywall is finished; 2) the wall is primed; and 3) our first base cabinet has been assembled and installed. That new corner unit will eventually house our new sink. Very exciting.

I feel that there is not that much being done cabinet-wise in this project. We are just changing a few base cabinets, and changing the doors on the uppers. Although, we did have to modify the old pantry cupboard to make it a base with upper, creating an additional 18" of counter space next to the stove. So on the theme of "not much", I decided that we should assemble & install ourselves. As usual, I have seen people do it on TV and I think that I should be able to do it too. I love to read instructions and assemble stuff, so this is actually turning out well. So far. What I did not count on was the leveling. I do have a box of shims, and they are currently one of our fav tools.

While the cabinets are on holiday, all of our dishes and glassware is vacationing in our dining room. It is quite handy because you can select your glass or mug on your way into the kitchen, only to discover that there is no running water in there still. Oh well, it is all part of our Christmas decor: garage sale shiek. You should try it.

And speaking of Christmas: all of these holiday parties are keeping us from making any real progress on this project. But at least the martini glasses are always close at hand.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Kitchen Unplugged

For some reason, the Nirvana unplugged album seems to stick most in my memory, but it seems that every musical performer gets into this style at one point or another. Sadly, Kitchen is not a new band. It is our woeful kitchen. Unplugged for 26 days now. Well, the stove that is. And the sink. And what is a kitchen without running water and the cooking machine? It is just another room. In our case, a room that looks like a tool shed.

Last Saturday, after the sub floor was replaced, Dan was so excited about the return of the stove that he took a pork tenderloin out of the freezer. He did not realize that we needed to finish the drywall first, or else we'd be pulling it out again and again. Tired of the takeout food scene of late, last night he pulled together a gourmet feast of glazed pork tenderloin with green beans - cooked in the toaster over & microwave. The carving was done amongst the tape measures & tools, on top of the new dishwasher box. And since that newest appliance is also still unplugged, I took the dishes into the basement and washed them in the laundry sink. I know that I'm not the first, nor the last to do this, but it still makes me laugh.

I have to say that I'm quite pleased with the drywall project so far. It did take a considerable amount of time for us to do all the cutouts for the plumbing & electrical stuff, but they fit together well in the end. As for the taping & mudding: it wasn't that bad. The green plastic tools that Matthew lent me, along with the tape & mud, plus the instructions that I read on the internet - it all worked fine. Dan did have to make a late night dash to Canadian Tire buy more mud. The biggest surprise was the amount of mud reqired for the job. Maybe I used too much and have a hellish amount of sanding to do. Hopefully not. Tomorrow morning is operation sanding. Can't wait to get that dust all over the house again. But even more exciting is that very soon, our stove will no longer be unplugged. Another leap forward in this crazy project.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Learning How to Install Drywall

When I made my kitchen reno plan, drywalling wasn't even on the list - or the budget. But, when I removed the backsplash tiles, the wall came out in chunks, which I was planning to simply patch. I went to my plumbing class that night, complaining about my predicament and a fellow student said: don't scrape off all that old adhesive. It's not worth it. Just replace the drywall.

Easier said than done. But now is the time to learn how to drywall. My friend Matthew says that the best way to learn something is to do it. He's right.

Another kind classmate at plumbing turned out to be a drywaller, and offered to bring me some scraps from his job site. He followed through and actually delivered them to my house.
We kept the drywall screws from the damaged sheets that we took down. And I bought a little drywall handsaw, which was only $4.99 at Home Hardware. Now we are left trying to figure out how to do it. Measure twice, cut once. Instead I measured three times - but it still didn't work out the first time. We tackled the large sheet that goes around all the plumbing pipes first. It was definitely the hardest and made the other rectangular pieces seem easy. But tonight we must cut out the drywall on the exterior wall, replace the perforated vapour barrier and then replace the drywall with a few smooth sheets. (Oh yes, and install the electrical box for the rangehood microwave and move the rangehood vent by 1/4". Installing the bloody rangehood is another adventure that I wasn't expecting!)

Putting up the wallboard is one thing, but what about taping & mudding? People talk about it and I just go along with them, like I know what they are talking about. I've used plyfiller, but not mud. The aforementioned friend Matthew has offered up some leftover tape & mud, so we are doing very well in the material cost of this part of the project. But technique, we're just making that up as we go along. Fortunately, all this drywall will be hidden by new backsplash tiles and cabinets, so it doesn't need to have a perfect finish. I guess that what I should be worrying about more is how to install cabinets and tiles. But, that is a worry for another day.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Top 10 Ways To Tell That You're Renovating

10. The shop vac is always plugged in and ready to use.

9. All your clothes are covered in dust or paint.

8. The only TV you watch is on HGTV.

7. You buy Ibuprofen in the "value pack" size.

6. You're really excited about the launch of Mike Holmes new book.

5. You quit wearing your contact lenses (since glasses double as safety glasses)

4. You go to bed exhuasted at 9 p.m. -- on the weekend!

3. Your bedside reading material is published by Black & Decker.

2. Your gift wish list contains only power tools.

1. You keep "Deep Cold" on your night stand.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Could there be a Mike better than Mike Holmes?

My brother-in-law Mike is the handiest guy that I know. He has a huge air compressor in his rural garage, every power tool you can imagine, and he drives a pickup truck. He is also the quietest guy that I know. A man of few words, he works hard and gets the job done right. When he first met my sister back when I was in University, he was keen to make a good impression, and he moved me several times without complaint. Twenty years later, I know that I should not take advantage of his kindness, so I save him for when I really need him. So far, he has not been involved in the Money Pit, except for naming it that. He always teases me about giving up the carefree condo for this time waster we call home.

When we started this kitchen reno, I thought that if we got into a situation that we couldn't tackle ourselves, we'd just call our handyman Ben. When I did call him, I found out that he has gone to Spain for several months. So, we've been trying to do it on our own. But replacing the subfloor -- how the hell are we going to do that?? Even all the illustrated reno books from the library don't give me enough information to really handle this. Now that the insulating, electrical and plumbing roughins are done, we are eager to get the floor back in, ... but how? Alas, Mike to the rescue.

Mike worked a midnight shift at General Motors last night, where he is a Millwright. He finished work at 6:30 a.m., drove to his house to load up the truck and then drove the 1+ hours to our house. He arrived at 9 a.m. without sleeping. While he was here, he did not eat a bite nor drink even a drop of water. But he had his photo taken more than on his wedding day.

Mike cut 2x4s to reinforce the pieces of plywood subfloor that we had cut out to allow for insulating the crawlspace. Then he really impressed me by going UNDER the floor in the 22" crawlspace to secure the 2x4s in the inaccessible spots. We laid down some old bath mats and down he went. The photo above shows him lowering himself into that tiny space, while the one on the right shows him "in the hole". Now that is dedication. Just like Mike Holmes, my Mike likes to do it right, but he's much less self-righteous.

It wasn't enough for him to borrow a portable compressor, bring it here with a pneumatic stapler, a compound mitre saw, the coolest angle drill that I've ever seen, and many other cool tools. He also drove me to Home Hardware to buy the 5/8" plywood & 1/4" Luan sheets. There was a CRAZY amount of hammering to try to get the one big sheet of plywood to fit the tongue into the groove. Mike & Dan hammered the crap out of a few 2x4 pieces while I was jumping up and down on the adjacent sheet of plywood, trying to get the sheet to move even and 1/8 of an inch into the groove. Three tries and we did the best we could. (I should have bought the neighbours a chocolate factory. That box of chocolates seems insufficient now.) We secured it all down with dozens of #8 1-1/2 inch screws and then moved on to laying down the 1/4" smooth layer.

Mike didn't leave until 4 p.m. We now have a secure and level subfloor, plus he fixed our eavestrough! Renovating is full of highs and lows, and this day is certainly a high. Being able to walk on the floor again is a huge step forward. Mike, I love you. You have made my year. When I asked him how I could repay him, he said that this is the way it should be: people help each other out, but we are all too busy. So, I guess that I'll help him out by taking care of his two daughters. I look forward to taking them to the ROM and the Art Gallery, etc. But does that repay him for crawling under my kitchen floor and climbing on the roof of my house? Probably not, but it is a good start.

For more on the other Mike, read my post on the house that Mike Holmes built.

Friday, December 8, 2006

What Happened to Friday Night?

I remember when Friday night meant going out and having fun. Now it is an opportunity to prep for the home reno projects that need to be done that weekend. Often it involves a trip to Home Depot or Ikea. But not tonight.

My brother-in-law, Mike, is coming tomorrow to help us put in the subfloor, so we need to finish a ton of little things. Replace the dry old duct tape with the proper heat resistant metal stuff, install proper hangers for the ducts, fish the coaxial cable thru for the sunroom, fish the speaker wires thru the crawlspace and up the wall, move an electrical outlet box, and fish the dishwasher cable thru the crawlspace and up the wall, etc. It is our last night with an open crawl space, so we have to finish everything.

We weren't planning on replacing any drywall. That was until I removed the backsplash tiles, which removed the drywall in chunks. So, gotta go to the library to get a book on how to drywall. Then tonight, when moving the wires, we realized that we had to remove even more drywall to fish the wires thru. Fortunately a guy in my plumbing class is a drywaller and he gave me a little over a full sheet of drywall for free.

All the little stuff like this that has no impact on the overall visual appeal of the home takes a lot of time but hopefully we will enjoy the rewards with a warmer, more energy efficient home, and one that is wired for sound! One day we may return to our former Friday night glory and host some parties in the money pit. But for tonight, after all this, I'm just happy to grab a bite to eat in Little Italy and watch another episode of the Sopranos.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Keeping the Peace (When You Can't Be Quiet)

I often think of the right thing to do, yet usually don't find the time to do it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as I always remind myself. When we started this latest renovation, I thought that it would be a good idea to give our neighbours some flowers or a plant or something, as a token to acknowledge the inconvenience and noise. Sadly, I didn't get around to it.

Last night, my plumbing teacher, Paul, came over to rough in the new sink in the kitchen & move the hose bib. He was supposed to arrive at 6 p.m., so Dan & I started ripping out the old sink & cabinets right after work, at 5 p.m. Lots of banging and sawing, but it was early. We finised right at 6. Paul arrived a bit late, around 7:15. We finally got to work and realized that ofcourse, there were lots of weird things that made the job more difficult and time consuming. To move the hose bib, for the outside garden hose, involved drilling a hole thru the exterior wall of the house. Paul forgot the correct drill bit, so he got part way thru, and then he took an old piece of 1/2" copper, that he banged thru the rest of the wall. It worked, but LOTS of banging. Then he wanted to secure the copper supply lines so that we wouldn't have pipe hammer. He once again took scraps of copper and hammered the end flat, so that he could wedge it between the wall studs. Then he sauldered the two copper pieces together ensuring that they would never move. As he was hammering the copper pipe flat against the floor joist, we heard a bang on the party wall of the house. Paul stopped instantly, thinking that it was an echo. But no, it was our neighbour, banging on the wall. He hammered again, and they started to bang again. Humm. Yes, I really regret not getting that poinsetta over to them. Dan went over to make the peace with them, but all their lights were off -- even their Christmas lights! It was after 10 p.m. and they were trying to sleep. I understand. I felt bad. They are quiet and friendly neighbours. How friendly will they be now?

Paul had to be on the job site at 7 a.m. the next day, but he was in no hurry to leave our house. 11 p.m. and he was still chatting away and tossing his tools around. (Good thing that we'd agreed on a flat rate.) Dan & I were carrying his stuff out the car, trying depserately to make the noise end faster. Paul pulls up his Firebird, the kind that revs really loudly. He doesn't realize that all our neighbours are retired. We load the tools and wave goodbye.

This morning, I rode my bike over to the only store that was open at 7 a.m. and bought their nicest box of chocolates and a pretty gift bag (I never buy gift bags), and wrote a card dripping with sincere apology. I selected a bag with that icon of Christmas: the dove carrying an olive branch in its mouth. I dropped the bag off on their front door on my way to work. When I came home, it was gone. So hopefully they got it before the squirells or racoons did. And I hope even more that they accept my olive branch. Afterall, I plan to be neighbours for long long time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Insulation: The Day Has Finally Arrived!

Eleven months ago we had our first energy audit done by Greensaver. We had a work plan with recommendations to make our house more energy efficient and more comfortable. We followed that with quotes from contractors but before we could begin work, we had to have any electrical work done first. When we were finally ready in August, I called Greensaver, and their first available appointment was Nov. 20 & 21. So we waited. It got colder. The Conservative government cancelled the EnerGuide for Houses (EGH) program. (Thank you Mr. Harper! The environment and future generations who must suffer the consequences of our energy wasting ways really appreciate it.) But finally, the day arrived.

The work consisted of sprayfoam insulation in the headers of the crawl space (which required removing the sub floor) & basement, blown cellulose insulation in the front wall of the house (both floors) and blown cellulose insulation in the attic. They also recommended filling the north wall of the house, since it is a hollow frame, but the previous owner put rigid foam insulation on the exterior wall before he had the siding installed.

The guys came in and did the spraying yesterday and the blowing today. It was extremely disruptive as we had to tear up the kitchen floor and move all the furniture away for the exterior walls in all the spaces that were going to be insulated - on all 3 levels. And to blow insulation into the wall, they had to drill a bunch of 2" holes into the plaster & lathe, every 16"or less, to access the cavities. But they guys patched them all. We are left with the task of sanding and repainting all the patches in the living room & upstairs bedroom. Plus now we can put everything back against the wall in the basement.

But what are we going to do about that kitchen floor? For now, we are covering the holes with pieces of the old kitchen cupboards and scraps of plywood. We need to get the floor in so that we can plug the stove back in. While we are making do with the toaster oven & microwave for now, it is not a long term solution. It is hard to believe that my desire to insulate the front wall has lead to a full on kitchen reno. I'm still exhausted from Sunday, and I'm freezing from being in an unheated house for two days.

We have our final energy audit on December 6. Hopefully our efforts will be rewarded with a better EnerGuide score a maybe even some $$ from the now defunct government program.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tearing Up The Floor

What would you do the day after your big work Christmas party, and the day before you have contractors coming in? Why tear up the floor, of course!! (This post does not refer to dancing.)

In order to prepare for our Greensaver retrofit, we had to "lift" the floor in the kitchen. The finished floor is a floating uniclick tile, which we could easily remove & later replace, but then we had to cut out the plywood subfloor. I pulled out the giant Black & Decker How To book that I borrowed from the library and got some tips on how to proceed. We unplugged the stove and moved it to the back room. We lifted the tiles, carefully numbering them all on the back, and indicating their orientation. We stored them in the upstairs bathroom, one of the only spaces that Green$aver would not have to work in. We rolled up the thin foam underlay and set it aside. Then we pulled out the circular saw that Dan gave me for my birthday. (I love practical gifts!!) We set the saw blade to the depth of the subflooring levels (5/8" plywood + 1/4" poplar underlay + 1/8" old linoleum). Crowbar, hammer and lots of elbow grease, and we pulled out the first piece. We realized that the linoleum was glued to the poplar, which was staped to the plywood, which was screwed and NAILED into the joists. We decided to take the linoleum/poplar layer off first, and then just remove the parts of the plywood where they would need access in order to insullate the crawl space below.

We also removed the base cabinets, except for the two end ones, because they have plumbing running through them. Demolition can be fun. You get to bang and tear stuff out. But it was a hard day of heavy labour, and I know that it is going to be followed by many weeks of more complicated work just to bring it back to where we were. I am having major regrets. We could have gone to Paris for two weeks, but instead we are renovating our kitchen. Will it be worth it? One of my colleagues says that a kitchen that bugs you is like a bad relationship - it will keep bugging you until you deal with it. So, this is me - dealing with it. Hopefully writing will set me free.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blame it on Cuba!

How, you may wonder, can I blame a kitchen renovation on Cuba? The beautiful white beaches and turquoise waters, the spirited live music, the bright yellow coco taxis and the humble communism - how can they be to blame? Well, my good friend and running buddy Shannon has gone to Cuba with her family and friends, leaving me alone with my early morning thoughts, which I have learned can be quite dangerous.

We are about to finally complete our insulation project that we started a full year ago! But in order to do it correctly, we need full access to the crawl space under the kitchen, which means tearing up the floor. I have been waffling on this for months since I'm not sure that I want to do such a big job, which is partly to blame for the delay in the insulation project. I had different contractors in to see if they could insulate the crawl space without tearing up the floor. One company had me believing that they might be able to do it, so I cancelled my first guy, only to find out that while they might be able to do it, they also might NOT be able to do it. With no written guarantee, I decided to book the first guys again. Seeing an end in sight, I went for a run this morning and started to think about the floor. If we are ever going to put in a dishwasher and move the sink, now is the time to do it. And while we are at it, it would be good to get rid of those wood trimmed cabinets that scream 1980. And while we are at it, the yellow backsplash tiles have never been my favorite. I do love those glass mosaic tiles. And that pine look wainscotting - I don't really like it either. I'm mean, there's nothing that wrong with the kitchen. But now that the rest of the house is more tastefully decorated (no more murals, no more pink), the kitchen stands out as the one room that we've forgotten. As I pounded the pavement in my worn runners, I watched the sun rise over Christie Pits and the CN tower. If Shannon were here, what would she say? But no, she's relaxing on a warm beach with a cool Mojito while I stew in my own indecision. I made my way across the Annex to our turnaround point at Spadina when I had decided that if we're going to do the insulation, we may as well do it right. And while we're at it, let's spruce up the kitchen.

I made my way home, confident in my decision. Now I just had to convince Dan that it was all Castro's fault that we were going to spend our weekend tearing up the kitchen floor. Hopefully he'll remember what fun we had in Cuba last winter, and will see this reno as an equally fun adventure.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Zen of Craigslist

Before we moved into our house, the former owner met with us and told us about the maintenance schedule, etc for his baby - the house. He is a very sweet and organized man. He gave us all the old manuals and even the empty box for the humidifier filter, so that we could continue to care for the house the way that he had. He was also kind enough to leave us all the touch up paint too, in case we needed it after our rough move. Let me remind you that the house was painted in a pallet of pinks and mint greens. So, we really didn't need that paint, but I just didn't have the heart to tell him so. More than one year later after repainting, the paint is still in the basement. I have to get rid of it, and all the other crap that is clogging our small basement. I have Greensavers coming in to insulate next week, and they need access to the headers, and everything in my neatly organized basement has to be moved.

I was going to call the Toxics Taxi to take away the paint. But then I thought, maybe somebody could us it. I woke up early and went to the basement with my digital camera and started to photograph and measure all the junk. Within minutes, I had these items posted on Craigslist, under the free section. I had an old modem, an old fax machine, part of the old security system left behind, a light fixture, a burgundy mini-blind... the list goes on and on. The replies poured in almost instantly. Tons of people wanted my junk!!! I spent the day communicating with this online recycling community, arranging pickups for all my unwanted stuff. Before I knew it, the basement had some room to spare. People were happy with their items, and I was happy not to have a yard sale.

Thank you Craig, whoever you are! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Don't send something to landfill just because you're done with it. There are tons of people who will gladly take it off your hands. My friend Chris thinks that there should be a film about Craigslist, and I see that there already is!!

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Dreams Do Come True

Last night I saw the one and only person on my myspace page that I want to meet. I passed him on the stairs going into the West End YMCA. I was heading off to yoga and he was finished one of those workouts that keeps him looking so good on TV. But how could he be at the Y when his popular HGTV show, Home to Stay, was scheduled to air in less than 3 hours. Didn't he have things to do? Shouldn't he be at the studio, watching the ratings, and toasting to his success with the network bosses? But no, this is CANADIAN television, so my TV hero lives a mere few blocks from my house, and he works out at the same gym as me!!!

Well, I can't really say that I've met Peter Fallico. Passing him on the stairs is not really a meeting, is it. He didn't yell out: "Leighsa Haze, I want to redecorate your house!" (But wouldn't that be nice.)

If you don't know who I'm talking about, check him out here or watch him on Monday nights at 9 p.m. on HGTV.

The moral of the story is: if you don't dream too big, you'll never be disappointed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Big Bad and Bloggable!

I have a friend who likes to go by the name, Big Bad. Sometimes he's Big Bad & Dangerous. Other times he's Big Bad and Hungry. It changes all the time. The unpredictability of his name is part of what makes him so fun!

He doesn't look that big or that bad, does he. But he does have red hair, so I like to call him Coppertop, yet he continues to call himself BB.

BB is not as excited about my new plumbing hobby. But he is happy that I got a new circular saw for my birthday this year. His door-to-headboard project relied on my powertools. I'm trying to be generous with my tool time.

BB is virtually an internet virgin. He has never really worked in an office, so he missed the internet explosion. I think that it may have been the virtual home tours on that converted him. Either that or the free porn. A few years ago, we tried to get him using the email, but he'd never reply to it. He'd just pick up the phone and say, I got your email. But now he's an old pro with catchy subject lines and "hello kitty" wallpaper on his emails, and sometimes he even forwards. There are no limits now. He occassionally accuses me of being a witch, when I post photos on the web and other such shenanigans. Oh, but it is all part of his charm!

His hobbies include kayaking,, country drives, craigslist, laundry, and bulking up at the JCC. But sorry fellas, he's not available. He's kinda seeing somebody.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Real Life Project #1: My First In-Home Soldering Attempt

Pictured here is some of the excitement that can be seen in almost any basement. There is an old "saddle valve" from the hot water line (coming out of the hot water tank) to the furnace humidifier. When we bought this house, the previous owner told us that we'd need to hire a plumber to replace this valve, and he suggested that we get them to put in a proper ball valve. So, this will be my first real life plumbing project.

Paul, the Central Tech night school instructor, has told me what needs to be done. I need to buy a 1/2" solder to 1/4" compression brass ball valve. I need to get a soldering torch, some lead free solder, some flux, and lots of nerve. I'm going to borrow the pipe cutters from my friend Matthew. And then, I am going to shut off the water, drain the water from the copper pipes, and then CUT INTO the copper pipe coming out of the hot water heater, and put in a new valve. Seems pretty easy, right? Afterall, I did solder that copper dog, right??

Paul does not seemed fazed by my suggestion of cutting into the hot water supply to my house. But then he told me about the first time he "tried" to solder in a house. It didn't go well, because there was water in the line, and the torch was not hot enough, and the fittings would not solder. I picture this happening to me. And then me calling a plumber to come and fix everything, so that we can have hot water in our house again. And the plumber laughing at me.

Right now I am focusing on getting all the tools and supplies together. I'll look for the courage later.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Plumbing Continued

Is this a copper dog, you may ask. What kind of pet is that?

Proudly pictured here is my first plumbing project. It was fun to spark up that torch and get the solder melting. Best of all, we connected it to the 60psi water source and it did not leak. Is this enough to make me think that I can now spark up a propane torch in my house and attempt to repair the hot water line going to my furnace's humidifier? Paul, our instructor (pictured on the right, in the spider t-shirt), seems confident that I can do it. So, I figure, why not!!

My friend Denise is still on the rollercoaster of Toronto real estate. I bought my first house last year, a 100 year old semi in the west end of Toronto. There is lots of maintenance to be done, so I stand around and watch when all the inspectors and repair guys come in. My boyfriend has one of those really big flashlights that takes 4 D cell batteries. Armed with theses tools & knowledge, I went to see a house with Denise and made all kinds of comments about the joists, age of the furnace, lack of insulation, and stuff like that. If I had a clipboard, I could have checked off a few boxes on a standard form and charged her $400 for my tour. But I did it for fun. (Warped sense of fun, non?) Anyway, I sent a detailed email to her boyfriend who wasn't initially impressed with the house, managing to convince him to put in an offer. Long story short: there were 4 offers in total. The selling agent gave them a chance to improve their bid, so they went up by $2500, but they did not get it. In the end, the winning bid was only $4000 above theirs. BUMMER. But, they are now not stuck with the pink bathroom, and I no longer have to keep my promise to renovate their bathroom, and so I don't have to quickly learn how to install ceramic tile. I guess that I can focus on my own pink bathroom instead.

Tomorrow is the 7th annual SOY bowlathon and my team, Stop, Drop & Roll is in first place. Can we hold onto the lead?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Intro to Plumbing

I am getting old. I know this because I have taken up plumbing as a hobby.Well, it is a practical hobby. I'm doing it because my bathroom is pink. The giant bathtub, the sink, the vanity, the toilet, and all the tiles. The walls used to be pink & white stripped wall paper with a pink floral border. (I will have to post a photo...) I also want to install a dishwasher. I figure that I should learn to do this stuff myself. Tonight is our first school project: soldering some 1/2" copper pipe to create something that looks like one of those balloon animals. We will then pressure test it to make sure that it doesn't leak. If it does, no big deal, but if I do this at my house and it does leak, I could be in big big trouble. But, I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

My friend Denise is very pregnant. She and her man are looking for a house. In my best interest, I'd like them close, but they are yet to find the perfect house. Last night I went to see a nice old house with her, and it too has a pink bathroom. Neither she nor her man are enthusiastic about the prospect of having a pink bathroom. The house is a good size but does need some renos. Some hard work will make it a castle in a great family neighbourhood. This proximity may translate into some free babysitting. But, if they cross the ditch (the Don Valley) it is less likely. To make a long real estate story short: I just promised Densie that if they buy this house, I will redo their bathroom. I have been wanting to learn how to install ceramic tiles. I could smash out the old ones and put up some new ones, couldn't I? Afterall, I can solder a copper dog.

Monday, August 7, 2006


If you've never been to Killarney, then you really must go!

It is one of the most spectacular parks that Ontario has to offer. On the north shore of Georgian Bay, it is a longer drive than a trip to Algonquin, but certainly worth the investment. It was made famous by the Group of Seven, so if you can't make it to the park, check out their paintings.

The lakes are quite small and most of the park is not accessible by road. We went into Johnny Lake and only had to make one small 100m portage. The rocks and turquoise blue water was stunning, and the swimming was awesome.

We went on a day trip up to The Peak, which involved two portages and a 2 hour hike, in each direction. The final ascent was quite steep, but the 360 degree vista was reward enough. We could see all the lakes of the park, Georgian Bay to the south and the foreboding super stack of Sudbury to the north. It is a sad fact that many of the lakes in Killarney are dead, but they are on the road to recovery. The deep turquoise colour is caused by the acid rain delivered by the smoke stacks of Sudbury.

I believe that I was the only lady accompanied by four rugged and handsome men. Not bad for Fat Hand Lisa!

Fat Hand Lisa

It seems that on every camping trip I get some sort of strange ailment. On my first trip into Algonquin Park, I was inflicted with a bad case of Impetigo on my nose. It is a very unattractive skin infection caused by the strep virus. Since there were no mirrors on the trip, I had no idea what I was dealing with. I kept asking my canoe mates what it looked like and they assured me that it was just a zit and that it would be gone by Sunday. Well Sunday came and we portaged back out of the park to our waiting car. I gazed into the rear view mirror to take in the full horror of the skin infection on my nose. I turned to my friends, wondering why they had not told me how bad I looked. They all shrugged and nodded sheepishly, in solidarity, as if to say: yeah, we lied - you're hideous. I mean, what could we have done in the park? Needless to say, there is no photo of what we now refer to as my "SARS Nose". Ten days of antibiotics got rid of it, and I'm happy to report no repeat infections.

This year we are in Killarney, and I have tons of antibiotic cream, just in case. After our first meal of giant & delicious steaks, Joe and I were washing the dishes by the edge of the lake. Some persistent wasps kept buzzing around us and landing on our dishes. Then Joe got stung. Yikes. It must have really hurt. I am a bit more sensitive to insect bites and have been known to swell, so I tried to take it easy. But, I couldn't let the wasps keep me from my dishwashing duty. I returned to the rock and within seconds, one of the pesky things stung me on the finger. OUCH. It really, really hurt. I had a much better appreciation now for Joe's pain. And then it started. The swelling. From my middle finger, to my hand and then up my arm. I took some antihistamines immediately, which I'm sure helped, but they could not neutralize all the poison in my body right away. It took about three days for the swelling to go down, and I could not paddle on our day trip the second day. And for the entire trip I was known as Fat Hand Lisa.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Our Garden! Our Beautiful Garden!!!!

I'm going on a five day canoe trip in Killarney today. I was working late last night to get all my work finished up, and on my bike ride home I was thinking - I'd better water the garden. I want to make sure that it will survive the 5 days without me. We have spent a lot of time and money working on this tiny little patch of soil that we call our front garden. When we moved in, it was terribly overgrown with some invasive creeping plant, that took weeks and weeks to get rid of. My friend Chris helped me to carry loads of compost over from the park on Environment Days. Dan and I spent many evenings shopping at Garden Centres. I read dozens of gardening books from the library. I started shopping at Lee Valley. I've had many emergency massages after a weekend of back breaking work in this garden. But it is now full on summer and we have some beautiful flowers growing and I feel less ashamed about the state of our garden. Sometimes, we even feel pride. So, you can imagine the horror when I came home from work to find two plywood sheets laying on the garden.

My initial thought was - what the hell. You are crushing my flowers! Dan was in the house working and hadn't even noticed it, since he came in the back door. He came out and lifted the boards to reveal this 6' deep crater where my beautiful flowers once bloomed. What the hell!!!!

Yes, there was a backhoe parked across the street and some patches of asphalt had been dug up. But why would a problem across the street require them to ruin my garden???? Finally I found a neighbour who told me that the water main runs under my garden, and they needed to run a new line to the house across the street. So, they dug up my garden. Bad luck, I guess. Lucky that they didn't have to dig up the neighbours interlocking brick. What would they do then?

So this morning, I'm running around packing up my last few things when I heard a scuffling outside. I opened the front door and there were four men standing on my front garden, who sheepishly turned to greet me. They explained that they will replace all the flowers that they ruined, but for some reason, I can't imagine that it will be that easy. I watched the guy work inside the big hole for a while, then decide to leave them to their work. After all, I'm going on vacation!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Not Tickled Pink Anymore

I can imagine that the garish colours of our house scared away many potential buyers. I was somewhat drawn to this ugly duckling because of that fact, and it resulted in our offer being the first and only - and there was no bidding competition. It may be hard for you readers who live outside of the Greater Toronto Area to comprehend, but houses here can sell in a matter of hours for thousands of dollars over their asking price. A house up the street recently sold for $50,000 over asking with six offers, after a two hour open house. It is mad.

But mad is also living in a pink house. It is certainly easy for your friends and family to find when visiting, but it is also hard to hold your head high as you walk out the front door. When we moved, we thought that the first thing that we'd do was paint the exterior trim, but then the interior took priority. Then it was too cold. So, we had to leave it until spring. Our house stood out even more in the snow.

Rain and overnight temperatures below 10C kept us from doing this job -- but today, we finally did it. A white door and columns are not as unique. Visitors pass right by our house now. But I don't mind. They'll have to find another landmark to guide them here - like our house number?