Let’s Paint! Part I – Choose Your Colors

27 08 2009
When I first looked at my townhouse, I was glad I was able to see it’s potential, instead of just what was in front of me.  Because what was in front of me was one giant red wall in the center of the downstairs living space and every other wall painted just enough of an off-white to look dirty.  Minus the red wall, the whole place was just darn depressing for the first few days!  So what’s a girl to do? PAINT!
Red and dirty white. Not my favorite color combination!

Red and dirty white. Not my favorite color combination!

When painting a room, the first thing I do is choose a color. This may seem like a relatively unimportnat part of the process, but it will impact what primer you buy and how many coats of paint you’ll have to do.  But although it’s an important choice and painting is a little time consuming, the great thing about it is that if you really hate the color, it’s fairly easy to change it. 

By the time I headed to Lowe’s to look at paint samples, I had been putting together a decorating book for a while. Basically, that comprised of looking through every Pottery Barn catalogue that came in the mail and seeing what rooms most inspired me, then tearing out the pages and saving them in categories (bedroom, guest room, kitchen, bathroom, etc.).  That helped me to figure out what I liked and didn’t like, and as a result, what would make me happy in each room.  But you can be inspired in other ways too – I had picked up a shower curtain at K-Mart, mostly black, but with blue flowers stitched into a border towards the top.  When choosing a color for the bathroom, then, I matched it to those little blue flowers – since they’re small, it’s not too matchy-matchy, but it unites the bathroom.  Searching through catalogues can also give you new ideas of what works and doesn’t work – I wouldn’t have thought to put brown and light blue together, but seeing it in magazines and catalogues appealed to me and I used that combination in my living room.  I also thought that eggplant with dark furniture in a bedroom would be too dark, but in a paint sample booklet, I saw that it worked well.

Here's a sample page from my inspiration book

Here's a sample page from my inspiration book

Once I had a good idea in my head as to what colors I was looking for, I went to Lowe’s and picked out any and every sample that I was drawn to, and even a few that I wouldn’t have originally been interested in.  I didn’t buy any paint on that first visit, but instead brought all the samples home and spent the next few days wandering around my house figuring out what worked where.  I was definitely feeling impatient at the time, because the current paint was gross, I felt like things might be living in the carpet, and the whole house smelled of smoke from the previous owners, so I was ready to get painting and make it my own.  But I’m glad I took the time to pick out colors I was really satisfied with, because a year later, I’m still happy with the colors in each of the rooms. 

I picked up a LOT of samples

I picked up a LOT of samples

My paint choices:

Downstairs: For the living room/hallway/entryway, I chose a very light beachy blue: Lowe’s Valspar Cake Stand Blue

To get the airy beach feeling, I went with this very light blue

To get the airy beach feeling, I went with this very light blue

Kitchen: For the kitchen, I chose a sandy brown (ocean and sand, I do live at the beach!) because my cabinets couldn’t handle the blue and I’m not redoing the kitchen yet: Lowe’s Valspar Milk Toast

The kitchen needed a sandier color to warm up the old cabinets

The kitchen needed a sandier color to warm up the old cabinets

Downstairs Bathroom: For the downstairs bathroom, I chose a shade warmer than the Milk Toast, picked up from the stripes in my towels: Lowe’s Valspar La Fonda Boulder

Used a shade of tan pulled from the towels for this bathroom

Used a shade of tan pulled from the towels for this bathroom

Upstairs Hallway: I continued the Milk Toast throughout the upstairs hallways to unite the two floors a little (it was the color of the wall next to the stairs)
Upstairs Bathroom: As I mentioned earlier, I chose this color to match the small flowers in my shower curtain: Lowe’s Valspar Blue Twilight

I love the blue in this bathroom so much that it's my favorite room in the house!

I love the blue in this bathroom so much that it's my favorite room in the house!

Office: For my office, I wanted a warm terracotta, which would highlight the orange in my world map and travel posters: Lowe’s Valspar Pompei Orange

The terracotta of the walls picks up the orange in the artwork nicely!

The terracotta of the walls picks up the orange in the artwork nicely!

Guest room: Because the guest room is the smallest room, I wanted it to feel light, airy, and soothing for visitors, so I chose a very light green: Lowe’s Valspar Tempered Spring

The green is so light, it's hard to see it in photos

The green is so light, it's hard to see it in photos

Master Bedroom: After seeing the combination of dark furniture with an eggplant wall color, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, so I painted my bedroom an eggplant color that makes it one of my favorite rooms in the house: Lowe’s Valspar Eddie Bauer Home Garnet

The light always brightens this in photos, but it's a much darker plum color

The light always brightens this in photos, but it's a much darker plum color

Let’s Paint! Part II will cover what supplies you’ll need.


Putting in a Sump and Sump Pump in a Sandy Crawl Space

25 08 2009

Finally, after all of the headaches I’ve had with crawl space flooding and my sump pumps, this past Wednesday was time to permanently install my sump pump.  For me, this was a two-person job, so I was lucky to have help from my parents.

The existing sump pump (the failed one of December storm fame) was sitting in its sump (which is basically a plastic basin that situates the pump at a lower level to help manage surface water).  The sump in my crawl space was to the left of the opening and very small and shallow (yes, I now know what it looks like and where it is!).  As a result, it didn’t handle the water seeping in from underground (particularly from my yard) until flooding was already an issue.  Plus, it was flush in some places and lower than the surrounding sand in other places, which didn’t keep sand and debris out of the sump and protect the pump.  All possible reasons for failure, along with the motor simply burning out.

Because the sump didn’t seem sufficient, and my dad suggested I’d want the pump in a more accessible place because of my general stress over flooding and sump pump failure, we decided to entirely replace the sump and to relocate it to just inside the crawl space (which, now that I’m thinking about it, will be awesome for whenever I need to get the heater serviced).  After choosing the spot to locate the sump, we put together a list of what we’d need – large plastic garbage can (to act as the sump, more on that later), 2-inch arbored hole saw drill bit for cutting holes, weed control fabric, something to tie the fabric to the garbage can, and a small-handled shovel.  This might all sound a bit strange, but all will be revealed. I should also mention at this point that This Old House has a great demo video and instructions for installing a sump pump in a basement, the professional way. We then headed to my local hardware store, which I love almost as much as my local Lowe’s

We decided to use a plastic garbage can instead of the typical sump basin because it would be a little larger, enabling me to have a large lip sitting above the sand, keeping it from pouring into the basin.  Most sump pumps are located in basements, where sand and debris aren’t an issue.  If you read up on sump pumps, one of the main recommendations is not to have them anywhere near sand.  Since I have to have my pump in a sandy crawl space (no one seems to want to do homeowner shows/tips on that little problem), we had to come up with a specialized solution.

We made sure that we could fit the garbage can into the crawl space entrance (which always seems tinier and more claustrophobic in my mind), marked off in the sand how large a hole we would have to dig and took turns digging out the sand.  We thought we’d be able to dig about three feet down and leave only a few inches of the garbage can above the ground, but true to stories I’ve heard from my neighbor, the water table starts about two feet down.  We dug to about that two feet and decided not to go any lower so that water wouldn’t constantly be filling the sump basin and running the pump.

We dug about two feet down to prepare the crawl space for the new sump basin

We dug about two feet down to prepare the crawl space for the new sump basin

The next step was to drill holes in the side of the garbage can, which would allow the water to filter into the basin from underground and start the pump before any significant water seepage into the crawl space happened.  Using a drill with a two-inch arbored hole saw drill bit, my dad drilled a series of holes into the garbage can.  Picture Charlie Brown’s Halloween Costume in “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,” after he says “I had a little trouble with the scissors.”  He started the holes several inches from the bottom, so that just the slightest bit of water wouldn’t be seeping in and starting up the pump, so make sure if you’re creating your own sump basin, that it fits your needs!

Drilling holes

Sump with holes

Once the holes were finished, it was time to wrap the basin in something so that water would be able to seep through, without allowing any sand to trickle in.  We chose a weed control fabric, similar to this one at Lowe’s, and secured it to the sump basin with stretchy plastic green ties.

Fabric attached!

The ties themselves weren’t that important; we just needed something to hold the fabric to the sump basin until we could install it in the hole we had dug and seal it up with sand, which was our next step.

Once the sump basin was in and sealed up around the outside with sand, it was time to put in the sump pump itself.  We had already unplugged the other failed sump pump (ALWAYS unplug before attempting to install anything!) and we wanted to attach the working pump to the existing piping.  The pipes that were installed with the original pump had been cemented from the outside of the house, so we weren’t able to pull them over to attach to the current pump.  Also, they are connected to my gutters (which was one of the reasons I thought the pump was originally working – water was coming out, but it was from the gutters!). 

Although I had some additional pipes from the new sump pump, we quickly learned that one was 1 1/2″ while the other was  1 1/4″.  I didn’t have a connecting piece of pipe with the two sizes, so that necessitated another quick trip to the hardware store for that.  The pipes are connected to each other and the sump pump with clamps, which keep the pipes secure while water is gushing through them – not the sort of thing you can take a shortcut with unless you want water to be unknowingly sprayed throughout your crawl space!

Connected hoses

The fresh sand underneath these pipes is covering up the old sump pit

The next step was to test the pump to see if it would work.  We’d actually tested the pump in the garbage can before putting any holes in it, because I was concerned that without a swift on-rushing of water, the float that manages the water level and tells the pump when to turn on was rising too slowly to get the pump working.  We used a garden hose to fill up the garbage can with the pump in it, and I learned that the pump works exactly the way it’s supposed to – it’s just my nervous-ness about flooding that would encourage me to start it up before it hit the correct level. 

Whoop, there it is, my sump pump

We repeated this process with the installed sump pump, once it had been plugged in to the underground outlet (instead of running an extension cord to my outside GFI circuit, which is what I had been doing) and the pump again performed beautifully.  The only thing left was to seal up the crawl space again and wait for the first big storm to really test it out. 

It works!

When the December flood happened, the cinder blocks holding back the earth around my crawl space had started to migrate inward, making it difficult to properly cover the crawl space. Add to that the plastic piping and electric cord from the semi-installed sump pump, and I soon had feral cats making their home under my house.  Thanks to a cat repellant and the newly fixed crawl space entrace, I can now correctly seal it up again, cat-less.

Sunday brought the first big storm and I learned that the sump pump works perfectly against flooding, well before the crawl space had flooded beyond my comfort level.  Because of where the pipes come out of the crawl space, it sounds as though someone is shuffling my outside garbage cans around, but I’m happy to put up with strange noises if it means no flooding!

The other concern we had had when installing the pump is that too much water would regularly seep into the sump, when it wasn’t raining hard, and the pump would run its motor constantly.  Fortunately, this hasn’t been the case, but if that happens to you, you can get a cinder block to raise the pump up so that the water has to reach a higher level before the pump turns itself on.

Lessons I Learned from my Sump Pump

25 08 2009
Picture this – it’s a cold December night at the beach, where it’s pouring rain instead of snowing.  In a perfect-storm-like series of events, first the sump pump protecting my crawl space (and therefore, my heater) fails.  Then, so does my neighbor’s in the connecting crawl space.  Over five inches of rain falls in the space of a few hours, saturating the already straining coastal water table and creating first a flood in my backyard (which is an all-too-regular occurrence ’round these parts), and then, a flood in my crawl space. 12 inches of water. Then 18.  Then, goodbye heater.
Just before I realized how bad the crawl space flooding was, I snapped this picture in my backyard

Just before I realized how bad the crawl space was, I snapped this picture of the water in my yard

In a last ditch effort to find a stroke of luck and magically fix my problem, I crawled into the tiny crawl space, with my pajama pants tucked into my snow boots and a flashlight between my teeth.  Soon, I was kneeling in 18 inches of cold, dirty water in the dark, shaking, praying and feeling around for where the sump pump might be.  No luck.  I was kicking myself for not paying closer attention during my home inspection and actually getting into the crawl space to see a) where the sump pump was located and b) what the heck a sump pump even looked like!  That night, I didn’t even know how to spell sump pump – I thought it was “sum” pump.  I was totally clueless, soaking wet, and miserable.  And I had no heat. 

I hunted around for the instruction manual to the sump pump, which I thought the previous owner had left me.  Eureka! She had.  I could tell from the cover what the pump should look like, but I knew I hadn’t seen anything like that in the crawl space.  Then, I saw a clear warning – do NOT attempt to fix your sump pump while it is still plugged in.  Ah yes, water and electricity aren’t such a good mix.  I figured it was a lost cause, and then remembered that my dad should know where the sump pump was, at least, and maybe have some suggestions for me.  So panicked and tearful, I called him at 12am, knowing that he wouldn’t likely get back to sleep that night.  But I was at my wits end!

With no hardware stores open, the rain still coming down, and no sunlight, there was nothing we could do.  My dad promised to drive the two hours south the next morning and suggested I get some sleep.  After changing into warm and dry clothes, I first hovered by the crawl space to see if maybe, just maybe, the sump pump would kick in.  Nope.  Then, I hovered around my thermostat, watching the numbers slowly drop.  I finally forced myself to go to bed for a couple of hours, afraid of what the morning might bring.

The next day was sunny and cold, as I headed back into the crawl space

The next day was sunny and cold, as I headed back into the crawl space

Super Dad arrived early, and hit the hardware store to get a new sump pump and hoses. We set up the pump to get rid of the standing water, and I found out what a correctly working pump should look and sound like. Phew.  A few hours later, the water had receeded but my heater was still a lost cause.  I was scheduled to head up to my parents’ house the next day, so I scheduled the heater guy to come out when the water was gone and braced myself for an expensive afternoon.  Since I would have a few days away, I bought a space heater to warm up my living room and watched miserably as the temperature continued to drop one degree at a time. 

This is what I had been sloshing around in the previous night, but it had receded

This is what I had been sloshing around in the previous night, but it had receded

It turned out I was one lucky girl though – despite the heater repairman quoting me some high priced replacements and discussing the possibility of moving the heater into my shed (which is where it should always have been in my opinion), after a few days, the heater dried itself out and was working again.  Hallelujah!

I was very lucky - see the label on the heater in the background? The water had risen to halfway up that label.

I was very lucky - see the label on the heater in the background? The water had risen to halfway up that label.

The temporary sump pump and hoses would stay there until nicer weather would allow us to install a more permanent solution.  Over the next few months, I would learn more than I ever wanted to know about sump pumps – every time it rained, I had to babysit the pump, which never seemed to start when it was supposed to.  Eventually, we figured out that the pump wasn’t working well because of the sand and debris getting sucked into the pump, so I replaced it with another one.  By this time, I was so neurotic about any water in my crawl space, that I continued to babysit the pump and start it up whenever I thought the level was too high (so basically any time it rained).  I had no more heater incidents, and the summer months proved to be mostly crawl-space-flood free (though not backyard flood free).

My current sump pump (prior to final installation) does its job!

My current sump pump (prior to final installation) does its job!

All of this taught me some extremely important lessons about homeownership:

1) Whether you are interested in electronics/appliances/anything-in-your-home or not, you should both know where it is and how it works. From the first day you live there.  Even if you have someone else living with you and you think they know all about it, I think it’s Murphy’s Law that it WILL fail the one time they are not there and unreachable.  Had I known about sump pumps, the location of mine and how it worked, I would have been able to tell much earlier that it had failed and may have avoided both the flood and the late night call to my poor dad.  And had I known that my neighbor’s crawl space was connected to mine, I would have talked to him a lot sooner about keeping an eye on the flooding during that storm.

2) Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I didn’t want to seem stupid in front of my home inspector and my dad, so I didn’t ask them about sump pumps, or take him up on his offer to see where mine was.  Which brings me to point 3…

3) Don’t be afraid to get dirty.  If you’re afraid to get dirty early on, you will definitely get dirty later on.  If I’d crawled into my scary, dirty crawl space on the day of my inspection, I would have known exactly where the sump pump was.  But I didn’t want to get dirty (I was wearing white pants, so that was mistake number 2), so I didn’t bother.  Which led directly to me kneeling in cold, dirty floodwater.  I was dirty, wet and miserable anyway, but in much worse shape and almost out a heater.

4) Get the neighborhood gossip.  This might sound funny, but especially in my neighborhood, everyone knows everyone else’s business (and yes, I hate that, but that’s a story for another post).  But when I moved in, I learned fairly quickly that the previous owner of my home had recently had to replace the heater because of crawl-space flooding.  That should have been clue #1 that it could happen again and was something I should know how to deal with.  When your neighbors tell you homeownership stories, listen to them.  It might save you later.

I’m now *almost* at the point where I can look back on that night and laugh (mostly because it only cost me the sump pump and some hoses and clamps, and not a new heater).  But more than just being an anecdote in my tales of homeownership woe, it was a night of lessons for me, which I haven’t since taken for granted!

Sealing Downstairs Air Conditioning Vents in Summer

18 08 2009

About a month ago, I was lamenting to my sister and her boyfriend about the differences in temperature between my first and second floor.  With only one zone for the air conditioner in my house (I’m fortunate enough to have central air), my single thermostat regulates the whole house.  As a result, I’m often shivering in a sweater sitting downstairs on the couch at night, but sweating in tank tops and shorts while working in my upstairs office during the day.  What to do?

My sister’s boyfriend (whose father does air conditioning/heating work) suggested I close and seal one of the AC vents downstairs.  I vaguely remember this suggestion from the inspector when I had the house checked last summer – close the upstairs vents in the winter and the downstairs ones in the summer.  This forces the heat or air conditioning (depending on the season) to bypass the closed vents and more equally cool or heat the house.  Since heat rises, this makes sense to me!

I finally got around to it this weekend, and it was a super simple process that required only a philips head screwdriver (check your vents to see what kind of screws it has), some saran wrap, and tape.  First, I chose a vent to close off – I have a pretty open floor plan downstairs, so I chose one of the two on the same wall in the dining room:

First, choose a vent

Next, I closed off the vent. I could tell why my sister’s boyfriend suggested sealing it off, because I could still feel cool air pouring out.


Next, time to remove the vent.  The screws were very long, but easy to remove:


Sometimes, if you paint around the vents instead of removing them (which would be the proper way to do it) or you put them back in before the paint has had enough time to dry, they can stick to the wall a bit.  You can use a flathead screwdriver to *gently* remove them, but try not to damage the walls or you’ll find yourself doing a bit of repair work!

Removing Vent

Once you’ve pulled out your vent, tear off a piece of plastic wrap that will fit over the back of it.  I used Saran Wrap, because I think it’s stickier.  Plus, that’s what I had in the house already.

Saran wrap

At first, I thought it might be advisable to just put the vent back in and screw through the plastic, but the plastic gummed up the threads of the screws and made it almost impossible to line up the vent properly.  So I learned the hard way that you should cut the saran wrap to fit, and tape off the edges to seal it:

Taped up

Once that’s done, fit the vent back into the wall, screw the screws back in, and voila, you’re finished!  And you can’t even tell that the vent is sealed with plastic wrap.  I can feel the cooler air upstairs already…

Finished vent

* Just remember to take the plastic wrap off and open the vents when you switch over to heat in the cooler fall months.

Do Try This at Home!

17 08 2009

Last week, those crazy ladies over on Looking Glass Lane got me thinking about superheroes and their powers.  More specifically, it got me thinking about what my super powers might be.  Can I leap tall buildings in a single bound? Well, no. 

But I can dust an entire room in a single commercial break.

Which got me thinking about all the things I’ve had to learn to do in my first year as a homeowner (don’t worry, I did actually know how to dust already).  I can now mow the lawn, change a toilet handle, start up a finicky sump pump, paint a hallway with high ceilings, remove wallpaper, and many more things that had previously never actually found their way on to my bucket list.

While I’ve been on this journey of single gal homeownership, there’s been a lot of triumph, some frustration, and one tearful phone call to my dad in the middle of the night.  I’ve gotten a LOT of help – from my parents, friends, the internet and sometimes just pure trial and error.  But there’s never been just one place I can look up some of my silliest questions – you know, the kind that keep you out of the local hardware store for fear of looking foolish in front of the salty old fisherman types who work there.  So I’ve decided to blog about my (mis)adventures in homeownership in the hopes that maybe my experiences can help somebody else.  Maybe you’re a single woman, renting or owning a home for the first time.  Maybe your husband, boyfriend or partner just works all the time, so all the home stuff falls on your shoulders.  Or maybe you’re just the handy one in the house.  Whatever the reason, I hope that my blog can become a resource for you, or at the very least, a great source of laughter.

Do try this at home!

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