Winter AKA “Before Baby” To-Do List

Yep, a few things on our list have changed in priority due to the impending arrival of Baby H. I love doing these lists because they really help me stay accountable to Future Cathy, who is notoriously hard to please. We managed to get most of our Spring/Summer list done, with the exception of the sunroom, which I didn’t think we’d get to til next year anyway. Honestly, I’m just so glad we got the foundation done!

Here’s what I’m hoping to get done before the end of February (fingers crossed Baby H doesn’t decide to come any sooner):

  1. Finish the nursery. Obviously, we need somewhere to put that baby. We are most of the way there, or at least we have all the furniture. I still need to do all the requisite organizing of baby clothes and hang pictures on the wall, but we’re making progress! Check out my post on our plans for the nursery for more details. I’m particularly loving this corner and have been trying out that rocker already! As you can see, we’re still deciding on a paint colour for the accent wall.IMG_5112
  2. Work on the back entrance. Now that our kitchen floors are done, it has put into sharper focus how truly terrible the back entrance is. We’ve been using it as our main entrance while we wait on redoing our landscaping- we don’t have a path leading to our front steps any more (come to think of it, we don’t have front steps period at the moment) and due to Richmond’s lovely clay based soil, this leads to an obscene amount of mud being tracked in the house- so we’re using the back door until we figure that situation out. Luckily (ha) all the snow we just got has covered up the entire mess of our lawn so we can pretend it doesn’t exist until April-ish. I’ve already ripped up the old carpet, which has reduced the old person smell drastically! The paint colour will be the same as our hallway and the trim will just get a fresh coat of white paint. We’ll probably continue the vinyl tile from the kitchen here, maybe with painting the steps and risers.CPZY1511
  3. Shoe moulding. Seriously, for real this time. After ripping up the carpet in our living room/dining room and laying the new tile in the kitchen, this is the last step we have to finish the floors off in that half of the house, and somehow it keeps getting pushed back by other stuff. It’s the kind of thing you can ignore for a long time and as soon as you notice it again you’re like “Hmm. This looks really crappy and we should change that. But wait, let me do this other thing first…” and repeat 10x.
  4. Floors in the hallway. After we discovered the hardwood didn’t continue down the hall like we had hoped, my husband ripped up the vinyl flooring that was underneath the old carpet and the first layer of subfloor as well. Since then we’ve been living with it and it’s annoyingly shabby looking, and is really affecting my selfie game. Plus those different levels and rough wood won’t be so kind on sweet little baby hands and knees. We want to try to match the hardwood in the living room and hopefully the transition won’t be too obvious.
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  5. Touch up paint. Ugh, but I don’t want to. Our carpet installation messed up some of the pain paint (haha, I just Freudian slipped that) in the hallways and bedroom trim, so that needs to be touched up. Also, one wall of the kitchen never got a 2nd coat of paint and it’s kind of obvious in certain light. Plus there are just spots that I didn’t do the world’s best paint job on initially.
  6. Basement plans. Now that the foundation waterproofing is ♫ALL DONE♫ (sing it with me!) we can start to think about how we want to plan out the space- all 1100 square feet of it. It’s entirely unfinished so it’s a beautiful blank slate for us. Our plans will most likely include at least one bedroom, enclosing the laundry room and adding a toilet/shower there for a second bathroom, walling in a family room/rec room, and figuring out some sort of extra pantry storage area. Part of the basement will also remain unfinished for tools and general storage.

And that is probably enough to keep us busy! Realistically this will probably take us into the Spring as well, I’m sure I’ll find the time with a newborn baby… I hear all they do is sleep and poop, right?

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard anything lately about our bathroom reno, it’s because we decided to put it on the back burner for now. Although it’s hideously ugly in all its green, bronze, floral-wallpapered glory, it is functional. And it’s our only bathroom. Our strategy going forward is to rough in a second bathroom downstairs before we start any work on our bathroom, now that we have firsthand experience about how not-fun not having water is from our foundation well water line shenanigans.

Stay tuned for my progress!
-C

DIY Foundation Waterproofing (in Canada)

As you may have noticed, the past few months have been pretty scantly blogged about, because we’ve been super busy with the world’s least sexy blogging topic of all time: waterproofing our foundation. I can’t imagine anything you could spend more time or money on that has as little visual reward- we spent months on something that we just covered in tons of dirt and gravel! But we can finally celebrate being done this massive project, and I want to share what we did and how we did it.

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DISCLAIMER: We are not professional foundation experts. My husband is an electrical apprentice and I am a (currently unemployed) scientist. We researched this extensively online and talked to other people who have done it before, either for a living or for their own houses. Nothing I say here should be taken as being accurate or appropriate for anyone else; what we did was unique to our geography, foundation type, budget, and skill level, so please adjust accordingly.

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Before I get into the nitty gritty of it, let me remind you that we live in Canada. A lot of what we did is specific to our foundation structure, which has to be deep because the ground freezes during the winter. Basically, this project involved these steps in sequence: we dug down to the footing of our foundation around the perimeter of our house, repaired any cracks and damaged parging, covered the entire surface of the foundation as well as the footing with tar paint, attached platon membrane and ran O-pipe around the perimeter, jackhammered under the footing to feed the O-pipe into our sump well, covered the O-pipe and the bottom of the trench with 3/4 clear gravel, and then backfilled it all.

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Now, a lot of people expressed surprise that we would even attempt this. It is a very messy job that could go very badly if you don’t know what you’re doing- you could potentially destroy your foundation if you don’t do it properly, and have to dig it up all over again if you miss one crack or detail. There is a reason that there are professionals who do this for a living. But when we looked at the cost savings (we spent about 10-20% of what you could reasonably expect to pay a company), and thought honestly about our skill level and the resources we had available, we decided to go for it.

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Here’s why we were able to do this large scale DIY and what you’ll need if you want to do the same:

  1. Opportunity and sheer luck. We have access through my husband’s job to plumbers, excavators, and friends willing to work for a case of beer and a meal on their weekends. Not everyone is as fortunate and we appreciate that.
  2. A lot of patience. If you haven’t done this before, it’s going to take a while. Companies can charge what they do because people will pay it to avoid having their lives in upheaval. When we first started planning for this, my husband told me that he thought the lion’s share of the work could be done in a weekend or two. It has taken us over 5 months. Moving on…
  3. Flexibility. Things never go as planned; the guy you had booked to help suddenly can’t make it, the home reno store is out of the supplies you need, the soil around your house is entirely clay based and you have to invest in rubber boots for everyone helping, you need the parging to dry but the weather forecast is nothing but rain, the list goes on and on. Plus, spending your weeknights and weekends working in a mud pit when you have a full time job and a social life sucks. We had to give ourselves a break every now and then, or else we would have gone crazy(er).
  4. Preparing for the unexpected. We had a very experienced guy working the excavator but he accidentally took out our cable and phone lines, so we didn’t have internet for 2 months (the technicians would not come on site to repair it due to the unsafe work environment that a giant trench imposes). Occasionally we had to do some emergency repair work that we weren’t counting on, and made plenty of last minute trips to the hardware store. Shit happens!
  5. Tolerance for mess and dirt. The aforementioned clay soil meant that we had to put a lot of tarps down inside the house to avoid tracking it all over the place, and had to sweep/mop more frequently. We also spent a lot of time covered in dirt and tar paint, which meant more laundry. We should have bought stocks in GoJo Orange hand soap and paint thinner!

I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have, by which I mean reading your questions aloud to my husband and then typing his response 😉

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Speaking of my husband, he deserves almost all of the credit. He is camera shy so it only looks like I was doing a lot of work… a few weeks into this we found out I was pregnant, so I had to stop helping with much of the physical labour. I tried to make up for it by supplying food and beer when he came inside, exhausted and covered in mud. He figures that he moved about 30,000 lbs of sand and gravel, and most of that was him and a wheelbarrow. He didn’t want me to share that because it sounded like bragging, but I am bragging on his behalf. I have a very hardworking guy, who mostly tolerated my hormone-fueled neurotic outbursts.

Al and O pipe

I have to shout out to the company he works for too; they loaned us most of the equipment we needed, trusted us to use it, and spent hours of their time loading and unloading the excavator in between the times it was needed at the shop. A lot of people there also gave us invaluable advice and help, which we honestly could not have done without. Last but not least, we are forever indebted to the family and friends that helped us out with meals, general support, physical labour, and wheelbarrow loads of gravel (some with a newborn baby at home)- we owe you big time!

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Now, please join me in crossing fingers that we don’t find the leaks we missed during the Spring thaw.

-C

Installing Peel and Stick Vinyl Tile (for Realists)

That’s right, I’m still milking our kitchen makeover for every last blog post I can squeeze out of it! Today I’m ruminating on vinyl tile installation, and its pros and cons. To get up to speed on what we’ve done since we moved in, check out this post. Here’s a quick and dirty comparison of the old and the new floors:

floors before and after

Installing peel and stick tile sounds really easy to do, and looks really easy on home reno shows. I mean, it only has two steps: 1) Rip up old floors and 2) stick on tiles! Well friends, I’m here to burst your bubble and will not sugar coat this for you.

We went with peel and stick tile because we thought that it would be a quicker and cheaper option than ceramic tiles. One of our future plans is to do a complete kitchen reno, and we didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money on ceramic tile only to rip it up once we change the layout of the kitchen. I naively thought that using vinyl tile meant this could be done in a day, or a weekend tops; this turned out to be a huge underestimation. Between all of the steps involved (yes, I was lying when I said this only had two steps), we spent a week on this. We weren’t super efficient about it, but still, it took a lot more time than I was expecting. As my husband put it, using peel and stick makes the easiest part of installing tiles- the placement of the tiles- even easier; you still have to do almost the same amount of prep work before you can apply the tile. But getting to a level, smooth, clean surface takes a lot of time. So buckle up and let me take you through what this project actually involves!

Step 1A): Remove Old Flooring

If the original floors had come up easily then this would have taken a lot less time and I would be less bitter about it, but the linoleum was an absolute nightmare to remove. At first we could only get it off in 1 inch or so chunks that chipped off when we tried to peel it, leaving a paper and adhesive layer behind. I had a friend helping me with this step (Thanks MT!!) and after about an hour of making almost no progress, she suggested we look online for help. We found a few YouTube videos that recommended using a heat source to soften the glue first, which ended up being a lifesaver. We found the best method was using a heat gun to first soften the glue and a flat edge trowel to lift up the flooring- this left the least amount of paper/adhesive behind. Other variations we tried were an iron and a metal cake lifter, and a hair dryer and a putty knife. During this step, we wore half face masks with P100 cartridges for vapours and particulates- we had no idea what was under the floors and heating the linoleum gave off a pretty nasty plastic smell. We also kept all the windows open for ventilation, so this is not a Canadian winter friendly project.

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Using a heat gun and putty knife to lift the old linoleum

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I gave this step got a major thumbs down

Step 1B): Patch Uneven Areas & Repair Damaged Subfloor

Once the old flooring was up and the remaining adhesive and paper had been scraped off, we patched the surface with a product that Home Depot recommended, SimplePrep Pre-Mixed Floor Patch. My husband did this step and he didn’t like this product at all. Next time (haha, next time) we would use the stuff you mix yourself, because he found the consistency too thick. The product says it takes 4 hours to dry which was not the case for us; we found it took at least a day and some areas needed more than one coat. But we did have some pretty substantial areas to patch. Once the patch dried, we went over the floors with a scraper to even out any remaining bits of adhesive or raised edges from the patch and made sure to clean it really well. Some of the areas were still raised after this step so we drilled floor screws in to try and flatten these spots.

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Close-up of our super damaged subfloor before scraping off excess adhesive and paper

IMG_4720Subfloor after scraping off adhesive and applying patch compound

Step 1C): Prime Surface

When the surface was as smooth as we could get it, we cleaned it really well and then primed the subfloor with special vinyl tile primer. They didn’t sell this at Home Depot and we were actually advised by someone there to just use paint primer (like what you would use for walls) on the floor to prime it before laying the tile. This didn’t sound right to my husband because the paint primer wouldn’t have had good adhesion to the patched spots, which is similar surface to cement; so we kept looking online until we found a multipurpose surface primer by TEC, which Lowe’s sold. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if the patched spots were minimal, but we had large sections that were patched.

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Action shot of my husband painting on primer

Step 2A): Apply Tiles

After the primer dried we were finally ready for the easy part- sticking on the tiles. This was pretty straightforward and there are lots of resources online to help with this. Basically you measure the room to find the midway point in either direction, then snap two chalk lines at these points that intersect at the centre of the floor. You put down the first tile at the centre point (without removing the backing) and do a dry run first so you can move the center tile towards either wall if necessary- like if it will make the last tile on either side of the room an awkward length. We ended up snapping an additional chalk line 12 inches off the centre line so that we could line up the offset tile for the next row as well (our tiles were 24×12 inches). Most people recommend laying the tile in sections, not in rows- this helps to keep everything lined up and squared nicely. Since the tiles were vinyl, we were able to use a heat gun and a utility knife to cut them when required. We pretty much worked outward from the centre in sections in a sort of stepwise fashion, and periodically ran over the surface with a floor roller to make sure they were really stuck on.

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Lining up the first tiles with the chalk lines

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Making sure the tiles are good and stuck with a floor roller

Step 2B): Grout Tiles (Optional)

Although you can place the tiles right next to each other without grout, we decided to use the grout because I thought that the slightly beveled edge would collect dirt if we didn’t, and also I wanted this to look as much like ceramic tile as possible. The grout was applied differently to grout you would use for ceramic tile; we used a piping bag and a grout float to get it in the cracks and wiped the excess off the tile immediately with a wet sponge so it didn’t dry.

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In Conclusion…

The end result does look pretty fabulous, but honestly it was so much more work than I had planned on, I am feeling a bit jaded about it. I should have been more realistic about how long it would take to get the old floors up and the surface prepared. This will vary from floor to floor, and it’s the kind of thing you can’t know until you start. Also, the kitchen is kind of an important room. Not having a kitchen for a few days is really inconvenient, especially if your kitchen is in the middle of the house and prevents you from going in the basement. We ended up eating a lot of take out and microwave meals while this was in progress, so if you don’t love Beefaroni like my husband does, you may want to reconsider the impact that not having an oven or stove will have on your diet.

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On the whole I would say in the future, flooring is something I would consider hiring out, and I’m not buying the perception that vinyl tile is so much easier to install than ceramic (coming from someone who has never installed ceramic…). This was also our very first flooring project, so on the flip side, maybe it was a good way to learn? It was definitely cheaper to go with vinyl tile over ceramic; we spent about $400 on the tile and the rest of the supplies, including renting a floor roller.

Do you have any stories to share of projects that seem so easy and then snowball into a horrible nightmare that won’t end? Can you assure me that the floors look awesome and this was totally worth doing? I’d love to answer any questions you have about this project!

-C

Our First Year

Whoa! I can’t believe it’s been one year since we got the keys to our house. What’s that saying, the days are long but the years are short? Yeah, that’s becoming so true the older I get. We have been working our little butts off on the foundation and while we have spent the past two months literally and metaphorically digging ourselves into and back out of a pit, it’s so easy to see all the work there is left to do instead of patting ourselves on the back for all the work we’ve done, you know?

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Aww, remember when we used to have flower beds instead of piles of clay?

So I thought I’d do another little sum up post of what we’ve accomplished, so that I don’t just spend my life thinking I’m a horrible slacker for not quite being finished everything I thought we would. Really, the only thing we thought we’d do in the first year that we didn’t get done is the bathroom reno, but we also never planned on doing the foundation in our first year either, so I think we can call that a wash!

Here’s my last progress post that I chronicled our first few months of home ownership in- wouldn’t want to get all redundant on you! (Psst… if you really want to see how far we’ve come, check out the photos from the realtor’s listing.)

Since then, here’s what we’ve got done:

Third bedroom: removed that hideous forest wallpaper, painted all the things, ripped up old green carpet

carpet before after2Kitchen: installed new light fixture, changed all the outlets, painted all the things, sewed and installed a badass valence that you can’t even tell I did a hack job on

One Room Challenge Kitchen Dear DIY – Bedrooms: ripped up the old vinyl floor that was under the carpet, pulled up SO. MANY. STAPLES. and had new carpet installed
– Guest room: moved our old double bed in, hung curtains, hemmed said curtains, put in a desk
Master bedroom: bought a new queen sized mattress, found an accent chair for the corner/clothes dump/sleeping cat and have somewhat of a colour scheme going on

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I am so glad I don’t have to look at that horrible vinyl tile any more

– Basement: cleaned and organized many times over by my husband. I hardly ever go down there and he’s pretty much always neatening things up, condensing the boxes that I half-unpack, mopping the floor, etc. Probably because he wants to establish it as his domain now when it’s crappy and unfinished so that later when it’s awesome he can have an 1100 square foot man cave.
Living room: bought a new sofa, found accent chairs, hung gallery wall with wedding photos, sorted out the entry shelf, organized entry closet, and hung blinds.

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Yeah, the chair legs still have the wrapping on. Real classy, Cathy. They also spent their first few days in our house covered in plastic before I Scotchgarded them. #clumsyproblems

– Sunroom: cleaned out all the old carpet and crap that we’ve been dumping there as we worked over the winter, moved our old sofa in and found a cute coffee table.

sunroom_bright – Foundation: dug a 6 foot trench all around the house and garage, pressure washed the entire surface, patched parging, applied foundation paint, attached platon membrane, covered ground with gravel, laid O-pipe, covered with more gravel, and backfilled the whole mess. Not to mention cooking and feeding all our friends/family who donated their time to help out. Oh yeah and waged battle with a foot of mud every time we tried to go down there because it would not stop raining!! Sorry for detailing every little things but it has been a huge undertaking and I want credit for all the incremental things that meant we did not spend our summer bbq-ing, drinking beer, and relaxing at a cottage.

Ok now I don’t feel so bad that our yard needs to be re-landscaped. Looking back over this list also really gives me an appreciation for how hard my marriage has worked, too. I can see lots of things that I did on my own, my husband did on his own, or that we both worked on together- despite all the inevitable arguments about how many throw pillows are too many or what’s a reasonable price for an accent chair, we make a great team and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings us! I think there are a lot more projects in our future! :)

-C

Reflections on Home Ownership

This time last year, if you’d told me to enjoy the days of apartment living, I probably would have smacked you. As the little sister and youngest of all my cousins, I’ve always been the last to reach the levels on the life-event barometer: when I was in high school, my sister had started university. When I started university, my sister found her first job. When I was still in university (#gradstudentproblems) my sister got married and then bought her first house. You get the idea! I’m always so anxious to get to the next step that sometimes I forget to just be and enjoy where I’m at.

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I moved out of my parents home at 18, so I spent 10 years renting. I lived in 5 units in 2 cities with 3 roommates- the last of whom would eventually become my husband. I hand-washed countless dishes and suffered through sharing laundry facilities, walls, ventilation, bed bugs, and hot water with strangers. While I anxiously waited for our future home, I kept myself busy with various projects, like sewing elbow patches on my favourite old sweater, attending DIY workshops, and making canvas prints using acetone transfers.

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But it’s funny how you gain perspective on things. As much as I couldn’t wait to get out of that apartment and become a proper grown up with a mortgage, I’ve caught myself thinking wistfully of all the time I used to have to devote to things like sewing, crafting, shopping, and flea market hunting. I also used to think our apartment looked really great, and I loved how easy it was to decorate. Now I find myself feeling a little overwhelmed with the larger space and it’s hard coming up with a cohesive look, not to mention keeping things tidy when we’re basically living in a construction zone 24/7.

As exciting as it is to know that we can do whatever we want with our house, I can’t wave a magic wand to make it happen overnight. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of hard work, and a lot of time (not to mention $$$). And all those jobs start to feel like just that- jobs. I can’t even remember the last time I had my sewing machine out for fun. Whenever I get a burst of productive energy, I notice the holes that I never patched or the paint that needs to be touched up. So my old Janome will have to sit dormant a little while longer, and even then it will probably only get to hem the curtains in the guest room.

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I’m definitely guilty of wishing my life away; I’m so impatient for the next big thing that will happen in my life that I forget to slow down and enjoy where I’m at. Living in the moment and being grateful for what I have, instead of comparing myself to others and feeling shortchanged, is something I really need to work on. And even though it took many stressful months to find our house, while we weathered the storm of my husband’s career change and felt the disappointment of making an offer on a completely different house that eventually fell through, I know that all the waiting was worth it- that other house would have been a strain financially and wouldn’t have been as good a fit as the house we did buy. I really do believe that everything happens for a reason!

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So if you’re out there reading this and you’re feeling like I was before we bought our house, like you can’t wait to put your own personal stamp on your space and you hate every minute of renting, know that it will happen in time. Enjoy the benefits of renting, and use the time to save up for your downpayment and reno fund. Cherish the phone calls to your landlord about the crack in the ceiling or the leaky faucet, and crack open a beer while you watch them fix it… because one day it will be your problem!

-C