What are we to do with all these old statues and memorials to dead white men? The country is all aflutter with anger, fear, self-righteousness, and a slew of other emotions that have quickly risen to the surface. There are questions about our nation’s past and even more about our future that are not so much being discussed but rather screamed at each other in a fervent pitch.
It’s rare that on a historic preservation blog I have the opportunity to wade into current events, but this week I feel it’s the only thing I should be talking about. When the populace begins demanding the destruction irreplaceable pieces of history my ears perk up. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t believe all of these statues or memorials have a place in our public square. Many of them are offensive, inappropriate and deserve to be removed, but casting a broad net like has been done recently is endangering some precious historical pieces of art and architecture.
As calmer tempers prevail in the coming months, and they always do, municipalities should continue to review their inventory of Confederate and other historic sites as has been steadily happening year after year. And there will be questions that need to be answered, but to say simply, “ALL statues associated with the Confederacy or slave owners MUST be torn down.” is an offense to the intelligence that God has given each of us.
Such broad generalizations dumb down the conversation and can result in costly irreversible losses to our history. As the National Trust for Historic Preservation said in a statement they released this week, “We should always remember the past, but we do not necessarily need to revere it.”
What Should We Do
This is not a question that can be answered simply. Each case needs to be individually investigated. Many of these statues were commissioned and placed in the public square wth the express purpose of intimidating black Americans during the civil rights fight of the 50s and 60s. Those have no place in our country any longer and serve no purpose other than to remind us of a dark time in our country’s history.
But the history of this country is not as cut and dry as that. We have stains on the soul of our country from past sins just like individuals do for their own sins. But if there is forgiveness of our personal sins by a gracious God then the same would stand true for our nation.
We have come a long way in America. It is no longer legal to own slaves, it’s no longer legal to discriminate against anyone based on their age, gender, color, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. Women now have the right to vote and work outside the home. Each day we are marching toward “a more perfect union.”
We will not get there tomorrow, or the next day. It is a journey of slowly perfecting our nation. In the past workers would sift the wheat to remove the chaff, steel workers would burn the steel hotter and hotter to burn off more and more imperfections, technology inventors are constantly improving our computers (could you imagine using a Commodore 64 today?)
It is a slow march toward perfection, but it doesn’t happen overnight and being angry at our founders for not creating a perfect country by 2017 standards in not realistic or helpful.
Where Does it Stop
Recently the most disturbing things I have heard are the calls for the tearing down of the Jefferson memorial in Washington DC. The thinking goes like this: Jefferson was a slave holder, therefore racist and any tribute to him is inappropriate and offensive.
Ok, let’s say that we remove that memorial. How about George Washington? He owned slaves. Should we remove his memorial as well and change the name of our capital city? Should we also redesign our monetary system? After all, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Jackson, Grant, and Franklin all would be branded racist by today’s standards. They all owned slaves with the exception of Lincoln, but he spoke publicly about his aversion to equality between blacks and whites. So even the great emancipator was not perfect!
The fact is this: We should judge people by the times in which they lived. To expect a citizen of the 1700s to live by the standards of the 2000s is impossible, just as we would be perilously lost in the customs and traditions of previous centuries they would be woefully out of place in today’s society.
Removing the traces of our history that disagree with us is like pulling the thread on a sweater. It may seem like a good idea at first but often it does more damage than good. A town without old buildings is like a man without a memory. And without a memory of the past we are bound to repeat the same mistakes.
You may say that you wouldn’t make those mistakes, but it’s not you I’m worried about. It’s your neighbor or your neighbor’s children that never heard the stories of our failures that will repeat them. Repeating the mistakes that run through our past cannot be an option. We cannot go back to those days! But whitewashing our history is not the solution.
If we removed every statue built to a flawed human being, or tore down every church that housed a corrupt clergyman, or destroyed every work of art by philandering artist we would be left with nothing. Let us not focus on the flaws of our founders but focus instead on their successes. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered for your accomplishments than have your life’s work dismissed because of your shortcomings?
I save old buildings for two reasons. First, because I think they are beautiful works of craftsmanship done by master builders. Second, because they are one of the only physical links to a different time and a different people. I know those times were different and if those old builders were here today they wouldn’t choose hand driving nails and hand hewing beams. You better believe they would be using tables saws and nails guns. They did what they could with the information they had.
We have come a long way as a society, and our foundations were built on stronger things than racism and flawed individuals. Slavery, while prevalent in our founder’s time, is not at the core of who we were as a people and we fought a bloody and awful war that turned brother against brother to abolish that hateful institution.
It’s not statues or memorials that are the problem, rather a brokenness of the human heart that needs redemption. So my plea is simple, don’t let our country’s precious works of art and architecture be swept away in this current emotional torrent unless they justly deserve to be. Irreversible actions done in the heat of the moment are often regretted when the dust settles. Let’s not be that country. Let’s not be those people.
There are so many different brands of dog food on the market; dried food, wet food, tinned food, sachets food, mixers, don't worry I won't go on. But essentially, despite the many many choices, they're all pretty much the same. Some are more processed than others, some have more ingredients than others and some just have the luxury of being a well-known brand.
But what you don't see every day on a shelf is dehydrated dog food. Food made with 100% natural pure ingredients, the kind of food you'd cook for yourselves. Human quality food. No sweeteners, food colouring, wheat or taste enhancers - just 100% pure ingredients but preserved by natural dehydration. Pure Pet Food is totally different to everything else out there on the market and is essentially the closest you can get to having a pure home cooked meal for your furry friends. Aside from of course, actually cooking a home cooked meal, but who has time for that really?
Straight from the box it looks like a kinda not-so-appetising chunky powder I guess, but the idea is that when you add water, the food slowly rehydrates, almost doubling in size turning into a kind-of wet food.
It's such a simple idea and it works. The front of the box tells you EXACTLY what's in it - in a really simple, easy to understand way. I don't know any other dog food brand (you can tell me if I'm wrong!) that promotes so-very obviously exactly what's in their food.
This one I'm reviewing is the Chicken Dinner box, which is particularly suitable for sensitive stomachs as well as fussy eaters, but they also have boxes made with Duck, Turkey and Fish too. Each one has a particular list of the type of dog it's suitable for (Puppy, Senior etc) as well as certain diets, such as weight management and sensitive stomachs. All their boxes are wheat free and are suitable for raw eaters also.
So here's a few shots of it in its dehydrated state, with a bit of warm water added and then once fully rehydrated, which takes around 10mins. You can see how it really changes once water has been added and you can also physically see the chunks of meat and vegetables in here too. I find some types of dog foods absolutely revolting to look at and smell, but this actually stuff smells and looks good. I guess they actually say it's "human quality" for a reason.
By comparison, the brand we were using before trying Pure Pet food was a pretty close match in price, to the same KG. So although it certainly isn't cheap, it is the right price for what we're willing to pay for our dog food. It's worth noting as well that while the boxes are much smaller in size (due to their dehydrated state) they can still supply the same KG as a large bag of food. For example this 500g box I'm reviewing is the same amount, when rehydrated as a 2kg bag of food.
It's recommended to mix your usual dog food in with the pure pet food to begin with, so that's what I've done in these shots. The real critics here are the pups themselves. So, here's what they thought...
So, obviously our pups totally love it. They did have slightly more wet poops the first few times they tried it, but since then they've both been okay. Our pets aren't used to a raw or wet diet as they usually eat dried food only, so their stomachs have had to get a little used to it. But they certainly find it much more tastier than dried food, which sometimes they won't be so desperate to eat.
So to summarise, here's some my fave and not-so fave bits...
Not-so Favourite Bits:
If you're interested in giving Pure Pet Food a try, it can be found stocked at many Pets at Home branches throughout the UK, or you can use their online store (which offers free delivery above £20 and you guys know how I feel about paying for deliveries!) and they also offer a loyalty point system as well for repeat customers, which you can use to get free treats.
There's also a special link here where you can get 40% off a starter pack! Let me know if you decide to give it a go and what your furry pals thought of it ;)
*I received Pure Pet Food for this purpose of this review, however all thoughts & opinions are my own and I only share products I would genuinely recommend.
Walls plastered, floors tiled, electrics complete, new gas line in place - more than 12 months from the start of our kitchen renovation and we're finally at the painting stage, so close to a finished kitchen!! Getting to the painting stage is always the most exciting part of a renovation, you can almost see the end - and the way paint can literally transform a room is amazeballs!
So I never usually pick paint colours until we're at the actual painting stage - but I do generally have a rough idea for the kind of colour I'm looking for. I knew I wanted to use a F&B colour called 'Downpipe' in the dining room - a kind of deep grey, which I'd already purchased and used behind the log burner (you can see here) and intended on doing a whole feature wall in that colour. Since our kitchen and dining room are very much open plan, I wanted to pick something that complimented the colour Downpipe - but much lighter and brighter to keep the space feeling bright and clean.
I love Farrow and Ball paint - it's water based, a bit more breathable on old lime plastered walls than modern paints. The quality of the paint is also so very different to plastic kind of paints, but it is however a very expensive paint, so a decision you really was to only make once and get right the first time. I'd picked out three testers (at £5 each, these were a blooming expense on their own!) but they were all a bit too similar to the tones of the floor. So after another three samples (yep, that's £30 worth of sample paint *GRITTED TEETH*) I picked out the colour Strong White, a beautiful off-white with a hint of grey. You can see the samples in the picture below - from left to right: Slipper Satin, Shadow White, Dimity (I think?!), Strong White & Wimborne White, which you can barely see at the end there.
For me, it was an obvious choice - the others were a little too green-toned or beige-toned for my liking. So with Strong White picked, I first had to mist-coast the fresh plaster. I use a 50/50% mix of plain white trade emulsion and water, and went on with two coats before finishing with a higher 80/20 mix of paint to water. This is how it looked after white paint - very clinical, but so much brighter and a huge difference!
Once the white mist-coat I was dry I could then go on with 'Strong White' by Farrow and Ball. It's a gorgeous off-white with a hint of grey - but you only really notice the grey when it's paired against a bright white. If you were to sample it alone, it would just look white. We have a white ceiling and white woodwork, so I knew this was the perfect colour! And oh-boy did I make the right pick. I think I may actually even prefer this to Cornforth White which we used in the smallest bedroom. It's just a gorgeous gorgeous chic colour and is exactly what I wanted!
I love it so much, I already wish I could re-paint the bathroom in it. I think it really makes beautiful limestone floor stand out on its own and I don't think there could have been a more perfect colour for this room. You'll n notice I haven't bothered to paint where the kitchen cabinets will be - this is purely because this paint is so expensive, the more I can save the better! We're also using this colour in the dining room, which I think will bring the two rooms together perfectly - but you'll see more on that soon.
So finally, with the painting done, we could finally add our new feature lights, which you saw a hint of in this post.
These were from eBay (found with this seller here), but they actually came with glass shades which I'm yet to decided whether or not I want to use. I've paired them with 3 different types of Edison bulbs, which I think makes them a little more interesting. I was worried 6 feature lights would be a bit OTT, but now that it's painted - the whole room has really come together and I'm loving it! (Spy new appliances in the next pic!)
So there we have it - our long ass journey is coming to an end and the next post will feature our lovely new kitchen. We made it! I mean the journey of course - not the actual kitchen. We didn't make that ;) Coming soooooon!
Costs(rounded to the nearest pound)
New Tools Purchased:
White Trade Paint £10
F&B 'Strong White' Paint £74
Learning how to stain wood is one of those basic home improvement skills that everyone should know. Whether you are repairing old wood floors, making DIY shelves or fine furniture it’s a great skill to have to that anyone can learn to do rather easily.
There are some tips you should know that can make your staining projects a lot less frustrating and deliver much better results so that’s what we’ll talk about today.
By the end of this post and included video you should feel confident to stain almost anything and get professional results.
How to Stain Wood
Every species of wood is different and will accept stain differently. Some woods like red and white oak are excellent at accepting stain while others like yellow pine can get blotchy or uneven results even on the best day. Knowing which wood you are working with is the first key to getting a good stain job.
Anytime you are planning to stain I recommend doing a test patch before you commit to the color. The color may look great on the can but seeing it on the actual wood your project is using is way more important.
This is a great way to know how your wood will accept the stain as well. Use some leftover floor boards or lumber from your project for the test patch so you don’t have to sand it down again.
Sanding is the key to a good stain job. Make sure all the old finish is off of your floor or furniture. Even fresh lumber can have a “mill glaze” on it which will prevent proper staining. No matter what the condition of the wood it will likely need sanding first.
Start with a 60-grit sandpaper to strip everything bare and then work up to an 80-grit paper and eventually finish with a 120-grit paper.
Don’t go any higher than 120-grit sandpaper because as you get into the 180, 220, 320 or higher grits you start to sand so smoothly that the wood has a harder time accepting the stain deeply.
If you don’t sand enough and stop at 60 or 80-grit then you will likely see sanding marks in the wood as soon as you apply the stain. 120-grit is the nice middle ground that gets the best stain results for most woods in my opinion.
Clean or tack the surface of any dust or debris before continuing. You have to make absolutely sure you have a clean piece of wood. No dust. Not even greasy finger prints or sweat otherwise it will change the way the wood takes the stain and leave marks later.
Pop the Grain
For most projects other than fine woodworking (and let’s be honest if you’re reading my blog you know this is not a fine woodworking blog) I recommend “popping the grain” of the wood prior to sanding by wiping it down with water. This opens up the pores of the wood and allows it to accept the stain more deeply and evenly.
Yes, you can pay good money for wood conditioners or pre-stain treatments but water works just as well! Make sure you cover every inch of the wood and let it dry thoroughly. This is a big time saver too because rather than doing multiple costs of stain you can usually get a deep rich color with just one coat.
Watch the video below to see the difference it makes using water before staining on a normal pine 2×8.
Your wood is dry and you are ready to stain. Awesome! I use Minwax oil-based wood stain for most of my projects. It’s easy to find at almost any hardware store and Minwax has a ton of colors. I’d recommend staying with oil-based stains whichever you choose because I get mixed results with water based stains.
Shake the can up, put some gloves on, and apply the stain liberally with a cotton rag. Go heavy but evenly and let the wood soak it up for at least 5 mins. Then, with a clean cloth, wipe off the excess so there is no pooling and the color looks even. If you notice some uneveness or missed spots you can reapply right away.
When your finished let it dry for at least 24 hrs or until you can press a clean cotton rag on it and the stain doesn’t come off on the rag. For floors if you walk on it in socks you shouldn’t have discolored socks afterward (you know who you are!)
After that you are ready for you finish coat. Whether you use polyurethane, spar varnish for outdoor projects or my own special recipe you want to make sure you protect it fairly soon. At least get that first coat on the wood so it is sealed and ready for finishing later.
It’s always easier to learn by watching so check out the short video below to show you everything I just talked about in action. 2 minutes later you’ll know how to stain wood like a pro!
The generous folks at Eco-Strip sent us a brand new Speedheater™ Cobra to test in our shop, and I put it through the paces for a couple weeks on a bunch of different projects. So, this week I wanted to share the results of my testing as well as a “How To” video on using infrared paint removal for your own projects.
We’re all looking for faster and safer ways to remove old paint (especially lead paint) and there are a ton of options I see people using like scrapers, heat guns, steam, chemicals and of course infrared. I think they all have their place depending on a few things like budget, size of the project, and time. So, today let’s take a look at infrared and how it can help you!
What is Infrared?
Infrared technology is different than the old fashioned way of just applying heat to paint. Used to be painters would use a torch to strip old paint. It worked great except that it caused a ton of house fires and vaporized the lead paint which is a serious health hazard.
Infrared works faster and at much lower temperatures than traditional heat guns. For example, the Speedheater™ I was testing runs between 400°F and 560°F compared to a traditional heat gun which needs to be at 900°F to 1100°F to get the same effects.
That cooler temp means there is almost no chance I am going to vaporize lead paint or start fires. That my friends is the awesome thing about infrared paint removal.
The Speedheater™ Cobra
I’ll come right out and say it, I really liked the Cobra. Having used the Original Speedheater™ for a few years I was used to a big bulky tool that worked great for doors and siding, but was not nimble enough for the large amount of windows we restore.
If the Original Speedheater™ is like the reliable work truck you use for the big jobs the Cobra is the Ferrari that you want to drive every day! I was worried about the smaller size slowing down production speed, but since the Cobra heats paint so quickly (2-4 seconds!) production time wasn’t an issue.
With the small size also comes a few other benefits:
I blew threw a 3-lite sash inside and out in about 20 mins which is about 10 mins faster that it usually takes me and I was less tire because with the soft paint I wasn’t working my scraper as hard.
The only thing I took issue with was that the Cobra doesn’t come in a carrying case like the Original Speedheater™. Since I’m mostly planning to use this in the shop it’s not a big deal, but infrared bulbs are expensive and I sure would like to have a custom case to carry this from job to job especially for the price.
How to Strip Paint Using Infrared Heat
The video below will walk you through the tools and techniques you need in just 5 minutes and give you a good demonstration of the Cobra. And please excuse the sweat, I’m using a infrared heater…in a warehouse…in the summer…in Florida.
You’ll see me using a variety of tools in the video above and in case you are wondering what they are here are the links below as well as a few other tools that may be helpful. Some are available in our store and others are pretty standard and can be found online or in a local hardware store.
You can click on any of the links below to learn a little more about each tool.
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.