Archive for the 'house' Category

Converting Our One Car Garage Back Into A Two Car Garage

Well we’re just finishing up a major garage overhaul but before I can show you the finished product I need to start from the beginning. When we bought the house there was only a one car garage. The house originally had a two car garage but the second owners put up a wall and converted it into a shop.

The one car garage:

The shop side:

Well that is after we thoroughly cleaned it. The previous owners ended up using the space for storage…a lot of storage:


To park their second vehicle (we do live in Wisconsin where parking your car inside in the winter is a huge bonus) they built a two car detached garage that we call a shed to avoid confusion. For the first year I parked in the shed but carrying the groceries across our front yard and shoveling a path on our grass in the winter got old fast. So before our second winter in the house we decided to convert the garage back into a two car garage. I quickly started the search for some high quality garage doors. As I explained previously we wanted a garage door with the highest R-value possible since our dining room is over our garage and we wanted something that was low maintenance but looked good since they are on the side of the house the public sees from the road. But the doors we wanted didn’t come in the odd size we needed (6.5’ x 9’) at least not yet. We had heard a rumor that they might start making them in that size so we ended up pushing back our garage door project until the company started offering the size we needed.


We finally got the call a few months later, “Clopay has started carrying the Dark Oak Gallery garage doors in the 6.5’ x 9’ size you need!” So we ordered them right away and patiently waited until they came in.


Meanwhile we had to figure out how to convert the shop back into a garage without leaving a big hole in our house for an extended period of time. We decided to do everything in one weekend and have the garage door installer come the following Monday. Papa Flannel came over the help and we quickly tore out the wall between the garage and converted shop. It was simply two layers of wood paneling and some 2×4’s that were spaced far apart. In only a few minutes we went from this:

To this:

Sophie had a good time helping getting in our way.


Next we opened up our exterior wall hoping that the framing for the original garage door was still there. Considering the previous owners were lazy enough to leave the original garage door attached to the ceiling and just cut the wood paneling to fit around the tracks we were optimistic that the door opening was still there.

We carefully took out the large 6’x4’ window and started tearing off wood paneling. Luckily, the framing was still there and we just had to deal with siding and brick mold. While Flannel Man and Papa Flannel were working I had the pleasure of taking a 3 hour drive to pick up the PVC door jamb that our local hardware stores only had in 8’ long sections (the openings are each 9’ wide).

By the time I got back they were waiting on me to finish. That night we rigged up a tarp with 2×4 braces in an attempt to close up the opening. Of course it rained that night and we worried we’d wake up to a puddle in our garage but it ended up keeping the garage dry.


The next day the garage door installer came and put in our new doors and openers. Originally, we were going to DIY the garage doors and openers but after calling around on prices we found that the installer was only $100 more per door. Knowing how dangerous the door springs can be and that we’d have to pay to get rid of the waste it was a no brainer to just hire someone.


So in one weekend we went from a one car garage and a fugly shop to a two car garage with beautiful yet energy efficient doors. Better yet these doors and trim can’t rot like the old stuff was:

I know a normal person wouldn’t be excited about garage doors but I’m not a normal person and these are your normal garage doors. Look at these suckers:

Next up we tackle the inside of the garage…


Saving Money on Our Heating Bills

It’s that time of year again where the temperatures are dropping and everyone is preparing for winter. Around this time two years ago we were rushing to get our house ready for our first winter in it. Having a large older home and living in a cold climate we knew the heating bills were going to be high. Before we bought our house we had asked the previous owner for utility bills but she just made up a bunch of excuses on why she couldn’t provide us with any. Instead I called the company that she was using for fuel oil and just about feel out of my chair when I heard how much she had spent the previous winter. In a period of eight months she had spent nearly $6,000 on fuel oil! She went through the whole 225 gallon tank nearly every month and had two fill ups in December and January.

Now most people would have not bought the house after seeing those kind of bills but we knew there were a lot of things we could do to reduce how much energy the house used. Plus we were completely in love with the location, land, and potential the house had. So we bought it anyway and spent the fall doing everything we could to reduce our heating bills that winter. We did 4 simple things that cut our fuel oil usage in half. Here they are:


1.) We re-insulated the attic. During our inspection we found out that there was only 5” of blown-in insulation in the attic and most of that had been tunneled through by mice living up there. The insulation looked like swiss cheese. According to my handy dandy ASHRAE Fundamentals Book that equates to an insulating value of R-11 (probably less because of the holes but we’ll ignore those) which is nowhere near the R-38 recommended for our area by ASHRAE 90.1. Because our house is a ranch style the attic insulation is even more important because we have a huge attic at 2140sf!
We could have just blown in more insulation over the top but that would have meant we would need to put up vent guards between every truss to keep the soffits clear. Additionally we don’t like how blow-in settles over time and needs to have more added to it to maintain the R-value. But the nail in the coffin was that we were planning to do a lot of renovating that would involve tearing into the ceiling. The thought of being able to roll up the insulation and move it temporarily was much more appealing than constantly being rained on with insulation. So we went with two layers of R-19 unfaced batt on top of our existing blown-in.

Even though our attic covers a large area it is very short so I voted Flannel Man be the one in the attic while I squeezed the bundles of insulation up through the attic access. The insulation expands to be twice the size of the packages so we wanted to open them in the attic even if it meant a lot of squeezing them go get them through the access hole.

Flannel Man started by clearing out all of the debris in the attic. Workers from the original construction had left everything from pop cans to material scraps. He also found a lot of mice skeletons and stashes of acorns so he cleaned out as many of those as he could. It seemed like the mice were no longer a problem because everything we found was very old but just in case he scattered some large chunk mouse poison on top of the existing insulation in the areas that were the worst. Next he started rolling out the batt in between the trusses making sure to keep plenty of air space along the soffit vents. The second layer he put perpendicular to the first to help cover any gaps.

We went from a measly R-11 to an R-49! And because we did it ourselves it only cost $1500.

And just for fun this is where I found Sophie after pushing insulation up the access hole.


2.) We put plastic on every window. We have 16 large, single pane windows in our house and most of them are 6’x4’ so there is a lot of glass! We love the view out of them and understand why the original owners had the house built with so many windows but they are a huge waste of energy. At least they have storm windows though even those are ill fitting. So we have vowed to religiously put up the dreaded plastic on every old window until we have them all replaced.

Because our windows are so big we have to buy the extra large sheets of plastic that are meant for 5 windows but they only cover two of our windows. The price can add up but even buying 8 boxes only cost us __. Over the years we’ve gotten really good at putting on the plastic so it’s virtually invisible. It’s all about making sure there are minimal creases in the plastic where it sticks to the tape; with our size windows it’s a two person job. We also put clear packaging tape on all of the sides to help hold the loose ends in place. When you have the plastic on for a long period of time the ends tend to come loose especially the areas over a vent. We don’t care about the current 70’s trim because we’re going to replace it but we’ve had very little finish come off with all of this tape on it. And we’ve found that 3M is by far our favorite window plastic.


3.) We replaced the patio door that was rotten open! Yes that’s right the previous owner was living with a door that was permanently open. Not only did it let a ton of energy out but it let a lot of critters in! The whole basement was filled with every bug imaginable and of course there were mice living in the basement. But the mice didn’t stop there no a slim gap wasn’t enough for them they had to go and chew a huge hole in the corner of the door to allow for easier access!

Now why was this door permanently open? Because the house didn’t have gutters and all the rain from the large roof would fall onto the exposed basement. The wooden patio door was so rotten along the bottom that it wouldn’t budge. But instead of doing anything about it the previous owner just left if like that for 2-3 years. The first thing we did when we moved in was fill all of those holes with Great Stuff. Then in the fall we replaced the door for a more permanent solution.

I know this one doesn’t apply to everyone but it’s a good reminder to check the seals on all of your doors and windows because even a small leak can cost you a lot on your heating bill.


4.) We turned down the thermostat. The previous owner was unemployed and had some health conditions so she spent all day at home with the heat cranked way up. The first time we toured the house in November it was a sweaty 78 degrees in there! The thermostat was also non-programmable but we decided not to replace it since we knew we were going to be replacing the furnace in the next year. Instead we just kept the temperature down to as low as we could stand it and wore warm clothes. We also used an electric oil space heater for supplemental heat if we were spending a lot of time in just one room. We like that style because you can turn it on for an hour or two until the oil is heated up then turn it off and it will still be putting out heat. Electric heat isn’t the most cost effective way to heat but heating only one room vs the whole house is.


So here are the numbers:
$5740 what the previous owner spent on fuel oil in one winter
1910 gallons of fuel oil the previous owner used
$3.00 the cost of one gallon of fuel oil

$2200 what we spent on fuel oil the following winter
980 gallons of fuel oil we used
$2.25 the cost of one gallon of fuel oil

$1200 the cost of the attic insulation
$1500 the cost of the new patio door
$60 the cost of all that window plastic
$200 the estimated cost of the additional electricity used by the space heater

So when everything was said and done we spent $3540 less on fuel oil and used 934 gallons less than the previous owner. All of the improvements paid for themselves in just one winter and we still had $580 left over in savings. That’s one heck of a return on investment!

What are you doing to prepare your house for winter?

2009 Accomplishments & 2010 Goals

Wow, I can’t believe 2009 is almost over.  It was a very busy year for us.  We accomplished far more this year than we did last year.  If you remember our goals for this year were:

  • Install seamless gutters with Gutter Glove  Done
  • Dig in underground drains for the downspouts  Done
  • Paint and prime the entire house, this includes the ceilings because we have water stains in almost every room  Halfway there
  • Do some basic landscaping, define flower beds and start planting  Done
  • Make a master landscaping plan for the future, from my last calculations we have nearly 20 flower beds/planting areas around the property  I have some basic plans
  • Create a yard for our dog Sophie?, clear out brush and install temporary fencing, we have to wait for spring to see if this is even possible there or if the ground is too marshy  Done
  • Cut the second garage door back in  Done
  • Install two new garage doors and openers  Done
  • Figure out how to fix the draining issues in the garage  Not done and a big problem right now
  • Install a new propane tank  Change of plans
  • Remove the old oil tank  Done
  • Install a new top of the line furnace and condensing unit  We went geothermal instead but done
  • Change the ductwork in the house to be multi-zone  Not possible with a single heat pump
  • Install and program new thermostats  Done
  • Start building the walk-in gun safe  To do in early 2010
  • Interview architects we may want to work with  May be bypassing this step…

On the whole I think we did a good job!  We stuck to our plan for the most part but did decide to go with a geothermal heat pump instead of a traditional split system.  Either way the HVAC system was replaced.  Plus I think that is a big upgrade.  Compared to 2008 we didn’t deviate much from the plan.

Now onto next year.  Our goals for 2010 are:

  • Replace the water softener
  • Replace kitchen faucet
  • Seed lawn where the geothermal system was installed and the new dog yard
  • Landscaping, focus on front & fence flower beds
  • Replace garage window & re-drywall the wall
  • Install shelving in the garage
  • Build the walk-in gun safe
  • Paint the living room, dining room, and kitchen
  • Get the basement bathroom working and replace the shower surround
  • Fix the garage floor drainage issues
  • Refinish the dining room table & chairs, make new table leaves
  • Reupholster chairs
  • Determine final house design for the major renovations in 2011, draw house in CAD & sketchup
  • Save up for big 2011 remodel (new bathrooms here we come!)

What are your 2010 plans?

This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
DIY Savings