Welcome To Our Little Big House On The Prairie

Sunday, July 31, 2011


I know I sound like we haven't done anything to this house at all.  Well, that's not necessarily true.  Its just that all the stuff that has gotten done, isn't the cool stuff.  Its the things that you have to do.  Where's the fun in that, I ask ya?

Here's all the boring stuff we've accomplished:

1.  Installed a boiler system.  

Uninsulated house + 2,400 heated square feet + Iowa winters = $$$

We installed this Heatmor boiler system in Fall 2008.  Being the hubs has a tree service, we have a pretty much unlimited supply of wood.  Now we no longer have $500/month propane bills.  And that was 3 years ago.  I would hate to know the cost of propane now.  We The hubs loads it twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening during the winter.  It heats our house and our water.  The only thing I would change is its location.  I was bound and determined not to have a monstrous pile of wood right outside our house, so I insisted it be installed in farthest point of the back yard, next to the barn.  Yeah, bad stupid idea.  Even on normal cold winter day, its terrible having to walk out that far to load it.  During one of the epic blizzards we get usually two or three times a winter, its just plain dangerous having to go out that far.  But, we love it.  It keeps the house toasty warm and even in the coldest spells, we can have the heat cranked as high as we want it.  It was well worth the investment and it'll be paid for in the money we've saved on propane by the end of next year.  I highly recommend getting a boiler.

2.  Applied urethane insulation on the exterior of the basement.

One of the first things we did was have urethan insulation sprayed on the exterior of the basement.  Not knowing all the technical jargon to explain it, it looks like yellow gook that they spray on and then it expands filling all the cracks and holes that develop overtime in old basements.  The rocks that make up our basement were quarried from the field across the street.  After over a hundred years of weathering and the house settling, we had some nice size cracks.  Not to mention it just looked nasty.  They sprayed urethane insulation on and then covered it with fine granules for a finished look.  Not only does it look a whole lot better, it also protects the basement from wind driven rain and snow, it keeps our basement warmer, and acts as a deterrent for mice and insects.  A really good investment.

If you live in or around Waterloo, Iowa, I highly recommend contacting  Weber Urethane.  They really do great work at a reasonable price.  



3.  Replaced all the windows in the house.  

Every.  Single.  One.  That would be 28 replacement windows, including five picture windows, as well as 8 new construction windows for the cupola and center dormer at the top of the house.  Somewhere overtime, someone took out and sided over the windows on the 3rd floor.



Unfortunately, the slate siding could not be easily taken off and replaced.  In fact, they had to break it off.  Now we're left with unsightly exposed lap board until we can afford to insulate and side this monstrosity.  But I luh-ove the new windows on the 3rd floor.  Its super cool to go up there during a nighttime thunderstorm and look at the lightening - and a little spooky.

There's also a lesson in this.  Even though we are self-employed and we always tell people you get what you pay for when we're giving bids, we didn't heed our own advice.  We went with the contractor with the lowest bid and well, we got what we paid for.  Its been almost 3 years since he installed the windows and he still has not come back to trim out any of the windows, so I'm dealing with exposed 2x4s on five picture windows.  Could we trim them out ourselves?  Probably.  But if you've paid someone for something, wouldn't you expect them to finish the job?  I guess that's where I screwed up.  I paid him before he completely finished the job, trusting him to come back.  He also never put the wrap on the exterior part of the windows.  We've made multiple phone calls in the last two and a half years and have heard promises to come back that the contractor never kept.  Something tells me we might as well suck it up and do it ourselves.  Great.

4.   Installed a 85 gallon Marathon hot water heater.  

Even with seven people taking a bath, we'll never run out of hot water.  

We don't get our electricity through an electric company, instead we're part of a rural electric cooperative.  At the time we bought our house, our REC was offering instant customer rebates if you installed a Marathon hot water heater in your home.  

Regular Price:  $915.00
Instant Rebate Amount:  $516.00
REC Member Cost:  $399.00

With savings like that, why not get a big one?

5.  Installed a Hellenbrand Water Softener.

6.  Installed Central Air Conditioning.

Ahhhhh....  Air conditioning.  How often do you take yours for granted?  I did too.  When I had it before, that is.  I grew up in the south.  Pretty much every house has an air conditioner, so I never really thought too much about one.  Its just one of those things in life that you don't really pay much attention to - kind of like breathing.  LOL  And then when you don't have one...  Oh.  My.  God.  We have gone four years with window units in our bedrooms only.  During heat waves, we would literally hibernate in our bedrooms.  Finally, two weeks ago, we had central air installed.  Oh my.  It's wonderful!  

Unfortunately, I can't give away those windows units yet.  Since we're dealing with an old house here, we can only have central air in the downstairs of the house.  There are no air return vents installed in the upstairs and that was one expense we just weren't prepared to pay for during this luh-ovely economy.  So, for now its central air downstairs with window units upstairs until we can have split-minis installed.  But I am still so thankful for it - at least until we get our first electricity bill.  :)  However,  I will never take air conditioning for granted again.  Ever.

So, since we've now pretty much done everything that is a necessity, now we can get to the fun stuff.  You know like redoing the hardwood floors, installing tile, painting, decorating...  The siding is going to have to wait until this economy improves.  Although the hubs says that we might be able to at least get the siding off and the house wrap on before the snow flies.  I'll have a pink house for Christmas!  LOL!  We only pay for things as we can afford them, so it's a long, slow process.  But we'd rather do it that way than have a mountain of debt.  

For now, I'm just excited that we can get things moving on the interior.  Now I'm getting pumped up!  We've already started on Little Miss's room and while we're waiting on the drywall compound to set, I'm starting to do some work in the boys' room.  I'm so looking forward to see all the transformations begin!

Tomorrow I'll post pictures of what we've done so far.  Its going to be a top to bottom transformation!  

Until tomorrow...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Man's Got To Do...

what a man's got to do.

The hubs is a man of the outdoors.  Indoors...  Ehhh, not so much.  We own our own tree company, so we have tons of equipment to get the job done on the yard.  When we initially looked at the house, we knew that the yard was going to be a GINORMOUS undertaking.  There was literally a small barn hidden under weeds and brush that were over head high that we didn't even know was on the property!  The previous owners had let the thicket and tall grass that grows like mad during Iowa summers completely encroach on all the boundaries of the property.  And just to make things interesting, there was piles of miscellaneous junk here and there throughout the entire acreage.  I wish I had taken more pictures of just what we dealt with so y'all could see a change, but our yard is so beautiful now.  

Just so y'all don't think that we're a complete bunch of slackers that haven't done anything in the last few years, here's some before and afters of the wonders the hubs worked on our yard.

(Sorry for the quality...  It was off the real estate flyer.)


It's from a different angle, but check out all the lilies.  
Believe it or not, they grow wild here.


No corn field!  We stopped renting to the farmer who was planting it.  
Now we have a HUGE  area for the kids to play!  Football, anyone?


Here's the barn I was telling you about.  
Couldn't even see it for weeds and trees.

So, needless to say, we've done A LOT outside, as far as the yard, but very little to the inside.  And we still have that hideous blue siding.  YUCK!  And no landscaping around the house because we can't do that until we do the siding.  

Oh well, at least we have beautiful wild flowers.  :)

Introducing Our Little Big House

This is our home.  Well, this is what our home used to look like back in the early 1900s.  Beautiful, yes?  It was called, "The Mansion on the Hill" and according to historical records was the talk of the county.  Owned by Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Wilson, with its 33 windows, wrap around front porch, leaded and frosted glass windows and ornate interior trim, I imagine it was.  At just over 2400 square feet, 3300 if you count the third floor, I'm sure people came from miles around to watch the progress for the 2 years that it took to build it.  It was quite the house for 1905.

This is our home in 2007 when we bought it.  I know, right?  What was someone thinking to tear off all that beautiful detailing, to tear off the porch, and to install that HIDEOUS slate sliding?!  And then to paint it that revolting color of Carolina Blue!  Talk about adding insult to injury!  However, the house's interior had something to work with.  Instead of telling you why we fell in love with it, let me show you...

Before we moved in:

Back Porch
Screams for love, doesn't it?
Perk:  Perfect for a mudroom with all our kiddos!

 Crappy Cheap paint, cabinets, countertops, 
and fake tile flooring, tacky backsplash...
Perk:  Lots of room! 

Living Room
Be still my heart!
Hardwood floors, original trim and frosted glass...
Perk:  Possibilities!

More glorious hardwood floors and original trim!
The front door has got to go though!  Hello 1950's!
Perk:  Who can say they actually have a PARLOR?!
Did you notice the pocket doors?

Dining Room
Okay, so the idiots owners that lived here before us painted the wood floors.  It was my understanding that she actually had a braided rug painted on the floor.  Unfortunately she used cheap-o paint to paint the floors and it immediately came off everytime you scooted back your chair at the table.
Perk:  They can be stripped and refinished.

Guest Bathroom
Good use of space under the stairwell.
The only room I don't want to do anything to.

The people that lived here seriously had a thing for blue.  Blue house, blue walls, blue curtains, blue borders, blue wallpaper...  
See a trend here?
Perk:  Screams for a chandelier, doesn't it?

Bedroom #1
White carpet with six kids?  Not going to be white for long.
Perk:  Huge for a 3rd bedroom, lots of light from 2 windows.

Bedroom #2
Makes you want to gag, right?
Perk: Plenty big enough for 4 boys to share.  
I was standing halfway in the room when I took the pic.  
Love the shape!

Master Bedroom
Don't you love that teeny-tiny closet in the corner?
Perk:  Humongous room with plenty of room for furniture.

Upstairs Bathroom
This was actually a 4th bedroom converted to a bathroom.  See the  disgusting pretty flowered curtain on the closet?  You love?  You're in luck...  It also matches the wall paper on the south wall AND the curtains.  I'll ship them to you for free!
Perk:  Jacuzzi tub and lots of room for improvement!

So, we saw all the potential and bought it for the asking price.  I won't say how much, but on 4.5 acres overlooking wide-open fields, people living on the East and West Coasts would faint at the steal we got.  However, we also had a little lot work to put into it.

So here we are, 4 years later.  Have we accomplished all that we had set out to?  No.  Time, money, kids...  All those little distractions add up and you don't always get the things done that you want to do.

This blog is to get us motivated and keep us on track to do something anything with this house.  And we need your comments and ideas to do it!  Welcome to our chaos!