Sunday, August 5, 2007

In Which I Finally Face Down the Baseboards

And Other Minor Domestic Catastrophes

We got off to a slow start this weekend, but we got a fair amount of outstanding chores done. We tentatively nailed the first pieces of baseboard to the wall in the dining room, put another coat of paint on the master bathroom door, painted and reinstalled the AC vents, and did some much-needed organizing in the study.

The AC Vents
That doesn't actually sound like that much, but as ever, the Quest was beset by complications and setbacks. The triumph is in the rising above, not so much in the actual achievement. The painting of the AC ceiling vents, for example, was made difficult several times over.

1) We had uninstalled 7 vents back in March during the wild flurry of painting, 5 of which I tracked to 3 different locations; the remaining two are still AWOL.
2) Only 1 of those vents had any screws with it.
3) I decided to use this inexpensive little product that turns your normal paint into spray paint, hoping to avoid a repeat of the shutter-painting nightmare that so traumatized me back in May. So of course, the trauma just took a different form. I bought two cartridges--one for the tub epoxy and one for the vents. First the one didn't work, then the other didn't work. Then I tried the first one again and it still didn't work. So I played around with the second one, pulling out the plastic pipe, twisting the nozzle, twisting the base, and it still didn't work. Finally, I put the first one back on with the pipe from the second one--and it worked! Why? I don't know!

Evil paint sprayer by Preval

Naturally, when I went back to apply a second coat, both cartridges utterly refused to play. I tried all the tricks from the first go round to no avail. So our air vents only have 1 coat of paint--so sue us. From the ground, they look fine. Before I try to epoxy the tubs, I'm going to look for another brand of sprayer. This is much too complex to mess with when trapped in a tiny room with wickedly toxic brain cell-killing fumes.

Interestingly, the struggled didn't end with the painting. Screwing the darn things back in was equally vexing. I ran to Ace (fortunately, only about 5 blocks from our house--we've saved a lot of money in gas thanks to that Ace) to get some replacement screws (FYI, air vents require "sheet metal screws." Word to the wise, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation). I guess they were either fractionally fatter or slightly longer than the originals, because I actually couldn't get the little beasts in, and it took Matt a good 45 minutes to handle the 4 vents he ended up working on. (I did do the master bath all by myself--go Melanie! That was the one with the original screws, and they twirled right into place, easy as pie.) He kept trying different screwdrivers, a drill, a ratchet with a screwdriver attachment (which he later threw out in a fit of fury--apparently, it was nowhere near capable of the project with which it found itself tasked). The tools mostly let him down--I think it was his sheer determination, liberally greased with sweat, that ultimately forced the screws to submit.

So that was fun.

The Baseboards
Then we turned our attentions to the baseboards, which had just this morning received their final coat of paint. Okay. This is slightly complex. We were putting down baseboards to span the junction of our kitchen and our dining room. Now, the kitchen has old-style baseboards, like the living room. About 9 inches tall, nailed directly to the studs, with the wallboards resting on top of the baseboards, which makes the ~3/4" baseboards appear to be about 1/4" thick.

The dining room, on the other hand, has wallboard (almost) all the way down to the floor. It had cheap, modern plywood baseboards that were only 5" tall. We needed to replace the kitchen baseboard because we had torn it up when we attempted to remove it for the benefit of the tile guys. And because of the gaping hole, we needed to go with something that was at least 9" tall. We wanted the dining room to match the kitchen, since they're joined, but the dining room is ~1" lower than the kitchen and has walls all the way down.

Are you with me so far? Solid and lower in the dining room; big gaping hole and 1" higher in the kitchen.

So we wanted to stick the new baseboards below the level of the kitchen tile so that it would have an unbroken profile from the kitchen to the dining room, despite the 1" step. However, we had ended up leaving the baseboard in place during the tiling once we saw that there was nothing but a void behind it--we knew it would be a long time before we'd get to the baseboards, and we didn't want varmints strolling into the kitchen through the hole. Consequently, the tile guys tiled in the baseboards.

So in order to have level baseboards, we had to dig out the pieces of baseboards from below the level of the tile.

We weren't really sure what the approved tool is for this kind of work, so we approached the job with an enthusiastic eclecticism: we had two hammers, a crowbar, a chisel, a stout flathead screwdriver (the same that we used for prying up the ugly tiles in the bathroom), a power screwdriver/drill, and a crowbar.

I can now conclusively report that none of these was the right tool for the job. I drilled little holes in lines to try to weaken the board; Matt chipped into it with the screwdriver, I nibbled away at tiny sections with the crowbar... Progress was glacial. We hacked and banged and pried for about 45 minutes on a 7-foot section before we finally prised the last bit of baseboard out of the floor.

And, of course, crowning irony, when we dropped the board into our painstakingly carved-out trench, it was too short to cover all of the hole.

So we're going to have a drop-off in baseboard height after all at the junction of the kitchen and dining room. We also need to buy a different kind of nails--the ones we have that are long enough have great big honking heads. In addition, the wall flexes in slightly at the juncture, which means that the dining room baseboard is both lower and more protuberant than the kitchen baseboard. We want to ease that transition with some quarter round or similar. Uf. Always with the complications.

Everything Else
On a happier side, we roundup'd the bermudagrass in our flower beds (that environmentally friendly approach that we tried with the plastic didn't work for crap. There were a couple of patches of very lightly scalded leaf tips, and that's it. It was time to bring in the chemicals.) Mulch didn't work, plastic didn't work, hoeing didn't work--but I know roundup will take the little stinkers out, and that's wonderfully satisfying.

We also staked several of our baby trees, which have been listing drunkenly for the past month and a half. Matt thinks they would have righted themselves with time, but I was afraid they'd just harden in a depressed slouch.

And I touched up the "Nurtria" paint in the kitchen and dining room. Looks much better now that all the scratches and scuffs from swirling the furniture around for the past two months have been covered.

So, no project really completed, but at least measurable progress on several fronts. And I don't think I'll be afraid of baseboards again. Compared to the misery of slowly chipping tiny shard of baseboards out of my floor, nothing else the house can come up with in the way of baseboards can be much of a challenge.

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