It amazes me of how many beautiful houses don't have a deck on the back of them.  It's a pet peeve of mine.  Unlike many of my other projects, this is actually the second deck I've built.  My first deck was built right around the time my first circular saw was purchased.  Let's just say, I'm glad I still have all ten fingers. This time around, I actually got it inspected by the town and it passed.  

I used a synthetic deck board, wrought iron railings, and caped each post with a light.  Laying down the boards is easy but monotonous.   The supports were set at eighteen inch centers. This means there was one screw every eighteen inches per deck board.  That equates to thousands of screws.  Grace sat along side of me through much of the project.  She handed me one screw and one hidden fastener ever 30 seconds for for three weekends in a row. 

Lessons Learned:  1st, synthetic boards are slick. Our deck furniture rearranges after aver storm. 2nd, Emily is deathly afraid of heights. 3rd, It's easier to cut wrought iron with a reciprocating saw rather than a cutting wheel. 4th, when you mention you are building a deck to your buddies, their calendars mysteriously fills up over night.

Raspberry Bush Arbor

Our family eats raspberries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  There is always a bowl of washed and ready-to-eat raspberries in our refrigerator.  This is a simple project that offers a lot of learning opportunities for your children.  The entire family helped out with this project.  Tripton & I dug the holes together.  Grace & I cut the wood and pulled up the grass in the planting area.  I then placed the support posts in the ground and secured them with a little cement.  Emily & Grace stained the wood support structures and I strung the wire through the supports.  Next we planted the raspberry bushes.  The overall arbor is 40 feet long.  We are growing three varieties of raspberries.  Make sure you never plant blackberries or blueberries near red and gold raspberries.  Doing so will severely cut your overall yield.  We planted multiple varieties that will bear fruit both in the summer and fall months.  As planted, our crop should yield 40 pounds of berries a year.  If anyone knows how to make raspberry wine or liqueur, please shoot me an email.

Lessons Learned: After creating the arbor, I decided to make a decorative cut on the arbor support arms.  I figured both my neighbors and I are going to have to stare at this arbor during the winter months.  It was worth the time to make it a little more attractive.

In-ground Trampoline

If you want to be the most popular house on the street with the neighborhood children, install an in-ground trampoline.  I've always loved trampolines, but hated the way they look stuck in the middle of the yard.  If you are lucky enough to not to have it blow down the street into a passing car, it will probably sit there and rust after two years.  Anytime someone mentions a trampoline, somebody has a story about a broken bone.  In recent years nets have become pretty standard with new trampolines, now making them an even bigger eye sore.  After researching the dangers of a trampoline, I came across a product endorsed by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Hence I found the in-ground trampoline.  

With the help of my brother and father, we installed the whole thing in one day.  I rented an excavator ($150/weekend) and dug a hole approx. 44 inches deep.  Next we filled the hole with about 4-5 inches of crushed stone to help with the drainage.  Then we simply assembled the trampoline, dropped it in the hole and leveled it.  The next day, I laid down some sod to around the trampoline to prevent the dirt and mud from getting tracked all over the trampoline surface.

Lessons Learned:  1st, No matter how excited you are to install an in-ground trampoline, if it calls for rain, push it back a weekend.  2nd, Your 4 year old son will think you are a super hero when he sees you come around the corner driving an excavator.

Coffered Ceiling

Prior to buying our current house, we walked through a lot of model homes.  The problem with model homes is they are always accessorized to the max.  Every option is shown in the model home.  Both Emily and I are fans of decorative crown molding.  It's rarely cost effective to have the builder install it for you.  And when they do they use the thinnest and cheapest molding possible.   Installing molding is very easy and inexpensive.  

One model we visited offered a coffered ceiling option.  It added a lot of depth to the room and just made the family room feel cozy.  Fast forward a few months, while in our new house I was looking for a way to hide some surround-sound wiring in our family room.  Then I remembered the coffered ceiling we had seen earlier.   After some research I found a company that made faux coffered ceiling beams out of Styrofoam.   These faux beams were very light weight and offered an easy way to hide speaker wire since they were hollow.   I'd be surprised if a 15 foot section weighed more than 5 pounds.  You can literally hold it up with one hand and nail with the other.  

I measured, cut and hung all the beams in one day.  The second day, I caulked all the edges. The third day I painted them.  

Lesson Learned:  While I was re-positioning the ladder I had a beam fall on my wife's head. It would have probably been wise to politely ask my wife to move out from under where I was working.  

Master Bathroom Renovation

I like a shower big enough that - if I wanted to - I could place a lounge chair in the shower after a long night out or a tough day at work.  Our previous shower was just a simple builder-grade shower, three by three feet.  I gutted the whole room down to the studs.  I then reinforced the floors to prevent cracking of tile in the future.  I moved the vanity to the opposite side of the room.  I removed the dated built-in tub and replaced it with a free standing tub.  This simple change made the room feel much bigger.  I then installed 12 shower heads with two thermostatic valves.  Due to added shower heads, I installed a second whisper-quiet ceiling fan to prevent any issues with the additional steam output.  The only thing I didn't o was cut and hang the glass doors.  I recommend having a professional do this.

For giggles I mounted a TV on the other side of the shower glass so I can catch up on the news of the day and Emily can catch-up on the latest episode of the Bachelor....or vice versa.

The vanity was found at a salvaged outlet store.  I then had a piece of marble cut and under-mounted two sink bases.  I installed two medicine cabinets and had a new larger mirror cut and mounted.  I then mounted a silver frame around the mirror with double sided tape.  To finish it off I installed a black chandelier above the new tub.

Lessons Learned: This was my winter project.  Cutting tile with a wet saw while standing in the snow is not fun.  The tile saw water was frigid.  My hands were constantly numb.  Additionally, I learned thick glass doors are expensive, who knew?

Dr. Seuss Wreath

"Why fit in when you were born to stand out?" - Dr. Suess

As noted in a previous blog entry, I had gutted numerous Dr. Suess books because I just needed the covers for the acrylic piece I created.  Seeing the pile of these colorful pages and the magnificent words on those pages just lying there depressed me.  Inspired by the Native Americans who always use every piece of their kill, I decided to use the leftover pages and create a fun wreath,

All I did was roll a countless amount of pages and hot glued them together to form a wreath shape. 

Lessons Learned: Don't underestimate the amount of hot glue that is needed for this project.

Dr. Seuss Acrylic Wall Hanging

“And will you succeed? Yes you will indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)" - Dr.Suess

Who doesn't love Dr. Suess?  I thought I would honor him by creating a piece of art and hanging it in our family room.  So, I removed the covers of the books and nailed them to a piece of plywood.  I then brushed the covers with Elmer's Glue.  Don't worry, the glue dries clear.  I did this to prevent the acrylic from seeping into the covers and discoloring them.  I then placed it in a plastic tub and poured two-part epoxy over it.  As the epoxy heats up and begins to harden it will create suspended bubbles in the epoxy.  Use a small torch to lightly brush over the epoxy.  This will bring all the bubbles to the surface of the piece.  Do not leave it's side for at least two hours.  As the epoxy hardens it gets very hot and may start to boil and bubble up.  Smoothing things over with a small torch will help to control the clarity of the piece.  

After the piece was fully cured (48 hours), I popped it out of the plastic container and ran it through a radial saw to give it nice clean edges.

Lessons Learned: 1st, mix and pour the epoxy in a well-ventilated room.  I'm pretty sure I haven't been that high since college.  2nd, when hanging a piece like this, be sure your chosen wall bracket is mounted to a stud.  Mine weighs in excess of 50 pounds. 3rd, after cutting the edges, be very careful; they are as sharp as glass.

Painted Wall Lilly

What do you do with a wall that has a thermostat and a large HVAC vent?  It was almost impossible to hang a picture over the thermostat, and I was feeling lazy and didn't want to go to the trouble to relocate it.  Instead I grabbed some old red paint previously used to repaint my son's toy chest and free handed a water lily directly on the wall.  

Lesson Learned: I originally had planned to paint a Buddha head on the wall.  Emily stopped me at my first brush stroke.  Again, always check with you wife before you start painting on the walls.

Octagon Molding

I had a ton of left over molding from a previous project, and I wanted to find a use for it.  I also wanted to add some texture and pops of color to our kitchen walls.  I used my miter saw to cut 144 pieces angled to create an octagon shape. I then used a finish nailer to attach them to the wall.  I then caulked & painted.  

Lesson Learned: Don't mess with the kitchen walls until you've had a conversation with your wife.

Ipad that controls our security system, home audio, and our HVAC systems

Ipad that controls our security system, home audio, and our HVAC systems

Laundry Room Backsplash

I had some leftover tile from the accent walls in our two half bathrooms.  I had enough to tile the back splash in our laundry room.  I ran by the tile store to get what I thought was stainless steel tile (at least that was how it was labeled).  My thought was that we could hang our children's artwork in the room using magnets.  Unfortunately what I bought was  aluminum tile, which as you already know does not work with magnets.  

Lesson Learned: Don't trust the signs at the tile store.

Tiled Bathroom Accent Wall

I believe every room, even a small half bath should have a distinctive feature that sets it apart from another room.  It makes it fun when walking through a house to enter a room and get slapped in the face by something you didn't a good ay, of course.  I placed the tile on the wall by using a double sided adhesive mat.  This made the install a one day project.

Lesson Learned: 1st, I had not yet purchased a tile saw when I did this project.  I cut every piece of tile by hand.  No that I own a proper tile saw, I will never cut or snip a tile by hand.  2nd, my builder must have been drunk the day he framed out both of our half bathrooms.  The walls weren't even close to being straight.  

Fire Pit

Prior to moving into our new house we lived in a townhouse.  The problem with townhouse living is no fire pits!  So one of the first projects Emily & I did was to build a quick, natural stone fire ring so we could sip on wine and roast marshmallows during the summer evenings.  

To start, I dug a circular hole about ten inches deep and then filled it with crushed stone.  I did this to help with the water drainage.  I then stacked an inner ring of fire rated brick.  Next I mixed some cement and started stacking some stone around the ring.  This is a very simple design and a one day project if the materials are onsite.

Lessons Learned: When deciding where to place the fire ring on your property, watch where rain water runs off in a heavy downpour.   Our fire ring has been under several inches of water. The good news is I have never had to clean out the ashes from the fire ring.  The bad news is after every rain, there is a streak of ashes across my yard that remain until the next mow.

Kitchen Backsplash

It seems everyone has some sort of backsplash.  Some use tin.  Some use ceramic.  I've even seen bamboo.  We chose a simple stacked quartz, with no grouting required.  I used the double-sided adhesive tile backer paper.  This is the easiest and fastest way of putting up tile where water proofing is not required.  I did the whole kitchen in three hours.  The only other thing I did was use a sanded caulk around the edges to give it a finished look.

Lessons Learned:  When using double sided adhesive tile backer paper, you only have one shot at placing the tile correctly.  It's nearly impossible to remove and adjust your placement.

Typical morning getting ready for school.

Typical morning getting ready for school.

Basketball Hoop and Key

One of the first things I did when we moved into our new house was install a basketball hoop for the family to unwind in the evenings after dinner. 

Install:  The install was pretty easy.  First I dug a hole about 4.5 feet deep.  (This was the hardest part)  Next I built a small wooden form and placed it at ground level as to not have to fight it with my riding lawn-mower for years to come.  The form also makes the visible cement look like a clean install.  After filling the hole with cement, I had my kids place their hand prints in the base.  I then let the cement harden for two days and installed the post and hoop.  You may need another persons help if your hoop is over-sized like mine is.  To finish the project, I painted a traditional basketball key onto the asphalt with standard "parking line" paint.

Lessons Learned: 1st, ask your wife before you paint the driveway. 2nd, when digging a deep hole where you don't plan to fill it back with the dirt you took out, place the dirt directly in the wheel barrel so you don't have to shovel it twice.   I mistakenly placed the dirt next to the hole directly on the ground.  I then had to shovel the dirt a second time and ruined the grass near the hole.

Dining Room Molding

To add texture to our dining room, I went overboard with molding.  I then painted the walls a deep purple.  I also painted the ceiling a metallic silver to add some depth.  

The liquor cabinet in the corner of the room was a salvaged bird cage from a dumpster; I put a light and glass in it and it's the best conversation piece in our house.

Lesson Learned: When welding the liquor cabinet , I wasn't wearing any protective gloves.  I think I will live with the scare on my arm forever.

Golf Cart Remodel

Every little boy - scratch that - every man wants a golf cart to drive around their 'hood.  I purchased our golf cart on ebay for $250.  When it arrived it was really beat up after years of use on a golf course in North Carolina.  I took the entire cart apart, every screw & bolt was removed.  I then painted the body inside of a make-shift spray booth made of shower curtains.  I installed new batteries, diamond plate flooring, a new dash, new steering wheel, new tires, new rims, a front bumper, an all weather stereo, and a rear seat.  It was one of my favorite projects and it gets used every week.

One of our favorite activities as a family is to jump in the cart with a picnic basket and find a spot to have a picnic in an undeveloped part of our neighborhood.  

Lesson Learned:  Keep the keys out of reach of your four-year-old son.  Tripton drove the cart (full speed) into a moving trailer.   Rightfully so, he was scared of the cart for a few weeks following the "incident."