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Weekend Fixes

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So? How was your Thanksgiving weekend? Did you sit around and eat or catch up on some much needed work around the house? We got to check off some lil bits of renovation here at Casa Reclaimed Home.

Over a year ago, our cats tried to kill us by starting a fire. It was behind an old kitchenette counter from our pied a terre days that we were going to remove anyway. The burnt wall sat that way for, oh, a year. Then we finally took the outlet out and re-sheetrocked.

This weekend we got around to matching the wainscoting in the rest of the room. Ok, so it doesn’t match but we made something much cooler.


We used a couple of old doors for the wainscoting. A DIY tutorial will be posted once the molding is finished and all is patched and painted, but you get the idea. Basically, cut the doors in half and line them up. Bam! There’s your tutorial.

photo 1

Our marble window sill was left half finished exactly two years ago. All that was left to do was to add a piece of molding to the front. Cutting, nailing and gluing the trim took all of 10 minutes after two years of contemplation.

photo 3

BTW, here ya go, in case you missed the tutorial on the window radiator enclosure.

It will probably take another 2 years to fill nail holes and touch up.

Thankful For These Handy Items

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1. Silent Paint Remover. Shaves hours off of paint stripping. It’s not for every job, but a big, flat surface like a door or wainscoting? No other way. The cost of the unit will pay for itself in the money saved from chemicals.

2. Hammer Drill. Small. Light. Makes the work that much more fun and easy.

3. Howard’s Restor-A-Finish. If you don’t know the first thing about restoring wood, no worries. This stuff is magic! Just make sure you match the color.

4. Mohawk Stains. You can pick up Minwax stain in any store, anywhere. It’s like they have a monopoly on stain. But you know what? Minwax sucks. Spend a couple of extra bucks for a good stain. You’re not even spending more because you can do it with fewer coats.

5. Epifanes Rubbed Varnish. Another magical wood sealer. Again, forget Minwax. This over Mohawk will make your wood look a like a pro did it.

6. Shellac Primer. It has the stain and odor blocking properties of oil based primer but dries quicker than latex. Goes on thin and it’s easy to use.

7. Vinegar.  White vinegar cleans everything from windows to brass to wood floors. It’s always handy to have around the house.

8. WD-40. Oh man, what would we do without WD-40? The website claims over 2000 uses for this lubricant. It helped me save some rusted hand tools after Sandy. And for that, I’m thankful.

9. Tin foil and plastic bags. Did you know that scrubbing chrome with tin foil and water will eliminate rust? Well, you do now! Another great use for tin foil is to cover paint strippers such as Peel Away so they won’t dry out. For things like ceiling medallions, a light plastic bag sticks even better.

10. Staple Gun. Dare I say it’s better than duct tape? Of course an air nailer is more useful for renovations, but hey, that’s big and heavy. I can reupholster a chair with a staple gun. I can and I have. Didn’t say it looked great.


Winterize! published on 1 Comment on Winterize!

Get ready for cold weather - winterize your home

Ok, so it’s probably safe to say that summer is over. The days are getting shorter and the temps are dropping into winter range at night. Time to get ready whether you’re a renter or homeowner.

Let’s start with the energy saving tips.

1. Air conditioners out of windows.
2. Align and insulate around windows so there are no drafts.
3. Install exterior door insulation strips or throw a towel down if too lazy to do that.
4. This one is a bigger job but it should be done at some point….Insulate attic crawl spaces and basement ceilings.
5. Take out your winter clothes, fuzzy pj’s and big blankies. If you walk around the house in a tank top and shorts and turn the heat up so you can be comfortable, you are an energy sucking vampire.
6. Program thermostat to chill out while at work and sleep.
7. Insulate any exposed pipes and ductwork. If it’s in the walls, whomever installed them, should have done this if they’re near exterior walls.


1. Turn off exterior water supply such as hose. They will freeze and your pipes will burst. You don’t want that.
2. Got snow shovel and salt? Don’t wait until the big storm when there’s a rush on them. Be prepared.
3. Clean gutters so they don’t turn into ice dams. Yeah, you gotta climb on the roof.
4. How old is your boiler? Have you been maintaining it? Filters clean? Do you need to drain water?
5. Forced air systems have air ducts that trap all sorts of yucky dust and debris, especially if you have pets. You can get them professionally cleaned every few years but make sure to vacuum the floor vents regularly.

Apartment One

Apartment One published on 5 Comments on Apartment One


Open living/dining/kitchen area.

One half of the two family Rockaway house will be liveable by June 1st! As in liveable for normal people, not someone like me who no longer notices lack of switchplates and doorknobs. The self imposed deadline was set for this weekend to take some pictures and start spreading the word. Although it’s ready for it’s close-up, it’s a few days from being ready to show. Show by next weekend? Yeah, probably!!

The entire house will be for sale or rent by the end of this month. I call it a two story bungalow. It’s a cozy (that means small in realtor speak) 2 BR over 1BR, just under 1000 square feet for the whole house. Gotta do some comps and math to come up with prices. The website will get started (but not finished) today.

I’m on a roll baby and it feels good!



Yeah, that toe kick needs to be painted and stove needs backsplash.


The old singer sewing machine base trick. A favorite of mine.


Long, narrow bedroom in the back of the house. I want to work a little magic on those plain, white doors if I get the time.


Kitchen area before.


Living room during demo.

Pre-Offer Home Inspection

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It’s essential to have a home inspection after putting an offer on a house. The inspector will take two to four hours to go over every detail so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Lots of folks back out of the deal after reading the inspector’s report. That’s fine, but there’s no need to waste the $500-$1000 fee if you know what to look for prior to making an offer.

The first time you look at the house, the only items on your mind are location, size and style, right? It’s either a fixer upper or “renovated”. Total fixer uppers are easy. You know it’s gonna be a money pit. But those “renovated” homes are a bit trickier.

On your second visit to the house, take your time to snoop around some more. Here’s what you’re looking for:

1. Floors. Are they bouncy or soggy? If there’s carpeting, what’s underneath? If it’s tongue and groove, check to make sure they have some sanding life left in them. You can tell by the thickness of the boards. It’s not a big deal to replace floors. It’s just an expense.

2. Basement. Do you see any water marks? Is there a dehumidifier down there? A sump pump? If so, ask why.

3. Basement II. Check out the boiler, water heater and electric panel. Let’s keep this fairly simple. How old or new do they look? Do they have maintenance stickers?

4. Basement III. Look up at the ceiling. The floor joists are those 2x6ish pieces of wood spanning every 12″-16″. The beams are chunkier. Maybe they are 4×4 or larger. Maybe they are steel. You want to make sure there are enough posts holding up those beams if it’s wood. The posts should be sitting on concrete, not dirt. If any of this stuff is rotted, they will need to be replaced or “sistered”. Rot could be a sign of larger issues such as water leakage from above or termite infestation.

5. Exterior. If it’s stone, does it have cracks? If brick, will it need pointing? If wood, do you see any peeling paint or wood rot? How are the gutters and flashing? Check the pitch of the landscape to see if water would puddle up and/or enter the house. Are there drains in the back yard?

6. Electric. Make sure there are enough outlets in each room. They should all be three prong. Bathrooms and kitchens should have GFI outlets near water sources. If none of the above, the electric will need an upgrade.

7. Plumbing. Look at the drains under sinks to make sure there there are no leaks. Also check for leaks around toilets and bathtubs. Oh, almost forgot! Go back down to the basement and make sure the copper pipes are not corroded.

8. Follow your nose. Do you smell gas? Mold?

9. Windows. How old do they look? If they are original, have they been maintained or are there storm windows? Do you feel drafts around the windows meaning it’s not insulated?

10. Work quality. This is my own theory. I don’t think an inspector will voice concern about a house if it has a bad caulking job, but hear me out. If the finished product looks sloppy, chances are a low end contractor was used to save costs and that means there may just be band-aids on some problem areas. Look for overuse of caulk, grout film on tile, bumpy sheetrock seams and messy paint jobs. I go a step further and even turn my nose up at material quality. Cheap Home Depot wainscoting is usually covering something nasty! I shouldn’t say that. You’re right. I’m a snob. But buyer beware!

Again, nobody is telling you to be the inspector but these are some things you should look for. Are they fixable? Absolutely! But it’s better to know what you’re getting into before you put in an offer. And that, my friends, is the reason I always buy total wrecks.

Good luck!

Construction Exchange

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Contractors can eat away at a renovation budget until there’s hardly anything left for materials. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to have a barter system? The idea itself isn’t new to me. I’ve often said “I wish I can find a decent contractor who needs a place to live while working on my house.”

Decent being the operative word. I’ve seen Craigslist barter ads from hacks who probably couldn’t get real work anyway.

Enter Ben Erickson. I received an email from the furniture designer/builder saying he will be looking for a new place to live and work within the next year. He currently has a five year lease at one of the most gorgeous mansions in Bed Stuy and with a year left to go, he’s planning ahead.


247 Hancock

Ben’s current situation is as follows: “Four years ago, as some of you know, I gutted and renovated the top floor of this very unique freestanding brownstone at 247 Hancock St. in exchange for reduced fixed rent on a 5 year lease. I invested approx $60,000 upfront and we divided that over the 60 months of my lease. The landlord and I assessed the current market value of the apt at $2250 and simply subtracted the $1000/mo. making my rent $1250. “

So, what makes Ben different from these Craigslist guys? Um, he’s got mad skills. Check out his website.

This time around Ben would like to work on a raw loft space. He seems really into Bed Stuy but perhaps he would consider other neighborhoods if it’s the right project.

Know of anything?


Bathtub Reglazing

Bathtub Reglazing published on 2 Comments on Bathtub Reglazing


Here’s how I know recycled building materials are more popular now than ever before. For the first time in my 19 years of renovations, I couldn’t find a free clawfoot tub. Our very first house, my husband got one from a work buddy who was renovating and another of his buddies, a firefighter, helped carry it in. That helpful firefighter later lost his life in 9/11. On other houses, we ended up with yet another friend’s tub after their renovation and a Craigslist free posting.

Fast forward to 2012 and the only free tub I could come up with was up three flights in a Victorian attic. I’m cheap but not that cheap. Those things are heavy!

I paid Brooklyn salvage king Eddie Hibbert $100 including delivery to Rockaway. When he took the tub out of the van, it was not the same one I chose at his shop but I didn’t have the heart to make him haul it back. Not after all the discounts he’s been giving me over the years.

So, it needed reglazing.

I’ve actually had someone reglaze a tub for me before and it didn’t work out so well. These were the days before social media. The internet existed but there was nowhere to complain about guys like this. The tub started peeling within a month and my only recourse was BBB which didn’t get me too far.

This time I went with Al and Dave whom have been in the business for 40 years and come highly recommended. Five hundred bucks including stripping and tax makes this the priciest tub I’ve ever bought. It looks good. Not perfect because the tub was in bad shape, but I don’t need perfection in an antique. The only thing that makes me nervous is that I do see drips, which makes me think it’s going to start peeling. I hear that these things never really last but I can’t imagine throwing away a cast iron tub because it’s impossible to restore.

The process took a bit over three hours to strip and paint. It was dry to the touch a few hours later but cannot be used for about three days. The painting room (bathroom) should be warm, well ventilated and dust free.

Fingers crossed it will last. If not, at least these guys can be held accountable unlike the first hack.

Before shot:


It’s Always Something in Rockaway

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It’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Rockaway has been through Sandy and the ongoing aftermath. Now the streets are being ripped up to install what I assume is new sewer lines. Totally not complaining about upgrades! If they are needed, then of course we should all be grateful.

It’s just sort of bad timing, is all.

Take yesterday for instance. I had a guy coming to reglaze a clawfoot tub in the morning, then I was going to buy a bunch of molding and studs for the house.

Guy starts stripping tub and sez he worries it won’t be warm enough to paint. I try to turn the heat up but wait…what happened to the heat? So, I borrow an electric heater from the neighbor so tub guy can get started and I begin the quest for firing up that boiler.

Batteries in thermostat are ok. I go outside to ask the crew digging up the street if they shut gas lines. No. Go back in to see if I have hot water. No water at all. Go back out to ask if they turned off water. No. “But your pipes may be frozen.” Let me say here that they were very helpful! Came in and told me they would put a torch on my lines to heat them up. I said I can do it with the heat paint stripper. So, Miss Wit and I sat there like schmucks in the freezing basement for nearly an hour heating the pipes. Nothing.

Here’s where I have the problem. Just like the plumbers who installed my boiler and couldn’t admit there was a gas leak (even though they actually fixed it), these guys would never acknowledge that they made a boo-boo. “Oh, it’s doubtful it’s on our side. We insulated the pipes as soon as we dug up the trench.” Finally, they knock on the door and tell me to keep my water running because they are starting to heat the main line coming into the house. Viola! Five minutes later I have water. And heat.

So, day wasted running around trying to get heat. Finally got to pick up some molding. Had to park in the middle of the torn up street up the block and run it into the house. Thankfully, Miss Wit was there to help.

Although this renovation definitely has more hiccups than any of my others, the whole episode yesterday was kind of just another day in the life of renovations. Unfortunately.

And yet. I live for this stuff.

Two Steps Back. One Forward.

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As of last weekend, we finally hit the reset button on the renovation. The house has heat and electric. The basement is cleaned out. Now, where were we before the storm?

Oh yes, I was down in the basement painting the kitchen cabinets I intended to recycle. Ok, so those were trashed. I ended up finding 2 cabinets to recycle at a PA ReStore and then I caved and bought new unfinished ones at Lowe’s. The good news is that I don’t have to clean maple syrup and mouse shit from the insides of the cabinets. New has it’s charms. So I’m doing the cabinets again. How deja vu.

As mentioned, twas only our basement that flooded, so all of the new sheetrock was fine. I say “was” because since we had licensed competent plumbers over to install a new boiler, we had them run new gas lines throughout the house. That means cutting into some sheetrock. We hate doing sheetrock but we’re not getting the schmuck back who did it in the first place. That didn’t end well. It never does. That’s why we DIY.

So where’s this step forward? Got a clawfoot tub! Yay! It needs some work. “Some” is an understatement. Oh, and I finally bought some bathroom tiles. New slate. No overstock or discounts but like $1.48 per square foot. Not bad. Again, Lowe’s. So much better than Home Depot. The bathroom will be ready to tile once we re-frame and sheetrock that pipe area we demolished.

Funny. Don’t know if I ever mentioned that this house is my project and the hubby wanted nothing to do with it. Now here I am all “we” this and “we” that. Guess I dragged him into it, huh?

Somewhat Habitable

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After a slight hurricane setback on the Rockin’ Rockaway Rehab house, things are back on track. As you know, we were without heat and electric for a solid three weeks but it’s all good now.

The basement was gutted and cleaned up immediately. It took LIPA (LI Power Authority) ages to get people back to normal. There were rumors that nobody’s electric would be turned on until each and every home was inspected. Nah, they couldn’t do that. Folks needed to get a licensed electrician to certify the panel or it had to be okayed by LIPA for that individual home to get powered up. I was lucky enough to be around the day LIPA came by to inspect. They okayed me even though, between you and I, I knew that the panel had to be changed, which it was before I turned my power on.

I thought that once I had lights and outlets working I could get back to the renovation, but I wasn’t too happy working there in the cold. I hired the boiler replacement plumbers the same way I hire any contractor….went with the only one who showed up. Kew Forest Plumbing came, supplied an estimate and started work the day after I agreed to the price. Again, luck was on my side that I have a steam system. Hot water boilers are on back order, so there are plenty of folks still waiting for heat. Got me a new water heater too. Too bad we haven’t installed a shower yet.

Have I ever mentioned that we’ve had the gas turned off since August? Every time we turned it on, we discovered a new leak. It was at leak number five and at this point I’m totally freaked out by those old pipes. While the basement is open and while the plumbers are around, I’m having them run all new gas lines. Take that, Sandy. I meant to do it anyway!

After all this time, we finally set up a temporary sink on the first floor! There is a lone toilet sitting in a demoed bathroom on the second floor. We were running down to the basement sink to wash our hands. Or not. A sink in the living area? Only 1 flight from the toilet? How luxurious. And there’s warm water. What a concept. Living the good life!

The Appliances Are Here!

The Appliances Are Here! published on No Comments on The Appliances Are Here!


The Rockaway house is a two family, so one of my biggest budget concerns has been the purchase of appliances times two. AJ Madison has been my appliance source for a few years now. There are always running good deals and they will deliver and haul away the old.

I got away with one kitchen of all stainless for under $2000. That includes the fridge, stove, dishwasher and over-the-stove microwave exhaust combo. The microwave makes sense when you consider it’s not that much more than just a fan. I figured we would save ourselves some money on take out during renovations. No, we won’t be using the stove. Let’s not go nuts.


My only disappointment was with the shorty refrigerator. Purchasing online, one has to remember to look at the dimensions. I looked at the width and assumed I was buying a standard size fridge, but it’s actually shorter than me. And I’m short! At the end of the day, who the hell needs a huge refrigerator for a one bedroom apartment? Plus, the smaller, the more efficient. Right?


Well, those were the brand new Energy Star appliances for the downstairs kitchen. While at Build it Green one day last week, I did spot this second hand dishwasher which I purchased for upstairs for a mere 25 bucks. It’s returnable if it doesn’t work but I’m ready to accept the loss as it’s not worth $25 to schlep it back to Astoria. Fingers crossed!

Twice as Much

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Original deck was taken down.

There’s an old warning about home renovation that goes “Expect to pay twice as much and for it to take three times as long.” I’ve always found this to be true except this time I was prepared for the worst.

Case in point is the back deck. It’s not even so much a deck as steps with a landing. Whomever built this thing must have been on some hard drugs at the time. The stairs are cutting into the house and one landing leans on a roof without any other support. It’s a nightmare.

This is the final “big project” to tackle on the house. I left it for last because I knew it wouldn’t be simple. I’ll survive because my hubby is a structural engineer who has a penchant for removing rotting wood to add support. But I just want to warn others out there that this is what it’s all about. Opening up a can of worms. You remove a wall or a floor or a deck and chances are, what you see behind that won’t be pleasant.

As it’s been said on this blog a million times before, previous homeowners (in my experience anyway) tend to cover things up rather than correct them. The deck is over the basement. We are not only replacing the deck but the damage has spread to the side structures of the house and the basement.

I can’t imagine how much this would cost someone if they were paying a real contractor to do it. Then you have to consider that the contractor is doing the right thing because they sometimes like to cover things up also.

My point? I don’t know if I have one. Oh yeah, maybe it’s this: Expect to pay twice as much and for it to take three times as long.

At the end of the day, I’m gonna have me a nice new deck that will stand longer than the house itself.


Some rotted wood that was removed


Roof that supported the landing


Side of house once vinyl was taken off

Reclaimed in Miami

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What do you think of when you think of Florida? Me? I think of those senior developments as seen on Seinfeld because that’s where my mother is. Or some other horrible developments. Or McMansions. But at least one woman in Miami has devoted herself to saving an old house.

Sally purchased a 1924 Spanish Colonial Revival in Coconut Grove that had been derelict for years. Her blog, “This Old Coconut Grove” has some incredible before and after shots. Love to see inspiration coming from this neck of the woods beach!

Check out some of the “afters” and then shoot on over to her blog to find out where she obtained her salvaged pieces.

My Free Medicine Cabinet

My Free Medicine Cabinet published on 2 Comments on My Free Medicine Cabinet

Home renovation and handy work are male dominated fields, so it’s always great to come across another chick to bitch and moan with. Liz from Checklist Home Services was my gal last week. That’s her blurred image in the photo above. We met up a while back, then lost touch. I contacted her again when I saw this rad (yeah, I used that word) antique medicine cabinet giveaway on her blog.

Liz’s business plan is spot on and it’s working out well for her. Checklist Home Services is there for the people of the world who aren’t DIY maniacs. You can “rent” a handy person for 3 hours or on the other end of the spectrum, hire them do an annual home tune-up which covers items like vacuuming refrigerator coils and changing smoke detector batteries.

Although Checklist is there to do repair, maintenance and installations, they are not a full renovation service. Not yet anyway. Personally, I think Liz should take it to the next headache step.

If you think Liz looks familiar, that’s because you may have seen her on Morgan Spurlock’s “The Failure Club”, a must watch for anyone with a goal in life.

So, about the cabinet. It’s rockin’ heavy metal. It’s gorgeous and best of all, it was absolutely free! I’ll sand down the rust and seal it up. Then it’s good to go.

I Want to Renovate Again.

I Want to Renovate Again. published on 1 Comment on I Want to Renovate Again.

Hello. My name is Phyllis and I’m a renoholic. Yes, we’ve already established that, which is why I have this blog and why flipping…or Phlypping (™ Miss Wit) is the most fitting career move for me.

But I’m not talking about the investment property I’m currently working on. I’m knee deep in renovations with that and I’m sitting here looking around my own house thinking that I want to rip into it again.

In my defense, it’s not just that I want to re-renovate. I kind of want to use some of the materials from my Bed Stuy house and put it into the Rockaway house because I was never in love with said materials anyway.

Check it out. During the renovation of my own house, I was hemorrhaging money and had to finish as quickly as possible to get tenants in here. Items were installed that I never would have wanted if it was not so rushed. New stuff, like Home Depot doors (solid, with panels, of course), new door knobs, stainless appliances instead of beautiful antique ones, typical oak flooring….you get the picture.

Now, these things are not horrible by any stretch of the imagination but if it was up to me, I’d replace them with historic materials. I have the chance now. I can remove my HD doors and use them in the other house. The appliances, the kitchen cabinets!

But who am I kidding? That’s too much work, because then it’s like I’m doing two houses at once.


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