The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Hood: Part III

We finally patched the ceiling around the ducting for our range hood so that it would stop raining insulation into our pots and pans. We actually did this three weeks ago, but are just now posting about it.  Sorry for the delay.  Travel for Mr. KaZoo and dissertation writing for the Mrs. have taken precedence of late.


  • tarp to protect kitchen things
  • plastic grocery bag to catch popcorn
  • metal putty knife
  • Fibatape wall/ceiling patches (one small, one large)
  • Fibatape
  • joint compound (mud)
  • plastic putty knifes of various sizes


  1. Scrape.  First, we scraped the ceiling around the holes so that our adhesive patches would stick.  We have a scraper specifically for this job, but it was too big to fit between the duct and the wall.  Instead, we just gently scraped the popcorn into a plastic grocery bag using a metal putty knife.
  2. Patch.  Then we attached these two patches, using the small patch for the smaller hole and the large patch for the larger hole.  You simply peel the patches from the waxy paper backing, position over your hole with the sticky-side towards the wall/ceiling, press, and seal the adhesive around the edges.  We cut the larger patch in half (approximately) to fit our irregularly shaped hole so that we could overlap the two rectangular pieces in a criss-cross to cover as much of the hole as possible.  Where the patches did not cover, we applied Fibatape.
  3. Putty.  Once the patches and tape were attached, we covered everything with joint compound, using the plastic putty knives to apply the mud.  Chris preferred using the small knife to apply the mud and the larger knife to smooth it.  The instructions on the patches said to cover them with a thin coat of mud (just enough to cover the texture), so we did a thinnish coat.  What counts as a thin coat? Who knows.
  4. Sand.  After it dried, we sanded it down per the patch instructions, but not so much that the patch and tape texture would be revealed.
  5. Rinse, repeat. Not really.  The instructions say to add another thin coat of mud and then sand it down again, so we did.

With the exposed duct + foil tape combo drawing the eye, we’re not really worried about people gaping at our one smooth patch of ceiling.  We probably won’t cover the duct until we’re ready for kitchen cabinets, but it’s not driving us as nuts as we thought it would.  We’ve got plans to redo the ceiling in our main living spaces completely (beam and plank is what we’re thinking right now), so we’re not planning to add texture to the smooth section to camouflage it. For our next phase of kitchen ceiling work, we’re thinking of something like this (images courtesy of Houzz):

Or this:

And for those following us on this journey on the range, a reminder of where we started:


And where we are now:



For now, we’re pronouncing the hood good.


Master Closet Part III: Remix

In last week’s great purge of our master bedroom closet, we cleared out our closet in order to scrape ceilings, paint walls, rip out carpet, and add more racks for storage, using leftover wire shelving from our garage that we took down to make room for paddle board racks.  Chris also attempted to put on pants from high school. Spoiler alert: They didn’t fit.

We painted the walls before doing anything else (usually we wouldn’t), primarily because the taller KaZoo was on work-related travel, and the shorter KaZoo couldn’t reach the ceiling well enough to handle the scrape, patch, sand, prime, and paint all by herself. When Mr. KaZoo left, the closet looked like this:


When he returned, he found the closet looking like this:


Then we combined forces to tackle the ceiling.  Our usual prepwork involves removing the carpet, tarping off things we don’t want covered in dust, and then scraping the ceiling, but this time, we used the carpet as a floor tarp to catch all of the popcorn debris raining down since the carpet was going to be leaving anyway.  I don’t recommend this unless you like slogging through a sea of popcorn ceiling and shag carpet while covered in drywall dust.    We first tried the dry-method of popcorn removal–simply scraping away at it.  Although this method resulted in fewer scratches and fuzzy places in the drywall, it was also considerably more tedious than the wet method we have used in the past.  We normally use one of those garden sprayers, but ours had recently been used for weed killer, so we just used a regular spray bottle filled with water to mist the ceiling, rather than gassing ourselves in the closet.  After waiting a few minutes for the water to saturate the popcorn, it came off in nice, soggy strips, rather than little chippy dry sections.2014-09-25 14.42.49

We brushed everything down to get rid of residual dust on the ceiling surface, applied joint compound to areas needing to be smoother, and let that dry overnight.  The next day, we sanded, brushed, and sponged everything down (again), after which we ripped out the carpet.
2014-09-26 12.38.48

After vacuuming up the residual dust and debris, we were ready to paint the ceiling.  We decided to paint the ceiling the same color as the walls (Sherwin Williams Sea Salt) for three reasons (a) We have plenty of it. (b) It is not the typical white. (c) It is light enough to not make the closet feel like it is caving in on us while trying to find clothes in the morning.

2014-09-26 19.08.53

While waiting for the painted ceiling to dry, we measured and cut the extra wire racks we removed from the garage to be the sizes we needed for the closet.  Then we forged ahead to installing the racks.  This was a tedious process that took the form of this cycle:

  1. Chris holds rack while Amy marks one spot for height and width of crevice between wires for wall bracket.
  2. Amy uses level to measure and mark all spots for back wall brackets and side brackets.
  3. Chris drills holes for all back and side brackets.
  4. Amy and Chris hammer in the anchors and nail-ish things (we like to use the technical language for things around here, in case you haven’t noticed).  The instructions said to tap gently, but the long wall had extra plywood backing that meant we had to break out our steel-driving John Henry skills.  We’re fairly certain we woke up the neighbor’s baby doing this, which means our neighbors probably had a great Friday night. Except not at all.  
  5. Amy and Chris snap wire rack into place and set into side wall bracket.
  6. Chris adds C-clamps for maximum support, using a manual screwdriver.  The directions said to use 1 1/2 inch screws.  This was a total impossibility, and we ended up using 1 1/4 inch screws instead, with much more success.
  7. Amy holds support arm brackets in place while Chris drills holes, taps in anchor, and hammers in the nail-ish things.
  8. Repeat four times.

After installation of all the racks, I sponge-washed the walls to get rid of residual dust from the drilling and vacuumed the baseboards and floor.  Once we installed the racks in their new location, the closet started looking less like a secret safe room and more like an actual closet.  Of course, adding clothes back in the closet helped with that, too.

To plan the new location of our racks (and determine the measurements for our cuts), we inventoried how many categories of clothing items we had (i.e., how many skirts, pants, shirts, dresses, etc.) and decided where it would be best to hang the respective categories.   We decided to do two long racks (keeping the existing long rack plus a new long rack cut from the garage shelving), one for each of us to hang our shirts and pants.


With the residual section of the garage rack, we made another short shelf/rack for my shorts and knee length skirts to hang opposite the long wall.  We trimmed an existing closet rack to fit the same wall for my long skirts and capri pants.

We decided that a galley-like closet arrangement was more functional than the previous corner system that rendered part of each shelf useless for hanging items where they t-boned into each other.  Plus, this provides easier access to the outlet and gives us a nice path for a runner rug.  Not that room for a rug was a major part of our planning and decision making, but having a rug over the concrete floors (until we get our wood-look porcelain tile) definitely softens things up a bit underfoot.


The mid-sized existing rack we raised a few inches to allow for long dress and suit storage for both of us, storage for my purses, and room for Chris’s shoes.

While cutting the shelving, Chris noticed that the garage wire racks weren’t the same kind of rack as the ones already in our closet: They didn’t have the clothing “bar” at the bottom.  Aesthetically, we thought it may not look the best, but after install, it is barely noticeable and is actually a functional improvement in some ways because the divided sections keep you from cramming too many clothes in one location..  Plus, if we upgrade to a real closet system down the road, we only have to live with the mismatch for awhile. Given my perfectionistic, OCD tendencies, I really thought it would bother me more than it does.  Maybe I’m too short to really see the top rack, so I don’t notice the difference.IMG_3198


I hung my flip-flop shoe organizer back over the door, and we mounted our coat rack behind the door to hold hats and scarves.

On the left wall (as you enter the closet), we brought the 3 x 3 Cherry Cubeical back, which is currently holding my swimsuits, swimsuit cover ups, board shorts, work shorts, and work pants.


Note: The purple labels hanging on the blue handles differentiate my ocean swimsuits from my pool suits.  This may seem ridiculous to some of you, but if you have ever had a home with a pool, this may make some sense to you.  Basically, if you wear a swimsuit in the ocean and then wear it again to swim in a pool, you can introduce algae to that pool, and algae (especially some kinds) are hard to eliminate from a pool.  If you wash your swimsuit in hot water every time you swim in the ocean before swimming in a pool to “kill” living organisms, there still may be some algae stuck to it (especially if you have a lined swimsuit), and your swimsuit may now be faded and ill-fitting. A simple rinse of your suit between ocean and pool or showering in your swimsuit between venues does not suffice. Since I frequent both the pool and the ocean, I handwash my suits after wearing them and choose to keep two different sets of suits to avoid the risk of contamination.  

The middle sections of the Cubeical are currently empty (!), but I’m sure they’ll be filled soon, too.  We also added some interest to the wall in the form of a pinboard with a coral motif, a panoramic photograph of Neyland Stadium, and Chris’s diploma (because where do you hang those if you don’t have a dedicated home office or man cave)?  My diplomas aren’t framed, so they don’t get a place of honor in the closet like his does.  Maybe someday I’ll get around to framing my first two diplomas.  Probably about the time I frame my third and final one. Which could be never at the rate my dissertation is going.

Eventually we plan to upgrade the light fixture from its mushroom-like state, add the wood-look tile I mentioned earlier, and install a real closet system, perhaps with some additional shelf lighting to help with visibility.  For now, our under $100 fix will work just fine.

Organizing Clothing:


For Chris’s clothes, organizing was simply a matter of hanging his shirts from dressy to casual, followed by his pants, also from dressy to casual. My clothes required a little more work, and I organized them in a slightly unconventional way.  I typically sort by kind of article and keep like with like: dresses with dresses, shorts with shorts, etc.  For shirts, I normally vacillate between organizing by color and by category (business casual, casual) as the primary category, followed by type (sleeveless, short sleeve, 3/4 sleeve, long sleeve).  On the one hand, I like organizing by color because there is just something harmonious about color continuity that I prefer, but I keep wearing the same tops over and over because I know how to pair them with other things to make outfits, rendering much of my wardrobe useless.  On the other hand, organizing by category shows me more options for particular occasions, thus increasing the likelihood I try wearing something different than usual, but walking into the closet is a visual jarring experience that makes selecting anything difficult.  When re-doing this closet, I decided to analyze my clothing pitfalls and use that to come up with a happy medium.

I frequently find myself stuck in three kinds of clothing ruts: (1) I wear the same tops/outfits over and over. (2) I prefer casual to dressy.  (3) I gravitate to neutrals. After having to conduct my dissertation research out of state and live in a hotel for six weeks, I re-learned the art of capsule wardrobes.  I used to be good at this when traveling internationally.  In high school, I took a small size carry-on for a month in Europe and laughed at all my friends lugging giant Samsonites up nine flights of stairs in Greece. I love the simplicity of capsule wardrobes.  I am a minimalist at heart, so having a closet full of clothes overwhelms me with too many possibilities.  Consequently, I’m planning to start cataloguing outfit ideas, beginning with my neutrals that I love.  Rather than fighting my preference for neutrals, I’m going to use that as the starting point for developing my outfit building skills, essentially building a capsule wardrobe with neutrals as the base.

My neutrals are sorted into three categories: up, up/down, and down, a.k.a. classy, convertible, and comfortable. Up clothes are dressier and more likely to be considered businesswear in a traditional workplace setting.  Items in this category are more likely to closely resemble menswear and/or have an element of elegance about them, such as being made of better material, adding a touch of lace or silk, or creating an interesting neckline or back.   Clothes in this category have a certain feature that makes them seem classy.

I love gray, but I hate gray areas.  The murky gray clothing area is what I call up/down wear, or clothing which can either dress up an outfit or dress it down.  Clothes that could be considered business casual in a less formal work environment or in a trendier/artsy environment fall in this category.  To qualify as an up/down top, the style and cut of shirt is likely based less on menswear and/or may be made of a material that makes it appear more casual.  For example, the blouse on the left is an “up” blouse, but the one on the right is an “up/down” blouse because of the material and style. Note the sleeves of the blouse on the left are nicely cuffed, whereas the sleeves on the right blouse aren’t.  I would wear up/down clothes when I’m wanting to appear put-together, but not necessarily needing to be “polished.” Here, the emphasis is on the versatility of the piece–can it be easily converted from work to play?

Down clothes are items like basic tees and polo shirts–anything that is decidedly more casual or sporty.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t throw a blazer over a tee and turn it into a work outfit (my default, in fact), but the tee itself has a dressed down, at home, casual feel, where comfort is king. This is literally my comfort zone when it comes to clothes.

The rest of my tops are organized by color.  Here at the coast, the weather is warm enough year round that having entire sections of my closet devoted to long sleeves is unnecessary, but because the air temperature can feel cool in the early mornings and evenings, even in summer, having access to all kinds of sleeves year round is essential.  Consequently, I elected not to do the secondary sort I typically do by sleeve length.

We’ll see how “the best of both worlds” turns out.

Can Warm/Cool Coexist in Living Room?

Trying to decide which direction to take our living room…we have more things on the warmer side but would like to head towards the cooler side.  Our rug is a more muted coral than the one shown here, but it has to stay in the room, as do the sofa and ottoman.  Everything else can be shuffled around the house.  We like the warm colors for autumn but would like something cooler for other times.  I really love the blue/jade/gold direction, but we have more things in the coral/orange direction.  We aren’t really a fan of the high contrast blue and orange combo but are looking for either a very versatile plan or something that is a happy medium between hot hot hot and cold because this room is our main (and only) sitting/TV watching/game playing/book reading/exercising space (and we spend a lot of time here). Thoughts?
Can Warm/Cool Coexist in Living Room?

Mista Lista’s $chool of Finance: Budgeting for Home Improvement

Today the KaZoos are busy working their real jobs, so Mista Lista is here breaking it down, budget-style. Mista Lista usually shares the list of home repairs the KaZoos need to do as well as improvements they want to make, but he pities the fool who doesn’t budget for home improvements.  Here’s how the KaZoos plan out their home improvement budget:


1.  Do your research.  Research property values in the neighborhood and surrounding community both present and past.  This helped the KaZoos decide how much to invest in their home to avoid over-improving.  Important questions to answer: What was the original value of your home (and homes nearby)?  What was the peak value? What is the present value?  Are home values expected to increase or decrease in the next few years? What kind of people buy the homes in my neighborhood–young families, pensioners/retired peeps, rising new money-types?

From the KaZoos: Our 1650ish sq-ft home was originally sold for $150k when built in 1999.  In early 2006 at the height of the local real estate market, our home was estimated to be worth $486k, and the house three doors down from us actually sold for $463k in late ’06 right before the bubble burst.  Chris signed up to receive weekly emails updating him of the latest real estate listings in our area–including new listings, newly reduced listings, etc.  Over the last three years, as Chris watched the market in our area, he started noticing that prices seemed to have bottomed out in 2011-2012 and were starting to make a comeback as 2013 progressed.  Chris’s main theory was that the inventory of affordable homes dropped (all the way to ZERO houses at one point) due to fewer homes on the market period. This was a motivating factor in why we decided to buy sooner than anticipated; otherwise, we would be priced out of the area in which we wanted to be.

When we did buy, the three comparison houses from our appraisal were all in our neighborhood, with the last two selling the month before we closed.  A mid 2013 sale went through at ~$247k (same size as ours), and the last two (both larger than ours) closed at $318k and $295k.   Now, homes in our neighborhood are selling for between $280 and $340 (some larger, some smaller; some nicer, some not).  We paid under $200k for our home, which gives us some definite room for improvement (yay!).  Note: In the interest of full disclosure, the sale values came from our property assessor’s website, and value estimates were from Zillow.

2.  Decide on an improvement financial goal, based on your research and your financial situation.  There are plenty of people who tell Mista Lista they don’t care how much they are investing in their home because they are improving it for themselves.  However, anything can happen, so thinking that your current home is your forever home may be overly optimistic.  The KaZoos like to be cautiously optimistic, balancing their ideal home with the realities of the market and the unpredictability of the future.

In other words, just because you’ve got the money to improve doesn’t mean you should, and just because you’ve got room to improve, based on your research, doesn’t mean you should, especially without the money to do so.  Mista Lista likes that the KaZoos do not finance any of their home improvements.  The motto to remember: If you can’t pay cash today, just walk away.

From the KaZoos:We decided on a total financial goal of $70k for home improvements, including everything from major expenses like roof replacement to minor expenses like changing all the outlets and switches to match (the former residents changes all the outlet and switchplates to white, but the outlets and switches themselves are bisque.  Ugh.).  Keep in mind this is a long range budget so don’t be expecting us to drop that chunk of change all at once a la HGTV.  That being said, we are sure that our budget may fluctuate a bit, with savings on some projects and more expenses than estimated on others.  Note: This number does not include portable purchases like furniture, rugs, decorative objects, etc.  We can invest more freely with purchases that we can keep if we ever move to a different ‘Zoo. Is a home equity loan tempting? Absolutely.  Every time Chris mentions it, I decline, though (In my defense, I also decline right after pointing out we could do it…not sure if that is helping ~ Chris).  Yes, it would be nice to have everything upgraded already, but I like not having any debt other than our home mortgage. My family paid cash for everything, including houses.  It can be done. We can do it, too.

3.  Break it down by project.  Mista Lista finds it helpful to take the list of home improvements (divided out by spaces, remember?) and use that to create a new list of “Projects.”  In this stage of planning, Mista Lista likes having broad, encompassing Project categories, where each home improvement can fit under one Project or “parent” category. Mista Lista doesn’t break it down room-by-room, as some projects encompass multiple rooms (seamless floors).

Then Mista Lista divides these projects, based on cost estimation, into three categories as follows:  Under $2k, Between $2k-$5k, and Above $5k.  Once this is done, Mista Lista attributes specific budget amounts to each project, with the total not to exceed the total improvement budget established in step 2.  Budget-wise, Mista Lista finds it is best to start allocating funds to projects that are essential improvements with less financial wiggle room (e.g., roof replacement) and end with projects that are less essential and have more flexibility as your total budget is nearing exhaustion (e.g., landscaping).

From the KaZoos: Our list of projects (and their estimated total cost) is as follows:

Under $2k

  • Paint $800
  • Landscaping/Hardscaping $1700
  • Guest/Hall Bath $1000

Between $2k-$5k

  • Architectural/Design Upgrades $3500

Above $5k

  • Roof Replacement $11000
  • Kitchen $17000
  • Floors $12000
  • Master Bath $8000
  • Sunroom Addition $15000

TOTAL: $70000

To come up with these projects and numbers, we first started with what we knew would be a big expense: The roof.  Then, we considered the needs of the home  in order to stay competitive in today’s market, which meant that a kitchen and master bath upgrade were in order, along with new, upgraded flooring throughout the whole house.  In addition, our smaller square footage can be amplified with the addition of more living space in the form of a sunroom addition; if heated and cooled, this room can be included in our total square feet and add to the value of our home. From there, we considered things that would have the most impact for less money (paint) and boost our home’s curb appeal (landscaping/hardscaping).  We divided the remaining funds between updating the guest/hall bath and making architectural upgrades like crown molding and new lighting in areas not getting a major overhaul.  Paint and lighting can make a huge impact, people.

You may be thinking that we are underestimating the cost of a new kitchen and baths, but remember, we are trying not to over-improve and go from being one of the cheapest homes in the neighborhood to being the most expensive.  For example, we know that the ‘Zoo master bath doesn’t make the best use of space, but there’s not really any room to make a separate two-person soaker tub and walk-in shower like we would ideally love to have without taking away valuable footage from either the master bedroom or master closet.  It also doesn’t make sense to over-improve our bathroom, so we will probably just stick to the tub/shower combo, though we plan to install a much nicer tub and do an awesome tile surround instead of the fiberglass thing we have now. We aren’t planning to make any major structural changes, so we can save quite a bit of money by not having to relocate plumbing and such.


4.  Allocate savings to your categories of projects, based on your improvement priorities.  Many financial advisors recommend having separate short term and long term savings goals, where short term goals are things like the annual family vacation trip and long term goals are things like saving for kids’ college tuition.  In this case, short term goals are often less expensive items than the long term goals.  But thinking about home improvements only in terms of short term/long term could be problematic, when you really need to be saving for a pricey roof as a short term goal because that thing is ready to cave at any minute.

Of course, some financial advisors would say that having an emergency fund or a home repair fund should adequately address your sagging roof needs.  However, home repair funds are often smaller chunks of your budget than other pressing matters, and what really counts as an emergency?  What if the roof is caving, the car just quit, the toilet stopped working in the kids’ bathroom, and you just lost your job ALL IN THE SAME WEEK?  Murphy’s law, fools.  Most likely, even if you are a saver, you won’t have enough emergency funds saved to replace the roof, the car, and the toilet (paid for in cash, remember?) and make ends meet until you find a new job, which could be months away.

From the KaZoos: Having to pay for a new roof fairly soon after purchasing the ‘Zoo was a tough blow to take, financially.  Thankfully, Chris had been building up our emergency fund, so we had the money available to cover the new roof without having to (a) stop doing other minor improvements and (b) live on beans and rice.  We managed to do this despite having an expensive rent in the city plus Chris’s frequent travel back and forth plus my need for organic produce plus burrito binges at Chipotle.  You can save without it cramping your lifestyle.  You can do it if we can.  2014-08-06 19.08.32

There’s different ways to do this, but we are currently saving for both the kitchen and floors (long range, big budget items) while also chipping away at other goals in smaller, manageable parts like adding towel bars/hooks to both bathrooms, which lack sufficient hanging space for a life where finding space for soggy towels and wet swimsuits is a daily struggle.

Confession from Amy: I was a fanatical Scrooge saver as a wee child; putting my money in the bank and seeing the growing balance was such a good feeling.  Then there came the advent of plastic and electronic statements.  I am a more thoughtful shopper when dealing in cash; I don’t even like debit cards.  If you have a hard time saving when you just get to zap the card, try going cash-only.  My current goal is to only pay cash for purchases at places like Home Goods, Marshall’s, Michaels, etc. so that I minimize the purchasing of non-essentials.  Crazy? Maybe, but it feels good.  Except when there’s a huge line of people frowning at you while you dig for coins in your wallet.  Eh.  They can wait their turn. 😉



Basketcase: Hall Closet Reorganization

When I first joined Chris in the new ‘Zoo, he had not unpacked many boxes, other than what he needed to survive in semi-bachelordom  while I was still in the ‘city.  Once I arrived, I had two weeks to get settled before traveling out of state again for my research, so I quickly unpacked and put things away wherever I could find space.  This resulted in a guest hall closet that looked like this for three months:


Not so bad, but not so great either.  It stayed relatively neat (other than the looming avalanche of comforters) because it didn’t get much use, other than reaching in for the vacuum cleaner.  We haven’t had guests often enough to merit a fully stocked hotel spa-like closet of linens, and the other items we only use in the cooler months (comforters, board games/puzzles, heated mattress pads, etc.)

Maybe it’s the former teacher in me, but something about back-to-school time starts the organizational cogs turning in my brain.  Although the master bedroom closet was the first on the ‘hit list,’ this guest hall closet promised to be a much faster fix.

The longterm plan for this closet is to convert it to a coat closet.  We have another linen closet, but we don’t have a coat closet right now.  You’re probably thinking, Why would you need a coat closet in a beach house in Florida?, but we do get chilly nights on the beach and lots of rain. We also need a place to store our winter gear for when we travel to colder places to see family and because we do actually get cold weather down here–it even snowed on the beach this past winter!

Right now, it’s serving as a multipurpose closet, which is the worst kind if you are an organizational nut like me who likes thematic storage.  Nevertheless, I tried to organize things a bit better than they previously were, using some baskets and containers that I had emptied after our recent master bedroom closet purge (details to follow in another post!).

IMG_3132First, I relocated items like the games and puzzles that were occupying prime real estate to the spare bedroom closet.  Working my way up from bottom to top, I used an old laundry basket to store our air mattresses, pump, and sheet sets.  Air mattresses never seem to go back in their original container, and they’re so bulky that I always have a hard time finding a way to store them.  Not anymore.  Now if we have more guests than we have beds, we can simply pull out the whole basket, and everything we need is in one place, just the way I like it.

IMG_3136The two larger box-bins hold extra tissue boxes and toilet paper. Because you can never have too much toilet paper. Or tissues, if you have allergies like I do.

The woven baskets hold vacuum accessories, decor not currently in use, and my sewing and quilting fabrics.   The plastic containers hold curtain hardware, electric controllers for winter blankets and mattress pads, gift tags, and tea light candles.  You can never have too many tea lights either.  The plastic tackle box holds other sewing supplies like spools of thread and straight pins, the wicker utensil basket holds lint rollers, and the plain brown woven basket holds things that are beyond our abilities to fix, such as shoes to be repaired and a hand-me-down leather skirt needing alterations.

One thing I have learned in over eight years of marriage is that Chris is better about putting things away if he knows exactly where to put things.  Enter labels–they may look cute, but they are also extremely functional.  I used fake luggage tags purchased from Michael’s a few years ago to label the smaller baskets and used regular mailing labels for the plastic containers.  The larger bins and the laundry basket need larger, hardier labels, but it’s fairly obvious what’s in these anyway.


Overall, this took less than an hour to redo.  After putting the vacuum cleaners back in the closet, the labels are still readable and the containers still accessible.  I’ll be opening this closet a lot more often now that some of my craft supplies are stored here, so we’ll see if this organizational scheme sticks.  Even if we change this closet in the future, having somewhat of an organizational scheme makes me feel like less of a basketcase–at least for the next few months!






Master Closet Part I: Builder Basic “Hangups”

We’ll be back on Thursday with a post about finishing the range hood (mostly).  We took a break from working on the range over Labor Day weekend to do other projects and spend some time at the beach, so today we’re cleaning out the closet in preparation for our next mini-makeover: The Master Bedroom Closet.

I love to organize.  Chris does not.  Nevertheless, he agreed to a purge and reorganization of the master closet recently.  There’s nothing like that back-to-school time to re-organize a closet, even if you don’t have kids.  Technically, I’m still in school, so that counts, right?

When I first arrived at the ‘Zoo, Chris had taken over most of the master closet for himself.  This was a problem once some of my clothes arrived.  This was more of a problem once I arrived with the rest of my wardrobe at the end of May.

I tried two different arrangements of our clothes that didn’t work, thanks to a poorly designed closet space that is probably all too-familiar to anyone living in a builder home. These are my “builder closet hangups” that forced us to get creative and make tough decisions about our clothing:


Problem 1: One Trick Rack Pony

A typical builder closet “feature” is the singleton rack that wraps around some, but not all, of the closet at a Goldilocks height (not too high, not too low, just right…for no one), making it impossible to add a rack above or below without yanking out the original, nailed-in rack, patching a million anchor holes, and starting over.  A single rack is never adequate for a master closet unless the sole occupant is a single male and even then, you may have a space issue if that male happens to like clothes or hoard clothes that don’t fit but remind him of the glory days of youth.

Problem 2: Clash of the Titans Wire Racks
Also in typical builder fashion, the closet has one wire rack that spans the long wall plus two shorter walls, each with another (smaller) singleton wire rack.  The long wall intersects with one of the short walls, closing off the last two feet of long wall rack and/or the first foot of short wall rack from use because the clothes block each other.  If they had used one of the curved corner sections of wire rack, this would not be such an issue, but it’s possible those weren’t readily available (for cheap) when our house was built.  Thus, there is the appearance of plenty of hanging storage, but it is simply an illusion.  The builder didn’t even try to put racks on the other walls, which is probably for the best because it would have multiplied the issue.

Problem 3: (Not) Working All the Angles
The third issue I have with our master closet is how many corners and awkward angles are part of the closet.  The furnace room juts into one section of the closet, cutting off an entire section of useable space.  The angled entry renders both the immediate left and right of it useless for storing anything but slender belts or scarves; otherwise, you can’t walk into the rest of the closet.  Plus, the door swings to the right, blocking access to the singleton rack when you first enter, forcing you to shut yourself in the closet to access your clothes.   Although the square footage of our master closet may be alluring on paper, our walk-in closet feels only slightly bigger than a step-in closet.

Problem 4: Let There Be [Dim] Light
On the plus side, our closet will make a good storm shelter because it has no windows and is centrally located in the house (along interior walls only).  On the minus side, the lack of natural light plus the dimmest, cheapest dome light ever make for a dark space.  After moving to the ‘Zoo from the city, I discovered that Chris had been wearing shirts to work with holes and stains despite having enough nice shirts in the closet.  He literally couldn’t see the stains and holes in the darkness of the closet.  Yikes!

So what did we do to troubleshoot? Find out next time….





The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Hood Part I

Once we removed the old recirculating range hood and upper kitchen cabinets, we began the installation of our new hood. Based on the title, you can probably surmise that things didn’t go as smoothly as we hoped.  Everyone loves a tragic comedy, right?

Eckeltricity (For all you Arthur Weasley fans out there)
You may recall from our post about the old hood that we discovered someone mutilated our wall with a drywall saw and covered it up it was hardwired, rather than having an outlet.  Our new hood required an outlet, so a new outlet was in order.  IMG_3109

Since our range itself did not have a dedicated outlet either (not sure who did the electrical work for this home originally, but wow), my dad graciously offered to help us install two new outlets.  We purchased the necessary materials from Lowe’s (2 old work boxes with wings and 2 white outlets–we already had some white face plates on hand) and set to work.


First, my dad did the outlet for the range.  Because a stud was between the existing outlet we had been using and where we would want to put an outlet (hidden from view behind the range), we elected to just mount the new outlet just to the left of the range, which actually doesn’t look bad and allows for easy disconnection, something that came in handy when we were doing the rest of the hood installation (and will again once we reno the kitchen later).  You can see the new and improved outlet location in the picture of the range hood install further down (no spoiling the surprise yet!).  Plus by making it readily accessible, we can use the other socket for another kitchen appliance, and who doesn’t want more useable outlets in the kitchen?

The outlet for the hood was a bit more tricky.  We had planned to put an outlet above and to the right of the great white shark attack existing hole along a stud, but the wire they had originally used to hardwire the old hood wasn’t long enough.  Upon exploration of the wall interior, we discovered that what had appeared to be a wire running from the ceiling down to the right of a stud was actually pulled through a stud from the left bottom. So after adding another unnecessary hole in the wall, we pulled the wire back through to its origin on the left bottom and ran it up into a newly cut hole on the upper left of the hood.  It helps to have wire coat hangers and people with small arms (me) to pull the wire through outlet-sized holes in the wall.  To make sure the outlet would be hidden by the chimney, we drew its exterior sides on the wall to make sure we stayed within the chimney’s perimeter.

photo 2

Patchwork Wall
We then applied some serious joint compound and patching tape to the wall where all the cuts in the drywall were. Not the prettiest, but a lot better than the holes.  After waiting for this to dry and sanding it down, we were ready to install the hood itself. There may have been painting, too.  You know I can’t resist a sterile wall when there’s cans of beautiful paint waiting to be used.

Hardware Hiccups
You may also remember that when we bought our range hood off Craigslist, we had to buy a separate mounting installation set.  When you buy the hood brand new, a template for drilling holes at the right locations is included for easy install.  Not so when you buy the replacement installation set. We used kraft paper to make our own template by laying the range hood down on its back on top of the kraft paper and tracing the holes with pencil.  We then taped the template to the wall over the stove at the right height and marked where the traced holes were.  So far, so good.

The directions said to hit a stud with just one of the screws for stability, but none of the hole locations lined up with a stud.  What?! To remedy this, my dad measured and drilled two additional holes in the back of the hood so that we could hit two different studs.  If you already have to drill new holes, why hit just one stud when you can hit two?  This meant we needed more hardware than the mounting set provided, but this turned out to be the least of our troubles.  Chris rounded up a few sturdy wood screws left over from a different project, and we were back in business.

Until we weren’t.  The mounting set of screws and anchors that Bosch provides are incompatible with each other.  Seriously.  We now needed either new screws to fit the anchors Bosch gave us, or new anchors to fit the screws they gave us.  Basically, the screws weren’t the right length to pop the teeth of the anchors at the right place for them to grab into the wall correctly. And for you skeptics, my dad actually convinced us to “sacrifice” one of their anchors just to prove he was right.  Yup, it didn’t work.  The screws stuck a mile out of the wall and wouldn’t go any further in.

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Chris ran to Lowe’s (we live five minutes from a Lowe’s, so it is our usual go-to store for last minute home improvement needs) for the right sized screws and grabbed some washers to go with the wood screws for the new holes my dad drilled, but the screws he bought didn’t fit the Bosch anchors either.  In fact, he couldn’t find a compatible size of screw for these miserable anchors at all–everything was either too short or too long.  No just-right Goldilocks solutions to be found.  Chris and my dad ended up sawing off the end of the stupid Bosch screws to be the right size.


Now we were back on track.  Once we had engineered a solution to the hardware hiccup, we were able to mount the range with as much ease as you can mount a ginormous range hood.  In the next post, we’ll give all the ugly details about the ductwork.  In the meanwhile, we’ll leave you hanging with the hood and the new outlets.  IMG_3094

A Shingle in Time Saves Nine

Buying a fixer upper usually means that there are some things that need fixing immediately, some that can wait a little longer, and others that can wait years until your ideas and finances blend seamlessly into masterful renovations.  When we received our home inspection prior to buying the house, the inspector said we were missing some roof flashing and some shingles that would need repairing.  He also made an offhand comment that he would probably consider replacing the roof in the semi-near future and gave us the name of a roofer he would recommend we call to do the repairs/reroof.  There was a history of past leaking, as evidenced by the ceiling stains, so we knew this was something to keep in the back of our minds.


Once we found our new and awesome range hood, we knew we would need to cut a hole in the roof for the roof cap for its venting, so we decided to get a repair estimate  and potentially a reroof estimate for the roof so we could be saving up.  Some of our neighbors, including my parents, had some roofing repairs or reroofs done by a different company, and our insurance agent recommended a third person.

We called each of the three recommended roofers, and the first person who was able to come out to give us a quote was from the company my parents had used.  After ten minutes on our roof, the guy who came out to do the repair estimate (we’ll call him Bob) said he could not give us a repair estimate in good faith because we really needed a reroof, citing several things that were warning signs to a professional roofer that our roof was reaching the end of its short life (apparently our 15-year-old home came with only a 15-year shingle, so the math isn’t hard to do). For example, the home inspector had noted patches for leaks, but Bob mentioned that there were four different colors of shingles used, which to him was a red flag that whoever did the patching didn’t even try to get a close match of shingle, which could mean cutting corners in other ways, too.

Basically, Bob said we could sink a few thousand into quality repairs, but we’d need to reroof in a couple of years at best, so that money (at least a fifth or more of the price of a reroof) would just go down the drain.  Bob said he’d get the reroof estimator to provide us with a quote within the next couple of days.  Not that we didn’t trust Bob (he had confirmed our own mounting suspicions), but I also asked my dad to look at the roof (my dad has done roofing before, like so many other things).  I didn’t tell my dad what Bob had said, but after he came down from the roof, his report matched Bob’s report exactly.  We compared quotes with the company our home inspector had recommended, and the company for whom Bob worked came in with a slightly better quote.  The third guy never got back to us.2014-08-06 19.08.32

Even though dropping $10k for a new roof wasn’t really something we wanted to do right away, it makes more sense to have a new roof protecting all the other repairs and updates we want to do on the inside. Within a week of signing a contract, we had a brand new 30 year dimensional shingle roof.  From the front of the house, you can’t really tell much of a difference, but if you look closely, you’ll notice two things: The new roof is a slightly lighter gray color than the original, and the ridge caps are slightly more elevated because they are vented.  If you were to do a fly-by, our roof no longer looks like a patchwork quilt done by a kindergartner.2014-08-07 16.17.53

The reroofing took the crew only 5 hours (they arrived at a bleary 6:30 a.m., climbed on the roof at 6:45 a.m., and were gone by 11:45 a.m.). They were crazy efficient and did a fantastic job cleaning up, too.  A few things to keep in mind when having your roof repaired for which we were unprepared, though:

1.  Free-falling Objects Overhead
Although we didn’t know it, some of the screws in the original light fixtures and living room ceiling fan were loose, so the vibrations from the roof work loosened them up further until a few fell to the floor. The dome light over the sink actually fell completely off the ceiling, but thankfully my dad caught it mid-fall while he was in the kitchen nibbling a muffin (I ply my dad with baked goods in exchange for his handyman services).

2. Dandruff or Debris?
The vibrations also caused some of the popcorn on the remaining popcorn ceilings to come loose, showering everything from our clothes in the closet to the duvet on the bed in a fine dusting of popcorn.

3.  Off the Walls
My parents have had wall art fall during a roofing before, but thankfully ours just tilted in places.  Pieces that were propped up against walls slid down, but again, nothing fell or was damaged.  We would still recommend taking valuable pieces off the wall just in case, especially if they are near furniture that you don’t want damaged.

4.  Burned/Broken Blooms and Branches
The roofers did an excellent job of tarping the yard around the perimeter of the house so that materials (especially nails) raining down during the removal of the old roof would fall on the tarps for easy clean-up and for fewer opportunities to contract tetanus when working in the flowerbeds in the future.  However, we were getting a roof done in Florida on a sunny August morning, so I realized that the tarps were going to act like greenhouses, essentially burning up my plants.  Fortunately, they removed the tarps as quickly as they could; only then did I discover that the tarps and falling debris had broken some of the branches and blooms on my new plants.  I was able to salvage the broken basil, though; it is now growing roots and will be its own entity. Hooray for happy accidents. 🙂


They’re supposed to be sending someone out today to cut the hole and install the roof cap for our new range hood, so hopefully we’ll have a finished and functional hood to show you soon!  We’ll also be getting a wind mitigation inspection (paid for by the roofing company we used) so that our new and improved roof will help lower our home insurance premiums, which will (over time) defray the upfront cost of the new roof.  Here’s hoping that a shingle in time saves nine.

Master Bath Updates

Mista Lista’s last post gave you a sneak peak of some painting happening around the ‘Zoo if you were looking closely.  Painting a whole house is s a slow process, especially when you are trying to work full time (Chris) and work part time/finish your dissertation (Amy).  Between the two of us, we’ve managed to paint five rooms (and one room twice–more on that in a future post) since the beginning of March.  Isn’t it amazing the difference that paint (and furniture and bedding) can make?





Our master bathroom is feeling a lot better now that it has been painted in Sherwin Williams Comfort Gray and has a new toilet.  We’ve adjusted to the plastic seat, which is apparently a good thing since we can’t find a non-plastic Kohler seat that would fit with our toilet should we want to swap ours out at some point.  We love the chameleon nature of Comfort Gray: As the light changes in this room, it shifts from gray to green to blue.  In the shadowy water closet/shower area, it even looks like a marine blue.


Oh, and did I mention we have a new shower curtain, too? I found this at Target last Friday for $19.99.  IMG_3097

I wasn’t supposed to be shopping for home things since we had to shell out big bucks for the roof this month, but my mom had a coupon for $15 off a home purchase of $75 that she wasn’t planning to use.  While I was at Target purchasing essentials like toothpaste, I took a tour of the home goods section and found this new quilt for the spare room bed. It coordinates nicely with some pillows I made last summer.  It will likely become the quilt for the guest room bed once this room becomes a nursery, but right now I’m happy that the fabric helps the random assortment of antique white, white, and black furniture and the Drizzle paint color (Sherwin Williams) come together in a more cohesive, intentional way.



Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) the quilt was $69.99, so I wouldn’t get to use the coupon if I didn’t add something else from the home section to my cart…and that’s when I heard this shower curtain calling my name.


Even without the coupon, the $20 shower curtain is still a bargain compared to the $50 one we had considered buying from Bed Bath & Beyond.

Another change to the master bath involved the addition of some much needed storage in the form of a maple Cubeical that was previously snoozing in a closet waiting to be used somewhere.  IMG_3102

Even though our master bath has plenty of storage in theory, the deep wire rack shelves in the linen closet and the lack of counter and drawer space make storing small bath essentials difficult.  We barely have room for soap dispensers and toothbrushes on the countertop. Seriously, builder, what were you thinking?! Ever notice that builders frequently make choices that don’t consider how a space will actually be used, other than for basic verbs (eat, sit, sleep, pee)? ALL. THE. TIME.

Cubeicals are hardworking little things around the ‘Zoo, let me tell you, from books to crafts to bath storage.   This one tucks away nicely behind the door, so you wouldn’t know it was there if I hadn’t just told you.


The open storage is much better for accessibility and makes the best use of the otherwise dead space on that long, empty wall. IMG_3104

I’ll continue to play with the arrangement of items stored here, but for now, it is helping make morning and evening routines faster.  Chris even commented on how he liked having everything stored in the Cubeical.  Yessir, we are making progress when the hubs actually likes and utilizes the organizational changes the wife makes.

Demolition Diaries: Kitchen Upper Cabinets

Today’s diary entry is another chapter in the range hood saga, which began here.

We knew we would need to take down the cabinet over the existing range hood because we were installing a chimney hood, but after reading the installation manual (yes, we do that), we discovered that this range hood is supposed to have an extra 3 inches on each side of it, which meant taking down the two uppers on either side.  At some point we plan to replace the cabinets anyway, so this wasn’t too disappointing. Plus, this will give us a chance to try open shelving in the kitchen!

On Monday, my dad came over and helped us demo and do the electrical work we mentioned in the last post.  We kept the old cabinets intact as much as possible (sorry, no crowbars in this demolition diaries entry!) so they could be reused elsewhere–most likely in the laundry closet that just has a wire shelf.IMG_3082

Our process:

  1. We pulled the range out from the wall (we have a 5 foot flexible gas line, so we just unplugged the electrical cord and moved it out from the wall) and covered it with thick towels to protect it from debris.
  2. We used materials around the house to build up a structure underneath the first cabinet (we started on the left and worked our way around to the other side) to support the weight of the cabinet.  We used an “Ames Lawn Buddy” rolling garden caddy (on another towel to prevent it from rolling) and three college textbooks, which turned out to be the perfect height we needed.  Other things like an old cooler would likely have worked, too, but we have a relatively new cooler that I didn’t want to damage.
  3. We took the doors off the first cabinet and labeled these so we would know which doors went with which cabinet once they were all in the garage.
  4. We scored the caulked edges of the first cabinet (edge by wall or where spacer strips were used to fuse cabinets together) with a pocket knife.
  5. We took the whitish caps off the screwheads and undid the screws of the first cabinet, a little at a time.  Our screwheads were very corroded and a few of them required a hammer-tapping-screwdriver action to get them to loosen.  Two screws would not unscrew at all.  For these, my dad used a drill with a metal bit to rout out the cabinet around them (just enough for the screwhead to pull through with minimal damage to the cabinet), and then he wiggled the cabinet away from the wall.
  6. My dad held up the cabinet while I pulled the stack of stuff out from under it.  The cabinet over the range he handed directly to me, but the others he set gently on the base cabinet before transferring them to the Lawn Buddy, which we used to wheel them out to the garage.
  7. Repeat steps 2-6 for each cabinet.

Our cabinets around the range were EXTREMELY sooty (Yikes!), and there was evidence of water damage where someone had plants on top of the cabinets and watered them regularly, resulting in little drips down the walls, swelling of cabinets, and bubbling/peeling of the thermofoil (Ugh.).


If you like to organize, you probably know that a space sometimes has to go from cluttered to disaster before it can be well-organized, and such is the case with demolition of spaces, too.  So here’s the messy middle of our kitchen demo thus far:



Messy Middle:


Next up: wiring and patching and sanding and priming and painting and….you get the picture.