Friday, March 27, 2015

DIY Drain Cleaner: A Horror Story

This is a story about a very, very disgusting sink.

Germophobes and neat freaks, be warned: if you would rather hug a demon clown made of spiders than look at unfathomable levels of grime, I strongly suggest skipping to the end of this post for the DIY cleaner recipe.

Voyeurs, snoopy types, and anyone who has watched more than 2 episodes of Hoarders: get ready to enjoy some serious schadenfreude.

I laugh in the face of epic mess. Bring your worst.

There's a teeny tiny powder room in the mudroom. Even the door is little! It's going to be really useful when it's all fixed up, though. When we're mucky from working out in the garden, we'll be able to come in to use the bathroom and clean up without having to traipse through the house. Plus, with all the painting we're still doing, I am DYING for a good place to clean brushes.

We closed this room off before we moved in. Because it was in such bad shape, we turned off the water and basically barricaded the door. But the time to face the monster has come. Before we bring the plumber out to move the washing machine, we want to know if the sink and toilet plumbing need work.

So here's the kicker:

I think there was a chicken living in the sink.

Literally, there is a nest.

Here's the "before" picture. Hold your breath.

Ew ew ew ew.

Can this sink be saved? I didn't think so, but I at least had to get it clean enough to breathe the air in that room without terror.

Step 1: Shop vac.

And this is AFTER attacking it with a shop vac. The gunk is crusted on.

Step 2: Run away. Take a shower. Cry. Demand husband deal with Step 3.

Step 3: Steel wool.  Lots and lots of steel wool.

Brett scrubbed at this for ages while I channeled Lady Macbeth from the opposite side of the house. Finally, he emerged to announce that the sink wasn't salvageable - he just couldn't get it clean enough. But at least we could now look at it without developing nightmares.

For reasons I don't totally understand, I took this as a challenge. I normally try to use homemade cleaners whenever possible, but I figured this situation fell into the category of "impossible" right from the start. I hauled out the chemicals. First, I went at the sink with a Mister Clean Magic Eraser. Those things really are magic! It lifted off most of the remaining stains easily. Then I opened all the windows and sprayed the heck out of everything with bleach-infused bathroom cleaner.

The result?

Yes, friends, that is SHINE. It can be done!

Cleaning victory! Look at that sparkle. Martha, I'm coming for your job. As soon as my eyes stop burning, that is.

Not only can we keep the sink, but the plumbing works perfectly. Unexpected bonus! I wanted to give it all a good freshening up, though. Lord knows what's festering in that drain.

It's really easy to refresh a sink drain. Did you ever do that classic elementary school science project, the baking soda and vinegar volcano? Well, now's the time to put all that fancypants learnin' to use.

  • 1/2 c Baking soda
  • 1/4 c Table salt
  • 1 c White vinegar
  • Approx. 5 drops essential oil (I used lavender) - optional

Mix baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add essential oil to preferred strength - this is just to make it smell nice. Warm the vinegar.

Slowly shake the dry mixture into the drain. Pour the warmed vinegar into the drain over it. Watch the fizz! SCIENCE!

Wait ten minutes. Then run the hot water for 1-2 minutes to clear it all out.

This recipe is for a good clean and refresh; it will clear out minor residue and get rid of unwanted smells. It won't break through a clog. There are recipes for septic-safe, nontoxic clog busters that operate on the same principles as this cleaner, and are just as easy to make.

But for now, I'll just kick back and enjoy the cleaning we've already done.

Ah! Nice and clean!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Home Decor Scores

It's fun to be at a point where we can think about decorating, even just a little. I try to keep an eye out for great deals on things we'll need eventually. Even if we have to stash them in the crawl space for a while, this method helps us find exactly what we want and find the best deals.

This week, we had two big decor victories!

First, a Craigslist find. We've been looking for a cute bistro set for the porch for a while. And now that it's warming up, I've really been feeling the lack of patio furniture. Bonus: the woman selling this was 3 minutes from where I work.

The first of many relaxing mornings, sipping coffee on the deck

The second awesome find was from a local artist. Bainbridge Farm Goods makes these really eye-catching metal signs for backyard farmers. We already had one of her pieces, and I'm probably going to wind up with a collection.

I was poking around on her Etsy shop, and I stumbled across a sign that is the absolute spitting image of Hermione. This could seriously be a custom-made picture of her. A custom look without the custom price? I had to have it!

Prepare to be amazed.

Work the runway, Hermie!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Coop Madness!

Countdown to chicken ownership!

Chicks - adorable, fluffy chickies! squee! - started showing up at the local feed store a couple weeks ago. I wanted to take them all home with me. One small problem: we didn't have a functional coop. Some unexpectedly nice weather gave us a chance to remedy that.

They even have a video. It's like a ChickieCam!

The property already has a chicken coop on it, and we know the previous owners raised chickens. And it actually has some cuteness potential - peaky roof, easy entry, sweet little windows. It's also dirty, mossy and more-than-charmingly overgrown with ivy and blackberries, so we inspected it to see if it was salvageable. 

Yes, I'm wearing a dust mask. When I said it was dirty, I. WAS. NOT. KIDDING. 

In some ways, it was better than we hoped. There's a big enclosed run, and we found hardware cloth buried underneath to keep out predators. 

Then we opened the door to the inside part of the coop, and got an odd surprise. What we thought was the inside portion of the coop (on the left, where I'm standing in the picture above), where there would be nesting boxes and roosts ... wasn't. This piece wasn't connected to the rest of the coop at all. It was just a storage shed that shared a wall with the chicken run. 

A lot of what was in there could have been really useful. We found soil amendments, chicken feeders and waterers, bird feeders, automatic timers, and ... mold. A lot of mold. And rot. And ivy growing through the roof. And some Rubbermaid containers which might or might not have held highly corrosive substances. So, sadly, almost everything had to go in the trash. (Insert the sound of my wallet crying.)

After an ENTIRE DAY of cleaning, we were ready to at least start thinking about bringing this coop back to life. First, Brett cut a hole in the wall that separated the run from the inside. We added a hatch with a lock, and a ramp that leads down into the run. This way, the chickens can move between the run and the inside of the coop during the day, but can be tucked inside safely at night. 

Next, we built nesting boxes. This is where the chickens will lay their eggs. We did some research, and came across these guidelines: You want one box for every 2-4 chickens. Each box should only be big enough to comfortably hold one chicken at a time, meaning about 12-16 inches square. Chickens prefer them to be dark, and up off the ground. The top needs to be slanted so that the hens won't sleep on top of their nesting boxes. Having a bar for them to jump onto before they hop into the boxes is a bonus. 

We checked out a bunch of plans. Ultimately, this simple one from Linn Acres Farm felt best to us:

We made ours mostly out of scrap plywood and 1x2. 

It's still sitting on the floor of the shop, but baby steps.
There's already a little ledge for us to put the nesting boxes on, so installation will be fast. All that's really left is to add some good spots to roost. Then there's still a whole lot more cleaning and maintenance we want to do before the fluffballs move in, and some more aesthetic stuff we can do later. Sweeping, painting, and de-mossing, here we come! 

At least that means we'll be working outside, so we can enjoy the sunshine and the spring flowers.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Vinyl Floors: Less Sexy than Catsuits or LPs

"Oh shit, I pulled an Audrey!" Brett yelled from the mudroom.

"Hey! What does that mean?"

"I was trying to take off the trim, and I broke it!"

Okay, so I love demolition, but a surgeon I'm not.  I guess I'm getting a reputation here. And I was excited to get started with the first step in the murdoom - ripping out the icky, icky old vinyl floor. So I rather unwisely jumped in before Brett was ready to help.

Step one: remove all the baseboard and door trim.

Apparently you're supposed to score the paint and caulk before wailing on the trim with a crowbar. Whoops.   

And it also seems that "wailing" is not the appropriate action. Careful prying? Not my style.

Hermie sides with Brett. She likes to help with clean-up.

I will admit up front that most of the giant holes in the wall that resulted from this process are entirely my fault. Sorry, honey! We're going to have to patch lots of drywall anyway as part of the reno, so I'm really just getting in the spirit.

Okay, so now on to the grosser-but-more-satisfying bit. Step two: rip up the old floor.

Say yer prayers, nasty old vinyl.

We weren't totally sure what we were going to find under the vinyl. This part of the house is an addition, so we knew there wasn't hardwood. Plywood? Concrete? Nothing? Another concern was water damage to the subfloor. When we moved in, the washing machine was leaking. We didn't know how long that had been going on, or if the subfloor could have started rotting.

Replacing vinyl flooring is a horrible job, because it's glued down. The vinyl should come up easily, but it leaves behind lumpy, rock-hard adhesive that you have to remove or sand flat before laying the new floor. In a perfect world, we would avoid the whole mess and just slap the new floor right on top of the existing vinyl.

However, that wouldn't work in this case. First, we needed to make sure there was no water damage. Secondly, the vinyl isn't flat anymore. It undulates like waves on the ocean. Third, ew.

So we held our breath (in more ways than one ...) and tore open a seam.

I've never been so happy to see dry plywood in my life.

The subfloor was totally fine! It's de-laminating a bit in a couple spots, probably from some old moisture or temperature changes. But it's definitely useable.

The first piece comes up!

A lot of the rest of the weekend was spent just prying up the rest of the vinyl. It's hard work but it's not complicated - just shove a scraper or putty knife underneath to loosen, cutting it into manageable chunks with a utility knife as you go.

I am beyond excited to see this room transform! It's been dirty and badly laid out. But it's a beautiful space, with a cute peaked ceiling, a wall full of windows, and several pretty glass doors. She's going to be stunning!

More room for kisses!
It was so nice outside that we also had to do some outdoor work too - and now we're almost ready for chickens! But more on that next time.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mudroom Makeover

With the kitchen and living area in pretty good shape, it's time to tackle the mudroom!

I haven't posted any pictures of the mudroom yet, because frankly it's embarrassing. The room was a total wreck when we moved in, so we've taken to using it as storage for all kinds of random stuff. We even used it as a makeshift shop in bad weather. (And then I got to enjoy shaking sawdust out of our next three loads of laundry. Don't try this at home, kids.)

Well, it's time to come clean. Here's the mudroom, in all its icky, overcrowded glory.

Don't judge me.

So here's the plan. Right now, the washing machine and dryer are on different walls. We're moving the washer next to the dryer, under the window. Then we'll cover them both with some nice countertop. That will leave the other wall free for cabinets. Also, we're replacing the floor and repainting. It's going to be an awesome transformation! And it will free up a lot of currently overcrowded storage all over the house.

It took an entire weekend just to get everything cleared out. But it looks better already!

Use your imagination.

I can't wait to start installing the new floor!

Hermione is skeptical. The old floor is delicious.