Our Current House

Open ‘Er Up!

Sherry and I were excited when we first laid eyes on our house’s sunroom. We were actually grateful for the barely budge-able glass sliders and the damp carpet because the sellers positioned this house as a real fixer upper, and we knew the raw state of this room was one of the things that put it within our price range.

When it came to brainstorming what we thought we could do with it, I had deja vu for our first sunroom, which we made over with some floor & ceiling paint, sheer curtains and some cozy furniture. My mind used that to fill in the blanks as to what this new sunroom could become.

And although so far we’ve only so far removed the carpet and plopped some furniture down randomly, I could already feel us heading in that direction…

But Sherry had a different vision. She honed in on a key difference between those two sunrooms: this one was surrounded by a deck on all sides. And those broken doors – in particular the two sets on the long wall that we literally couldn’t slide at all – were a barrier to us enjoying this outdoor space to its fullest.

So she wanted to take ‘em off. Leaving something “open and glorious” (to borrow her words) – like a covered porch complete with an outdoor rug, vaulted ceiling, and a tiled floor. Something decidedly less like a big fishbowl tacked on to the back of our house.

I was nervous and unconvinced (like I am before most big undertakings). What about in the winter? The drafty glass doesn’t keep it warm enough for winter use anyways, Sherry reminded me. What about bugs? We used to leave the sliders wide open in our last sunroom with the fan running and no bugs wanted anything to do with us thanks to the moving air. But, um, is this sort of covered porch a thing people do?

Then Sherry showed me this image.

Sure, we don’t have a fireplace (although maybe we could add one someday…) but that picture had me sold. Heck, it even got me excited. We’ve used this deck more than any other outdoor space we’ve ever had, mostly because Clara enjoys playing with her baby pool and water table out there. And I realized this change would only make that time better. We could still retreat to the shade of the sunroom and the breeze of its fan, but we wouldn’t feel so closed off from the outside.

But enough talking. Let’s get down to business. Taking the sliding screen and glass doors off was a cinch. The glass door was heavier so it took a bit more oomph, but I just lifted them both slightly and tilted them off their track.

Honestly, the toughest part was carrying the glass out of the way. We piled them up beside our garage (Habitat for Humanity is coming to pick them up next week since the slides are the only broken parts, so the doors and screens themselves are in great shape to be donated).

Next I had to remove the frame pieces that kept the glass doors on either side from moving. This involved some unscrewing, a bit of prying and even some light hammer taps, but it all came up pretty easily overall.

With the inner frame gone, the two stationary panes on either side came out just like the sliding door in the middle. A little lift and tilt, and out they came. Although from years of not having budged, they took lots of oomph.

Removing all of the doors (12 glass doors and 4 screens) probably took me about two hours (excluding photo taking time). And as each one came out, I was able to see Sherry’s “open and glorious” vision become opener and gloriouser (?). Part of me wanted to stop and just kick back with a tall glass of sweet tea for the rest of the day.

But demo was not done. Each doorway still had the metal frame around it that was a bit of an eyesore (and the bottom piece was a major tripping hazard). So after removing a few dozen screws and prying a bunch of metal free from caulk with several tugs and twists, the frames came out.

This process took me about two more hours. I admittedly wasn’t really doing it the “proper” way – which would’ve been to remove all of the wood trim around the doors in the sunroom and (theoretically) slide the frames right out with ease. But some of the frames were so warped that I wasn’t sure they’d easily slide out even if I spent hours ripping off all the trim first. So I just kind of manhandled my way through it while keeping the trim in place. There was some twisted metal to show for it, but it did the trick. And since we couldn’t donate those frames since they were the broken parts of the doors anyway, it all worked out.

There’s still a long way to go (more on that in a second) but we’re both CRAZY excited about the change. I wish I could convey how liberating it is to walk freely between these two spaces now, no longer having to wrestle a stuck door to do so. I feel like we’ve reclaimed a whole portion of our deck that we previously didn’t touch because of the wall of immobile glass.

We joked that we should start calling it the “veranda” to mark its evolution from the typical sunroom that we’re used to. And perhaps that fancier term will lend a sense of polish that the space will lack during this in-between phase. We just have to remember to say veranda, and not verdana (which is a typeface, not a covered porch).

So it looks like this’ll be our first big makeover here at the new house (aside from laying all of that hardwood flooring upstairs before moving in). As usual, we’re planning to tackle it in nice bite-sized steps – and hopefully we can knock a lot of it out before the temperature drops too much. Here’s the tentative plan:

Oh, and one last minor thing that we took care of right away was to swap out all of the outlets for covered outdoor outlets. Don’t want rain shorting out any electrical stuff in there! Thankfully the walls aren’t drywall (they’re all wood painted with exterior paint) since we believe this room was once a covered porch before someone made it a sunroom – so when we add that casing to the door openings and caulk everything, the room will be all sealed up and weather resistant again.

Psst – Cassie over at Hi Sugarplum played 20 questions with Sherry, so you can read all about her weirdest quirks, her current cell phone ringtone, and her favorite Halloween candy.

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Obligatory Stripper Pun Goes Here

We decided to give stripping a go. Not in the bachelor-party “oh no the ‘cops’ are here” kind of way. We stripped our 676 square foot deck. Because things were looking a little rough…

We considered not even attempting to strip the peeling stain off of our deck and instead try a product like Rust-oleum Restore or Behr DeckOver which promised to just cover up the offending finish. While the step-skipping ease and promised durability of those products was tempting, we personally aren’t complete fans of the rough sand-like texture of Rust-oleum Restore (Home Depot had some samples of it around the store and it’s not terrible but it’s not our favorite). The DeckOver stuff looked smoother and actually almost convinced us, but it’s so new that there weren’t enough reviews to make us feel confident spending all that money on it (we’d potentially need around $500 worth of it since our deck is so huge). So we decided we’d like to try a more traditional route first: staining. Especially since that can hold up around half a decade and also lets some of the pretty wood tone peek through. But to do that, we needed it stripped first. Update: check out the first page of comments for info on why we opted not to power wash it.

We found this Behr Wood Stain & Finish Stripper and decided to give it a go. It had very mixed reviews on Home Depot’s website, but since we had a back-up plan (DeckOver) we were willing to take the risk. So here were our supplies:

  1. Bucket – to pour the stripper into for easy dipping of my roller
  2. Protective Gear – in this case rubber gloves, goggles, and a mask (this stuff stinks!)
  3. Stiff Brush – we bought this guy for $25
  4. Hose - this needs no explanation… or does it (insert dramatic chipmunk)
  5. Roller – I chose to apply with a 1/2″ nap roller on an extension pole
  6. Stripper - we bought 4 bottles (at $19 each) but ended up only needing 3
  7. Cleaner – we bought the Behr one that goes with the stripper (it was $9)
  8. Pump Sprayer (not pictured) – we still had this one leftover from cleaning our last deck

The first step of the directions was to wet down any surrounding plants to help protect them from the runoff. We don’t have much greenery worth saving around the deck, but I did it anyways. You know me, I’m a rebel rule follower without a cause. Update: We’re folks who don’t even use weed killer (we pick them by hand or embrace them as “flair”) so we definitely didn’t want anything with chemicals that would remain/do any lasting damage. Thankfully this stripping agent is “biodegradable with easy water clean-up.” Wearing a mask while applying it is important too!

Then I combined a couple of bottles of the stripper into the bucket. I thought having them in the bucket would make it easier to dip my roller, plus I could work faster with more than 1 gallon poured out at a time.

The stripper is pretty gloopy (a technical term). It was a bit more watery than paint. Maybe gluelike? I imagine it to be what porridge looks and feels like. But hopefully not what it smells like. Otherwise Goldilocks has terrible taste in stolen snacks.

But the consistency actually makes it really easy to apply. It’s thick enough not to drip off your roller too wildly, but thin enough to spread nicely.

The instructions tell you to spread it “liberally” over the surface and let it sit for 5-45 minutes. In that time you’re supposed to not let it dry, which is why they tell you to apply on a cloudy day when the temperature is less than 90° and you’re not expecting rain.

As you can imagine, that’s a hard combination of conditions to predict in the summer. I waited a good two weeks for the “perfect day” and even then it turned out to be to sunnier than I had hoped. Stupid clouds never stay put.

The good news is that the sun wasn’t disastrous, it just dried out the stripper faster than it should. But if I spotted a dry spot I just lightly misted it with water (as mentioned in the instructions) and all was right with the world again.

One warning – this stuff is also pretty slippery. I did my best not to walk on it at all, but when I did it felt like it was almost moving under my feet.

That’s when I realized it was. It was slippery because the finish was coming off under my feet. Suddenly my caution turned to excitement. Could this stuff actually be doing the trick?

I figured that was my cue to move on to the next step: scrubbing (it had probably been about 25 minutes since I started). Although it was coming off under my feet, I needed to use the stiff-bristled brush to really wipe it away.

It took a little bit of force, but in most cases I could get the finish off with just a couple of swift strokes on each board. It came off in sort of a brown sludge, but after a rinse you could really see how the wood grain was reappearing.

The job went a lot faster once I realized I could hook up my hose to the back of the brush I had bought. It meant I could kinda scrub and rinse all at the same time, which made it easier to see the progress I was making.

The scrubbing part was definitely the longest part of the process. It took me about 45 minutes to do my first pass, and then I went back and spot scrubbed parts that I had missed or that took a bit more oopmh. Even then it took two or three rinses to make me feel like I had actually gotten all of the sludge off.

After everything is stripped you’re supposed to follow-up with a cleaner to brighten the stripped wood and, more importantly (to me at least) to neutralize the stripping chemical. I had hoped to use up what was leftover from cleaning our last deck but that brand (Olympic) can only be used on dry decks – and ours was soaking wet at this stage. But the Behr stuff I had bought as a back-up was meant for these situations, so I filled up my pump sprayer (with 1 part water and 1 part cleaner, per the instructions) and sprayed away.

As much as I appreciated not having to wait for the deck to dry, I didn’t appreciate that the Behr cleaner recommended that you scrub the cleaner into the wood after letting it sit for a few minutes. So there went another 20 minutes or so of brushing our giant deck again. It said it would “foam” but I didn’t get much foaming action. Maybe I applied it too thin? I dunno.

But foam or no foam, I proceeded by giving the deck one last good rinse down to hopefully rid it of any residual stripper and cleaner.

It was a bit slow to dry out (since the clouds had decided to park themselves overhead at this point) but you can see how it looks like the process did the trick. It seems to have gotten rid of not just the peeling paint, but a lot of the gray weathering too. It almost looked like new, albeit bleached, wood.

On that particular morning I only did half of the deck. It had taken me about 3.5 hours and I was pretty tired and sweaty (okay, and hungry). Wearing pants and long-sleeves in 85° will do that to ya. But at least my half-attempt makes it easier to see the difference the stripping made. See that obvious line where the sunroom ends?

I was able to tackle the rest of the deck the next day. So here’s the whole thing free of old stain (and after it was able to fully dry out in the sun). Looking good, no?

We’re pretty psyched about how it turned out. We think it’s in great shape to get some stain on it and, better yet, I’m hoping the new boards that we patched it with won’t stand out as much as I feared they initially would.

Our plan now is to stain it with a semi-transparent stain that’s similar in color to the previous rich brown color (it must have been glorious in its day, before it started to wear away – and we think it’ll look great with our brick facade). In fact we didn’t go through the trouble to fully strip the small vertical railings (because it would’ve taken a million years, but also because we liked their color and they were in much better shape). So we’re hoping using something close in color that will make the whole thing look seamless when we’re done.

So yeah, that’s the stripping story. I guess the lesson is that even if you have a rough looking deck, some elbow grease (I think I scrubbed this thing thirty times) might just save it. Either way, we’re pretty pumped about being one step away from breathing new life into this baby. Deck stain, here we come!

Psst- Clara’s having conversations again. And as usual, the girl’s making us snort milk out of our nose.

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