Wednesday, June 9, 2010


My first set of power tools, a fantastic 25th birthday gift from my parents.
It's been close to a year since I got the keys to my house and walked in as the owner for the first time. I was so thrilled! There was SO MUCH to do! After that first day of yard work - chronicled in one of my first blog posts- there have been a lot of adventures, some planned and some suprises, and many wonderful friends and family along the way.
Here's Kate and John. My first visitors! Kate's was one of my very best friends for a few years growing up, and we've kept in touch off and on over the years. Weddings, home improvement, and long trips in the car all have one thing in common: they have a way of proving who your real friends are and revealing the true character of the people around you. Kate and John came by the second day, when we were cleaning the upstairs apartment and went straight to making themselves useful. I will never forget Kate enthusiastically scrubbing my bathtub after about a year of not seeing each other. That's a friend! And John and I going across the street to borrow a wrench from the neighbors. I tried my way in crappy spanish for a minute before John broke in with perfect spanish. John, where the hell did that come from?! Apparently he speaks fluently and didn't want to be rude and interrupt my attempt at the language. It was so funny, even Juan and Lupe were a bit shocked.
One thing we've done a LOT of in the past almost a year is paint. (I'm just going to say "a year" from now on, ok? It's easier, and we all recognize its only been 11 months. whatever) We even painted the stairwell and risers of the stairs. The stairwell was grungy and creepy at first. I wanted it to feel bright, sunny, and open, so I painted the walls "banana creme" in an egshell finish and the risers a very shiny robins egg blue with a hint of aqua. Now it looks like spring. Its hard to take a photo of it though. You can see a bit of it behind me in this next photo of me spray painting the door dark blue.

After we painted all the walls, we took on the floors. They were awful! Someone had put an opaque layer of black tar looking paint stuff over all the floors. It was chipping off in some places and looked dirty even after you swept and mopped. You can see it in the background of this adorable photo of Marco and Toby napping together in the midst of pamplets about historic paint colours and front doors. Marco was laying down to rest and Toby came up to snuggle with his head. We were all working really hard, even the doggy sidekick.
I knew I couldn't afford a few thousand dollars to get the floors professionally redone but I also couldn't live with them in that nasty condition, so I bought some citrisolve and got to stripping the floor.

Here's a photo of Marco stripping the floor because all the ones of me have my butt in the air looking terrible in ancient grey yoga pants. Anyway, the stuff paints onto the floor, sits for awhile, then gets scraped off in what looks like chunks of fungus. Then you wait for the whole floor to dry, sand to get it a little more smooth, and wipe the floor with mineral spirits to get the last residue out of the wood. Then you're ready for stain. This process revealed that someone had tried to sand the floor them selves with a band sander, which is totally the wrong tool. The unintentional butchering of the wood floor left deep gouges in the wood and scrape marks against the grain. Sanding against the grain looks fine at the time...until that stupid person stains it and those areas get darker than everything else. Some ignorant person had f-ed up the floor, stained it then seen how terribly they'd ruined it while sanding, then painted it over it with black tar looking stuff to cover it up. The floor after we stripped it showed all this original damage but still looked way better than the original nasty crap.
This is the correct type of sanding machine to use. You can rent it from Lowes or Home Depot. You go over the floor a number of diff times, each time with a finer sandpaper.
Here's the upstairs bedroom after stripping and sanding. Notice the nice seafoam green we painted the walls.

by the time we finished with the staining and sealing of the floors (including waiting a week for the way too thick stain upstairs to dry and sealing over it and later finding out the thickness really would make it chip off. You really should follow the instructions and do multiple light coats.) by that time my tenant downstairs had moved out and we got to repeat it all again on another 700 square feet!
I totally looked like a beetle in my gas mask, but take it from me, you don't want the headache and loss of smell that comes from inhaling this stuff for too long!
I decided to stain it really dark to disguise the past damage and slightly red brown to compliment the blues and greens I was painting the walls.
My dad using his awesome stain skills on the downstairs living room.
The thing about staining a floor is that the chemicals are highly flammable, meaning the whole house can explode so you have to turn off the pilot lights and the electricity, which means no AC or fans in August in Dallas, which means you've got to take a paleta break on the breezy front porch every time a Paletero comes by ringing the bells of his ice cream cart. Not so bad!
And here's the final result. It's so shiny you can see Toby's reflection!
THIS was one of my favorite projects! You can see the door frame showing the perimeter of a French door that was filled in to make an opening for a normal sized door. I wanted to restore it to the original floorplan because being able to see more of the tiny room from the living room and vice versa would make both rooms feel bigger. This was my favorite project because I got to destroy a wall by hand. Have you ever taken a sledge hammer and crow bar to a wall? You should. It feels great! By the way, please do not make comments about my skanky shorts. If you were taking out a wall in August in 100 degree heat with no AC going you'd be wearing as little as possible too.
Once we got the drywall off we found dove tailed ceder ship lap (These days people use beams of 2x4 wood about 18" apart with empty space between and only dry wall on top. Ship lap is called that because the pieces of wood in the wall overlap slightly like they would if you were building the sides of a ship, making a completely wood wall.) It was tough to take out but awesome to complete.
Here's my awesome sister Amanda taking out the ship lap. Bonus points if you find Toby in this picture. (he's behind the paint can wanting to come help, but we barricaded him out of the room because he kept running off with chunks of drywall to munch on)

Here's a shot of it all done, with the french door in the background that I ended up putting in the same doorway downstairs. The apartments are exactly the same floor plan, even with the same doorway that had to be opened up. I found the antique door at an architectural salvage warehouse, DHW, and it's perfect for my house scratches and all. It's now the door to our tiny bedroom because I use the actual bedroom as my sewing studio.
My LEAST favorite project was a suprise.

There's sewage in the tub...suprise! There's sewage bubbling up in the flowerbed too...suprise!!!

There's was no budget for a plumber and even if I had one come and put it on my credit card I was not paying someone $100 per hour or whatever to dig a hole, so I started digging, eventually found the pipe, found the large collapsed holes in the old cast iron pipe, and found rubber things from Home Depot that would seal them off. With a lot of muscle, lots of questions answered by smart people like my dad, and a lot of perseverance, I ended up having fixed my own plumbing!
I look like complete crap in this photo because it's cold and raining and I've been digging in mud for a few hours. You can see one of the holes in the pipe on the left in that puddle in the hole. Never believe a home improvement DIY blog if the people's hair doesn't look like crap. If they don't look disheveled in some way then they are not actually working or they are at least not fully committing to their work.

I now know the layout of every Lowes and Home Depot in Dallas, can enumerate exactly which departmental differences make Lowes the superior home improvement store, and can have an intelligent conversation on topics such as the pitfalls of floor refinishing, the inner working of my cast iron plumbing system, and the benefits of having walls built of ship lap. A lovely couple lives in the upstairs apartment now and Marco, the three dogs, and I have moved into the downstairs apartment which has barely been fixed up at all. It starts again!

On a side note, you know those moments of realization, like the first time you were babysitting and the parents said "and they can't go swimming without an adult present" and you thought "who's the - oh. I'M the adult." Well, ya, I'M THE LANDLORD.

It seems sometimes like I've done a LOT of work and made a ton of progress. At other times it seems I have barely scraped the surface (floor refinishing pun intended). They're both true. I've done a TON of work, but the reality of how much more I want to do is enormous. So, I hope you'll join me on the rest of my adventures. New stuff gets destroyed and painted and reinvented every week. oh, and the beauty of being a landlord is that you never know when you'll be called to deal with something absurdly unexpected. Just last month a squirrel got stuck in the attic and chewed a hole through the dry wall into my tenant's bedroom, staring at them from it's perch next to the ceiling all night! And the universe chuckled at me and said "So, Tracy, go figure that out! Friends, I guarantee you, it's never boring around here, and if you hang around long enough I bet you learn a lot along the way. . . as I figure it all out myself.

Up next in the house: putting in a sink between the washer and dryer in the kitchen including doing plumbing, making cabinetry from scratch, and tile work.


  1. That really was a gross bathtub! Ajax, a scrubby, time, and elbow grease really will do anything!

    Glad you uploaded all these photos from the past 'year' :)

  2. Hi Tracy!

    I am an old friend....... Awesome to know about your life through the internet. It's great to know you have your own house & that you still with Marco. Hope you are doing fine. Greetings from Venezuela to You, Amanda, Marco & family.