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How to Buy Replacement Windows That Look Great

February 16, 2012

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One of the best investments you can make for your old home is new windows. For the average homeowner, vinyl replacement windows is a good choice. But all vinyl replacements are not the same. Here’s how to choose the best window for your money and your old home.

Making your Selection

It comes as no surprise that the best window is the one that is the most attractive at the most affordable price. This is easier said than done, however. Window manufacturers seem to love to confuse the consumer with strange terms, baffling “new” “technology” and other slick marketing techniques. I’ll explain what some of these terms mean.

Vinyl
Vinyl replacement windows are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the same material used for PVC pipes and vinyl siding and fencing. PVC is a veritable soup of chemical ingredients. One manufacturer may use more of one ingredient to produce a better window while another manufacturer may use less and produce an inferior window. For this reason, it is best to stick with a name brand manufacturer who has a history of producing quality windows. Avoid the cheap no-name brands because chances are these products use cheaper ingredients that may cause problems in the future. Look for windows that have the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) label on them. This means that the window is certified by the AAMA for high quality materials and manufacture.

Two of the big problems with vinyl windows are their propensity to warp or sag with extreme temperatures and yellowing that occurs under direct sunlight. Look for a window that contains titanium dioxide (TiO2), an additive that helps vinyl keep its white color. There’s not a whole lot you can do about the warping from temperature changes– vinyl siding suffers from the same plight. If possible, install awnings over the windows that face south as these generally receive the brunt of direct sunlight year round.

Double Glazing
Most vinyl replacement windows are “double glazed.” Double glazing is also known as insulated glazing. It’s basically two panes of glass separated by a small pocket of air space. This type of glazing is marvelous, in my opinion.

A double glazed window. Image courtesy of pvc-window-manufacturer.com

Old homes with their original windows have single pane glass. As many of you old-home owners know, heated or cooled air and sounds pass very easily through single pane windows. But add another pane to the window and air flow and sounds are sharply restricted. Years ago, the double glazing cost for new windows added greatly to the entire cost, but today, double glazing is very common. Some companies will even offer to add double glazing to older windows and doors. It’s incredibly more energy efficient.

Gas
Some window manufacturers boast that their windows contain argon gas or some other inert gas, claiming that the injected of gas between the two panes help prevent damage from UV rays and add additional energy efficiency to the windows. Personally, I don’t think the gas does much good and I will never pay extra for it. Over time, the gas leaches out. It’s not toxic in such tiny amounts. But seeing that it is not a permanent feature and that it does very little good anyway, I won’t ever pay more money for a window that has it.

Screens
Vinyl replacement windows screens are, in my opinion, substandard.

Kitty cat screen damage.

They are usually made of fiberglass material and they tear easily (especially if you have cats!). They are very pretty at first, when installed, but over time they start to sag and the fibers weaken. They fill with dust and dirt, and if you wash them, the fibers sag and weaken all the more.

I don’t know for sure if any window manufacturers make metal screening in a smart-looking black color. They certainly should. Metal screens are much easier to keep. If you get a vinyl window with fiberglass screens, expect to have to mend or replace the screens pretty regularly, every 7 to 15 years or so.

Tilting Sashes
In my estimation, the sashes of a vinyl replacement window are one of its best features. Many models feature “tilting” sashes. You press two small clips on each side of the bottom sash and the sash will tilt in for easy cleaning. What a marvelous, magnificent feature! No more clambering 40 feet up a ladder to wash windows!

Another great feature about these sashes is that you can lift the bottom sash up AND the top sash down. This is a great feature for homes with small children or pets who may try to poke through the screen. You can simply open up the top sash of the window to protect the lower screen, and still get fresh air.

Things to Avoid

Besides the usual features I’ve mentioned, check the window for any possible future problems that may develop.

Stupidly Designed Safety Clips
When we bought our first bunch of vinyl replacement windows, the window installers proudly pointed to their “safety clips” as an exclusive added feature. These clips were simply plastic triangular pieces that, when flipped out, would “lock down” the windows yet still allow the windows to be cracked open. This would keep the windows secure but still allow fresh air to circulate especially during hot summer nights.

While a terrific theory, the clips didn’t last long. They were poorly made and they were not attached to the window at all. After a year, they fell out and left ugly gaping holes.

Thin Vinyl “fin” Opening Handles
I would have gladly skipped the Amazing Safety Clips for better opening handles, that’s for sure. If you expect to open and close your window more than a dozen times, look for thick handles.

A broken handle on my window.

Blue-Tinted Windows
Some manufacturers tint their windows various colors, because homeowners may not want only white. However, avoid blue-tinted vinyl windows especially if they are a no-name brand and do not come with any AAMA certification label. Like supermarkets that color their old beef a red color to make the meat look fresher, blue-tinted windows hide the sub-grade vinyl used for the windows. These windows are tinted blue to hide their lack of titanium dioxide, the additive that makes the vinyl a white color. Over time, the blue tint will fade and the vinyl windows will become an ugly light yellow color.

Despite the caveats, I love vinyl replacement windows. They are more energy efficient and easier top operate than my old 100-year old windows. While no one is quite sure how long vinyl replacements will last (since they have only been around for 30 years or so), I think they can certainly last the lifetime of the homeowners. I’m hoping that manufacturers continue to offer us better technology and better features in the future.

Thanks for reading!

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Building My Home Office

January 9, 2012

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I’ve taken the teeniest, tiniest leap into building an official home office here. I’ve been working at home for over 3 years now, with a little desk and bookshelves showhorned into a corner of the living room. It’s so messy and my living room has become engulfed with stuff that I’m desperate to organize.

Well, I finally found some inexpensive kitchen cabinets suited for a home office. They are Aristokraft, in saddle oak. They are very plain, and are made of particleboard. But I don’t care– I don’t need a solid wood desk and the simple style suits me. The cost of the three cabinets with countertop was a fraction of the price of a new desk (one of those cheapo Chinese-made junk desks).

newdesk1

All I’ve got done so far is the bottom half. Eventually, I will build the top hutch portion when I can wrastle up the funds. For now, the base will have to do. Livvy likes it. šŸ™‚

The area looks quite empty and sterile. Oh, I have plans, though! I am going to build my own hutch. It will have two narrow bookshelves and a pair of cabinets. Eventually, I will create a huge built-in bookshelf along the wall. I intend to convert the room (living room) into a library, with big wall bookshelves and a gas fireplace.

newdesk2

I also plan on installing crown molding along the top of the ceiling and placing LED white lights in the tray. It will give the room lovely ambient lighting.

The garage, once I have renovated it, will become the new family room where we will have sofas and chairs and the family’s huge assortment of musical instruments.

But before I rebuild the garage into living space, I have to build a barn in the backyard, to hold our power tools and auto equipment. Oh yeah, I’ll be busy for a long time. And then , of course, I still have to renovate the upstairs of the house and the downstairs bathroom….

Sheesh, who knows, maybe by the time I’m finally done renovating, I’ll be too old to maintain such a big house. I can then turn around and sell the place for a nice profit. It sure would be nice to enjoy the fruits of my labors here, though. I’ve spent most of my years living in a dumpy house!

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Bifold Doors Are a Big Deal

December 12, 2011

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Does it drive you nuts when framed pictures and other things are crooked? I used to be compulsively straightening things around the house, but mysteriously, everything always just went *tilt* as soon as I turned my back. I finally gave in about a year ago, after wearing myself out for almost two decades, haha!!

I took this photo and it just reminds me of the futility of having anything “straight” in an old house. LOL

Bifold

That, my dear friends, is our new bifold door! Oh hey– it may not look like much, it’s definitely not as glamorous as a new clawfoot tub with shiny brass fixtures… but it’s MINE. And it’s FINALLY in the doorway. I’ve been waiting to have a bifold door here for… oh, just 15 years or so. Finally got it up.

Throw the confetti, I’m having a party. Who knows, maybe this is the start of a wonderful chain of events! Maybe we can get that 1.6 gallon toilet installed upstairs, ya think? It’s been taking up space in its box in the garage for over two years now….

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What Summer Sheets Are Best?

August 10, 2011

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After the blistering heat wave a few weeks ago, and now that a murky cloud of intense humidity has settled over us (70% dewpoint and higher, yuk!!) for about two weeks now, I’m reaching a point of desperation. I can’t tolerate the heat and humidity, and therefore I have trouble sleeping. It wasn’t bothering me much until lately, when the temps spiked.

guitarktty

Those pillow cases are part of the new "medieval" sheets I got. I think they are cool! But not... cool... if you know what I mean.

I have a memory foam mattress, and while it is spectacular in comfort, the thing is like an oven in the summer. It absorbs heat, and it feels like sleeping on a warm loaf of bread. I’ve been trying to find some good sheets, but I’ve already spent a good amount of money on some… and I can’t say I’m very happy with my choices. Now, I’ve already got winter sheets figured out– flannel sheets RULE; and I’m snug as a bug even when it’s 40 degrees in my bedroom. But during the summer, I’m at a loss.

I recently purchased a “modal/cotton” set. It’s very soft and stretchy, a little bit like a t-shirt. It’s very cushy and comfortable. but it’s almost TOO cushy. And what the heck is “modal,” anyway?

And then I bought a Better Homes & Gardens set (can’t go wrong with a name brand, right??). It’s a very, very attractive red design, with a medieval-looking pattern. They actually have some really nice designs; I’m partial to purple bedding sets. too. But these sheets are…. I think they are a cotton/polyester mix. It’s like sleeping between a lightweight tarp. They make a nylon-ish sound when you move around in them. They’re OK, but… they’re still kinda hot.

What the heck do you get for summertime bedding?! I can’t really find any answers online. IS there anything, really?

I have heard of Egyptian cotton bedding, but that stuff is $100! Before I get it, I need to know if it’s really worth it. Have you tried Egyptian cotton? Is it a “cool” sheet?

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My Before, During, and After Story, Part 4

November 20, 2010

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This is the story of our renovation, the toils and victories through a sweltering summer of blood, sweat and tears. Read all the gory details of Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Our kitchen project was finally coming to a close. Yet even now, three months since we moved back in, there are many unfinished projects awaiting me. Now that I am back to a normal schedule with kids’ schooling, my online job, and such, I can only chip away at these remaining projects, slowly but surely. My goal is to batten down the hatches for an Upstate New York winter, and I’ll pick up the hammer and saw again in the spring.

After we tackled the butcher block countertops, we collapsed for a few days. Almost all of the really intense physical labor was done. Except the flooring. We’d installed plywood sub-flooring over the 70s hardboard subfloor over the 50s linoleum over the 1855 pine planks…. thank God, they’d removed the funky 40s carpeting somewhere in there (although dregs of it appeared from time to time as we removed partition walls). I love wood, just LOVE it, but it is so expensive. I decided to go with TrafficMaster allure vinyl planks. It looks like wood– for a second or two, anyway– but it’s durable and easy to install. Cost me a small fortune, though, I’ll tell you what. But I had been waiting SO LONG for a new floor.

Vinyl Flooring

Very easy to install. I guess that's why it's so pricey.

Island

It took me about 8 hours (straight) to install the dining room floor, 10 hours to do the kitchen.

Once the floor was done, the room looked like a real kitchen again. We moved in shortly after. Oh, the JOY!

DeltaH20_5

BeverageArea

This is our beverage area, which I conveniently tucked under the stairwell. Note the painted pantry shelf to the left. Still has no doors, though...

TheKitchen1

dishwasher90273

Our favorite appliance. Oh, how we dreamed for this moment! LOL, six adults in a home make a lot of dishes.

I’d mentioned before about the sink and window as the room’s focal point. I carefully crafted the trim around the window to reflect the home’s Greek Revival architecture. The Greek triangular pediment and fluted trim is repeated throughout the house. I stained this wood extra dark to make it stand out. Cellular blinds soften the hard lines. I need more color and decor here, but all in good time.
Window1

2010 was a wild, crazy ride for us.

MyFan1

I’m spending the winter quietly, taking things slower as best I can. I work at home to pay off the kitchen. If we had hired out to have all this work done, the job would have cost us a small fortune. By doing everything ourselves, we saved a ton of money. It was a lot of work, sure, but I think everyone was enriched by the experience, especially my kids. Here’s a quick breakdown of the economics:

According to this chart, we saved over $36,000 by doing this ourselves. That is a HUGE savings! Yes, I took time off from work to work on this renovation. I worked on reduced hours for four months. However, consider this: a kitchen renovation gives you an average of 70% return on the cost of the project, so I basically “earned” $25,200 on the value of the home. That’s more than I make in a year, let alone four months. So even though I’m not seeing a liquid $25,200 cash in hand, it’s part of my real estate investment. It was well worth it, I think, to go reduced hours on my job (with which, I figure, I lost about $2000 income) to earn $25,200 in capital investment on the property. Moreover, improving the electrical and water supply reduces our insurance premium, the insulation in the walls reduces our heating bills,Ā  and everything in general improves the quality of our lives here.

I think my DIY project was worth it. But I’m SO GRATEFUL it’s over!

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My Before, During, and After Story, Part 3

November 18, 2010

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This is the story of how we gutted our 1855 home’s kitchen and dining room. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

I have thus far blogged about the kitchen renovation. Originally, gutting the kitchen was my only goal. In an old house, it is SO easy to get carried away with multiple projects, because there is always so much to do. As I planned the kitchen job, I realized I’d have to do the dining room, too. Part of the renovation goal was to wire the house (I’d disconnected the old, decaying wiring in the house three years previously). We’d suffered all those years without any electricity in the bedrooms upstairs, the upstairs bath, and the dining room. I decided to gut the dining room, too. This way, I could wire the upstairs rooms from the opened dining room ceiling.

Wiring 1

The house framing method is balloon-frame, a building fad in the mid 1800s. Studs sit on the foundation sill and reach all the way up to the roof rafters, like a hot air balloon seams. It quickly grew out of fashion because cutting wood at such lengths was expensive; and the drafts produced by the open cavity from basement to attic was a fire hazard. But I was able to snake wiring up the stud cavities.

Since there was no plumbing in the dining room walls, I thought renovating the room would be easy. However, the walls are 155 years old, wavy and narrow. Installing the sheetrock for this room was AGONIZING. If I ever had to hire for a job, it would be sheetrock. What exhausting, dirty, depressing work. Nothing is straight or plumb in this house, so the walls and ceiling looked terrible. Not to mention that at this time, Upstate New York suffered one of the hottest summers on record. We were absolutely soaked through. I drank about 1 to 2 gallons of iced tea every day. It was a big trial for us to work through this. So many times we wanted to quit.

DRcornerceiling1

Wavier than a surfer's paradise, I tell ya.

DR ceiling sheetrock

It was just my daughter and I who did the sheetrock, with later help from my son. It took us THREE GRUELING WEEKS to do this huge room. Never again...

Walpapceiling

The wavy ceiling turned out so poorly, we decided to paste embossed wallpaper on it. That was another GRUELING week of work.

pediment10

I wanted to retain the Greek Revival architecture of the house, so I spent a long time building new trimwork for it. I love my miter saw!

DiningRoomDone2

The room was a tremendous challenge because it has four windows and SIX doorways. But here's the finished product.

Back to the kitchen project. There was a large space- a former pantry closet that was awkward and cramped– and I didn’t want to close it off completely… So we solved the problem by creating a narrow pantry shelf accessible from the side of the closet. The guys from my church got this up in one night!

Narrow Pantry

pantryshlevsquirky

This is after the sheetrock. It's a little quirky, but I love it. I have to build custom doors for it. That open cubby hole to the left will house a closet with a roll-out garbage bin... still not completed yet.

BroomClosetdrywall

I like quirky closets so much that I built another one, between the kitchen and dining room doorways.

The guys from the church helped me install the sheetrock in the kitchen, to save my sanity. I hope I never have to do it again. Woo hoo! It’s over and it looks spectacular!

FirstCabs

Once the walls were closed up, we could start installing cabinets. Yay!

KitchenAug30

Kitchen2August30

It took me a long time to choose countertops. I originally chose laminate (I was on a budget!), but the long run (11 feet) would mean I’d need custom laminate countertops. Time was running out for us– it was already late August– and I knew I could not build custom laminate, nor could I afford it installed. After much research, I bought butcher block wood countertops from an online wholesale dealer. It requires a little more maintenance than laminate, but it’s absolutely beautiful.

installbutcherblock1

The delivery man placed it at the mouth of the driveway, and took off! We had to haul the 350 pound counters 150 feet down the driveway, to the kitchen. Fun.

installsink2

It took three kids and me to make this sink cutout. I was trembling with anxiety the entire time. One bad cut, and my countertop was ruined. Praise the Lord, it came out OK!

Delta Faucet almost there

Delta gave me a faucet for this renovation. I LOVE YOU, DELTA! We love our sink. šŸ™‚

The end is near! Stay tuned for the next section– it’s the best part of all!!

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The Mudroom Problem

November 1, 2010

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Now that we are in the dregs of autumn, I see how desperately we need a mudroom. I realize that not all of you are from the Northeast– a mudroom is a vestibule or back room where you dump your coats and shoes and other outdoor items (such as umbrellas) before entering the main house. With six of us, plus two dogs and three cats, there’s a LOT of mud. :S I’ve never really had a mudroom here.

Our "mudroom" is just a small corner by the laundry room. I am ALWAYS cleaning it up.

I did not want to use up precious space in the kitchen to make one, either. I figure I will eventually rebuild the decaying back stoop into a small mudroom, next year, hopefully. It will be unheated, but it’s better than nothing. The space is very small, only about 5 feet by 5 feet, so storage will be premium real estate. I’m currently looking at our habits, and looking into our needs, so that when the time comes to build the thing, I’ll know what to do.

One very good idea for a mudroom is morelockers.com lockers. Yes, those old school lockers. They are perfect for storing tons of stuff: gloves, hats, coats, umbrellas, sports gear, maps, everything! What a phenomenal idea! It’s difficult to find lockers locally (WalMart does not sell them!) unless you know that some school is selling them or giving them away. And how often does that happen? They have a nice selection. Besides the typical metal vented lockers (that I would find rather tacky in a residence), they have some very elegant wood ones, and some cool-looking European-style kinds. The prices aren’t too bad (typical furniture pricing for the wood lockers), but the selection is outstanding and the store allows you to buy large units or single lockers. So it’s a nice choice.

Coat hangers are another necessity. I can’t believe how many coats we have “hanging” around! For everyone, there is at least a spring/fall jacket, a nice winter coat, and a work winter coat. Plus we girls have sweaters and etc. That’s quite a number of coats. :S I need to find some way to organize things better. Because right now, my small hooks in the kitchen are buried with coats.

Anyway, organization and storage is a MUST for the mudroom. I’ll be doing some research over the winter, and by spring I’ll see what I’ve got (just in time for the mud season).

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Couldn’t Wait…

October 20, 2010

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I hung my beautiful giant clock up in the kitchen. I had promised myself to wait until the kitchen was completely finished, as a means of motivating me to keep on keeping on with this endless project, but I just couldn’t wait. I couldn’t!! The clock was BEGGING me to go up on the wall.

BigKitchClock

The thing is huge, and weighs perhaps 20 or 30 pounds. I was no mean feat hanging this sucker. Because there is no central stud on this wall, I had to cut open the drywall, insert a block of wood between the two flanking studs, and patch the drywall back in. It took about 4 days (spackle had to dry, we had to repaint the area, etc etc). But FINALLY, it is up! I absolutely love it.

It goes with the kitchen design so well, has that bronze-y finish and an “Old World” feeling. It matches the ceiling fans exactly.

Below the clock will be a long mantle-like shelf. My iPod dock will sit on it. Yes! We got an iPod dock! My Hubs picked it, and it is really high-quality. I’ll have more on that, later. And oh yeah- under this mantle shelf will go a heater… whenever we get those installed. šŸ˜ The forecast calls for flurries on Friday! I’m a little nervous because the basement window is still not filled in, and we have no gas lines for heaters yet. :S Both The Hubs and I have been totally swamped at work, and have absolutely no free time at all. *sigh*

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New Curtains From CurtainWorks!

October 7, 2010

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My new curtains from CurtainWorks.com came in! They go marvelously with my living room, don’t you think?

LivCurtains4

I am ecstatic at how beautiful they are, and how very well made they are. The kind folks at CurtainWorks gave me three sets for my living room. I absolutely LOVE these curtains! They are the perfect color, the perfect style, the perfect size!

LivCurtains1

Well, they don’t go with that lousy pink/blue couch we have. I greatly dislike the color of the couch (we got it used). We are going to be replacing it with something more suitable for our room. I want the living room to have a beige and red color scheme, with maybe some green accents.

LivCurtains2

About these curtains– they are the Arlington Jacquard Wide Width. I LOVE THEM, and I will be buying more for the rest of the house. They are of excellent, durable material– thick but not so thick that they are ugly. These will be perfect as both summer and winter curtains. They come in several colors, and are VERY affordable. These 84-inch drapes are usually $25 per panel, which is very comparable. I had shopped and shopped around a great deal this summer, looking for proper window treatments; and I think CurtainWorks has the best selection for the best prices. The material is really exceptional, I’m just so happy with these curtains. I have been to dozens of stores both online and locally, and I just haven’t found anyone who can compare with CurtainWorks. I’m really, really impressed with them.

In the past, I have always sewn my own curtains, because curtains at the stores were always so expensive, and I had the time to sew my own. However, I am too busy to sew my own stuff now, and the price of bulk material has really gone up in price recently. In my local craft/material store, I spotted some curtain fabric for $50 a YARD! Whoa!

jacquard

CurtainWorks also sells curtain accessories. They sent me this absolutely exquisite iron birdcage finial drapery rod. It’s so beautiful. As soon as I get the curtains for the other rooms, I will use this rod for my kitchen window.

finial

So I’m very impressed with CurtainWorks. I recommend them heartily! The prices are good, the curtains are EXCELLENT. And they sometimes have sales. Currently, there is a summer clearance sale going on, so it’s a great time to nab some nice curtains for very low prices. Next time you’re looking for some beautiful curtains or curtain accessories, definitely check out CurtainWorks!

LivCurtains3

So you know: CurtainWorks sent me these curtains and the finial rod for free, in exchange for me writing about them. All opinions are absolutely mine! And I mean it when I say that I love CurtainWorks and these curtains! I personally recommend them!

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New Kitchen: The Laundry Alcove

October 5, 2010

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In the new kitchen is a laundry closet, or “alcove,” as we sometimes call it. Honestly, I didn’t want the laundry appliances in the kitchen… but I had no where else to place them. We had to shoehorn the closet into a small corner of the kitchen. It looks “OK,” but it’s not the best choice, in my opinion.

Laundry1

Perhaps someday I can relocate the laundry area, when I finally convert the garage into a family room/utility area or something. I think the laundry closet is awkward, stuffed behind the back door and next to a window. I tried to make the area look as natural as possible, by adding more of the Greek-style pediment and fluted trim to the opening, and adding a window seat beneath the window next to the closet.

Laundry2

I originally planned for bi-fold doors to close off the laundry area, but it’s really too tight of a squeeze to fit them in. So I have to use curtains. These curtains are not my final choices: I will hang heavier drapes to help block out the noise of the appliances.

I also hung my retro tin signs. šŸ˜€

Laundry3

So obviously I still have a lot of work to do. We still have no clothes dryer installed yet (need to route the gas line). And with winter coming, we REALLY need to get on the ball and install the heaters (more gas lines). I am thankful we won’t have forced air heat this year. No drafts, no dust, and no threats of sickness from the 60-year old ducting system. GOOD RIDDANCE to that junky system!

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