Category Archive: Before and After

Front Step Nightmare

In the house painting entry I mentioned the unsatisfactory experience we had with getting our front steps redone, so I wanted to elaborate about our experience.

As I previously mentioned, since we were on a roll with getting the house painted we thought we might just as well tackle the stairs. I think it was actually a safety hazard. The steps were uneven and pieces were falling off. When you stepped on a certain spot the wrong way your foot could slip off with a piece of concrete. Needless to say it was in dire need of getting redone!

Old Exterior entry stairs

Old exterior entry stairs

When one of the painters mentioned that he had an acquaintance that did masonry work we got an estimate and told them to go ahead. They said they’d come at 11:00am the next day, which was fine with us as we’re not early birds.

11:00am came and went and the mason didn’t show up. Finally at noon we called our painter, asking about the mason. He said he was on the way. More time passed and still no sign of the mason. We called our painter and asked for the mason’s number so he wouldn’t have to be the middle man. When I called the mason he said he was on the way and asked where the nearest big box store was so they could pick up the materials.

Finally around 2:30pm the mason showed up – without materials. In hindsight we should have told him “adios” at that point, but of course it is our human nature to give the person the benefit of the doubt. So off him and his two guys went to pick up supplies. They came back around 3:30pm and started taking measurements and cutting up wooden boards to create a form. Additionally they tore out any loose cement.

The forms were placed on top of our historic salvaged brick path and we were like “uhmmmm, those are not supposed to be cemented into the stairs!” So they moved them. One thing that annoyed me about them is that they were so hectic. They were trying to do things so speedy (aside from arriving on time, of course) that it felt rushed. I think the whole time they were here my adrenaline was pumping because I was anxious that they would do everything well because it just felt so rushed.

I want to say they finally started pouring the first (bottom) step sometime after 4:00pm. You know, around the time when all other contractors usually clock out for the day. Then the second step was poured, then the third. I think on the third one they were starting to run low on materials and tried to scrape any last cement out of the bucket. Then we were told we had to wait about an hour for it to dry. At that point they would take the boards off and the cement would be hard enough to stay in place, but soft enough to round off the edges, smooth out the surface, etc.

Pouring the concrete steps

Pouring the concrete steps

Next is the step were I really think they got ahead of themselves. This goes back to what I was saying previously that they just felt so hectic the whole time they were here. They were too eager to get the job done and over with. I don’t know if they thought it would be a quick job to get money quickly or what. It was starting to be late in the work day and they probably wanted to get home soon. In any case, they took the boards off. The bottom step was fine. The second step was fine too. The third top step turned into a nightmare. It obviously had the least amount of time to dry, and it was the one were they ran out of cement powder so I think it may have been wetter than the other two steps as well. Next thing we knew the damn step was starting to collapse!

Cracking Wet Concrete

Cracking Wet Concrete

They kept trying to push it back in, but no matter what they did it kept sagging back down. After various attempts they determined they needed to buy another bag of concrete. Patrick and I had been frustrated with them from the beginning since they already showed up three and a half hours late. Needless to say we were quite frustrated by this point with all the things going wrong. After taking another hour to get the extra bag of supplies they attempted to fix the step, but the cement had already dried a certain degree so that we feared it would not blend in properly. After that they put a small board against it and told us to leave it on for another few hours.

By the time they left it was around 9:00pm. It was too dark to properly see how bad the damage would be. The next morning left us kind of unsatisfied. We were mad at the guys for arriving late, not being ready with materials, rushing through everything, not leaving sufficient time to showcase proper craftsmanship, and mad at ourselves for giving them the benefit of the doubt rather than recognizing the initial signs that this was not going to work out the way we wanted it.

The next morning

The next morning

In the end the stairs are still 10 times better than the ones they replaced. We’re just perfectionists, and when you spend the money to hire a professional you expect to receive a good product in the end. In the meanwhile we’ve hidden the questionable top stair by placing our flower pots in front of them.

Finished steps

Finished steps

Now we’ve been debating painting the stairs. Anyone have any input?? For one we’re not sure if the “natural” look is the way to go? Secondly painting the stairs would help cover up the mishap. The only concern is that if you paint stairs once you’ll always have to repaint them from the wear and tear they’ll be getting. So if anyone has any input, suggestions, advice, whatever…please let us know!

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Won’t You be Our Neighbor?

I have wanted to make this post for a while. A few doors down from us a beautiful old bungalow was recently renovated and it went from being a complete eyesore to being one of the nicest looking houses on the street. Steffi and I had a look in the house before it was renovated, so we have some great “before” and “after” shots. It has a lot of the original details, and the quality of the work is top notch. I think the photos speak for themselves.

The house is for sale, so if you are interested in being our neighbor contact Nia Knowles.


Exterior Before

Exterior Before

Exterior After

Exterior After

Living Room Fireplace:

Living Room Fireplace Before

Living Room Fireplace Before

Living Room Fireplace After

Living Room Fireplace After

Dining Room Built-in:

Dining Room Built-in Before

Dining Room Built-in Before

Dining Room Built-in After

Dining Room Built-in After

Kitchen Built-in:

Kitchen Built-in Before

Kitchen Built-in Before

Kitchen Built-in After

Kitchen Built-in After

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Flooding and Pile-Be-Gone

The weekend before last we had a rather unpleasant experience. While trying to shower we noticed the water wasn’t very warm. The hot was turned all the way up, no cold on at all, and the water felt just bearable to shower under. We thought that was strange and went on about our day, running some errands, etc. When we got back we thought we’d look if something was wrong with the hot water heater, which is located in the crawl space. When we opened the door we found a rather unpleasant surprise – standing water, about 6 inches deep! Our basement had flooded! There had been about 5 days of non-stop rain and apparently the earth couldn’t soak it up fast enough. We haven’t had that happen before. I mean, we don’t go in the crawl space on a regular basis, so I wouldn’t know if there’s been any standing water before, but obviously this was high enough that it put out the gas flame on the hot water heater.

So of course we panicked. We scrambled to get some buckets and attempted to fill them and pour them out in the yard. Of course the yard itself was still so saturated with water that there were tons of puddles everywhere, which didn’t exactly help! Then we tried using the ShopVac, but that didn’t get us anywhere quickly. I think we tried like 3 or 4 other methods of getting the water out of there until it started getting dark and we were frustrated. We called some neighbors who happened to have a water pump that we were able to borrow from them. The plan was to do it the next day.

Well, the next day came and we were all prepared to get pumping, only to find all the water had disappeared on its own over night! What a relief. Thankfully the water heater was alright too.

Flooded crawl space

Flooded crawl space

This past weekend felt much more fulfilling. We removed a dead electric wire going from the house to the garden shed and an old exterior light dangling from the side of the house. The only thing I’ll be missing about the wire is the pretty birds that liked to hang out on it.

Patrick on ladder

Patrick also decided to tackle the bathroom built-in drawer while I was racking up some more leaves. I think we had removed the majority of the paint on a previous occasion, so he was able to sand it down so that we can paint it again. Look at our vibrant tulips in the background!

Sanding bathroom drawer

And last, but not least, we got rid of all of our big piles of junk on our driveway!! You know, the piles that made us look really, really trashy! We’re so excited!! One pile was made up of the concrete remains from the front path and was sitting on the driveway at the front of the house. The other pile has been accumulating junk over the last two and a half years on the driveway in the backyard. And because we have some awesome neighbors we were able to get rid of both of them. The front pile we were able to remove several weeks ago when our neighbor Jim let us throw all the concrete debris in his dumpster. Somehow we managed to miss taking photos of both the pile when we made it (too focused on building the path), as well as when we got rid of it. The other pile we were able to eliminate this past weekend because our other neighbors, Paula and Wesley, had a dumpster for their renovation that they weren’t going to fill up all the way. This has been huge for us! They were big piles of embarrassment and now they’re gone. (Thanks Jim, Paula, and Wesley!) Now if that rain tomorrow will just wash away the rest of the dirt…preferably without flooding our crawl space again.

Concrete debris pile

Cleaned up concrete debris pile

Oh, and speaking of neighbors, our street is rockin’ it! We’re about to have three new neighbors. Even more exciting – they’re all homeowners. And funnily enough they’re all moving in at the end of this month. In general I feel like there’s been a swing of new people (homeowners!) buying houses in the vicinity. It feels really refreshing. I’m glad to see we’re making progress and filling some of these empty homes. My prediction of 2009 being a big year for Westview seems to already be proving to be true….

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Fireplace Paint Removal Update

We finished paint removal with PeelAway on the brick and tile of the fireplace last night. Well, or at least the front. I suppose we didn’t do the thin strip on each side.

So this is the result we got after using the PeelAway one time. You can tell how we did it in sections because the PeelAway hardened more at the edges. You can also tell we were in a hurry in the top left corner! We removed it, but had to leave to go to a BeltLine meeting and weren’t able to do our usual thorough cleaning. As we progressed with each section we tried various methods of after-PeelAway-cleaning. Initially we used the sponge method and lots of towels and switching out water. Towards the end we used a spray bottle and a dust pan to catch the drippings. Then we’d use a little nylon brush to rub off the remains in the cracks as best as possible, as well as our metal scrapers to get things out of the cracks.

Using the PeelAway on the extremely textured brick versus on the flat tile was definitely a different experience. The texture takes a lot of work because there are just so many places the paint is able to stick to. The flat surface was really rather quick. The paint never truly “peels away” like the product title seems to indicate. If you think you can remove the waxy paper with your pinky and all the paint will just magically stick to it and be gone then well…perhaps you should either not remove the paint, or hire someone to do the work for you. This will definitely still require some scrubbing and cleaning and work, but I think it helped a lot and we were probably able to cover a larger area quicker than we would have with the KleanStrip. Obviously the more textured the area, the harder the work will be. So overall we’re very happy with the results from the PeelAway.

Result after one-time PeelAway use:

Fireplace after PeelAway

The fireplace when we bought the house (where someone had gone white-paint-happy, and before we refinished the floors):

Fireplace before PeelAway

Thankfully my sister is coming in town for a visit today, so it will give our fingers time to recuperate and will give our mind some time off because otherwise we may have started getting burned out on the project. (There are only so many days in a row you can work on the same thing before you get worn out and need a break.)

So the next steps will be to apply the PeelAway on the metal cover. We have worked on it with KleanStrip on a previous occasion, so we already know it should be a brass cover. We’re curious though if we will uncover any additional details! (We’ll show what we’ve uncovered this far when we work on it some more.) Then we have to also remove the paint from the brick on each side of the fireplace. Lastly we’ll probably use KleanStrip to go back and try to remove some of the leftover paint, like where the seams show, or where we ran out of time to properly clean the area. But we’re really excited about how good this looks already!

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A Fresh Look For Westview Streets

Some exciting things have been happening in Westview. In early spring the Westview Development Committee found out that Quality of Life Bonds were being distributed to improve intown neighborhoods. The bonds were actually on their third round, each one having been for $150 Million. Somehow Westview had been overlooked and not received a single penny. Needless to say we were upset to find out we had been totally neglected and started an angry email and phone call campaign to our councilmember, CT Martin. (Westview continues to face a challenge as we are split between two council districts and have two council members…the majority of which is in CT Martin’s area.)

Finally this summer our complaints were acknowledged – we were informed we’d be getting new sidewalks and streets repaved!! (At least the two streets we complained about.) The letter informed us the work would start in early June and be done at the end of August. I think it will be to few people’s surprise that despite the fact that it is late September the work is not done! Our street was scheduled first, so we’re pretty much done…so I can show some pictures!!

This is what our sidewalk looked like before. The portion in front of our house was actually lacking a curb altogether, though I know other houses on our street did in fact still have barely visible curbs. Because we had no curbs in front of our house we’d constantly have a flooded sidewalk when it rained (not that Atlanta knows what rain is anymore). Oh, and note our decent looking Crossvine growing on the mailbox. This was July 23rd.

East Ontario Avenue sidewalks before

Here they tore up the old sidewalk in front of our house. The plan was to raise the sidewalk in order to create a curb. This was July 24th.

Sidewalk demolition

Finally two weeks after they tore up our path they came back to put down the concrete sidewalk and curb. You can see their excellent craftsmanship when you notice the fat curb closer to us and see how it gets narrower behind the mailbox. (It’s not just an optical illusion from the leaning boards.) They also left the strip between the sidewalk and driveway apron unfinished. This was August 6th.

Sidewalk concrete

It was yet another week before they came back to tear up our driveway apron and pour it the same day. This is the before photo, and as you can see our driveway was in need of some repair. Since the sidewalks were being raised it meant everyone’s walkways and driveways were too low, so they tore up parts of everyone’s driveways to slope them and line up properly with the new height. So we were lucky to get our driveway fixed in the process!

New driveway

This is the driveway apron after they poured it. At this point the triangle between the sidewalk and driveway still remained unpaved. Upon my inquiry of the missing piece I was essentially told that I should be grateful that they were even pouring our driveway since it was 3:30pm on a Friday and they were working “overtime” to pour our driveway since their clock out time is 4:00pm. (Another worker tried to downplay this by telling me that the guy was exaggerating.) If I remember correctly I was also told that they would come back on Monday to finish that missing piece. This was August 15th.

Sidewalk footprints

Two weeks later the missing triangle was still not done. Not only was it not done, but at one point they came to take away the barricades they had put up to prevent people from walking on the fresh concrete. I finally happened to drive by them as they were working on a portion further down the street and reminded them that the triangle still had not been poured and that it was a safety issue if someone walked down the path at night and could break their ankle because there was no barricade. I think they showed up a day later to finish off the triangle. I noticed too late that they had again failed to put up barricades, leaving footprints on the fresh concrete. (Why pedestrians failed to notice that it was freshly poured is also beyond me, but oh well.) I was pretty much steaming at this point, determined to complain and have them tear the portion back out and re-pour it. In the end I was convinced by Patrick’s idea that instead of potentially creating greater damage we should leave the footprints as an ode to the idiocracy of the City of Atlanta employees. This was August 29th.

Damaged driveway

A week and a half later a contracted company (not City of Atlanta!) came and prepped our street in the late morning by stripping the pavement on the sides of the street. (You can again view the wonderful craftsmanship of the crooked curb.)

Street repaving

A couple hours later our street was entirely repaved and looking great!! :) Please also note the debris left in the landscaping strip. This was September 9th.

New street and sidewalk

In the meanwhile the City of Atlanta workers had still not finished with our sidewalks. The new landscaping strips were still not filled with dirt by our house, instead only with remains of concrete, rocks, bushels of grass and some scattered cigarette buds and plastic soda cup lids, etc. When they finally came back to fill our stretch it took ten (!) workers a full workday (!) to transfer the dirt from the truck to the landscaping strip in front of four (!) houses. (Yes, we actually counted the workers as they were working in front of our house.) I made sure to point out to them that there was a lot of debris that needed to be removed before the dirt should be filled in since you can’t exactly put in landscaping with all that junk in it. I watched one guy do a half ass job of shoveling out some of the debris before the dirt came. Oh yeah, and the best part, this is what the quality of their work looked like in the end:

Landscape strip

At the beginning of the project I was just so excited and grateful that we were getting new sidewalks that I was ready to accept anything they did. Now that they are done in front of our house and I’ve had time to reflect I’m really quite upset. Yes, I’m still happy that we got new sidewalks, but this is what we’ll presumably have for, say, the next 30 years! If I was a teacher I’d rate the craftsmanship of the City of Atlanta employees a big fat “F.” Plus look at the speed at which they carried out the work – they were supposed to be done at the end of August and they are still deep into the project in late September. At no other job would employees be tolerated to perform the way the City of Atlanta employees performed on this project.

So here’s the breakdown of how we got to grade “F”:
– The curb looks like it was created by a drunken person with the wide width on one end and a narrow width on the other. (At one point the backhoe also broke off a portion of the newly dried curb which they had to redo, leaving an obvious “scar” at the joint.)
– A portion of the sidewalk has a number of footprints. (Additional point subtracted to lack of safety precaution.)
– The landscape strips are largely filled with debris, then covered with the cheapest of the cheap chunky fill dirt and a handful of grass seed thrown on it.
– And as an added bonus the redbud tree planted by Trees Atlanta a year and a half ago has pretty much been killed, our Crossvine looks pretty pathetic too, and our bushes along the sidewalk have some gaping holes in them.

But enough bitching. Aside from these flaws we are thrilled to have this freshened up look!! So here again are the before and after photos:

East Ontario Avenue sidewalks before

New street and sidewalk

Updated landscaping strip photos to come when they are presentable.

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