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Find the Kitty Friday and YES We Have Been Doing Something This Summer

September 5, 2013


We got to a late start this summer. With me working, and some crazy things happening the past year, it seems that home renovation has taken a back seat. Make that a stash-in-the-trunk kind of seat. But it IS going on.

I’m finally getting around to patching the siding around the new kitchen window. Well, the kitchen window isn’t exactly new anymore. Remember that 2010 kitchen renovation? It was new then. And I, um, never finished patching the siding til this week. Heh heh.

By the way, can you “Find the Kitty” in this photo?

Fixing Siding

Yes, the house is suffering. I’ve completely neglected the back because the interior has needed so much work. We only have the downstairs completely done… I have such nice, neat little plans to finish the downstairs bathroom, gut and restore the upstairs bedrooms (they are still 1855-style with the original plaster and all), and then get to the siding and porches. But the house has other plans. It’s been clamoring for attention in areas that are NOT in my schedule!

The tub decided to spring a leak (blast those fiberglass cheapos!!!) and ruin the kitchen ceiling. The large garage door spring broke off and we have to manually haul the 100-pound door up and down whenever we want to get into the garage (there’s no “regular” entrance into the garage). The insurance company loudly complained about our “lack of siding” around the kitchen window — although we DO have plywood siding beneath the tar paper but they don’t care, all they see is tar paper so they think it’s just bare wood framing beneath, sigh. Add to the mix a myriad of other problems like flooding damage and the front porch sagging terribly due to excessive water and a washed-out foundation… tired yet?

SO as much as I would love to give the kids a summer vacation where they can play cool video games and play their guitars and keyboards all they want, I must be a meany mom and make them help me. I sometimes feel like the house is going to swallow me up. It’s SO needy. But I love the old thing and it gives me a chance to tinker and build stuff, which I love to do. I just wish it wasn’t so consuming and so durn expensive. I hope that by the time I finish all the “big” renovations, I’ll still be around to enjoy my labors!

What have you been doing this summer? Are you glad to see the season end?

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How to Build a Walkway Using a Concrete Paver Mold

June 22, 2012


You can spend thousands of dollars and hire a professional contractor to pour your walkway or install commercially made concrete pavers, or you can use Quikrete’s Walkmaker form or some other type of form. Walkway with Stones The Walkmaker, constructed of a durable plastic material, greatly simplifies the construction of a concrete walkway and produces exceptional results. For a customized look, purchase powdered cement coloring to add to the concrete mixture. Here’s how we made our lovely walkway with the mold.

Stuff You Need:
Paver Mold- we used Quikrete’s Walkmaker
Crack-resistant concrete
Flat-bladed spade
Hand tamper
Powdered cement coloring
Measuring cup
Trowel or shovel

Step 1

Determine the amount of concrete material needed for the project. Quikrete recommends one 80-pound bag of concrete for every 2 feet of walkway.

Step 2

Measure the walkway area and remove the sod with the spade. You can lay the pavers directly onto the ground, but for best results Quikrete recommends that you remove 2 to 4 inches of soil and pour gravel into the trench. Tamp the gravel so that it is level and compacted.

Bust Sod

Step 3

Pour a bag of concrete into the wheelbarrow. Remove approximately 2 cups of dry mix and set it aside. Add the powdered coloring to the dry concrete mix and stir well with a hoe.

Step 4

Fill the bucket with approximately 3 pints water. Slowly pour half the water into one part of the wheelbarrow. With the hoe, rake the dry concrete into the pool of water, mixing until all the water is absorbed.

Mixing Concrete

Step 5

Add another 2 to 3 pints of water to the bucket, and pour the water into the concrete mix. Rake and chop the concrete into the water until the water is absorbed. The mixture should have the consistency of mud. When you chop the mixture with the hoe, the mixture should stay in place. If the mixture is too crumbly or stiff, add more water. If the mixture is too soupy, add some of the dry concrete mix you have set aside, and mix well.

Step 6

Place the Walkmaker form at one end of the walkway. Shovel or trowel the concrete into the form, patting down the mix to ensure that it fills the corners and cavities of the mold.

Filling Form

Step 7

Lift the form straight up so it does not snag on and damage the wet concrete pavers. Hose off the form immediately to prevent the concrete mix from hardening.

Lifting Form 2

Step 8

Repeat the process of mixing concrete, laying the form in the walkway and adding the mix to the form until the walkway is complete. Allow the pavers to dry for at least 24 hours.

Step 9

Sprinkle cupfuls of Portland cement sand mix or jointing sand over the pavers. Spread the sand mix between the paver form lines with a broom so the mix completely fills the form lines.

Sweeping Sand Mix 3

Step 10

Mist the pavers with a garden hose, wetting the sand mix but not washing it out of the form lines. Allow to dry completely.

Spraying Water

Secret Garden Blooming

Notes and Tips

To make a curved walkway, reposition the Walkmaker form onto the wet concrete mix in the direction of the curve. Press the form down to form new paver lines. Smooth out the previous paver lines with the trowel.

To prevent the Walkmaker form from sticking to the wet concrete, lightly spray the form with water or very lightly with cooking oil.

To create a nonslip surface, lightly brush over the wet pavers with a stiff broom. The broom will create small ridges on the paver surface.

To allow the concrete to properly cure, choose an overcast day when the temperature will not drop before 50 degrees and no rain is expected within 24 hours. If it does rain, cover unstained concrete pavers with plastic sheeting. In an area with sun, cover the concrete pavers with plastic sheeting or burlap to prevent the concrete from drying too quickly. Lightly moisten the burlap periodically when the material becomes too dry.

Do not cover stained concrete with plastic sheeting or burlap, as they may cause discoloration. Apply Quikrete Concrete Sealer to the surface of the concrete instead.

Concrete is caustic. Do not breathe in concrete dust. If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves while handling concrete.

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2012 Projects

June 12, 2012


Well, I broke the latest projects list to the family today. They didn’t cry or scream. As a matter of fact, they took it very calmly. Because I am bribing them this year. 😀 OK OK, it’s not exactly bribing– more like paying. It won’t be much but at least it will be something. And best part is that I won’t have to do it all!

This will be the year that we finish up to loose ends, that we complete the little things left undone or things that need patching. For one, my front porch is sinking into the ground. The previous owners just plunked the porch foundation posts on cinder blocks, and YEAH. NO. It’s starting to make me nervous. Since the house is a balloon frame house, a sagging porch can pull the wall studs out of kilter so bad that the floor joists pop out of their tenons. That would be…. bad. With all the rain we’ve had for the past decade, the porch is definitely sagging and I am having trouble sleeping at night. Time to jack up the porch, dig some 2-foot deep holes, and install concrete piers. This is perhaps our biggest project for the year.

Our second project will be to fix the back porch. I still never sided around the kitchen window that I installed in 2010. The house wrap tar paper has held up well (and we sealed all gaps and cracks that summer), but hello, we can’t have no siding there. We’ve decided to rip off all the siding on the entire wall there and replace it with wood clapboard. I got a quote on vinyl siding, which would cost us more that what we bought the house for! :-O

Window Workers

It's be fun siding this area of the house. NOT

Anyway, I have to rip off the back porch (it was never installed properly anyway), rip off the siding, replace the siding, and build a new back porch. I intend to enclose it to create a mud room. Currently, when the gang charges into the house with their muddy boots, they drop right into my new kitchen. That must end.

Then of course, like any renovator worth her weight in salt, I have a myriad of unfinished projects! We have to install drywall in out kitchen “cubby” and install shelving in there. The boys will do that project and get paid for it.


Unfinished kitchen shelving.


Then there’s the small bench, or window seat, in the kitchen. I’ll pay the boys to do that, too.

And finally, there’s the electric. There’s still only partial electric in the bathroom and there’s a problem with another circuit. Both require me going into the attic. Oh Lord. I HATE the attic.


Nooooooooooooo !!

So that’s my summer. LOL. Be praying for me, I have 3 to 4 months to do it all!!

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Chimney Flashing Roof Repair

September 30, 2011

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It’s all Hurricane Irene’s fault. And Hurricane Lee’s fault.

During the torrential rains, my son reported dirty brown dripping water coming from the attic hatch located in his room.


I hate roof leaks. It means going into The Attic (insert creepy organ music) and scuffling around the giant fluffs of dirty cellulose insulation and suffocating bat dung. *groan*

Well, we didn’t have to go far into The Attic (insert creepy organ music). As soon as we popped the hatch, we saw that the chimney was crying wet. Most likely, the flashing. Which meant that the husband would have to go clambering atop the roof to see what was up.

Our roof is scary. It’s steeply pitched and it’s a long drop down. I always freak out when he goes up there. What I want to do is run away to the store or the movies where I can not think about him being up there. What I wind up doing is balancing the ladder and biting my nails as he skitters across the shingles. He’s never fallen– never even slipped (as far as I know), but he did lose grip of a Shop Vac one time…. oh, that was an event to remember. We laid that poor thing to rest.

Anyway, yesterday, he went up to see what’s up with the flashing. Our roof is 15 years old so I can’t say we were very optimistic. The shingles are, surprisingly, in very good shape for their age. The flashing…. not. The husband reported that it appears that the roofers had “cobbed” together bits and pieces of aluminum, stuffed them beside the chimney and slathered them with caulk (which has since eroded). That probably explains the water damage in the son’s bedroom closet….

So he came down and we did a little investigation online about chimney flashing. I’ve done roofing jobs as a kid and installing a roof is actually not too difficult. But the flashing requires a lot of skill. You can’t just slather caulk on the seams and expect it to last very long. After a half-hour of slogging through boring chimney repair websites and unhelpful videos, we found this video about elastomeric paste. This stuff looks good!

I think this may solve our problem, at least until we eventually get the roof redone and the chimney removed (We no longer need the chimney since getting direct vent appliances). The husband went to the Big Box retail stores and guess what— SOLD OUT! Everywhere! Looks like everyone is slopping this goop onto their Irene-stricken and Hurricane Lee-battered chimneys.

So he wrapped the chimney in a tarp. Did a good job. I’m thankful he used the green tarp instead of the fluorescent blue one.

If I ever get the chance to take a little break from my job and build my own house– NO CHIMNEYS! I’m sure in their heyday they were a marvel of modern Stone Age technology. But in a rainy (constantly rainy) climate, they really stink. The era of the chimney is over, as far as I’m concerned.

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A Little Discouraged About the Gardens

May 21, 2011


For the first time in years, I’m seriously thinking about skipping all gardening this year, even the vegetable garden. It’s been my custom to add a little bit to the yard every year. When we bought the property, it was horribly overgrown. Neighbors used it as a semi-park and dumping ground. It took a heck of a lot of work to build this yard, to convince people that NO you cannot use my new lawn as your doggie doo despository, NO you cannot use my lawn as your next NASCAR racetrack, NO you cannot give your kids saws to chop down my new baby trees just for the fun of it. It’s been a ferociously uphill battle, but I had some major victories. My Secret Garden is my pride and joy.

Blooming Garden

Two years ago. Mmmmmmm. 🙂

But a number of things have really discouraged me. The flooding, for one. Every few years, my property is flooded with several inches of flood waters. It wipes out EVERYTHING. I’m tired of it. I’m so tired of battling the town, begging them to solve their stormwater drainage problems and slow down the McMansion uber-development up the hill. I’m tired of cleaning the silt and the mud from the house and yard. I’m tired of all the weeds that take opportunity on the wings of the flood waters to sink their gritty roots into my lush flower beds.


My gardens are under there... somewhere. See how close the water is to the house.



The vegetable garden today. *sigh*

It’s been raining just about every day in Upstate New York, since January. When I step onto the lawn, my feet sink a little into the squishy mud. We can’t mow sections of the lawn because it’s filled with sticky mud. What do I do? Shovel out the lawn???

Then there’s the deer. We are inundated with deer. I live in town, for pete’s sake! But there are woods (albeit small lots) in the back. Dozens of deer come to my property for their munch fests. I think word has got out there’s a feast of free vegetation to be had here. They eat like there’s no tomorrow. They even eat the plants that deer aren’t SUPPOSED to eat. Oh sure, I could spend $6,000 and put up an 8-foot fence around the perimeter of the property…. all 2,500 feet of it…. but we put up a small fence in the front, and THAT was agonizing enough. No can do.

Then there’s the fact that I work a few jobs now. Working, coupled with doing all the mom and housewifey stuff like cooking and cleaning, coupled with all the renovations this old house desperately needs has me depressed and frustrated most of the time, when I stop to think about it (something I try to avoid!).

I can’t keep up with it all. I’m too old. I’m not even sure if I can keep up the house anymore. While we have *most* of the downstairs gutted and renovated (except the windows and bathroom and some trim work), the upstairs awaits me. And the house beams are sagging and need to be supported (a major undertaking). And the basement foundation needs to be remortared outside (requiring excavation). And the roof needs replacing. And of course, we need new siding and we have got to get gutters to direct all this water away from the house. I really wonder if it’s all worth it. Why fix up a house and yard when it floods so bad that it wrecks everything you’ve done? I just want to patch up the holes, sell the place and get something situated on a hill. It’s SO discouraging.


We can't mow yet because there's a ton of mud sitting on the lawn still.

I guess this is normal for people experiencing flooding and other problems. I don’t see any way out and it’s terribly depressing to think about it. I think I’ll just get my zucchini at the store this year….

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When Stuff Breaks

April 22, 2011

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Ugh, what do you do when the house falls apart faster than you can patch it up???

Yeah, it’s spring. Now that the snow has ebbed away, the busted up dregs of winter’s wrath has appeared. And blast it, I just can’t keep up.

First, there’s the front porch. Years ago now, I had to patch up the decking to put on a new roof. The decking was never properly supported (ever) and I didn’t have the know-how nor tools to dig below the frost line and support it. Now, the porch floor is tilting. A LOT. Ugh. I’m going to have to shore up the roof, remove the decking, and rebuild. NOT FUN.

To Secret Garden 1

Thank God the hydrangeas mask the slope and decrepit porch skirt trim!


Our garage door broke last year. The old cable and spring just gave way. We were in the house (thank GOD no one was in the garage) when we heard a huge slam. One of the cables that holds the door up on the track had split in half, like a weary rubber band. We tried to fix it then, but to no avail. This kind of work is a little beyond my capabilities, and the husband is concerned that the door may spring out or the other cable break while we’re trying to fix it. It’s just too dangerous.

Sad thing is, we don’t even use the room as a garage. Right now, it’s just a place where we keep our tools and junk (we have no storage space in the house, as the basement floods and there is no real attic). When we want to get the lawn mower or rakes out, we need a team of people to hoist the garage door and place a wooden post in the track to keep it up. :-p I have plans to eventually renovate the room into a media room or family room, but that’s not for a while yet. Nuts. I’m stuck.

So how’s your spring turning out as you survey your property? Is the to do list adding up? Still, even though there’s a lot to do with a home every spring, it’s SO worth it, owning your own home than renting. 🙂

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Improving the Lawn, Naturally

April 5, 2011


I recently wrote an article about pet-friendly lawn fertilizers, and the topic got me thinking more about my own lawn and my methods. Chemical lawn fertilizers, despite their claims of non-toxicity, are still chemical agents. These chemicals may remain in the lawn for quite some time. Dogs romp in the grass, and may absorb the chemicals into their skin. Cats nibble the grass and lick their paws. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like chemicals, period, and I don’t want my pets rolling around in it.

A Boy and His Cat

We want Fuzzy to be safe in the lawn.

There are ways to fertilizer and improve your lawn naturally, without any chemicals at all. And even better, the natural methods are less expensive and better for the environment, too. Here are some tips I have gathered throughout the course of my research.

1. Aerate your lawn.

Over time, grass lawns become packed down from foot traffic, lawn mowers, and thick growth. Grass needs air just like any organism. Use a lawn scarifier to aerate the grass. The scarifier, available as manual or powered devices, roll across your lawn. A roller with peg-like appendages puncture your lawn. Some fancier models remove dead grass, moss, and weeds, too. The small holes will be barely noticeable to you, but they provide little channels where air, water, and minerals can soak directly into grass roots.

2. Mulch the lawn.

Leaves are nutrient-packed mulch, like liquid gold for your lawn. It’s best to compost them the year before– pile up leaves in a bin in the fall, and allow them to decompose. By the time spring arrives, the leaves should have decayed into a dark loam. Sprinkle the mulch onto the lawn with a shovel, in broad strokes, and rake the mulch into the grass. This is THE best fertilizer for your grass.

Round Bed2

Look for natural mulch without added colorants and chemicals.

3. Shred the grass clippings.

Some folks mow their lawns, then rake up the grass clippings and pile them on the street curb for the town to pick up. Know that if you do this, you are giving away some very valuable (and free!) fertilizer. Instead, invest in a lawn mower that shreds or mulches the grass as you mow it, and leave the clippings on the lawn. The clippings will decompose and provide the lawn with nitrogen and other yummy nutrients. Never leave clods of grass in your lawn, however. The clods block the sunlight and can cause fungus or mold to grow. Rake up large clods of grass clippings.

Dregs of Snow Jan102008

A badly damaged lawn full of weeds may need to be replaced.


4. Don’t over-mow the lawn.

If grass is cut too short, it cannot photosynthesize properly to produce enough food for growth. The weeds will eventually overpower the weakened grass. For most grasses, the lawn mower should be set to 2 to 3 inches. A good rule to follow is called the 2/3 rule: mow only the top third of grass, and leave the other 2/3 intact.

5. Keep weeds at bay.

Weeds are fellow competitors, contending with grass for water, sunlight, and soil nutrients. Large weeds such as burdocks and plantain should be removed quickly before they establish a party in your lawn.

Weeding the lawn is a tough one for me. My front lawn used to be a lush, beautiful lawn. Then came several years of destructive flooding, where muddy waters and silt covered my lawn. The flooding introduced a profligate number of weeds seeds. My lawn has never really recovered, and it is not possible to root out all the weeds that wiped out my lawn. So sometimes, in serious cases, you can only do so much before you have to completely re-sod the lawn.

I hope these tips help you! There ARE ways to make your home environment an enjoyable place– and a safe place– for your pets.

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Basement Window Filled In

December 2, 2010

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I got this done in the nick of time. Winter is fast upon us. If you recall, I had to close up this window because the original 1855 window had finally rotted away, 155 years later.


We have water pipes and some drain pipes in front of this window. It was imperative that I either find a new window or seal up the hole. Since this was such an old window with a unique size, and since I didn’t think I could handle a huge window installation in such a short period of time (and my foundation is cut stone, not cinder block), I opted to close off the window. It’s situated in a horribly soggy section of the yard (the driveway is three feet away, so water from the roof splashes off the driveway and into the window); just close it off.

Basement Window2

Old window removed...


First row of cinder blocks, mortared together...

Basement Windows Filed In

Sealed with mortar. I will parge the surface in the spring...

You’d never know there was once a window here.

Of course, I’m in the long, slow process of parging the basement walls, inside and out. The stones are in good shape, but after 155 years and countless generations of chipmunks (the critters pick at the mortar to create nests in the stone crevices), and high water table to boot, I need to seal the walls. You can read my tutorial about how to parge basement walls. It’s not a difficult job, parging– But it’s very time-consuming. And BORING.

As for this window area, I was only able to parge a small section around the old window, due to winter’s impending approach. In the spring, the kids and I will go on a parging blitz. Huzzah.

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Tree Removal- NOT a DIY Project

October 22, 2010

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I’ve done some DIY tree removal, believe it or not. As a teenager, we lived on top of a forested mountain, Spencer’s Mountain style– living off the land as much as possible. We relied on wild game for food and on wood for our winter heating fuel. It was an interesting few years for me. While I liked living off the land and being self-sufficient, I didn’t want to be dirt-poor, and i had ambitions as a kid, so I left after I grew up. But I look back on those years with a fondness for homesteading. Maybe I’ll do it again, someday.

We used to fell our own trees. My stepdad would pack up the three boys and me into his rusty old pickup truck, and off we go into the forest. My mom always had conniptions when we left. She remembered the scene in Spencer’s Mountain where the tree falls on the dad. Well, that wouldn’t happen with my stepdad. Because he had us fell the trees while he supervised. lol But I do remember one close call where my brother cut too deep an angle, and the tree was going right toward him. He moved out of the way, but it was a scary time.

I found this video that so exemplifies how difficult tree removal is. Oopsie! Oh dear. 🙁

The kids and I felled a tree on this property a few years ago, but it was a small (25 feet) ornamental tree. Still, little trees are HEAVY. Tree felling is serious business. We had to have a huge, huge dead maple removed from the front yard a few years ago (the thing was about 50 feet tall, and only about 20 feet from the house. It dropped HUGE limbs onto the front yard from time to time. The limbs only occasionally glanced the roof– thank God it never damaged it seriously. There was NO WAY I was going to let The Hubs take it down. We hired an arborist and he took it down. It took him two days, but the guy did it and he was amazing. The kids loved watching him swing around on the rope! He was like an acrobat!

So tree removal is serious stuff. You should always contact a pro, or look in the yellow pages for an experienced arborist. Some professionals can also offer some good tips on pruning trees and caring for trees.

I love to DIY, but tree removal is for the birds. Ugh.

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Parging The Foundation Walls

June 29, 2009


I have been in the process— oh, for about THREE years now!! — of parging the foundation walls of my home. Most new homes since the 60s and 70s have concrete block or poured concrete foundations. But waaaay back in the olden days (as when my house was built), foundations were built from field stones or cut stones. My home has cut stones. Over the 150 year span that my home has been standing, the field stones are still in excellent condition– it’s just the mortar that stinks.

Stone foundations have limestone mortar. It is water-permeable and over time and rodent-chewing (chipmunks are notorious for chewing away the mortar to build nests between the stones), the mortar begins to fail. In severe cases, this can cause foundation failure. In less severe cases (such as mine) this can mean a pocked, ugly appearance and some water leakage. Parging is the application of a thin coat of sticky cement over the wall surface. I’ve got about half of my interior basement done– what a job! My basement is huge and has 6′ high walls– and about 1/3 of the house’s exterior foundation wall (about 2 feet high).

Dig Down

The mix you use for parging must be special– it has to be sticky (that is, it must stick to a vertical surface without plopping down and off) and must remain stuck to the walls after it is dry. I had one dummy at Lowe’s tell me I needed mortar mix for the job, and me- being the dumb homeowner– listened to him and bought $200 worth of the stuff. Only to find that this is the WRONG stuff and crumbles off over time. :-p What you need to use is something call Sand Mix. It’s a combination of sand and portland cement. It should not crumble off if applied properly. There are even some acrylic additives you can add to the mix to make it even stickier- the additive is a lot like Elmer’s glue and comes in tall bottles. You pour it in to your Sand Mix mix. I didn’t use it. I’m too cheap (the additive is very pricey). I mixed up the Sand Mix and so far, it’s been working well. This is what I did about four years ago, and it’s holding up great:

Older Parging Job

To make the mix, you add water to the Sand Mix. You should only mix up as much Sand Mix as you are going to use in about 30 minutes. Otherwise, it will start to harden and won’t work anymore. Here’s what you will need for parging your walls:

  • Sand Mix
  • a bucket
  • water (hose or watering can)
  • spray bottle filled with water
  • cement trowel
  • cardboard or kneeling pad for your aching knees

It’s important to mix the Sand Mix *just right*– not too soupy or not too crusty. When mixed properly, you’ll be able to make M’s or S’s in the mix and they will stay in shape.
Mix Sand Mix

Before spreading on the stuff, make sure your wall is free from crud, like spiders’ webs, frass, and loose mortar. You will also want to dig down in the dirt a little, so that your parging line will not be seen should the soil shift around your foundation. I usually dig down about 3 to 6″, depending on the soil and the wall itself. Some folks go much deeper down.

Now, get your spray bottle and moisten the wall. This helps the parging mix to stick onto the wall. Don’t saturate your wall with loads of water– just get it wet.

Spray the Wall

Now lay your parging mix with your trowel, in 1/4″ to 1/2″ thickness.

Parge It On

Corners and around windows are the hardest, so take your time. Parging isn’t a difficult job, it’s just tedious. While parging, I found a few areas where moles and/or chipmunks had chipped mortar away. Grrr. I filled these holes in, to keep them out. Parging helps keep out water, too.

Parging Progress

Click to enlarge any photo.

Parge Progress

I am not too fussy about how smooth my mix goes on. Just laying on the mix is a 100% improvement!

Wall Parged

Allow to dry for 36 hours before moving the soil back into your trench. The parging mix will change color as it dries, to a light gray. You can leave it this color, or paint it with some waterlocking paint, or exterior concrete paint. This job is so easy that you can even have the kids do it. You just have to make sure that they are consistent with the thickness and apply it so that everything is covered completely.

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