Tag Archives: DIY

Brake Manor, The Next Chapter


I have been doing so many exciting things around Brake Manor since last autumn that I’ve decided to revisit the blogging idea and maybe pick up where we left off here – but with a little twist. Instead of just a home diary I’d like to add sustainable stuff, healthy living stuff, and anything else that pertains to thriving while consuming little. So! Here’s a quick summary of what’s happened since I last left off:

For the last two years I’ve had a blast shooting for and working with local artists, brewers, movers-and-shakers, and many other wonderful business owners and innovative folks here in town. My photography business took off straight out of the gate and had been going gangbusters. In early 2014, after several months of happily and busily working as an assignment photographer, I began to get restless again. I began feeling as though I needed yet another new adventure. I’ve always wanted to try travel photography and writing so I wound up taking a solo walkabout and lived out of a car in Iceland for 7 weeks. This beautiful adventure completely turned my life upside down in an amazing and terrifying way. I was blindsided by how I simply thrived on living alone in the small cargo space of a car, and being forced to find daily nourishment and facilities, all while spending copious amounts of time alone in the wilderness, taking photos and writing. By the end of this walkabout I was calmer, happier and gentler than ever before (this says a lot from a fiery-tempered Irish lass), I was physically strong and healthy, I laughed often and felt emotions more deeply than I knew was possible; I was thriving in all facets of my existence. Shortly after returning  home I began having crippling panic attacks and depression, I raged and sobbed daily over the many world injustices I had no control of, and thus began to hide away in the house for weeks on end because my brain was brimming with negative worries and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I nearly ran away to live life as a car-living vagabond. After a few months of constant introspection (because ain’t no body got time for this garbage! I’m a fixer. I wanted to feel better again.) I learned that the only thing that calmed me and made me sane again was the act of bumbling around in my big yard and focusing on, and caring for, the small things for which I could make a difference. I quickly realized I had to be the change I wished to see in the world and needed to stop worrying about what everyone else was doing (a novel thought, eh? Worry ’bout yo’self!).

Once that idea clicked in my head  I decided, again, that it was time for another lifestyle change just like the one Jason and I had made when we got out of debt and moved into our little brick bungalow, Brake Manor, in 2012. I decided I would find my peace by focusing on making the day-to-day tasks of life more joyful and by learning to live sustainably. The Icelandic sustainable way of life really had a hold on me and wasn’t about to let go.

A few months before this new revelation Jason had changed companies and quickly received a raise for being so awesome. Between his raise and my side-gig as landlady we were making ends meet enough to allow me the privilege of slowing down the photography flow and taking on yet another new adventure (thank you, sweet husband, for always being so generous and supportive of my wacky new ideas!).

So for the last few months I have pulled myself back together by way of learning. I’ve been learning how to ferment foods, live off the land, be handier around the house and yard, and how to simply be happier with less.  I’m at the point again where I’m happy, healthy and passionate about waking up each morning. That’s huge. That’s so very awesome. That’s … Oh hell, I’m back, baby!

I have recently begun working with the amazing folks of the NoCo Maker Faire and we’re adding a sustainable living portion to the upcoming fair in October, so stay tuned for that!

So, welcome to my next chapter of Brake Manor living. Join me, won’t you?  Let’s start doing awesome things that make us happy and just happen to leave the world a better place than when we inherited it. <3


Rose Pink Carpet

Due to our limited budget this winter we won’t be replacing any flooring that we take out during our initial renovations so we made the tough decision to live with concrete flooring downstairs instead of the existing rose pink carpet for two reasons;

a.) since this was Jason’s grandmother’s home for as long as he can remember the more stark visual changes we can make, the more like a new home it will feel for him and the more comfortable he will be, and

b.) because dusty rose is not a color you’ll likely find in our interior design palette. Ever.

office carpet tackstripThe carpet tack-strip was nailed into the concrete slab so we pried that all up as carefully as possible in order to not leave too many pock marks. Since the cottage began as a horse barn and then we think later became a car garage, it was really neat to meet the old garage floor under all that carpet; oil stains, splattered paint and a rough finish texture made for some interesting character.

Though we pulled up all the pink carpet from downstairs we did, however, leave it on the stairs for now. We both agreed that some rose pink on the stairs is better than plywood splinters on bare feet. ;)

Upcycling Kitchen Cabinetry

ktchn cabinets on trailer 2
Once we moved them away from the walls they practically self destructed. Wimpy things!
They're much nicer than they look, they're just covered in cement dust.
The cabinet faces are much nicer than they look, they’re just covered in cement dust.

Due to our upcoming expenditure on drywall texturing we are already feeling tight on funds, so in order to save more clams we decided to reuse the old kitchen cabinetry for now.  The cabinet bodies were in nasty shape and the drawers weren’t exactly smooth rollers so we loaded up all the cabinets and moved them to my dad’s workshop so he could rebuild the particleboard structures and put the cabinet faces back on.  (Thank you, Dad!!!) Once we move in we’ll have more time to resurface the faces and give them a little more style.

I made an executive decision, met with MUCH gasping and contention from all parties, to make the longest countertop in the kitchen 36″ deep instead of 24″. My reasoning is that in our current house I don’t feel like I have enough counter space and, dammit, I simply want more elbow room. After a toaster, espresso machine or mixer is plopped down against the wall it leaves me only about 12-16″ of workspace left. Not enough for this dough-slingin’, veggie-choppin’ girl.  I figure if the counter is 36″ deep it will allow my mixer and espresso machine friends to continue to live along the wall without me resenting them. Plus, it will give me an extra foot of counter space behind the sink to maybe grow a few more tasty cooking herbs once life starts to get back to normal post move in… which I hope it will do rather quickly. I’m growing a bit weary of my plate being so full.

KtchCabinet Drawing
A drawing I made for Dad so he could understand my alterations.

How to Remove Thin Set from Concrete Floor

The Last of the Tilehicans. It was actually a little sad tearing out the last one.
The Last of the Tile’hicans.
It was a little sad to remove the last one from it’s place.

I originally thought the task of removing tiles from concrete was a dirty, thankless job but now that I’ve moved onto separating the Thin-Set from the concrete I have a renewed respect for the folks who do this sort of work for a living.

As usual, I Googled for answers on what to do for this next step of my project and I found that using a floor buffer with a $350+ diamond disc is the best way to sand the thin-set from concrete floors – but between renting the buffer machine and buying the diamond disc (you can’t rent, you have to buy those), it would have cost $500-700 which would have negated the money-saving purpose of sanding the concrete floor so we can stain it in the first place. Re-tiling the floor would have cost around the same amount.

This is the diamond cup I used to grind down over 300 sqft of thin-set. Do not try this at home!
This is the 4.5″ diamond cup I used to grind down over 300 sqft of thin-set.
Do not try this at home!

Alternatively, I realized they make diamond discs for the cute little 4.5″ grinder that came free with our SRS roto hammer drill… so the conversation in my head went like this:

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Do you realize how long it would take you to finish 320+ square feet of floor with a 4.5″ diamond disc?”

“So what? We do what we have to in order to save mass amounts of cheese. The mini diamond disc is only $40 and we don’t have to rent a machine for it so we can take as long as we want to finish the job. I don’t see a problem here.”

“Psh, I’m glad it’s you and not me having to do all that grinding.   ….wait!”

“Too late! I bought the mini disc and we’re doin’ this! Game on!”

So the disc was purchased and while Jason finished removing the last of the tile in the laundry and downstairs bath, I started grinding. I tried wet grinding and I tried dry grinding. Both had their perks but I decided wet grinding was too slow and too messy to clean up with the shop vac. Apparently those little vacuum attachments that suck up the dust as you grind are not a big seller so none of the local tool stores carry them. Because of this, I decided to grind a few square feet then vacuum the area as best I could to try to keep the dust to a minimum… haha! What a sweet, ignorant woman-child I was.

This is the dust accumulation from only about 3 hours of grinding.
This is the dust accumulation from only about 3 hours of grinding.

Dust. Dust EVERYWHERE! After grinding about 12 square inches the room would be thick with a fog of dust. It was terrible.

I finally figured out that by leaving all doors and windows open and blasting a work fan on the area I was grinding I could at least keep visibility around 85-90% and I could do more than a foot of grinding between vacuumings.

I am fully aware that this was not the best, nor the safest way to go about the job and I apologize to any neighbors that might have been hit with my could of dust – but after working for 7 hours and seeing only about 30 square feet of progress you get a little crazed and desperate. I worked on this project for over two weeks, making very little progress every day… near the end of the project I was often in tears over how sick of grinding I was.


Lanna bruised knees Lanna dusty Lanna hand

Thank heavens I had the amazing respirator I had, it would have been extremely dangerous had I not worn that level of protection. The dust wound up in every nook and cranny of my ears, nails, between my toes and other odd places. My skin began to break out in rashes all over and became scabbed and rough as if I’d been sandblasted. My hair became dry and brittle and nearly impossible to wash because the trapped dust turned to cement mud as soon as I hopped in the shower. My knees were bruised all over from kneeling for so many hours even though I wore kneepads. My hand joints became so sore and achey that I felt like I was getting a terrible case of arthritis – I am only now, 4 days after finishing the project, starting to not feel such pain in my hands.

The moral of this story is that there are some projects that aren’t worth taking extreme shortcuts on. This was one of them. If you need to grind thin-set from the floor of a small room, say 80-100 sqft., then using a diamond disc on an angle grinder will work beautifully and the project should only take a couple of days and cost you a measly $40 plus a replacement shop vac filter. Otherwise, hire a pro or at least rent the appropriate tools if you can afford them. Other tools you may want to consider when grinding thin-set are:

  • an awesomesauce shop vac and a spare filter
  • a wire scrub brush to loosen up the mud residue if you’re doing wet grinding
  • goggles are better than safety glasses – the dust will really irritate your eyes
  • knee pads
  • good jammin’ tunes so you don’t go mad listening to the grinder screech for hours
  • Full body clothes and gloves. Expose yourself to the dust as little as possible
This is an example of the thin-set I was working with. it was between 1/4" and 1/2" thick in places. The smooth area near the door is how it looked after I worked on it.
This is an example of the thin-set I was working with. it was between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick in places. The smooth area near the door is how it looked after I worked on it.
The floor is finished! The dust clean up took me another 3 hours and 3 clean-outs of the shop vac.
The floor is finished! The dust clean up took me another 3 hours and 3 clean-outs of the shop vac.

One Man’s Trash…

I haven’t quite finished writing my post about removing Thin-Set from concrete, but I just had to gush about this wicked Craigslist find I picked up.

I was looking for a simple, maybe vintage or shabby-chic pedestal sink to replace the outdated vanity in the downstairs restroom of Brake Manor when I noticed a fairly unique post that I just couldn’t pass up. Most of the sinks I had found were between $60-120, but even the $120 sinks were all fairly plain and boring. There was one posting, however, that offered a strikingly unique modern sink (one I didn’t think I’d normally have been drawn to) with little porcelain shelf wings on the sides, metal towel bars, and a side mounted faucet… all for only $75.

I emailed the gal, we chatted back and forth, and I told her I was smitten and wanted to come pick it up ASAP. We set a time for the next night since she was located about an hour away, and that was that. …I thought.

I emailed her again on the day I was to pick up the sink, thinking it would have been smarter of me to get the dimensions before committing to the purchase, but she must’ve been at work and didn’t respond. So, being the resourceful gal I am I started Googling for similar images trying to find this sink and it’s dimensions. After a few minutes, I found it. ….aaand I also found the original cost of the sink:

Though I'm not a materialistic girl I have an unexplained penchant for expensive items. I could walk into any store and be immediately drawn to the most expensive item - I found this still rings true, even on Craigslist.
Though I’m not a materialistic girl I have an unexplained penchant for expensive items. I could walk into any store and be immediately drawn to the most expensive item – I found this still rings true, even on Craigslist.

The sink we picked up has the European drain option -which brings the cost up to the $1010- and a slightly fancier faucet mounted on the left side of the bowl. Once I knew the original cost of the sink and factored in the cute faucet I couldn’t help but laugh. I am known for being drawn to the most expensive item in a store, even if I have no previous knowledge about the product at hand. I know nothing of mountain bikes, but if I were to walk into a specialty shop I have zero doubt I’d be drawn to the only $15k bike in the store.

When Jason and I picked up the sink we learned the gal selling it is an architect in Denver and routinely receives rejected items from high-end projects when the client decides to change their mind last-minute.

So now, in our modest shabby-chic DIY cottage, we will be sporting a very out-of-place $1000+ Porcher designer sink that only set us back $75 and an evening of drive time. I am thoroughly entertained by this! It just goes to show how one man’s trash is most certainly another man’s treasure. Someone originally paid $1k for a stinkin’ sink, then tossed it aside on a whim, and someone who either didn’t know how much the sink cost -or didn’t care- sold it to a second-hand-seeking DIYer for $75.

Next steal I’m hoping to make is a vintage iron claw-foot tub. Any suggestions on where to look in Northern Colorado?

Now how do I get one of these bad boys for a steal?
Now how do I get one of these bad boys for a steal?


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 colorado.gov 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!