Our Second House

Spring Pinterest Challenge: Planting & Hanging Window Boxes

Word up my fellow Pinterest playas. Hope you got down with some baking, crafting, painting, organizing, sewing, building, or knitting fun because it’s time to share this season’s (completely unofficial) Pinterest Challenge (not sponsored by Pinterest or anyone else, just dreamed up by Katie to make us stop pinning and start doing). The only rule is to pin something you’ve wanted to get done (big or small) and do it. You know, instead of sitting on your duff pinning other things… which I’ll admit happens a whole lot in my world.

Our mission this season? Window boxes! I actually pinned two window-box related pics, this picture just for the eye candy of it (at $90+ bucks per box they’re purely for inspiration) and this tutorial for making them (which we planned to do if we couldn’t find ready-made ones in our price range). We thought they’d add some nice dimension and soft greenery to our long boxy ranch, and they’d been on our list for a while. They’re definitely not necessary for resale or anything, but we just couldn’t part with this house without seeing how cute they’d look. How’s that for being a weirdo? Anyway, here are the three windows that we thought could use some quaint greenery…

And here are the materials (the window boxes, liners and brackets) that we grabbed last week at Home Depot (we priced out building vs. buying and realized it was pretty close).

We loved that the planters were clean-lined and mid-century-ish (it was like they were made for a ranch). As for how to hang them, here’s what worked for our brick facade:

Step Numero Uno: Use a hammer drill to drill pilot holes for the screws for each bracket (after carefully marking where you want them to go by holding up the window box to make sure it’s centered).

Step Dos: Hang the brackets according to the package instructions (you’re essentially just drilling them into the pilot holes you make while adding that weird little metal thing up top (we’ll get into what that’s used for in a second). Oh but we made two mistakes for you, so now that we know what not to do, we wanted to spread the word:

  1. Don’t use the cheap/short/non-masonry screws that come with the kit! We had 2″ masonry tapcon screws that we had leftover from our fireplace project that worked really well.
  2. Don’t use a regular drill to get the screws in, be sure to use a hammer drill! It really got them in tighter and the ones we screwed with the regular drill were lose and needed to be redone.

Step Tres: Once we got our method down, it was easy to get them in nice and tightly. And then the weird metal thing on the top of the bracket could be bent over the window box once it was placed onto the bracket, thereby locking it into place. The metal thing was so soft you could just bend it with your hand. Although I should have told you guys that it was crazy hard and the only reason I could do it with my bare hand is because The Hulk is my second cousin.

Step Four: Drop the plastic liner into the planter box while making a weird face (check). Oh and be sure to pop out the two drainage holes in the plastic liner beforehand (I used a house key to smash them out since they were slightly perforated but I couldn’t get them with my finger). The cool thing about the drainage holes in the plastic liner is that they line up with the pre-drilled drainage holes in the planter box, so that was nice planning on Home Depot’s part.

You might wonder what John and Clara were doing while I was on window box duty…

Yup, they were spreading mulch. And it was adorable. And we all had about 100 inch worms on us by the time we were done outside.

But back to the window boxes. I used an old “cheaper and already grown in” trick, which is to buy two hanging baskets from a local nursery (Great Big Greenhouse, here in Richmond, where I actually had a store credit so they didn’t cost me anything). The reason hanging baskets are so smart for window boxes is because they already spill down and appear to “drip” instead of the typical pots and flats that they sell for gardening. Hello, instant gratification!

I just dumped them out and very very carefully divided them as gently as I could…

… and bam: I had a few spilling-over flowers for each window box, without having to play the waiting game while they grew over the edge.

Aren’t they cute? I have no idea what kind of flowers these are. I think the white and pink ones are petunias though. Maybe these purple guys are some other blend of mini ones?

I think the window boxes are sweet little additions. Not giant and commanding, just casual and simple. I actually love that they’re the color of the brick so the flowers are the star and they don’t look too busy. And as they continue to fill in and spill out more I think they’ll look even better.

So there you go, three window boxes, some tips for what not to do while hanging them, and one way to find already-droopy flowers to fill them.

And just look at that fresh come-hither mulch. Me-ow.

Don’t forget to check in on Katie, Emily, and Renee to see what awesome projects they’ve whipped up (they’ll all be sharing theirs sometime today as well)!


And we’d love to hear what you guys did for this season’s challenge. If you’ve already blogged about it, just:

  1. click on the blue “Add Your Link” button with the odd cartoon head at the bottom of this post (you might have to do some scrolling, depending how many projects are added)
  2. add a link to your specific blog post about your project in the url field (not your home page)
  3. where it says “name” write a descriptive name for your project (ex: “Homemade Leaf Wreath”) as opposed to your actual name
  4. we’d also love if you could quickly link back over to our project posts within your own (here’s Katie’sEmily’s and Renee’s) – it’s also nice to link to your inspiration project on Pinterest as well as to directly link to the original project/site, just so they get some love too.

And if you’d rather just link over to your project in the comment section, feel free to do that – or even add a link to a free photo sharing site like Flickr with your pics if you don’t have a blog (remember to set the gallery to public so we can all see it). I’m borderline too excited to see what you guys have been up to…



Staining & Sealing The Deck (Finally!)

With our power washing done we could finally stain and seal our deck, which we completed and re-furnished on Tuesday (literally hours before our first showing!).

But let’s rewind to where we left off yesterday. We mentioned that after finishing it in late August we were told to give the pressure treated wood 2-3 months to dry out before sealing any of the moisture from the treatment in (apparently sealing or staining PT wood too soon can lead to terrible results). So by the time staining was advised, it was too cold out to apply the stain. But even after spring rolled around and we power washed, it still wasn’t quite ready.

What was standing in our way? Some lingering grime that the pressure washer didn’t remove in this corner. Sherry didn’t think it was that noticeable, but I was determined to get things cleaner before staining (I feared that we’d seal them in and potentially darken those spots even more if we didn’t get them off first). Yes, you can call me Nerdy McWorrypants.

Since we hadn’t used a cleaner during the pressure washing process, I decided to try one after the fact. Lots of deck staining tutorials (like this one and this one) recommend applying some sort of cleaner first, so I didn’t want to skip that step. We grabbed this $7 “Deck Wash” because we liked that it could just be sprayed by attaching it to a garden hose.

I followed the instructions, which was basically spray it, let it sit for about 5 minutes and then rinse it off. Could cleaning a deck really be that simple?

Apparently not. I didn’t even bother taking an “after” photo because it looked exactly like the before.

After two attempts (pressure washer, then cleaner) I was about to admit defeat. But I decided to give cleaning one more try, this time in the form of an $8 Olympic brand cleaner. I had bypassed it originally because it required buying this $11 sprayer.

Well, this cleaner most definitely made a difference. The same spray process commenced, I let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinsed it off, but this time it seemed to essentially bleach the whole deck clean. I was a smidge panicked with the result at first (although I had read that a bleach mixture is a commonly recommended deck cleaner) but in the end it was the exact blank slate that we needed to apply a nice even coat of stain. So to anyone wondering if the $8 product with the $11 sprayer can be that much better than the $7 one that works with a hose… in our experience the first one did nothing and the second one worked overtime.

Next up was applying the stain/sealer, which Sherry and I were both eagerly anticipating (literally the minute Clara was tucked in for her nap we sprinted out to get started in the hopes that we could finish everything before she woke up). Here were our supplies:

  1. Olympic Maximum Toner in Cedar Naturaltone color (it’s a stain/sealant all in one, and was $37 from Lowe’s)
  2. Deck Stain Applicator ($7 from Lowe’s)
  3. Large brush ($6 from Lowe’s)
  4. Rubber gloves (already owned) – and yes, I now realize they kinda look like a certain other rubber item…
  5. Paper towels (rags would also work)

As for choosing the type of stain + sealer to go with, we heard a lot of great things about it from a friend of ours who recently used it (and a few readers mentioned the same one as well). We chose a toner over a semi-transparent finish because the color would be subtler and more of the wood would show through. We’d grown so used to the “natural” look of the wood that we didn’t want to go too dark (especially with the dark brick wall on one side) and our only other hope was that it wouldn’t look too red-orange either. Of course if you look at the photo below, straight out of the can it was pretty darn orange, but thankfully it dried to look a lot more subtle.

Before taking the train to Staining Town, we had read up on several options for applying it – spraying, rolling, brushing, etc. – and we opted to use a sponge-y “deck stain applicator” because we had seen my dad use one before at my Granny’s house. Both in watching my dad, and in our case, it was pretty easy to use and seemed to make things go really quickly. The only catch is that you need to “backbrush” afterwards, which keeps the stain from pooling in any place and also apparently helps work the stain into the wood. So as usual, I did the rolling-ish step (in this case, it was the sponge applicator) and Sherry was the brush girl (she followed quickly behind me, brushing over everything I stained to work the stain into the cracks and keep it from pooling anywhere).

The top portion of the deck probably took us 15-20 minutes (this stain + sealer only calls for one coat). So that part was waaaay faster than we expected. It was the stairs and railings that ground us to a halt. That part had to be done with the brush making sure that we got all sides of each post while watching out for drips and puddles. So it took us more time and focus than we expected. Maybe two hours in total for that part? We kind of lost track, but Clara woke up before we were finished so I went in to watch her and Sherry “The Paintbrush” Petersik stayed back and got ‘er done.

When the stain was still wet we worried that the color was redder than we had wanted, but when it dried it did exactly what we wanted – it just “toned” the wood, so it still looks similar to the other exterior wood around the house (like the fence around the patio, etc). Oh and you might notice that Sherry took a moment to paint the utility box to blend a little more with the brick, just like she did at our first house. It only took a test pot of paint (around $2.50), so although it’s hardly invisible, it’s a lot less “Look at me!” in person. And I think you can tell in the photos when you compare it to the picture a few photos up.

Best of all, I was totally redeemed from my failed-ish attempts at cleaning. Here’s that corner that was especially dirty looking.

It’s not flawless, but it’s much improved over where we were post-pressure washing.

So now, eight long months after construction on the deck wrapped up (and 10 since it started!) it’s officially stained and sealed. And I’m still just as proud of her. Thankfully we got to enjoy the deck all through late fall and early spring (even before she was cleaned and stained) but it’s nice to know that she’s 100% complete and future acorns and leaves can’t do as much damage if they decide to hang out too long.

We also finally calculated the long awaited deck budget breakdown for you guys (we wanted to get her stained/sealed before breaking down the benjamins) so here it is:

Permit – $114
First lumber & hardware order – $1007
First auger rental – $60
Second lumber & hardware order – $251
Second auger rental – $60
Flashing – $40
Misc hardware & supplies – $95
Powerwash – $80
Cleaner & Stain – $76
Total: $1783

I definitely think if you didn’t have to build such a large staircase (ours has 8 steps with long railings on either side) you could save a good chunk of money. And if you don’t fail your first inspection and have to rent the auger again, you’d save 60 more bucks. Oh and you can save seven more if you buy the good cleaner the first time. Ha!

I think this project was one of my biggest (it’s right up there with our first house’s bathroom gut-job) and it certainly saved us money to DIY it (it probably would have been around 6-8K to get this hired out) but most of all it gave me confidence. Dude, I built a deck. And the permit guy said it would hold a bunch of elephants. I’m a proud poppa.

That odd little alley of ours has definitely come a long way. Here’s a picture we took during our first walk through back in 2010.

Anyone else staining a deck? Did the stain look crazy bright right after it went on? Have you tried one of those deck stain applicators on a stick? I really think in combination with the brush it was a fast yet thorough method.