The waterfront home my husband and I are living in and renovating began its life as a cabin somewhere in the mid 1910s and was added onto at least twice by 1996, which can account for some of the poor layout, like placing the kitchen in a dark corner instead of looking out to the view.
But some design choices are just plain wrong, like the main floor bathroom that had a greenhouse window next to the toilet that looked straight onto the deck.
Who wants to make sure they're hidden behind potted plants, pinecones and seashells when they have to pee during a party?
Structurally, our home was in such bad shape, it would've been less work to tear it down and build anew, but it was time to sell our previous renovated home and move into this one. So we did. And the great thing about living in a house that's torn down to the studs with temporary rooms in place, is the relationship that develops between house and humans as we speak to one another about our needs!
Our house needed support. Literally. The foundation sill plate was completely rotted from water intrusion along an entire wall, other beams were compromised, and many of the joists had been cut for the installation of water lines for radiator heating. The floors sagged and the walls bowed out several inches. It's amazing the house was still standing! Kevin had to figure out temporary measures that could lead to permanent fixes as we jacked up each floor, adding new beams, permanent posts, and joists while always having a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom available.
It's taken several years, but today our house finally has the safe and solid support it needs.
During that time, we've redesigned the layout of the basement and main floors. Now the kitchen opens onto the deck and looks into the living space and waterfront, and the bathroom has been moved to the street side of the house. No loo in view and all the fixtures are new, too!
Here are some bathroom before and after photos.
How to Keep the Rain at Bay
The winter rains have begun here in the Pacific Northwest, and that means water—and water can wreak havoc on your house. Just ask Kevin, our founder and Licensed General Contractor, who has become an expert in repairing residential water damage.
If you’re like me, your natural inclination when it rains is to huddle inside with a cup of tea, a cat, and a competition show. (My current favorites are The Great British Baking Show and The Great Interior Design Challenge—both British and on Netflix). But Kevin says that the best way to protect your home from water damage is to inspect your property in the rain, or right afterward when the water is still flowing.
“Water follows the path of least resistance, so you want to make sure nothing interrupts its flow away from the house,” says Kevin, whose rainy day inspection list includes these questions:
•Where are your downspouts located and is water flowing freely from them?
Leaves and evergreen needles are frequent water damage culprits. They can plug gutters or gutter guards, bypassing downspouts and forcing water onto the roof or trim where water can enter the house.
Downspouts should move water away from the foundation. At a minimum, plastic splashguards are required at the end of downspouts. Ideally, drainage pipes should carry water ten feet from the structure.
•Is the roof free of debris?
Leaves and needles can pile against skylights, vent pipes and chimneys creating dams that force water under shingles and into the home.
•Are the weep holes in vinyl windows clogged?
The small vents just below the tracks on vinyl windows can get clogged with dirt and wick water inside near a windowsill. They can be easily unclogged with a small screwdriver or nail file.
•Are siding, foundation vents, exterior stairs, and decks free from dirt and leaves?
Dirt and leaves in contact with exterior surfaces for long periods of time can trap moisture and cause rot.
Even after deciduous leaves have fallen, evergreens drop needles and branches with each storm, which means that clearing gutters and cleaning off roofs, stairs, and decks of homes, garages, outbuildings, and sheds, is an ongoing winter activity. Make sure to perform these tasks only when surfaces are free from ice and conditions are safe.
•Where does your runoff go?
Runoff should lead away from your home and other buildings, including neighboring homes, on the way to the road or culverts. If runoff appears to be veering off course, check for obstructions: mud, rocks, leaves, and clear the problem with a shovel or rake.
If runoff leads toward your home or outbuildings instead of away, try to divert its course and check with a professional about proper grading and drainage options.
•Are there signs of water intrusion inside?
Mold in the attic, stains on the ceiling, or mushy wallboard all indicate the presence of water.
Warner says most water damage is caused by the common problems mentioned above, as well as improperly installed flashing, though it can take some detective work to pinpoint the source.
“The bad news is that water can enter the house a long way from where it shows up, and small leaks into areas with insulation, like attics, can go on for years before they’re discovered,” says Kevin. “But the good news is that once we know the problem, we can repair it and prevent it from happening again.”
Kevin uses moisture meters and infrared cameras to pinpoint the cause of leaks, something that sets Yellow Ribbon Homes apart from other companies, and allows us to diagnose troublesome cases that save homeowners time and money by making sure the right repairs are made.
Next time it rains, head outside for a little weatherproofing before you settle in with a cat and a blanket. And if you’re local, please contact us if you need help locating the source of a leak or repairing water damage.
A Slow Kitchen Reno
It's been almost 2 years since Kevin and I bought our waterfront fixer upper. Since that time we've hooked up a well, installed a new septic system, shored up the garage and house foundations, and gutted the interior walls down to the studs.
Opening up the house led us not only to repair shoddy construction and water damage, but to reimagine the layout. The original kitchen was located in the street-side corner of the house looking into the dining room, which looked onto water, with a wall separating both rooms from the living room.
I'm a person who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time at the kitchen sink, and the view from there, for me, is paramount. The view from the original sink was quite nice, it looked into the yard between home and house and took in part of our water view.
But once the walls were gone, we decided to move the kitchen to the waterfront side of the house at the opposite end of its original location. This way while cooking and washing dishes, we'd look out into the dining and living areas and onto our entire view.
In preparation for our move in at the end of February, where Kevin and our two-man crew constructed a temporary kitchen using new GE appliances we ordered, a reconfiguration of the existing kitchen cabinets, reuse of the original laminate countertops from both the kitchen and apartment at our last live-in project house in Gig Harbor, and reuse of a white porcelain sink removed from a client's kitchen remodel. A raised wall behind the sink is topped with the sandstone mantel from the unsafe fireplace we tore out of the living room, and serves as a visual barrier to kitchen clutter as well as a snack bar.
Kevin covered the walls in Tyvek wrap to give the kitchen a bright look in those dark winter days and printed out a photo to serve as a faux window above the stove until we frame the wall for a real window. He put Tyvek wrap on the ceiling as well and installed shop lights for overhead lighting. Unfortunately, our cats walked across the Tyvek ceiling and fell through—twice!—so I took it down.
Shortly after we moved in, we used leftover laminate floor planks from the downstairs apartment in Gig Harbor to cover the plywood we installed in our new kitchen. The green vinyl floor (photo above this one) is in the old family room footprint..
Everything was functional through the long winter; though having brown cabinets, dark brass hardware, gray appliances, and black (with white flecks) countertops was a lot of dark neutral for me.
Though this is a temporary kitchen, we will be using these cabinets in the final configuration—possibly painted by our crew as they did in our Gig Harbor house—since they're solid wood and in good shape. Given that, I decided to update the cabinet and drawer handles and hinges to polished nickel (which I can reuse in the final kitchen reno), which not only modernized the look, but solved the problem of my robe pockets getting caught on the ends of the drawer handles (a frequent occurrence in the colder months as I wore my robe over my clothes in our unheated home).
I even tried a wipe on stain in espresso to see if I could darken my cabinets without stripping them to coordinate better with the appliances and counters. I tested the back of one cabinet door and the results were so slight I decided it wasn't worth the effort.
I love the layout of the kitchen and the new appliances are wonderful, so I was hoping I could live with the all-dark look for another year or so...but as the days grew long and the skies and sea bluer, the desire for color and light in the kitchen kept whispering to me every time I was in the kitchen.
Last week I had some full days on my hands, Kevin was working on a project for friends who live over 50 miles away and stayed overnight at their house, so my kitchen needs were minimal.. On a whim, I decided to paint the countertops. They're already pieced in several places and not a perfect fit, so I know they'll be replaced eventually, which gave me the confidence to try the project solo and not worry if my efforts were imperfect.
First I ran painters tape along the top of all the cabinets and edges of the slide-in stovetop to prevent paint drips. Then I applied a single coat of exterior primer made for glossy surfaces, which only required a quick and slight hand sanding of the countertops.
After the primer dried I used a Sherwin Williams Color To Go sample labeled "Rain" (which may or may not be the correct name) that I picked up for free in the paint shed at our local household hazardous waste collection site.
I LOVE the color, but I didn't read the instructions until after I rolled on the first coat.
DIYers Beware: Color To Go is not paint!—it lacks the hardeners/adhesives of paint and is designed as an inexpensive way to see how a paint color will look on a relatively large surface (like a bedroom wall). It is meant to be painted over, or even removed with water.
It's an hour to the nearest Sherwin Williams store and I was deep in DIY mode. So, I conferred with Kevin—an expert on all aspects of remodeling—and we decided that since I'd planned to seal the countertops with polyurethane afterward for water protection, that would most likely mitigate the problem of paint adherence.
Over the course of one long 90 degree day I applied 3 coats of Color To Go—and there were a few places it didn't stick to my roller and the primer shows through; but they're temporary counters, so I can live with the imperfections!
I allowed the paint to dry overnight, and over the course of another long 90 degree day I applied 3 coats of polyurethane designed for floors. Despite my best efforts small fibers got on my roller and onto the counters, I immediately wiped what I could see while applying, but some fibers (probably cat hair) are trapped under the finish in a few spots...it's something I'd feel terrible about if this was work done for a client, or for something I intended to be "permanent," but since I know it' going to be replaced in a year or two, I've allowed the results to be good enough, and decided not to fret over imperfections no one sees but me.
The instructions say the polyurethane is ready for light foot traffic in 24 hours, but I waited 3 days before setting anything on the counter, and am waiting the full 7 days for the polyurethane to cure before setting the microwave and knife block back in their places.
One thing I've noticed about polyurethane coating is that it turns white when wet and also when exposed to heat—from a plate warmed in the microwave, for example—and it takes quite awhile, from hours to overnight for the white spots to disappear, only to have more form with the next splash...but it's only temporary (see how handy this mantra is?).
I was so happy with the progress that I grabbed more blue paint from my stash and painted the bedroom doors while my polyurethane was drying.
The kitchen feels lighter, brighter, and more unified in color. Even our small crew, who've done lots of painting and cabinet refinishing complimented me on how great the countertops look.
I'm thrilled with the results. Now, instead of inner-cringing, I feel like smiling whenever I set foot in the kitchen. With that mission accomplished it's time for a cup of tea. Join me.
Get a Handle on Your Next Faucet
Most of us use faucets dozens of times a day without thinking much about them—until they leak, or break, or our cats take up residence in the sink!
Most often the fix isn't as simple as snapping a pic of photogenic felines. Fixing a leak or broken faucet means repairing or replacing it; something Kevin (my husband and our Yellow Ribbon Homes General Contractor) and I have had to do twice in the last month. Both times it turned out to be quite the learning experience.
Seven years ago Kevin built a studio apartment for his mother in an unfinished basement and installed a walk-in tub for her. He's a big researcher, and found one that got great reviews for access, usability, and comfort.
The retractable hose of the 4 piece Roman faucet system developed a leak in the past year which turned out to be impossible to repair. There was no manufacturing stamp on the faucet, and no information on the company website to order replacement parts. Kevin bought a few different sized washers and hoses to attempt repair, but nothing fit.
It turns out the faucet system was made in China using a non-standard size, and the only solution was to replace at all; something that cost several hundred dollars and hours of time online and in stores, not to mention having to rip out the bathroom closet wall to access the plumbing.
We remodeled our kitchen last spring and bought a low profile faucet since our sink is right under a window. I got a great deal at Costco on a Water Ridge faucet with a built-in sprayer that got stuck in the spray position the first time I used it. At first, we could finesse it back to regular mode, but soon, if you accidentally pressed the spray button, you'd be spraying for weeks, until the mechanism decided to release. It could've been a fluke, but it wasn't repairable, since we couldn't really tell it was broken. Thankfully, Costco has a great return policy, so return we did.
It turns out the old adage, "you get what you pay for," is true, a bargain ins't necessarily going to be one in the long run, and brand names are household names for a reason. But, I also don't want to spend more than I have to on a quality product—which is why I was so happy to come across Reviews.com guide to The Best Kitchen Faucets.
Their guide is really thorough and free--no need to subscribe to a magazine or website to access all of it. Their methodology is explained, and they include a huge price range and variety of styles in their guide, to satisfy bargain hunters like me, as well as people who want to make a statement with their kitchen faucets.
You can read their quick 30 second review, details about each featured brand, a section on how to choose a faucet, and even one on faucet care. As a remodeler, I can't wait to use Reviews.com guide to The Best Kitchen Faucets to guide me in choosing my next kitchen faucet. Check it out yourself. (Cats not included.)
Writer, Renovator, Realtor