Insulation is a very regional discussion. The best advice for a home in Boston can be disastrous for home in Phoenix and vice versa. In order to insulate a home properly getting advice from a local contractor is essential. But since almost every bit of insulation advice I have ever seen on the interwebs is focused on cold climates I thought it was time to give a little focus to those of you who live in the sunbelt instead of the rustbelt.
After all, my work is based mostly in Florida and so insulation for a hot climate is comfortably in my wheelhouse. How do you know if you technically live in a hot climate? If you have more days that you use air conditioning than heat then you live in a hot climate. If you heat more days than you air condition then you live in a cold climate.
On a side note the Nest Thermostat has a cool reports feature than shows you how many hours you heated and cooled in each month. We recently got one and the information has been super helpful! I posted a tutorial on how to install one here as well.
Obviously this is a very black and white delineation so for those of you in the middle you’ll likely need a little bit of both types of insulation techniques.
Insulation For a Hot Climate
Insulation works much the same no matter where you are in that it slows down the transfer of heat. The difference is that in a southern climate the heat is outside trying to work its way in. There are three types of heat transfer: conductive, radiant, and convective and I written about the difference between them in an earlier post.
In hot climates think about the temperature delta. For example if you are living in Houston, Texas and it is 96°F outside and you want the indoor temperature to be 76°F indoors that is a 20° difference you have to overcome. Now let’s assume you live in Burlington, Vermont and the outside temperature is 14°F. To get to a comfortable temperature of say 68°F in the winter is a 54° difference. That’s huge!!
It may seem miserable in the summer in the deep south but the work to keep a building insulated properly is much easier than it is in the great white north. Despite what you may hear you don’t need to worry about insulation for a hot climate nearly as much much as you do in a cold climate.
For those of you in the southwest states where temps regularly exceed 110° the situation may be a bit different, but the ideas in this post still apply. You just need to take them further.
Where to Insulate
There are only two places you should be spending the bulk of your insulation dollars in a hot climate. Picking these two low hanging fruits first will yield big results with the least investment so let’s start there.
The brutal sun in the southern states will cook your attic and turn it into an oven (literally). If you want to bring your energy bills down this is where you start. Focus a lot of energy (pun intended) on the underside of the roof to keep the heat out of the attic and not just the floor of the attic.
You can use products like radiant barrier on the underside of the roof, spray foam, or even good old fashioned batts of rock wool, denim or fiberglass. I discuss the different types of insulation you can choose and how to decide on the right one in a previous post.
Once you’ve insulated the underside of the roof to the max, then it’s time to focus on the floor of the attic if it is unfinished. If you have a finished attic then the focus should be solely on the roof, but for those of us with open and unfinished attic spaces every inch is fair game.
Use my tutorial on how to install blown-in insulation onto the floor of your attic. Blown-in insulation is dirt cheap, easy to install and does wonders to bring down energy bills. You can load up the attic floor with as much insulation as you can fit for very little money (think $600 for a 1300 SF house!).
There are a couple things to look out for when insulating an attic though:
The next biggest offender of heat getting in and AC getting out are your windows and doors. No, it’s not about them being single-paned it’s about air sealing. The heat transfer that happens through doors and windows is because of the tiny gaps that allow air to seep through.
Learn to weatherstrip your doors and windows with my tutorials. It costs less than $20 a window to weatherstrip properly compared to replacement windows which can cost thousands of dollars and don’t really give the payback they promise.
Sealing these openings not only gets rid of hot drafts but will beat those energy bills into submission as well.
Don’t Waste Your Money Insulating Here
I have a 1920s bungalow in Orando, Florida. Our energy bills are under $175 a month in the summer consistently and that is with a family of four. I have insulated very sparingly and strategically to keep our bills low and i want to show you where you should absolutely NOT insulate because the payback is so minimal it’s not worth it.
The crawlspace is possibly the most comfortable place around your whole house year round. It is shaded from the sun and is cool in the summer and relatively warm in the winter. Why would you need to insulate an exterior area that is usually within 10° of the inside temperature? I’m not mad at you if you insulate the crawlspace, but usually it’s not worth the time, expense and considerable difficulty it requires.
Don’t waste your money replacing your windows. Replacement window companies have often been dragged into court by the FCC for lies and deceptive advertising. No window will cut your energy bills by 30-50%. Weatherstripping your original windows will let you keep your money and your windows.
Pulling down plaster or siding to stuff the walls full of insulation causes a lot of expensive work to put things back together and often causes problems. I’m not against insulating the walls of a house, but you must have proper water management in place before you pump a wall full of any kind of insulation.
Old houses often have no way to ensure water isn’t getting into the wall cavity and once you fill it with insulation (aka a sponge) you get mold, rot, and health issues. A deep energy retrofit is a possibility, but think about the payback. If you send $25,000 to completely revamp the shell of your house and get a monthly savings of $150 on your utility bill that is going to take you about 14 years to see a return on your investment. Always look at the return on your investment when it comes to insulation.
I hope this has given you some guidance on how work with insulation for a hot climate. It’s not as complicated as it may seem. Always, always start with the low hanging fruit and work your way up the tree as money and time permit. You’ll be better off in the end if you do it that way and so will your wallet.
You've probably seen a glimpse of our new tiles over the last few posts, because well, our kitchen renovation has been done in a kind of sporadic order, going back and forth between jobs like crazy. It's a job we started back in the late summer of last year (September, if I remember correctly!) and finished at the start of Spring this year. Yep, it really took us that long! It wasn't the actual process of tiling that took us so long, but having large appliances in the way that couldn't be moved until tiles had set, needing to constantly clean the area before starting again and then there was the small (big!) issue of needing to replace some (all!) joists in the dining room and re-concreting part of the kitchen floor before we could even begin to approach the finish line on this job.
But it's done now. And I've had so many questions about our flooring, where it's from, how we laid it, what we used, that this post is looooong overdue.
One of the first images I had pinned as inspiration for the kitchen was one that featured some gorgeous limestone tiles from Floors of Stone. I loved them. But the price tag? £52 p/m (!!!) and never in a million years could I justify spending that much money on some flooring. But they were everything I wanted in a kitchen floor and every other material flooring I looked at, just didn't cut it.
I searched what felt like the entire internet for a cheaper alternative and stumbled upon an eBay seller (Stoneworld-uk) who sells pretty much an EXACT match to the Umbrian limestone from Floors of Stone, but at HALF the price, £23/m. I ordered samples from both Floors of Stone and the cheaper eBay one and there was virtually no difference between the samples. The only real difference was the underside, which obviously is never going to be visible. I'm no limestone expert, so I can't vouch for the difference in quality in terms of how they're made/mined - but I can confirm, they definitely didn't look any different - And that's good enough for me!
The small sample in this photo below is from Floors of Stone and the large tiles underneath are from the seller Stoneworld-uk on eBay. They're both Umbrian Limestone and you can see - there's literally no difference!
So, excited as I was - I made the order instantly, they arrived within days in a giant crate and so perfectly packed that there was only one tiny breakage. Since we don't have a drive, the pallet had to be dropped off at the kerbside, which meant I did have to manually carry each tile from the crate into the house for storage. Let's just say I had some muscles by the end, but I was chuffed to bits with my new purchase! I even bought some dark grey cathedral limestone for our log burner hearth as well, which you can see in this post.
Fitting Limestone Tiles DIY-Style?
Even though we'd saved hundreds on finding affordable limestone, we still didn't have the budget to pay for a professional tiler to fit the floor for us. Luckily, I've tiled SO many times now that I may as well be pretty much qualified ;)
Generally speaking, there's not THAT much difference between laying other tile materials and limestone. Bigger tiles are always more awkward to lay, tiles that aren't consistent in thickness are also a bit harder and of course, natural stone is a little harder to cut. But really the same rules apply, it's all just a bit more fiddly. Unless you're totally new to tiling and DIY in general, fitting your own Limestone floor is totally 100% DIY-able and you can save a fortune!
The first step I took was the lay the limestone tiles out and I thoroughly recommend doing this so you can pick some kind of pattern in which to lay them - I've gone for a kind of brick-work pattern. Since limestone is a natural material, the tones vary from tile to tile as well, so it's also a good idea to do this so that you can mix up/blend the different tones to make sure the overall look of the floor is natural as possible.
Okay so this is pretty important as there's about a bazillion different adhesive's on the market. Firstly, you need one that's suitable for Natural Stone - these are usually cement based I think, don't quote me on that. And secondly, it depends on what kind of floor you're laying them onto. If you have any kind of underfloor heating, whether it's electric or water - you'll need a flexible adhesive. If there's any movement on the flooring beneath, such as movement from floorboards, then you'll also need to go flexible as well. We have underfloor heating in our kitchen (check out this post for how we DIYed that) so flexible was necessary for us. I've used mainly this Wickes Tile Adhesive, but also a couple of bags of Mapei Tile Adhesive as well. Both worked a treat!
Laying Limestone TilesMuch like any other kind of tiling the steps are pretty easy, but getting it all perfect is sometimes easier said than done. You'll need to trowel out an even bed of adhesive onto the floor, lay the limestone tile over the top, push onto the adhesive firmly and then check with a spirit level that it's perfectly level and matches up in height with adjacent tiles. If it isn't level, you need to press firmer into the adhesive where required. I actually find hitting the tile with a rubber mallet is easier to do this with, but you need to be careful not to hit too hard. If you find you haven't laid enough adhesive, you'll have to fight the tile off the floor and adhesive and try again. Adhesive is sticky sticky messy stuff - so you'll have great fun ;)
You'll also want to make sure that the tile has full contact with the adhesive and there are no air pockets underneath. This causes a weakness in the tile and if anything was to ever fall onto that spot of the tile, it would be much more likely to crack. It's also really important if you have underfloor heating, as air pockets are less effective at allowing the heat transfer between the cables to the tile. You can usually tap onto the tile and hear air pockets beneath them - but generally speaking, as long as your adhesive is evenly laid and you've pressed the tile firmly into it, you shouldn't go too wrong.
You'll also want to make sure to clean up any tile adhesive that forces its way out into the grout line - if you don't, you'll have a nightmare trying to remove it once it's dry. I also recommend clearing up adhesive around the tile if you need to take a break - it dries faster than you think and you certainly don't want raised bits on the floor pushing the tile up higher than it needs to be.
A word of caution - tile adhesive never goes as far as you think it will - or it says. We ended up spending way more than we had planned! EEP.
Normally with tiling, you'd use spacers to evenly space out the tiles - but Limestone tiles aren't perfectly square, so spacers here wont work. I used my finger as a rough guide to space out tiles, but gaged how square it was to adjacent tiles by eye. Some of the grout gaps are smaller than others, some are slightly larger - but this is really the beauty of limestone and its natural look.
You can cut limestone in a few different ways - but I just used a wet tile cutter with a Diamond blade suitable for natural stone. This probably isn't the most recommended method unless you have a cutter recessed into a table, purely because the size and weight of limestone can make it difficult to manage pushing through the cutter. If you have the ability to recess your cutter within the table so the limestone can rest onto it, you'll find it much easier! Otherwise it's a bit of a balancing act - but is still totally do-able if it's all you have, like us! Although I will say, expect the blade to jam fairly often going through a particularly long cut. You can also use an angle grinder with a diamond blade, which gives you much more control over the cut and means you don't have to move the tile itself during cutting. I was really nervous about snapping the tiles, but we didn't have a single breakage. They're 22mm thick and are really very tough tiles!
Sealing LimestonePrior to grouting, it's recommended to seal Limestone so that any colourings in the grout don't affect the pores of the Limestone. I made sure to clean up any adhesive on the tiles (thanks to the dogs, this was quite a bit!) by using a carpet brush and hot water. It took quite some scrubbing, but it does come off, so don't panic if you do have some adhesive on the tiles. The sealant I've used is this one by Mattstone which leaves the tiles brilliantly water resistant leaving actual droplets on the tile and it really brings out the colour of the tiles with a shine too, although it didn't half stink the house out!
Grouting LimestoneFor wide and deep grout lines I thoroughly recommend using a wide-gap grout like this one (we're using the colour 'limestone') and using a grout bag with it. A grout bag is basically like an icing bag, but for grout. Instead of smearing grout all over the tiles and pushing it into the line, like you typically would when grouting - it allows you to fill up the grout line from the bottom, without making a mess. It also means you can ensure the lines are properly filled without any air pockets underneath which could eventually cause the grout to crack and crumble - which is obviously far more likely to happen with deep grout lines. It makes grouting SO much easier and I would seriously seriously recommend using one with Limestone. I actually made one from a bin bag when doing the hearth, but they're cheap to buy and fully washable, so well worth it in my opinion!
To smooth the grout out, I actually just used my finger. Probably not a recommended technique, but I couldn't find a large enough grout smoothing tool to use - and actually it worked really well and looks just as natural as the rest of the floor, plus it was totally free!
So this is the end result. I'm really really pleased with how it looks. Natural stone is said to only look better with age and it can really literally last a lifetime. Whilst the tiles were really reasonably priced, this was still a pretty expensive floor. At least, it is, in my opinions of expense. But it's age-less, won't date and is something I look at every day and just freaking LOVE. Sneak peak of kitchen counters at the side there (I lost all my original photos sadly!!)..
I should also mention one last quirky little feature we've added - which is a step. Since Limestone is 22mm thick and we're not having it in the dining room - there was a fair height difference between these two rooms. So to combat that we've made a wooden step. It's high enough to actually be an obvious step, rather than a tripping hazard and divides the two rooms quite well too. We were unsure whether it would work - but everyone on Instagram agreed it was the best option and they were totally right (as they always are)! So we've made this from just a regular length of CLS timber and chiselled out the underside so that it can sit flush against the tiles. It's quirky, but a nice little touch I think and it gives the room a bit more character!
So, I hope this helps anyone out there looking for affordable limestone flooring and how to DIY it as well. And hopefully this post clears up some of the many questions I get about the floor :) But if I've missed anything or you want to know more, please give me a shout! This limestone floor is the variation called Umbrian Limestone - but you can check out Cathedral Ash in this post as well.
What do you think? Do you love Limestone floors as much as I do?
(rounded to the nearest pound)
New Tools Purchased:
Blade for tile cutter £7
Grout Bag £7
Limestone Tiles £281 (excluding delivery costs)
Sealer - free from previous job
Well I've had a mammoth break from blogging, a lot has happened and at the same time, not so much has happened. The kitchen is *almost* finished, we took two weeks off and went travelling around Sri Lanka and we've now hit our three year mark in this house. Which means, three years of renovating! (Obviously not including the two previous years in our last house - does it ever end?) So of course I had to do a house update - what everything looks like, where we're at and what we've got left to do. Spoiler: LOTS.
So here's a little photo diary to mark our third year in this beautiful Victorian Terrace. I'm not going to include the kitchen or dining room in their current more finished state as I'm saving them for a bit of a reveal, but if you want to have a little venture into those rooms as they are right now, you can see a few snaps on my Instagram, right here.
And if you want to see our first and second year renovation updates, you can check those out here and here.
Living RoomSomeone took the "living" out of this room, because we haven't sat down and used it since Christmas! That's no joke and yep, that means we don't even watch TV. Like, ever. It's basically become a room of storage, complete with tools, pallets, random things we intend on up-cycling and some of our belongings STILL in their moving boxes. Seriously, what is our life?
This room is ever changing at the moment with things constantly coming and going. At one point you could barely even get through! At the moment though, it's not so bad although a random treadmill and dog crate is still the main feature here ;) And as you can see, we're still rocking that gloriously floral carpet in the back there.
We still have no electric down here, but we do have a sizeable amount of rubble waiting to be cleared up from some work we've done down here - I'm yet to blog about that, but I'll explain all very soon... Otherwise, it's still a dank messy unused sad space.
The conservatory has recently under-gone a total clear out as it's the next room we're starting to work on. You may already be able to see what kind of plans I have in store for it ;) Hoping to get this room semi-completed this summer, so it can actually be used. There will be updates coming very soon!
Kitchen & Dining Room
So, confession! As I said at the beginning - I'm not going to show you how this room looks right now, because I'm waaay behind on blogging about it. BUT, I'll share a little sneak peak from a couple of months ago that hopefully doesn't give too much away ;) We do however, at this 3 year mark FINALLY have a kitchen. So despite the rest of the house looking like pants, this is the one room we've made mega progress within!
Another storage holding room. What's new?
This room hasn't really changed in the last couple of years since we thoroughly renovated it. We still have the odd bits left to finish and it's in desperate need of a bit of style, but with a small budget and lots to do elsewhere in the house, it wont be getting any major decor updates any time soon. Still, it looks pretty okay!
Smallest Bedroom AKA Office
I've had a bit of a move around in here since I last blogged about it - the desk and piggy bag have been switched around and we also got ourselves a fancy looking electric radiator which I'll blog about soon, but quick spoiler: no, I don't recommend it :/ It's still an unfinished room with skirting boards missing and the cupboard that needs updating, but it's nice to have a little piece of calm amongst the chaos and I still LOVE our fireplace that I restored last year.
We've done nothing to this room since moving in - we still have the same carpets, curtains and blinds. It's been another storage room for all the kitchen bits and bobs whilst under renovation, but I'm pleased to say that's all gone now and for once, it's a little less chaotic for. Although yes, still a bike in there ;) Sorry I couldn't be bothered to make the bed for the photo - but really, have you seen the rest of our house? Who needs a made bed in this mess!
This is seriously chaos central. I've been selling odd bits and bobs from up here to fund some of our renovations and whoppingly, we've made almost £300. From taps to camping cookers - I've flogged lots of stuff for £5 and that really adds up quite quickly. It's looking much clearer up here, but I have a lot to sieve through still and there's plenty of leftover building materials to organise as well.
The garden is in full bloom at the moment and I'm super pleased with how the plants are looking this year. It's one of my favourite spots of the house, particularly the pallet seating area and the DIY fire-pit I made at the end of summer last year. We still have plenty to do out here and we may have already started a bit of work too ;)
So that's the three year round up! Still very much a renovation site as you can see, but now we've almost covered the two biggest and most expensive rooms (kitchen and bathroom) hopefully things will move a little quicker in the next year. Although as for the rest of this one - I'll be looking forward to a nice long winter break :P
Anyone else in a many-year-long DIY home renovation? Are you as slow as we are?
Are you ready for Year 3? I hope so because the results are in! For three years now I have been testing some of the most popular wood fillers and epoxies by leaving them exposed to the harsh Florida weather to help you find the best wood fillers on the shelf today.
They have been cooked in the sun, drenched in the rain and run into by the occasional tricycle all in the name of science.
In Year 3 there have been some interesting developments to each product that you’ll get to see below. The five products I tested here are Abatron WoodEpox, MH Ready Patch, JB Weld KwikWood, Minwax Wood Filler, Minwax High Performance Wood Filler.
The Test Conditions
To make this test as scientific as possible I’ve outlined the rules and conditions below.
I drilled out a 1/2″ deep hole with rough edges to try to simulate a chipped or gouged board and filled the hole above the surface with filler, after which the patches were sanded level. Here are the conditions:
All the fillers and epoxies were applied and left to cure/dry until they were ready to sand smooth. I ranked the fillers in my previous post regarding ease of application, ease of sanding, and drying time.
The sample board was left outside uncovered laying horizontally. I will qualify this by saying that all of these manufacturer’s recommend that their products be primed and painted even though I have left all of them without any primer or paint.
This test will clearly show different results than if I had painted the repairs, but I decided that seeing how a product would stand up to unprotected exposure and on a horizontal surface would show results more quickly and accurately as to which product has the greatest staying power.
Test Results: Year 3 has brought minimal changes to this patch again. The perimeter still has hairline cracks around 90% of the patch but has not grown any since last year. The patch still feels very solid in the wood and does not move at all even when I gave it a significant push.
The algae growth appears to have decreased on the patch in Year 3 but that may have been more an issue of changing weather patterns as we had an extremely dry April & May even though that was followed by one of the wettest Junes on record.
The wood surrounding the patch is completely water logged currently and getting very soft with serious signs of rot occurring about an inch or so from the patch so we’ll see how that turns out in the future as the rot approaches the patch.
Test Results: This year was a complete surprise to me since Ready Patch had deteriorated so quickly in Years 1 & 2. I expected complete failure at this point but really there was little change from Year 2 to Year 3.
Granted Ready Patch is still exhibiting the most movement in the patch (still minimal though) of any of the materials. The edges are still raised and the center has shrunk creating a crater in the patch though it still feels like a solid patch of spackle with no spots of softness.
This patch has the largest cracks around 100% of the perimeter and is allowing water to penetrate behind it. We’ll see what that brings in Year 4.
Test Results: KwikWood is still going strong though there were slight changes from Year 2 to 3. The patch remains completely clean of dirt and seems to be impervious to algae or mold growth. The biggest change in Year 3 is that the left side of the patch has lifted up ever so slightly.
The cracking on the perimeter is still extremely fine so if there is water getting behind the patch then it is very minimal, but I am worried about the lifting of the patch on the left side. This may be due to swelling wood underneath pushing it up or deterioration of the surface of the wood from exposure. At this point its difficult to tell.
I still cannot detect any movement in the patch and it feels very well adhered to the wood.
Test Results: I have complained about this filler in the past and been snooty preferring high grade epoxies, but each year this test continues I have to eat my words and Year 3 is no exception.
This inexpensive water-based wood filler has continued to test better than any of the other products in my test. The patch is completely solid with minimal cracking if any. Way to go Minwax!
I will preface Minwax Wood Filler’s stellar performance in this application to not be construed to mean that it can replace a structural epoxy like WoodEpox. Being better at filling holes in the field does not necessarily translate to patching corners or rebuilding wood elements. But for filling small to medium sized holes in wood this filler is proving to be a serious performer that deserves credit.
Test Results: In Year 3 the High Performance Wood Filler is continuing much the same as Year 2. There is a slight increase in perimeter cracking with nearly 95% of the perimeter cracked now. The patch is still very stable in the wood and does not move when pushed or pulled.
This is still one of the top performers when it comes to algae growth as it keeps itself relatively algae free. There appears to be a slight depression in the center that I have not noticed in past years, but it does not feel soft or weak in any area.
I don’t want anyone to feel like these products are not useful as you read this post about how they are deteriorating. I am purposely putting them under extremely harsh conditions to see how and when they fail. These will all fail at some point as will any wood filler or epoxy. For me it’s just a matter of seeing how they age and what to expect in the future.
July 2018 will be my next inspection of the patch stick so we’ll see what happens in Year 4. So far, this has been an eye opening test for me to find the best products for patching wood and I hope it has helped you make some decisions for your own projects. Till next year!
If you have found this test helpful consider purchasing any of these wood fillers by clicking any of the links on their names through my Amazon affiliate links to help support the blog. It costs you nothing, Amazon just gives us a little commission for sending you their way.
If you are finishing wood with a natural or stained appearance today you’re likely using some kind of varnish or polyurethane. Varnishes create a hard finish that protect and beautifies everything from wood floors to delicate woodwork, but do you know the difference between a spar varnish and regular varnish and when to use them?
Wood finished for outdoor use is subject to a completely different set of factors that indoor finishes never have to deal with. Huge temperature swings, big changes in humidity, and punishing UV rays are the primary effects your finish will have to endure. These elements will easily break down a regular varnish or polyurethane over time.
Humidity changes, for one, cause the wood to swell and shrink much more than wood left indoors and that excess movement alone is enough to crack a regular varnish in short order. So, for an exterior wood finishing solution we turned to boat makers and their years of experience caring for wooden elements with the harshest exposures in the world.
What is Spar Varnish?
The term “spar varnish” comes from the boating world, where the long wooden poles that support the sails are known as spars. A spar varnish is a finish specifically designed withstand the rigorous conditions of seafaring life which means it can also handle anything your backyard throws at it.
So what’s in it? Well every varnish or polyurethane is made up of relatively similar ingredients. Just like with the grocery store, if you can cut through all the marketing hype and look at the actual ingredients you’ll be able to make a better decision.
They all contain, in varying amounts, an oil, resin, and solvent. Manufacturers like to play around with the amounts and kinds of each to make their varnish, but this basic recipe is always followed. Within those three ingredients you also have a couple options.
Linseed oil and Tung oil are the most commonly used oils in varnish and they create a deep penetrating finish. If your finish were only oil then you’d have a very slow drying and soft finish that penetrates deep within the wood. Using oils alone is an option, but it takes many coats to build up a thick enough coat to protect the wood. These oils are an important part of a food spar varnish because by adding more oil to the mix you get a softer and more flexible finish that can handle the excess movement associated with outdoor wood. Higher oil content is one of the markers of a good spar varnish.
Resins are the hardeners. Typically the resin is either alkyd, phenolic, or polyurethane. Alkyd and phenolic are associated with varnish finishes while the use of a polyurethane resin is what makes a finish a polyurethane. These ingredients give us the hard, shell-like finish you are accustomed to in most varnish finishes. Interior finishes are relatively high in resin content and low in oil content which creates a nice hard finish, but leaves little flexibility and penetration. Without the resin you’re left with an extremely soft finish that may not hold up to traffic and wear.
These resins and oils need a carrier to be dissolved in and that is what the solvent provides. There are a multitude of solvents but mineral spirits and paint thinner are the most common. There are others like naphtha and xylene that are faster drying as well. The solvent thins the oils and resins and helps blend them together and make them easy to apply with a brush or wiping cloth.
Last but not least every spar varnish needs to protect itself and the underlying wood from the sun. Regular polyurethane and varnish contain little if any UV blocking additives and that alone makes them a poor choice for exterior application. Without UV protection varnishes and wood quickly break down and fail.
Selecting a Varnish
Like most things in life you get what you pay for. Better ingredients result in a better product and those better ingredients cost more. Will it kill your project to use a cheaper finish? Absolutely not, but considering the amount of work you put into your project wouldn’t a few extra dollars be worth it for a longer lasting finish?
For me there are two options I usually go to for exterior wood finishing. Both are excellent choices, though one does stand above the other.
This spar urethane is probably the most readily available spar urethane on the market today. You’ll find it in just about every big box and local hardware store. According to the ingredients we discussed earlier Helmsman uses a polyurethane resin hence the name and the primary solvent is mineral spirits. It is easy to apply and creates a nice warm finish that stay flexible for years. You can find it in a variety of gloss levels as well.
You won’t find this on your local hardware store shelves, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredible stuff. Personally, this is my favorite finish for exterior wood. It was designed by boat finishers for boats and us land lovers can benefit from their hard work by using a product that can handle the toughest elements. It uses a phenolic resin, which I think is better suited to outdoor use, and the solvent is naphtha with a little bit of xylene. You can usually only order it online. If I’m finishing an exterior wood project 9 out of 10 times Epifanes is the stuff I reach for.
What it all comes down to is protecting wood, and for exterior applications spar varnish does a better job of it plain and simple. Just like you need the right tool for the right job you also need the right varnish for the right application. Finding the right varnish is only have the battle though. You need to know how to apply it properly and we’ll be talking about that next week.
The main reason most finishes fail prematurely is not because of an inferior product, but because of user error. Poor preparation and application can’t be overcome by a premium product. So tune in to learn how to get a great finish next week.
For those of you who haven’t heard of the site before, Kate Wagner (the creator) does an absolutely brilliant skewering of modern McMansion architecture, or lack thereof. She takes street view photos of McMansions from all over the country and marks up the photos with scathing commentary in true “what the hell were they thinking?” style.
Of course, it wasn’t long before news outlets picked up on the David and Goliath story and the news went viral. Ms. Wagner got legal representation and a few short days later Zillow ceased and desisted on their cease and desist. Crisis averted, right?
The good news is that our side may have won this battle, but the march of the McMansion continues unabated across our country. At least we’ll have sites like McMansion Hell to help us see how ludicrous the design of these faux houses are, but they are still popping up like one big Whack-a-Mole game.
McMansion an Architectural Style?
I’ve written about a lot of historic architectural styles on this blog over the years, but what do you do with a trend in architecture that is actually anti-style? I don’t think the McMansion is purposely designed poorly, I just think we’re seeing the result of uneducated or lazy people designing houses today.
The non-design of these houses is the architectural equivalent of pasting together magazine clippings of facial features to create the perfect man or woman. All these pieces have no connection to the whole and there is no through line to the design.
Yes, architects I am speaking to you! This is your job. Real architecture is not built for our time, but for all time. Who remembers the old adage “form follows function”? Well, in every architectural style of the last millennia that has been the case up until this last generation it seems. We have been tearing down real houses, historic houses, beautiful houses to build faux mansions that Barbie would be appalled to live in.
With faux balconies and blinds, windows that don’t open and dormers that lead nowhere and always a massive and prominent garage to proclaim how many cars we have. Our architecture speaks to who we are as a society. The early buildings in America were simple and utilitarian, fitting for the frontier land that it was at the time. As wealth increased in the colonies the homes got larger and more ornate. They were built better, designed better because society had the means to do better work.
What Will Future Generations Think?
What does the McMansion say about who we are as a society today? Are we as fake as the homes we live in? Would we rather have the appearance of wealth than actual wealth? Do we care to leave something behind for our children and our children’s children or are we obsessed with living as extravagantly as we can for as long as we can until things come crashing down like the last recession.
We have the knowledge and technology today to build exponentially better homes than our forefathers did. We may have the tools, but it seems we don’t have the will and it worries me what future generations will think of what we have left behind.
Every generation leaves their buildings behind on this earth for the next and hopefully more future generations to critique. What will the consensus be of what we have left behind when there is no one here to explain why the balcony isn’t really a balcony and why the shutters don’t actually operate or fit the windows they were paired with.
I hope the McMansion will be seen for the folly it is and not who we truly are, but for that to happen we have to stop indulging these architectural tantrums and start building like we mean it.
From a historic perspective there is nothing that offend me more than when a stunning historic building is razed to the ground to clear the way for one of these monstrosities. Historic buildings that have stood the test of time and weathered the elements with grace deserve to continue their watch over our neighborhoods and not be replaced by the poser of the building community, the McMansion.
Be careful when you build a house of cards, because you’re just one gust away from showing your hand.
Should I use rope or chain for my windows? This is a big question for a lot of homeowners and the answer is usually very simple. If your windows originally had rope then stay with rope and if they originally had chain stay with the chain. The reason is not because I’m a purist, but rather a few reasons that may make more sense once I explain it a bit more.
Window pulleys are designed specifically for either chain or rope and while they can function with either they work best with their intended material. Pulleys designed for chain have a flat wheel whereas pulleys designed for rope have a curved wheel.
The curved wheel cradles the rope better causing smoother operation and less stress and wear on the rope. The flat wheeled pulleys for chain give the chain nice flat surface to ride on. When you put chain on a curved pulley it rides mostly on the edges causing uneven wear and rougher operation.
In many ways chain is an upgrade. It’s more attractive, longer lasting and can hold more weight than average rope, but these aren’t always a major concern and the higher cost of chain is also a factor.
Sure chain lasts longer but good quality sash rope can last more than 60 years. That’s plenty long enough for me to not worry about replacing ropes but once in my life. Don’t get me wrong I love the appearance of sash chain but rarely is it necessary.
Choosing the Right Rope or Chain
The first thing you need to determine is if you will be going with chain or rope and then we can get into which size and style to choose. Like I mentioned earlier there are pulleys that are designed to work better with chain and pulleys that are best used with rope. You can interchange them but I would allow the type of pulley to dictate whether you should use rope or chain.
Which Rope is Right?
A lot of people worry that rope won’t be strong enough to support their heavy sash and sometimes this is a problem. How much weight can sash rope hold? The working strength of #8 Samson Spot Cord which is what I mostly use and recommend is 150 lbs. that means that anything less than a 300 lbs. sash (remember there are 2 ropes supporting the sash) should be just fine with this rope. Other ropes don’t have nearly the strength of Spot Cord.
Samson also makes larger sash cord in sizes #10 through #16 which can hold 480 lbs. to 1080 lbs. respectively. So, really no matter how big the sash is you can use rope. The larger sash ropes may have trouble fitting in smaller pulleys so it’s best to check sizes and clearances first.
If you don’t like the trademark red spot that comes on Samson Spot Cord there are a lot of other options on the market that can work instead. The main thing in selecting sash rope is to choose a cotton rope with the proper weight rating for your sash. Synthetic ropes are not a good choice because they can stretch causing the weights to bottom out and the sash to not stay put. Synthetic rope also does not hold up to the intense UV exposure windows are exposed to and will deteriorate faster than cotton.
Which Chain is Right?
Sizing chain for residential windows is typically #25, #8, or #829 which have a weight load of between 70 lbs. and 80 lbs. If you’re wondering what the numbers mean I honestly don’t know as it has never been necessary for me to find out other than to know which number is the right size chain for my windows.
Rarely is there a need for a heavier duty chain unless you are dealing with very large commercial windows which can use #3, #35, #45. These chains have a higher weight limit between 100 lbs. and 175 lbs. and a larger diameter so they often do not fit in standard residential pulleys as they were intended for larger commercial applications.
The material whether it be bronze, copper plated, stainless steel, or any other option is less an issue of strength and more cosmetic preference. I prefer either stainless steel or solid bronze because plated chains can wear and rust with age. There are companies selling a myriad of different chain options to help you find something that suites your needs. Here are a couple places you can find quality sash chain:
Chain can be attached either simply or elegantly to sashes. It can be as simple as running the chain into the rope mortise on the side of the sash and nailing it in place. A more attractive method for attaching chain to the sash is to use chain spirals which slot into the rope hole mortise and the chain is then thread onto the ring just like putting keys on a key chain.
The same applies to attaching chain to the weights. You can tie a knot just like with rope or use a more attractive method of a chain hook which attaches one side of the chain into another. You loop the chain through the eyelet on the weight and crimp it back onto itself.
I hope this has been a good primer to get you pointed in the right direction for deciding if you should be using rope or chain for your windows and where to find the good stuff. For tutorials on measuring and installing sash rope take a look at these previous posts as well.
So, you're renovating - pinning 100 images a day, searching endless hashtags on instagram #ihavethisthingwithfloors and googling the most unlikely of questions you thought you would ever be asking, "22mm copper pipe, or 15mm copper pipe?". It's fun, exciting, daunting and oh-so bloody stressful.
Whether you're taking on a DIY renovation, a whole new-build project, a conversion or just remodelling the kitchen, the most invaluable aspect to renovating is being able to get advice and help along the way. And let's face it - sometimes looking through 50 odd google pages can just leave you more confused than you were before.
The Homebuilding & Renovating Show, which travels throughout the country (next stop, Surrey!), is full of folk who understand exactly what renovating means. It's a show, specifically for renovators like you and me. Unlike other home shows, which is mainly a shopping experience, the Homebuilding & Renovating show offers tons and tons of free advice to be gained from a visit. In fact, there's over 500 free one-to-one sessions where you can talk to self-build experts, architects, designers, as well as getting legal advice as well. It's great for DIYers (like us!) who don't have professional builders tackling the job for us, or perhaps if you're just looking to get advice on layouts and lighting arrangements without employing an expensive designer to do the designing aspect for you. Basically, if you're struggling to find answers to any renovation-related question or looking for some free help, this is the place to find them. There's also masterclasses to get involved with and seminars to leave you full of new and fresh ideas. Stuff that can't be gained from a pin-board or google search.
Of course, as well as advice, there are exhibitors as well where you can see first-hand lots of products that may be of interest to your renovation (flooring, roof tiles, even storage solutions!), materials you've maybe never considered or even heard of, and obviously some discounts and bargains to be had as well ;)
So if you're renovating and this sounds up your street, well the great news is, if you're reading this blog, you can pop along for absolutely FREE. Yep, the lovely folk from the Homebuilding & Renovating Show are offering up 500 free pairs of tickets to my readers, saving you £24 and giving you more to spend on that expensive growing renovation ;)
So, if you want to bag yourself some free tickets and pop along to the next show which is in Surrey (Sandown Park) on the 1st and 2nd of July 2017, just click this link to get your free pair!
If you're unable to make it to the Surrey show, don't worry - there's other locations in the coming months, which you can also gain free tickets to from this link as well :)
If you do pop down to the show, I'd love to hear your experiences - did you find some bargain flooring, decide on a whole new ground floor layout, discover some new insulation materials? Be sure to leave me a comment below, send me an email, or tag me on any of your Instagram pics! I'd love to hear :)
Rust sucks. Let’s not sugar coat it. Nobody wants to have rust on their metal tools or steel windows. It’s wood rot but on a different surface and it will slowly eat away the metal things you treasure most. But what if there was a way to make rust disappear? Sure it will come back if you don’t take steps to prevent it, but if you already have something that is seriously suffering from rust what can you do?
I’ve been fighting rust for years in the historic preservation business. Sometimes with great success and sometimes with huge fails. And since I like to pretend I’m some kind of crash test dummy for preservation I have been doing some testing in my shop to see how I can stomp on the head of rust and claim victory once and for all.
I’ll show you a couple of different options today. Some of them cost only a few bucks and others will cost about the same as your new Tesla. But all of them are rust destroyers in the truest sense. They each have their place for different projects and materials so it will depend which works bet for you. We’ll start with the simplest first.
Ospho is a readily available liquid you can find at most any paint or hardware store. It is mainly phosphoric acid (yes the same thing in Coca-Cola) which when it comes into contact with rust (iron oxide) it chemically converts it into iron phosphate which is completely inert. Once the rust has been converted it can be primed and painted or otherwise sealed.
Ospho is caustic so you’ll want to make sure have eye protection and plastic gloves on when handling it. Also wash any spills off your skin promptly. Application is simple usually just using a disposable chip brush does the job and then wiping off any excess puddles after an hour or so of working time.
This works well for steel windows and other larger metal projects, but a lot of the time you’re looking to have the rust removed not simply transformed, right? Well, there is a way to use Ospho to completely remove any trace of rust.
The Ospho Bath
Pour enough Ospho into a plastic bucket (not metal) that is deep enough to completely submerge your rusted piece under the surface. Go watch a movie and come back. After a couple hours (depending on the severity of the rust the Ospho will have moved past converting the rust to iron phosphate and will have eaten it away and caused it to slough off. Any remaining rust can usually be cleaned off with some steel wool and mineral spirits.
Take a look at the old glazing point driver I restored with this technique. This required no scraping, sanding, or any physical labor other than wiping the surface clean at the end of a 4 hr soak in Ospho.
Sand blasting gets a bad rap in historic preservation circles, but that’s mainly because people use it the wrong way on the wrong surfaces. Used properly sand blasting is one of the best ways to clean and protect old metal. If you have rusted steel or iron then taking those pieces to a sand blaster can be just what the doctor ordered.
Softer metals like bronze or copper are usually not good candidates for sand blasting, but for steel and iron the process thoroughly cleans the metal of any rust, dirt and other contaminants. The other advantage of sandblasting is that it creates a uniformly rough surface on the metal which is a much better surface for primer and paint to adhere to rather than a super slick metal. This can greatly improve the adhesion and therefore lifespan of your paint.
You can get your own blasting equipment and try sandblasting things yourself, but in my experience it’s not worth the expense or hassle. Find a local sandblaster and drop it off with them because the cost is usually pretty cheap.
Much better than Dr. Evil’s sharks with lasers on their heads, this laser can obliterate rust or paint on top of any metal. Using 1000W of laser power it creates so much heat that whatever you aim it at turns directly from solid to plasma or vapor. It is literally like those old sci-fi guns that vaporize things!
How’s it work? The system uses short pulses of laser light. When aimed at a metal surface, “the dirt layer and any oxides underneath will absorb the energy and evaporate.” The metal underneath will not absorb the laser energy, leaving nothing but a clean surface ready for welding or painting.
How much does it cost? Glad you asked Warren Buffet. You can pick one of these handy 1000W lasers up for only $480,000 or you can also get one of the little 20W lasers for only $80,000! Maybe it’s not for the rest of us, but maybe my kids will be able to afford one.
So, now that you know how to make rust disappear you may want to follow up by checking my previous post How To: Stop Rust For Good. Between these two articles you’ll be armed for the battle of your life until you get to heaven where you can safely store up your treasures because there rust and moth do not destroy.
I see way too many old houses with a front porch that has been bound and gagged. The front porch was closed in with jalousie windows or cheap aluminum windows and plywood siding almost as an afterthought. It looks so out of place to me like a straw hat on a woman in a formal gown or sneakers with a tux.
The front porch was key to the design of an old house and closing it in to gain a few extra square feet may improve your standings in the tax rolls but, but does nothing but give your house a black eye. Even a nicely done front porch enclosure creates a jarring and disjointed entrance into the home.
In his epic treatise on architecture and planning called A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander discusses the natural flow of the different types of spaces we encounter when approaching a home and how transitioning through each is imperative.
Enclosing the front porch cuts off this normal transition from one level of access to another and causes the visitor to jump directly from semi-public right to private. This may seem like feng-shui non-sense but I can assure you that though it may not be noticeable in a conscious way it does matter.
The inside of our homes are built with much the same principles. You enter the front door into the foyer then proceed into the living room and as you continue further into the home you encounter more and more private spaces like the kitchen and bedrooms.
Could you imagine walking right into a friend’s house where the front door opened into the master bedroom? It would be plain weird. Just like our bodies acclimate to different temperatures our psyches need to acclimate to increasing levels of intimacy whether it’s in our homes or our relationships. Think about how your relationship with your significant other has progressed. Were you as intimate on date one as in year 10 of your marriage? Doubtful.
The Purpose of the Porch
The design of old houses is full of examples of form following function and the front porch had plenty of function. It was more than just a place to store a bicycle or drop packages off. Much like the television is the center of our homes today the front porch was the place to be before radio, television, and air conditioning trapped us inside.
The front porch was the place to talk with your neighbors and develop relationships. It provided shade on those hot summer days, and kept us dry on rainy nights. The front porch protects visitors at your door from mother nature and gives them shelter from the storm. It allows you to sit on a porch swing with your sweetheart and enjoy the final cool breeze of spring before summer barrels into town.
If this sounds like nostalgia it’s only because you’ve chosen to not exploit all that your front porch generously offers. When neighborhoods start opening up their front porches again residents realize that what they loose in square footage they gain in freedom of spirit. Neighbors talk again, flower boxes and flags dot the street, homes are restored, and quality of life rises right along with property values.
If you have a home with a front porch that has been kept captive for decades I hope you’ll considering setting your porch free. Unburden your old porch and let it breathe again. You’ll be glad you did and so will the neighborhood.