12/30/11

Happy New Year!

What a great way to welcome the new year. The fence on the street side of the house is finally completed. I should clarify that we did not replace the whole fence like we had originally planned, due to, uh, unforeseen problems with the old fence.

We got a lot done on the second day and actually finished early on the third day. On our last day though, we encountered the toughest fence post replacement yet and took a lot more work than the previous days. This post holds up one side of the gate. It was rotting from ground level so it broke off with not much effort, but the part that was encased in concrete was stuck and wouldn't come out. Justin and my dad took turns digging and breaking up the concrete with a pick axe, sledge hammer, and shovel for almost an hour. Then we had to back filled the huge hole we dug up and place the new post in ground and secure it with concrete all before lunch. After this little hiccup, the rest of the work day went pretty smoothly. We are sore and exhausted from four days of hard labor but so happy and proud of the finished project.

So how much did we save by doing it ourselves?

The highest bid we got for the job was $4000. This was from a guy we wanted to use because he's experienced and seem to care a lot about the workmanship and he and Justin have somethings in common. After crunching some numbers though, we figured it's something that beginners like us can handle and save a lot of money too. So that was how I convinced Justin to go the DIY route.

Bid breakdown: Side fence - $2650, side fence repair: $480, front gate: $870 (including arbor).

We got a bid from another company for the front gate: $570 (for a basic double gate). My plan is to ask them to leave the posts on each side of the front gate taller then we can add a simple arbor on top ourselves to save couple hundred bucks.

Here is our cost cost breakdown: new side fence plus repair on the other side $900.

We had to buy: circular saw.
                         hole digger thing
                        1x6 pickets
                        pressure treated 4x4s, 2x4s
                        nails for the nail gun, screw
                        metal braces to connect old short posts with new posts to add height
                        2 metal spikes

The Sawzall and nail gun were borrowed. Already own an air compressor and electric drill. The work took about 18 hours over 4 days to complete. Even adding the cost of hiring a professional to install the new gate, we will still save over $2500! Yay, money saved for our other projects.

Second day. Clearing the bushes that was growing along side the fence. So glad my dad was here to help with the project and babysit little D. 

The 2x4 rails on this fence were all rotting away. 

Couple of posts were so badly damaged inside the concrete that we pulled the whole thing out with little effort. 

After we removed the post, it left a hole in the concrete. 

So to avoid spending half a day digging out the concrete, we bought these metal spikes that get pounded into the ground then insert the 4x4 post and tighten the bolts to keep it in place. Now we have a sturdy, easy way to hold up the post. 

Last day, digging and more digging. We couldn't use the metal spike thing here because the wooded post was still in the concrete, because the spike is meant to go in dirt.

Had a gallon bucket lying around and finally got a good use out of it. 

It's almost time to call our neighbor Thor to take all the trash to the dump.

The concrete we bought this time cost a little more, but it sets in less than an hour instead of the 24 hours like the regular stuff. Time is money, thus time saved is money saved. :)

Our original plan was to replace this gate with the new fence for added security. But after much debate and feedback from our tenant in apartment 951, we decided to keet it for now. A taller gate will go in eventually to blend in with the look of the new fence.

I found this goodie while looking for a before photo of the fence. The trees on the side blocked out all the morning light on the east side of the house. 

After the trees were trimmed this year. Without the lower branches, there were no more loquat fruits to pick off the trees.

Here is how it looks now, not too shabby...


12/27/11

More Fence Progress

It's been over a month since we fixed the falling down fence on one side of our house and it's still standing up. Yay! I was trying to figure out when will we have another good stretch of time to tackle the next phase of the project when Justin found out he has a whole week between Christmas and New Years off. 

After dropping the little D in daycare today, we drove to Home Depot to get the supplies. We had a problem with nails getting jammed in the nail gun. I thought the nail gun was broken, but it was actually the nails, they were the wrong angle for the gun. It will take us 3 trips, including one tomorrow to find nails with the correct angle and length. 

The fence in this corner fell over during the house renovation. Our carpenter built a temporary fence that gets blown over every time the wind picked up. It's actually been leaning up against a trash can. This happened today when we pulled the trash can away. 

The section of the "fence"made of a left over piece of 2x6 and some old floor boards.

I don't know how old this fence is but most of the 2x4s are completely rotted. 

This section came down much easier than I anticipated. I used a Sawzall for the first time and just cut the rails on each end. Whole thing took less than a minute.
The 4x4 posts are still very sturdy so we are not going to waste time and energy replacing them. We are  going to attach an additional 3 feet of lumber to what's there already. You can see the 2x4 rails are rotted away. 

Digging holes for the posts is our favorite (sarcasm) part of building the fence, Justin said tonight his fingers are still trembling from gripping the hole digger, poor thing. 

One post down, one more to go.

We changed the shape of the fence that's why we had to build two new posts. Unlike last time, we got the quick drying concrete so we were able to continue working after lunch when the concrete had set enough to keep working.

I wasted several feet of 2x4s when I got the measurements for the rails wrong. Many mistakes were made but we got better as the day went on.

I realized now that we probably should have left a little room between the ground and the bottom of the pickets to prevent moisture contacting the wood. Nailing in the pickets went sure fast. 

Justin the nail gunslinger. 

 We ran out of pickets at this point and it was almost time to pick little D up from daycare. It was the perfect stopping point for today. At least we no longer have a gaping hole at the back corner of our fence. If you look closely at the railing, you'll see all the nails sticking through the 2x4s creating a safety hazard. We'll have to remedy that later and use shorter nails from now on. Shall be continue...








12/22/11

Happy Holidays!

This is our second Christmas in this house. Last year this time little D was just a tiny blob that I had just given birth to. We had a tree all decked out in the front room and I think buying and decorating the tree was one of our happiest memories as new homeowners. This year we decided to not have a tree because little D just started walking and he's extremely curious about everything. He would probably pull everything off the tree within five minutes. So to save ourselves the money and trouble, we put up some lights and a semi-homemade wreath. Christmas is not the same without a tree but sometimes sacrifices have to be made where there is a little one to consider.

I wish more people would decorate their houses in our neighborhood. Our house is one of the few to even have holiday lights out. Where is everyone's holiday spirit?!

This this a poinsettia plant I bought a few weeks ago at Big Longs. It sits outside our front door to greet visitors along with two pots of succulents. 

We wrapped strings of colorful lights around the loquat trees to add some holiday spirits on an otherwise dreary, industrial street.

Justin putting up the lights. Doesn't he look like he's really enjoying the task at hand?

I got the awesome ceramic jug housing the lights at an estate sale for 5 bucks. I love how the lights flicker and create changing shadows on the wall behind it (hard to see in this picture).

This is the front room where we had our tree last year. There are only a few strings of lights around the windows this holiday season.


We chopped down a sickly looking bush outside the house few weekends ago, it was some sort of evergreen and the leaves smelled lovely, like Christmas. So I got the idea to save the leaves to make a wreath. Then I got busy and bought a wreath at Big Longs instead, but I didn't abandoned the DIY route completely. I stucked on some red plastic berrie from a craft supply store to make the wreath a bit more special. Sometimes adding a little personal touch goes a long way.
Merry Christmas!

12/17/11

Around the House

This is just a quick post tell you guys that Justin fixed the toilet! He's getting more and more handy everyday, I am so impressed. We have the Toto Aquia dual flush toilets with soft close seats and I can't say enough good things about this toilet. I am so glad we shelled out the extra bucks for the soft close seats because there's no more accidentally slamming the toilet seat. I knew I wanted a dual flush toilet even before I started shopping for it. The Toto Aquia has such clean modern design that it was hands down the only toilet I would consider buying in this price point. I think we paid around $350 for it. I am pretty sure that we got a tax credit or rebate for buying the water conserving toilets which made it more affordable since we needed two of them.

A few months after we moved into the house we noticed the toilet tank in the half bath was not refilling properly but we pretended that it wasn't a problem because there were much more urgent home improvement projects to attend to. So a year later, the problem toilet hasn't fixed itself so we decided to tackle the problem with our electrician, Dixie's help, who happens to be a Jack(Jill?) of all trades. She used to be a he and communicates with fairies. I am being totally serious about Dixie, not making it up. Anyways, she and Justin figured out one of the valves was screwed on too tightly and caused the tank to not refill properly. But in the process of fixing the toilet Justin broke off a tiny piece on one of the pastic parts in the tank, which left the toilet refilling continuously. But Justin redeemed himself a few days later when he replaced the broken part and now our toilet is working like it's supposed to again and it only took us the better part of a year to fix it.

This is the Toto Aquia in the full bath, it goes so well with our modern fixtures in our bathroom.


12/9/11

Fence Progress

Our first time at fence building is a success, so far...We did it over the Thanksgiving long weekend. The actual work only took about 2 maybe 3 hours tops. But after we poured the concrete to secure the post on the first day, we realized the concrete needs to set over night, forcing us to stop working for the day. We resumed working the next day with help from my dad. The nail gun we borrowed kept getting jammed, so Justin ended up securing the pickets the old fashion way, with a hammer and nails. I feel so proud of ourselves for fixing the fence.

We got quotes from three different fence companies to fix this part of the fence and they ranged from $500-$700. Our DIY route only cost around $150 for materials and supplies. Yay for being frugal and saving 400 bucks! We are still going to hire someone to build our front gate, we know our limits and when to call the pros in.

I was so excited to take down the fence in order to fix it up that no photo was taken of the toppled fence. It was a hot mess and we lived with it for almost two years.

This is a random fence that I found online, it is to represent how our fence looked like for the past year and a half. Good thing it was on the side of the yard that we share with our neighbor, and there is an ugly shack right next to it to block it from the neighbor's view. Don't we feel classy...

Digging out the concrete that held the rotted post turned out to be the hardest part of the project. The tarp covered shack is our neighbor's "garage", a relic from the previous owner. 

Justin and my dad took turns hacking the thing out which left a gigantic hole in the ground.

We used two 50 pound bags but we were still few inches below ground after pouring it all in the hole. 

Our crude attempt to keep the post in place. We held it in place with two pieces of old boards from the demo-ed part of the fence. 

The concrete will be even harder to dig out the next time this post needs to be replaced. Notice the concrete is about 3 inches below ground level but needs to be at the same level as the ground. 

Instead of pouring another bag of concrete into the big hole, I devised this frame out of a cardboard box to add another few inches to the concrete. Aren't we clever? :) 

Voila, new fence, off to a good start wouldn't you say?

11/28/11

Mystery Leak

Remember the mysterious window leak that took months of investigation to find out it was coming in from the gutter? We have another leak. :( This one is coming from underneath the patio door. Usually after a heavy rain, a puddle of water will appear on the floor near the threshold of the patio door. We noticed the leak a while back, but haven't given it much thought until now, because the rainy season is upon us again. But fortunately it didn't take long for me to figure the problem. There was a tiny gap between the bottom of the door and the top the threshold where the two meet. The fix was quick and easy. Justin loosen up couple of the screws that hold down the threshold to let it come up a bit and closed the gap. The test came the next day when it rained and no water was seen on the floor. Woohoo, problem solved, I wish all our house problems were that simple and cheap to fix. I love when it rains because it gives my garden life but I hope there's no more water leaking into the house.

                photo credit

11/26/11

Thanksgiving 2011

We hosted our first ever Thanksgiving dinner at our house on Thursday and even though the turn out was smaller than expected I am happy to say that all the food tasted great and everyone was stuffed. Our guests were supposed to be my parents and an aunt and her husband, but the aunt decided to stay home at the last minute so it was just us and the folks. I literally spent all day cooking, even the store bought pre-cooked turkey required 1 1/2 hour to heat up in the oven. I made pumpkin pies, roasted brussel sprouts with balsamic vinegar (I couldn't stop eating these, they were so good!), green bean casserole with fresh beans and brown mushrooms, mashed potatoes and turnips and of course gravy, with my secret ingredient, nutritional yeast.

I was a vegetarian for a long time and never learned to cook meat. I was not going to try my luck at cooking a turkey for the first time on Thanksgiving.

I put the extra pie filling in cupcake paper and baked it along with the pies. To make life easier, I used canned pumpkin and store bought pie crusts, but made the whip cream by hand (Justin did the whipping). 

Brussel sprouts has got to be one of my favorite vegetables. This time of the year I can get them still attached to the stalks they grow on for around $2.50 each and it yields about 2-3 lbs, so cheap and healthy! I usually like them steamed, but it's nice to change it up once in a while. It's so easy, just coat the the 'brouts in olive oil, ground black pepper, and coarse sea salt then roasting them for 30-40 minutes in the oven on 400 degree F, viola!

We bought the smallest bird available and still have a tone of left over turkey meat. I took all the meat off the carcass and used the bones to make congee today. Congee is basically a soup of stew made with white rice usually with a little bits of meat or seafood throw in at the last minute to add flavor. My folks lend me their pressure cooker to make the soup. It turned out really good, a ton of flavor, a perfect winter food, totally warms the soul.

We are taking advantage of this long weekend to get started on the fence project. More on the soon!











11/17/11

Going Cableless

In an attempt to cut spending, we canceled cable TV. It happened unexpectedly after a heated discussion over our financial status. I have on occasion suggested canceling cable TV, but never thought Justin would follow through with it. He's really into his sports watching, there's cycling, hockey, baseball and football. Sports are my least favorite things to watch on TV. I too have my indulgences, all the real estate shows on HGTV and Bravo and Project Runway on Life Time. I was addicted to all the home improvement shows on HGTV until I bought my own house and realized it's not all fun and games. In fact, home improvement in real life is the opposite of what's on TV. I found out that house projects always take FOREVER to get done, the budget is always more than what you want to spend, because a big chunk of it is in labor cost and the work is always harder than they make it look on those Youtube how-to videos. Oh well, end of my rant, back to the cable business.

Our cable bill including internet was around $150 a month. We also have unlimited streaming from Netflix for $8 a month and the weekly movies we purchase from Apple TV at $5-$6 a pop. We had the basic package, but there's an additional fees for the high definition channels and HBO. That is over $2200 a year on TV watching. I think it's a total waste of money just like my Iphone is, which I am not sure how much longer I want to keep after my 2 year lease is up.

Since going cableless, the house has been a lot more quiet because Justin can no longer turn the TV on to some sports channel and leave it on for hours. The constant noise of the sports fans and sports casters on TV drive me crazy for some inexplicable reason. I have long been an advocate for not having cable, because 99% of shows on TV are just time wasters in my opinion. I spent most of my 20s without cable and still got to watch lots of interesting movies and shows. When we moved in together four years ago, it was a nice luxury to have cable after years of going without, since we were spending most nights at home.

It's been couple of weeks since we canceled cable but we haven't missed any of our favorite shows thanks to modern technology. With a combination of Netflix, Apple TV, Hulu, and the internet, we have been able save money and watch the shows we want to watch.

We still have to pay for internet which is about $70 a month, but we will be getting reimbursed through Justin's work due to the nature of his job. So our cable/entertainment bill went from close to $200 down to $40 a month, that's a tremendous saving and we'll put the extra money into better use.


11/9/11

Sunday, Someday

I look forward to the day when we can just sit back and relax and have money left over to travel instead of working on the house every weekend and be broke all the time. The truth is our house owns us, not the other way around.

The forecasted rain never came this Sunday so we got a lot done outside. The one thing that we didn't finish on the "to do list" was clearing out some of the stuff in little D's room, aka the "junk" room.

One project I am happy to finally be done with is the patching job above our living room window. So it only took about 8 months of procrastination to get it done and my excuse is I have a baby. haha.

It took about 3 months for me to get motivated to put in sheetrock, mud and tape.

Then it took another 3 months before I figured out how to sand it without getting the fine white dust everywhere. I cut a hole in the plastic and stuck my hand through with a sanding block. It worked pretty well to keep the dust in.  

After sanding, mudding and sanding again, it looked pretty smooth to me. 

Fast forward another month, we finally bought a quart of paint and put on two coats of the stuff. Looks pretty good eh? There are some imperfections you can see from up close, but that's because I am a perfectionist. Overall I am pretty happy with how it turned out. 

Yay! Security system installed and activated. Now we can sleep more sound at night. 

We installed a motion sensor light on the side of the house couple of weeks ago. The conduit is a silvery color and sticks out like a sore thumb.

The lights are very bright and hopefully will deter any thieves from trying to break in through those windows. 

A coat of primer and two coats of paint later, the conduit blends in with the rest of house. 

Looks much better, doesn't it?

There is a weird opening in the concrete walkway that's been bothering me since day one. I thought about just filling it in with cement, but came up with something better. Someday in the near future I hope we'll have enough money to replace the ugly cracked cement walkway. 

I bought couple of elfin thyme from my favorite nursery and some rocks from Home depot. This little hole turned out to be the perfect place to add a little greenery. On a side note, my three hostas are doing great, even after couple months of neglect in their plastic pots before being planted in the soil. 


We bought a replacement fern last week for the one that's dying in the ground. The thing was looking sickly since the day we put it there and hasn't gotten any bigger since. The new fern is a California native and tolerates less frequent watering than other ferns.

I have high hopes for this guy since this fern is supposed to be a lot more hardy. The chartreuse color ground cover has been doing well and spreading out, I think I need to get more of them. 

 Our neighbor down the street offered us his broken pavers for free and I (I meant Justin) brought a bunch home. I wanted to have some pavers down on the dirt to keep the area from getting gross and muddy in the coming rain season. It's a temporary but free fix. 

I kept a bunch of bricks from our old foundation and chimney hoping to reuse them someday in our yard. They were moved away from the side of the garage when the house was being painted. We finally moved them back in place after ignoring the mess for 5 months. This area gets super muddy when it rains, so our construction crew put down couple pieces of plywood to walk on. Yeah, our yard is a disaster. 

The fence in the back there is being held up with the green waste bin. We put down the rest of the pavers here to make it look a tiny bit better than before. I think we've succeeded, what do you think?