Home Improvement Page


It all started with a new roof:


Living room: New TV bench - note how all the components are now either nestled in the bench or off to the side - no more big ugly stack. I modified the bench so the center speaker would fit, and added the lights. Also, the speakers are down on the floor now so not blocking windows - no idea why I had them elevated before. Also note wood blinds:


New ceiling fan - both light and fan are separately remote controlled - don't have to get off my lazy ass to turn fan on when I get warm:


Removable screens on all the windows - I prefer a screenless window esthetically, so will only use them on the few strategic windows I open and close to bring the air in in the evenings. But I have them for all the windows in case a future owner or renter wants them. The really cool thing was, I discovered that these windows have a built-in piece of trim specifically for a screen - never knew what they were till now:

So the screen slides in and out of the groove made by the trim. Other side has that trim all the way up:


New screen on front door, and screen removed from kitchen door so the glass can be cleaned now:


All windows cleaned (external too - spent a couple weekends up on a ladder with a bucket of vinegar/water, squeegee, and newspapers):


No more phone cable across the kitchen entryway to trip over...

...it now routes directly from outside phone jack, through basement, and up into the tv room area where the DSL modem is.


New brass hardware and screens on all the windows. Before...



New hinges on front door, back door, and back windows:


Front bathroom: Replaced old rusted out sink, new faucets/fixtures/electrical plates, scraped peeling paint off ceiling and remudded, painted walls/ceiling/trim, added wood blinds, new shower curtain and towels, and spent several weekends polishing up all the brass - I'd thought it was unsalvageable but 3 cans of Brasso later it turned out real nice.


Kitchen remodel: New pulls/knobs/hinges on cabinets, new stove knobs, refinished all lower drawers and cabinets (also any crooked drawers and cabinets are now aligned), new sink and faucet/sprayer/soap dispenser set, and decorative tile border. Rewired the disposal so it's now controlled by the switch on the wall instead of underneath the sink. Also, in rewiring that I had to pull the dishwasher out and in doing so I discovered it had been dumping about a quarter cup of water underneath every cycle, for who knows how long. Took the motor and pump apart and got new seals - problem fixed now. Also I put magnetic latches on the kitchen pantry doors, so don't have to mess with the little hooks anymore.


Cabinets before - note scratches and water stains (esp between doors under sink) and gungy hardware.

Faucets before - no way the mineral deposits on these were ever coming clean:


Dishwasher leak:

Routing the disposal wiring required ripping out a little drywall behind the dishwasher, so got to teach myself drywall/sheetrock repair:

It was quite a construction zone at one point:


The office. Desk and chair are from Ikea (desk matches TV bench). Need to get some rug/carpet to go under the desk and drum set. Note the new wall switch, which controls the lamp in the far corner (it's wireless, just velcros to the wall - see notes below re software control of the electrical system.)


New skylight in upstairs bath- it opens for ventilation!


Home Automation: I installed several X10 switches that allow me to control certain items via software. E.g., porch light goes on at dusk and off at dawn (actual time changes automatically every day to match actual sunrise/sunset), fan upstairs turns on at night and off in the morning (did that before with a timer, but now I can also control it from downstairs if I want to turn it on earlier/later or not at all.) Also makes possible the wireless switch I mentioned in the office. The interface looks like this:


The Dyson - awesome new vacuum.


More details on the cabinets:

The kitchen cabinets were a classic example of one thing leading to another: All I originally planned on doing was replacing the knobs/pulls - old ones were really grungy and thought replacing them would be a simple matter of unscrewing the old ones and screwing in the new ones at a few dollars per. One tiny problem - there was a ring of grime around where the old hardware attached, and although on the doors it wasn't a problem since it was easy to find a bigger knob that would cover the old area, the drawers had pulls that attached at two points and I was unable to find any replacement hardware that would cover the blemishes, and much less ones I liked. So, spent several hours experimenting with stain pens and wood fills, but nothing looked good and realized I would have to sand the grime off. Did so, and found a matching stain but more experimenting showed it would be impossible to blend the repaired area into the rest of the face - so resigned myself to sanding and staining the whole face. Experimented with that a lot until I found just the right process:

  1. Sand with 60 grit, then 100 grit, then 220.
  2. Vacuum and wipe with tack rag
  3. Apply wood conditioner (used for soft wood so stain absorbs more evenly)
  4. Stain
  5. Stain again in 4 hours to get right shade to match rest of the cabinets (vacuum and tack rag again first)
  6. Coat of semi-gloss polyurethane (vacuum and tack rag again first)
  7. After 48 hours, sand with 320 and apply 2nd coat of polyurethane. (vacuum and tack rag again first)

Did that with all the drawers, and it wasn't too bad - faces were easy, molding around the edges took some time, but only took a couple weekends. But then I noticed that (especially with the drawers under and to the right of the sink), the neighboring untouched cabinets were in such bad shape that the difference was very noticeable. So I said oh well, I'll do everything in that area below the sink and adjacent counters. And if I'm going to do that, I thought, I might as well redo all the cabinets - at least the ones below the counter line. When I got into it though, I quickly realized that the doors were going to take much more time than the drawers - not just because of the greater surface area, but more so because of all the little cornices and inlays that were very difficult to get sandpaper into. (And they also had the edge molding that the drawers have.) Ended up spending about 4 hours per piece just sanding (and I think there were 9-10 pieces, plus a couple drawers I wanted to do over since they were early attempts where I hadn't quite perfected the process.) Eventually I'm going to need to do the doors above and to the right of the sink, since although the overall wear is not bad, there are some worn down spots right next to the knobs. And if I do those two doors, I'll prob need to do everything else at that level since any mismatch will be more noticeable (the upper cabinets reflect more of the light.)

Here are some pix of the refinishing process. Initial sanding:

Two coats of stain:

First coat of polyurethane on, then resanded for second coat:

Vacuumed and tack ragged (also done between coats of stain):

Tack rag is just a piece of cheesecloth treated with a gummy substance - gets the remaining dust off after vacuuming. Looks like this:

Final coat of polyurethane:


I have a new-found appreciation for my cabinets after working with them so intimately... the wood had some blemishes, but overall was very good quality. Multi-paneled, dovetailed joints, etc...

Also, now that I'm an expert wood refinisher I'm going to restore this table:


More detail on the kitchen sink and tiles: Even though I could've easily done the new sink install myself (I did with the bathroom sink/faucet install), I've been kind of in a hurry to get things done so asked the handyman I'd hired to do the skylight to do the sink. We scheduled a day and time when I could be at the house since both the old and new sinks are extremely heavy (cast iron) and, as I told him, I did not want to risk damaging the tile or cabinet work with just one guy manhandling the sink in or out. So I get home and he'd got there early (I had forgotten to bring the house key in from under the mat from when he'd been working on the skylight), and had already pulled the old sink out, and when he did he pulled up some tiles with it.

I was so pissed - if he had waited for me as I instructed, with both of us lifting the sink there would've been a much better chance of us seeing there was something sticking, and known to cut through the grout/glue a little more. Click here for full story of that and his subsequent incompetence with the sink install, but point for now is I needed to replace the tile. Could not find a matching tile, so decided the best short term solution was to just pull out all the tiles around the rim of the sink and make that border. It doesn't quite work because whoever originally installed the sink and tile did not center the tile with the sink, so the tile pieces are not symmetrical left and right - so, my new border is a couple inches wider on the left than the right. If I had cut the tile to make the border equal, it would've meant having to pull, cut, and reapply a column of the cream tiles - in that case even assuming I could get an entire column out and cut without breaking any, with them cut there would then be an off-size column of the cream color tiles next to one side of the blue, which would look even more ghetto... Don't know if that makes sense, but just trust me - it was either this offset border I ended up with, or retiling the whole counter. And since I am going to retile (or granite slab) the whole counter someday, I'm ok with this as a short-term solution. (I'm actually quite happy with the concept of the border itself and its color, and if the border was the same width on both sides I might be willing to live with it indefinitely.)

Click here for the list I've been working off of, for everything I've done or plan to do (done items are asterisked). The major items left to do are 1) new or refinished floors, 2) new carpet upstairs, 3) some kind of facade over the fireplace, 4) interior/exterior paint, 5) new countertops - way too many options there, need to think about that.

Also, 6) window restoration... No new windows for me - all this work I've been doing has given me quite an appreciation for the original character of my house and I want to restore and not replace as much as possible. Plus, I have learned that even though the wood in my current, original, super cool double hung sash windows is almost 100 years old, that wood is old-growth, dense hardwood that you can't get any more - and assuming they are not rotted out too bad (they do not appear to be) if I take care of them they can last another 100 years. I'm going to try and do as much of the window restoration work as I can myself (learning a lot from various sources), but also there's a guy in midtown who specializes in it, so can use him if I need to. Besides, as I see it the only advantage of window replacement anyway is the insulation aspect, and it's such a marginal difference, esp in older houses that already have their drafts and such, that it really doesn't make sense to go that route.