Painting Eichler Siding

Painting Eichler siding takes forever.  It’s probably the most tedious thing I’ve ever done (and I worked as a file clerk filing service reports at a car dealership all through high school)… but after 8 months  all of the siding is painted! (granted I took a break for about 3 months due to cold weather) Those tiny grooves that make Eichler siding so unique also make it such a pain to paint!  I hope that nobody ever has to paint Eichler siding, but if you do, here is my advice:

Storage- we purchased the Thinline Breckenridge 5/8 siding from Jeff at eichlersiding.com.  We purchased in about 4 increments of about 10 sheets each- that seems about as much as the Ford Ranger can hold.  When we got it home we kept it in the garage in a stack on top of some 2×4’s (so that air could circulate underneath and they weren’t directly on the floor).  During the winter months we noticed that the sheets started to twist after a couple weeks (we weren’t always quick with our installation…) so we weighed down the stack on each corner with some heavy things (tool boxes etc) found in the garage.

Preparation- Before priming, we would lightly sand each sheet by hand with medium grit sandpaper to remove any rough patches and then sweep with a regular broom to remove the dust.  At points we got lazy and would skip one or both steps.  It turns out the sweeping is the most critical step, the light sanding can probably be skipped all together.  If you skip the sweeping, be prepared to see large particles in the finished product- I ended up sanding these once they were primed and hung, but it would have been much less work to just sweep in the first place.

Priming- According to Jeff from eichlersiding.com, you should prime the siding prior to installation.  We did one coat of Zinsser 1-2-3 primer, purchased in 2-gallon buckets from Home Depot.  It comes in 1-, 2- and 5-gallon buckets, but the 2-gallon is the most economical and the empty buckets are super handy (see below).  After a lot of trial and error with different methods and supplies, this is what I finally settled on: First, I would insert a metal 2-gallon paint grid directly into the 2-gallon bucket (like this but the 2-gallon size).   If the bucket was more than half full, I would pour 1 gallon into another empty primer bucket so I was never working with more than 1 gallon of primer at a time.  Then I would dip my 6″ mini roller with Purdy 1/2″ nap roller cover attached to a 4′ wood extension pole into the bucket to fully submerge the roller cover.  With the siding on the floor still in the stack (note we didn’t protector the floor at all since we don’t really care about getting paint on it- we just cleaned up major drips), I would stand on the sheet I was about to prime and use the roller to smear the primer onto the siding.  The smearing action is key- you don’t want the roller to actually roll, otherwise it won’t get paint all the way into the grooves… you need to put a bit of pressure on it to get it to smear properly, which is why it’s best to stand over it and use the extension pole.

Once there was paint smeared on the whole sheet, I would go over the whole sheet again with a 2.5″ or 3″ angled brush to get rid of any areas with too much paint and to make sure paint got into all the grooves (the ends are especially tricky).  I would also make sure I got the edges primed, especially the underlap edge.

Tip: Screw a cup hook into the wooden part near the base of the brush (between the metal and the handle) so that you can hang the brush on the edge of the paint bucket without it getting too much paint on it.  It’s pretty important to keep a relatively dry brush in order to be able to properly get rid of too much paint build up.

After the top was dry (usually overnight) I would put it onto a table next to the stack of siding on the floor with the back of the siding facing up (painted groove side down).  Then I would use a roller to paint the edges and the outside 12″ or so of the back.  Since the back is pretty smooth, you can actually let the roller roll for this step (enjoy it while it lasts!).  Once the back was dry, the sheet was finished and we would stack them on their side until we needed to install them.

The preparation+priming steps take about 30 minutes per sheet once you get good at it.  I would typically do the front (groove side) of one sheet and the back (non-groove side) of another sheet on the same day (usually after work).  It’s hard to do more than that because you definitely want the sheets to dry flat (at least the tops) to avoid any drips.  On days when the demand from Andy (the husband/ siding installer) for primed siding was high, I would drag some sheets out to the driveway to dry.

Tip: Store the roller cover in the bucket of primer when you’re done (assuming there’s at least 1.5″ of primer left in the bucket)… it will never dry out this way and you won’t have to wash it.  If you know you’ll be primering again in the next day or 2, store your brush in a gallon size zip loc bag (remove any air before making sure it’s completely sealed).  If you do this, you will get some build up on your brush over time.  If you want your brush to remain as clean as possible, wash it when you’re finished.  I found washing things in the back yard (the paint grid, roller frame and brush) with a hose that has a spray nozzel to be easier than washing in the kitchen sink… but then again our back yard is mostly weeds and dirt- if you care about your grass/landscaping, you may want to do your cleanup elsewhere.

Prepping for Painting- Once the siding is primed and installed (see more on installation in this post- that was Andy’s job), it needs to be prepped again.  The first step is caulking where the siding meets the eave or any trim.  This step could probably be avoided if you were to install trim at the top of the siding (like the Eichlers originally have), but we decided to skip the trim in most places (the exception being the back of the house- for some reason the gaps were HUGE there… too much for caulk to cover up).  For caulk, we used big stretch in white, which has been amazing (we scored 8 tubes from our neighbor in exchange for Andy letting him borrow the Ford Ranger!).  It says it can fill up to a 2″ gap!   When applying it, be careful not to get any in the siding grooves.  Also, if the gap to be filled is 1/4″ or wider, it’s best to use backer rod to fill the gap prior to caulking (it will save you lots of money in caulk!).

The next step is to fill any gashes left by the guy installing the siding (Andy).  I did NOT fill in over nail holes (though I guess you could if you were super meticulous!), just if he missed a nail or otherwise mauled the siding.

Finally, you’ll notice that you will see some tiny holes inside the groves, usually in a straight line across 5-6 groves.  This is because the siding is made of ply wood and while the top ply is solid, the ones underneath (which the grooves cut into) are made of multiple pieces that often have gaps between them.  It’s rare to get a whole sheet of siding without these “groove holes”.  Filling them is a bit tricky because you don’t want to fill in the groove, just the hole in the back of the groove.  I did this by pressing some plain wood filler into the hole with my finger, then using a putty knife to scrape any excess off the surface of the siding.  Then, I would use my specially designed groove tool  to run down the groove and remove any excess.  This takes a bit of practice to make sure you leave enough to fill the hole but not so much that it will cause a drip in your paint.

Tip: Design yourself a groove tool.  I used a wood shim trimmed at the right spot so the narrow end is slightly thinner than the groove- I started using a paint scraper, but that’s too thin to do the trick.  Be sure to write something on your groove tool so that your husband doesn’t mistake it for a wood scrap and throw it away (I went through about 3 groove tools this way).

Groove Tool 2

Over time, wood filler will build up on your groove tool and you may have to fashion yourself a new one (the one pictured above is at about the end of its life- eventually it will get too fat to fit in the groove).

Painting- Finally, you are ready for your first coat of paint! We used flat exterior Behr Ultra paint in “Amazon Stone”.  My painting setup consisted of the following:

NumberedPaintSetup

1. A 2-gallon bucket (we used empty primer buckets left over from the priming- don’t worry, you’ll have plenty- 2 gallons covers about 8 sheets of siding, so prime 8 sheets before you get started painting). This is your “working” paint bucket.  I like to fill the bucket with about 1/2 to 1 gallon of paint, enough so that I never have less than 1.5″ or so of paint in the bucket.  Also, label the bucket so that if you have any helpers or curious husbands they know that it’s not primer.

2. A paint stirrer- it’s important to stir your paint before you start.  The can says to stir it while you work as well, but I never seemed to need to (if I took a break longer than 10 minutes I would seal the bucket so it wouldn’t dry out).  These are free wherever you buy your paint.  I don’t advise leaving it in your working paint bucket- it’ll get grimy and in the way- just wash it right away.

3. A 6″ mini roller frame (the same one you use for priming is fine since you should wash it after every paint/primer session) with Purdy 1/2″ nap roller cover.  Get a separate roller cover devoted specifically to your paint color- unless you primed all of your siding ahead of time which I did NOT do- so I was constantly switching between priming and painting and it was super nice not to ever have to wash the roller covers!

4. A 2.5″ or 3″ angled brush.  Again, having one just for your paint color is ideal (a separate one for the primer).  Also, see the cup hook tip above, this is very important!

5. A swiveling paint can hook.  This makes it super easy when you’re standing on the ladder or even next to the ladder.

6. A sturdy ladder.  I like our little giant (we got it at Costco a couple years ago). Unless you’re really tall, you’ll need a ladder to reach the top of the siding.  Something sturdy is also important- our 5′ aluminum ladder is too wobbly for me!

7.  A pair of gloves.  These latex work gloves are my favorite- I found mine in the garden section of home depot- I think they’re kids-sized.   I tried disposables but they tear frequently, don’t fit as nicely and I hate throwing them away.

8. An old rag or paper towels to wipe up major spills or drips onto something painted a different color.

Now for my painting method.  I like to start at the top in a 2′-3′ square section and work downward.  It’s very important to work in small sections at a time (start with a 2′ square then work up to a 3′ square once you get the hang of it).  Just like the primer, you need to smear the paint onto the surface- if you roll it like you’re painting your bedroom wall, it won’t get into the grooves.  The problem is that because you’re working vertically instead of horizontally (and you may be standing on a ladder), it’s hard to get as much pressure on the roller to do a good smear- so you need to load the roller up with more paint.  Once you get the paint smeared on your square, put the roller into the bucket and switch to your brush.  You will have drips!  Use the brush to go over each groove (I hold the brush parallel to the groove) making sure to get rid of any drips and fill in any areas that were missed with the roller (you should have had so much paint on the roller that you didn’t miss much).  This is why it’s important to work in small sections… so you can get the drips with the brush before they dry.  After going over the grooves once, I like to go over them again just to be safe.  Your goal is to get the excess paint out of the grooves, so it’s best to keep a relatively dry brush (another reason you may want to wash and dry your brush when you’re finished each day rather than keeping it in a zip loc bag).  You’ll also notice that you can elongate your square a bit as you work the paint downward with the brush.  Once you’re happy with the section you just painted, move on to the one underneath it until you’ve completed a 2′ to 3′ wide section of siding.  Now, look up… did you miss any drips?  This is pretty much your last chance to get them before they dry, so do a final check now.  Congratulations, only about 80 more of these to go (on the first coat).

Tip: When you get to the bottom, don’t forget to paint the bottom edge of the siding near the foundation.  This is probably the most important part of the siding to protect and the easiest to overlook!

Tip: After a while your roller cover will get pretty matted down and be less effective… splurge on a new one, you deserve it- after all, you’re painting your whole house by yourself!  However, don’t be tempted by the giant 3/4″ wool rollers (thinking they’re SURE to get into those pesky grooves)… they’re a waste of money and don’t get the paint in the groove- stick to 1/2″ nap, those seemed to work the best.

Tip: Do NOT try to paint in cold weather (if it’s going to drop below 50 degrees in 3-4 hours after the paint is applied, and especially if it drops below freezing).  I learned this the hard way!  The paint doesn’t dry and in the morning mixes with the dew/frost (and slides completely off the metal flashing at the top of the siding) and makes a giant drippy mess!

I (and Jeff the Eichler siding guy) HIGHLY recommend doing a second full coat of paint using the same method as above, but it will go a little faster this time.  Contrary to what your helpers will tell you, it doesn’t count as 2 coats already just because you used a roller and a brush!  Siding is an expensive investment (ours was about $4000 before the primer/ paint… and we didn’t pay for installation…) and you definitely want to protect it!  Also, if you do a better job now, your paint job should last longer (and by that time you will have saved up enough money to hire a professional to paint your house).

Also, after experiencing first-hand how tedious it is to paint your eichler siding, your helpers will recommend that you get a paint sprayer.  In Jeff’s words: “spraying is quicker, but in our estimation, spraying does not apply nearly enough paint to afford good protection. Using a brush to get the primer/sealer and topcoat in the grooves seems to be the best approach. Then follow with a good roller to smooth out the paint. Always keep in mind that your goal is to give the porous wood the best protection against the elements”.  Note that I didn’t “follow with a good roller to smooth out the paint”- I did it for the first 5-10 sheets, but then realized it was causing more drips so I stopped after brushing and everything looked fine (IF you do 2 coats… the first one doesn’t look great- you can see brush marks).

The last issue that I had to resolve is the gap between sheets of siding:

SidingSeam

Because this gap is a bit deeper than the other grooves, it’s difficult to get paint to fill it in properly.  On smaller gaps this isn’t an issue, but on larger gaps you can even see some of the white Tyvek under the siding.  I decided to address this with my good friend Big Stretch caulk.  Since caulk expands and contracts with the wood (and Big Stretch does an amazing job at this without cracking), I prefer to use that over wood filler (which does not expand and contract- it just cracks) to fill in the gap.  After applying the caulk, I ran my index finger down the length of the gap to make sure the caulk got into all of the crevices and to remove any excess.  Because I didn’t address this issue until after painting, I had to wait for the caulk to dry and then paint over the caulked groove.  I highly recommend doing this in the post-installation pre-painting prep step.  When you’re finished, it should look like this:

Caulked Eichler Siding

Overall, the siding looks pretty good and you can’t see the drips and caulked gaps from a distance.  Here’s the painted east side of our house (notice we still have to hang the trim and paint the foundation):

PaintedEichlerSiding2

Tip/Warning: Get some helpers.  At best they will speed the job up, at worst you’ll have more fun working with other people/animals (even if it’s your dog or the dog you’re dog-sitting).  If you do manage to convince someone to help you (thanks Diane, Val, Nancy, Honey, Beau and Sandy!), you’ll need some extra materials.  I recommend getting a full second setup as described above.

I do NOT recommend having one person roll and one person brush.  As described above- the paint will dry before the brusher gets to it and you’ll have a lot of drips.  They’re not the worst thing in the world, but if you’re OCD like Andy and me, they WILL bother you and there’s pretty much nothing you can do about them once they’re dry:

PaintDrips

I also recommend doing the prep work and second coat and letting your helper do the first coat of paint- it’s the most rewarding and the hardest to mess up (assuming you’ve assigned them to memorize all the instructions on this page before they are allowed to start).

If you don’t want to get a full second painting set-up, you could get a second brush (or hijack your primer brush for the day) and ladder and have one person ‘cut-in’ at the top of the siding where it meets the eave.  This is a tricky and time consuming part, so make sure your helper has a steady hand and a little OCD.  You could also have your helper work on painting the foundation (assuming you’ve prepped for them- more details on that here), be on drip-patrol, prime the siding, keep your beer/lemonade glass full or just keep you company.

Here’s our cost break down for JUST the painting and priming (not including the siding itself, siding installation, trim nor the foundation paint).  If your siding is already installed and painted, you can probably skip the priming step/cost:

Primer: 5 buckets (2 gallons each) @$30/bucket: $150

Paint: 9 gallons of siding paint @ $35/gallon: $315 (note that we got the 5-gallon price for the first 5 gallons- they couldn’t get the formula to work for a 5-gallon bucket though, so it came in 5 1-gallon cans… which was fine with me- we just had to make sure there was a bit of intermixing)

Supplies: 2 Brushes, 2 Roller Frames, 6 roller covers, 2 paint hooks, 2 pairs of gloves, wood filler, 5 tubes of caulk (before we got the free caulk from our neighbor), Caulk backer rod: About $150.

Ladders (already owned and will be re-used many times, so not fair to count them here)

Pedicures for the lead painter because she paints in flip flops (2 @ $30 each): $60

Total: $675 (this does not include paint for the trim and foundation, though you’ll probably have enough leftover siding paint to use on the trim that will be the same color as the siding)

 

Accessorizing an Eichler

We finally finished the front of the house (minus landscaping) back in December by accessorizing.  We replaced our old front door, lights and house numbers seen here:

Old front door, lights and house numbers

With these beauties:

Eichler Entryway

The door is a solid core door purchased at San Rafael lumber.  It was not easy to cut, drill and hang- it was HEAVY!  We custom mixed the door color to come up with something that was like chartreuse with a bit of olive (we started with Gliden’s “Granny Smith Apple” matched to Eggshell Behr Ultra Paint, but had it adjusted a few times to make it more “olive” and less “neon”.

The sconce, doorknob, escutcheon (the plate around the doorknob), and deadbolt are from mid-century modern line at Rejuvenation.  Their website is not great- but they’re very helpful if you call or go into a store.  The store in Berkeley only carried the light, so we had to order the door hardware through the website/phone.  Originally the deadbolt didn’t have all the pieces so I called and they shipped the missing part over night.  The door hardware is pretty pricey (more than I wanted to spend but our neighbor talked Andy into it) but it’s as close to authentic as it gets and they’re commercial quality.  We went for the 5″ inset that was original to the Eichlers.

The peephole and house numbers are from Home Depot and we got the stainless steel door bottom guard from Ace Hardware (Andy did need to modify it a bit with his grinder to work with the slope of the floor in the atrium).  The LED security light on the left is from Costco.

Andy even made a custom stainless steel doorbell plate to work with our existing doorbell:

Custom Door Bell

We’re really happy with how the front of the house looks and have received several compliments from neighbors.  One neighbor even stopped by to tell Andy we had the “most improved house in the neighborhood”!  That really made Andy’s day :-)

Eichler Facade

Eichler Boilers and Math

FIRST: I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT BOILERS AND THIS POST DOES NOT CLAIM TO KNOW ANYTHING.  TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL IF YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT YOUR HEATING.

So, our dreary old boiler (circa 1958) “seemed” to be on the fritz a few weeks ago and now it’s working “fine”.  I say “seemed” because it appears to be working now and I say “fine” because it’s working as well as any 55 year old boiler should work.

The Story: Sometime in December (2012) we were noticing a gas smell coming from the hallway adjacent the boiler.   Obviously, any time you smell gas you should call the gas company. Oh, we also noticed our heating bill was $100 more than the same month last year. So, not sensing any danger, I called a plumber.

The Plumber: (Who, by the way, I trust and would recommend to anyone who asks) The Plumber looked at the boiler and said, “you’re not burning all the gas in your boiler and the orange colored flame indicates the boiler is inefficient”.  There was also pounds and pounds of black carbon inside the boiler that had accumulated over the years. Finally, he pointed out that the boiler (in it’s current state) could be a carbon monoxide problem. He said he could clean the unit to see if this might help.

The Cost: We then talked about boiler units and the cost. He recommended the “Solo 110 Triangle Tube” for our house (our square footage about 1750).  The unit is $3,500 and the install would be about $3,000 (all estimates on the high side). I shrugged, I really don’t have $6,500 dollars just laying around. $9,500 with a new water heater system!!

The Cleanup: I took off the smokestack and the top “dome” lid to the boiler and power washed the whole thing with a garden hose. FYI: There is a TON of copper in these bad boys and they’re probably worth something just for the metal value. Anyway,  I removed about 5 pounds of black carbon caked to everything and after using the shop vac to suck up all the water I used a blow dryer to get the unit dry enough to start up.

The Realization: When I started the unit I noticed the gas was coming out with WAY too much force and the flame was having trouble burning all the gas.  I adjusted the valve “thingy” (photo below) and the boiler burned with a consistent blue flame (mostly). I’m now convinced the unit was receiving too much gas  and could not burn all the fuel efficiently.

THE MATH: My TOTAL Yearly Natural Gas bill is $1,221.  If I subtract $168 to heat my water and run laundry ($14/month) the total cost for the current (old) boiler is $1,053/year. Now, considering this thing is so old I probably need to spend $200/year on maintenance and considering this old tank runs around 70% efficiency, maybe even 60%, my yearly cost to operate is “old bertha” is $1,253…ugh.

Now, replacement cost is $6,500 and the new boiler would be 95% efficient (claims the manufacturer).  So, the difference in cost would be 25% or 35% less per month based on efficiency. I’m sure I can get this down to $5,000 but let’s use $6,500 for now.

On a YEARLY basis a new boiler “could” save $263 (25%) or $368 (35%) per year.

So, best case, I save $568/year (I’m not paying for the maintenance of $200).   Or, maybe the new unit is only saving $263/year because I don’t have any maintenance with the old unit.  My best guess is that it’s somewhere is the middle between $263 and $568, or $415/year.

($6,500 install cost) / ($415 yearly savings) = 15.6 Years to break even but with piece of mind

Now, this doesn’t account for the increased cost of gas and assumes the new unit will be completely trouble free (probably about 90% chance of that).

I also have to consider the new unit won’t last 50 years but I’ll probably sell the house by then.  I think a respectable life on a new boiler is 25 years because they have electronics and they are not as heavy duty.

Oh yeah, there’s the whole environment thing too.

-Andy

Here’s the Unit (Notice the electrical starter we added, this was about $700 to retofit on the system).

2013-01-23_17-29-41_629

 

Picture Showing Handle/Lever “Thingy“:

2013-01-23_17-30-11_459_ima

 

Eichler Beam Repair

One of the hallmarks of Eichler homes is the post-and-beam construction.  When it’s in good shape, it’s a nice architectural feature.  However, when neglected, the beams can quickly deteriorate.  Some of the beams in our house were in such bad shape they needed to be replaced (like in the office and above the garage door).  Others only had a little bit of rot and could be saved after a little beam surgery.  Hopefully we are finished replacing beams and can devote ourselves fully to beam repair.

Here’s the beam over the garage on the corner of our house- my first attempt at beam repair (much of the rotten part is actually inside the garage in a hard-to-see corner).  It’s the same corner that had a serious leak when we moved in and everything but the beam was replaced when we replaced the garage door.  It’s actually a pretty short beam- it only runs about 4 feet into the garage- I think it’s mostly decorative and not so structural.

This is the exterior side of the beam which is still exposed, even with the roof extension.  You can see the bottom was in pretty bad shape (I scraped out some of the soft wood with a putt knife).  The other side of the beam was actually in worse shape.  Luckily it’s now covered by the roof extension (and the roof is no longer leaking).

On the recommendation of our neighbor (another Eichler home owner), we used the Rot Doctor’s Restor-It system.  All together it was about $60 from Jackson’s hardware in San Rafael- but considering the severity or the rot, I don’t think my trusty “everyday”  Elmer’s wood filler ($8/tub from Home Depot) would hold.  Also, $60 is very reasonable in comparison to the cost and labor involved in replacing a beam (and doesn’t require big strong men nor a kitchen table on the front yard).

The first step is to apply the Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer- it’s a 2-part mixture (I mixed equal parts in a glass measuring cup reserved especially for chemicals).  It’s supposed to stop further rot and also harden the existing wood.  In theory, if you don’t stop the rot, there could be mold spores in the wood that continue to rot the wood after you fill it, causing a continuous repair cycle.  I know this because I read the entire brochure that came with the sealer.  It can also act as a primer for rotted wood, which I haven’t tried yet.  I can say from experience that paint bubbles when you cut corners and paint directly over rotted wood- even if you use primer first, so I’ll probably be testing this priming feature pretty soon.

You are supposed to apply it with a natural bristle brush (I used a foam brush which it says NOT to use, but I didn’t see that instruction until after I did it- everything seemed ok though).  When you apply it, it soaks in quite a bit and leaves the wood looking wet:

It really stinks (I used a respirator when applying it) and takes a few days to dry.  At this point you could prime and paint- but it wouldn’t be pretty given I dug away the soft wood with my painter’s tool … so the next step is to apply the flexible epoxy filler.  Again it’s a 2-part system where you mix equal parts from 2 separate jars:

I used a plastic putty knife and eyeballed approximately equal amounts of the two parts (cleaning the putty knife in between), applying it to a piece of scrap wood (my palette).  It says you can be off by up to 10% in your 50/50 (by volume) mixture, so it seems to be an inexact science.  The cream colored part (A) has a plasticy texture and the blue part (B) is a little more paste-like.  I used the putty knife to thoroughly mix the two together.  For some reason, I’ve been afraid of using a 2-part wood-filling system, but I actually like it a lot- every time you mix up some new filler it’s like getting brand new container of filler (no crusty old filler)!  It is a little bit more work though- you have to mix each time you need more (In the end, I used about 4-times what is shown in the picture, so I had to mix it in about 4 batches- the instructions warn against mixing more than you can use immediately- I really took that to heart).  Application is very similar to any other wood filler- I just used my metal painter’s tool (a putty knife with a funky shape)- though my neighbor uses a plastic sheet and a squeegee.  The texture is a bit more like bubble gum or silly putty than regular wood filler, but it takes enough time to dry that you can really work with it without worrying about it hardening on you right away.  It dries a bit harder than regular wood putty (which I guess is a good thing)- but that means it’s more work to sand.  I used my trusty Rigid R2300 random orbital sander and it seemed to work pretty well.  Here it is after I applied it:

On this side of the beam where the hole to be filled is a little deeper, I considered filling it in 2 stages, letting the first filling dry first before doing a second filling- but because it’s mostly hidden once the siding is installed (the left/back part of the beam is inside the garage), I just did my best with one application and the sander.  Here it is after sanding, priming and painting:

Here’s the other side of the beam:

It definitely looks much better- and I have high hopes that it will stay looking this good for a long time.  As we continue to replace the siding we’re finding spots in the fascia that need the same treatment, so maybe I’ll try our neighbor’s squeegee method next!

Removing water marks from stainless steel applicances

We’ve replaced all of the appliances in our kitchen with stainless steel appliances.  We started with the refrigerator (Samsung) when we moved in about a year and a half ago, then the range (Electrolux) about a year ago and finally the dishwasher (Samsung) about 6 months ago.  We really like the look and function of everything, but I noticed the refrigerator and dishwasher started getting “water marks”- some looked like splashes, some like water drips, some like the marks left after cleaning with a wet sponge.  The water mark’s would not wash clean, even after repeatedly scrubbing- even when using special stainless steel cleaner.

We had the same sort of marks on the dishwasher (more like long drips though).  The range top was fine, but the front stainless steel on the range door had similar marks.  After trying to live with these for over a year, I finally did something about them.  After a little googling for ideas, it turns out to have been tarnish.  Though stainless steel won’t “stain” (rust) it WILL tarnish- and I think this depends on the specific type of stainless steel that is used (for instance the range top was fine and I know some appliances have a special finish where you don’t even see finger prints).

The solution? Silver polish!

I used the Wright’s Silver Cream that I have for my silver candle sticks- it actually says on the jar that it can be used on stainless steel too.  You apply it with the hexagonal sponge included in the jar, then buff it off with a paper towel and THEN use the stainless steel cleaner to remove all traces of the silver cream.  As you can see by the black paper towels, there was quite a bit of tarnish on our appliances.  After an hour or so of cleaning all of our kitchen appliances, they looked BETTER than new!

Eichler Face Lift

In mid September we started working on replacing the siding and painting- our biggest project to date.  We decided to do one side of the house at a time, starting with the front, which we figured would make the biggest impact.  Andy began by removing the top layer of siding, which was yellow painted pressboard (basically cardboard):

Under the pressboard was the original plywood siding.  It was rotted so badly there was no way to save it (we were hoping that at least SOME was salvageable- maybe in the protected area by the front door, but no such luck).  The yellow pressboard was also rotted in many places and even had some green moss growing on the outside of it.  Besides being the absolute cheapest type of siding available, It was installed incorrectly (horizontally instead of vertically) which caused water to seep in at the (poorly caulked) seams.  That caused the pressboard to rot and buckle.  Wet cardboard on top of rotted ply wood… not good.  The insulation in the walls was in bad shape too (which we knew from re-doing the walls in the office)… so we replaced that as well.

One of the worst areas of rot was around the spigot:

After removing the 2 layers of siding, Andy discovered that the studs were also rotted- apparently the spigot had been leaking at one point.  This is a pretty tricky spot to work in- it is where the water line enters the house from the street- directly behind the spigot, inside the garage, is the water pressure regulator, an emergency water shutoff and an electrical receptacle.   Andy removed the small section of fence next to the spigot and then started “carefully” using his sawzall to remove the existing studs.  However, there is no such thing as careful when it comes to a sawzall- it nicked the water line extending down from the spigot in the picture above (which was plastic) causing water to gush out spraying everywhere at about a gallon per second.  Andy ran to the sidewalk to shut off the main water supply (forgetting about the emergency shutoff 6 inches away) and I ran to the electrical panel to shut off the power.  Honey was confused.  Andy got the water shut off and rebuilt the wall… it’s a good thing he gets paid so well (in Racer 5 IPA)

Here’s what the new siding looked like once it was primed (which we did in the garage) and hung:

So beautiful!  We kept the windows and the trim around them in place while Andy worked the siding around them- which was a bit tricky but saved having to replace the windows.  After the siding was up, it was time to prep for paint.  That involved a lot of caulking (where the top of the siding meets the beams and the eave and where the fascia meets the eave), digging away the dirt around the foundation, power washing and then scrubbing the foundation with a tri-sodium phosphate solution (basically a strong soap that melted my cute pink rubber gloves), doing some beam repair, and repairing around the front door.  The previous owners had installed the lovely (sarcasm) orange door which was a pre-hung door, meaning it came with its own frame… so they “carefully” (probably with a sawzall) cut out the original framing around the door to get the new door frame in- then covered up the gap left between the two with some trim.  When I removed the trim pieces, the gap was so big you could see into the atrium through the 1/2″ crack all the way around the door.  Nothing some wood shims and a couple tubs of wood filler couldn’t fix though:

I just used some regular Elmer’s wood filler… we’ll see how it holds up… so far so good.  One thing we did notice is that if it gets wet (like when your husband sawzalls a water line 3 feet away) it swells… so be sure to prime and paint it right away.

Painting Eichler siding is SO TEDIOUS!  Because of the thin grooves, the paint has to be applied (with a super wet roller) then the paint worked into the grooves (and the excess paint removed from the grooves) with a brush… so you basically need to brush the whole house… twice (2 coats).  The cheap, fast, easy way to do it is with a sprayer, but that doesn’t get as good coverage and doesn’t get the paint worked into the grooves, so isn’t recommended.  Diane and I did most of the work- it took 2 of us about 5 hours each to get the first coat on (excluding the garage door), then about 7 more hours for me to do the 2nd coat and paint the garage door by myself.  Diane was paid in Racer 5 IPA:

Shawn also helped paint for about 20 minutes.  He’s better suited for siding work though:

We used flat exterior Behr Ultra paint in “Amazon Stone” (one shade darker than “Creek Bend”, the color we used in the Atrium) for the siding, garage door, and most of the trim.  The underside of the eaves and the beams are semi-gloss exterior Behr Ultra in the un-tinted ultra white base.   It’s a fairly new product so doesn’t have a full review from Consumer Reports, but the preliminary review is very good- and it’s about half the cost of Benjamin Moor Aura paint, which many pros swear by.  Interestingly, our neighbor is painting his house in almost the same color with Aura paint… so we’ll have a good real-life comparison of the 2 products.

Here’s what that spigot looks like now (we plan to remove the fence at some point- it’s just there for now to keep my sister’s dogs from escaping the front yard)

The vertical PVC pipe attached to the old spigot went nowhere (probably a defunct irrigation system), so we simply removed it.  Andy custom-made the corner trim pieces with his table saw using 2″x2″ lumber.

Here’s what the doorway looks like now:

(We have plans to replace the front door and paint it a new color… still deciding on hardware and color though)

And here’s the full frontal view.  Maybe we’ll trim that giant maple tree this winter… now that we don’t need it to block our ugly house.

Here you can see the newly painted foundation.  We used Behr’s concrete and stucco paint, also in “Amazon Stone” for the foundation.  It’s not a perfect color match to the house color, but it’s formulated for concrete, so I suppose that’s worth the slight mismatch

(Still working on the grass… probably a lost cause)

Quite the face lift, eh?  We’re REALLY happy with how it’s turned out… and with how much money we saved by doing it ourselves (contractors charge $300 per 8’x4′ sheet just to INSTALL the siding… not to mention the materials, insulation, priming, painting, and re-constructing rotted studs… That works out to about $100/hour- a price we’re not willing to pay).  It was REALLY hard, time-consuming work though… and we have 2 more sides of the house to finish- so we’re not even 1/3 done :-( … but at least the house looks really nice when we come home to it :-)

 

 

The Atrium

One of the features of our house that we really like is the center atrium.  We never really had a vision for the atrium though, it just sort of evolved.  Here’s what we had to work with when we moved in:

(view from the office):

The very first project we tackled in the atrium was to lower the planters. The dirt was held in by the bricks and the level was almost flush with the top of the bricks- a few inches HIGHER than the siding and window sills.  Our pest inspector had pointed out that having dirt up to the wood window sills and siding was not good (burying wood in dirt eventually turns the wood into dirt… and it makes it easier for termites to get to the wood)- the soil level should be 3-6″ below the siding/sills.  Before we could lower the dirt, however, we had to remove the white marble rocks that surrounded all of the plants.  Andy’s mom did this project on the weekend we moved in (she is very industrious!).  Next, we started de-foresting.  We began by transplanting the ferns to the back yard but we kept some of the tropical plants including all of the birds of paradise plants (we moved two from the back yard into the atrium). Our de-forestation efforts cleared enough way that we could start removing dirt.  As we did this, we noticed quite a bit of wood damage.  The bottom 2-3″ of the east wall of the atrium (the one next to the long planter) was rotted, as was the windowsill on that wall. There were also a couple patches about 12″ square on that wall that had rotted. Our initial plan was to replace the siding on the entire wall- and since that would be about $400 worth of siding, we put the project on hold.

Next, we replaced the lighting in the atrium- previously there was a one fixture that was wired with an old extension cord that went through the boiler exhaust vent to tap into the light in the laundry room, and another that piggy-backed off that one (again, hard wired with an old extension cord) that showcased the fountain in the corner.  Both were replaced with two matching minimalist fixtures (Home Depot Clearance) centered on the long wall of the atrium.

Once it started to get hot last summer, we quickly learned that our atrium was serving as a green house (hence the lush plant life).  One particularly hot July day it was about 90 degrees outside and 120 degrees in the atrium.  Since we were borrowing my brother-in-law’s truck and the atrium cover was old, cracked, and leaky anyway, we decided it would be a fun afternoon project to remove the covering of the atrium.

Not only did that make it much more pleasant on summer days, it also gave us a view of the hills from our dining room.

The next project we tackled was the sliding door between the garage and the atrium.  You can read about that project here.  This picture shows how you could see into the garage from the atrium (it’s also a regal picture of Honey Brown staring at her food!):

To patch the atrium side of the wall, we got 2 sheets of thinline Beckenridge Eichler Siding from Jeff, the Eichler Siding guy.  It was a bit tricky to install and we ended up with a 1/2″ gap between the new and existing siding- but it was nothing that a fresh tub of wood putty couldn’t handle :-)

A pretty painless project was to add some privacy to the tall narrow window adjacent to the front door.  Previously it was completely transparent allowing someone to see clear into our house from the street:

I simply covered it with transparent contact-paper using a spray bottle and squeegee method:

Clearly, a new frosted window would be nice- but you can’t really beat a $6 fix (from Target) that takes an hour!  It even fooled a neighbor (who has an AWESOME house in our model) who was tempted to try it on her own window!

Speaking of contact paper, we needed to find a slightly classier solution to our don’t-run-into-the-glass-door problem than what we currently had in place:

(wait for the solution, I don’t want to give away everything yet!)

The biggest transformation came in the spring when we decided to plant hops (the kind that goes into beer) along the long wall in the atrium.  We had limited time before the hop vines would be climbing up the wall, so we had to do something to repair the wall of siding which had several rotted spots and a rotted bottom.  Rather than replace all of the siding, we decided to do some patching.  We had extra siding from where we replaced the sliding door on the other wall, so the smaller patches were pretty straight forward.  For the bottom 2-3″ of siding that was rotted all the way across the wall (from having dirt against it for years), Andy simply trimmed off the rotted part (plus about 1-2″ for a total of 4″) with his circular saw, installed a long strip of wood (that looks like a baseboard) and siliconed the heck out of everything.   Andy is a master at carpentry and I am a master at wood putty and paint, so once everything was painted, it was hardly noticeable as a “patch”.  Once we got that wall patched and painted, Andy installed some steel wire for the hops to climb and I got to work prepping (scraping and sanding away a LOT of old paint and caulking lots of gaps) and painting (Behr “creek bend”) the rest of the atrium.  Here she is now:

As you can see, it’s a perfect place to relax, drink some coffee and read.  Especially with some machine generated relaxing nature sounds.  We thought about getting a fountain for ambient noise, but this is much cheaper and easier to maintain!

Here’s our new view of the hills from the dining room:

You’ll notice that we don’t have nearly as many tropical plants as we started out with… some were badly sun burnt when we removed the plastic top from the atrium, some died from a combination of neglect and cold temperatures over the winter, and lots were trampled with my ladder as I was painting.  Oh well- at least the hops survived!  I also planted an herb garden- the basil, parsley and mint (which I transplanted from the side of the house) are doing really well.  The parsley is ok, but the cilantro died by a combination of getting paint spilled on them and being trampled by the ladder.  I think this little patch of dirt is quite perfect for plants- last year we had some MAMMOTH tomato plants growing there:

The brick perimeter to the planters is not the most beautiful or sturdy thing (in some areas the bricks are simply staying in place from gravity, not mortor), but it provides enough of a barrier to keep Honey Brown out (too bad we can’t say the same for my sister’s dogs!). Speaking of Honey Brown, she really enjoys the atrium too- mostly because we spend time there now too:

Though Honey enjoys baking in the sun, we’re a little more fair-skinned, so we brought in an umbrella ($50 from Home Depot) and the umbrella stand (which came for free with the house) to provide some shade and some nice cheerful color:

Oh, and here is our more classy solution to our running-into-glass-doors problem:

More contact paper!  I used a circle punch to make a bunch of dots, then stuck them to all of the sliders at eye level.  So far, so good! They’re on every sliding door in the house (except the ones with the plastic grids that look like fake window panes).  Before we have our friends with toddlers over again, I think we’ll have to stick more up at 3-year-old height (and maybe even Dog height).

Another quick project was to doctor up our door stop (we like to keep the front door propped open so that Honey Brown can explore the front yard).  We had been using an old brick but it started crumbling, so I make a quick “brick cozy” for it by wrapping it in some scrap fabric and quickly stitching it together.  It took all of 10 minutes:

Some day we’ll have a nice solid door…in a different color… some day.  The third project that made its way into the atrium is our stump table.  It’s a remnant from the giant oak tree we had cut down last winter:

It’s the perfect height for our chaises.

That’s all for now- I’m sure the atrium will continue to evolve (as I slowly kill more and more plants).  We’d like to add some outdoor speakers, replace the tile floor (it’s cracked in many places and also uneven), maybe put in a big dining table and some outdoor heaters instead of the chaise lounges and maybe even build a retractable cover.  For now, the atrium is good enough and we have bigger fish to fry anyway (like replacing the siding)!

The Office

Before we moved into our house, we knew we had some damage to one of the beams in our office (the front room off the atrium).  Our $400 pest inspector made this clear when he stuck his screw driver into the beam and left the lovely holes to remind us of his $400 bill:

This beam runs from the wall adjacent to the atrium, across the office, through the front wall of the house from which it extends another 3 feet, for a total of 16′ in length.  It was also clear that the exterior of the beam had some damage and it was starting to sag (due to damage to the post holding it up) which was affecting the siding:

Apparently this is a very common problem with this model of house- water intrudes around the beams which stick out from the front of the house with no eave to protect them.  We have a neighbor a few houses down who apparently faced a similar situation since he is now missing one of the beams that should be sticking out of the front of his house- it’s pretty obvious that it rotted and simply fell off (there’s still part of the rotted beam there).  Anyhow, this is the main reason we chose to extend our roof- to prevent this from happening again or to another beam. However, before we could extend our roof, we needed to replace this beam since the roof would be resting on top of it.

We thought about hiring this work out and talked to a contractor about it when we were shopping around for contractors to extend the roof.  After having one of them explain the process to us, Andy felt confident that he could do it with the help of the best brother in the world, Tim.  We also knew that if it got to be too difficult to handle, we could call the best contractor in the world, our friend Kevin Sullivan who helped replace the beam above our garage last summer.

The first step (done by Tim with close supervision from Honey Brown) was to build a false close to where the rotted beam was in order to support the roof while we replaced the beam.

Once the false wall was up, Tim started removing the drywall around the beam.  Like most of our house, the dry wall was applied directly to the existing paneling, making for extra laborious demo.  As soon as we started, we realized the damage was REALLY bad- the entire post holding up the beam was rotted.

Next came the fun part of taking out the rotted beam.  The exterior part came out pretty easily.  It was less attached to the rest of the beam than to the flashing!

The rest of the beam was attacked with the sawzall in about 3-foot sections.  As we (and by “we” I mean Andy and Tim) removed the old beam we came to realize that the ceiling was holding the beam up rather than the other way around (as we removed each section of beam, the ceiling seemed to breathe a sigh of relief).

While Tim and Andy were removing the old beam, I was busily priming and painting the new 20 foot beam (which was delivered to our driveway that morning by Golden State Lumber).

As Andy and Tim moved the beam from the street to the front yard, they started to get a feel for just how heavy a 20′ douglas fir beam is.

Our original plan was to simply insert it through the hole left by the old beam until it hit the opposite side of the office (13′ away) where it would rest on another post. We quickly realized that is much easier said than done.  Our first modification was to insert the new post on the exterior wall as clearly, the 2 layers of siding would not be enough to hold up that side of the beam.

Then, the boys built a “shelf” to rest the beam on which would prove to be extremely helpful as we slid it across the room:

Being scientist types, we decided to use some tools of physics to help us out, such as a lever created by our little giant ladder.  We also realized that our other ladder, a  4′ aluminum ladder was not nearly as sturdy as the kitchen table. On our first attempt we (and by “we” I truly mean myself included- though I lent more “advice” than muscle) got one end of the beam resting on our newly installed post like so:

At this point, we realized we would need to enlarge the hole that the beam was to slide through.  This meant removing the newly installed post and putting up a temporary one that was a few inches shorter.  We also learned that taking the beam down from that position is much harder than getting the beam to that position.  Trial 2 involved Andy on the roof with a harness.  The beam sustained some grass stains and I though we broke Tim.  Trial 2 was a failure.  Finally, at the end of the day, as many of our neighbors drove very slowly by the house taking in the scene that was unfolding on the front lawn (and likely wondering how long we were planning to keep the kitchen table on the front lawn) we had success!

Once the beam was pretty close to its final resting place, we simply had to re-install the permanent post and attach the beam to the post on both sides of the room.  We used some steel brackets as well as some 2x4s.  We later screwed through the roof into the beam, but not until just prior to getting the new roof. We also had to trim the beam on the exterior to make sure it was even with the others (we left it a foot or so long on purpose so that we could be assure it wouldn’t be too short).

This is also about the time we realized we may as well remove all of the walls in the office.  This would allow us to check the posts supporting the other beam (it was in good shape-phew!), install an overhead light in the center of the ceiling, ground all of the electrical:

replace and add insulation to all of the walls:

And remedy some of the sloppy trim and drywall work like this (notice the crack in the corner of the wall and the way the window casing is inset in the drywall):

Tim had gone home (exhausted and sore) so Andy hung the new drywall and I was in charge of the taping and mudding (apparently this fell close enough to the realm of painting which is clearly my territory). I was very nervous about the taping and spent many hours researching online how-tos (http://www.familyhandyman.com has some great how-tos, as does youtube).  Luckily enough, I procrastinated long enough that Uncle Joe took the initiative and did all of the taping for me (during his vacation no less!), leaving just the mudding.  It turns out you can do a pretty god job with drywall mud even as a novice, it just takes LOTS of time and sanding.

For the wall color, we chose Behr’s “Reflecting Pool.”  In the Home Depot, the color looks very grey, but in the office it is a very pale blue, which Andy likes very much (I had voted for “Dolphin fin” which is much more neutral, but got vetoed).  Ultimately, the office doesn’t look TOO different from how it started (the light fixture is way too small for the room- it’s just a place holder until I find something better), however the temperature difference from the insulation is quite noticeable- it went from being the hottest room in the house during the summer to the coolest!

Some day we’d like to replace the flooring and maybe the desk, but for now it’s good enough.

The Saga of the Weed Tree

One day, a weed started to grow next to our house.  It was left to grow for a very very long time.  This weed grew for so long it became a tree: the weed tree.  It grew big and tall and eventually came to shelter the house’s chimney from the cold.  A short time after Mary and Andy moved in, their homeowner’s insurance carrier sent them a letter: the weed tree had gotten too dangerous.  You see, insurance companies are very very picky about what they will insure, and they happen to dislike flammable things (such as trees) being too close to things that could emit flames (such as chimneys).  So it came to be that Andy had his first encounter with the weed tree.

From afar, the weed tree looked innocent enough- like an ordinary deciduous tree.  But up close, Andy could tell that the weed tree was not that innocent- it was armored with mega death thorns. This is when Andy realized that the weed tree was a villain and he must be destroyed at once!  Andy hacked and hacked with his sword (actually, his sawz-all) until the weed tree rose no more- off to the green bin it went… or so Andythought.

The weed tree was very menacing though and started re-growing himself.  Every few weeks a new weed sprout would grow from where the weed tree once stood (now a weed tree stump).  For a while, Andy or Mary would pluck off the new sprouts.  Then one day Andy covered the weed tree stump with a few tons of cement chunks from the old sidewalk, but once the cement trunks were hauled off to the dump, the weed tree reared his ugly head, or sprouts, again.

This is when Andy knew he had to call in backup- from Timmy.  Andy and Timmy, the brothers whose parents once had a layover in Indiana, dug and hacked with their sawzall, pickax and shovels

They broke a shovel; Honey Brown expressed her dismay.

They brought out the car jack.

They borrowed a jack hammer from Kevin Sullivan.  Mary brought them lemonade.

They sweat, bled and cursed.  Then, finally it happened!  The weed tree was killed once and for all.  A giant void was left in its wake.

Andy an Timmy hoisted the carcass into the back of the Green Machine and hauled it to the dump. Hasta La Vista weed tree.

The end (or so we think).

Roof-a-palooza 2012: Part 4 (The Roof is finally on!)

After living with roof that leaked during EVERY rain storm for the past year, we have a new roof- and it’s water tight with R-9 insulation value!

The re-roofing has been a 4 day process. On day one, Abril‘s team arrived at 8:30am on the dot and got straight to work.  About 4 men of the 6-or so person team went straight up to the roof to start removing the gravel and old fashing.  Another 2 guys (including Al, who was the day’s project manager) came into the house and started taping plastic to our ceilings to collect any dirt and debris that seeps in:

Believe me- dirt seeps in… see:

They were very thorough- even getting plastic up in the closets.  Unfortunately, the tape didn’t hold very well- by the time we woke up the next morning, about 1/4 of the plastic had fallen.  Not a big deal however, because when it finally came off the next day, Andy did a good job at cleaning up.  My guess is that Abril’s team would have come in and done the same, but I going a little nuts having plastic everywhere so Andy took the initiative to take it down.  He’s a good husband.

After the taping, the whole team focused on the top of the roof and removing the gravel.  They used a giant vacuum cleaner that was connected to a dump truck.

It was loud- like they were running a lawn mower on the roof.  That commotion is what created all of the dirt in the house- and even loosened a light fixture in the office (probably my fault for not attaching it tightly after water seeped into it during the last rain storm).

They added new 4″ flashing (8″ in the atrium)- which is primed gray (we’ll most likely paint it white with the rest of the trim):

Finally, they added a black primer to help the foam adhere to what was left of our roof (tongue and groove wood, tar, a little gravel):

Notice they left the satellite dish up there as long as they could so we could continue to watch tv through the whole process except the middle of day 2! They also dug up quite a bit of the old tar, as you can see in the foreground of this picture- in some spots they dug down to the wood ceiling.

On day 2, Abril’s team arrived again at 8:30 on the dot.  We had a new project manager, Jose. Jose was the lead foam applier, as you can see by his shoes (he says they’re his foam shoes- I’m glad all his shoes don’t look like that).  I took this on their well deserved lunch break (and my lunch break).

Before they got to spraying the foam however, they finished up flashing (Andy decided to extend some fascia he added during the roof extension after he got home from work on roofing day 1- so they just had that small area to finish up), disconnected our 7 down spouts and added new flashing on top of the roof for them.  We decided to have them enlarge the down spouts on the recommendation of Kevin Sullivan, our favorite contractor.  They also removed the skylight in our hall bathroom and built up the base a bit so the new sky light will sit well above the foam.  Then they started spraying on the foam:

They were very diligent about protecting everything around- our gate and mailbox, our lawn furniture, every car in a 3-house radius, the entire atrium etc.  Luckily there was very little wind so there were no accidental over sprays that we’re aware of.

On day 3 the team added sealant and granules to the foam roof, and replaced the 6 existing 2″ down spouts with new bigger 3″ ones and added a 7th down spout, all to help aid drainage:

Before we reveal the new roof, here’s what the old tar and gravel roof looked like before:

(sorry, we don’t have a good wide angle shot)

And here she is now.:

Isn’t she beautiful, like a pristine snowfall in the Sierras?

(On day 4 they replaced the bathroom skylight which you can see in the photo above- the one they had on day 3 was the wrong size).

The best part?  It’s currently 91 degrees outside and only 77 degrees inside!  Not bad for a house with tons of giant single pane windows and no insulation in the walls (last summer it would have been about 98 degrees inside if it were 91 outside).  We’re in looooooove and can’t wait for the next downpour!