My Projects

Joanna and Chip Gaines begin their hit show Fixer Upper on HGTV each week with that question.  I love their show and others which depict people taking on a fixer upper property and making it into something wonderful.  You might say I’m addicted!

taking on a fixer upper
Photo by slc

So, to answer the question, “Do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?”  My answer is yes, I do!  This week I successfully negotiated a contract on a fixer upper in the mountains about 40 minutes from my home.

The original cabin with a stone fireplace was built in 1938.  It is a one room structure built on a stone foundation.  In 1989, former owners crudely built an attached two-story addition to the cabin.  This addition was not permitted and later deteriorated beyond livability.  The cabin has electricity but no running water or septic.  It has a primitive outhouse up the hill for the owner’s convenience.

So why am I buying this property?

First, I can afford it and it is a good investment.  The property was listed “as is” for $98,900.  I offered $85,000 and the sellers accepted.  Other fixer uppers we have looked at have been listed around $200,000 with major work needed. Mountain properties in the area typically go for $120,000 and up for smaller lots and cabins.  Once I fix this property up as now planned, we could probably list it for over $200,000.  The financial risk of taking on a fixer upper at this price is fairly minimal.

Second, it could become a source of income.  I am hopeful demolition, rebuilding and restoration will be completed by about August 1st next year.  At that time, I would like to offer it as a Vacation Rental By Owner, VRBO.  The property is near the Estes Park area and I would market it to people who are looking for a quiet place in the woods for their short-term stay.

taking on a fixer upper
photo by slc

Next, the thought of being the general contractor on this project is exciting.  I have already learned a lot from visiting with the planners at the county building department, a structural engineer and visiting websites on codes, permits and even sealed vaults for septic.   Designing the new structure will probably be my favorite part of the process.  I have already drawn a rough sketch of the proposed layout of the new addition.  Fun stuff!

Lastly, I have always (since about seventh grade) wanted a home in the woods.  Since moving to Colorado over 20 years ago I have wanted a  cabin in the mountains.  Since I have a passion for taking on a fixer upper and I have always wanted a cabin in the woods, this one is a pretty good fit.

So how can I buy this property if I’m retired and living on a fairly fixed income?

The area in which I live has seen a tremendous increase in property values over the past two years.  My current home has appreciated in value, therefore my equity has also grown.  This equity and my great credit helped me qualify for a Home Equity Line Of Credit, HELOC, to buy and fix up the cabin with cash. Home loan interest rates are still relatively low so payments will be manageable.

taking on a fixer upper
Photo by slc

Since I work part-time as a substitute teacher my schedule is pretty flexible and I will have the time for this project. This fall the plan is to demolish the unpermitted addition, clean up the land, repair the stone foundation and fireplace, and maybe reroof the original cabin.  The demo will leave an opening to the main cabin so that will also need to be closed up for the winter.

God has provided me the opportunity of taking on a fixer upper for personal growth and it will be by faith that I pursue this dream.  Along with guts!

Do you have what it takes?

I’d love to hear if you have ever taken on a fixer upper.  Please leave your story and/or comments.

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Vanity area before (Photo by slc)
Shower area before (Photo by slc)

2016 Bathroom Remodel

Reasons for bathroom remodel: tub reglazed by previous owner made it too slick to stand in safely, cracked tile floor grout, granite tile counter, short toilet, old/moldy tub/shower, outdated shower fixtures, short shower head, one unnecessary doorway and hallway, popcorn ceiling, poorly patched walls

Initial Budget:  $7,000        Actual:  $10,500

I started this six-week remodel project by removing the popcorn ceiling texture and the shower door enclosure. I used a small garden sprayer to apply water to the ceiling and then scraped the popcorn off.  It was messy but easy. Taking off the shower door was also an easy process.  I saved all the parts and put it up for sale on Craigslist after the Habitat for Humanity Restore turned down the donation.  No takers on Craigslist so I ended up putting it in the landfill. Bummer!

Old tub full of tile & drywall (Photo by slc)

Next, I put blue tape over the old bathtub drain so I wouldn’t clog it up with tile and dust.  Then I put on my safety glasses and removed the tile surround and drywall (no cement board behind the tile) by using a short-handled sledge-hammer.  Removing the tile became a three Band-aid job because I didn’t wear gloves.  I would recommend you wear gloves when removing tile.  The tile went into the tub so it was pretty easy to clean up.  I just transferred the broken tile and dust to buckets.  Luckily, in Loveland, Colorado, where I live, homeowners are encouraged to recycle ceramic tile so that is what I did at no extra cost.

I hired a licensed plumber who removed/recycled the tub and the sink and then he installed the new tub, the vanity top, the new toilet and replaced all the existing bathroom fixtures with the exception of the sink faucet which we reused.  A carpenter widened one doorway, moved a light switch, closed off another doorway, removed the granite tile countertop, skim coated the walls and two large skylight areas, retextured walls and skylight areas, and painted the two skylight areas. He also put up the cement board, installed the niche, and tiled the tub/shower surround.

Large tile going around niche & new soaker tub (Photo by slc)

After removing the popcorn ceiling, the shower doors and tile, I removed the door trim on two doorways, removed the existing tile floor which was installed over the original laminate flooring, removed the wood flooring in a small hallway which was now becoming part of the bathroom, removed the toilet and took it to the recycling center.  I also selected new 12″ x 36″ shower tile (River Marble, “River Rapids”), 6″ x 36″ tile flooring (Natural Timber, “Whitewash” from Lowes’s), a white onyx vanity top,  Hydro 60″ x 32″ soaker tub, Delta Leland Venetian bronze tub/shower fixtures including rubbed bronze handshower and rain shower head, a new light fixture and mirror, Behr paint (“Almond Wisp”), comfort height toilet, new baseboards, and a new unfinished vanity side panel which I stained and installed along with the toilet paper holder.  I applied a primer coat of paint on the ceiling and the walls and later painted the finish coat.

Wood-look tile floor (Photo by slc)

I installed the new wood-look tile floor.  It took a lot of time to lay it out and I think it turned out nicely for my first time installing a ceramic tile floor.  I purchased a tile cutting saw to use on the fireplace surround I completed months before this project so I didn’t have to buy one for this project.  It worked beautifully on the floor tile. The grouting took a little practice and I think I wiped out too much of it on the first day, but did a better job on the second day.  Next, I installed the baseboards.  I had to redo a couple of them but overall, it went smoothly using the chop saw I already had.

Bathroom after remodel (Photo by slc)

Every time I walk into my newly remodeled bathroom, I can’t believe the transformation and the amount of money I spent!  It was well worth it though and I believe it adds value to my home.  I would not change a thing.

Note:  The shelf above the toilet is a drawer from a late 19th century dresser I salvaged from a neighbor’s dumpster.  I reused the existing vanity and sink faucet. Everything else is new.

Important safety tips:  Always wear gloves and safety glasses! Also in the case of an emergency, keep your cell phone close by (I keep mine in my pocket) if you work alone like I do.

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My First Major Retirement/Remodeling Project–You Can Do This! (2015)

When I purchased my home in 2013 I did so knowing I would have some remodeling projects to do.  My first major retirement/remodeling project was changing the 1977 fireplace surround and popcorn ceiling in my family room. Below is the before picture taken by the seller’s realtor…


My son-in-law, who lives about 25 miles away, and I removed the painted tile fireplace surround and the painted cedar wood slats above it right after I moved in.  We, or should I say he, removed the side box for wood storage and the drywall above it (with my permission). Then it stayed that way, open studs and all, for about two years.

I began the project by stripping the paint from the wooden beams on the ceiling.  This took a bit of time and elbow grease.  A lot of the white paint was embedded in the grain of the wood.  After several coats of Citristrip stripping gel, a scraper and a nail, it was ready to be stained the original dark walnut color.  I filled the beam joints next to the walls with sealant (I used brown DAP window, door and trim sealant).

Next, my son-in-law hung drywall and cement board for me.  We only had to add a bit of framing as we kept the original fireplace framing.  Then I taped, mudded and textured the new drywall with all-purpose joint compound and a spray can of knockdown.  I used knockdown in the past to help a friend patch some walls.  Easy enough. Painting was next…I have painting experience and I enjoy it.  It makes such a difference right away.

Tiling the fireplace surround was next.  I had a little experience with tiling as I had tiled a bathtub surround at a previous home I owned.  I used a Lowe’s natural stone product, Picasso by Allen & Roth.  It was a beige mosaic wall tile that came in 12″x12″ sheets.  I purchased a wet tile saw cutter so this was my first experience using one.  I am pretty much afraid of saws but became pretty comfortable after several tile cuts, and I didn’t lose any fingers!

The grouting I have to admit was really difficult.  Because the tile is natural with lots of pits and crevices, I knew I couldn’t grout it the normal way.  Normally you put it on in big globs and smooth it across the tiles.  If I applied it that way the grout would fill the natural holes.  So instead I thought I would be clever and pipe in the grout with a grout piping bag which you can get at Lowe’s or Home Depot.  They look a lot like one you would use to decorate cakes.  However, the grout was too stiff and I was too weak to push the grout out of the bag.  Plan B: cover the major holes with blue painter’s tape and then carefully fill the gaps between the tiles with grout using a trowel and then the float.  This took an amazing amount of time and patience, but it worked.  When I was done I took off the blue tape and wiped off the grout residue from the tiles.  I finished off the edges with a rounded stone “pencil liner.”

I purchased a knotty alder wood plank and stained it the same dark walnut color as the beams.  My wonderful son-in-law came back over to help me make a floating mantel.  After a bit of measuring so Christmas stockings could hang above the fire and nailing it in place, it looked great.

fireplace surround (photo by slc)

The ceilings in this family room were originally popcorn. The previous owner patched some sections when he took down a wall so it really needed to be covered in my opinion. I love the look of wood ceilings so I bought some 3/4″ tongue and groove knotty pine from Home Depot and went to town staining it with Watco Natural Danish Oil.  I also called in an electrician to redo some of the wiring to add some light over the fireplace and to add a ceiling fan.

Then, I called in my son-in-law again (nice to have one willing to help) and we nailed the tongue and groove planks to the popcorn ceilings.  We finished the edges with 1″x2″ pine which I stained the same color as the tongue and groove pine.  The beams I stained a dark walnut color so the natural stain on the pine was a nice contrast.  My son-in-law installed the lights and the fan.

After (photo by slc)

<<<<This is the finished look.  A warmer feel and a great place to open gifts and roast marshmallows with the grandkids this past Christmas!  My son-in-law was assisting!

Now, I just need a 55″ television!


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