Hose Bib Repair

old hose bibb1aSo… the hose bib on the side of their house was old, leaking and the stem was stripped badly enough that the oval knob wouldn’t even fit on it, much less turn the valve anymore.

A phone call to one of those big plumbing companies in the area (one that you see advertizing on TV all the time with a really annoying jingle) left them with a $300 estimate that would require cutting a hole through the master bedroom wall.  (And did not include the sheet rock repair after replacing the sweat-on fitting.)

hose bibb1aWhat I did, on the other hand… was call around the area to plumbing supply businesses to find the same type of hose bib – a Matco brand with a 1/2″ washer-type valve stem with top packing washer.  It turns out that practically no one sells the replacement valves for these anymore – this isn’t a part you’ll find at Lowes or Home Depot; but buying a whole new unit itself was a grand total of $6.81.  (I simply removed the valve stem from the new one and the actual brass housing went in the recycle bin.)

hosebibb2hosebibb3At that point all that was left to do onsite was turn the water supply off, remove the old valve stem, screw the new one in, tighten (enough but NOT too much)… and turn the water supply back on.  A permanent fix; that took about 5 – 10 minutes.

I did go ahead and charge them an hour’s worth of labor for the time spent hunting around and the drive across town to a plumbing supply house that had these in stock.  Grand total?  $51.81.  For that estimated $300 dollar job.  Do you ever wonder what all that advertising on TV costs?valves1a

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Chimney Flue Access Door

bcabin8A friend has a log cabin with a wood stove flue that has a wooden surround.  It apparently never occurred to the builder that one day the flue would need to be cleaned.  (With the steep roof line on this place, the extra charge from a chimney sweep would almost make someone consider not using the wood stove anymore.)

flue_door1I took a day to drive up with him, throwing tools, some surplus lumber, and miscellaneous hardware and fasteners in the back of the truck for an overnight outing. The wood had been lying in my shop surplus pile for several months.  The day before I had spent an hour or so ripping and milling down some clear western cedar to use as trim pieces; If materials are “left-overs” I usually mark them on an invoice as “SS – shop surplus:  N/C.” I consider using every piece of wood as efficiently as possible one of my contributions to sustainability as well as extra customer service.

IMG_20131104_164234_028It wasn’t difficult – removing the existing trim, cutting the siding for an opening, installing some bracing, using the cut siding pieces for the new door material, then cutting and installing the left-over cedar as trim.  A surplus stainless steel piano hinge, two galvanized slide-lock latches (it gets really windy on that ridge and I wanted to make sure the door wouldn’t blow open when the cabin was unoccupied) and this project was done except for eventual finishing to match the rest of the cabin.  To my thinking?  Kind of a no-brainer thing to do on a fall afternoon.

My friend had been puttering around doing some odds and ends and came out to see it as I was cleaning up.  He stopped and stared for a minute or two, then said, “Dude… How on earth did you do that?  It literally seemed beyond him.  The only answer I had for him was “Man… this is my thing.  I simply looked at it for a while until I ‘saw’ the new door and then just made it happen.”  It does remind me that what seems simple for some isn’t anything like that for others.  Funny old world, huh?flue_door2

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Custom Kitchen Light

stock lightA client decided she’d had enough of her condo looking “plain.”  Her plan entailed essentially redoing the entire interior:  new flooring, paint, vanities, counter-tops, custom shelving in an open wine closet, and doing something with the boring kitchen light.

Custom light fixtures and light boxes are available online if you search for them.  Essentially they are just a wooden box that surrounds a fluorescent light fixture with either a plastic or acrylic panel instead of the stock diffuser.  They are also fabulously expensive.  Some with stained glass panels can cost well over a thousand dollars.

???????????????????????????????molding2I built this one for her from cabinet grade pine along with rope-detailed crown and casing molding.  It was designed to slide around the existing two-bulb fixture and mount to the ceiling joists.  I designed it with just a bit of flex so that when screwed into the ceiling it would tighten up to the sheet rock:  The ceiling isn’t level – something quite common in large developments where units are built as quickly as possible.  This meant the finished product would fit snugly even with imperfections in the mounting surface.

The panel looks like stained glass:  It’s actually an acrylic panel from this company.  Lightweight, attractive and (relatively) inexpensive.???????????????????????????????The client decided on a painted finish but using stain grade molding and cabinet grade pine would have allowed for a stained finish as well.

It’s not a cheap light fixture – the total was over $300 – but it was a lot cheaper than the alternatives she had been exploring.  (Click any image for the photo gallery.  The photos aren’t great quality but do detail the design and workmanship.)???????????????????????????????

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HTML versus WordPress

I recently did a promo build of a website that I built a few years ago.  The original is a simple HTML site, updated from a very old vectored graphics type design.  The original site had little or no text and wasn’t searchable; thus the business was essentially non-existent on Google or other search engines.  Since their business now stands at or close to the top of most regional searches, that build was successful… as far as HTML can go.  That still leaves it as a static, HTML site; time consuming to build, difficult to maintain and essentially serving as nothing more than an electronic business card on the Web.

The promo build is based off the original design, designed in and powered by WordPress with a highly customized version of the venerable Twenty Ten theme.  Instead of a simple graphic for a menu background, the sidebar menu is a repeated image of an actual photo that matches their “railroad” theme.  Instead of graphic images for some of their marketing slogans, custom widgets allow those to be changed at a moment’s notice.  (They are also fully searchable with the SEO plugin built in to the design.)rr_top

The dynamic nature of WordPress means things like photo albums and slideshows (2nd footer widget area) are easy to keep updated with special events and new images.

Last, but certainly not least… this new promo version means anyone with a couple of hours of training can handle future updates and revisions.  (So yes, maybe it puts me out of future update work… but you be the judge of which is the best value!)  I’ll have to keep you posted on what transpires.  (Click images for links to the sites.)rr_bottom


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Recent Nonprofit Website

featured imageA recent website build, for a Presbyterian Church task force in the triangle region of North Carolina.  I based their design off of the venerable WordPress Twenty Ten theme with a front page content slider, random refreshing header images and a background image from Leonardo Da Vinci’s work. Click the screenshot above to visit the site.

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WordPress Test Drive

I’ve built a functioning WordPress website within my website.  It’s fully functional and also details practically everything you need to know about having using WordPress as your content management system.

Click the image below to explore how WordPress can power your website in ways you’ve never imagined!

My fully functional WordPress website that walks you through every step of using this powerful CMS.

My fully functional WordPress website that walks you through every step of using this powerful CMS.

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Handicap Ramp

A house with steps becomes a hazard for elderly folks, especially following things like hip replacement surgery or chronic medical conditions involving difficulties walking.  The logical answer is to build a ramp where the steps once were.  (We see a bunch of these on homes in the general area where I live.)

But the key to something like this is realizing that there are clear regulations for such a ramp.  The ADA has regulations on maximum slope for both residential and commercial ramps.  (It’s surprising how often I’ll see a ramp appear at a house with such a steep slope that it’s not only anything but an improvement; it’s actually dangerous.  And don’t even get me started about one I saw a month or so ago made out of cdx plywood!  I personally would be afraid to walk up that ramp in the rain!)

This ramp is wider than required.  That’s simply because it was built while the original steps were still being used.  The steps were not removed until half of the ramp was completed and a temporary rail and one step down could be temporarily installed so as not to block off access to this entrance to the house. (The other entrance has twelve steps and these folks never use it.)  The treated joists were placed into the ground and anchored to posts set in concrete footings in such a way that the last deck board at the driveway could be chamfered (cut at an angle) so the bump up is as slight as possible in case of wheelchair use in the future.

Handrails are 2 X 6 boards set upright to have a 1 & 1/2 inch maximum width for handholds. (This is also a code requirement – too many decks are built with railings on the steps that are far too wide to comfortably and safely hold on to.)  The mid and foot posts are capped and then accented with solar lighting and the entrance has custom designed grab rails that were laminated with treated lumber in 3 layers with a cross-grain layout (VERY strong!).

The clients are more than pleased:  Now leaving the house isn’t a stressful experience where both have to worry if one or the other will possibly fall on steps and end up down on the concrete hurt.

The clients purchased their own lumber for this project.  My labor was 11.5 hours and the invoice amount was $402.50.

(Click any image for photo album.)

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Rotten Crawl Space Door

It seems like a broken record some days…  whatever it is, it’s rotten.  The original crawlspace door was hanging by one hinge; all wood was deteriorated and rotten, and this door assembly was infested by earwigs to boot.  (Earwigs love moist cracks and crevices – an earlier, temporary repair of putting a piece of plywood over the original wood door gave them a perfect home.)

One nice thing about my work:  I NEVER throw surplus lumber out.  Anything leftover from any job comes to the shop to be stored until there’s a use for it.  This new door required two hinges, a latch, one tube of caulk… and some leftover cedar, plywood, and treated 2 X 4 lumber.  I really enjoy sending an invoice to a client that lists under “materials – lumber: No Charge, SS.”  (That’s my invoice code for “shop surplus”.)

This wasn’t a very large project – it required 5.25 hours total, including my shop time spent ripping and milling the cedar trim down from larger, left over cedar boards.  Total cost:  $193.59.

Click any image for photo album

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Deck Repair / Rebuild

When do you know your deck is in trouble?  When your insurance agent calls you and tells you your policy will not be renewed without some “repairs.”  Clearly the decking was deteriorated, the railing beyond repair, and the supporting posts questionable.  The question remains:  Is this a “repair?”  or a “rebuild?”  Answer?  Both, actually.

The deck structure, while old, was solid, except for the joist ends that were cracked and broken.  While one lag bolt to the house structure had pulled away, the junction of deck to house was solid.  The underlying posts, while not rotten, were only attached to another piece of treated lumber underground.  (Known as a “stiff knee,” this does not conform to building code and will eventually rot allowing the entire structure to sag and eventually fail.)

The “fix” was to re-support the existing structure with concrete footings, cut six inches off the width to clean the joists up, re-deck the structure and build a new railing.  (Sounds simple, right?)

It actually is fairly straightforward; just pretty involved.  The joists were originally set to 24 inch centers, which only allows for full 2″ X 6″ size decking material.  Changing those joists to 16 inch centers allows for 5/4″ decking – a substantial cost savings but costing more labor in the tear-down phase.  The “fix” here was to add an additional 7 joists, bringing the structure to a beefy 12″ on center layout.  (It’s bomb-proof now.)  New outer plates, new, standard stair stringers, 8′ staggered joint decking (another cost versus look decision), new railings and balusters and the “same” deck is good for another 25 years or so.

A big job – in hours required as well as materials and labor.  (Total cost, materials and labor: approximately $1,700.  Actually, not a bad price for a 11 and 1/2 foot by 14 foot deck.)

Click any photo to go to the photo album.


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Rotten Wood, Part… (Whatever)

Wood rots.  (Inferior, non-wood materials that some builders use rot even worse.) Especially with hot and humid summers.  (You would be surprised at how much rot removal and repair I get calls on.) Unfortunately, sometimes folks don’t notice the rot until they can see it.  By that time, it’s a mess.  There’s no other way to describe it.  You can’t just cover it up; you have to cut it out.  When someone calls me with the question, “Do you work on rotten… anything?”  I usually know that surgery is coming up on the agenda.

The key is to do it right, do it well (and safely, if ANYTHING structural is ever involved), and make it look as good as new.  It’s not easy, nor is it a lot of fun.  But there’s not quite anything like the feeling I get when I finally load up all the tools and take a final look at a home that looks as good as it ever did!

This was about a 20 hour job – Removing gutters,  cutting out all rotten siding and  wood, shoring up all structural elements, re-installing newer and longer lasting materials, and finally, trimming and painting it all so it looks like it was designed that way!

Click any image for the photo gallery.


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