How to put an outlet in a brick wall

You know that class in third grade science where you learn how to make a circuit? The one with the light bulb attached to a battery? Well that’s the last time I thought about how electricity works. So when Jeremy said “we can do it ourselves!” about installing new outlets in our house, I thought he was insane. Nevertheless, he persisted. This man was relentless in his pursuit of our new outlets.

IMG_3443.JPG
Figuring out where the outlets should go in our island

When the electricians told him it was impossible to install an outlet on our brick wall, he said “I will prove them wrong!” And prove them wrong he did.

When the guy at the hardware store told us to just hire a handyman and that we ‘wouldn’t want to buy any more tools,’ Jeremy said “screw him, I’m buying an oscillating saw!”

When I said let’s just hire someone to cut a hole in our kitchen island to install an outlet for appliances, he said “we can do it ourselves!”

And dammit, he DID do it. Jeremy is the most determined person in the world and meets these challenges head on. He views new tasks as learning opportunities and genuinely does learn from them. My career as an electrician may have ended in third grade, but Jeremy’s is just getting started.

We knew we wanted to install new outlets on the main floor of our house to comply with code and provide enough grounded, 3-prong outlets necessary for modern life. But most of our walls are brick, making it difficult to install the electric boxes that are normally hiding behind drywall in newer homes. So Jeremy bought a chisel and hammered away at the brick, chipping out a line for the wire and a rectangle for the box to sit in.

Untitled.png

He slapped some wet compound in the whole and squished the box in, letting it dry and cement in place. Then he compounded over the chiseled out area to hide it from sight—three layers of compound with sanding in between each one.

IMG_8244
Applying compound cement to cover the chipped out area
IMG_3436.JPG
Compounding over the holes

Now it’s nicely painted and you’d never know all the work that went into it!

IMG_3460
Final product! (Minus the baseboard trim)

As for getting an outlet in our island, he drilled a hole through the floor and pulled the wires up through the floor (we had asked our electrician to “rough in” the wires a month ago for this purpose–the wires were chilling in our basement, dangling from the rafters). Then he sawed a rectangular hole into the side panel of our island and installed an outlet in it!

IMG_3454.JPG
Using our brand new oscillating saw to cut a hole for the outlet
IMG_3456.JPG
So proud of our new outlet on the side of our island!

Now all we have to do is get the countertop installed and cover the outlet with a plate and BAM! We have a fully functioning island. Oh did I mention he did the same thing for the power to our dishwasher and garbage disposal?

I happily sat this one out but I certainly learned a lot about how electricity works!

Painting our kitchen cabinets

 

For our kitchen, we bought the cabinet frames from IKEA to keep the budget under control, but opted to purchase the door fronts from a higher-end vendor called Semihandmade. I had discovered this company a year ago and was so intrigued by their business model. They design high quality, real-wood doors that exactly fit all IKEA kitchen cabinets, for clients who want an affordable kitchen from IKEA but desire a higher-end, more custom look. We opted for the DIY option, which meant they’d delivered raw, unfinished cabinet doors that we could paint whatever color we desired. This option was appealing for several reasons: 1) obviously the budget–it was the least expensive product they sell and 2) I didn’t love their color options (they only had about 10 color options that were all very neutral) and was interested in picking the PERFECT color that was just right for me.

Well let me tell you, painting these doors was a WAY greater endeavor than I could have expected. I had read blog after blog of other women who had painted the DIY cabinets themselves but no one ever mentions how time consuming it is, or how heavy these doors are! I opted to apply one layer of primer and then two layers of color.  But since I could only paint one side at a time, that was essentially 6 rounds of spray painting. We decided to use a paint sprayer instead of a brush for a more even application of the paint.

We received the cabinets on November 9th, and had until December 12th when our kitchen was scheduled to be installed to finish all six rounds of spraying. We were limited to days when the weather was not windy, rainy, or snowy (since the spraying was in the back yard), and of course we had to start before 2 PM to beat the early winter sunset. We had less than 5 weeks. Could we make the deadline? We sure were going to try!

November 11: I borrowed the paint spraying gun from our trusted handyman and set to work on the first round of primer. I set up our two saw horses with 2X4s and immediately realized I would need a WAAAAAY larger staging area to paint all 37 individual pieces of wood doors, trim, and panels.

IMG_3105

After a LOT of troubleshooting, I started the first round with primer in the sprayer. I had to get the top of each door, plus the sides. The paint sprayer was a bit fussy and sometimes shot out a large glob of paint. To avoid this, I added water to thin the primer. It took me about an hour to do all 37 pieces, and I cursed SO many times I was afraid of what the neighbors thought. But I learned a lot that first round. We brought the doors inside after a few hours to finish drying.

November 19: I did the same set-up and spray painted the other side of each door with primer. This time was a bit easier since I had already painted the edges, I only had to cover the tops of each piece this time. Plus I applied the lessons I learned in the first round: thin the primer a lot so it’s almost the consistency of whole milk; hold a paper towel below the nozzle to catch those hated paint drips; never let the canister reach near-empty levels.

IMG_3130

November 21: I had the day before thanksgiving off of work and thankfully the weather was a sunny 48 degrees, so I hauled each piece into the back yard yet again for the first round of color application! We selected Benjamin Moore Advance Paint, which is meant for kitchen cabinets–it’s a more expensive paint but it dries extra hard for added durability and longevity. I selected the same dark blue color as our staircase wall, Champion Cobalt, so that once the kitchen is installed, the entire south wall of our home will be the same color.

IMG_3159
First application of the blue paint

November 24: On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my aunt and uncle came over and, like champs, helped to sand down any bumps and paint drips on the doors. Unfortunately some paint dripped down the sides during my previous application and resulted in small pools of paint along the edges. Cardinal and Joanie are professional handymen on boats in Annapolis, so they arrived just when I needed them the most: Cardinal showed me how to sand down the doors while Joanie carefully sanded and cleaned them off. They also helped us move 30 sheets of plywood from the curb into our house (god bless them)!! They worked in beast mode the entire time and I could truly see the Surette genes in action (we hate to slow down and are constantly cleaning things).

IMG_8196
My amazing aunt and uncle carried all our plywood up the stairs for us!

Luckily, this was the FINAL application for the 2 huge pieces and the 6 long skinny pieces, since I am only painting one side of them (they will be screwed into place so we’ll never see their undersides). There are two more applications to go for all the remaining doors. Unfortunately it’s starting to get cold and windy, which means i’ll be spraying outside then quickly bringing them inside to dry for the last two rounds.

November 28: On Friday, the weather was clear and a warm 48 degrees so I took off work and sprayed the remaining cabinets that need a second coat. Unfortunately, my previous spraying technique resulted in highly annoying and ugly drips of paint that dried in small mounds on the edge of some doors. I was not a happy camper. To remove the dried paint bumps, we had to sand, sand, sand down the drips (huge shout out to my friend Elizabeth who helped with 2 hours of sanding on Thursday night!).

IMG_3246
The dreaded dried paint drips!

For this 5th round of spraying, I implemented a new technique where I sprayed 6 doors at one time (the max amount that would fit on the saw horses), then quickly used a foam brush to gently wipe the side edges of each door to remove any excess paint. Then we walked the doors inside our house and laid them out on long pieces of wood to dry overnight. This technique worked SO much better and the next day we happily discovered no cursed paint drips to sand off. Allowing them to dry inside helped avoid small pieces of grass, leaves and other natural debris from landing on the cabinets.

IMG_3252

Friday December 7: Realizing we had less than a week left to finish the last round of painting and allow for adequate dry time, I did the last coat on Friday before leaving for a weekend away. This time I was HYPER efficient and whipped through all the doors as fast as I could. Unfortunately it was freeeeeeeezing cold and my fingers turned bright pink, but I survived and so did the doors! Huzzah!

Now that I am finally done with this gargantuan effort, I simply CAN NOT WAIT for them to be installed this week! We hired a company to install our kitchen for us because we aren’t completely insane and realized we needed help. After this painting saga, I’m not even sure if I like this color any more, but once they are installed I’m sure I will love them in all their glory!

Tips for anyone thinking about spray painting your kitchen cabinets:

  • Benjamin Moore Advance paint is designed for kitchen cabinets, but you need to wait a looooooong time for it to fully dry before touching or moving it. I would recommend a full 24 hours at least–during this time do not stack the doors or allow them to touch each other.
  • Try to set up 2X4s or something else for the doors to sit on as you paint and do NOT move them after they’ve been painted. We didn’t have this luxury but it would be best to keep them where they are after spraying to avoid touching the wet paint. I also noticed after I moved the doors away from the spraying area and onto a drying area that sometimes paint had dripped to the bottom where I couldn’t see it and then dried in and stuck to the surface on which it was drying (which brings me to my next point).
  • Remove any excess paint from the edges of your doors immediately after spraying with a foam brush. This will avoid paint from pooling and drying in bumps along the edge of your cabinets.
  • Spray paint in a garage or covered space if possible–little pieces of grass, leaves, and general nature debris would blow into my yard and get on the doors as they dried. I wish we had a covered place to spray paint but unfortunately we don’t.
  • Do your cabinet painting in the spring or fall! It was probably too cold to do it in November and December, but we had not choice. Paint drys better when the temp is above 50 degrees.
  • Think about where you will put your doors to dry and after they are dry to wait before installation. We moved these heavy doors around almost every room of our house two times during the last month during different phases of the entire home’s renovation, which was not fun (especially the long pieces).

Would I do this again? Not sure–it was a TON of work and I couldn’t spend that time on other renovation activities. Paying a professional would have cost a lot more but the finished product would presumably have fewer imperfections. Am I happy with the outcome? Yes, I’m feeling very accomplished and trying to embrace the small imperfections. Hopefully only I will notice them so please don’t point out any blemishes on my cabinets when you come to visit!

The tricky task of leveling our floor

The main level of our house has changed a lot since we purchased the home. We removed several interior walls, including a brick wall in the rear of the house. We also removed several radiators, which left behind holes in the floor that you can peer through to see directly into the basement. On top of that, the “bonus room” addition out back was half an inch lower than the rest of the house.

IMG_3186
Note the holes in the floor. The current floor flowed in all different directions, was different levels, and was uneven or missing in some places.

All of these issues were not conducive to installing brand new hardwood floors. So Jeremy and I did what we do best and set about making the floor level and even ourselves. We purchased 35 sheets of half-inch plywood and laid them across the entire first floor of our house.

Before screwing them in place, Jeremy had the bright idea to shore up the floor in the bonus room addition by adding a layer of thick plastic (to reduce heat loss through the floor) and a layer of metal mesh (to block mice and other critters from sneaking through the space where the floor meets the walls).

IMG_3230.JPG

IMG_3233.JPG

These were covered by two layers of plywood to bring it up to the same height as the rest of the house. Jeremy cut the plywood sheets with a circular saw to fit it around walls, columns, and other annoying barriers throughout the house.

IMG_8234.JPG
Measuring where to cut the sheet of plywood.
IMG_3235.JPG
Cutting the plywood with a circular saw

Then we got to work screwing each piece of plywood in with approximately 24 screws. The goal was to screw them into each joist but after a while I gave up and just screwed them into the floor. They are definitely secure and not going anywhere–plus they’ll soon be covered in our new floor.

IMG_3236.JPG

For anyone thinking of doing this yourself, know that while it’s not technically difficult, it is physically grueling. My knees and back were killing me after the first day, and it took two days to complete.  Knee pads are a must!

IMG_8232.JPG

My face looks unhappy because I was miserable at this point from so much kneeling on my knees.

The house is now ready to have our floors installed tomorrow! EEP! We spent the whole weekend painting the ceiling and walls in an attempt to get the majority of the painting out of the way before the floors go in. Unfortunately we wont finish painting 100% of the main level of the house in time, but we got a huge chunk done.

IMG_3275

My life as a drywall expert

Two months ago, Jeremy and I installed drywall for the first time in two bedrooms. It was a true learning experience, and thankfully now we are able to put that knowledge to use!

The main floor of our house has gone through EXTENSIVE changes in the last month: We removed all the plaster from the walls and demolished the fake chimney, hired a company to remove the load bearing walls and replace with a single column and 3 support beams, had a team of four electricians rip out all the old wiring and install new wiring + recessed lights + light switches + outlets. The main floor is finally ready for us to close in all the open walls, beams, and column.

EATF9626.JPG
We need to close in all the open beams and columns with drywall

IMG_3185.JPG

Last Monday, I got to work measuring the 4 sides of the support column, making sure to cut out square holes for the light switches and outlets. I felt SO proud of myself for getting it correct on the first try! Jeremy installed each side like a pro as I moved on to measuring and cutting the next side, until the entire thing was closed in!

By the end of the day, we had successfully closed in the column and were feeling very proud of ourselves!

IMG_3145.JPG
Successful closing of the column!

The next day we tackled the slightly more complex job of the beams. In no time, the first beam was covered!

IMG_3186.JPG

Successful closing of the beam! Please ignore all the crap around the room.

We are waiting to finish the other beam because the electrician needs to come back tomorrow to fix a tiny problem with a dead light switch. In the meantime, we hired a handyman to compound all the seams closed and the next step (hopefully this weekend!) is to start painting the walls!

Disappearing kitchen magic trick

Want to learn a magic trick? We made our kitchen disappear in less than 60 minutes flat.

IMG_1458
Before: Our kitchen the day we bought the house

The trick is to post your kitchen on craigslist for $100 or best offer. Jeremy posted our kitchen on craigslist and by 10 AM the next morning we had several offers from folks interested in re-using our cabinets, granite countertop, and even our old, half-broken appliances!

IMG_3029
After: the blank space where our kitchen used to be

We ended up selling our kitchen to a real estate investor who flips apartments in DC and Baltimore. I couldn’t believe our luck…he paid us $200 to remove all the cabinets from the walls and haul away the appliances. He even helped move the broken oven to our back alley for the city to pick up later that week! He brought a friend and was in and out in less than an hour!

IMG_3018
Midway through the disappearing kitchen trick.

This may seem like a small feat, but Jeremy and I have devoted every free second of our lives to this renovation since we purchased the home in August. The amount of time we saved not having to remove the cabinets and appliances ourselves, not to mention the cost of paying for dumpster removal of all that debris was an incredible victory to us!

Becoming a stripper

The only funny thing about stripping 100-year old paint off of wooden trim is all the jokes about stripping you can make. Jeremy and I have been stripping paint off our window and door trim in the bedrooms for what seems like an eternity. Stripping paint is time consuming and nasty. We are using a less harsh chemical called Citristrip, which does not produce any dangerous fumes and is safe to the touch. The downside is that it take a lot longer to work and doesn’t always do it’s job on the first try.

IMG_2915
Scraping brown paint off the trim

Our goal is to strip off several layers of paint to reveal the original profile of the wood beneath. Our house came with incredible original trim full of unique details that have been covered in gloppy paint over the years. Stripping them will allow us to start fresh.

IMG_2914.JPG
Some selfie action during the stripping

A few weeks ago during demo, Jeremy and I ever so carefully pried the trim off the windows and doors, careful not to snap or crack the pieces. They really don’t make trim like this any more. The wood is real and HEAVY! The trim is comprised of several pieces of wood that were nailed together to create the final look around the windows and doors. I was nervous that we might not be able to put them back after we painted them, there were so many pieces!

IMG_2866
Our collection of wooden trim, removed from all the windows and doors to undergo stripping!

Since then, we have stripped and stripped and stripped some more. I even created a playlist to inspire my best stripping. Some pieces were much easier to remove paint from than others. The difficult pieces are the bane of my existence.  The process to strip the paint goes something like this:

  1. Gather all the pieces that comprise one set of window or door trip to make sure you have all of them
  2. Lay them on the ground outside
  3. Realize they all have huge nails sticking out of them so you can’t start stripping them yet.
  4. Try and fail to pull nails out using tools laying around the house
  5. Purchase an actual nail remover tool–this one allows you to pull them through the wood with incredible ease.
  6. Slather on a thick layer of Citristrip.
  7. Cover in newspaper to prevent from drying (this step is hotly debated in our house)
  8. Wait 2 hours. Do not resist the urge to check if the stripper worked after only 45 minutes. Find something else productive to do during the waiting period.
  9. Use a plastic putty knife to scrape off the now liquefied paint+chemical goo mixture.
  10. Use a 5 in 1 metal tool to scrape the paint off the really hard to reach crevices in the wood, but be careful not to scratch or nick the wood.
  11. Proceed to remove all liquefied paint goo from wood, while covering your entire body, hair, and hands in it.
  12. Dip a steel scrub brush in water and scrub entire piece of wood down
  13. Dip steel wool into mineral spirits and rub across wood to remove any remaining blobs of paint and stop the chemical stripping process.

If after you do all 13 steps there are still spots of old paint on the wood, you must start all over again, to remove the even OLDER layers hiding beneath! It’s been incredibly time consuming to say the least. Hopefully it will be worth it and our trim will be a major showpiece in each room.

IMG_8080
Colleen and David helped us strip several layers of old paint in the back yard

Due to poor timing, we also had to strip paint off trim in the hall bathroom while it was still attached to the wall. We needed to finish it fast because we hired a handyman to help us redo the bathroom and needed to strip the wood ASAP before they started installing new tile and walls.

 

But the fun doesn’t stop at stripping paint! No no…as if we haven’t suffered enough, we decided to refinish the wood trim around the 5 doors on our second story landing.

 

The door trim were stained and poorly sealed with a varnish that dried in a bumpy, clumpy, discolored crocodile skin pattern. I attempted to sand the stain and poly off, but after a mere 10 minutes using a hand sander, it became clear that it would take several years to get through all of it. So we turned back to the chemical stripper. After several rounds of stripping stain and the sealant off the trim, it is finally ready to refinish! After photos will be posted in the next few weeks!

 

 

We are doing all of this because we really want to preserve some of the historical integrity of the house. 100-year old homes in DC have so much character, and all of this work to restore and reuse some original pieces will hopefully make our house stand out!

Open concept dreams coming true

When Jeremy and I first walked into this house, there was a LOT to take in–mostly the previous owner’s piles of possessions and garbage everywhere, with tons of walls cutting off the space into small rooms. But we also noticed the *potential* in this old, run-down house. So how do we get from this:

IMG_2409.JPG IMG_2410.JPG

IMG_2414.JPG IMG_2411.JPG

to this?

zillow 3.PNG zillow 2.PNG

zillow.PNG zillow 4.PNG

The answer is that we have to knock the walls down.

IMG_2943.JPG

IMG_2942.JPG

This week, a construction company removed the load-bearing walls on the first floor of our home.  Now we have the fun task ahead of us of making it look like a million bucks. Our rough plan for the next two months is:

  • Figure out how to either restore or replace floors (it looks like we will sadly have to replace them because they are in really bad shape)
  • Rewire all electric that is currently dangling out of our ceiling
  • Install recessed lighting
  • Replace some old windows
  • Close in the beams and columns
  • Replace entire kitchen–many decisions and choices to make!
  • Paint

We have a lot of work ahead of us and tons of decisions to make on materials, styles, who to hire, etc. etc. but we are feeling good about the progress we’ve made. I can’t wait to see how it looks at the beginning of next year!