The Renovator’s wife Blog

Renovating with your partner and living to tell about it

When New Doesn’t Mean New November 25, 2010

When you buy a pre-owned car or house, generally speaking, you say something like “I bought a new car” or “we’re moving into a new home” even though it isn’t ‘new’.

Over the past few decades, we’ve grown used to the concepts of reduce, reuse and recycle. While renovting often is a case of ‘out with the old and in with the new’, it is possible to reuse things to prevent them from becoming landfill. Like your “new car” or “new house”, you can create new from somone else’s, or your own, old.

In house # 2, I inhereted an odd little ensuite. I know from the realtor, and my own visual inspection, that the tennants didn’t use this bathroom. The toilet and sink looked brand new. We removed them carefully, I inspected them thorougly, then I cleaned the furiously before installing them in the new main bathroom. No one would ever guess.

A bit hard to see in the photo, but that toilet (and the sink off to the right) are the ones from the ensuite. Another case of recycling in this house came from visiting a new and used building supply store where I bought used pocket doors for a fraction of the price – they simply needed a new coat of paint.

You’d never know

In house #3, everything needed a major overhaul. Little things got our attention, like the handrails on the stairway. The Renovator sanded that ugly dark shiny finish to find a beautiful light wood underneath, we finished and reinstalled the ‘new’ handrails.

Here in house #4, we’ve got some great options for recycling. Many of the big things are ‘bin filler’, like the carpetting and cabinetry, but some things can be saved or repurposed. We’re carefully removing the bricks from the wall downstairs to reuse in a funky new way in a different location. When we replace the windows, we’ll be saving the old ones to build a small greenhouse. Although the lilac toilet and sink will have to go, there are a number of cabinet knobs and hardware bits we’ll be making use of.

Definitely get that dumpster if you’re doing a full reno, but before you decide to ‘toss it all’, take a closer look and see if you can make something old new again.


A Road to a Friend’s House is Never Long – Danish Proverb August 31, 2010

If The Renovator and I had a dollar for every time a friend asked, “Could you look at the house and tell us what you think?” we’d be rich! Whether they are purchasing a new place or considering changes to their existing home, our friends have come to know that they can rely on us for advice.

Often, after being asked the question noted above, I hear, “You must get sick of being asked to walk around people’s houses making suggestions and comments”. The funny thing is, we don’t get sick of it. We love it. There’s something about looking at a space and seeing the big picture – a big NEW picture – and being invited to do so. That doesn’t mean that if we come to your house we’ll pick it apart (well, mentally maybe), but if we’re invited, we will definitely do ‘what we do’.

I’ll be the one looking at the space while our friends say ‘we were thinking about this…’ then I’ll ask questions like ‘what do you want to do in this space? What are the three most important things to you about this room? and How would you like to use it?’ Then, The Renovator will weigh in on the art of the possible and what’s easy or what’s not worth the effort.

Recently, The Renovator helped out in a way we often do. He went to a house our friends were considering purchasing. They wanted to know what could be done to make the basement into a suite. What is possible and what is not. This type of request is one of our favorites because it allows us to look at the space in new ways and really consider layout and usage. In the end our friends have purchased the home and chances are The Renovator will find himself completing some of the work he envisioned. Often, I’m called upon to offer guidance around colours, finishes, lighting, etc. I never used to believe it, but the right light fixtures can make a world of difference!

So, the next time you’re looking at your existing space, or one you are thinking about purchasing, call on one of your friends who knows a thing or two about renovating. Chances are they love helping with it as much as we do and that’s why I love being The Renovator’s wife.


The Peas’ Knees August 1, 2010

I really enjoy having a vegetable garden, and here in our new house, I can! It’s the first time in 7 years I’ve been able to plant a garden, so I’m a bit over-the-top excited about it. After building the raised garden bed (which would have made a great post, sorry, I forgot to do photos, but will when I build the next one for the berry patch), I filled the bed with dirt, planted seeds, labelled rows and waited for sprouts.

The sprouts came! Maybe not as many as I would have liked, but they came none the less and The Renovator and I are very excited to have ‘fresh from the garden’ veggies! One thing I planted  is peas. I don’t like them cooked, but raw peas? I could eat them non-stop! Yum! Once I’d planted the garden, I asked The Renovator to make me a pea trellis to hold up the peas’ knees. He said he would when the plants were tall enough to need the trellis. The recovering Type A in me didn’t care for that response, so a few weeks later I set out to make my own. Let me show you how to do it!

What you need:

About $20 to buy materials – approximately 35′ of 1 x 1 and 35′ of lath (slats of wood you’d see like in a trellis on a fence)

Tape measure, pencil, saw (plus a mitre box if using a hand saw), brad nailer of some sort (some heavy duty staplers have the ability to shoot brad nails), rubber mallet.

Trellis materials

Trellis materials

Measure long pieces

Measure long pieces

Cut 1 x 1

Cut 1 x 1

Lay your materials in two piles – the 1 x 1 in one pile, the lath in the other. Using the 1 x 1, mark 3 pieces at 54″ (4.5 feet), mark 4 pieces at 36″ (3 feet) and mark 2 pieces at 40″. Cut the bottom endof the 54″ pieces on a 45 degree angle, cut the top end at 90 degrees (straight) as well as both ends of the 36″ and 40″.

lay cut pieces out

lay cut pieces out

Lay your cut pieces out so that the long pieces (54″) are your left, middle and right. Lay 4 of the 36″ pieces across the long pieces – at right angles – to create a frame and lay the 2 40″ centre pieces parallel to the long pieces as shown (more material will hang over the top and bottom cross pieces).

Attach cross pieces to long pieces

Attach cross pieces to long pieces

Attaching cross pieces

Attaching cross pieces

Take two of the long pieces and attach the upper cross piece for your first frame section (make sure the ‘angled’ cut on the long piece is at the bottom and not the top!). Be sure to measure and mark where you want the cross piece to sit on both long pieces so that it lines up. I chose to have my upper cross piece 2″ down from the top of the long pieces.

attach bottom cross piece

attach bottom cross piece

Measure and mark placement for the bottom cross piece. – I chose 36″ down from the upper piece – then attach the bottom cross piece.

measure and mark centre

measure and mark centre

attach centre

attach centre

side one complete

side one complete

Measure the centre point between the two outer long pieces on the top and bottom cross pieces. This will give you the position for your 40″ centre strip. Once marked, attach it at the top and bottom.

Great! 1 side of the frame is done! Now, the tricky part, we’ll build the second side onto the first side. My error was that I built my trellis on the lawn, which wasn’t level, and caused an ‘out of square’ end product. Be sure to work on a level surface, like the concrete patio where I did my cutting but not the building of the second half!

measure, mark and attach cross pieces

measure, mark and attach cross pieces

top and bottom cross pieces attached

top and bottom cross pieces attached

attach long piece to second frame

attach long piece to second frame

Now, take your upper cross piece for the second side, use the same measurements for placement as you used on the first frame and attach. Do the same with the bottom cross piece.

You’re ready to attach your last long piece to the upper and lower cross pieces for the second side.  Again, be sure to measure and mark the same distances so that the two sides look alike.

measure and attach centre piece to second frame

measure and attach centre piece to second frame

Brandie showing the two sides of the trellis frame

Brandie showing the two sides of the trellis frame

Measure the centre point between the two outer long pieces on the top and bottom cross pieces. This will give you the position for your 40″ centre strip on this second side. Once marked, attach it at the top and bottom. You should have something like what Brandie is showing here.

Lath pieces measured and cut

Lath pieces measured and cut

Great! The frame for your trellis is done! Now the easier part – measuring, cutting and attaching the lath. Measure the width of the frame for side one – long piece to long piece. Cut three pieces of lath at this measurement. Measure the width of the frame for side two and cut three pieces of lath at this measurement. Measure the height of the frame for side one – top cross piece to bottom cross piece. Cut two pieces of lath at this measurement. Measure the height of the frame for side two and cut two pieces of lath at this measurement.

vertical lath pieces attached

vertical lath pieces attached

both sides with vertical lath pieces attached

both sides with vertical lath pieces attached

Measure the distance from the long outer pieces of frame one to the centre piece and mark the centre between the two on both the top and bottom cross pieces. Attach your first vertical strip of lath to the top and bottom pieces at these marks. Repeat for the other half of side one and the two halves of side two. You should have something like the picture here.

And finally, mark the long outer pieces of side one at their centres, from the top cross bar to the bottom cross bar. Attach your first horizontal strip of lath to the long outer pieces at these marks. Repeat for side two. Then, mark the long outer pieces 4″ up and 4″ down from your horizontal lath. Then attach your upper and lower horizontal lath pieces at these marks. Repeat for side two.

ready to support the peas' knees!

ready to support the peas’ knees!

Now, you’re ready for the garden! Using a rubber mallet, gently pound the long pieces into the garden. Remember those angled cuts we made at the bottom of the long pieces? They make it easier to push the stakes into the dirt. Take care not to push on your cross pieces or lath slates as you put the trellis in. Although brads will stand the weather for at least one gardening season (probably more) they won’t withstand a lot of pressure from humans.

If you need any help, or if my instructions or pictures aren’t clear, just leave a comment and I’ll help you through it! knowing how to build a trellis as well as plant peas is just another reason I love being The Renovator’s wife.


Why do Renovations Look so Good on TV? July 17, 2010

Well, the simple answer is, because those people are living through them, not you!

When The Renovator and I take some time to watch the tube, we often find ourselves favouring reno shows and shows about real estate. What can I say? It’s a sickness! We simply love it from all the angles! So, for this post, I thought it might be fun to tell you what shows we like to watch and why.

1. Our all time favourite is Restaurant Makeover. A designer and a chef renovate not only the restaurant, but the menu in just 6 days.

Find it: the Food Network.

Main reason we love it: it combines our two favourite things – Food and renovating!

What to watch for: Igor. The RM contractor always gives us a laugh. Like The Renovator, he believes anything can be done – if you have time.

What irks us: There are (as in the case of most design shows) a lot of egos on this show and I’ve had to leave the room a few times when certain chefs and designers throw hissy fits. Plus, it may be budget driven more than anything, but some of the materials they use aren’t super high quality.

2. Love it or List it. A realtor and a designer compete to deliver the couple’s dream home by showing new homes they could buy while renovating their existing home to make it what they need.

Find it: W Network

Main reason we love it: This shows the issues that people face. With tight budgets, what do you do to get the space you need? It’s also great to see what design options they focus on.

What to watch for: The floundering homeowners. Highly entertaining.

What irks us: In the episodes we’ve seen, the designer stays within budget, but the realtor is constantly going over his budget. Not really a level playing field.

3. House Hunters (& House Hunters International) features buyers looking for the right home while realtors do their best to find one in their budget that hits all the right buttons.

Find it: HGTV

Main reason we love it: It is amazing to see such a wide range of design options both domestically and oversees. We love the creativity we get from it.

What to watch for: Like in real life, seldom does any one house fit all the needs. See how these people make the tough decisions.

What irks us: Often the houses shown are above the homeowner’s budget. When you’re only showing three, at least find something that fits the criteria!

4. Reality with a capital ‘R’ is in Real Renos with contractor Jim Caruk – he shows renovating from the contractor’s perspective.

Find it: HGTV

Main reason we love it: This is the truth kids. This is what really happens in a reno and these are the issues contractors deal with every day. Jim Caruk knows what he’s doing and he does it well, but even he gets caught in the time trap every renovation faces.

What to watch for: The size and scale of these renos is amazing. Beautiful work and great tradespeople (usually) make for good visuals and learning.

What irks us: We can’t really think of anything that irks us about this show – the only thing we thought of was his laugh, but it’s not that bad.

5. And one for amusement is Flipping Out.A high-strung, narcissistic, prima donna, anxiety ridden, obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist who thinks everyone owes him, buys, renos and flips houses while tormenting his staff.

Find it: Bravo TV

Main reason we love it: For both of us, it’s not just Jeff’s ‘flip outs’ that we love, it’s the fact that we BOTH have had a boss who behaved like this! These are the  people that, no matter what you do, it’s wrong, you’re never good enough and you can never make them happy. Frighteningly, we’ve both heard statements come out of Jeff’s mouth that our past bosses have used on us! Makes us happy to be self-employed.

What to watch for: See how not to treat employees and how not to approach a reno when it comes to your attitude.

What irks us: well, it is kind of disturbing that this guy is so obnoxious.

You might be wondering where Mike Holmes is. He doesn’t make our list. In fact, he does nothing but irk us. While Holmes is all about making things better for people, his solutions are over the top and beyond any building code, which is unfortunate because it gives too many inexperienced renovators the idea that all contractors are out to get them. Yes, there are some bad contractors out there – I’ve had one myself. But there are good ones too – like the one I married, and that’s why I love being The Renovators wife.


Baby, it’s Hot in Here! June 26, 2010

How to Install a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats are great. They remember to save energy (and money!) even when we don’t. For the most part, after they are installed, you program them and leave them, changing the batteries as needed. When we moved in to ‘the mother of ugly’, I was pleased that there was a programmable thermostat. I adjusted it to suit our needs and forgot about it. Then one night, when I couldn’t sleep, I noticed the heater kicking in at 3:00 am. No wonder I couldn’t sleep! I was way too hot!

After trying everything, short of smashing it with a nearby heavy object, I returned to bed and commented to The Renovator (who wasn’t having difficulties sleeping) that I’d pick up a new thermostat. Off to Rona for the almost-cheapest programmable model available – I think it was $26. Not bad considering it will save us that much and more in the long run.

I considered my approach. After staring the old thermostat down and letting it know who was boss, I ended up bashing it off the wall because I couldn’t find the clips that swung the front panel off the back panel. I found the task of removing the back panel somewhat easier – that at least used screws and I know how to deal with those.

The vision before me, was this:

after the old thermostat was removed

Next, I assembled my tools (just a multi-bit screwdriver – yes, it’s pink, it keeps The Renovator from taking it! I never needed the little one) while surveying the carnage of the old thermostat.

Then, I admired the child-proof packaging of the new thermostat. At last, with my heavy-duty kitchen shears, I had the new thermostat, included batteries and instructions before me. Of course I discarded the instructions immediately (The Renovator is so proud) and began installing.

Not wanting to destroy the ‘incoming’ thermostat as I had the ‘outgoing’, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find the tabs to swing the front of the device from the back panel. The tabs were cleverly disguised as bits of white plastic that matched the rest of the unit.

At last I find the hidden tabs, and push on them

Once the tabs are pushed in, the back panel swings easily. I took the new thermostat and positioned it on the wall to see if any of the multitude of screw holes would line up with this model – Voila!

If you lack the numerous old holes like I had, you will need to mark placement for the screw slots of the back panel onto the wall, pre-drill for wall plugs and install the wall plugs (unless you hit a stud and don’t need plugs), in order to put the screws in.

Checking to see if any holes line up – and they do!

Because I had been thrown off a bathroom cabinet by electrical current while installing a light fixture in house #1, I tend to be very respectful of electricity. That being said, the voltage going to your thermostat is minimal, not enough to cause harm, but I still don’t let the wires touch – I’m just cautious like that.

In our case, I was lucky to be dealing with a two-wire heating control. If you have more than two wires, definitely keep the instructions! Once mounted to the wall, I attached the wires to their appropriate terminals. The terminals will be marked on the thermostat. You’ll also find a diagram in your instructions of how to connect your system if you don’t have the simple 2-wire one I was dealing with. It’s always a great idea to mark the wires, as you disconnect them, with the terminal ID from the old thermostat using a bit of masking tape. It makes it much easier to figure out the terminals on the new one.

terminal markers below the terminals

attached to the wall

The heating relay wire is generally white, so this one is easy – attach it to the terminal labelled ‘W’ (for white! They’re so clever). Attach the wires, by loosening the terminal screws 1/2 way, then insert the exposed portion of wire under the screw and tighten it back up.  The black wire is then connected to ‘RH’ terminal.

attach wires to appropriate terminals

In many newer thermostats, there is a small part called a ‘jumper’. The jumper looks a bit like a tiny car fuse and is necessary to define whether you have a gas / oil or electric furnace. We have a gas furnace, so I left the jumper in the ‘HG’ position. For an electric furnace, I would have removed the small black block and pushed it into the position noted for ‘HE’.

it’s that tiny black block at the back, below the terminals

Now, simply close the cover, and open the smaller front panel to program your thermostat! If you’ve managed the installation, programming should be a breeze for you; but just in case, keep those instructions on hand!

Ready for programming!

Is that the final step? No – there is one more very important step before you go pour a glass of wine and congratulate yourself . You must test the system to make sure it is working.

I waited until the next morning (when the house was the coolest) and manually adjusted the temperature setting to higher than the current house temperature on the display.

After a few anxious moments, the furnace kicked in! Just another reason I love being The Renovator’s wife.


Demolition Love May 26, 2010

With all due respect to Jann Arden (who I think is fabulous), her song should have been named “Renovation Love” instead of “Demolition Love”, but for the Renovator and I, the two are one in the same.

In any renovation, there is a certain amount of demolition. Like all good renovators, we think that sometimes ‘destruction’ is the best part of ‘construction’. It’s quicker, easier and helps you get out whatever aggression you’ve stock-piled while trying to finance your reno.

To properly demo takes a bit of planning. It isn’t just screaming while swinging the sledgehammer and crowbar!

1. Think about what you want to do. Is it to take the wall out entirely or just widen the doorway? Are you sure double doors are right? Or is a single door more practical? It’s easier to think about it a bit longer than to have to rebuild.

2. How will you deal with the debris? It’s fun to rip and tear, but have a plan for the garbage; fully assess what will be going out. Some renos work fine with a pickup truck, but large ones will require a rental bin. Carpet doesn’t look like it takes up much room, but think of it rolled up with underlay and that’s a lot of junk! Also, keep in mind that metal, wood and drywall are disposed of differently, so don’t heap them all into one pile.

3. Have an understanding of the steps in the process. It’s hard to hold back when you’ve decided to start, but do what’s necessary to be safe and not make your spouse want to strangle you.

  • A. Remove the furniture and items off the wall. If something is too large to remove, cover it with a padded cover to protect it.
  • B.  Screen off areas not in the construction zone to keep the mess confined.
  • C. Yes, I know you want to grab the sledge-hammer and hit the wall, but remove the little things first – trim, casings and light and plug outlet covers.
  • Depending on the surfaces you’re dealing with, and what is required, start by removing ceiling tiles first, then walls and last flooring. Carpet helps to ‘absorb’ some of the dust and bits and will allow you to roll it up and get it out easily.
  • D. Know where the electrical runs and if you’re even slightly unsure, don’t saw through the wall!

4. Keep the doors on the hinges until you’re almost done. Doors are a natural way to keep the mess confined.

5. Start with the right equipment.

  • Make sure you have a pair of sturdy canvas or leather gloves – my former mother-in-law (who is a wonderful lady) bought me a pair of calf-skin leather work gloves years ago. I completely wore them out on house #2 – there were holes in three fingers on each hand!
  • Safety glasses and ear protection as required. Knee pads are helpful!
  • Sledge hammer, large and small crow bar, regular hammer, screwdriver (for removing outlet plates), putty knife (to slide in behind baseboards if you want to reuse them), reciprocating saw, tarps and plastic sheeting, shop-vac, pliers (for pulling up staples holding down the underlay) and a heavy-duty garbage can (easier to carry the smaller pieces out).

With a bit of planning at the start, you’ll have a great demolition and renovation and that’s why I love being The Renovator’s wife.


Water, Water Everywhere!

You can drink it, shower in it, wash dishes with it… ah! Bliss!

I admit it, I’ve been lazy with regards to the blog, so my hope is to get two posts up today to make up for it. First, thank God for water pressure and a smart husband. As you may recall in the last stage of our saga, The Renovator and I moved into “The Mother of Ugly” in November with no water pressure. We’ve been having baths for 6 months because the water pressure was so bad it wasn’t possible to shower. A video reminder for those who need it:

And now, for the update.

Instead of spending the $7800 it would have cost to follow our original plan of hooking up to the water in the street behind the house, The Renovator, together with his muscles and brains, did the amazing by digging a trench 250 feet long, hooking up a new water line running the entire distance, bringing it into the house in the most professional of ‘after-construction’ ways, hooking it up to a new pressure valve, attaching the whole contraption to the house’s main-incoming pipe and then connecting it to the city water line. We saved $7400. NICE!

I had anticipated our one tiny problem – the kitchen faucet ‘couldn’t take the pressure’ literally. The hose in the old faucet blew. Fortunately, I had the foresight to buy an alternate faucet, so it was a small hiccup – and one well worth the end result. Take a look at this ‘now normal’ water pressure (It’s hard to appreciate in the video, but the kitchen faucet actually jumps there’s so much pressure – wheee!):

Water may seem like a little thing, but now, more than ever, I love being The Renovator’s wife.