Friday, May 29, 2015

Building a Shed from Scratch

In David's original plans for the front yard, he wanted to add a shed that hid the trash can and recycling bin. Our trash and recycling is collected out front and therefore we keep them in our front yard like the rest of our neighborhood, but it's a bit of eye sore. This little shed would help make the yard look a little nicer and provide a bit of storage.

Garden blueprint.

Trash and Recycling Bins.

Of course, you can always just buy a shed, but they were about $250 and not the correct size we needed, so the Handyman Hubby decided to tackle building one himself. David's philosophy is that projects are always worth a shot to try yourself. The worse case scenario is that you lose some money in materials, but you will learn something from the experience. If it doesn't work out, well, you would have had to hire someone/buy something anyway. You just need the confidence to attempt it!

This was David's first time building a structure from scratch. He used 2 x 4s to build the frame.

Frame being built.

David used fence pickets for the walls and roof because they are pretty cheap. They are not meant to touch the ground, which they do in some areas, so hopefully they will hold up okay!

Roof being put together.

Structure coming together.

To make the roof look nicer and to protect it from water, David added shingles to the roof which he got from a pile that was at his parent's house.

Adding the shingles.

The shed is designed with hinges so the roof can lift up, if you want to throw something in the trash can, but the front has two doors which open out if you want to take the bins out. Because this was built with wood, the roof is pretty heavy to lift! David is thinking of adding a stand that will support it when it is ajar.

Roof Attached.

Doors Attached.

David added a metal drip edge to make the shed look nicer. He painted the shed with the paint that we also plan to use on the window trim outside.

Painting the shed with exterior paint.

The total cost of materials was around $100, half of which was the exterior paint we bought. The shed is a little bigger than needed so we will use the extra space to store some garden tools. The nice thing about the shed is that it's about the height of the fence and so it doesn't stand out too much.

Here's the finished shed. The Amish have nothing on the Handyman Hubby!

White metal drip edge and latch added.

The custom made shed was far down on the list of projects that we need to do to our house, so this means we are making progress!

Finished shed!

Friday, May 22, 2015

From a Loose Tile to a Brand New Porch

The front porch is a very important part of the house. We like to spend cool summer nights hanging out on the porch with a beer, potentially an O's game on the iPad or occasionally chatting with neighbors #porchlife. The nice thing about our house is we have a front porch that we can go to if we want to be social or people watch and a private back deck that we can go to if we want to be loners.

David and I took a trip to Cape May a few years ago and toured some Victorian mansions. In this one particular mansion, the porch had hardwood floors that caught David’s eye.

Emlen Physick Estate. Victorian Dream Home!

David was inspired and decided he would like to have a hardwood floor porch one day because he did not like the tile that was currently on the porch.

Hardwood outside?

 A few months later a tile came loose on the porch. David needed to fix it, so he figured that was as good of a time as any to redo the whole porch. But somehow, a loose tile turned into an elaborate project of replacing joists and beams....

Old tile, also OMG look at Stevie.

The only part that I helped out with was removing the old tile. At first a few tiles came up easily, but then we got to a section where the tiles would not budge. We had to hammer and break them apart small piece by small piece with a Sawzall. 

Removing tiles was challenging!

David realized that the tiles on the edge of the porch came up easily because that section of the porch had likely been ruined by water and replaced with plywood before the tiles were installed. But the tiles were really stuck to the section where the original porch was still in tact underneath. It took a lot of work, but eventually we stripped all of the tile off. It was cool to see what the original 115+ year old porch looked like.

Replaced wood to the left, original porch on the right.

David’s brother-in-law came over one Saturday with a flooring nailer to help since David had never laid hardwood floors before. After opening the porch up and examining it, they realized a lot of the wood had rotted. In order to do this remodel right, they had to replace the beams and joists of the porch and then lay a plywood sub-floor. The reason a tile had come loose in the first place was because the beams holding the tile were falling down. This project quickly turned into a lot of work.

Replacing the porch structure.

After fixing the structure, they were able to lay the hardwood floor on top. David bought the hardwood flooring at Second Chance for about a $1 a square foot.


We weren’t sure how hardwood would fare in the harsh outdoors. Our porch is covered, but of course that doesn’t mean it is completely protected from rain or snow. David did some research and figured he could protect the wood with a varnish used for wood boats called Spar. Since it is supposed to hold up in the water, it should hopefully be able to protect our porch. He sealed the wood with two coats.

Hardwood installed.

David also never cared for the metal railing on the porch and wanted a wood railing so that it could look more historically accurate. He had looked at houses in Charles Village and Hampden that had original porches and they all had square wood railings. While David was at Second Chance, he saw some that were $15 each so he decided to install them as well.

Second Chance railings.

The railings took some maneuvering to get them to fit and look good, but they achieve the look David wanted.

Installing Railings.

Recently, David also added an outlet to the porch.  I was excited for this, as it will allow us to plug in Christmas lights (and tools and stuff, I guess).

Before: House on Settlement Day.

Every year for the past two years, David has put a new seal on the edge of the porch to help protect it, but he hopes that after this year it will be good for a while. He tries to keep moisture off of it as much as possible. The porch has held up pretty well, although it is buckling slightly in some spots.

Finished porch.

Interestingly enough, we just had two tiles come lose on the steps, so we may have to repeat this process and fix the stairs with brick or cement or possibly marble!

David also painted the door.

This project was a great example of how during the remodeling process you have to be committed to finishing. Sometimes when you do some demolition you find more important issues that need to be taken care of. A relatively simple project can turn into a big renovation that's necessary for the safety of your house. 

Grown Stevie on the Hardwood floor porch.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Rooftop Garden

Last year, I had a small herb garden in our front yard, but this year I am upgrading and elevating my garden; I am attempting to add some vegetables and moving it to our roof.

Last year's herb garden.

Our bathroom on the first floor is an addition, and so the first level juts out about 5 feet more than the second level. This area has a flat roof that is accessible from the third bedroom's windows.

The roof gets a lot of sun, making it ideal to plant vegetables!

David suggested using our recycling bin as a planter since it already has some holes in it to allow for drainage. We're also using a 5 gallon bucket that I cut a hole in, a wine crate and some small plant containers.

I do not have the best green thumb and don't know that much about gardening, so I am just winging it. We bought mostly top soil since it is pretty cheap but the guy at the hardware store was recommending against it pretty hard telling us we should use fancy organic soil (umm isn't all soil organic??). We decided to get two smaller bags of some potting soil to mix in with the top soil in hopes that it would add some nutrients to the soil. I also added a lot of plant food that I had leftover from last year.

I planted squash, rainbow swiss chard and snow peas seeds that my neighbor had given me in the recycling bin. I have not had the best luck with seeds in the past, but I figured I would give it a try. If everything takes off it may get a little overcrowded. I also planted tomato seeds in the 5 gallon bucket.

Setting up the roof-top garden.

Since I was not proactive on starting any plants inside, I also bought some seedlings from Ace Hardware to give me a head start. Last year, my herb garden was all pre-grown plants that I transplanted and they grew plentiful, so I am hopeful this year. I planted sweet peppers and rosemary that was already sprouted in the recycling bin as well.

Seeds all planted.

It took a little muscle to get all of the dirt and materials on the roof. We put the recycling bin and bucket on a pallet that David had so that they are a little higher up and I can just reach outside and water the plants. We hooked up a hose from our basement and ran it outside and will leave the nozzle on the top of the roof. Side note, always remember to turn off your house when you are not using it or else you'll get weird chlorine tasting water, like we had a few weeks ago!
Cilantro and Basil in the wine crate. Swiss chard in the small container.

David also obtained a wine crate that we are using as planter on our back deck. I planted some basil and cilantro seedlings in it since I use those herbs the most and will have the easiest access to it.

When I was weeding our front garden I found a lot of spring onions that were growing. I decided to try to dig a couple out with the roots and replant them in a small container. This did not seem to work as nothing is growing. RIP.

I am using this rooftop garden as a learning experience and will see what works and modify for next year. I hope to at least get a few good herbs and veggies out of it!

Plants are growing.

David and I left for vacation for a week not long after I planted the seeds and I was scared that my plants wouldn't grow, but when I came back I had some leaves growing. At  first I thought snow peas were growing, but then some of the leaves changed their shape and I realized there were two different plants sprouting. After doing some Google investigating, I am pretty sure I have squash growing in the middle and snow peas on the left. Can anyone confirm or deny this?? I also have tomato plants that have just started sprouting in the bucket. I'll update on the progress!

Getting taller!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Front Yard

Having a yard is a lot of work. That's why I am glad our front yard is only 140 square feet. It definitely requires some sweat to keep it from looking like a jungle, but it is very manageable.

Our front yard has gone through a couple of transformations. When David moved in, the yard was mulched with a few plants. Our neighbor mentioned that yard was really overgrown while the house was vacant and so a couple of people in the community got together to pull all of the weeds. David found out that we live on a high water table, meaning the water sits in the clay and doesn't drain quickly, therefore plants, mostly weeds, thrive and grow even faster.

Garden when David moved in.

David left the yard alone when he first moved in as there were a lot of more pressing projects inside the house. The thing is, when you leave a yard alone, it quickly becomes overgrown. Weeds grew through the mulch and covered the yard.

Garden in Spring 2013.

The next Spring, David ripped out all of the weeds. It took him a lot of back-breaking work to get rid of all of the plants. He used a pick and axe to get down to just dirt and then he added several bags of new soil.

It takes a lot of work to get the yard bare.

David had plans to make a garden with three beds and gravel in between to prevent any weeds from growing.

David's blueprint.

David outlined two boxes that were 3 feet by 2.5 feet and a larger box that is about 4.5 feet by 10 feet with some plywood.

Outlining the beds.

I came in to help with the less physically demanding tasks. We filled the entire yard with weed barrier and doubled up on the barrier in the boxes. We poured sand in the sections outside of the boxes and filled any gaps with sand to prevent weeds from having any space to grow.

We topped the area outside the boxes with stone and gravel and planted dwarf boxwood plants in one of the small boxes and the larger box. In order to get the bushes in the soil, we had to cut small holes in the weed barrier to plant the boxwoods. David's plan was to create a french type of garden with the bushes that are symmetrical and touching.

We filled the area between the two small boxes with a garden bench that my mom was getting rid of. 

In the other small box, I made a small herb garden and planted some cilantro, basil, oregano and parsley.

My herb garden from last year.

Our garden looked nice last summer (unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the bigger bed), but we learned that our dwarf boxwoods would only grow about an inch a year so it would be decades before the bushes would grow to be touching with the way we had them spaced out. We wanted to add a plant in the middle of the bushes, but never got around to doing it last year.

Trying to recreate the Gardens of Versailles, unsuccessfully.

After the rough winter, a couple of the boxwoods died and resilient weeds were growing right through the weed barrier all over the yard.

Garden coming out of Winter 2015.

This Spring, we weeded the garden. Turns out we have a lot of spring onions growing randomly. We decided to put lavender in the middle of the boxwoods to add some color. I've read that lavender also helps repel mosquito, but we will see. We bought pre-grown lavender and transplanted it into the garden. At the moment it is just green, but I am hoping the flowers will bloom eventually. We still need to replace some of the boxwoods that did not make it through the winter. 

Garden with Lavender planted.

Small lavender plants and dwarf boxwoods.

We had plans for an herb/vegetable garden elsewhere, and so David wanted to keep the front yard to strictly plants. One thing on our list is to plant bigger boxwoods in the small beds. David also plans to build a little shed to hide the trash and recycling bins that we keep in the front yard.

Weeds are already growing back, and so this garden will be a never ending project, as garden tend to be, but it's exciting to watch the progress. I'm happy that on our small city plot we can have a little bit of vegetation.