Showing posts with label Home sweet home. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Home sweet home. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Let go and let...your pre-teen redecorate her room

When our 11-year-old daughter, Brynn, made the jump from elementary school to middle school this summer, it seemed like she matured overnight. We were (and are still) a little overwhelmed by how responsible she suddenly is. Does she still make dumb choices? Of course. She's human. But she also empties the dishwasher at 6:45 every morning (without being asked). I want to complain because the noise from the dishes wakes me up, but I don't want to put away the dishes myself so I cover my ears and contemplate whether I should get up and help her. We've given her more freedom and trusted her to take more control over her life. And that included letting her choose how to redecorate her room.

It was tough. I'm not gonna lie. For a mom (and dad) who are a little bit control-freaky, it's hard to give up the reins to a kid. It's my house. I want it the way I want it. That's why I do everything myself.

But this isn't my space. It's hers. And I reserve the right to take it back, but if she can ride her bike to 7:15am swim practice every morning of the summer and get straight A's in school and spend six hours a week at dance and do dishes and take care of her pet mouse and clean out the cat's litter box twice a week? She can handle making some decorating decisions.

Based on our experience, here are our four tips for letting go and letting your pre-teen redecorate:
  1. Help your pre-teen find inspiration. If she's not already using Pinterest, set up a board on your account for her. You can check out Brynn's board here. The times that she's been allowed to access it have been few and far between but, even so, it's fun to see the progression in her inspiration, from what was clearly going to be a turquoise-based room to a navy-based room. Somehow, she also discovered the existence of Pottery Barn Teen. She talked me into signing up to get their catalogs. (We don't, as a general rule, receive catalogs. Patagonia, High Country Gardens, and Ikea are the exceptions.) Her one copy of PBTeen is dog-eared, water-stained and starting to fall apart. She let it be her main guide in finding inspiration.
  2. After your pre-teen has seen what things cost, let her set a budget. Brynn knew that she wanted the yellow and white chevron duvet from PBTeen and she knew that it was going to cost her about $75. (Sidenote: why are duvets so ridiculously expensive? It's two flat sheets sewn together!) Based on that, she thought she could get new sheets and some paint for another $75. To give herself some breathing room, she added an additional $5 and ended up with a budget of $155. Clearly, she forgot a few things. Her new desk, for one, which I'd already bought but still had to refinish. I suppose that was my contribution. Curtains, to name another. So I matched her budget and told her we'd aim for $310 total.
  3. Give your pre-teen a range of choices but not a blank slate. If you're a Love & Logic parent, this will be familiar to you. "Give your child lots of choices, all of which are fine with you." Remember that? Do you want to wear your jacket or carry it? Do you want an orange or a banana? Same goes here. Once I was on board with her decorating inspiration (which included white walls) I gave her 6 white paint swatches from which to make her choice. I didn't care which one she chose, but she had the power to make the final decision. For her desk, she got to choose between navy blue, yellow, and coral (the three colors she'd chosen to build her room around). I didn't care which one, but that's a pretty impactful decision for her to make. I chose the exact hue because the paint I used (General Finishes Milk Paint) comes in a limited range of colors. I did the online shopping for her sheets (she wanted navy sheets) and gave her a few choices. We talked about the thread count, the softness, how well they would wear, whether one had more organic cotton than another, and the price. She decided which sheets to buy. She is, after all, the one who will be sleeping in them.
  4. Involve your pre-teen in the actual work. This is where Scott came in. Repainting a room isn't difficult work, but it is time-consuming and tiring. It's not photoshop. In a world where things seem to just appear on a whim, we wanted to be sure that Brynn knew how much actual work was going on behind the scenes. Day one was clean-out day. She actually took every single non-furniture item out of her room. All of it. She moved most of it into the hallway but also took a bunch to the basement and set up camp down there. She sorted all of her stuff and got rid of about a third of what she had. Scott helped her move the furniture to the center of the room and cover it in drop cloths. Day two was clean and prime day. She and Scott dusted and cleaned her walls and chair rail and then they got to work priming the ceiling and walls. I'm not sure whether Scott knew how hard it would be to let an 11-year-old help him paint a room. I knew -- I let two 10-year-olds and two 8-year-olds paint the inside of the Bunk-alow last fall. Using paint brushes. There is some skill involved in painting a room and it takes time to develop. In Brynn's room, the lack of skill meant that the roller tray got stepped in a few times and paint was dripped on the floor several times. By day three, painting day, Scott actually got up early and tried to start before Brynn woke up. The reality was, priming exhausted her and she didn't have much enthusiasm for painting. She helped with the painting but not quite like she did with priming. Lessons learned (and that was our goal).
I'll be back later this week with more photos of Brynn's new room and a source list. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts on your kids' roles in planning their own rooms!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to paint your subfloor...a temporary solution for the real world.

We were on the way home from dropping off Callie at summer camp when I decided that THIS week would be a great time to give her the room re-do she's been asking for. It hasn't just been a few weeks of asking for a new room. It's been a few years.

"Mom, you said you'd move me into the office."

"Mom, you said you'd make me a new room with hardwood floors."

"Mom, you said we could paint my room pink."

"Mom, you said I could move into the office so I can have two windows this summer."

"Mom, Brynn got a new room when she was eight. I'm nine."

Even the subtlest nod is taken for agreement when you're a kid who wants something, am I right?

And so without prior planning, without a budget, and without giving myself enough time to second guess it, on that car ride home I realized that I had to do the room NOW.

We have a few animals in our house (two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs, and a mouse) and we just finished fostering five puppies. All of the animals had taken a toll on the carpet in the room where we were moving Callie, not to mention the kids and their craft projects (glue, glitter, paint...all over the carpet). I knew that tearing out the carpet had to be part of this redo.

The two guinea pigs reside in Callie's room and (I'm not sure if you're familiar with this experience but maybe you can relate) every time I would walk into Callie's room I'd step on stray pine shavings that the pigs had flung out of their cage during one of their daily games of "tag," not to mention guinea pig poops that I'd have to fight the dogs for. Scott initially bought Callie her own shop vac to deal with the mess, but dragging out the shop vac every day was too much for her to deal with. In order to maintain my sanity (what little of it I have left) I had to make it easier for Callie to clean up after her pigs.

So the carpet came out.

I've single-handedly ripped out at least 2000 square feet of carpet from our house over the years. First the dining room, then the family room, the stairs, the basement, Brynn's room. We still have a little more left to go and while I dread ripping it out (sandy, dusty, dirty mess), I can't wait to get rid of it.

But one thing at a time, right?

As I ripped out the carpet I realized it wasn't in good enough shape to put up for free on Craigslist like I've done in the past. I hate putting carpet in the landfill, but this carpet was not going to be reusable (except maybe as a weed barrier, which I've actually heard of people using it for). So Scott bought a Bagster and we tossed the carpet and padding in there.

I pulled out the staples, removed the baseboards, vacuumed ten times, and then started pricing hardwood to match the rest of the hardwood in our house. With no big sales going on, no clearances or any other deals, it was going to cost me about $1000 to lay hardwood in her 10' x 12' room.


I don't have a cool grand sitting around to lay hardwood in Callie's room, especially not knowing that her pigs will be kicking pine shavings and poo onto it for the next 8 years. (How long do guinea pigs live?)

So it was time to get creative. I'm no stranger to painting sub-floors. I did it in our basement and knew I could do it again for Callie to hold her over until we're ready to lay hardwood upstairs. It's not a great permanent solution, but it is a fantastic (and cheap) temporary solution.

Based on my experience painting the basement floor, here's what I did in Callie's room. These are the steps I'd recommend if you get fed up with your carpet and need a temporary solution.
  1. Rip out the carpet and padding.
  2. Pull out every last staple (I love to use an upholstery staple remover like this one to take staples out of the floor).
  3. Pull off the baseboards (which we saved to repaint and reuse until we upgrade the floor).
  4. Vacuum. And then vacuum a few more times.
  5. Fill the biggest gouges/nail holes with wood filler (I swear by Timbermate -- it is by far the best filler I've used).
  6. Sand the dry wood filler.
  7. Prime the floor with Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-based primer (it seals out odors and bleeding better than Kilz). I used a regular wall roller to apply the primer. It took about a third to a half gallon to do one coat on Callie's 10' x 12' floor.
  8. Fill the rest of the holes. (I find that it is easier to see all of the imperfections in the floor after it's all primed. I filled most but not all of the cracks/holes/seams).
  9. Sand (by hand) with 220 paper. Yep, get down on your hands and knees with a sanding block and go to work. The primer will raise the grain a bit/make the floor feel a little rough and a very quick sanding makes a HUGE difference in the final floor texture.
  10. Spot prime any place that it's needed (i.e.: I spot primed all of the newly filled areas and there was a spot where someone barfed/pooed/had the runs/spilled something nasty that required a few more coats of primer).
  11. Paint. Apply using a foam roller for the smoothest texture. I only needed one coat of paint. You might need more. I used our white trim paint rather than a porch/floor specific paint because I had our trim paint on hand and didn't want to buy another gallon of paint just for this floor. When I did our basement floor I used a porch and floor paint. Meh. I wasn't really impressed.
  12. Vacuum.
  13. Faux finish/stencil/add a pattern to draw your eye away from any messes that might accumulate on the floor (or leave it solid -- it's up to you). I used a glaze that I tinted with some creamier white paint and a little bit of stain concentrate in order to get a tone-on-tone look. I rolled it on with a foam roller and then dragged my new faux bois (wood graining) tool through the wet glaze in order to get a wood grain look. There are ways to make the wood grain look more realistic on a floor (i.e.: taping off rectangles to look like wood planks) but I just wanted to give the floor a little bit of contrast to help hide messes and to enhance the natural wood grain texture of the plywood subfloor. Here is a great video so that you can see wood graining (faux bois) in action.
  14. Vacuum.
  15. Apply 2-5 coats of clear sealer, vacuuming in between each. I only did two coats because I was short on time. I used Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey floor finish in semi-gloss, applied with a foam roller. It took a little less than half a gallon to do two coats.

Callie's floor has been finished and in use for about a month now. She's tapped on it with her Irish hardshoes, but mostly she walks on it barefoot. It's been easy to keep clean with just a broom and a once-a-week vacuum, along with occasional spot cleaning.  The only downside I've noticed is that it is a bit louder in the room below the new floor (which happens to be our master bedroom). Brynn's room has hardwood and while I can hear her jumping around in her room when I'm below in the garage, Callie's finished subfloor definitely makes more noise than Brynn's hardwood. Do I care? Does it really make a difference? Not to me...but it is something to consider.

What do you think? Is painting a subfloor an in-between flooring solution you would consider?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Movin' on up: Adjusting our spaces to kids' changing needs

While all kids have different interests and enjoy different activities, one thing is true for every kid: as they grow up, the way they use their spaces is ever-changing. I've found that I can make my life easier (read: cleaner and less crazy) if I adjust their spaces to suit how they spend their time.

When we first moved into our house, a space behind our sofa in the family room was dedicated to the kids and their toys. It worked well because I could see and hear them playing while I was in the kitchen, which is where I spent most of my time back then. The kids' space wasn't immediately visible to visitors and it was an area that, if left messy, wouldn't disturb the adults in the house.

As the kids grew older, though, and they didn't need my eyes on them all the time, it was a relief to move their area upstairs to the loft. Our loft area, a 9'x12' space at the top of the stairs on the way to the kids' bedrooms, has been an invaluable area for our kids over the past six years. I have a partially obstructed view of it from my kitchen and I can hear activity in this area from any corner of my house.

Before: Little Kid Space

After: Big Kid Space

Until this Christmas, the loft was home to my kids' play kitchen. We built it when Brynn was three years old and even as a ten year old this summer, she and Callie were still playing in it. They used it as a restaurant, as a pretend classroom, and sometimes even as a kitchen. Even though the play kitchen was still usable for the girls, we sensed that they were starting to cross into an age where they would appreciate a more mature play space. They weren't as loud and boisterous anymore when they played in the kitchen. In fact, they were whispering – almost like they didn't want us to know that they were still using their little kitchen. But what really convinced me was their tendency to raid my craft closet and their inability to put anything away when they were finished.

One day I kind of exploded. No, I totally exploded. It was one of those mom moments you never forget even though you wish you could totally block it out. Callie had been in my craft closet, made a mess, and left it a total disaster. Glue stuck to the table, glitter and paper scraps all over the place. Cardboard scraps strewn on the table and floor. String and ribbon and stickers and sequins everywhere. I had wanted to do a specific task quickly but couldn't even get into the closet.

I took all of her craft supplies out of the closet and tossed them in her room and told her she could never come back. My closet was off limits to her.

Within seconds I realized how unfair it was. Crafting is what Callie does. Creating purses and houses and bracelets out of cardboard and tape and rubber bands and fabric is who she is. When she can't create, she starts to burst at the seams. It is who she is. A tinkerer. An artist. A creator.

So I took a deep breath and said, "Here's the deal. We cannot coexist in this space but you cannot exist without crafts. You need to choose: play kitchen or crafts." It took her a millisecond to respond, "Crafts!" Brynn agreed.

As much as it hurt to admit that they were growing up, I knew it had to happen. I took photos of their play kitchen and posted them on a local moms' Facebook page. The kitchen and its contents were gone within a day. We boxed up the little kid toys that we wanted to hang onto for visiting toddlers. We gave away everything else.

Starting with a clean slate, I built a simple divider to make the loft feel more separate from the hallway and to give me a wall to set a dresser against, so that we'd have plenty of storage. The divider is screwed into the floor, the adjacent wall, and the dresser it sits in front of. The dresser is a hand-me-down that I cleaned up and painted – it's perfect for holding fabric and craft supplies. I moved around some bookcases that were already in the space and I built a table out of bits and pieces in my garage (and a sheet of plywood I had to buy). I made curtains from fabric that I'd found in a pile of remnants a year or so ago. I had set the fabric aside for the next step in the evolution of this space and was glad to find it still sitting in my sewing closet. We stopped into Ikea for a few pieces to help us organize, and for a couple of stools to set at the table.

The divider is a 2x2 frame and 3/8" plywood leftover from other projects.

I scrubbed the brass pulls with Bar Keeper's Friend to make them shine!

Construction paper to roll over the table.

Buckets from the dollar aisle at Target and an Ikea BYGEL rail.

We also bought a new computer to put in this space. It wasn't something we'd planned to do right that very second, but our kids are using computers for more and more homework assignments, and the computer they'd been using was eight years old and running pretty slowly. (For the record, my four year old MacBook works fine...I just don't like to share it with my children.) We already had a computer cabinet in the loft – it was formerly a TV cabinet, that we converted to a computer cabinet – and it's been great for them to have an updated machine that I can see and hear from almost anywhere in the house. And I kind of love the giant 27" screen, even though it's hard for me to admit.

This TV cabinet was in my house as a kid. It's solid pine and really heavy! I painted it a few years ago and built the
platform for the computer. The keyboard sits on the pull-out tray that used to hold the TV. Our printer, printer paper,
ink, and camera accessories all fit into the bottom cabinet. And up top is our TV antenna for the whole house. Can
you see the beer cans on it? Classy.

If you don't count the new computer (ahem) changing this space cost us under $100. We already had almost all of the supplies and sold the old kitchen for $50. This has been, by far, the most impact-per-dollar change we've made in our house.

While it was sad to say goodbye to the little kitchen, watching the girls create in this space and knowing that it is a space we can use together has been a nice change for all four of us.

Here are some elements of this space that I think make it effective:
  • I can see and hear it from the kitchen. When the kids are using the computer, I can monitor it. 
  • I pass the loft while going to and from the girls' rooms at night, so I can stop in to clean up any supplies or scraps they leave behind. I'll never be surprised by a mess there because I have to pass it often.
  • The space may turn into a multi-use space for doing homework as well as crafting, but for now it's a place where they can leave an unfinished project to return to later, and in the meantime it doesn't bother anyone. It doesn't have to be moved out of the way for dinner or for guests.
  • The space is well-lit with lots of natural light and lamps as well as bright and cheery colors. It's an inspiring place to work.
  • Because the new computer is up there, the kids can turn a movie on Netflix or watch a how-to video on YouTube while they work.
  • The carpet is old, so I don't really care if they spill on it or screw it up in some other way, as I'm sure they will.
  • The table is finished with nearly bullet-proof PolyWhey floor finish, so it's easy to clean.
  • For super messy projects, I added a roll of construction paper to a dowel fastened under the table. Now we can roll paper over the table to make cleanup quick and easy.
  • There is plenty of storage. Storage in the hand-me-down dresser, storage in cans hanging from the walls, and storage in the two bookcases we've had in our house ever since we got married.
  • A whole wall is dedicated to inspiration and display. Right now a third of that wall is taken up by a Ugandan alphabet which was given to us by a friend who takes care of street kids in Uganda. I added some artwork with positive messages from The Handmade Home and we hung up the kids' favorite artwork to spur them on to more creativity.
Do you think you could carve out space in your house for a dedicated craft area? Or would a dedicated Lego space go over better in your house? How do you adjust your home to meet your kids' changing needs?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

{backyard bunk-alow} Part Five: Roof, sheathing, & siding

This post is part 6 in a series of posts tracking my progress building a glorified playhouse (or bungalow or bunkhouse or bunk-alow) in my backyard. To see the rest of the series, click here!

If I explain to you how I got the roof up, the walls sheathed, and the siding on, you'll fall asleep before I get to the second paragraph. Instead, let me just tell you what materials I ended up using and why.

For the roof, I ended up using corrugated metal roofing material, which is available at both Lowe's and Home Depot for about $15-$18 per 2' x 8' sheet. It's easy to use, lightweight, and should last a long time. It was a little bit difficult to install by myself, but somehow I managed and I'm still alive to tell about it.

For sheathing, I used 7/16" OSB. Getting the sheathing up on all four walls definitely made the whole structure much sturdier. Before it went up, I was getting pretty nervous that the whole bunkalow would be blown to pieces in our first wind storm. Once two of the four bunkalow walls were covered in sheathing, the bunkalow was super sturdy.

Moisture barrier
On top of the sheathing, I wrapped the bunkalow in tar paper. The tar paper should help weatherproof the bunkalow a little bit by keeping moisture from being trapped against the OSB and causing it to rot. Tar paper is a relatively easy step and at only about $17 per roll, it's totally worth the extra work.

I knew I wouldn't have enough siding to cover the whole bunkalow, so instead I added more corrugated metal (same as the roof) to the bottom part of the walls. I liked how the horizontal lines broke up the vertical lines from the skirt under the bunkalow floor and I really liked the rustic/industrial feel that it added to the bunkalow's exterior.

For siding, I used old cedar fence boards. Some of them were given to me by friends, some were purchased on Craigslist, and some came from a dumpster on our neighborhood cleanup day a few weeks ago. I cut some of the fence boards into shorter lengths (9"-11") and attached them like shingles to the top of the front and back walls. For the rest of the siding, I attached the fence boards vertically in board and batten style. I used wider fence boards (5'-7") as "boards," left some space between them and then went over the gaps with skinnier fence boards for "battens." The boards and battens are attached with 1" staples. Because the siding is so rustic, the staples are almost invisible, so I was able to staple the crap out of the siding use quite a few staples to make sure the siding isn't going anywhere.

We didn't have ladders that would work to get two of us up to
the top of the back side, so it didn't get tar paper all the way
up. It's the leeward side of the building and covered by an
overhang; I'll just trust that it's going to be okay. It is only a
playhouse, after all.
We're having a cold snap here in Colorado this week, so I'm not sure when I'll get back out to the bunkalow (I'm a wimp and I won't work in the cold). The outside is SO close to being finished, but the details always seem to be what takes longest. A few more trim boards, fascia, caulk, windows...a little more caulk. We really are getting close.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Smoke detector or unpredictable alarm clock?

A few years ago when I remodeled our basement, the inspector who came to do the final inspection told us he wouldn't pass our basement until we had smoke detectors in every bedroom. Apparently this was to bring our house up to current code – we only had smoke detectors in the two hallways right outside of the bedrooms. (Sidenote: is this one reason why homeowners avoid pulling permits? Because inspectors can hold your permit hostage? For me it is.)

And so, like the responsible homeowners we try to be, we put up "lick-n-stick" smoke detectors in all of the bedrooms in our house. That makes seven smoke detectors (five in each bedroom, one in each hallway) and two carbon monoxide detectors. We've got nine batteries to change every year.

Of course they're not the cheap less-expensive AA or AAA batteries. They're 9-volts which, if you have to run to the drugstore to pick one up in the middle of the night, will cost you about $5 a pop. And they need to be changed every year to keep your smoke detector from turning into an alarm clock that can't be set.

Inevitably, these detectors will only chirp at you in the middle of the night, and if you're like I was last night, you'll end up trolling your hallway cursing under your breath while you try to figure out which one is chirping. Is it the battery one? The hardwired one? Is it the carbon monoxide alarm?

Last night the most likely contender was the first to come down. It's our old original detector and it kept chirping after I had taken it off the wall and removed the battery (how does that happen?), so like any normal person in a sleep-induced haze, I buried it in the sofa cushions and crawled back in bed.

Two minutes later I heard more chirping, and it wasn't just the muffled one coming from the sofa cushions. At first I thought it was coming from the hardwired base of the detector I'd just removed from the hallway, so I nearly ripped the base out of the wall before I realized I'd probably shock myself and make a big drywall mess or maybe even start a fire in the process (ironic, I know). Instead I decided to stand under it for a second to wait for another chirp.

Eventually something chirped, but it sounded like it was coming from inside the bedroom. That's two alarms in one night. I jumped around the corner and pulled the carbon monoxide detector out of the wall and removed the battery. Back in bed with eyes wide open, I waited.


What the? Yeah, you know that feeling. Sleepy and wanting to hide under your pillow after yelling a few choice words.

That's when I remembered the lick-n-stick that the inspector made us put in. At that moment I had a few choice words for him, too. I stomped out of bed and yanked the lick-n-stick detector from the ceiling.

I pulled out the battery right before it chirped one more dying chirp and then I shoved it into the sofa with the rest.

I climbed back into bed one more time and waited. Nothing. Eventually I drifted back to sleep.

That inspector who required us to put up five more smoke detectors? He did arm us with this bit of wisdom: Change your smoke detector batteries every Halloween.

When I asked him why Halloween, he said because it's easy to remember. Smoke...Halloween. He also said, "Don't wait for it to chirp, because they only chirp in the middle of the night." At the time I thought he was kidding but now I think maybe it's actually true.

It's probably easy for some people to remember to change their batteries every Halloween, but it's not easy for me. Here we are four days after Halloween and I've got chirping smoke detectors. Today I'm putting it on my calendar for next Halloween and I'm setting it to repeat annually. Then I'm going to Costco to buy an economy-pack of 9v batteries.

What about you? When was the last time you changed your batteries? Do you do it on a schedule or whenever they chirp? How do you remember? And, have you ever heard a smoke detector chirp when it's not the middle of the night?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

{backyard bunk-alow} Part Five: Roof trusses & walls

Remember how in the hole-digging post I said that the key to good holes is a post-hole digger?

Well, the key to not giving up when you're framing is a framing hammer.

Get a framing hammer. It's the big one on the left.

Crazy, I know. A post-hole digger for post holes and a framing hammer for framing.

But for real. Don't try to frame walls with a wimpy little hammer that you would normally use to hang pictures and set nails. Or you'll do something crazy like run out and buy a framing nailer, which is what I nearly did. The hammer's almost as good for a project this small. Plus it'll give you sweet forearm muscles.

That's 48 8-footers, 4 10-footers, and 2 12-footers to
build the walls.
This was third time in my life I've framed walls and my first time building roof trusses. The first time I framed anything was while spending all of my high school spring breaks in Mexico building houses with Amor Ministries. The second was when I remodeled our basement. This time was easier than the other two times (after Scott bought me a new hammer, anyway). First I drew all of the walls on graph paper  First I watched all of the YouTube videos I could find about building trusses and framing walls – most of them featured Canadian men and by the time I was done, I was speaking with a Canadian accent. Then I drew out everything on graph paper. When I was ready to build, I laid out the trusses and walls on the Bunkalow floor, giving me plenty of flat space to work.

This video in particular, which did not feature a Canadian but instead a Jersey guy, I think, was the most helpful when I was trying to figure out how to build the roof trusses.

Even though I wouldn't need the trusses for a while, I built them before the walls since I had the big Bunkalow floor to use as a work surface. Then I set them aside while I built the walls. In the end, I wasn't able to put up the walls or trusses by myself, but together Scott and I got the walls in place and then lifted the trusses on top.

Here are my trusses. The two little ones in front are single trusses that go in the middle of the Bunkalow. The two doubles, in the back, are for the front and back of the Bunkalow roof. I wanted to create a 12" overhang on the front and the back but wasn't sure how to do it, so this is the method I came up with. I'm sure it's not right or standard or recommended by the pro's, but it worked for me!

To attach the trusses to the walls I used hurricane ties. I wanted to use the birdsmouth method, like the truss video and the inspiration house, but my math skills weren't up to the challenge, so hurricane ties won out. We've had one serious wind storm since the roof went up and it still seems to be hanging on...hopefully we're okay. They must be called "hurricane ties" for a reason, right?

My walls ended up being a few feet taller than the ones that inspired this build. It was a mixture of laziness and frugality and, well...laziness that led me to build 8' walls instead of 6' walls. I'm not 100% happy with my choice because working on walls that are 8' high which makes for a roof that is 12' high on top of a floor that is 5' off the ground in some spots? Slow and difficult. And frustrating. It's kind of impossible to put any of our ladders on the sloped ground outside the Bunkalow, but somehow I'm managing and haven't (yet) broken my neck.

The upside to 8' walls? Once I had them standing, I walked through the doorway and thought, "Crap, these walls are high. I'm going to have to add lofted beds in here so we don't have so much wasted space in the ceiling." And then the girls came home from school and saw the walls and said the same thing. So, yeah, now they have built-in lofted twin beds in the Bunkalow. Why sleep on the floor on a camping pad when you've got 12 feet of space above you?

But before I could build the bunks, I had to get a roof up on those trusses. That's Part Six!

Psst...see the rest of the Bunkalow posts here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

{backyard bunk-alow} Part Four: The saga of the stairs

The week I was planning to build the bunk-alow stairs was the same week we had that crazy monsoon rainstorm which gave me plenty of time to mull and calculate, draw and recalculate, shake my head, scrunch my eyes, and get very grumpy.

As I've progressed down the road of becoming a competent DIYer and semi-competent carpenter, my math skills have improved tremendously. But rise and run? Slope? These are not concepts I work with on a daily basis. Couple that with trying to build stairs that are somewhere near code (spoiler alert: they're not) and working with a crazy sloped hill and very little space for the stair landing, that week of rain found me overwhelmed and frustrated.

Here's what's worse. When the rain finally finished and we had a sunny day, I went outside, stared at where the stairs were supposed to go, shook my head and sighed. I had a plan but I was not confident that it was going to work.

I had two joists left from our old deck (aka: the raft) that were just long enough to use as stringers for the stairs. The stringers are the boards that go under the stairs, the ones that have right angles cut into them to hold the treads (the horizontal part of the stairs) and the risers (the vertical part of the stairs).

I used the stair calculators on these three sites (one, two, and three) to figure out how to make the cuts in my stringers and then marked them out on the stringers using my framing square to help keep all of my markings square.

Then, once I was totally committed to those calculations and cuts, Scott and I worked together to make all of the cuts using the circular saw for the bulk of the cut and a handsaw to get into the corner of each cut.

Here's where things got a little hairy. After cutting the stringers we needed a break. Before I went inside to make lunch, I leaned the two stringers up against the bunk-alow floor, approximately where they needed to go. We ate lunch and then I ran to the hardware store to pick up some screws and some lumber for the stair treads. Before I left, I asked Scott to level out the landing for the stairs, pack down the soil, and put in some concrete blocks that we had lying around the yard to act as the base for the stairs. He was coming into the project halfway through, having helped with the cutting but being completely in the dark about the rise, run, and angle of the stairs.

But, you know, I'd left the stringers sitting approximately where they needed to go, so I knew he could figure it out. Sigh.

I got home from the hardware store with everything we needed to finish the job and I found Scott digging this huge hole at the base of the stairs. He said something like, "I had no idea I'd have to dig this much. We were really off with these calculations." Given my general lack of ability in math, this wasn't a surprise to me. He said, "I think we better cut off the bottom step."

And so he was about halfway through cutting off the bottom step when I screamed at him to stop. Because I'd just realized that he had the stringers upside-down while he was leveling the landing.

This is what happens when kids run around your work site while you're inside making lunch. They took the stringers down and laid them on the ground and when Scott came back out to work, he put them back up upside-down. And it wasn't his fault or their fault or anyone's fault. It was just one of those dumb things that happens when the person who is in the know takes off to buy supplies.

So, the stairs I spent a week calculating and stressing out over now have a higher rise and shorter run than I'd intended. And while they would have been out of code anyway (they're too narrow, to start with) now they're not even close.

They'll get a railing...eventually.

But they are very, very sturdy. Like everything I build.

Mike Holmes always says, "I'd love to see someone try to tear down something I build." I feel the same way about what I build. It ain't never coming down. Unless the foundation sinks, which is entirely possible...but probably not until long after I've moved away.

Here's what I have to keep reminding myself: this is a (glorified) playhouse. When it comes to my work, I can be a perfectionist. I may devote too much time to details. I want what I build to be without flaw, every single time.

But it doesn't have to be.

None of my friends will walk into my yard and say, "Um, Hillary your rise is 8 1/2 inches and it's not supposed to be more than 7 inches."

Actually, now that I've said that they probably will. And then they might get socked in the mouth.

Because it's a playhouse. A really cool, big playhouse. But still, it's a playhouse. With very sturdy (and sort of steep) stairs.

Next up: framing the walls. here for all of the Backyard Bunk-alow posts!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

{backyard bunk-alow} Part Three: Building the floor

For our bunk-alow, we're using a platform built on our hillside as the floor of the structure. In the spirit of re-use, I was able to build the floor out of mostly reclaimed materials, all of which came from our old deck (aka: the raft) which was torn out last fall during our backyard redo.

Because I was doing this by myself, I didn't take many in-process photos. I did use lots of scraps lying around me to help hold up one end of the frame as I bolted the other side to the posts. Also, while Jamin and Ashley (my inspiration) used lag screws to put their floor together, I ended up using joist hangers meant for a deck, because it was easier for a one-person job than using lag screws.

Frame for the bunk-alow floor, as seen from our patio.

In order to complete the floor, I had to buy 10 Redwood 2x6s to piece in with the reclaimed wood from the kids' old fort plus two joists since my reclaimed ones were (heartbreakingly) two inches too short. This was an unfortunate turn of events, especially since old decks are being torn down every day and I probably could have scrounged up some decent used lumber instead of buying new. But...sometimes trolling Craigslist gets old and you just want to get a job done.

So I bit the bullet and bought some new lumber.

To finish off the floor, I added a skirt made from a friend's old cedar fence. From our patio the bunk-alow sits up pretty high. I wanted the underside of the floor to be hidden because, while nobody else would notice it, it would distract me. So the old cedar fence found a new home and the bunk-alow got a more solid look.

The skirt. I'm looking forward to seeing some perennials growing in that dirt!

Now, here is the saddest part. I don't have a picture of the finished floor in all its glory. You see, the torrential rains that brought their wrath upon Colorado in mid-September started while I was staining the floor. It was actually raining while I stained the floor with Sherwin-Williams water-based deck stain color-matched to my house. This is a no-no, but the stain seemed to penetrate fine, and I'll go back over it with another coat of stain once all of the construction is done. The rain, as you may have heard, went on for a week. When it finally finished I forgot that I hadn't taken a photo of the finished floor (maybe because I was thinking more about all of the people who lost homes and the rivers filled with oil and fracking waste than I was about taking pictures). So you'll have to wait until Part Four to see it finished.

Next up, the saga of the stairs. here for all of the Backyard Bunk-alow posts!

Monday, September 30, 2013

{backyard bunk-alow} Part Two: Setting the posts

The cabin/fort/playhouse has a name! It's the Backyard Bunk-alow. I was calling it the Bungalow but then, because we think it will be a great spot for sleepovers, I told Callie I'd like to call it the Bunkhouse. She combined the two and the new name was born.

During part one of our Bunk-alow series, I told you I'd talk a little bit about digging the post holes for the platform that acts as the floor for the bunk-alow. I think I probably did a lot of things wrong, but I know I did at least one thing right.

I used a post hole digger.

I'm telling you this because if it weren't for my husband telling me about post hole diggers I'd have no idea that this tool exists. And I wouldn't want you to try to dig a deep, narrow-ish hole without one. I tried to use a regular shovel at first, mostly to prove Scott wrong. Because he always says this is the best tool in our arsenal when it comes to digging. And he's right. He uses it for digging holes for perennials, for trees, for fence's worth the $19.00 to pick one up.

I'm not going to pretend I know how to get the post holes in the right location. I could give reasonably good directions for how to do that on a flat surface, but I was setting these posts on a hillside, where the back left corner of the deck would be sitting on ground that's about five feet higher than the front right corner. There must be a way to figure out where to dig the post holes. I just have no idea how. But I can tell you how to dig some mean holes.

Here's my first one. Once I knew where I wanted my first post (I started at the highest corner of the hill) I dug down to about 30" and about 7" wide. Some of the later holes were much wider than 7", because I had to keep re-digging them to get the posts in the right spot. Trial and error is probably not how the professionals do it.

Once the holes were dug, I put about 6" of gravel into the bottom of the hole. I hear this helps with drainage? Again, once we get beyond digging the actual holes I'm not an expert. But I can tell you what I did. Ask me again in five years and I'll tell you whether the deck is still standing.

After I'd pored the gravel into the bottom of the hole, I used my post to tamp it down. Then I set my post inside and added a few more inches of gravel just to hold the post in place while I poured in the concrete. (The posts I used are 4x4 pressure treated pine, reclaimed from the kids' fort I tore down to make room for the Bunk-alow. They were in great shape and I've even got enough to use for the front porch railing...if I ever get to that point.)

Here is the concrete mixture I used. I mixed half a bag at a time with water in a five gallon bucket until it was the consistency of sloppy mashed potatoes. If you're going to mix concrete this way, please grab yourself one of this mixers:

It turns your high speed drill into a super powerful mixer, good for mixing concrete, thinset, grout, mortar, and also gigantic batches of whipped cream.

Once my concrete was the right consistency, I poured it into the hole around each post hole. I probably should have used a whole bag of concrete per post hole, but I only had two bags so I used a half bag of concrete which almost filled the holes. Once it cured I topped off the holes with more gravel, tamped down around the post.

Concrete and gravel costs about the same per bag (around $3/bag) but I didn't realize I'd go through so much concrete. Next time I'd buy double.

Before my concrete cured, I made sure all of the posts were plumb.

Sights like this make Scott very happy.

Instead of trying to figure out how tall to make all of the posts before putting them into the ground, I stuck them in the ground extra long and then cut them off once I leveled the frame for the deck.

The next day, my concrete was cured well enough to continue building. More on the deck in part three!

Psst...I am not an expert on setting posts and even if I were, I make mistakes. This isn't a tutorial. It's more of a building diary. Click here for all of the Backyard Bunk-alow posts!

Edited to add:  I just read in This Old House Magazine that posts set in concrete will eventually rot because of the moisture trapped against the post. Let's cross our fingers that these posts won't see that fate for a very long time.