Practicing Patchwork

June 26, 2012   //  Posted in: DIY, Stairwell   //  By: Emily   //  3 responses

As something that’s been in development since I introduced the topic two weeks ago, I’m happy to finally have checked repairing the attic stairwell off my list.

The situation happening up there wasn’t dire. Crumbling plaster and unattended holes are no one’s idea of a well-maintained home, but the holes were out of sight behind the closed attic door, and therefore, mostly out of mind.

Uh, yeah. The attic stairwell looks like it took a beating at one point.

After I upgraded the stairs from glossy brown to a non-slip sand-infused gray, the walls needed my full attention. The damage wasn’t from me (or either of us, just to be clear), but it definitely did provide a nice opportunity for me to practice my plaster patchworking skills in a place that was in need, but also still out of sight for the most part in case I screwed it up worse. Because sometimes that happens.

There was plenty to consider before I got started:

The house was built in the early 40’s, so there could have been asbestos in the plaster. Lead paint could have been a factor too, as it was apparent that the walls had been painted and repainted several times. Deciding to keep things chill and create as little dust as possible, I opted to patch the open wounds and seal in the offending issues, and then then clean up the overall appearance of the stairwell with some fresh paint.

I started by patching the major holes of the wall using basic all purpose joint compound; after researching my options, I found that most sources suggested using this for patching plaster, even though its traditionally applied to drywall, and that it was especially good to use if it was watered down just a little bit (thinner than you’d need it if you were taping drywall joints, but thick enough to still hold stiff on the hawk and trowel. Pete had about 1/5 of a 5-gallon bucket of joint compound left over from previous projects, so I seized that f-r-e-e opportunity (the stuff doesn’t spoil easily if you store it correctly).

Prepping to begin filling holes in plaster with all purpose joint compound.

I used the smooth edge of a notched trowel to really glob on in a targeted way, sealing in the holes that were especially large (the size of my palm).

Patchwork begins.

The big holes may have been big, but they were still over lath, meaning that I really didn’t need to get into buying a drywall patching kit to correct the situation since the lath would act as a similar backing for the compound to hold on to. Over the course of 3-4 days, I applied 3-4 layers of compound, not obsessively worrying about how smooth the surface was but more so focusing on making sure that the compound, which oozed downwards with gravity and also sunk concave into the wall as it dried, began to cover the hole and become convex. Compound itself is easy enough to sand down, so if it dries proud to the surface that you’re patching, you can sand a little bit and take it back down to being level with the rest of the wall.

I also made use of having the trowel and joint compound out and did a thin skim coat over most of the wall, which had its own ripples and cracks and smaller divots from 70 years of settling and being generally banged up from carrying belongings up and down the attic stairwell.

Once the big patches were corrected, I skim coated over other problem areas.

It wasn’t perfect by any new construction means, but it is a hidden stairwell, and it is old plaster with its share of irregularities itself. To create a perfect stairwell wall, I probably would have taken down the plaster all together and hung drywall in its place. Never mind that, this route was f-r-e-e.

The dirty part involved sanding the wall smooth, and this all happened after the last coat of skim coating had dried for about 2 days. I didn’t want to create excessive dust (knowing it could be lead paint and asbestos infested) so I kept it simple and hand-sanded the areas coated in compound only to smooth it out. The places that were skim coated had very little excess compound, so it was more a matter of making sure the edges where it was applied flowed smoothly against the wall. No photos of the actual process; it was messy in there and I was fully covered with a face mask, gloves, and goggles to lessen the chances of me inhaling a lot of the compound dust and whatever else I was loosening inadvertently.

After an hour spent hand sanding using both a rough and smooth sandpaper, it looked like this. Note the dust drifts on the freshly painted stairs; I’d have been smarter to leave painting the stairs until after I patched the walls.

Sanded patches, and no more holes in the attic stairwell.

Letting all of the dust settle for another day, I followed back through with a damp rag to clean the walls (and what I could from the stairs) before beginning to prime and paint the patched surface.

The surface still wasn’t perfect; as I mentioned earlier, there was a bit of damage in the plaster itself that couldn’t easily be disguised completely. Irregularities like cracks (from the house sinking?) and waves in the wall (uneven joists? uneven plaster application?) and even a 2’x4′ piece of thin plywood over what I found to be a hole in the plaster that’s the size of my torso. Can’t imagine how that one happened; originally I thought it might have been access to the shower plumbing which happens to be right on the other side of the stairwell, but we didn’t remember seeing that access point when we gutted the bathroom shower last winter. Fixing an me-sized hole wasn’t really in the scope of what I set out to do, so I re-screwed the plywood back in place and continued on my priming way. Shush.

Post wall-priming. It's a flat/matte based substance, so many of the patching irregularities were disguised a bit. (As in, I'm not as good as it looks.)The matte finish of primer really does a lot to hide irregularities in the waviness of the walls, although it only covers the smooth compound patches about as well as a tinted moisturizer. While I considered dropping $5 on an OOPS bin gallon of flat paint (there’s always a lot of flat paint in our Home Depot discount paint stash, why, I’m not sure) but I saved my money and kept the project totally free by using what we had on hand, some leftover semi-gloss Behr Irish Mist paint that I used on the bathroom walls. It shows flaws a little bit more (as glossier paints do), but I think some of these scars would show through regardless of paint finish.

A glossy new attic stairwell.

The finished comparison is pretty remarkable. So much brighter.

Attic stairwell: Before and After

Any simple repairs in your recent past? Anyone else spend their Sunday cleaning joint compound dust?


Bringing Home The Bacon

June 25, 2012   //  Posted in: Being Thrifty, Organized   //  By: Emily   //  8 responses

What started innocently enough as an afternoon spent trying to organize the catch-all closet in the office exploded into 4 days of spring cleaning, and an entire two days spent garage-sale-hosting. I don’t have any ‘before’ photos of the messy office or its closet space, and it’s still not cleaned and organized as well as we’d like it to be, but we did embrace the ‘If we lived without it all year, can we just get rid of it?’ mentality andĀ hauled three 90-gallon garbage bags of assorted clothing to Salvation Army just like we did last year (that’s 270-gallons, dudes, and an easy write-off for our 2012 taxes). We also promptly spent $60 in new plasticĀ storage at Target to help organize seasonal jackets and sweaters, helping to get Pete closer to his dream of having all of his worldly belongings stored neatly in clear plastic containers. Right? Right.

With the stuff we wanted put to the side for safe keeping, as they say, the monsters were unleashed and we decided we’d better just put the stuff we didn’t want to the curb, garage sale 2012 style. You know, before we decided that maybe we did want to hold onto it for another year.

Serious yard sale time.

We had a yard sale one weekend last summer, and I’m thrifty, so we even still had the same handmade pink signage in the garage, and that made it easier to pull this one off really quickly. The weather forecast for Friday and Saturday was charming, a bit cooler than last summer when we were dealing with humid 90-degree temps, so we spent the the later part of last week mapping out everything that we wanted to try and sell, and retrieving it from the attic. There was a little bit of stuff from last year, but mostly entirely fresh boxes of used home accessories, furniture, and kids toys that we’ve outgrown, not used, and retired.

We kept our strategy easier this year than last year; not every item was marked, which saved a lot of time and effort and tape; instead we divided our items three areas of the front yard: 25-cent items, $1-items, and priced-as-marked more than $1 items. Bucketing into those three categories helped keep us from getting into the nitty gritty discussions about “should this be 50-cents or 75-cents?”… no over-thinking necessary this year.

Get it cheap, and come back often people.

It kept things really easy from a transaction standpoint, helped us focus on keeping the bulk of our sale as priced-to-move, and made our pricing simple for the customers too.

Get it cheap, and come back often people.

We kept furniture separate from the rest of the home decor, even setting it up on the lawn like it was a complete living room display. Everything sold, with the exception of the old 13″ inch TV which I’m embarrassed to say was how I watched TV from 2002-2009. No wonder I’m nearsighted.

What? Is that not enough like the IKEA showroom to sell you on old furniture?

Pete (in the background of the above picture) spent the better part of our first morning filling water balloons with the garden hose, fulfilling our customer’s entertainment quota as a life-sized Manneken Pis. Well, I thought it was funny.

Pete, not intentionally trying to look like a peeing boy fountain.

It was the first year that I bothered to sort through and try to eliminate of old pairs of shoes, and they ended up selling quite well for $2-$8 per pair. I know some ladies got lucky finding some great 5″ heel boots for $5, but I haven’t worn them in 5 years and I could never really walk in them so why would I keep holding on? Time to let go. Even Pete’s 8-year old Vans found a new home.

Dudes, the shoes were a hit at the garage sale. Go figure.

The best outcome of the yard sale happened to be a surprise: The sister of a previous homeowner stopped by, and after telling us all kinds of details about the property (stuff that I wouldn’t have published here, like details about children’s handprints in cement in the backyard, among other fun home tidbits), was able to describe what jewelry her sister had lost in our home years ago: the engagement ring that we happened to find beneath the kitchen floor in February. How it was lost, we still have no idea, but we handed it off to her and are still feelin’ good karma for helping to get the ring back to its owner.

Our haul this year was a lot better than last year. I credit low pricing and favorable weather, but there were also a handful of other garage sales around town that we think helped to push traffic to ours. This year’s little sale added $270 to our pockets (that’s twice what we made last year), but we’re still figuring out what we should treat ourselves to as a reward. We were lucky to sell a lot of stuff, especially the items that were bigger in size and price, so our once jam-packed attic is back to having a lot of breathing room once again (and we thankfully didn’t have to lug any heavy chairs up three flights of stairs after two long days of being charming yard sale hosts).

Discover any great yard sale finds this weekend, or did you host your own? How’d it go?

Tiling The Town

June 22, 2012   //  Posted in: Being Thrifty   //  By: Emily   //  3 responses

Once upon a time (last Friday) I saw on facebook that one of my favorite local restoration shops (ReHouse) was having a “take-all-of-our-tile” sale in preparation for its big move uptown (fill a box for $5!). I’ve often scoured the assortment of used/salvaged and unused/leftover tiles that the store has managed to acquire, even scoring one here and there for myself for 10- to 50-cents a piece, but not really having good reason to invest in a mass quantity at any point in time.

This particular $5 deal, complimented by the store’s 25% off everything and 30% off lighting and plumbing sale that’s on through the end of June, was something I couldn’t pass up regardless of what tiles I was actually going to come across. Sometimes it seems like a gold mine, other times, a trash pile, but with a creative mind there’s always a way to make use of the salvaged products.

Whole wall of tile-filled boxes to rummage through? Yes, please.

Limited only by weight, I successfully brought home a cardboard box filled with 72-pounds of tile.

Yeah, I put it on our bathroom scale when I got home, and yeah, I was surprised that I could carry 72 pounds all by myself too.

Overall, it was quite an assortment. I lucked into a bunch of unused tiles which are harder to find at shops like this, but also took a bunch of pre-mortared tiles as well. Even though they won’t be ideal for use in a hard core construction scenario (the dried mortar won’t stick properly or lay as nicely against fresh mortar the same way a clean tile would), I think they’ll be plenty nice for a plethora of decor projects.

Hitting the big time in salvaged tile!

Among my favorites is this large 12×24″ tile (originally salvage-priced at $3). It might make for an oversized hot plate on the dining room table, or a piece of wall art. I also really liked the assortment of hexagonal tiles in both marble and ceramic. Not shown in this below photo, there were also dozens of 4″ square terra cotta tiles, 3 sizable pieces of rough slate, and a rainbow of vintage ceramic tiles, even though I focused on saving the blues, greens, and teal shades.

I have a thing for hexagons.

The possibilities are endless, but I’m already in the midst of working on a new project. It’ll be nice to see it come together over the weekend.

Working on a little tiled project ;)

More to come on that project next week! Hopefully it turns out as well as I’m planning.

Big salvaging plans this weekend? Remember, if you’re local, head down to ReHouse for some great moving sale deals!