Our forever home!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Trust me, I’ve not been sitting on my hands. Late summer of 2018 we started looking for a new home. The guidelines were simple; more space and surrounded by nature. In a few short months we found our dream house. We moved in right before Thanksgiving. This is when all the projects started. It was been 4 months of none stop projects while also unpacking and getting situated.

I know now this is a DIY blog, but the reality is we have had a TON of help from family, friends and hired hands. We wanted to get the house livable before we started tackling our “true” DIY projects. Trust me when I say there will be no shortage of projects.

It’s been both fun and frustrating getting to the point where we are today. Many late nights and early mornings. Add in a back surgery in mid-February along with a new job that I started in September, there has been no need to find any additional hobbies.

A short list of projects completed so far:

  • repainted the entire interior

  • wallpapered the dining room and a bathroom

  • layed a blue slate sidewalk

  • tiled the garage floor

  • installed a wine room and wrap4d the walls and ceiling with shiplap

  • installed cubbies and a bench in our mudroom

  • restained the two decks

  • completly rewited the house for home automation w/ 80+ devices. Every light can be controlled remotely and responds to the movement in the house

  • exterior landscape lighting with over two miles of wire run underground

  • an indivisible dog fence installed

  • closed in underneath our deck to store our tractor equipment

  • redesigned our kitchen pantry

  • recarpeted several rooms

  • rewired the home theater

  • installed glass shower doors in 6 of the 8 showers

  • installed an automated air cleaner/scrubber

  • installed many additional electrical outlets

  • installed a second washer and dryer in our laundry room

  • installed an outdoor kitchen with a ceramic grill

  • installed a security system

  • installed a “feature wall” in our basement

  • enclosed under our deck

  • installed a feature wall

Bicycle Table

In an earlier post a few years ago I built a bicycle with an engine.  I had a lot of fun puttering around the neighborhood on my motorized bicycle.  That was until I forgot to check the oil and ceased the engine.  What would a DIYer do?  Heck, that would transform it into something else.  In this case I turned it into a table.  I simply cut some steel and welded the legs together.  For the top I used some old fence boards and coated them with a glass-like epoxy giving them a glossy hard finish that wine can easily be wiped off of it.  


Mosquito Killers - Bat House

Did you know a common bat can eat thousands of insects in a single night, (up to 1,000 mosquitoes an hour)  making them the perfect substitute for nasty pesticides. By eating everything from beetles to mosquitoes, bats help keep your garden and your family safe.  We placed this bat house about 30 yards from our treeline about 20 feet in the air.  We've certainly noticed a major decrease in flying insects.  Only if they would eat spiders...


Bathroom with a urinal!!!

As I was finishing the basement, I decided it was an absolute must to put in a urinal.  It's a fact (not really) that a urinal increases the home value by 10%.  I had to fight the county a bit to get it approved.  This bathroom made our house a seven bathroom house.  The county wanted to count the urinal as number eight.  I assured the county inspector that no one would be using the urinal and the toilet at the same time.    

If you are thinking about putting in a urinal, be sure to note what size plumbing your urinal uses.  I did not plan enough ahead.  Most urinals utilize 3/4 inch copper, not 1/2 inch like almost everything else.  I had to run a separate dedicated water supply for it to work properly.  


Hot Tub with a View

After hours of tiling and late night softball, my old muscles get pretty darn sore.  After about a month of research of the top rated hot tub / spas  on the market I decide to go with a Caldera Utopia Series spa.  The Utopia series offers lower maintenance, a modern look, and very high end overall look.  After deciding on the spa, how to reinforce the deck as the deck I built was not originally designed to support and additional 5,500 pounds.

I dug out four additional footers, then added a layer of crushed gravel.  I then placed a 6X6 weather treated post in each footer followed by what seemed to be an endless amount of concrete.  I then ran dual 2x10 beams between each post.  Finally for added measure, I cross braced the post for additional support in case of unexpected lateral forces. (a.k.a. water sloshing & wind)

It took nine men to lift the spa on the deck.  I suggest you have a team on standby the day your spa gets delivered.  

After about a week of use, we quickly realized we needed a place for our towels near the spa.  I DIY'd a simple towel holder utilizing an old rusty umbrella stand and a curtain rod.  I repainted the curtain rod and base, then placed three hooks on the end of the rod to secure our towels close on cold winter nights.  

Basement Bar

Every basement needs a bar to stow away all the random liqueur bottles your friends leave at your house.  To keep it simple I purchased IKEA cabinets.  I splurged for the quiet close hinges and under cabinet lighting.  This way if daddy needs a little sip of his "special medicine" late at night he won't wake anybody up with a cabinet slamming.  For the counter top, I purchased a slab of marble and had it cut to my dimensions.  I choose to go with a waterfall edge to hide the side of the unfinished cabinet.  

To hide the back of the cabinets that are exposed to the rest of the basement, I cut a piece of plywood, supported it to the back of the cabinets and placed some leftover stone veneer I had laying around from another project in the theater room.  

For the flooring, I used a wood-look porcelain tile.  I cleaned the cement basement flooring prior to laying the tile to assure I got good adhesion.  laying tile is slow messy process that I do not enjoy.  To assure a level finish to each tile, I utilized QEP LASH  Tile Leveling clips.  These made the leveling process very easy and certainly sped up the time it would have taken me without the QEP system.  My only advice would be to buy more than you think you'll need.  For each full length rectangle tile, I used 3 clips.   Basically two clips on each long side and one clip on the short ends.  So once it is laid down, each tile will be touching 6 clips.  

In-Ground Fountain

We've never really done anything to improve upon our "contractor grade" landscaping until recently.  When I looked at walkway leading up to our house, it was simply a see of green junipers.  It offered no depth or contrast of color.  

Sooo...  I walked by this green sea of juniper one day and decided to tear it out and replant.  I backed Emily's Jeep up to the bushes and tied one of my retired climbing ropes around the eight bushes, popped it into 4-wheel drive, and out they came.   As you can imagine, I was left with a eight root holes and about two truckloads of old moldy mulch.

Once everything was cleaned out I planted a Japanese Maple then framed it with dwarf boxwoods.  To add some additional color and texture, I planted bee friendly catmint and Japanese lilies

Finally, I've always liked the sound of trickling water, except for when I have to use the bathroom. For a natural looking water feature, I went with Aquascape's three basalt stone in-ground fountain.  It went in very easily.  First I ran power and water to the fountain location.  Then, I dug out the water collection basin.  I also installed an automatic dosing system to help keep my fountain's water crystal clear.   To top it off I installed LED lights in each stone to illuminate the water at sunset.  This makes for a dramatic effect at night.  

Theater & Sound System

I've always wanted a place to cuddle with the family and watch movies.  So I integrated a projection system paired with a tremendous sound system to be the crown jewel of our basement.    

The projection screen is mounted on a wall that is covered with leftover coral board from my deck enclosure project.  I hung the projector (Epson Home Cinema 5040) from the ceiling and paired it with a relentless audio system.  My very generous uncle, was kind enough to donate many of the components to that make our house shake.  The right and left channels are broadcast through B&W 802 speakers.   These speakers are the clearest richest sounding speakers I have ever heard. As is these weren't enough,  the center channel speaker is a Martin Logan Stage X.  For thunderous bass, I installed three 15 inch powered sub-woofers.  It will literally crack my drywall if I turned the volume up to max.  I have at least 800 pounds of equipment and a few thousand watts of power running to this system.  I kid you not, this system is not for the faint of heart.  The speaker wire alone runs $121 per foot for the B&W speakers.  You can't use run of the mill wire with these speakers because the load is so great.  As I said before, I owe much of this to my uncle who had to downgrade his system because he moved.  I had to run two separate electrical circuits just to power the amps.  

Our first party in the basement was a Derby Party.  When the horses took off running, you could feel their hoofs kicking you in the chest.  

As a backstop to our screen, I covered the wall with stone and coral boards to accent the room.  I also installed two vintage looking lights to frame the screen.  The lights were made from repurposed steel pipe.  


Wood and Steel Table

While touring Napa with friends, I noticed many of the private vineyards had some exceptional pieces of furniture.  I was drawn to one table in particular and decided to recreate it.  I snapped a couple pictures and took some "loose" measurements.  

The first thing I did was build the base out of steel.  I had a local metal supplier cut the steel I needed to length.  I then welded the base together.   When completed each base leg weighed over 200 pounds.  I borrowed a variable speed drill press to drill through the 1/2 inch steel.  This process took a lot of time.  I drilled eight hole in total.  Each hole took close to 20 minutes to drill. When drilling steel, the slower the better.  Set your drill speed as low as it will go, and add a little oil to the drilling surface.  Theses two things will keep the temperature of the drill bit low.  It's the heat that will ruin your drill bit.   I then painted 3 coats of flat black paint to the metal surface.  

These legs sat in my garage for almost two months until I found the perfect piece of wood.  I wanted to find something, that had a lot of character and life to it.  I finally found a piece at a small wood supply store in Berryville, VA called Local Wood.      Eight lag bolts later, we had a gourgous bar hieght table in our basement.  


Revived Staircase to the Basement

As I've mentioned before, I think every room should have an conversational piece.  Many times we don't give to much thought to hallways or stairways.  I wanted to jazz up our basement staircase by adding some texture to the walls.  These simple textured squares were peel and stick, making the install very simple.  After they were installed, I put two coats of paint on them to give them a more finished look.  This 1.5 hr. investment gives our staircase a real wow factor.  

Sun Room Oasis

We've lived with this awesome sun-room for five years and really haven't utilized it.  So finally we wanted to transform it into a warm cozy usable space.  First thing we did was cover the beaten down curved bump-out with barrel wood tile.  We painted Behr Classic Silver paint on the walls and replaced all of our furniture.  

It's now been transformed into a place we can read a good book, tell stories, or play games while enjoying a nice glass of wine.

Basement Gym

When we purchased our house the basement was unfinished.  I knew during the winter I still needed to get my "DIY fix" on.  When it was too cold outside, I started in the basement.  Finishing 2,300  square feet seemed to be a very daunting task.  Instead of tackling the whole thing at once, I decided to choose one one room and finish it from floor to ceiling.   I chose to build out our gym.  

A few months ago, I attended an auction at an LA Fitness that was going out of business.  I got bit by the "auction bug" and purchased a ton of  fitness equipment.  I couldn't help myself, it was so cheap.  All of the equipment pictured cost me only $370.  

To start the project I removed all of the builder grade insulation stapled to the cement walls.  I then spray foamed around the rafters and attached an insofast wall system.  The insofast system is rigid foam insulation and wall studs built in.  Using this product cuts down considerable time over traditional framing and insulation techniques.  I will absolutely use this product anytime I am finishing outside perimeter walls. For additional insulation,  I quickly glued 3/4 rigid foam insulation over-top of the insofast product.  It only took 2 hours to completely frame and insulate this room.  

After the walls and insulation were in place pulled 8 electrical boxes and one HDMI cable by running it through the pre-cut insofast electrical channels.   I also installed 4 recessed LED lights and one ceiling fan wired to a motion detecting switch.

I then began to hang drywall.  Have I mentioned I hate finishing drywall?  I like to do things fast and you simply can't rush the drywall process.  However, to save time I did decide to hang crown molding so I didn't have to spend so much time making the joints where the walls meet the ceiling perfect.  It does increase your finished cost, but it saves time and brain cells.  

On the floor I decided to use DRIcore® Subfloor which is a patented moisture barrier that keeps your room warm and dry. This simple, DIY product insulates your basement floor while protecting your furniture and electronics from potential water damage.  DRIcore® Subfloor also promotes indoor air quality by allowing your concrete to breathe.  I then covered the sub-floor with easily installed carpet tiles from FLOR.

Outside of the gym I installed a high wainscoting to add some texture to walls.  Rather than a traditional door, that the gym equipment would never fit through, I hung a newly made barn door that my 7 year old daughter built.  It's true, with supervision she completely made and painted this door.  To make it look like a weathered door, she watered down the paint and dulled the colors by painting the whole door with some of mommy's coffee.

Lessons Learned:  My daughter is an amazing DIY artist.

Stone pillars to hide an electrical transformer

Since the first day we moved in, I've always disliked the ugly green electrical transformer at the end of our driveway.  Shortly after we moved in we tried to plant some shrubs to hide the utility boxes.  To no avail, everything we planted quickly died.  So I decided to hide them with wood and stone.  

First, I dug a foundation 12 inches into the ground.  I then placed a few inches of crushed stone in the holes and built a form for the cement foundation.  After hand mixing 16 bags of cement the foundations were completed.  We then visited our friends at Home Depot to purchase 212 (8"X8"X16") cement blocks.  Grace, Emily, and I quickly became pros on how to mix mortar and stack cement blocks.  Once the cement pillars were built, I attached 4X4's to later hang the fencing on.  

I purchased two pallets on Eldorado Stone Veneer.  I was nervous about using a veneer rather than real stone.   This veneer was so easy to work with, I couldn't imagine doing it any other way.  I challenge anyone to tell the difference between this and real stone.  

To finish off the pillars, I had a local company cast three cement toppers with a little dye injected to match the stone.  I had no idea how much the toppers (38"X38") would weigh.  I'm guessing they are somewhere between  350-500 pounds.  The problem was I had to lift them over five feet.  You would think after lifting 212 cement blocks it wouldn't be a problem, However, I couldn't even lift them to get a hand underneath.    So I borrowed my father's Kubota tractor to help lift them.  I placed the bucket next to the topper and used a ratchet to pull them into the bucket.  Once in the bucket, I strapped them in using heavy duty webbing.  Then I used the front end loader to lift them into place.  Surprisingly everything worked perfectly without incident.  

Lessons Learned: Emily and Grace painted the fencing white.  While their painting is almost perfect, what I can't understand is how they managed to cover themselves with so much paint. Seriously, they covered themselves after only painting two sections.  Later that evening we met some friends at a nearby vineyard.  I noticed Emily choose to get dressed up but didn't scrub the paint off the back of her hands.  It's my theory it was her way of showing our friends she isn't afraid to get dirty either.


Mi Casa, Su Casa with Cupola

When I told Emily I wanted to put a cupola over the garage she gave me that blank look most husbands know so well.  Then she asked me, "What the h#ll is a cupola?"   Not knowing how to really explain it, I drew it on a piece of paper.   She told me I was crazy and I'm going to kill myself.  

After doing some research, I figured the best thing to do was to purchase a prebuilt cupola.  I decided to go with a manufacturer that uses vinyl boards rather than real wood.  At the height of the roof no one would know the difference and I wouldn't have to paint it every couple years. 

After a little research I learned the "rule of thumb" for building a cupola was for every foot of roof ridge line, your cupola should be one inch wide.  For two story homes, the one inch rule goes to 1.25 - 1.5 inches wide for every foot of ridge line.   The roof ridge where my cupola sits is 28 feet wide, so I went with a 42 inch wide by 83 inch high cupola.  

To dress it up a little after it was placed on the roof, I added a small shadow box with some left over molding from another project.   Because we live in the middle of Virginia wine country, I topped it off with a wine bottle weather vane.  

After mounting the cupola, I accessed the interior of the cupola from the attic by cutting a small hole in the roof vent.  I then installed a Phillips Hue light that is WiFi enabled.  I can control the light inside of the cupola from my iPhone with my choice of 16 million different colors.  (Green on Christmas, Orange on Halloween, Red on Valentines Day, Blue on Independence Day, etc.) Now our awesome neighbors will know I'm crazy!

Lessons Learned:  The roof over our garage is VERY steep.  I used my climbing gear to add a little safety to an already dangerous situation.  As I'm climbing up the ladder, with a nail-gun in one hand and caulk gun in the other, I looked at my son and asked him if he remembers what to do if he sees that I have fallen off the roof.  Wanting him to say, "I'll go tell mommy", instead he said he would go tell our neighbor.  You see this wasn't the first time we've had this conversation.  The last time I was on the roof Emily wasn't home, so I told him he was to run next door and tell our neighbors that daddy has fallen.   But now I just wanted him to go inside and tell "mommy" since she was home.  He insisted that I was wrong and he had to tell our neighbor and not mommy.  




Outdoor Painted Signs/Art

While sitting on our new deck one afternoon, we were getting pounded by the reflection of the sun from our light-colored vinyl siding.  I told Emily we needed something to break up the large wall of boring siding.  

I've always like the look of early-century faded advertisements on the side of old buildings.  So I decided to try to recreate an antique sign.  I started with a sheet of plywood and cut it in half.  Then Grace & I painted the plywood green.  I then free-handed the wording.  I didn't want it to look perfect; I like the look of imperfections on older signs.  I then had Grace and Tripp splatter white paint all over the signs to simulate years of wear and tear outside.  Finally, I sealed them with a spray on epoxy.

Lessons Learned:  My children can't yet read cursive.

Dog Deck

I had a bunch of leftover lumber from my deck project that I couldn't return.  Instead of staring at it piled in the woods, I built a platform for our hose, trashcans, and a built-in water bowl for Kinley (our dog).  We could never get grass to grow in this spot, so the platform worked out great.

Lessons Learned:  I was tired of buying a new hose wheel every summer.  They just don't ever seem to last.  So this year I purchased a "hose bowl."  The label said it would hold up to 100 feet of hose.  The picture below is it NOT holding 75 feet of hose.  The only way this would hold 100 feet of hose is if it was placed in their at the time of purchase.