Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hit The Deck

Now that Irene has passed us we can finally get on with our lives after the 2 "disasters" on the East Coast. HB is guest posting for us about the deck we added to the back of our home - he is a pretty good writer, and yes our deck survived both the earthquake and 60 mph gusts of wind... so thankful for that.

One of the first things I remember about our home when we first moved in was our backyard. It wasn’t much, maybe 350 sq feet and surrounded by a nice high white vinyl fence. The day we moved in, it was clear that this was not normal grass. High grass and weeds infested the backyard. Since it was a small area behind our townhouse, I didn’t see the value of purchasing a full scale lawn mower so I purchased a weed wacker and used that to cut the grass every two weeks in about two weeks. Once I tired of that, I decided to kill the grass to avoid mowing “the jungle” as wifey liked to call it.

It was always our plan to add a deck to the back of our property to take the place of our backyard. There are two windows in our kitchen that we realized immediately would be perfect candidates for a door to have a 10-foot or so deck out from it.

I soon found out that the community that we bought into was never zoned to have decks. So time passed, and the wife and I began to think that our dream of having an extra living extension out from our kitchen was unlikely. Instead of waiting for one of our neighbors to take the initiative to move forward on working with the city to get decks zoned for our property, after about a year living in the property, I decided to handle the task myself. Always check to make sure you have the proper zoning and paperwork before building anything.

I had a few meetings with the very patient and helpful staff in the zoning commission of the City of Alexandria. I quickly learned that it was going to be a time consuming and frequently confusing process to get our properties zoned to have decks and thus increase our living – and property values in the process.

I was told that the City requires a set amount of open space on each property and that getting decks on our property would require an exception from the City. As I explained to the City, we both wanted the same thing. If I was able to add a deck to my property, I would be able to increase the value of our small home, while the City would be able to charge more in property taxes each year as the value of our home increased.

After receiving the exemption, it was time to begin working with the site plans – something I had no experience in whatsoever. Hell, I work in PR for a living. It took a few times, but I marked the plans of all seven homes in our townhouse community to be zoned for decks. As I mentioned earlier, all of our properties have the same white vinyl fence, and city code limits the distance the end of the deck can be from the property line by no less than five feet. Fortunately, each property extended more than five feet from the end of where our vinyl fences sat, thus making it possible for our deck to be about the size of our existing fenced area or in our properties case about 27 feet x 9 feet. Adding about 300 sq feet was going to be great.

A few do-overs and learning what size and type of paper the city required revised plans to be drawn (24”x 36”), I had finally received approval to construct a deck on our property – nearly 18 months after we first moved in. Next came the fun part – getting quotes.

I decided that I would get quotes from a variety of companies – both large and small. Since we knew that it was cheaper to build in the winter, I thought that we could get a good deal. The larger companies were very knowledgeable but it was clear that their prices were going to be steep. Instead of going with one of the big boys, we used the advice given by the larger companies to go get what we wanted at the right price, from a smaller company.

It was cheaper to select an all wood option, but we knew that in the long run, it made sense to go with a composite decking.

The larger builder suggested that we not use Trex and instead go with a composite called Fiberon. He claimed that Trex tends to get spots after a few years. The smaller deck company was able to get Fiberon and we selected a color that closely matched the siding of our home. Next, we decided to use a vinyl railing instead of regular wood for maintenance and look reasons. Our rational was we had spent this much already on the deck, that we might as well go “all-in”.

Once we selected the company, and the builder pulled the permits, it took six days for construction to wrap up. The City inspected in three phases, from the support holes, to the structure to the final inspection. All three times, our construction passed.

Before we had the door installed we climbed out the window on the night it finished - as you can see someone was quite excited.

My father and I decided to save $1,500 that the builder offered to charge to remove the window and install a door and do it ourselves. It took about six hours, but we saved a good chunk of change and we got the door on sale for just $99 from Home Depot. At the beginning of the door installation, we were concerned that electrical wires would be running below the window and create a headache when trying to install the door. Luckily, that was not the case. Removing the window, cutting the new hole and installing the new door took the bulk of the time and we finished up just in time for our annual Super Bowl Party!

The deck is truly an extension of our home and we know while the investment was high, it will pay us back in the long run and provide us a great area to hangout. There isn’t much better than sitting on the deck, enjoying a beer after a long day. I am even thinking of throwing a flatscreen outside during football season in the fall to watch Redskins and college football games!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

I have always really liked sunburst mirrors but have never really liked their price tags and/or was too scared to buy one in case my house couldn’t pull it off – kind of like how I don’t think I could pull off a look like harem pants. I recently was turned on to Pinterest which is a plethora of ideas and things seen on the internet and you can keep track of all the things you like by creating a “virtual pin board.” I saw that someone had made a sunburst mirror – and I really liked the look of it and upon further review I saw that it was made from shims. If you would have asked me what shims were a year ago I probably would have corrected you and asked if you meant shins - the body part. However, since we have been giving our home the makeover of its life I have come across shims a couple times – they are thin pieces of wood that are used to stabilize door frames or dishwashers (which is what we used them for). I decided to tackle the project since I knew that shims were not expensive and that way if I hated the mirror or my house couldn’t pull it off then I wouldn't feel guilty for not hanging it up.
· Wreath forms made from MDF – you can get these at a craft store like Michaels and I got the 3 sizes they had in stock 6”, 12” and 18”
· Shims – buy these at a Hardware store, they are kept in the lumber area
· Round mirror – I used a 10 inch mirror but kind of wish I had a bigger one (this one was left over from when I was playing around with wedding centerpieces)
· Very strong glue – I used Gorilla Wood Glue since it was what we had on hand and was a really good choice. I am not sure if hot glue would have held up as well.

I was inspired by the mirror that I found at the blog 26 to Life

I actually ended up using the 2 smaller rings because with the largest ring it would have been a monstrosity. I began attaching the shims in a "clock pattern" so they would be even and filling in the gaps like this:

While I waited for it to dry I wanted to make sure that the mirror part was attaching to the shims so I searched the house for the heaviest book I could find and the winner was my tax textbook from graduate school. I remembered it being a lot heavier though when I was in school so I put a weight on it just in case.

Now I have an awesome mirror for our guest room that I really love and looks so much more expensive than it was. Even HB loves it – says it looks awesome and that it reminds him of a sunflower which I love since they remind me of Kansas.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Today is a milestone - we have been in our home for 2 whole years. Happy Birthday House, you look younger than the day we met you and much more modern after all those makeovers we have given you over the last 24 months. I will say that the first year we were scared to death to try anything ourselves but as time has progressed we have become more "handy" and are able to look at things more creatively.

In an effort to hold ourselves accountable I thought we should put our to-do list out there. Hopefully this way you can see our progress and we can get some more things completed.

  1. Hang new mirror in basement bathroom

  2. New light fixtures in bathroom and house

  3. build a deck

  4. install door for access to #4

  5. paint the trim (whole house)

  6. install crown moulding

  7. flip the basement configuration

  8. removal of cabinets in basement

  9. install new doors in basement closets

  10. paint the cabinets in kitchen

  11. install new hardware on kitchen cabinets

  12. make a storage area in basement bathroom

  13. figure out solution for banister

  14. overhaul of master bathroom (the whole deal, tiling, vanity, shower, everything must go)

  15. install over-the-range microwave in kitchen

  16. fix wood rot on front porch

  17. gravel the backyard

  18. replace wood on front porch