Friday, December 22, 2023

Permanent Christmas Lights

Do you like ladders?  How bout digging the ol' Christmas lights out of the crawl space?  Not any more my friends. Introducing permanent decorative holiday lighting for your home.  

Cheesy informercial intros aside, I just installed permanent holiday lights and I love them. They are designed to illuminate the siding of a house while tucked, out of view, underneath soffits.  They stay up all year long and can be controlled with a smart phone app.  Reference the image below for a better idea of what I'm talking about.

Check out the video.

The product I went with is Govee Permanent Outdoor RGBIC Lights. They are IP67 rated and come with 75 Scene Modes.  I purchased from Amazon.

Every light has a 3M VHB (Very High Bond) adhesive backing that is meant to form a semi-permanent connection with suitable material like plastic, vinyl, or wood.  Time will tell whether they hold up but so far, they are bonding well.  The light modules are 16.75 inches apart (on center). The distance from the illuminated surface dictates the shape of the light cone you get.  Below is a close up image of the front porch.

The Govee phone app allows you to schedule the lights in very high detail.  You can have a different scene every night of the year.  You can even make your own animations. I have the house light up in Kelly Green whenever the Philadelphia Eagles play a night game.  

"But what if I don't have a white house?"  Don't worry, YouTube had plenty of examples of installs on light and dark colored siding/brick.   

DIYing this is not trivial, however. Much planning is necessary.  The 100' kit does come with two extension cables but you'll likely need to cut the strand mid-run if you come to the end of a roof section.  Good news, cutting a strand is possible but you'll need the proper tools like a soldering iron if you want to properly extend a run.  Not a big deal if you know me and live reasonably close.  If not, time to learn a new skill ;)

This product only comes in white but the pro version can be purchased in black.  Would be nice if you could get it to better match your house color but I'm sure there are ways around that.  Color matched cable raceways perhaps.  And they only work with Alexa, and Google Assistant at the moment.  The app is good enough where that's not even an issue though.  

Overall, I'm pretty happy with what this brings to my lighting scheme. And I'll be even happier when I don't have to take down the lights in wintery January weather. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Curb Appeal


This is the post I have been waiting 7 years to write. The front of the house is finally done!

Ok, we cheated a little with our before and after shots. The before picture was taken in late fall while we opted for early spring to capture the after picture. But look how green the grass is! Actually, as I will discuss in detail later, the before picture is probably as good as the house was going to look considering how many weeds were lurking just below the surface waiting to pounce and completely lay waste to every inch of exposed dirt. It was painful.

You may want to grab some coffee, there is a lot to unpack here.  When we first moved in, we didn't think the state of the front façade and yard were that bad. The inside was our first priority so we threw Band-Aids on some of the outside trouble spots and got to work. This wasn't the wisest decision because almost everything started to deteriorate quickly.  We moved in around early April and that's just about when everything green started to explode. Mostly weeds and English Ivy. Oh, some Poison Ivy too. Be careful around that stuff kids. Prior to moving into this house my wife and I had lived our adult lives in apartments or townhouses. Our combined experience with greenery was minimal. During our first summer, I took a run at clearing and cleaning some of the property.  Pro tip here, if you attempt to wrestle mother nature into submission, you will lose. And I did.  I think this experience ultimately guided our design decisions for the exterior of the house. Simple, clean and classic is what needed to happen to heal our battered minds and bodies.

During the interior renovations, my wife and I would constantly be on the lookout for houses in the neighborhood with color schemes we liked. The siding definitely needed to be painted and due to the builder quality brickwork, it was going to be included in our palette decision as well. I'll say it again, the hardest part of renovations is picking out colors. Going with black on white may seem like a punt, but it was unique among houses on our street and kept showing up on our list of favorite example homes.  

I'll bet that you can't think of  a single garage door near you that isn't a shade of white. You wouldn't think it when shopping for them though. Seems like only high end houses really consider the design of garage doors. Ok, they are a bit more expensive but can have a significant impact on how your home looks and feels. With that said, we went with regular ol' Clopay white doors. That's actually what we wanted. I'll talk more about the doors in an upcoming garage post. That should be a good one.

It's hard to see in the "before" shot but the large window on the main level is a mid century honeycomb bow window. It created a magical draft that would appear as if from nowhere. Under a certain exterior temperature, it was like the window wasn't even there. It had to go. I explored hiring this job out but happened upon a couple of windows off that were a perfect fit. I ended up buying a set of four and selling two that put my end cost at $0. Not a bad deal. 

Getting a new concrete driveway was definitely something we were going to splurge on. We hired Maico Gomez with MVK Construction for the heavy lifting. Couldn't have been happier with the work he did. He's done a bunch of work for us over the years and our neighbors too. If you ever need concrete, pavers, painting, you name it... he's your man.

I learned a lot about door installation when replacing our front door. Unless your house if perfectly level and plum, you are going to have problems. Our house is neither, which is to be expected from over 50 years of settling. It's not so much the door as it's the trim that becomes an issue. I had to get creative a number of times. Measure once, cut lots of times was the rule in this case. In addition, and at the risk of covering up such a beautiful entry way, we decided to install a black storm door to get some extra light into the house on nice days. This was an even harder install because the door had little to no rigidity. It had to go in perfectly or it wouldn't seal well. This was a must have and took way more than the advertised afternoon to install. Well worth it though.  

The first thing you should do when moving into a new house is address the landscaping and lawn. It took years to tackle the weeds. The grass has to win and win often to outlast the competition. And if all else fails....sod. It's pricy but you get an instant lawn. I even did some of it myself. And it's still going strong a few years later. Win.  The tree on the left in the pictures below died a couple years ago so we had it taken out. I was sad to see it go but now the lawn gets soooo much more sun. I heard that's what plants need.

The brick and siding was sprayed with Benjamin Moore Brilliant White. Maico did this for us too. I tell ya, he does everything. Painting is only as good as the prep though. I tackled this part of the job for a couple reasons.  Mostly, I just wanted it done right. I really took my time and made sure all of the scraped areas were filled in and sanded perfectly. It's the front of the house and would have been obvious if not. I'm sure the pros would have been good but it turned out to be an iterative process that I'm not sure would have been compatible with their timelines. And then there was cost. Conservatively, I saved about 8K doing this myself. That money came in handy in other areas of the house that my lower back begged me to skip. The back yard post is coming soon.   

Maico Gomez to the rescue again on the front steps. A lot of people said we didn't have to get it done. I had another opinion on the matter. The slate found a new home and good riddance. I'm not opposed to the style but it was poorly conceived and built. I mean, it sloped TOWARDS the house! I think the long continuous bluestone steps are clean and really tidy up the space. I'm happy.

Up lights, down lights, porch lights, path lights; we have it all.  And they are all low voltage LED adding up to less than 70 watts. That's about one incandescent bulb. I wanted our house to be open and inviting even at night without running up the electric bill. Mission accomplished. Home depot has whole sets that go on sale periodically for almost nothing. You should see what I did in the back yard.  That's for another post though.

And for the cherry on top, a home built planter box made out of wood scraps from the shed.  I spent more money on the plants. I really have to grow my own next year. We'll see how it fills in and I'll make tweaks for a real planting next season. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

3D Printed Toothbrush Shelf

My wife and I both use an electric toothbrush and they used to reside on the vanity along with their oddly long cords. It really wasn't a big problem until I got into one of my de-cluttering moods and decided something had to be done. I had some space between the mirrors and above the outlets so proceeded to search for a suitable shelf on Amazon and Google. Hiding the cord was a must have and the main reason why I didn't find what I was looking for. There were some interesting takes on the problem but ultimately, I went in a different direction. Why buy something when you can make it fast and free?

Heard of 3D printing? I've designed a few nick-knacks in the past so the tool chain was already in place to make short work of this project. To the uninitiated, a three dimensional object can be created using a machine that builds up material (usually plastic) in layers until the desired shape is formed. I use the free online version of SketchUp to model my objects. A quick YouTube tutorial can get you up and running in no time. Getting access to a 3D printer is a bit trickier. If you live in Fairfax Virginia, like I do, the public library system has pretty good machines that you can use for free. You upload your model file (STL format) via their website, wait about 10 days, then pick up your creation at the closest available location. Maybe your town has something similar.

I've printed adapters to help install sliding kitchen cabinet drawers, bookshelf  pegs, a sliding barn door guide, and many other useful little objects.  And you can too. You don't have to be an engineer to think up something useful and bring it to life. You just need a PC and an idea.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Master Bedroom Remodel

Our house used to have four bedrooms upstairs. Now it has three. Let me tell you why. We knew going in that the master bathroom (en suite) required a fair amount of work to function properly. Seeing as it was undersized by modern standards, I made plans to enlarge it. I'll leave those details for another post, but for now I will tell you that the best solution was to enlist the area of the walk in closet for the extra space required. I was not sad to see the closet go. Normally walk-ins are great but  ours was maddeningly inefficient from a geometric standpoint. And for some reason, it got wickedly cold in there. It needed to be gutted. For a little while I thought I could add closets to the existing master bedroom without knocking down a wall but it became obvious that the sledge hammer would soon be necessary.

In the "before" picture above, a wall once stood where you can see a break in the floorboards. Nothing is ever easy when you want to take out a wall. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Electrical, plumbing or HVAC, you will have at least two of these in every interior wall that you don't want. Transitioning wall registers to floor registers took a little magic but not much work. Reconnecting the broken electrical was another story. Large swaths of drywall had to be removed to make new wiring runs and much time was spent in the attic crawl space trying to make sense of the lighting.  This was two rooms, after all, so there were two light switches which controlled two circuits of switched outlets and two switches that controlled two ceiling fans. It's a good that I like this sort of thing.

 I waffled for a while about what to do with the flooring. Do I stick with the hardwood or carpet the whole level? There is no easy answer. One thing was for certain though, I was going to have a pro do whatever I decided. I refinished the main level hardwood and vowed to never do that again. We flipped a coin and went with the wood but did set ourselves up if we ever wanted carpet in the future. I installed the baseboards 1/2" off the base of the floor so carpet could get tucked underneath saving whomever did the install the trouble of ripping out and reapplying the baseboards. Quarter round hid the gap nicely and made up for any inconsistencies in the floor level.

Like any bedroom, the space being absorbed into the master had a closet and entryway. Those doors would need to be removed and the openings covered with Sheetrock. With years of cumulative paint, the new drywall did not match the existing drywall width so I used some foam tape to "shim" the new panel. I made the mistake of not including the tape on the lower level and the mudding was a nightmare.

To spiffy up the room a bit, I finished it by installing new windows, crown molding, window and door casings, paint, lights, and curtains.  I also replaced the dated ceiling fan. Did I mentions closets?

I've worked with the PAX closet system from IKEA before and I really like it. I installed three 49" units for a total of 12 and a quarter linear feet of clothes storage. Since they truly go floor to ceiling, they pack a surprisingly large amount of space. My little son Malcolm loves dancing in front of the mirrored doors on the single unit. 

Losing a bedroom upstairs was a hard decision. We don't regret it though. The boys still have their own bedrooms and there is an extra bedroom downstairs for guests. Having the extra space in the master is really key. It's were the boys get ready in the morning and at night after baths. It's were they like to read books and do their gymnastics.We spend a lot of time as a family in the extra space which makes all the effort to combine the two rooms totally worth it.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hallway Renovation

Seven steps up from the main level and you're in the hallway that connects to three upstairs bedrooms and a guest bathroom. All of which were completed before the hallway took shape. They had to be. The paint, the floors, the trim, the electric, the was all connected in one way or another.  There were efficiencies to be had by combining some of the jobs together and completing the hallway piecemeal.

Have you ever heard of a whole house fan. We had one. It didn't work. I'm not sure how it ever worked. Here's the gist. You open the main level windows and the fan pulls air from outside through the house and exhausts it into the attic where it presumably exits via the roof ridge vent. If you want a dusty house, this is how you get a dusty house. I took this monster out and loved every second of it.

There were three main goals for the hallway. Lighting, lighting, lighting. The original fixture housed a single bulb that was woefully inadequate for the space. Cable lights to the rescue. They fill the void with light without flooding it. They create all the right kinds of shadows that make the room feel bigger than it really is. That was a welcome and unintended consequence of the install.

I'm not entirely sure why I put chair rail in the hallway and did a two tone paint job but I did and we love it. Here's a top tip with molding of any kind. Buy all you need plus 10%. If you have to get more a month or even a couple weeks later, the profiles are often a hair off. The store probably received another shipment, and for some reason, the suppliers can change and there is no standard.  I was short about six inches after a miss-cut and had to scour the area for a section that would fit. That was not fun.

Most of the top level has crown molding but I had to think for a bit about how I was going to apply it to the hallway because of how the walls transition into the stairs. I think the above picture is a decent solution. This is a detail I hardly notice but appreciate it when I do.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Utility Room Renovation

Our utility room was pretty beat up. We didn't take people down there. It's on the lower level at the rear of the house and was generally avoided. It would have been nice to tackle this room first but there were too many issues with the design to justify beginning the project until many of those questions were answered. Leaving the room unfinished for a while worked out in our favor though. Having a climate controlled space that you don't mind getting a little nicked up can be very useful. Many things were painted, cut, nailed, and glued down there during the hot and cold months.

Pretty much everything down there was replaced. I started by replacing the exterior door and window. A run of the mill steal door at one of the big box stores can be very reasonable. You pay a little more for the glass but it hardly breaks the budget. The exterior of the house at the door opening is brick and the door would be inset which means that there would be no wiggle room for the attached trim if it ran a little big at the factory. It couldn't have fit more perfectly. It brings a smile to my face every time I walk through it. The window fit just as well but I had to get a little creative. My regular outlets didn't stock a replacement window with the rough opening that I needed so I bought a "new construction" window that was a little smaller but had nailing flanges. Again, the exterior of the house at the window opening was brick and the window would be inset. There was one continuous flange around the outside of the window so I cut the corners effectively making four flaps. I used masonry screws to attach wooden stops to the inside of the brick and cinder block rough opening where I wanted the window to sit. Using a heat gun, I softened up up the flanges so they would easily bend and slid the window in from the outside. When the flanges cooled, they locked the window in place. They also provided a good caulking surface. Result!

I bought a paint sprayer a while back anticipating that I was going to paint the exterior of the house. I didn't consider spraying any of the inside until it came to resurfacing the cinder block walls of this room. I wasn't looking forward to rolling the paint in this room because of all the exposed pipe and uneven surfaces. Spraying would take care of all of this but prep is crucial. I spent a couple nights taping up everything. The floor wasn't down yet so I wasn't terrible worried about over-spray but I ended up brown-papering the ground anyway. I am a huge fan of the sprayer now. It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. I'm actually looking forward to spraying the outside of the house now.

I was back and forth a lot over what flooring to put down. I ended up going with the $1 per square foot cheep self adhesive vinyl stuff you buy at Home Depot. I know a lot of people aren't fans but I think it turned out great. Clean up is easy, it's super affordable and it's a breeze to put down. I'll go high dollar in our livable spaces but willing to save a few bucks where I can. It's been months and I haven't had an issue with it. I'm happy.

We rounded off the renovation with a new stainless bench, utility sink and a sweet washer and dryer from Samsung. Gotta thank my neighbor Pete for suggesting the stacked corner install. Love it. Although I did have to change the plumbing a little to make that work. Working with PEX made that easy though. That stuff is the real winner here.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Office Remodel

This is our guest room/office. It's in our lower level and right next to the rec room that I wrote about recently. I lot more work went into this room than you might think. I wanted to maximize the livable area so I knocked out the wall that formed the closet and claiming about 2 feet of space from the utility room. I'll write about how that worked in the next post. I addition to increasing its size, we wanted to add a lot more light to this cave. Four recessed fixtures should do the trick. Wiring them up was a breeze because I had access to the ceiling joists from the utility room and the rec room which both have Ceilume (removable ceiling tiles) installed. Oddly, my track record hasn't been good in the lighting department so far on this build but this room ended up being lit perfectly... in my opinion. The bamboo flooring was continued on from the rec room and half bath. BTW, nothing in this house is either square or plumb. Decisions and calculations had to be made before even the first plank was placed in the rec room to ensure that the angles between floor boars and walls in the office didn't look too weird. I guess my trig teacher was right, I would end up using that stuff in the real world after all.  The room was buttoned up with a couple of brand new windows, some paint and wider baseboards. And there is one more thing... Ya know what, I think the muphy bed deserves its own post.

Some people ask me about when I get the time to do work. It's usually late and very dark ;)