Come on over to The Wild Garden Burbstead and read about my “Moldy Mishap” while remodeling the kid’s bedroom!
Tag Archives: diy
To read about this project, go to wildgardenburbstead.com . I will no longer publish new posts on Gina’s Inspirations. But I will continue to notify you that there is a new post on either of my new “.com” sites for a few more weeks. If you enjoy the stories about building our burbstead, permaculture, gardening, and frugal living, you can follow me at the Wild Garden Burbstead site. You can also follow me at ginaagaines.com for arts and crafts, herbals, recipes and personal reflections. I hope to continue “seeing” you at either, or both, of my new blogging sites!
Space is limited here at the Wild Garden Burbstead, so I need to make good use of every square inch of it. I can’t afford to waste any sun-drenched, crop-producing ground by placing a building in the wrong spot. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and lowers toward the south in winter (generally) on my little corner of the globe. Because of the sun’s patterns of movement, buildings cast a mostly northern shadow here. If I build my greenhouse, chicken coop, barn or any other structure on the southern side of the property, much of the remaining ground will be shaded, reducing the amount of growing space I’ll have. So placement of a greenhouse, a chicken coop, or a barn is pretty much a no-brain-er. The biggest problem I had was deciding what to build, because I just don’t have room for all those buildings! I’ve drawn at least two dozen combination ideas for my back yard burbstead before coming up with this one.
The plan is to build it in 3 phases. The first section will be built on the farthest northeastern corner with the greenhouse portion facing south. As each section is added, the west-facing wall will be altered to encompass the new section with a minimal amount of effort. I’ve marked off the area for the completed 3-section green-barn so there will be enough walk space left between the farthest possible northwest corner and the existing shed. Starting small and leaving space for potential additions seemed like the best way to tackle this project. The first section will contain a passive solar greenhouse for starting seedlings and provide me the opportunity to learn how to grow tropical plants, if I can at all. It will also have a coop portion that will house the beginnings of my poultry flock, which will consist of a couple of miniature ducks and three or four hens. This small beginning will allow me to troubleshoot and experiment with my ideas before expanding.
In section two, the existing greenhouse will become an aquaponics setup with tilapia. And the new section will, hopefully, be my little tropical garden. The coop will be enlarged and become more barn-like. Vermiculture bins will most likely be added in there somewhere to feed fish and fowl. I’m still debating over whether or not to add rabbits. I love crocheting and weaving and have thought about Angora rabbits as a natural fiber source. But there is still more research to be done and I’m not yet in a financial position to reduce my hours at the hospital, so that phase will have to sit on the back burner with section three for a while. Section 3 is just more barn space if needed for more rabbits and/or miniature goats when I have enough time to properly care for them, and if we are able to acquire one or both of the lots adjacent to ours.
Combining the coop, barn and greenhouse will save on time, energy, money, and lumber as well as space. It’s designed to use easily accessible and less expensive 8′ lumber and roofing materials without wasted cuts. Meeting each animal, fish and plants’ diverse needs presents a bit of a challenge, but I have collected some ideas from other gardening experts and enthusiasts as well as coming up with a few ideas of my own. If you have any suggestions or questions about how the combo will work, please feel free to post a comment. Brainstorming is the best way to overcome obstacles and inspire new ideas… and I just love sharing!
Now for the nuts and bolts of the project. Part One dealt mostly with planning and layout. Any project, even a small one, needs to begin with a solid plan. So when you are attempting something new, you should first research it thoroughly. I spent almost a whole year staring at that fireplace and drawing sketches of ideas, reading books in my personal library and articles on the web, and talking to several professionals and DIY’ers in my neck of the woods before I began the project. Now that a trip to the library can be easily augmented by a trip to the web, information truly is at your fingertips. I would caution you, however, to keep in mind that you shouldn’t believe everything you read. Depending on the type of project you’re working on and your level of expertise (and/or access to a reputable expert for advice), your DIY dreams have the potential to become a nightmare with unreliable information. Please understand that I do not want to discourage anyone from trying to make their dreams come true. As a matter of fact, my hope in creating this blog is that you will be inspired to take hold of your dreams and pull them, kicking and screaming, out of your head and bravely mold them into something beautiful with your own two hands. The level of gratification you’ll experience is indescribable! I also want to encourage you to not let fear of failure stand in your way. I haven’t met a roadblock yet that couldn’t be transformed into a highway with a little imagination and elbow grease. So, with that said, let’s pick up where we left off. As you can see from the photo above, we left the living room in quite a mess!
It’s several weeks later here and the upper portion is completed. There’s that hollow mantle I told you about in Part One. You can’t see the wires unless you move the decorations and poke your nose way up in there. It was built using the same principles you see in the box in front of the hearth. I wanted the hearth to be wide enough to sit on without burning your backside, so I added about 8 inches of depth to it. Remember that you need to be mindful of your destination when you start mapping any trip. Notice the flat rock laying on the hearth? I used it as a guide when drawing the “map” for my new hearth. It was the average thickness of the stones we dug up out of the yard, and small enough to handle fairly easily. Now, look at the drill that’s standing at attention on the floor. You can see that the box I’m building is a bit shorter than the hearth it’s attached to. Using the rock as a guide, I’ve left enough room on either side for the thickness of the rock, plus the lathe and mortar (we’ll talk more about those in a bit) to reach the edge of the bricks so when it’s done it will look seamless.
Both the mantle and hearth box are connected to the brick using a special mortar screw. I quickly discovered that neither my drills nor my biceps were “man enough” to handle the job of driving those suckers into the bricks. After burning out the motor in one of my drills (may she rest in peace), I rented a professional strength drill. Surprisingly, it’s not that expensive if you take it back the same day. Don (my perpetually patient hubby and biggest fan) and I took turns wielding the hefty drill until the thick screw had securely joined wood to brick. Once you have a wooden foundation, adding other pieces of wood is a piece of cake.
Of course, if you’ve never even picked up a hammer, much less a drill, you will need to start with a smaller project and learn those skills first. Hmm… that might be a useful post… What’cha think? You can always go to your local Home Depot and find out if/when they will be having a class on that subject. As many times as I’ve gone in there with crazy ideas and sketches, you’d think they would all run and hide before I hit the door! Instead, they’re always eager to help. If the first associate I ask doesn’t know the answer, they whip their walkie-talkie out of its holster and before you know it, the Calvary comes a-running! Well… maybe not running… but I’ve never had to wait terribly long for someone who has experience with that particular task to help me. They’ve never disappointed.
Now, let’s get back to that hearth box. I added a wooden “lid” to completely close it. Then I stapled metal lathe over the wood to hold the mortar. Lathe looks a bit like mesh produce bags at the grocery. The metal is slightly flattened and angled to create thousands of tiny “cups” that hold the mortar to a vertical surface. Once the lathe is secured, just slather on the mortar. Be careful to buy mortar, and not cement. Mortar is “stickier” and is made specially for adhering one piece of rock (stone, concrete, etc.) to another. You can mix small batches of dry mortar with water in a large plastic bowl using your trowel. Or, you can dump large amounts into a wheelbarrow and mix with a shovel. Be careful, it’s backbreaking work! (Thank you Don and Tracy for your backs!) You want the consistency to be dry enough to hold on to the trowel for a moment before it slides off. But not so dry that it rolls off in a big ball. Just a bit thicker than hush-puppy batter for you southern cooks out there. Before applying the mortar to the bricks, I wet the bricks thoroughly with water using an old sponge. The mortar wouldn’t stick to the dry bricks at all.
Just in case you don’t already know what a trowel looks like, it’s the small triangular tool in the center. You use it to transfer the mortar from your bucket to the project. The larger tool on the right is a better shape for smoothing out lumps and making a surface smooth. To the left is a tool for making hatch-marks on the mortar. Notice it’s deep, jagged “teeth.” There are different size tools like this for different jobs, so make sure you get one specifically for mortar.
This is how the fireplace looked all covered in the hatch-marked mortar.
Looks better already! Now for the rocks. Please take into consideration that I am not a professional stonemason. Unfortunately, I don’t know any masons and was too impatient to pursue a personal interview. Several web articles on the subject said I should start at the top and work my way down to make it look better. So I did. Frankly, I don’t think it would have mattered. Anyway, let’s get down to the how-to’s.
The day before applying the stones to the hearth, each one was scrubbed and hosed and dried. I measured the areas to be covered, and then cut a matching paper silhouette from a roll of newspaper. (Ask your local Tribune for leftover rolls of paper. They are usually free, and truly priceless for us craft junkies!) The stones were then laid out on the paper like a big puzzle (thanks to April, my youngest daughter and puzzle master). That way you can sort of “preview” what the project will look like and not waste time searching for a stone to fit the hole you have waiting on it.
After the mortar had time to cure (harden completely, I waited 2 days), I wet the area where I wanted to place the first stone. Then I applied several globs (that’s my technical term, haha!) of mortar with the trowel and spread it out to a thickness between 1-2 inches over a space a little bigger than the stone that we prepared for that spot. Before applying the stone to the mortar, it was also dabbed with a wet sponge. Wet things are stickier! Once the stone was in place, I gave it a little push and a twist. Then I held it there for a minute before letting go.
again… and again… actually, I would advise taking regular breaks, no matter how bull-headed you are about closure, or how excited you are about seeing the end result. Believe me, a year’s worth of shoulder pain is NOT worth it! Oh, well, live and learn. Thankfully, the larger, thicker, and much heavier stones we chose for the horizontal part of the hearth didn’t require the “hold for a minute” part!
Once all the stones were in place the mortar needed time to cure… again. Did you notice that the gap to the left of the box underneath is filled in nicely now? I decided to fill in between the vertical rocks with mortar before tackling the horizontal part of the hearth. Applying mortar to the “joints” (the gaps between the stones), was much easier than placing the stones. You just drop little dollops into the gaps and push it in with the tip of your trowel. You can also use a gloved finger. I liked to clean up a bit as I went along, wiping the excess off the stones. I would do a small section at a time, then go back to the previous section and clean it a little more. Once the mortaring was completed, I had to let it cure… again. My patience was truly tested…
Whew! That was quite a bit of work! I was so excited I took this photo before the floors had been cleaned properly. They had to be scrubbed several times to remove the haze left by the mortar spills. I bought the products needed to seal the stone, but haven’t used them. It will make the stones look shiny and I just can’t decide if that will look right with my rustic house.
Here she is all decorated for summer! We’ve been through four seasons and I still haven’t sealed the stone. Probably won’t. The nice wide hearth makes a fine seat with a cushion under your tush!
When we bought this old house, the fireplace (along with most everything else), was an eyesore. So, the poor thing got a makeover! We found some beautiful old flagstones in the side yard and dug several of them up ourselves before we had the concrete guys dig up the rest. Just couldn’t bear to cover up those beauties with concrete. The patio is still a work in progress, so we’ll get to that later. You may not be able to tell it from the photo, but the hearth bricks are different than the rest. The seat of the hearth is gray slate, which doesn’t blend well at all. The mantle is too thin and the wood paneling over the upper portion ends too abruptly on the left side.
The first thing we had to do was a bit of demo. I just LOVE demo! 🙂 That’s Meredith ripping out the wal lto the right of the fireplace. At first, she and Megan (her twin sister) were all like, “Wow! this is fun!” and “Yeah, what a great way to relieve stress!” But by the time all the sheet rock was pulverized, they were all like, “Man, that’s hard work!” and “I may never recuperate from this!” And I was like…. uh… actually I wasn’t “like” anything. I just laughed.
It IS hard work! If you look at the bottom right of Mer’s leg, you’ll see a brick box. I guess it was for firewood. You can see a little of it peeking out at the bottom right of the first photo as well. I REALLY hated sticking my arm down in that deep, dark hole to clean it out. But I really LOVED pummeling it to pieces with a sledge hammer! The pictures don’t show how far off center the fireplace opening was on the brick facing. It wasn’t even centered between the box and the left side. HAD to fix that! Another “fix” the fireplace needed was it’s “presence” in the room. As you can tell from the next photo, it’s a pretty big room! Those windows are 4 x 6 feet… EACH!
That little sliver of bricks and the wimpy plank of a mantle on the left doesn’t even remotely resemble a fireplace. And that creepy box… UGH!!! Oh well, it’s not quite as rough as my little drawing… I can’t imagine why I didn’t take any pictures of this phase. After all, we had nothing else to do! HA! I hope you can tell from this rough sketch what happens next. I decided to center the fireplace opening (as much as possible) by flanking it with bookcases. We hired a carpenter for that job. The bookcase on the right was placed directly over the brick in the corner of the room. Oops! I just realized I didn’t draw the corner! There should be a straight line from the right edge (of the bookcase on the right) that goes all the way back. Squint your eyes and use your imagination… the line should be right at the end of the big word FIREPLACE. There… now, you can see the bookcase on the right is smack-dab in the corner of the room! You can also see that by placing the left bookcase on the wall at the edge of the fireplace, we’ve made the fireplace opening “appear” to be centered between the two. Oh… just squint your eyes again and you can see it under the little TV. The brick wall ran from here to here.
And the fireplace opening was here.
The bottom drawing (hopefully) gives you an idea of how I used unequal lines to visually balance the whole thing. In my drawing, as with the real one, absolutely NOTHING is centered, or equal, or even EVEN for heaven’s sake! Can you tell it bothers me? One case is narrower and deeper than the other. Neither the TV, nor the fireplace opening are exactly centered. So, in order to keep my sanity, I decided to take advantage of the sloping line of the ceiling and the fractured lines in the rocks. I added unevenly spaced shelves to each of the bookcases (the carpenter thought I’d gone mad) and the whole thing “appeared” to be centered. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when the finished product proved me right!
The “disappearing wire trick” was another inspiration I had that worked out quite well. Sometimes I wish the whole world was wireless. They’re just hideous to look at! You can see them in the photo below dangling limply from the TV toward the left bookcase. Looking at the top drawing above, you can see where they “disappear” to. I found out from the carpenter that this little vanishing act is called a “chase.” Who new? Well… the carpenter did, actually. But, now we all know. Don’t you feel enlightened?! HA! I love learning new things!
I eventually built a mantle between the bookcases that also served as a chase because it is hollow. The wires go down into the mantle, travel left to the chase, then down to the outlet near the floor. I can access it through that big hole at the bottom left of the picture. Thankfully it looks MUCH nice now!
The white stuff around the TV is sheet rock mud. I had to put 6-7 layers of it to cover the bricks well enough to hide them. The finish on the rest of the walls in this room looks a bit like stucco; and so did this part of the fireplace when we finished with it. A lot of mud & a little paint goes a long way!
I really hate to stop in the middle, but it’s WAY past my bedtime, and this post is getting dreadfully l o n g……
But I promise to have Part Two up and running tomorrow!