Mission Impossible 4: DIY Protocol

My project list was nothing fresh this weekend: Finish the Window Trim, the weekend project that has become a saga of blog posts and may yet expand to include therapy sessions.

My mission was to compensate  for the fact that the oldest (of three) window frames isn’t plumb, and at the top extends past the wallboard.  I can’t easily explain the idea I was attempting: it would take a labeled picture at least. And it wouldn’t matter, because it didn’t work.

The first setback was the realization that the rasp I purchased to grate away some wood was still in the trunk of The Guy’s car. And The Guy was in Las Vegas. Unwilling to spend another $16 on a second rasp, I figured the cutting wheel on my Dremel might suffice. A few passes into the job I smelled something. Was the Dremel getting hot? A thin curl of smoke alerted me that what I smelled was, in fact the ancient dry wood scorching. So much for the Dremel.

Also, so much for my idea: besides the very eminent danger of catching my house on fire, a little more exploration showed a new problem for which my fix didn’t account. Foiled!

A couple hours later I had burned through two reciprocating saw blades, my arms ached, and I was just under 1/2 way finished with the wood removal on the first window. It was past dinnertime.  Defeated, I followed in the footsteps of such adventurous notables as Hemmingway and James Bond and headed for a bar, where I soothed my stone-tight shoulders with a Sazerac and pretended to read while eavesdropping on drunken hipsters.

Maybe next weekend.


Tom Silva Didn’t Mention That

If you have read my prior posts, you will know that I have been grappling with trimming out my not-so-recently installed living room windows. Having posted my shame, I have been determined to finish the project and post the stunning results.

It began well: The Guy offered to help, and I had watched a This Old House video that filled me with confidence. I have a fondness for Tom Silva that borders on worship, and he had shown me the light. With a scribe, my compound miter saw, and a little “elbow grease” I could totally do this.

When I set about measuring my own actual windows, my confidence evaporated. My windows looked nothing like the tidy mock-up in the picture. I was looking at three generations of window frames: the original, the frame for the hideous aluminum insets in the 70’s, then the new wood inset I had installed.

The new window was not flush with either the wall nor the old frame. The old frame was not square. Or plumb.  All versions I created with my cheap pine mock-up boards left a 1/2 inch gap created by the difference in inset between old and new frame. Furthermore, my sill would not be fit  into a recess- which meant it had very little support underneath.

This is what I was up against:

After (I am ashamed to admit) a complete wallowing breakdown where I cast myself as old and helpless and forever living in a partial remodel, I rallied. With the help and moral support of The Guy,  I studied the pictures in a Trim book, measured, and made a plan that included buying a couple random trim pieces to test a solutions to The Gap.

The Guy showed Mother Theresa level patience and kindness at the big box store as I re-figured and second-guessed myself and waffled on options; I did eventually actually buy some hemlock trim. Once home,  we cut sample pieces of the possible gap-fillers. One didn’t end up looking like filler, but like a nice detail around the window. Things were looking up.

I re-watched Tom and figured out how to scribe the sill. Using my jigsaw, I cut the penciled lines and was thrilled like a kid at Christmas when it fit neatly to the wall and window.  The additional piece I bought for under the sill as support also worked and looked like it belonged.

Just when it looked like this task was a one after-nooner, I got to the top of the first window and found that I had another unseemly gap: when you look up, you see an uncovered space behind the trim. The new window is plumb, but the 100+ year old wall is not, so the top of the window is recessed deeper than the bottom.

After much head scratching and a trip to Mr. Plywood, I have a solution. Now I need a new dose of motivation and a free weekend day. Oh – and a rasp. Tom Silva definitely didn’t mention that.

Where There’s Smoke…Alarms

This house was built in 1888, so one expects a series of problems, degradation, and mishaps. (Check, check, check.) But the most challenging and annoying part of the Pink Palace has been, without hyperbole, the smoke alarms.

The house was a low-income rental for 20 years prior to me buying it from the community development organization. The ceilings were swiss-cheesed with multiple generations of smoke alarms: hard wired, battery only, ancient, new: a veritable “Smoke Alarms through the Ages!” exhibit.

The very first day I spent in the house, I entered to a sharp beep on a regular interval.  I strolled through my new domain following the sound, which led to the back of the house. There were three likely candidates within three square feet.

I had come prepared. I had batteries. I pulled up the encrusted ladder and changed the  first. The alarm let out an ear-drum splitting scream when I pulled the battery, but seemed pacified by the new one. On cue the chirp repeated. I moved to the second, changed the battery. Still with the chirping.   I moved to the third smoke detector and found it was hard-wired. Opening it to find the battery backup set it off, and I could not make it stop. New battery, reconnected, cover on: nothing stopped the screeching.  In a fit of deafened desperation, I ripped it out. Nerves jangled, I climbed off my ladder with the alarm body trailing severed wires. And: “chirp”.

I craned, I strained, I crouched, I climbed. It was slowly driving me mad. How many places could something hide in a tiny empty house?! A final desperate search discovered it,  shoved into the back top shelf of a cabinet above the water heater, behind a collection of burned-out light bulbs.

I have repeated versions of this process now every few months. I found an alarm on the back porch.  I discovered that two alarms were perfectly positioned to go off every time I open the oven door during baking. There was a smoke detector inexplicably leaning in the outer ledge of a window.

Last night I returned from a late dinner date to two unusually agitated dogs. As I brushed my teeth, something started to work my nerves, too. Slowly I recognized it: a high-pitched keening coming from outside the back door. I flung it open and listened. It was a smoke alarm. “Please” I whispered to the universe. “Please let it be the neighbors house”. But it was clearly coming from my garage. As the dogs leaped and pawed with their muddy feet in the pouring rain, I shoved open the garage door and was deafened by the alarm, not chirping but fully sounding. There was no smoke, no fire, just dizzying noise.

I groped along the wall for the light switch, but first my shin came in contact with the spikey pedal of my housemate’s bicycle. It fell, I staggered, the dogs started barking, and my next door neighbor opened his door and snapped on the porch light. The time was roughly midnight by now, and he called out over the barking to ask if I was responsible for the noise and if it would stop soon.

I found the switch, and after shoving aside boxes and another mystery bicycle, I found the offender lying on the garage floor under garden tools. I have no idea how it got there. It was a 10 year version with no removable battery cover: in fact, it said “Do not open, return for repair or replacement.  Radioactive material inside.”

Ignoring the neighbor mouthing at me mutely from his porch, I calmly carried the caterwauling device inside, wrapped it in foil and a plastic bag, pulled a framing hammer from my tool caddy, and pounded it into shards.  It let out a final distorted wimper of a beep. Hammer in hand, I addressed the family of remaining alarms: “Let that be a lesson for you all!”