Category Archives: DIY

Silica Crysta-What Now??

*Huchhh Kshh*Luuuke... I am your contractor.
*Huchhh Kshh*
Luuuke… I am your contractor.

Ever heard of Asbestos? Who hasn’t! We all know it’s super dangerous and shouldn’t be disturbed since the airborne particles cause lung cancer.

Ever heard of Silica Crystalline? No? Neither had I until I was two days into tearing up our tile floors -donning nothing more than a ghetto dust mask- and received a what-the-holy-crap-are-you-doing?! tip from my concerned father. Apparently, airborne Silica Crystalline is in all things cement and ceramic and is just as dangerous as our old friend Asbestos. It just hasn’t gotten the same press. Silica really needs to fire her PR manager and hook up with Asbestos’ agency because they’re really doing a fab job about getting the word out.

If you are planning to do any work with ceramic tiles or concrete grinding check out these informative links before you get started:

Concrete Polishing Magazine (Weird, right? But seriously, it’s a real magazine) 

These are the masks we picked up at Home Depot for under $40 each. We decided they would be useful on all future projects  so we sprang for the heavy duty ones. And believe it or not, these beastly masks are way more comfortable (and easier to breathe in) than those flimsy paper dust masks.

Safe renovating, my friends!

Renovations: Day 6

This past week has been so much fun for me; ripping into walls and smashing tiles, tearing down cabinets and diligently learning -via YouTube videos- how to do each step of all of these projects.  I’ve spent the week alone in Brake Manor (while my sweet hubby works the day job so we can afford to do this…) with the tunes cranked and donning my dust mask and goggles like a rockstar.  Jason was able to come work with me this weekend and the job was even more fun with him at my side. [insert girly swoon here]

As of this morning, here’s where we’re at:

Gas Leak1. the final gas leak has been found and repaired. I eventually gave up and had to call in a pro. It turns out the leak was a lengthwise split in one of the pipes deep in an inaccessible attic-space.  It was an expensive fix but the fact that I didn’t have to swim in loose fiberglass insulation made it totally worth it.

No Wallpaper2. all wallpaper has been removed, sans behind the toilet in the downstairs bath. I’m still a little afraid to remove the toilet yet. I also scraped all the popcorn (non-asbestos popcorn, don’t worry) from the ceiling.

3. the vanity in the bathroom has been removed, walls have been cleaned off and are ready for a skim coat (sans, of course, behind the toilet. I figure I’ll try to do that tonight when Jason can help me lift it).

4. all kitchen wall cabinets and backsplash tiles have been removed, and all lower cupboards except for the one with the sink have been detached so they can be shifted around as we work on the floor.

With Kitchen CabinetsWithout Kitchen Cabinets

5. demo on the kitchen tile is about halfway done. We wanted to leave the cute white tile with charcoal grout but the floor wasn’t tiled under the cabinets (as you can see on the right hand side of the above photos), and we were unable to find the same tile anywhere so we had to do it since we don’t plan on keeping the same cabinet configuration.

I’ve taken today off to catch up on my day-job duties and research options for grinding the Thin-set off of the concrete where the tiles used to be, but hopefully this evening I can head back over to the Manor to kock out a few more floor tiles and move that toilet. The rest of the week is supposed to be a balmy 46-48˚which will make it a little less miserable to run the fresh-air fan with an open door while sanding; but then it’s supposed to drop back into the 20’s and snow on Saturday. Here’s hoping I can manage to finish tearing up the floor and make all the runs to the dump before the snow hits.

…and Let the Renovations Begin!

OMG it's ours!
OMG it’s ours!

Closing went smoothly -Jason’s mom and brother acted as POA’s for Grandma and came to the signing- and for some bizarre reason I was completely zen all morning beforehand. We all smiled and laughed and said our goodbyes after we were finished at closing but the the moment Jason and I got in the car I broke down in a hot mess of tears. The relief and finality of the closing allowed me to let go and start to feel that little-kid excitement about our new place again.

Once my tears were mostly dried we picked up a bottle of Prosecco and stopped at Chipotle for a to-go lunch and had ourselves a picnic in the loft of the new house. The champagne bottle exploded as we opened it -flying cork slamming into the ceiling and all- and we got champagne all over the carpet. At first we both looked at each other with an “oh shit, Grandma’s going to be so mad!”, and then we both smiled and shrugged because we realized it was now our carpet we were ruining. It’s a good thing we are planning to replace it anyhow.

Our Prosecco and Chipotle carpet picnic in the loft
Our Prosecco and Chipotle carpet picnic in the loft

The last week has been overly busy and we’ve only had a few hours at the new house but so far we’ve moved all of grandma’s remaining belongings into the garage so Jason’s mom can take them to storage, torn into the wall behind the dryer to get at that pesky gas leak (or we found a leak, anyway. It may not be the only one up there), now I just need to find a few pipe wrenches to see if we can just tighten the leak away.  We also bought a little steamer and started removing the wallpaper in Jason’s office and the West kitchen wall. It’s such a tedious task but it’ll be so great to have it gone! The back-splash tiles in the kitchen will also be going away so I started slowly chipping at them too. Demolition… feels good, man.

This weekend was a fairly stressful one between shooting a 12 hour frigid December wedding and getting my 4Runner stuck in a snowy mountain ditch (another story for another time…), so it felt really good for both Jason and I to put on our work clothes, turn up the tunes and start working on our house together.  The stress melted away as we worked and all that’s left of the weekend now is our sore muscles and big smiles.

A few backsplash tiles removed.
A few backsplash tiles removed.
Steaming wallpaper on the kitchen wall. It was adhered to raw drywall so it's coming off a little rougher than we'd hoped.
Steaming the kitchen wallpaper off. It was adhered to raw drywall so it’s coming off a little rougher than we’d hoped. I have a feeling we’ll be getting really good at mudding in the near future. ;)


I’m heading back over to the house this morning to continue steaming the wallpaper but I think I might stop by our discount grocery first and pick up a few food items so it feels a bit more like home while I work. I keep brewing coffee every time I go over there in hopes that it will start smelling a little more like home too.

Our cozy cottage blanketed in snow. *swoon*
Our cozy cottage blanketed in snow. *swoon*

Worry-Free Moving

Worry-free moving? Okay, I know that’s a stretch, but I figured there has to be a “best practices” plan to pack up our entire life and shuttle it across town…

The loan is in process, my sister and her husband will be renting our house out until next October, and we’re already picking out carpet and paint for Brake Manor (have I mentioned that’s what we’re affectionately calling it these days?) and we’re counting down the time until Closing and the big move.

After a quick search I found an article regarding painless moving on . The article has reasonable advice and the commentaries after the article are just as useful.

Check it out:

Downloadable Real Estate Contract

 “…if you’re willing to do the legwork yourself there is no reason you should have to pay an agent if the transaction is fairly cut-and-dry.”

I have spent many hours this week researching how to make a real estate transaction happen as inexpensively as possible -since we’re paying for both sides of the upcoming real estate transaction- while still covering all proper bases.

In the beginning I was told that if you don’t use an RE agent (for which our cost would be ~$9,600) you would at least need a RE attorney (cost:~$3,500); but then I learned you don’t have to have an attorney unless there are disputes about the contract, so if the Seller is someone you trust it’s perfectly legit to simply pay an agent to write up the contract for you for a flat fee (cost: ~$1,500).  Now, even this much smaller $1,500 price tag seemed awfully steep to me, probably because that’s still $1.5k even before the Title company charges you for all their goodies too. So after a lengthy search for Colorado Real Estate contracts I eventually found the DORA site. Lo and behold, the Department of Regulatory Agencies is where all RE agents get their contracts from. Jackpot!

I hunkered down and read through the 25+ pages of the contract and addendums and the closing statement we’d need and realized I could totally do this myself with a little guidance from an agent where needed. So I called up the agent my mom had recommended (the same one who gave me the $1.5k price quote for her services) and asked her what she would instead charge to answer my questions and help me if I get stuck filling out the contract myself. Her initial reaction was one of shock because I had found the DORA website and that those mystical sheathed-under-cloak-and-dagger documents could be simply downloaded by just anyone. Her second reaction was that she refused to give me an hourly rate for her services and offered to check them over for free when I was ready. For free?!  I think I’ll send her a huge thank you gift card for such a generous offer. If I end up pulling this off I will be saving us upwards of $1.5k (or really $9.6k if you consider how agents charge around 7%) in exchange for a few grueling hours of research and paperwork.

I’ve come to realize there was a reason I had so much trouble finding information online about how to complete a real estate transaction without an agent/attorney or contract writer; because if you’re willing to do the legwork yourself there is no reason you should have to pay an agent if the transaction is fairly cut-and-dry… and I’m thinking this is information agents prefer not to share liberally. This DIY approach, of course, only applies if both Seller and Buyer are amicable and can work together civilly; but who’s to say in this bad economy folks can’t learn to work things out on their own if it means they’ll save more than $10,000 just for being well-behaved, hardworking grown ups?

Need your own state- or region-specific Real Estate Contract?

Colorado’s DORA website

Regulator Agencies for North America 

First Fix: Natural Gas Leak

Score one for independent women everywhere! :) Yesterday I made my very first true house repair. I fixed 5 natural gas leaks on 3 appliances at gma’s house. Her house has always smelled like gas for as long as I can remember but for whatever reason the leaks have never been sought out. I can still detect a smell of it somewhere in the wall between the furnace and the dryer but that leak will have to wait until we close on the house since some drywall will need to be removed to find it.

A nice technician from our local gas provider was extremely helpful in explaining how the gas system works. He showed me how to control the gas flow at the main source and how to repair any basic leaks I ever find. I am extremely wary of all fire and electricity so I was nervous to give this a go – but now I feel confident that anyone can do this type of repair easily and quickly using just a few precations. Here are the steps I followed. Disclaimer: I am not a professional in any sense of the word. Do not use these directions as your only source of information. Consult a professional before taking on a project like this. Thank you.

Basic supplies needed for an easy-to-access natural gas leak between the fixed gas line and an appliance:

– Two adjustable wrenches, or one adjustable and one pipe wrench, depending on need. 

– Pipe Dope and a toothpick/Q-tip or something else to apply it with – small tubes of PD can be found at your local hardware store for under $2 (teflon tape works in a pinch, but it doesn’t age as well as Pipe Dope and you have to be sure to apply it clockwise or it can bind and cause leaks)

– A good flashlight to shed light on the situation

– A plastic sheet to protect surrounding areas incase you drop any Pipe Dope (it’s icky-sticky stuff), I just tore open a big garbage bag as a makeshift tarp

Optional: a bottle of Snoop to check your work when you’re through or for if you’re having trouble pin-pointing the leak

If actual damage has caused the leak you may also need new couplers, piping or flex-line  -which you can pick up at your local hardware store for fairly cheap.

Step 1: Have a professional seek out the location of the leak. Most gas service providers will offer this service for free if you call and report a smell of gas. Be prepared to have them come immediately since they treat all reports as a possible emergency – and be prepared to fix the leak right away because, as a policy, if they find one they will turn off your gas until it is repaired

Step 2: If the professional hasn’t done it already, turn off the gas valve at the provider supplied source (for an apartment, turn off the valve at the dwelling/unit source), then wait several minutes or until you no longer smell gas from the suspected leak,  and until the smell in the room/house has fully dissipated, before proceeding

Step 3: If there is a local gas shut-off valve for the appliance, turn that off as an added safety measure

The appliance’s shut-off valve will either look like this yellow knob, a little red knob or it can be similar to the main shut-off valve to the house

Step 4: Use one wrench to hold the pipe (or neighboring coupling) steady, and use the second wrench to twist and loosen the coupling. If the leak is up-line of a local shut-off valve you can try to simply further tighten the connection instead of going to the trouble of unscrewing it and applying your PD

*a note for us weaklings: to loosen stubborn couplers, positioning the two wrenches so that squeezing them together (like squeezing a nutcracker or pliers) will give you much more torque than holding them independently

Step 5: apply Pipe Dope to the male end of the connection (on the threads). Only apply enough to help lubricate the threads so they can be fully tightened. Be sure not to get any Pipe dope inside of the pipe as it can cause issues down the road

Step 6: reconnect the coupler and tighten as much as possible. Repeat Steps 3-6 on any other leaks that were found

Step 7: turn on the gas at the source. Remember to turn the valve very slowly. Opening it too quickly can burst the diaphragm in the meter. Here’s a video clip of the technician opening the valve Gma’s house so you can get an idea of how slow to go:

Step 8: Since the gas has been off for a bit the air in the house should be completely clear of any gas smell (it dissipates pretty quickly) so it will be pretty easy to tell if any of your fixes didn’t hold once the gas is back on. Immediately move to any repaired leak that didn’t have a local shut-off valve to check if you can smell any gas still leaking. Next, go to any repair(s) that do have the local shut-off valve and turn the gas on to the appliance. If there is still a leak present you will smell it right away if you sniff the repair site.

If there is still a leak you might want to use a bottle of Snoop to pin-point where it’s still leaking, or if it turns out you’re unable to find/fix it yourself, you’ll have to hire a local HVAC pro to come take care of it for you – but at least you did what you could!

Step 9: Re-light all appliances that require a pilot light: the furnace (if it’s as old as the hills; newer ones have an electronic ignition), hot water heater, gas fireplace, etc.  Directions for lighting pilot lights should be located on each item’s warning stickers

Step 10: Squeal and giggle and do the happy dance because you are an independent, kick-ass DIYer!

Now go get yourself a tasty treat because you did good work today!