Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bathroom refresh

 Repainted the bathroom and got a new piece of art and I'm in love.

Start Color - vaguely mint toothpaste. 
I liked it, I just knew something else would be better.

The choices!

I ended up using the bottom color for my bedroom. Dark everywhere, like my soul.

Window in the basement for restoration. Don't ask how long that took.
Before this, I had stripped the window trim and casing, because it looked like this:

So painting the walls was easy street compared to that nightmare.

Boom! New art print and new high gloss walls and it's my favorite room.

I thought I had a picture of the window reinstalled, I'll add that tonight!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Apartment Kitchen Upgrade

When we last saw the kitchen, I had done significant upgrades by taking down the drop ceiling, installing paneling, and painting everything.  Lipstick on a pig type stuff, as the bathroom got the full gut job last time. This time it was the kitchen's turn, mainly because when I did a first few showings people didn't like the kitchen.  I think a large part was that the tenants were dirty so it did not show well. Nor did they clean it up upon move out.  How does one get food on the ceiling? I can only imagine a blender without a top... 

So on top of scrubbing the life out of the entire place, I decided that something had to be done about the cabinets, which had not faired so great in the past two years.  Earlier in the year, I had removed the radiator that had been blocking the cabinets as part of the heating system upgrade, and with winter coming I needed to get heat back in the room as well, so it was good timing to get it done.

The level of grim and stickiness cannot be accurately captured in a photo.
The radiator had been on the right, in front of the blank panel.
Last year I bought a new stove and microwave hood, but only installed the stove as I didn't want to do any construction while tenants were living there. Also I had no upper cabinet to hang it off of, so it spent a year in my basement just chillin.  They are from GE's Artistry line, which has a retro flare and no bells and whistles to break, so I thought it was perfect.  This was the only thing that had been cleaned before the tenants moved out, but my mother, who helped me tremendously, looked at it and sniffed "that is not a clean I recognize" before attacking it with Bon Ami.  In case you were wondering where the crazy clean/organized part of me comes from...

Hey Beth maybe next time turn on the lights when you're taking pictures.
So next to be inspected was the refrigerator. I like to be proactive about replacing stuff before it breaks because I hate doing anything in Emergency Mode. It was 20 years old so even if it hadn't been sprouting mildew and mold on every surface ("THEY PUT FOOD IN THIS?!?!?! - Mother) it was on the replacement list.  And because I care about all four of you that read this, I will refrain from showing pictures. I myself just got over the nightmares.

So once I got all the garbage and random furniture and dog hair out of the place, I headed down to the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. This place is great - full of donated building materials and furnishings and all proceeds go to a good cause.  I went "just to look" on my lunch break and spotted some cabinets that seemed to be perfect, because they were mostly lowers. And they had been marked down, score!  I whipped out my measuring tape and took down all the sizes of the cabinets so I could compare them to one of the many options I had laid out for the kitchen, because, architect.

I love a sale!

I came back later that day after ascertaining they would work to find they had been marked down again to $1800! At this point I figured they wanted them gone and asked if they could do better. I got another hundred off, which made this cabinets a super steal - solid wood, full inlay, with the hardware 80% replaced already.  Getting them home was an ordeal that lasted two days and four SUVs and required the calling in of some favors. But it was worth it for these:

Ok, so I know they look a little rough around the edges, but I saw potential, even if they did have cathedral style upper cabinets and some weird reddish stain/filler/nonsense by the handles.  Steel wool and Murphy's Oil Soap got this crud/improvement off easily.

Who did this and said, yes, this looks better!

Fast forward a couple days and the kitchen looked like this:

Being frugal, I did not want to replace the counters because Stage 3 is removing the pantry/laundry to open the kitchen up like I did upstairs. I did not want to buy something that would have to be replaced in just a couple years, so I removed the old cabs and slid the new ones under the counter, which worked way better than I thought it would.  So the problem was now I had to devise some counters for around the stove. I bought the cheapest laminate top I could find at Home Depot and cut it down to size for the left side. For the right side, I used a slate tile to match the black paint. Mother and I also made our own built-up wood back splash piece to tie it all together.

I painted it all with regular Rustoleum in Satin Black and gave the existing counters a refresh coat.

Not bad for winging it

Lastly, I installed black vinyl base in the kickspace to match the counters and visually separate the different woods. After that, the new radiator and fridge came to round out the renovation.  

The kitchen now has so much more storage that is actually functional, with two giant lazy susans and drawers galore.  It also looks about a thousand times better and is something I can be proud to show to prospective tenants. This went from a liability to an asset for $3,000 in only two weeks. Buying used instead of new saved natural resources and these cabinets from ending up in the landfill.  I salvaged the gray upper cabinets and gave them to a friend for storage in his garage; the lowers fell apart and had to be thrown away, but not before I saved the cool handles.

Before and After:

New Runtal radiator. So skinny!
Great for renovations of tight spaces.
Old radiator location. So nice.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Energy Upgrades, Action Shots!

After the crazy cold finally broke and it was above 20 degrees, the guys started the blown-in insulation.  It took about a week and a half due to the large size of the house and the fact that it has all sorts of extra blocking in it so they had to drill even more holes than normal. That's going to be fun when I finally get around to painting the house!

Stage One: I have to do what? 
This is what happens when you're a hoarder and you have to clear out your attic so guys can air seal it.
Good thing I have so many bedrooms.

Stage 2: It looks like giant wood borer bees are attacking my house. 

Apparently my aluminum siding is some real vintage stuff. Like some of the first siding ever made in the late 40s after WW2. Which means the first slacker to own this place might have been the original owner, who couldn't be bothered to paint it a mere 20 years after it was built. It also means it's super thick and doesn't have mounting strips/clips/nonsense so it's really hard to re-attach. The guys working on the house had never seen it before and were concerned about messing it up when they went to put it back on. After I stopped laughing, I told them that after someone hits your house with a car, you don't really worry about dents in the siding anymore. Also, it's already so fantastic looking, dents could only enhance the appeal. Ahem.

The house is looking really great right now.

Wood siding seems to be in excellent condition, so my dreams of
ripping off the aluminum siding aren't so farfetched afterall.

Stage 3: Holy shit balls everything is covered in dust, how did heat ever stay in my house, ever, at all.
Snuck in through the radiator pipe hole.

No wonder the tub was always so cold, aka this closet is now a dust bin.

Well well well. Air leakage anyone? No wonder why this was such a good place to store wine.
Stage 4: Bye bye rust bucket boilers. We were the same age, I'll miss you. Not.

Mid heating system replacement.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Before and Afters Part 3

Because who doesn't like an 18 month wait to see stuff.

Oh the horror show that was the rest of the house did not stop here folks. Just kept going. The rug was a lovely shade of vomit after mexican food, and covered in cat. Cat hair, cat food, cat barf, cat pee. SO NICE.

Outdated electrical? Check. 
One million holes per wall? Check. 
Peeling paint and dirt smears? Check.

The ceilings, as in the rest of the house, were these lovely acoustical tiles. Failing in several places, with dirty brown seams. Very restful. One lovely tenant had decided that the trim needed some pizazz and painted on what looked to be glow in the dark paint that no longer glowed.

So in true my house fashion, shit got much, much, worse before becoming even slightly better. Because under the cat carpet was this:


Except here it was punctuated every three millimeters with staples and nails that had been holding down the rug pad. Where did they think that pad was going to go?!

After a mere three hours of back breaking, handnumbing scraping, hammering, and chiseling PER ROOM, I had a thing of beauty. Hahahahaha. 

Just kidding, it looked even shittier:

Tar, adhesive, death. Wonderful! I cried, I drank, I covered it with paper so my floor guy could unwrap it, like a really terrible present.

Fast forward 15 gal of spackle, 3 weeks of painting, and some major floor sanding. Plus 4 new (salvaged) doors for the bedrooms and bathroom, window coverings, and new schoolhouse style lights.

Oh look, something finally livable!

Sorry these are so blurry, I'm sure my arms were not working at this point.

Why finally post this? Well the apartment will probably be coming up for rent this year and I need to remind myself that even when renovation seem impossible, it will turn out ok. Because I will need to upgrade the kitchen once more. Stage 2 of 3 will consist of new Ikea cabinets, a dishwasher, and the microwave hood installed, but as a circulating one only for this stage. I upgraded the stove this past summer and bought the microwave hood at the same time, but never installed it because I needed electrical for that. The pantry/laundry room will stay for now, as will the countertops that I painted black. I plan to do butcherblock the same as in my kitchen, so I need to wait until the wall comes down to install it. Spreading the renovation out in stages means that the apartment will be vacant for less time, and I'll be able to spread my costs out over several years.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Home Energy Audit, Round 2

...So without getting into a whole thing, let's just say that I parted ways with the previous company that was going to do work on my house due to various reasons.

I had a second energy audit done in late September by McLagan Home Performance Services. This has been a vastly better experience all around. I am about to sign paperwork for them to proceed with several measures:
  • The heating systems and hot water heaters for both apartments will be replaced with Navien Combi units, so the scary rusting boxes shall go, freeing up a lot of space in the basement. 
  • Spray foam the rim joists in the basement.
  • The walls are going to have cellulouse blown-in and dense packed, which will make the house less drafty and more cozy - no more icy cold exterior walls! 
  • They will also be air sealing the attic. I'll have to blow in new insulation myself because I topped out the amount of the NYSERDA loan, but if other people on the interwebs can do it, so can I!
They've estimated that we'll save $1,162/year in energy costs, not to mention be way more comfortable.  Maybe I won't have to swaddle myself in blankets for the entire winter! What freedom!

I've also started going around and replacing all the sash locks on my windows. Due to settling of the house, most of the windows don't meet nice and flush anymore, and the old locks were not really doing their job. And you all know I can't stand slackers. So I popped over to Lee Valley Tools website and scooped up a ton of the cheapest locks they had: Sprung Draw Catches.  I've never had the slightest problem with anything I've ever ordered from there, and baby's on a budget. Because I have like 50 windows here people. Seriously, not gonna drop fifteen bucks on a single lock.

Old sad lock, and yes all these windows still need to be restored. I know. I know. Baby Steps.

Each lock had to be re-shimed and aligned, but it was totally worth it. A tight lock draws the sashes together to reduce drafts at the meeting rail. Coupled with some rope caulk, the office and living room windows are draft free (ish)! The icing on my window upgrade cake is the new thermal roman shades that I got from JCPenney. They were having one of their ridiculous sales (like 75% off!) so I was able to get 10 shades for about $22 each.

Fairly crappy photo, but you get the gist.

They are more of an air barrier material than thick and poofy and insulating, but they are working great. Both rooms are noticeably warmer and less drafty, which is important to this cold hearted bitch lady. I finished my little whirlwind project by adding some weatherstripping to the doors in the dining room.

Now onto finishing the bathroom window!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Home Energy Audit

Being on the second floor has its perks and one of them is that heat rises from the apartment below and warms my space. Due to this, my heating bills typically haven't been too bad - under $200/month for electricity and natural gas. I also have my programmable thermostat drop the temp way down during the day while I'm at work, I don't set it above 68 degrees, and my apartment is only 1250 square feet. That being said, my bill did go up by 50 dollars one month this winter, which is more than enough for this cheap skate to say Enough!

So with me being the green building professional that I am, it's fairly embarrassing that it's taken 3 1/2 years to deal with the energy consumption of the house. To be fair, it's taken a lot to get it into livable condition, and then rentable condition, so I could actually live here and stuff. 

But as my father is known to say, I don't want excuses, I want production! So here we are.

Fortunately in New York State, we have NYSERDA, which deals with energy efficiency in all forms, from industrial to residential. There has been a program for home energy audits for years, however, new in the past couple years is the ability to pay for energy upgrades through On-Bill financing. It is a low cost loan that is paid as part of your utilities bill. This removes the upfront costs associated with paying for energy upgrades, and lowers your monthly energy usage. It is also available to homeowners with less than perfect credit which might disqualify them from typical loan instruments. Another great thing is that payments are transferable if you sell your property, so you can take advantage of lower bills now without the fear of being saddled with a loan if you must leave your home!

Energy efficiency measures are specifically selected for your house as a result of the energy audit and payback is calculated with your energy bills. The most energy and cost efficient measures are selected and designed so that the new loan payment plus your newly lowered energy bills are less than what you were previously paying for utilities alone. Once your loan is paid off, you are left with your significantly lower bills. Win! 

It's also applicable to multi-family housing like my two family, which is great, because a lot of energy is wasted in landlord/tenant situations because while the landlord owns the things that use energy, the tenants pay for the energy. Thus the landlord has a disincentive to upgrade, and the tenant has limited power to lower their bills.  Something like this brings the two parties together. I benefit, my tenants benefit, there is much rejoicing.

So how does one go about getting one of these magical energy audits?  First stop, the NYSERDA website: NYSERDA Residential Energy Efficiency. Here you will find everything you need to get going. Me being me, I applied for an energy audit online and got my reservation number before contacting any of the BPI certified contractors on NYSERDA's list to do the audit. I also applied for the financing and got my pre-qualification letter before the audit happened, which apparently is kind of over achieving according to the guy who did my energy audit. (Shocking, Nerd Alert!) I fully support doing so though, because it was really useful to have the possible loan amount available when selecting what measures I wanted to pursue. I was pre-qualified for the highest amount - $25,000, which meant I can probably do everything I want.

After I got my applications in order, I called ZeroDraft to do my audit. I picked them because they could do the audit as well as the insulation and heating system work that I assumed I would need. So laziness out of the desire of not having to deal with multiple companies won out. There are a lot of companies out there that do this work that are approved by NYSERDA, I would suggest researching several of them to find one that fits your needs.

The audit itself is comprised of testing heating systems, checking insulation levels, and looking for sources of air infiltration via a blower door test. I didn't end up having the blower door test done because I have asbestos on my heating pipes in my basement and something about liability, blah blah blah. It's wrapped in plastic and in good shape, but I understand the company's stance. It's ok though, because in an old house like mine, it's finding the places *without* the air leaks that is the challenge. I told the guy upfront that I was an architect and very familiar with energy saving and this process so I didn't get his whole schpeel. If you aren't, you'll get a more in-depth description along the way.

First we went in the attic, where we concluded that more insulation and air sealing was needed. Duh. Then he toured the two apartments, noted my janky-ass windows, and headed to the basement so he could test the heating systems. Just because my boilers were 30+ years old and covered in rusty holes, he called them "scary". What a weenie! (He also pointed at the blue and white mottling on the walls and beams and asked if that was mold. Nope, just super awesome sponge painting. Because who doesn't sponge paint their unfinished, damp basement?)

From my first tour of the house. It's mildly less creepy down here now.

So then we went back up to my apartment to fill out paperwork and see how much all this was going to cost. We decided on a new combination boiler/on-demand water heater for each unit, basement rim joist spray foam insulation, and dense pack cellulose insulation for the attic. This came in at about $20,000. I need soffit venting as well, which should qualify as part of the "other measures" section of the loan, so they are looking into it for me. Hopefully these measures will save me enough money so that I can save up for the new storm windows the house so desperately needs.

I am now in the waiting phase as the last of the paperwork for the loan is being processed. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll have more information on the timeline for the next steps in this process. I'll keep you guys posted!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Before and Afters Part 2

Annnnnd 3 months later, I finally get myself to show you the rest of the apartment...

The bathroom was deceiving to the untrained eye. It had been remodeled within the last 5 years previous to me buying the house. However, none of the underlying issues had been fixed, i.e. leaky pipes and around the tub area. And the workmanship on the install of finishes was abysmal. No one tile aligned with any other on the floor or on the wall. And it was dirty brown beige. All plumbing fixtures were the cheapest you could get and thus the sink faucet was always leaking, and there was a particularly dramatic evening I spent in the closet installing a new shower kit, including multiple trips to Home Depot, and a mental breakdown while sitting on the floor next to a dirty litter box. Also the electrical was a mess, fairly dangerous, and made no sense. And the toilet seat was the wrong size. And brown vinyl base. I mean, come onnnnnn.



I am particularly proud of the radiator cover and built-in wall on the left, I wish I had a better picture to show you all. It came out exactly like the rendering I had done of it.

No more Glacier Bay piece of crap plastic valves and handles! Also all the tiling is done correctly...

So what did we do? All new electrical, rebuilt the control wall in the tub, fully waterproofed the shower area, new tile on the walls, removed several layers of tile flooring and installed new hex tile, added a built-in for storage, replaced missing trim, installed a new fan/light combo, painted the existing vanity lighting fixture black, cleaned the sink vanity, repainted the medicine cabinet, and added a new sink faucet and plumbing. And new paint on all trim and walls (after much scraping and caulking). And a properly size toilet seat, which surprisingly really helped de-ghetto the room.

Best of all because all labor was free (me!), this was all done for less than $400 dollars. The electrician oversaw and inspected the work I did in here as he was doing some last minute outlet & light box changes in the other rooms. Granted, there was a lot of terrible work, and getting very tired of being in the "cell", but in the end, it was so worth it.