Friday, December 31, 2010

New Camera for Christmas!!

For Christmas this year, all I asked for was a DSLR. That was it. This was the year. I had to have one. Now here's the story about how I got it $250 less than retail.

I had never seen any of the cameras in person, so I still wasn't sure which one I wanted. We'd both being doing research online comparing cameras(we were only looking at Nikon). I started with a semi-pro model and quickly scaled down from there. I wanted a camera that had room to grow(but didn't want to pay for more than I needed). There are 3 tiers of cameras: entry level, semi-pro, and pro. Nikon just came out with a D3100 which is one of the highest of the entry level cameras. They added some bells and whistles that the higher level cameras have. It's also a smaller body(good for female hands and for carrying around everywhere). I was also looking for a camera kit, which is the camera body and a basic lens sold together. The D3100 kits usually run for $650-700.

Matt had already been looking around on Craigslist over Thanksgiving. He found one listed for $550 and emailed the guy. Then, on our way back from visiting family, we wanted to stop by Wolf Camera. He remembered one near his university that we were driving right by. We drove around everywhere and couldn't find it. It's apparently gone out of business. Since we don't have fancy internet phones, we called my brother(who has a lot more digital photography experience than I and who's been giving us advise) and had him look up more locations of Wolf Camera. There was another one 20 min north of us, which is also the town that the dude from craigslist lives. I called the store to find out exactly where in this huge shopping center they were located. They told me they were across from Barnes and Noble(this is an important detail for later).

We drove up there and played with the cameras in Wolf Camera and it confirmed that I do love the D3100. In the conversation with the wolf camera guy, we mentioned how we were looking for a deal. He said to check craiglist because he knows a guy who tried to return his camera a few days after the return policy expired. He wanted an upgrade, but wolf camera couldn't take it back. The wolf camera guy told him to sell it on craigslist. We came to the conclusion that this was the same guy Matt had emailed over the weekend. The wolf camera guy vouched that the camera was taken care of and barely used(the man attended his photography workshop).

We had the guy's number and we were in his town, but could he come meet us now? We called the guy from the parking lot. He said he Barnes and Noble. Seriously? We were staring at B&N right now! And he had the camera with him and his laptop to download pictures. We sat in the coffee shop to test it out. We talked him down to $450 and bought it! I never expected to buy a camera that day, but I guess it was fate.

As soon as we got home, Matt hid the box from me until Christmas morning. It was actually from my parents and Matt's parents. They basically paid me back for the camera. Having the camera on Christmas morning was way better than waiting until I had their money and going out to buy one. We would have missed an amazing deal.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Holiday Welcome Mat

When Christmas was approaching, the Kelly family decided to do the gift exchange a little differently this year. We decided to play Dirty Santa, or Yankee Christmas if you'd rather call it that. It even goes by White Elephant in some circles. We've done this for two years now on my side of the family and it's been quite a hit. Every gift is wanted by someone and we have such a large group that there is plenty of chances to steal and pass gifts around.

I'd already done the shopping early for my family, but I needed one for Matt's family. That was hard. Every gift I thought of would have been great for my family, but I didn't think it would be wanted by anyone in Matt's family. We have lots of "foodies", cooks, entertainers, travelers, and artists on my family. But not really any in the Kelly family. I also wanted to get something that was practical and wouldn't just clutter up their house(like so many of our Christmas presents do).

Then I saw this on Young House Love blog:

The Youngsters bought a cheap doormat at Ikea, taped off a design of deer antlers, then spray painted it. Here is their version in a modern Christmas green:

And here's my version with tape on it before I painted it:

I went with a more traditional Christmas green that would appeal to more people. I also wanted mine to look a little more realistic, so I googled images of antlers and just recreated that shape with tape. To taper the ends, I carved the tape with a knife. Another tip: if you pull up the tape to reposition it, don't reuse it. It will be covered with little bristles and won't re-stick well. This took me about 2 hours sitting on the floor in front of the TV. I just kept playing with it until it looked right.

I used Rustoleum Satin paint in Spruce Green and sprayed 3 thin coats of paint(allowing for drying time in between).

What you'll need:
Ikea doormat
painters tape
newspaper(to protect the floor you spray on)
spray paint(Make sure it's indoor/outdoor enamel paint and get the name brand stuff. Cheap paint might come off on shoes)

And here is the big reveal:

I love how it turned out. Now I want to make one for myself. This cost less than $15 for the door mat and paint. I already had the other supplies. It's a 2'x3' mat, which is quite large, not your standard dinky ones. I think it looks kinda expensive. Maybe there is a market for them.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kitchen Layout and New(to us) Fridge

Matt and I worked on the kitchen layout today. It's kind of like a puzzle since we already have our cabinets and we have to make it fit in the space. Click to enlarge.

We started with the sink since it has to be centered on the window(although David said it would be really simple to move the window over a few inches, Matt doesn't want it to be off center with the roof line). To fit the 33 in cabinet to the left of the sink, we have to put the sink in a 36 in cabinet and remove the drawer from it. We have a 42 in cabinet with false drawer front made for a sink, but then there is no room to put a cabinet without shifting the sink over.

We really wanted to have the U shape to give extra counter space and storage, so the range and fridge won't both fit on that wall without being butted up next to each other like they are in our current kitchen(which we hate). I'm not sure that I love the location of the fridge. It looks good there, but it's a little far from the counter. The bar/counter only sticks out 4 ft, so it won't be too overwhelming in the space I think. There is still room to put open shelving above the dishwasher(next to fridge), although the picture is deceiving. If you have any advise, let us know!

Oh, and one exciting thing is that we bought a fridge today! Matt was browsing Craigslist, as usual, and saw a couple selling all of their kitchen appliances. They were all stainless steel, but different brands. By the time he emailed them about it, all but the fridge were gone. That was kinda disappointing because the range had the front controls which are usually on the higher end stoves. They might be less kid friendly, but I don't like reaching over the splatter or steam to turn down a boiling pot.

So, this morning we drove 45 min to their house. This was after Matt drove to his parents house to get the white truck with the hydraulic lift gate. We get there, but no one was home. Matt calls and there's no answer. After sitting in the truck for about 15 min trying to decide just how long we would wait, finally she calls back and says shes leaving work to come meet us and would be there in 2 min. 15 min later, she shows up. The house is cold and empty because they are getting a divorce and moving. All the appliances were pretty new and expensive, but they were very motivated sellers. They were asking $500 for the fridge that retails for at least $1500. We offered $400. They countered with $450. We countered with $440. Deal. It looks about like the photo below(except that one is LG).

Getting it out of the house was another story. It wouldn't fit through the door. Matt had to take the fridge doors off and disconnect a water hose. And there was a big drop off at the door so we had to make a make-ramp with boards that happened to be laying around. Of course this is all with a hand truck and a tool box. Seriously, who goes to pick up an installed appliance without tools? Two other people the day before, that's who! They expected the home owner to provide the tools, but she'd already moved out. The went and bought a wrench and asked her to deduct the $20 tool off the price of the appliance. Yeah, right.

Anyway, that's our fridge. Now that we have a stainless steel one, I guess the other appliances have to be stainless. Oh DARN! Yes, they are expensive, but we'll keep our eyes out on Craigslist. Our goal is to get all 4 of our appliances for $1000. That's fridge, range, dishwasher, above range microwave. Not sure if that will happen.

Monday, December 27, 2010

First virtual house tour

Welcome to your first virtual home tour! As I post these pictures, I have yet to have had anything other than a virtual tour myself. Matt took this last series of pictures and I haven't made it back over there to see it myself yet. The interior wall studs are up and so is the deck and the full stair case.

If you missed it, here is the updated floorplan, near the bottom of the post, if you need to look at it to get oriented.

We'll start in the living room. Matt didn't take a picture of the back wall(where the kitchen will be), but only the front wall. This is the big picture window in the living room facing out to our front yard and driveway. The wall to the right is the bathroom wall. I was going to put the computer desk there, but now I'm thinking the love seat should go there and having the couch face the window.

The ceiling trusses are in, which makes our ceilings 12ft high. I really didn't want to have those, but the engineer said we had to...something about the house falling down.

No picture of the hallway, but here we are standing in the master bedroom facing the 2nd bedroom dormer window. Right now there is no wall dividing them. We are planning on having a double pocket door, so that when we're not using it, we can keep the doors opened and get more sunlight in the master bedroom.

The next picture is from standing in the master and facing the bedroom door. To the left of the door, that will be the washer/dryer closet accessible from the hallway. To the right of the door is the bathroom. You can kinda see another door frame in the far left of this picture. That is the master walk-in closet. Above all of that will be attic space.

Here is another view of our closet. That big hump is the head space for the stairs. Normally, we would lose the space all the way up to the ceiling, but we had David put a cap on it, so we could use it as a shelf and get added storage space.

Another view of the bathroom from standing in the living room.

This is the space behind the back bathroom wall. It will be lost space because there is not enough head room for it to be included in the bathroom. The space goes from the living room, behind the bathroom, and stops at the 2nd bedroom. We want to add some kind of door on either end and maybe make this a coat closet on one side, and a bedroom closet on the other.

And on the outside...

...we have a finished deck and stairs! We plan on filling dirt in front of the deck so that it's on ground level, just like the garage/driveway. You'll be able to get on the deck from the door on the side of the garage or just walk right on from anywhere on the front.

There are still more details the framer is working on today and tomorrow(all these little things we keep changing and adding). Then the windows will go in. Check back for more updates!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Finally a Frame!

Tuesday was one of the most exciting days since Matt and I got married. Of course, that's nothing compared to when we actually get to move in. We have waited so long to see this kind of progress happen. I never thought it would take 2.5 years to even start! And I didn't know life would slap us in the face a few times along the way. But it's finally happening!!

It's amazing how fast construction goes when you pay someone to do it fulltime. We've been given a taste and it's hard to go back to a snail's pace. Reality has hit and our budget has been blown out of the water. We are considering paying someone to do the plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and sheetrock. Yeah, that's pretty much everything except inside finishes like trim, cabinets, floors, ect. We'll get some quotes from people we know who are in that line of work and weigh their labor cost against our time costs and see what wins out. Some of those things won't cost much in labor and it's easier to pay someone to do it while you are at work instead of stressing out about it yourself.

In you live in NC or maybe even the east coast, you know how unseasonably cold this December has been. Fall in NC is usually in the 50's or so. And we've had record breaking low temps like highs of 30 degrees for a week straight! Tuesday morning it was about 20 degrees. I had to meet the inspector out there at 8:00am to get the tarps off the pillars we were trying to insulate. I felt so bad for the framing crew who had to work out there all day. I tried to start them a fire in our fire pit, but the wood was too wet. That afternoon, I saw that they had had a fire and had started it with a lot of flammable construction adhesive. I guess in that situation you do whatever works.

Tuesday afternoon, we had this(click on any picture to enlarge) :

And Wednesday, this:

Thursday gave us a delay because they were calling for sleet/snow/rain. Yucky stuff. There was some, but not much. They'd already called it a day off and it was too late to get the crew of 4 together.

The end of Friday:

Only the top part of the stairs are built. The bottom half comes out of that door in the picture below. They will sit on a deck that goes across from the top of the cinder blocks. Before the deck got built, Matt wanted to dig out some dirt with the skid steer to give him more storage clearance for things like lawn mowers and tractors. He was very excited to learn that his red tractor will fit under the deck because it's over his head at the back(at the entrance). He was careful not to dig out too close to the footings(under the foundation) because the county might not like that. We can always do it later.

David, our framer, and his crew came Saturday to make up for missing Thursday. They only got to work a half day because it started snowing heavily on them. Of course, the snow was short lived(see? nothing on the ground), but they had already packed and gone.

When I arrived today(Monday, Dec. 20), it looked like this. And an hour later when I left, it looked even different. They'd already finished the other half of the roof.

Side note: Most of the windows have not been cut out yet. And some of the windows you see aren't the full size they will be. There is plywood overhanging them that hasn't been cut yet.

Speaking of windows...I had no idea how frustrating they would be to pick out. David framed all of them has triple 62''(that means three 32'' in windows side by side, that are 62'' tall), like the ones in the picture above(only without that plywood overhanging). We would be crazy to actually have windows this big all over our apartment. There would be no where to put the furniture and it would cost more because windows are expensive. If Matt had it his way, this is exactly how we would frame the windows, but ya' know I'm the practical one who thinks of every detail.

I'm also a very visual person who needs to see the real thing to know what it will be like. There was no way I could tell David how big I wanted the windows to be until I actually stood in the room. It's easier to add another 2x4 to make a window smaller than it is to rip out 2x4s to make it bigger. The only window we left as a triple 62'' is the front living room window. Most of the others will be counter-top height to accommodate any furniture or counter-top we will use there. There's hardly no wall space in our bedroom, so our bed will sit under the dormer window, so that one can't be too low to the floor. The other bedroom wall has a double window and our dresser will need to go under that.

I finalized all the sizes and called around for a price estimate. We'd already checked Lowes and Home Depot. Lowes doesn't stock the size we needed most of(32''x46''), so they were going to charge us out the wazzoo for them, in the neighborhood of $230 each. Home Depot had them for around $160 in stock. I call a few building material places, like Matthews Building Supply who we got all our lumber from, and who supplies materials for the Dowd Co. where Matt's mom works, so we have some loyalty there. Not to mention, David, who does the framing for a lot of the Dowd Co. fancy houses, is used to dealing with Matthews.

The first place I called was Dellinger Building Supply. He gave me prices for what I needed and in the conversation he said, "The 46'' windows aren't for a bedroom are they?" "um...yeah, they are." "That's not going to pass egress." What the heck is egress? "The inspector won't pass you unless you have enough opening for firemen to get in and out of." "Oh" crap. "You have to have at least one 62'' tall window so that the opening of the window meets code. You better check with your framer on that because I don't want you to have to buy windows twice." It's really awesome that he caught that. That's the kind of expertise you don't get at Lowes.

Well that's just great news! Now I won't have any wall to put a dresser. It will have to sit in front of really tall windows. I called an inspector and asked him what the code is. He said they don't care how tall the window is as long as the opening is at least 22'' tall. Slightly good news. Now I need a window to measure. I went over to Matt's grandma's house, which has modern vinyl windows like we're using. Her bedroom windows appear to be about 62'' and they open to 27''. Dang. Thats plenty of room. I could go down a size...I think. So an hour later I was having a pow wow with David on the picnic table and he was on his Nextel walkie talkie with the guy at Matthews getting confirmation on what windows are required for egress. Apparently, I can't go down a size and have to go with 62''. Oh well. It is what it is.

I hate windows.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The floorplan...updated

We had a meeting with our framer Friday evening at our house. I had quite a list of things I wanted to "tweak", but wasn't sure it they were all possible to be structurally supported and meet code. Our framer is David, who builds a lot of the houses that Matt's mom's company builds. Those houses list for $750,000 and up. Nice stuff. Very well made. Yeah, we want THAT guy. He's also used to very picky rich people, which is exactly how I am, minus the rich part.

Here's a refresher of our floor plan as it is written(click to enlarge):

Now here is my list of changes:
1. Add laundry room upstairs
2. Add half-bath in garage
3. Remove corner closet(we'll add later once we know where we want them)
4. Raise knee-walls 1 ft. to give us more usable wall. This raises the roof 1ft.
5. Bigger windows
6. Vaulted ceilings to make the space feel bigger
7. Move master bedroom over to make room for 2nd bedroom
8. Add a dormer window to both bedroom(increases light and usable space)
9. Create attic space somewhere.

Some of these are easy. The most difficult one was adding a laundry room and still having room for a tub. You wives and moms out there know how crucial it is to have a laundry room that you don't have to leave the house to get to!!

You'll notice that there is a huge amount of dead space behind the tub in the original plan. That's the space above where the stairs come up. After 2.5 hours of brain storming, we came up with a solution. It will end up cost $500-1,000 more(not including the bigger windows), but that's nothing in the grand scheme of this project and it will make the space SO much more livable.

(the lines with numbers on them are not wall, just measurements)

Here's what's changed:
1. Moved the stairs to the other side of the garage wall downstairs.
2. Moved the bathroom to the other side of the hallway, making the hall more centered.
3. Moved master bedroom over and create one walk-in closet.
4. Created a washer/dryer closet in hallway.
5. Created a 2nd bedroom with pocket doors.
6. Added dormer windows to bedroom(not shown. just envision a big window sticking out of the big roof area in the very 1st picture)
7. Created half-bath in garage(not shown. just envision a toilet)

There is so much less wasted space in the new plan. The old plan had small closets all over the upstairs. We've consolidated it into one big closet. Yet, to be discussed is the attic space, which will go over the bathroom/hallway/closet area maybe with a drop down stairs access. The living room and bedroom will have no room for attic space because we are raising the ceilings.

Here's a representation of the ceilings in the original plan:

That's standard height for most homes, but most homes have more than two rooms and 800sq ft.

Here's a representation of the ceilings the way I want them:

Much better! We won't feel so closed in, in our tiny house!

Firm Foundation

This foundation has taken us far, far longer than we ever expected. We also didn't expect Matt to lose his job and having to work twice as many hours to pay the bills. And we didn't expect his dad to have a near fatal accident that will take years to recover from. So, we've had a few delays. Doing construction yourself is a great way to save money when you don't have much. But you do have to have TIME. And well...we haven't had either.

Most of you know already that Matt got a fantastic job about two months ago at Siemens. He is a manufacturing engineer at their facility in Charlotte where they design and build steam turbine engines for power plants. It's very hands on, and Matt loves it! We are so blessed! So what that means, as far as our house is concerned, is we have a little bit more money and can PAY someone to finish the foundation for us. Hooray!!!

Through the connection of a family friend who is a contractor, we got the name of a guy that does concrete foundations for commercial properties(like hospitals. woah), and he was willing to take our little job on. It would only take him like two days to finish what would take us 3 more months. So we paid the man and he came out with his crew and had truck load after truck load of gravel(it's actually crushed concrete because it's a fraction cheaper) poured under our garage, never to be seen again. What a fun way to spend $3,000!!

Next, the same concrete guy got our garage slab poured. This also happened to occur on the coldest week of December Charlotte has ever known. Concrete needs to be within a certain temperature range to cure correctly. There is a chemical reaction taking place and if it happens too fast(ie, too hot and the water evaporates too fast) it could mess it up and not be as strong. In addition, if it happens too slow because it's too cold or because it the water in it freezes, that would be bad. So, when I heard they were there pouring it and it was below freezing, I got nervous. But I did a little research online to see what they do to combat this. Construction goes on up north where it's below freezing all winter. Then, I drove over to talk to the concrete guy and he put my mind at ease. He covered it with several layers of plastic and an insulated blanket to help hold in the small amount of heat the concrete creates on it's own. It's not warm by any means, but it just has to be above 32 degrees. His crew was out there all day on their knees, smoothing out our slab as it set up. I was so impressed with how smooth it was. I don't have pics of it when it was first done because it was covered the whole time.

Our framer, David Ross who is the framer for the company Matt's mom works for, was running short on time. He has a big project coming up and needs us to be ready for him within the next week. There was one other thing(well...several) we had to do before he could come. Our bedroom will be over hanging the garage and supported by 4 pillars. So far, Matt had only built 2. He found time one weekend to build the other two. They also had to be filled with concrete for strength just like we did for the entire wall. And he was working late all week and couldn't do it. And we had to drive to Raleigh Saturday for a wedding and spend the night. And it was Matt's birthday and he had find time to see his parents. And we had to be at church by 6:00pm Sunday night.

We got back from Raleigh and to the land around 3pm Sunday and started working. That's when we discovered our first problem. One of the pillar(the tallest one actually), had come loose from the footing. As in, it could wiggle around. Somehow the mortar didn't set to the concrete footing correctly. Or it was from drilling and hammering the rebar down the center of it(but that hadn't happened to any others. This had to be fixed before we fill it with concrete. But it was too heavy to pick up. And if we tilted it to put fresh mortar under it, it would just squish all the mortar out to one side. It had to be lifted off.

Fortunately, we have a skid steer(also known as a bobcat). Matt put straps around the pillar and hooked one to the scoop on the skid steer and one to a tree(to control the bottom half) and used the skid steer to lift the pillar up. He cleaned the footing and put out new mortar. Then with my help positioning it, lowered the pillar back down. I know I made it sound really smooth, but it was actually a kind of harry situation and I left out some of the trials and tribulations(thats why there is no picture).

We ended up having to say until after 7pm to get finished. Matt mixed concrete and brought it to me in a wheel barrow. I scooped it into the cells of the cinder blocks. Each one taller than the last. It was also 45 degrees and dropping fast. If you know me well, then you know I have issues with my hands and feet getting extremely cold(and not it's not just me being a wimp. It's an actual medical condition having to do with my blood vessels closing down because they think I'm freezing to death and are trying to save my vital organs. My body is happily willing to lose my hands and feet if needed. Annoying, right?). It started out rough, but I found some insulated(fuzzy inside and so thick you can't bend your fingers) work gloves and put on some toe warmers and I was good to go!

Here's a little taste of what it was like:

Stay tuned for pictures of the frame! It's going fast!


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