Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Little things

While I am still in the mess of sealing our deck (it's a very long, tortuous story) I thought I'd share some smaller projects I did around the outside in the couple kid-free hours I have during the week.  The first was on the side of the house. 
This rusty, ugly meter had always bothered me, but I didn't do anything about it until I wanted to plant a perennial right next to it.  I figured it I was going to paint it, now was the time!
I had already started painting on the rusty metal primer when I snapped these photos.  After scrubbing everything with a wire brush, of course.  But this is pretty much what it looked like. 
I considered painting it cream to match the siding, but I just thought it would get dirty and look a little 'grandma,' so I went with a more modern approach.  And here it is after a nice coat of black flat rustoleum!
You really can't see that much of it since the hydrangea and juniper are so big, and they will only get bigger.  I'm really pleased with it. 
This side of the house is a little bit of a bummer for me, if I'm being honest. 
I wish we had planted a couple tall things against the house, and some shrubs that flower in the spring/early summer instead of a row of hydrangeas.  They don't start blooming until July, so the whole side is totally green and boring until then.  Rookie move!  I tried to remedy this by putting Siberian Irises in on the sides, so we will have tall purple flowers in the spring while the hydrangeas are getting started.  I also put early-flowering low perennials in the front to help spruce it up.  I may still move the two small hydrangeas on either side of the large middle one, I'm just not sure. 
At any rate, the meter looks nicer and everything is pretty while it's blooming.  I also scraped, primed, and painted the railing on our front porch with the same paint.  After I started scraping and wire-brushing, it became obvious they had used a pretty saturated red paint on the railing at one point.   
There was also a ton of rot and rust, I just coated it well and plan to use an epoxy to fill the holes next summer. 
I decided to use the rusty metal primer on the entire thing, rather than just the bad spots.  I wasn't sure how the black would cover an unprimed area, so I played it safe. 
Here is an action shot of me allll the way up on a ladder taking care of the top.  I made sure to do this while the mailman was making his rounds, so if I fell someone would hear my screaming.  Note my foot is on the 'This is not a step' part.  Don't worry, I didn't put any weight on it, it was just for balance while I put all my weight on the wobbly, rotting railing. 
 Of course, the kids wanted to help.  Not sure if he realized I gave him a dry brush.
Painting all those curly parts twice was torture.  I really wish I could've just ripped out this whole thing, but we don't have the money.  It was so satisfying to see it newly painted black, that I used the paint on an old plant stand, too.
Here is a series of photos showing before, scraped, half primed, painted.  Love it!
And our honeysuckle vine is all the way to the top already!  It's not doing so well right now, but it grew like crazy this summer.  I'm working on the health of the plant now, and I'm excited to see what happens next year. 
The last project we did out here was something we've wanted for awhile - landscape lighting.  I kept putting it off because I was intimidated by all the 'stuff' you need, then I finally just went to Lowes and saw how simple it really was.  Anyone can do this themselves!  Here is what I bought, (not pictured is 7 more spot lights and a 100 foot roll of low-voltage landscape wire):
I just ran the wire where I wanted, and I actually cut some of the roll off to go over to the other side in between our driveway and sidewalk.  There is a rather large crack between the step and the sidewalk, so it fits ok in there and runs to one of the two receptacles on the power pack. 
Once the wire was ran with a generous amount for repositioning down the line, I just screwed the spot lights onto the included stakes, and clamped the provided connectors onto the wire.  It has tiny little teeth that pierce the plastic on the wire, so easy!  The only tool you need is a wire stripper for the ends of the wire to connect to the power pack. 
Speaking of power pack, I forgot to take a picture of the wiring, and I'm not interested in removing the thing from the ground to see the bottom.  Here is a stock photo where you see the two inputs for wiring:
Number 1 holds the wiring for the area to the left of the sidewalk, and number 2 holds the wiring for the rest of the front planting area.  After I stripped the coating off the ends of the wires, the two sections simply get placed under the screw and plate and tightened with a screwdriver.  So easy!  Since this is on the bottom, the unit needs to be elevated and can be mounted to your house.  I chose not to do that, instead I bought a $20 stand for the pack.  It isn't super visible, and will look even better once the rose and coneflowers get larger. 
I still have to remove the white tags from the cord and bury all the wire before the ground freezes.  Maybe this project isn't so small!
Anyway, here it is at night.  I am in love with this look!  Very dramatic, and highlights our landscaping so well! 
The spot lights come with different 'lens covers' depending on the kind of light you want.  This is standard, warm light.  There is a 'moonlight' option that is supposed to be a cooler light, but I like this because it matches the bulbs in our porch lights. 
I still have one spot light to put somewhere, not sure where it will end up.  Lowes gives you a 10% discount if you buy at least three lights at a time, so plan accordingly!  I'm also thinking we must add some lighting the other side of the house, we just don't have an outlet over there, so it would be challenging.  I'd love to light up my blue spruce globe tree, especially!
The landscape lighting cost me about $350 and a couple hours of time when it was all said and done.  Well worth it, in my opinion!  Hope you all are enjoying the last days of summer! 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

We got a new deck

So, the entire summer we've been stressing over and paying installments for a brand new deck!  I still have to seal the wood...but here it is!
Not sure if I've really shared many photos of the sad 14'x14' deck we had before, but here it is in all it's glory. 
And the best view, the wonky leaning stairs.  This photo is not altered in any way.  Whenever family or friends express surprise that we didn't just 'fix up the deck' I show them this photo. 
The stairs were absolutely falling apart, the stringer was totally cracked at the top, and of course they were sinking into the ground.  
Not to mention all the rotted wood, we were finding more and more spots after the previous owner's attempt to camouflage the worn deck started peeling off. 
Are you thinking about trying 'Deck Over' on your old deck?  I wouldn't recommend it!  It peels off after one winter.  Rather than trying to fix what we had, and spend who knows how much making the stairway safe/replacing it, we decided to just replace the entire deck and enjoy it as long as we live here.  This way, we could configure the stairs in a more logical spot near the door, and we could make the deck bigger since we use it all the time.  I had three contractors come bid, and two were very high (over 15K!) for a 21x14 deck, the third was around 9k and came recommended by neighbors, so we hired them.  I won't lie, the process was terribly stressful.  This hole in our siding was there for several days.
I quickly found out why this company was so cheap.  The communication was bad, and only about half of my requests made it from the owner to the guys doing the actual work.  If I hadn't been home while they were working, the deck would not have been as long as it should be (I wanted it to reach the end of the dining room window) the far end would've been angled instead of straight, the stairs would've been in the wrong spot, and the Trex lighting would not have been added.  Whew!  Luckily, I was there and everything was done properly. 
We don't like the look of composite decking, so we opted to go with pine decking and cedar railings.  I didn't want cedar on the floor because of how easy it is to scratch, and our deck guy wouldn't do pine railings because of the tendency of pine to twist.  He upgraded the railings to cedar for just a couple hundred extra.
 When it started coming together, it was very exciting!
Our deck guy wrapped the entire frame with cedar at no cost, which was great because the pine framing is not attractive.  You can see it half-wrapped above.  At his suggestion, we did a landing for the stairway.  If the kids fall, they will only go down 5 steps instead of 8!  We totally love it.
We opted for the modern black aluminum balusters, and we are so glad we paid a little extra for this.  It totally changes the look of the deck.
You can really see in this photo the difference in shade between the cedar railings and the pine decking.  I will admit, I hate the difference, but I think once I stain/seal it will match better.
The cedar is already starting to turn gray, so I'm going to be cleaning everything well this weekend and using Ready Seal on the entire thing.  This is the company our deck builder recommended, and they send you a sample jar of all of their colors plus handy little swatches on cedar and pine for $15 shipping.  Great deal!  I'm going to post about that as soon as it's done.  Until then, we are loving it all!
Ok, I'm not loving my ugly chair cushions, and we are actually missing some.  I desperately want new cushions and pillows, but we just can't spend any more money on this area this year.  I think I will treat myself to some great ones next spring while the selection is huge. 
I don't have a close photo of the hideous light that was up here, but you can see it in one of the before pictures up top.  I received a free cylinder light like we have in the front because they sent me an LED one rather than standard bulb.  They don't want the incorrect one back, so I put the LED fixture back here.  It's big, but it works great!
 Our stairs have low voltage lighting going down, and it is glorious at night. 
 It looks so pretty, and will look so much better once all our clutter is put away. 
 The landing makes the deck look so much fancier and pricier than it was!
We plan to build a patio at the bottom of the deck, and the slight alcove created by the stairs extending past the deck makes a perfect area for planting.  Right now, it's perfect for storing toys and our grill. 
On this side of the deck, we were eager to cover the view of the river rock.  Loose rock was not our first choice, but the guys doing the work didn't get the memo that we wanted crushed limestone so we could compact it.  Remember those communication issues?  Yeah, us too.  Anyway, I bought some nice native prairie perennials and we set to work digging out the grass and planting them. 
It was hard work, but we did it.  Zach loved taking all the 'sod' and putting it in the lawn and leaf bags.  He wouldn't wait for us to get most of the dirt off, so I hope the workers take these heavy bags! 
The planting area will wrap around the front side of the deck, we will worry about that next year. 
Almost everything I planted here is tall, the false sunflower on the corner can get 6 feet tall and 3 feet around!  The purple flame grass get 4-5' tall, the Baby Joe Pye Weed is about 4' tall, the Shasta daisies are 3-4' tall, and the black eyed susan will stay about the height it is now. 
It is our ultimate plan to have the garbage and recycling cans live in the garage, but for now they just don't fit.  We won't plant anything in front of the cans until they get into their new spot. 
So far, the kids are pretty excited about the deck.  There are still some rough spots and splintered wood around the screws that I have to take care of, but I'm mostly ok with them running around barefoot.  Ok, only Zach comes out here because Ashford hates being outside.  WHY??  It's so sad!
And here is what it looks like at dusk with the lights on.  Moody!
We eventually want to add some string lights, but for now, the deck post lights are awesome.  And here are some fun before and afters for you.
  Thanks for reading!