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Rain Barrel Installation Part 2

The University of Rhode Island lists some great benefits to rain barrels:

  • Rain barrels conserve water and help lower costs (a rain barrel can save approximately 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months).
  • Rain barrels reduce water pollution by reducing stormwater runoff, which can contain pollutants like sediment, oil, grease, bacteria and nutrients.
  • Rain barrels can also be arranged to slowly release the collected rainfall to areas that can soak up the water, reducing stormwater runoff and increasing groundwater recharge.

Here is more on our rain barrel installation:

(See Rain Barrel Installation Part 1 here if you missed it.)


We used cinder blocks (thank you Freecycle) to raise the rain barrel so the spout is high enough to fit a large watering can underneath (this factored into our measurements before we cut the downspout). I’ve been stalking Freecycle for trellising to put around the cinderblocks to hide them and make things look nicer.

Lesson Learned

Vertical cinderblocks are tippy. When our barrel got full and heavy, it went for a tumble (and even more of the paint is scraped off). We rearrange the blocks horizontally to be more stable.

Overflow Preparation
The rain barrel fills up surprisingly quickly when we have a storm, so a full-size overflow spout keeps things moving. Also, we already have water issues, so we wanted to make sure the overflow was getting routed to the sewer as efficiently as possible.

Mosquito-Free Zone

Because any standing water can become a mosquito breeding ground, we pop these plant-and-wildlife-safe mosquito dunks into the barrel a few times per season. Technically, closed mosquito barrels, like ours, are not at risk for becoming breeding grounds, but I’m happy to be extra cautious and add the dunks.

Final Thoughts
Rain barrels are very low-pressure, so it is helpful to have two watering cans–one can fill up while the other is being poured on the garden. It would be great it there was some way to connect a rain barrel to sprinkler hose and get that to actually work, but I just don’t think the barrel affords that kind of water pressure.

Yes, it takes some effort to fill up the watering can(s) to water the plants, but it just takes a few more minutes than dragging around a hose, and it is a good way to get in a little exercise, saves money, and can keep your lawn or garden growing strong during water rationing.

Remember, rain barrel water is not potable. Thoroughly wash produce grown with it before eating. Do not use rain barrel water for washing hands or swimming.

Want to make your own?

Here you go.

Or, if you live in the Northern Virginia area, check this out. At workshops in July and October 2011 you can build your own rain barrel for $52 or buy one for a mere $62.


Rain Barrel Installation Part 1

Our second year of Square Foot Gardening is off to a good start, as is our second year of watering the plants from a rain barrel. Commercial rain barrels are pricey, and I am not wild about buying new plastic items, so we started searching Craigslist for used rain barrels. When we found a listing for new rain barrels made from reclaimed 50-gallon food drums for a mere $35 each, we were sold! Well, we were sold enough to put them on our Christmas list as our number one wish (our families are big on wish lists).

We installed one rain barrel in the back of our house last year. Here’s how it went…

Painting It White
I used exterior primer and paint. It looked good for a couple of minutes before it got its first couple scratches. I should’ve put a clear coat on top. We might just go with the blue when we install the one in the front, especially now that we have a bright blue front door and are working on blue shutters.

After carefully measuring how high we want the rain barrel, hubby bravely hand-saws through our brand, spanking new downspout.

Time to connect the shortened downspout to the rain barrel.

In Part 2: lessons learned and more pictures.


Vacancy: Cozy, Warm Bat House

Because one bat can eat anywhere from hundreds to one thousand small bugs in an hour, we wanted a bat house in hopes of attracting the critters to our yard to act as natural mosquito control. Our bat house is a single chamber bat house made in the USA by Wildlife’s Choice and was purchased from Wild Bird Center.
The Organization for Bat Conservation has great information on their site on how to select or build a bat house, optimal placement, and more. Following their guidance, we installed our bat house directly against the house on the sunniest side. The sun warms the bricks and box, which makes it a snugglier place for bats to hang out. 15-18 feet above the ground is the optimal height, but we had to factor in our house shape, how trees cast undesireable shadows on the box, and where the guano (bat poo) will fall (i.e. not directly above any windows we keep open).
It can take six months or more for bats to discover the house and take up residence. Though we are nearing six months, our house still seems to be empty. We check for inhabitants by seeing if any guano has collected on the ground under the bat house. Once we get some resident bats, we may plant ornamental grass under the bat house so the guano can fall into that and compost naturally, rather than building up on the playable part of the lawn.

Milk Carton Garden Markers

Don’t toss that empty milk carton in the recycle bin just yet! Armed with scissors, a hobby blade, and a Sharpie, it takes just a few minutes to create garden markers sturdy enough to weather through a whole growing season and beyond. For this year, I just cut off the printing from last year’s carton garden markers and still had plenty of marker left.

Cutting away the flat surfaces from the curved ones

Sloppy cutting doesn’t phase me, as only the very top part ends up sticking out of the soil. The whiter ones are from the section where the carton label is.

In the raised beds (with room for writing notes, if desired)

Depending on the plastic recycling guidelines in your area, your creations should still be just recyclable when you are done with your creations.


Master Bedroom Reveal

I am so excited to reveal before-and-after pictures of our master bedroom with you! The room is just under 10 by 13 feet, so it is hardly a “master” bedroom by today’s standards. But, we have worked hard to make it a cozy oasis.

First, some before pictures…

This picture is blurry, but if you look closely you can see some faint graffiti on the wall (a heart is the most noticeable bit). Our best guess is that it was done with white spray paint, but who knows. That heart bled through layers of primer-sealer! You also can see general damage to the wall. You can click on the picture to open a larger view.

Here is general filth on another wall– in addition to the mystery filth stains, there actually is stuff dripping down the walls! The floors are very scuffed and water-stained. You can click on the picture to open a larger view.

Making progress…primed walls plus refinished floors. We switched primer brands midway and the trim is not painted, so the walls still look weird, but they are on the right track.

And now
how it looks today!

The paint color is a blend that I made myself after buying a too-dark color. That will have to be a blog entry unto itself! We still need to get the rest of our wall-hangings up and we will probably install a ceiling fan at some point.

I love having a TV for movies only, we don’t have TV services to the house so everything we watch is deliberate. When I have TV, I tend to just get sucked in and watch to watch.

Having the aquarium in the room was a debate, as the little table is not my optimal style and narrow though it is, it take up space in a small room. But, I love watching our aquatic frog swim around–living art!

Behind the entry door to the room is the door to the tiny closet. Because I rarely have to wear ironed/dressy clothes, I need little easily-accessible closet space. So, I use this closet and hubby used the larger closet in our shared office, one door down. I use a closet in the basement for fancy dresses and off-season clothes.

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It is Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) replacement week at our house. Yay! We are replacing our broken system with one that is 1.75 times as large (so we can provide some heat to the basement) and twice (or more) as energy efficient as the 12ish year old dinosuar we had that could only run on emergency heat. Specs for the new system for those so inclined: 2.5 tons, 15.75 SEER, 13.00 EER, 8.50 HSPF

We looked into a geothermal system, but the just the drilling cost, not even including the actual system itself, was 1.5 times the cost of upgrading our electric system. Maybe in a decade or so when we have to replace this system there will be even better and affordable options for us, but for now we’re sticking with electric.

We’ve been patiently waiting for just the right time to get the new system and the stars finally aligned to give us maximum discounts:

  • Comparison Shopping- We got quotes from four companies to really get an idea of costs, options, etc.
  • “More for the Money” Negotiation – We asked the two companies with the best prices to give us a bigger system for the same price so we could eventually heat the basement (hubby will do the ventilation work himself down the road)
  • “Match Competitors” Negotiation- We asked the cheapest company (who was now offering us the larger system for the same price) to match the warranty length of the competitors (bringing it from two years to five years). They said yes!
  • Vendor Coupon- Hubby found a coupon online for the vendor knocking off another $200
  • Manufacturer’s Rebate- The system manufacturer is offering a $350 rebate right now
  • Cash/Check Discount- Accepting credit cards costs vendors money. Because we can pay with a check the HVAC company knocked off 2%. This is a great tip for many things that could be financed. We got 10% off our bedroom furniture by not financing.
  • Federal Tax Rebate- We’ll get $1,500 back next April. See details on qualifying products here.
  • Virginia State Tax Rebate- The latest incarnation of this program began on April 28. We’ll get $300 back. (Here is the complete list: Heat Pump – $300 Natural Gas Furnace – $250 Tankless Natural Gas Water Heater – $225 Clothes Washer – $75 Refrigerator – $60 Storage Natural Gas Water Heater – $35 ) Make sure your product meets the efficiency requirements! Not in Virginia? Check to see what your state is offering. The feds gave money to each state.

Total savings (once we get back the rebate and credits): 40%

Bonus: Programmable Thermostat! The old system could not sync with a programmable thermostat, something that we had loved in the condo. I am so excited to have one again with the new system.


Living Room Curtains

I love the large picture window in our living room and have been searching for just the right thing to use as a covering without breaking the bank.

First up–hardware to hang curtains. The house came with wooden brackets that were simple and unobtrusive. They were filthy, but usable, so I cleaned and painted them with trim paint (all trim in the house is Olympic Zero VOC, Ultra-White). We bought a super-long wooden rod at Lowes and painted it with trim paint. Total cost: about $13. Going basic with the hardware allows us to spend more money on the actual curtains—they thing that we want to be fun and stand out. At some point, I might find a way to spruce up the rod once we get the perfect curtains in there. But, for now they are a blank slate.

I thought about making my own curtains and went through loads of fabric books from a local store, but the ones I like best were over $40 a yard. No way! So, found these cuties on JCPenney’s website for a mere $17.99 per panel (the price has since gone up) plus I had a coupon. I wasn’t sure if the Light Jadestone colors were a match, so I picked them up at the store where they they were about double the cost—boo! I decided to take them home anyway and see them in the room. The verdict: we need four panels, 84 inches is too short, I hate the grommet top, when the sun shines through them they look orange and striped. But, the colors are good in the space and they add whimsy to the room, which I am totally craving. Our solution: order the too-long 95-inch curtains and sew them into pocket-top panels, hiding the grommets. I’ll look for neutral sheets at yard sales to create a liner for them to avoid the sun/strip issue.

The curtains are ordered (they were back-ordered for a few weeks, now I see it is up to a few months for new orders), yard sale season is coming to find the sheets, and the total cost should come in at about $80, which is not cheap, but is a lot better than $120+ with the stress of sewing uber-expensive material. Could I go cheaper? Probably. But, this seems to be a happy medium of cost, ease, style, and buying new when it fits the bill but incorporating used items as much as possible (rather than buying new sheets or new liner fabric).

Our cheap rod (the grommet top just looks goofy to me) plus the too-short curtains with weird stripes in the sun.

But see the potential for cuteness? I love the rug/curtain color combo.


Last Saturday I was thrilled to be featured on one of my favorite sites, The DIY Showoff. I now get to add this super-cute badge to my blog!

It was great to get an outside reminder of how far we’ve come on this house. Though I try to always see myself as a “have” rather than a “have not,” it is easy to get bogged down and lose sight of progress. So, yay for taking the house from ick city to a place we live and (mostly) like, in only four months. Yay that it has been over a month since we’ve seen a cockroach; the living room, dining room, hallway, and bathroom are painted; the office is 3/4 painted and the kitchen cabinet doors are 1/10 painted; our roof didn’t leak when we had all of the snow on it last month; we didn’t have any water problems even when all of the snow melted; and yay for all of that cleaning that kept on going, and going, and going but now in much of the house you’d never know about the previous squalor.

Now onto some big things facing us:

  • HVAC system is only partially operational and needs mega help. We can replace just the the dead (and not reparable) condenser unit with an new, but older model that is compatible with the 12-year-old air handler: affordable price, but who knows how long it will last, and it won’t be energy efficient. Or we can replace both parts of the system for three times the cost, but we’ll get some back at tax time and will have a cheaper electric bill. Our basement is not heated and neither of these plans include heating for the basement, but today one of the companies we are shopping offered us a system powerful enough to heat the basement at no extra cost if we go with them. Hubby would have to do the basement ventilation himself, but maybe we can get that negotiated in, too. It is tough to pony up the money, but in the land of counting our blessings, yay for that $8,000 first time home buyer credit that we never factored into our budget–until now.

  • Bathroom ceiling is falling apart and must be replaced. It was trashed from an old leak when we moved in, but fresh paint kept in decent for a few more months. Then, water started leaking in through the ventilation fan and it started crumbling. The leak is fixed, but the ceiling still needs to be replaced.

Please ceiling, don’t get my cute shower curtain dirty!

View from inside the shower

  • The sump pump and pit need a total overhaul. Due to poor design, the pit cannot fully drain so gnat larvae have taken up residence. We have the actual gnats controlled with a mosquito dunk (also great for rain barrels and other standing water), but the larvae don’t seem to be effected. The previous owners pumped their kitchen and laundry wastewater through the sump pump and into the backyard, so the pit is just really gross, despite me diving into it and scrubbing multiple times (shudder). The pump itself no longer turns on automatically, so we have to check on it and manually lift up the float.

Sump pump on inspection day with kitchen & laundry wastewater flowing through it.

Cleaned up and wastewater pipe closed off. The brown powdery stuff is a natural enzymatic cleaner designed to clean septic systems and eat away grease.

Hubby and I are both taking a week off from work in April to do stuff around the house. It will be great to see how much we can get done. Here’s hoping for good weather! We will be having an open house/my birthday/thank you to the army of volunteers who helped us party in May.

P.S. If you are thinking about buying a home, please, PLEASE make sure you have a hearty amount in savings for the unexpected (separate money from an unemployment emergency fund). Our HVAC passed inspection, and yet here we are. We do have a home warranty, but they denied both our claim and our appeal. And, had they approved our claim, they would’ve only kicked in $1,500 before reaching the maximum per-claim amount. We knew that this house had many problems, but for every known problem–with any house, not just foreclosures–there are always more things that are unseen.


These gold, brown, and clear baubles came in a flower arrangement that hubby’s office sent us when we got the house. I just loved them and thought that they would go with our retro gold living room decorations, so I set them aside figuring that someday I could put them to good use. Enter this little candle holder that I received as a Christmas gift that I liked, but with just a candle in it seemed kind of plain. After having both things around for months, suddenly inspiration hit. 2 minutes of futzing and voila!

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Mold Abatement in the Basement

Mold can be serious business, but I think that the hysteria about it enters the realm of being big business. Mold education is always a more effective first step than panic. Because the house we bought has some moisture issues, I looked into educating myself about mold and moisture problems and found some excellent resources that helped me feel very good about managing things in our new place.

First, I read A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home, a PDF from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Then I took an online mini-course: Introduction to Mold and Mold Remediation for Environmental and Public Health Professionals from the EPA. I was able to complete all 9 chapters and all of the tests in one night. (This course is for general education, and is not a certification.) The EPA also has this great chart for cleaning. Home Depot and others sell mold kits, but proceed with caution. Mere traces of mold spores are expected; mold is all around us outside. Indoor mold growth (beyond a small, normal amount like in the fridge or bathroom) is really the problem.

Many people think that bleach is the default mold cleaner, but this is not correct. While bleach is an effective mold killer on non-porous surfaces, it is not effective on porous surfaces. In other words, it will kill mold on a tile floor, but unless your grout is sealed that makes part of your floor porous. Drywall is also porous. I don’t think bleach is best for anything ever so I wouldn’t even consider it for non-porous surfaces. Hubby uses it to clean his home brewing supplies and won’t change his ways, but I personally don’t ever use it. Here is some more info on bleach & mold and why bleach is not the best choice.

So, with bleach out as an option, what is left? Here are the steps that we took:

  1. Find the cause of the moisture and abate it You will just have to keep repeating the following steps if you don’t take care of the problem. Our problems were: ineffective gutters dumping water on the foundation of the house, an against-code plumbing system creating huge amounts of moisture, and previous owners heating the basement via dryer venting, which is moist heat.
  2. Get your gear on Use the EPA’s cleaning chart (linked above) to assess the gear that you need. For our level of mold I wore rubber gloves, a mask, and glasses. I also elected to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt that would be washed right away.
  3. Give a topical cleaning The vinegar spray I’ve mentioned in the past is good for light mildew (like in the bathroom). So first we sprayed and wiped the walls with that: Scented Vinegar Spray: 1t borax, 1T shaved dry castile soap, 1/8c vinegar, 2c hot water, 5-10 drops of essential oils (Green Clean p.136). I suggest making half of the oil drops Tea Tree Oil since it has natural antiseptic properties.
  4. Kill the mold and clean topically again I made blend of hot water (1/2 gal), vinegar (1/2 gal), and borax (1 cup)* and wiped that on the wall with a sponge and let it sit for 30 minutes. Don’t be afraid to get things really wet (provided it is warm and dry enough in the room for it to dry within several hours.) Then I reapplied and waited for another 30 minutes. Then I wiped one last time with just hot water, really scrubbing this last time. I used a wet/dry shop vacuum to dry up floor. *I made smaller batches that that, but for simplicity’s sake I’ve provided the recipe in a 1 gallon quantity. I used my green cleaning books along with this site to devise that solution and timeline.
  5. Seal the wall and cover the stains Mold can stain. Even if you’ve removed and killed the mold, you may still have staining. So, it is time to cover that up and seal the wall. We used this primer-sealer.

    About primer: zero VOC primers are easy to find, zero VOC primer-sealers are not. Zinsser makes a zero VOC primer-sealer option, but it is not available in my area, so we went with the conventional kind that I linked to. Zinnser’s conventional latex primer-sealer actually is low VOC, they just don’t label themselves as such. (Most latex paints are low VOC but are not labeled as such. Read this to learn more about what qualifies as low VOC and then check the MSDS sheet for your favorite paint. Beware, however, of oil-based paints labeled as low VOC. A low VOC oil-based paint can have about three times the amount of VOCs as a conventional latex paint. I learned that the hard way. We bought 5 gallons of oil-based, low VOC Kilz primer-sealer. After using it for a weekend and it stinking up the place, we switched to the Zinsser and sold the Kilz on Craiglist. I can’t believe I made that mistake and got hoodwinked into using something because of the label instead of reading the MSDS.

The step I didn’t mention, because we didn’t do it, is removal. Also wearing the proper protective gear, removing pieces of flooring, drywall, etc. is certainly an option—and the best option in some cases. We looked at one house and the basement had black, moldy slime that had grown up from the floors, onto the walls, and up as high as the light switches. That was not the house for us! That house needed every single thing removed from the basement.

We are at about 3 months out and none of the mildew has returned! On to the pictures…

Before–Large Room in Basement
Mildew is primarily from the gutters not working and thus water collecting near the house. Plus we’ve got general filth and ickiness down there. In these pictures, brownish spots are filth, blackish spots are mold. The room has much more grime that it does mold. But, it still has to be dealt with.

After Mold Remediation
Walls: after steps described above. Floor: cleaned with Murphy’s Oil Soap and my mother-in-law’s amazing floor electric scrubber. The goal was to get it clean enough for the movers to put down boxes. At some point, all of the flooring in the basement will be replaced. I would like to do it soon, but we have bigger priorities and an area rug can help cover it up.

Before–Other side of the big room in the basement (leads to the second kitchen which is a scary place that we have only done demo work in)

After Mold Remediation
(The stairs are very ugly because of chipped paint. I just brought home floor paint samples to decide on for painting them. Yay!)

Before: Other view of the big room and the craft closet

Before: Close up of the craft closet. This is the worst mold in the house. We’d seen much, much worse in other houses so we weren’t daunted by this. But, it is certainly was enough to indicate a water problem and enough to warrant careful abatement. The mold here is from toilet leak in the bathroom on other side of wall that went on for so long and was extreme that the moisture rotted the bathroom subflooring and rusted everything metal nearby. Someday I’ll share those scary pictures.

Craft closet after mold remediation (including priming)

Unpacking in the craft closet

Unpacking in the big room. The basement is not heated, so we haven’t done much down there but unpack some things and make sure that everything is up on blocks and nothing touches the walls until we make it through a few more months with no moisture problems. So far, so good! In theory, we could play video games down there now (that is what it is set up for) but it is too cold.

Come summer, hopefully it will feel refreshing down there and we’ll start some real work.