Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quick Fix: The Backasswards Doorknob

It’s not that I don’t trust my roommates or feel the need to live a hermit-like existence locked in my room, but I think we’d all agree that having the option to lock your bedroom door is a general good thing. So when I discovered that even when I did lock my door, it still pushed open easily, I put it on my list of things to take care of.

The problem: Like I said, when I locked my door, it just pushed open really easily. When I tried to close it while the knob was still locked, it didn’t close. This might be a little weird to picture, so here’s a video to show you what was happening:

The diagnosis: First I looked at my doorknob and observed the way it moved with the door jam. What did I notice? The curved portion of the doorknob lever was facing away from the door frame, as pictured here:

After checking out a few other *correctly functioning * doors in the house, I discovered that the levers on those doors were facing the other direction, so that the curved side faced towards the door frame and moved easily across the curved section of the door jam. Basically, the doorknob lever on my door was installed backwards. This was a problem because locked the door didn't actually lock the lever, it just locked the turning mechanism in the lock, so the curved portion was allowing the lever to move.

The Fix: First, I used a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the doorknob pieces together and pulled both sides of the door knob apart. Then, I unscrewed the cover plate that was holding the lever in and the lever, leaving three separate doorknob pieces:

Then, I placed the lever in the door so that the curved portion faced the door frame. I also put the plate back on:

All I had left to do was put the doorknobs back in place. In order to do this, I took the outer knob (which had the inner pieces attached to it) and aligned the curved side with the curved opening in the lever:

Finally, I put the interior knob on and secured them with the screws. The result? A door that locks.

This quick fix only required a screwdriver and 10 minutes. If you're having the same problem with your door, I highly recommend you take a few minutes and improve the functionality of your space! If you're like me, you'll be very happy to cross that one nagging little detail off your list.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dryer Drama

Disclaimer: I’m not a certified anything, so don’t take the instructions I provide in the following story as gospel. Also, I’m fully aware that this story is one gigantic “that’s what she said” so hold your immaturity at bay for a while and let your mind return to the gutter once your done reading. Or you can just giggle awkwardly like I did.

“As Is” Condition
When we signed the lease for our townhouse, the rental agent casually mentioned that the washer and dryer were included “as is”, meaning that if either broke, we were up a creek. We loved the place, so we were willing to take our chances. Plus, we hoped that if either did break, the landlord would realize that it would be cheaper for him to replace the dryer than it would be to find new tenants in a year.

I think you know where this is going. My roomie went to do her first load of laundry and, low and behold, the dryer didn’t work.  Instead, it made a terrifying buzzing sound, obviously not drying or turning. Cue mini panic:

Are you serious? No, this can’t be right. Maybe we just don’t know how to work a dryer like this. OK, it’s definitely not working. Crap. Should we call our dads? No, we’re big girls now, we can handle this. Should we call the landlord? Should we call the rental agent? I can’t believe this. We were totally jipped.

We felt we had the right to be royally pissed, so we emailed the landlord under the guise of “maybe you should know about this”. And he emailed us back, something along the lines of, “Nope, didn’t know about it. See paragraph in the lease regarding the washer and dryer.” It was like getting a door slammed in our faces.

When we signed that lease, we were given the impression that the dryer’s condition was “old but working” and not “completely useless", and we kindly explained this to a landlord in another email. We were very honest, and told him that we were extremely disappointed to learn that the dryer was broken upon move-in (the leasing agent didn’t test it during our walk through). We also explained that we likely would not have rented the unit had we known that the dryer didn’t work already.

The next day my roommate got a call from our landlord. He was at Home Depot, buying us a new dryer.

Cord Conundrum
The delivery day rolled around, and we were pretty excited. The guys came in to take away the older dryer, and discovered that we had this outlet:

This outlet is called a range outlet, not a dryer outlet. The delivery guys brought a dryer cord, not a range cord. A range cord has three flat prongs, while a dryer cord has two flat prongs and one that forms a right angle.

Left: range cord; Right: dryer cord
I called my landlord, who was outraged, and told them to send everything back. I said a tearful goodbye to our new dryer, and went back to working from home in my sweats until I got a call from my landlord, who was at Home Depot again. The delivery guys aren’t allowed to connect a dryer to a range outlet. Why won’t they do that? Get ready for a little electrical education.

Modern dryers are generally connected to a 30 amp circuit. Ranges (your stove) are connected to 40 amp or 50 amp circuits. When a circuit is overloaded, it trips, shutting off the power supply to that circuit. This might happen, for example, when two people are drying their hair on the same circuit, or when your parents have a freaking ton of Christmas lights plugged into the same circuit that you’re attempting to dry your hair on, which I don’t at all know from personal experience.

A 30 amp dryer plugged into a 40 amp circuit has plenty of electricity to work, but if the dryer overheats or uses too much electricity somehow and doesn’t have a safety on it, it can keep overloading and exceed those 30 amps without the circuit tripping and shutting everything off. Since most modern dryers have safety systems built into them that shut the dryer off when this happens, this isn’t that big of a deal. At least that’s what my landlord’s electrician friend told him and my electrical engineer grandpa confirmed.
My landlord asked if any of our dads were handy and could install the dryer, since hiring an electrician is expensive. Well, my dad is pretty handy and I knew he could take care of this.And I'm pretty handy too, although I left this detail out of the convo since I figured my landlord probably wouldn't believe me.

They delivered the new dryer the following week, but didn’t install it per their policy with range cords.Isn’t she beautiful?

Just let me vent a little, OK?
Here’s something that’s not beautiful: the dryer vent, which the delivery guy warned me was pretty dirty. I whole-heartedly concur. This is what I saw when I looked into the disconnected end of the vent:

In case you’re one of those people who doesn’t understand why it’s important to clean a lint trap, this is one of the reasons. Lint build up not only reduces the efficiency of your dryer, but it's also a big fire hazard. There was no way I could sleep at night knowing that this was connected to our new dryer, so I took it down by unscrewing the clamp near the ceiling vent, and set out on a mission to clean this thing out. I was going to use a shop vac, but my friend jokingly recommended a leaf blower. I actually didn’t think that this was a bad idea, and decided on it as my weapon of choice:

Well, 10 minutes and a backyard full of lint later (fail), this puppy was still caked in lint. I was pretty sure it would stay that way so I decided to give up and use the new vent that the delivery guys left with us. The new vent was much more rigid than the aluminum foil-type vent that we had before. Through a little google research, I found out that this rigid vent is actually much safer than the old one because the old one is not sturdy enough to support its own weight and sags as a result. This sagging allows lint to gather in the bottom of the vent, instead of moving through it and to the outside (hence the pile of lint that fell out of it when the old dryer was disconnected). Plus, the foil types are more prone to holes. Here's a picture of me with the rigid vent:

Some other things I learned about dryer vents:
  • A dryer vent should not contain right angles or rigid turns, with the exception the elbow piece that connects it to the dryer.
  • Transitional vents should be as smooth and straight as possible so that lint doesn’t get trapped anywhere along the vent.
  • Transitional vents should be a max of 8 feet long, and only one transitional vent should be used to connect the dryer and the vent in the ceiling.
  • The connection between the vent should be as airtight as possible and extremely secure to allow the dryer to be efficient and prevent moisture and carbon monoxide (gas dryer, not what we have) from escaping into the house.
When I got the vent expanded to about 8 feet, I tried to connect it to the ceiling vent and ran into another problem. The transitional vent didn’t fit over the ceiling vent like it was supposed to. It fit inside, but didn’t stay securely connected even when I screwed the metal clamp down. Discouraged, I called my dad, had an awkward conversation during which he asked me which vent was the “male piece” and which vent was the “female piece”, and came away still not knowing what to do. An employee at Home Depot said that the only thing they carried that connected two vents was this vent connector (duh), and that I should use aluminum foil tape if the connection wasn’t secure. I wasn’t really comfortable with this flexible tape holding the pipes together.

Then I had my light bulb moment. The solution wasn't to find a piece to connect my two vents; what I needed to do was remove the connector that I realized was already connected to the transitional vent. Still, I purchased the aluminum foil tape just in case (it was kind of cool), and went home to tackle my project.

I removed the clamp and connector piece on the end of the transitional vent, put the transitional vent over the vent in the ceiling, secured it with the foil tape (probably unnecessary, but just to be safe), and then secured the vent with the metal clamp, making sure the clamp when over the slits that were cut in the vent. Note that you must slip the metal clamp on the vent before you make the connection.

This picture shows the proper placement of the clamp, before you cinch it down (before aluminum foil was on there so you could see exactly where I meant):

Ta da! We're vented!

Hookin’ Up
To bring some electricity to the equation, I used the old range cord, which was still in great shape. Through more google research, I determined that the two outer wires of my cord were the hot wires, and the center wire was the neutral/ground wire, which is common on range cords. On the dryer, the neutral ground wire was silver and the hot wires were brass. I connected the appropriate wires by unscrewing the connections, and then inserting them through the end of the cord and back into the dryer. I secured them, but was careful not to make the connection so tight that it would damage the cord connections themselves.

With the cord attached, I put the cover back on and moved the dryer into place. I made sure to clean the area beneath the dryer with a shop vac that I bought on craigslist for $20. Using a metal clamp, I attached the elbow piece of the transitional vent onto the dryer and tightened the clamp until the dryer was secure.

Then I used my level to determine whether the dryer was level, and adjusted the feet until it was.

Before plugging in the dryer, I turned off the power to the circuit. To do this, I reviewed the notes on my electrical panel to determine which circuit the dryer was connected to: circuits 10 and 12.

I located circuits 10 and 12 on the panel (which were connected) and moved them from the “on” to “off” position.
On position: 

Off position: 

I then plugged the dryer in and moved it into place, being careful not to crush the vent. Finally, I turned the circuit back on, and tested my handiwork. She turned on perfectly, so I did my NFL victory dance and had my roommate take a picture of my moment of glory.

I'm really glad I did this myself because I know more about the electrical system in our house now, and I think that I was much more careful to get rid of lint and clean the floor around the dryer than the delivery guys would have been. Most people recommend that you have a professional install your dryer, but we don’t all have landlords willing to pay for professionals, and we don’t all have money to pay for professionals ourselves. Installing a dryer is actually quite easy, as long as you're careful and know what you’re working with.

Like I said earlier, I'm not expert, so please comment if you're more experienced in this realm and have more advice to provide. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bedroom on a Budget: The College Years

While I've always been a handy girl at heart, my obsession with DIY projects really took off when I got my first apartment in my sophomore year of college. My roommates and I didn't want the beat up furniture that came with a furnished apartment, and we figured it would be cheaper in the long run to buy stuff and reuse it or sell it, so we opted for an unfinished apartment. That meant that I had to furnish a bedroom myself, plus portions of the living room/dining room.

Let me interrupt this happy tale by saying that I am 1) a huge perfectionist (thanks Mom!) and 2) pretty cheap (thanks Dad!). I was determined to furnish a room that was functional, affordable, and cohesive/cute, in that order (well, most of the time). Having just heard about craigslist from a friend, I took to the web and started collecting furniture. My first purchase was a table (pictured in progress here), which only cost $10 and sits in my current room. I continued to search craigslist obsessively for perfect pieces. To give you an idea of my affordability standards, here's how much I paid for each piece of furniture in my room:
  • End table/Night stand -- $10
  • Another night stand, which I used as a bookshelf/TV stand -- $15
  • Dresser -- $35
  • Desk -- $30
  • Double bed frame -- $25 (plus about $8 for new bed slats)
Total:  $115

I knew that when I moved into an apartment with three roommates, my stuff would need to be more contained to my room than it was at my parents' house. So when I was searching for furniture, I tried to find pieces that maximized storage in the relatively small room. I made a point to find a tall, narrow dresser that provided storage without taking up the square footage of a low, wide one. This wasn't tough for me at all since I love a great vintage highboy. In order to provide ample storage for school supplies, makeup/hairbrushes, etc., I picked up a desk with plenty of drawers, as opposed to a table with one or no drawers. Here's a few photos of my collection pre-paintbrush:

 Headboard and footboard -- I especially loved the detail on the footboard.

This dresser had a great curved front and maximized storage in a small space.

This crackle-painted nightstand was originally from Ethan Allen.

I couldn't find a picture of my desk, but here's a photo of a similar desk courtesy of craigslist DC.

Then, I did something that was totally unoriginal, trendy, and not very creative: I painted it all white. Here's how the pieces came out:

Headboard and Footboard



TV Stand (really a nightstand)

I know what you're thinking.

I can't believe she painted that beautiful dresser. It looked great already!

At least that's what my neighbors not so subtly indicated when they'd stop by to see what I was doing in the garage. And the dresser did look great without paint, but that color wood in my bedroom just ain't my thang (I prefer a mahogany or espresso).

The room actually did look pretty cohesive, and I was able to furnish my bedroom sans mattress for about $150 with paint and supplies. Plus, I totally enjoyed working on each one of these pieces.

A few tips for furnishing your room with used furniture:
  • You can find nice stuff on craigslist for REALLY affordable prices if you look often and have patience when hunting down the perfect piece. Set your affordability standards low, you'd be amazed at what you can find.
  • It's important to think about how you use the furniture in your current space. Do you have a lot of books that you'll need to store? Where will you keep things like hair brushes and hairbrushes? Always keep in mind how much storage you'll need.
  • Don't be too quick to dismiss a piece of furniture that looks like it's straight out of your grandma's house. A vintage piece painted an unexpected color mixed with a more contemporary piece can provide an interesting juxtaposition, especially in a rental lacking in architectural character.
  • Pay attention to the lines of a piece of furniture and the material it's made from -- the color, hardware, and upholstory can all be changed.
  • Just like you do when you're buying a house, think about the ways you would want to change a piece of furniture, and roughly how much those changes will cost you.  Factor those changes into your budget so you know just how much you're willing to spend on the piece.
  • If you buy a used piece of furniture and find another piece that works better, don't hesitate to put the first piece back on craigslist. You'll be much happier with your end result if you admit when something isn't working and find an alternative.
  • Painting furniture the same color or even the same color pallete an easy way to make a collection of furniture look more cohesive.
  • Good paint is worth the money, as some of the cheaper brands can dry tacky. This can be a real problem with white especially.
  • Try to tackle projects one at a time.
As I made my way through college and moved apartments (and even bedrooms), my collection evolved. Stay tuned for more installments of bedroom on a budget when I'll walk you through some of the changes I made to my boudoir, and how I decided to outfit my new big girl bedroom in my first house post-college!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Little Blog Prog[ress]

After hearing my mom say countless times, "I hope you're taking pictures of all this stuff," and kicking the idea around with friends, I've finally started my blog to document the projects I'm undertaking in the realm of home improvement, craigslist furniture hunting, and other forms of creative self-sufficiency.

I should've started this earlier in the summer when I first signed my lease and started my mad hunt for cheap, looks-like-I-finally-have-a-grownup-job furniture. But, I got busy/distracted (seems to happen a lot) and my curmudgeon of a computer was making me less than enthusiastic about uploading a bunch of pictures at one time. Then, yesterday, the weather got to be pretty cold and rainy, and I determined that since the weather made me want to come home after work and sit in bed (rather than, say, take another trip to Home Depot), this week would be a perfect week to start this blog.

It's late now and I have a meeting tomorrow at 9:30 am, so further progress will have to wait until tomorrow evening. For now, here's a picture of my first-ever craigslist purchase in progress from the summer of 2005. More about my penchant for projecting to come.

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