Cottage Project

Houses need to breathe

I have a cottage that was built in the 40’s and was very well kept by the prior owner. However, the prior owner took this nice shingle style cottage and buttoned everything up. He put in new windows and vinyl siding. Worse than that, he boxed in the soffits with plywood and then wrapped that in vinyl. In fact, he even caulked things prior to wrapping in vinyl. This is a recipe for ROT.

A lake environment can be very damp and humid. Because of that, air flow is critical. The photos below show what happens when something that should be open is sealed up.

Before and After Photos Cottage Project How To's

Is this Maintenance Worth it? You Decide.

Everyone seems to strive for low maintenance in a home nowadays. Well, it isn’t always the best option. We had a sunroom project to work on at a cottage where we are replacing 9 storm windows that were caulked shut to keep out the water. A sunroom that doesn’t have an operable window might as well be called a greenhouse. It got hot in there and there was very little air flow. Since were were tearing the vinyl siding off of this room to install larger (operable) windows, we decided to get rid of the vinyl siding (not very cottage’y). When we decided to remove the vinyl, I considered the options for replacing. The surface area on the room is not too large and we wanted some options in terms of color. A cedar shingle seemed perfect. A cedar shake on a cottage is a classic look. Sure there is maintenance, but it is really minimal (and worth it).


Cedar shingle siding IMG_4888 IMG_4886 Shingle cottage on the lake

Take a look at the before and during photo below. The siding still has 1 more 5″ course to go before the look is complete, but it is a massive improvement.

For this shingle project, we were able to located a grade of shingle that wasn’t just the “utility” grade from Home Depot or Lowe’s. We found a nice grade from LenCo Lumber in Buffalo that is only about $25 per bundle. Each bundle covers 25 square feet. When comparing that to a vinyl siding that has the shake look, the price is less than half. I must say that I am thrilled with the look.

We decided to go with a shingle pattern that was not just a repeated reveal. The original cottage did have cedar shake and the reveal alternates every other row. There is a 5″ reveal followed by a 7″ reveal. When installing, we simply made a 5″ x 7″ block and this helped us to be sure we were keeping our fasteners hidden and our rows true.

Take a look at the images below for the Before/During (not quite after). When looking into installation methods, we decided to follow the “how-to” in the following “Installing Cedar Shakes” video. We are using a weaved corner rather than a corner that has a trim piece to but up to. This is another part that creates more work, but the look is worth it. The method involves using a pin nail to fasten the 2 corner shingles. I was skeptical, but it seems to work out well.

Before and After Photos Cottage Project

Cottage Project – 2 Year Update with Pictures

We purchased this cottage about 2 years ago this month.  There was nothing “wrong” with the cottage at the time, but we decided to make many improvements to move the place forward.  I wanted to write this post to outline the major work that was done since we purchased.  This article certainly isn’t a “how-to”, but it is a nice chronicle for when we look back and forget what things were like before we started with this little project.

Our cottage project is moving along nicely, if you consider a weekend handyman’s pace “nicely”, that is.  Still much to do, but that is the reason that I wanted a weekend cottage.  We were fortunate enough to find a place that has a very large garage to store tools, material, debris, and offer a nice work space for me and my son (age 10)  Funny, but the garage is the best place to be during a hot afternoon (Shade, incredible view, and a great breeze).

I am going to run through the bigger projects while viewing my photo log:

  1. Painted Floors
    Removed old Vinyl and painted wood floors with a high quality white floor paint.  This was one of the first projects tackled along with the pre-requisite ceiling, wall, and trim paint. Best to paint floors before you have your furniture in place.
    painted cottage floors
  2. Built in Bookcase / Window seat
    This project was great since the period of time between a sale contract and a closing on the cottage was about 60 days.  I took detailed measurements of the window that we knew needed a built-in (my wife always wanted this).  With detailed measurements in hand, I built this in my garage at home. I built this as 4 parts for easy transport (2 end shelf units, upper shelf section, middle bench with hinged lid).  Once on site, and with the help of my stronger and taller brother-in-law, I secured this in place.  When it was secured, I then added the face framing to tie the 4 pieces together.  Paint, a nice cushion, and a re-purposed table and we had an eating area.
    cottage window seat wall
  3. Bunk Beds
    Not exactly a part of the cottage, but this is another item that was built at home between the sale contract and the closing date.  These bunk beds were built with a plan from and were the perfect item for my son’s room.  It was nice to build them at home and make it a family project with my son assisting in the construction and my wife handling the painting.  Part of the reason that we selected this plan is  the style, but also the fact that we could break these down into 4 flat pieces to carry in the back of a truck with ease.
    bunk bed cottage project
  4. Platform Bed
    Who knew that our old Olympic Queen mattress would fit somewhere?  The olympic queen is a mattress size that is 6″ wider than a queen mattress.  Because of this, it doesn’t fit properly on any bed frame and there are very few sheet sets that fit.  When my wife tired of these issues, we put this mattress set in storage in hopes that we would have a future use.  Would you believe that the bedroom wall in our cottage was an EXACT fit for this mattress?  To maximize the space in this small bedroom we build a platform bed with storage underneath.  This turned out as a fantastic setup with no space taken up by a headboard/foot board and a nice solid foundation for the mattress.
    cottage platform bed
  5. Cottage Kitchen Redo
    The cottage kitchen is only 6′ x 6′.  The end is open, so it sort of spills out into an open area, but the basic foot print is 6′.  Obviously a kitchen this size creates many challenges.  My wife refers to this as a one-butt kitchen.  The prior layout had a stove on the wall opposite the sink.  You had to stand to the side to open the oven door.  My wife was able to salvage the old sink with the built-in cutting board and steel cabinet.  This is really a classic cottage kitchen piece.  The other 2 cabinets in the kitchen (that is right 2 cabinets) were a wooden upper and lower. We pulled those items and were able to reuse in the new setup.  To deal with the narrow kitchen, we moved the stove to the same wall as the sink.  This, along with 12″ deep cabinets that we built for the opposite wall helped to make this space feel much larger.  You can see that the cabinetry, flooring, walls, and counter tops were redone.  The cabinets were the perfect winter project in my home workshop.  We were able to build them to our exact requirements to fit this tiny space.  Once completed, we sprayed on a quality finish that should help them last for years.  A great Ikea butcher block counter-top (only $189) really tops this off and keeps a classic feel.
    cottage kitchen redo
  6. Cottage Bath Redo
    The cottage bath was very interesting.  As with the kitchen, it is rather tiny.  It had a shower that must have come from a submarine back in the day since was 30″x30″ and had 3 sides made of steel.  We had to open up 2 walls to handle some new plumbing so we decided to do a subway tile on 2 walls with an open shower that is simply curtained off.  This gives the bath a larger feeling than it would have had we placed a shell with an end wall in the room.  New walls that included a frame and panel design and new fixtures made this a pleasant room.  We also added a “dual flush” toilet since we are on septic. This is a great water saver for anywhere.  If you press 1 button, the flush is only 1.1 gallons of water, the 2nd button is the full 1.6 gallon flush.  Head into Home Depot or Lowe’s to take a look for your own dual flush toilet (stock item).
    cottage bath - after cottage bath - before
  7. New Water Line
    Not much heavy lifting on my part here, but a new water line to replace the old well made us feel a lot better about the water coming out of our taps.
    Cottage water line Water line digging
  8. Cottage Sun Room Project (in progress)
    We are in the middle of our sun room renovation right now.  There were many decisions with regard to this room, but the easy one was the window replacement.  The current windows were simply triple track aluminum storms.  Not only that, but they caulked them shut to keep the water out. The real bad part of this is that it kept the AIR out as well. No lake breeze for us.  The windows have been replaced and re-sized.  We added about 12″ in height to the windows which gives us much more light and a better view from the main part of the cottage (we no longer need to duck to see the horizon from the kitchen).   The exterior of this room was done in a vinyl siding.  Although nice, and low maintenance, it doesn’t have the charm that we are after.  You can see the new window trim in the collage below (click for a large version). We will be pulling the vinyl and replacing with cedar shakes.
    cottage sunroom windows
  9. Book Case Door
    This bookcase door is still a bit of a work in progress, but it is coming together quite nicely. What 10-year-old wouldn’t want a “hidden” room.  We are building this bookcase door that latches using a book as the handle/latch.  We will accomplish this with a 2×4 that is hinged at the bottom (to the shelf) and then tethered to the shelf on the back side with a cable that provides strength so that the book can be pulled on to open the door.  This block will be wrapped with a book that is glued solid.  The actual latch mechanism is a gate latch at the top of the door jamb.  A fishing line is attached to the top side of the book, runs through the door, and operates the gate latch.  See photos below.
    bookcase door for cottage
  10. Address Marker – Made by my Son
    I had to include this one since it was hand made by my son when he was 9.  A box with 117 nails, a piece of driftwood, and a hammer and my son created a one of a kind marker!  The rust and discoloration is expected and adds to the charm of the piece.
    sign with brads
  11. Lake Erie Sign – Made by my Wife
    Need a cool sign for your cottage on Lake Erie?  Rather than the standard “Go Jump in the Lake” sign that everyone seems to be using nowadays, come up with your own cool item. My creative wife came up with this great item to adorn the porch/deck area with. The colors are great and really suit the space.  There will be a nice red star to show where you are along the lake (it was drying when the photo was taken).  One added feature of this sign is that we used the original clapboard sheathing that we removed when adding a window in the living room.
    lake erie sign
  12. Driftwood Mirror
    This was a real family project and really capped off the bathroom renovation.  We made a simple frame to fit an existing mirror out of weathered cedar.  The weathered wood had a color that would give a nice backing to the driftwood.  From there my wife collected the driftwood and bleached it (just to be safe).  It was given plenty of time to dry and then she worked on placement of the wood. There are a number of special little pieces of driftwood in here and my son can describe them all. There are initials for our last name, a ‘shark’, a ‘dinosaur’, etc.  We had fun with it.  Once my wife and son had the ideal placement, I cam along with the brad nailer to fasten things in place.   A real cool, one of a kind item.
    driftwood mirror

There are many future plans for our cute little cottage.  Inevitably, they will be detailed here.  A few of the plans on the board are:

  1. Lake Stone Patio
    This is a patio made from stones brought up from the beach.  When you have large, and flat, stones like this one (below), you must make a patio from them.
    Lake Erie stones
  2. Chimney Removal
  3. Pergola above the garage door
  4. Laundry Room
  5. Garage conversion to game/room
  6. Attic converted into loft bedroom


Cottage Project

Cottage Before and After Projects

We have been working on our cottage project for just about 10 months now. In fact, it was father’s day weekend last year when we first looked at the listing and went under contract.  Over the course of the past year, we have completed (or started) many projects.

We may have been at work on this for 10 months, but please understand that these are ‘cottage’ months.  This is a seasonal place and the winter months were off limits (Late October through March).  In addition to that, much of our time is spent scouring the beach for glass and rocks along with canoeing, campfires, various outings, and general chat with our neighbors and visits from friends.   Given that schedule, this project should be completed (or ready for another renovation) in about 5 years time.  I think I will understand what bridge painters go through at that point.  Finished?  Go back to the other side and start over!

In the spring of this year, we went off of our well water and tied into the new public water line.   Since I knew that would be the case, I decided to force my plumbing hand and cut out the old galvanized lines rather than winterizing those lines.  A galvanized line that had well water running through it for the past 70 years probably wasn’t my wife’s idea of a line that was suitable for sanitary drinking water.

During my plumbing work, I discovered the cause of a smell coming from the bathroom.  It wasn’t a horrible smell, but certainly not pleasant, and I assumed it was the well water stench.  Turns out, it was worse than I though (methane is deadly, after all).  There was no trap in our shower drain line!  This allow the sewer gas (from our septic) to head right back into the cottage.  The bath is adjacent to the kitchen so the situation was not ideal.  I assumed this smell was due to the well water, when in fact, it was the sewer gas.  Good news. New shower + new p-trap = no more smell!

Back in the day (1940’s) things were built well.   They might not have sized some things properly (headers and such), but the structures themselves were so stitched together, that demo isn’t simple (it shouldn’t be).  I have heard people ask how you can have a window in a load bearing wall without a header. Look at the structure.  Tongue and groove sheathing (1″) that had 4 nails in each 1″ x 6″, along with true 2″ lumber, and 5/4 window jambs and you will see why things held together.

Since people love to see before and after renovation photos, I have included a few of ours below.  I would call most of these before and during rather than after since things are still a work in progress.  When the kitchen is completed, I’ll add that post to the mix.

Here are some in-progress photos of our little cottage.

cottage bath - before

cottage bath - after

cottage living room before after

The cottage kitchen is coming along quite nicely.  We built our own cabinets and then decided to use a Wagner power sprayer to give them a finish that was nicer than a “brushed” finish.  Here is a shot of the current kitchen state.  New floor, new wall covering, new cabinets, new butcher block counter (just set in place).  More to come on the cottage kitchen.

cottage kitchen


Tiny Cottage Kitchen

Cottage Project Interior Projects

Dual Flush Toilet Options – Easy to Not so Much

Dual Flush Toilets

When I decided to get a dual flush toilet for our cottage project, I mentioned it to a couple of friends and they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.  These are people would would consider themselves “green” or “conservationists” at heart.  I was surprised that they weren’t aware of the existence.  A dual flush toilet is just what it sounds like. It is a toilet that has 2 flushing modes. The aptly named “number 1” will flush with about 1-1.1 gallons of water. Flush “number 2” will use the full 1.6 gallons of water. Picture that savings over thousands of flushes per month for an average family and the water savings is enormous.  You will also see the “dual flush” option in commercial settings.  Pull the lever up for 1x the water and press it down for 3x the water.

Dual flush toilet

Our cottage project has a septic system and anything that can be done to reduce the volume headed into that system will help.

I did some quick research on the lower priced dual flush toilets and noticed that the stock unit carried by Home Depot is only $99. The stock unit carried by Lowe’s is $169. I will go with the Home Depot brand since the reviews on each unit (Lowe’s v. Home Depot) run about the same. They are both very good.

Dual Flush Converter Kits

There are retro-fit dual flush kits if you don’t want to replace an existing toilet.  However, I would caution you from certain types.  There is a type drop-in dual flush converter that doesn’t require any removal of hardware and the upper tank on your toilet.  That sounds great, but I would be willing to bet that 80% of these installations will slowly leak.  If your flapper doesn’t seat properly, your toilet will lead and completely defeat the purpose of the dual flush “water savings”.  The sinister part of this is that you won’t even know that it is leaking.  The trickle is generally so slight, you won’t know it exists.  You can drop food coloring into your tank to spot the leak.  If the food coloring trickles from your tank to your bowl without a flush, you are wasting a LOT of water.

The higher rated dual flush converter kits will not cost much more (literally a few dollars) but will require some plumbing work.  The upper tank will have to come off to be fitted.  Don’t worry, just about anyone can do it if you follow the instructions.  And don’t worry, there is no nasty water involved, just the clean stuff.  The kit below received very good reviews from Amazon and seems like it is a nice product to retrofit your toilet for dual flush.

Cottage Project Interior Projects Tools and Reviews

A Tiny Sink for a Tiny Bathroom

I know that this is an issue that arises for many people when you try to renovate a space, or try to squeeze in an extra bathroom or powder room.  Often, we find ourselves constrained by the space and a typical bathroom vanity is too large for the space.  Some will go with the small corner sink which is not ideal in terms of function.  Most, like me, want a full sized sink that doesn’t feel like a small sink.  My bathroom project will allow for a 24″ wide sink / vanity, but the depth (from the wall to to the front of the sink) needs to be very small.  I was able to locate a sink from IKEA that worked perfectly for my space. Maybe this will work for your small bath renovation as well.

The sink is their LILLÅNGEN sink.  The link below (click on the image) shows you the wall mount version, but if you want some storage, they even have an inexpensive vanity cabinet that can be used with or without legs.  This cabinet is made to provide a little storage an allow for the plumbing to run behind.

Ikea Lillangen sink

Sink with brackets:
Sink without brackets:
9 7/8″ deep vanity cabinet:

I would strongly recommend that you purchase your faucet directly from IKEA as well.  We purchased the Krakskar, along with our sink, at a price of $39.99. For that price, I expected a run-of-the-mill, marginal quality, lightweight faucet.  Boy, was I surprised.  This was a quality faucet that included the unique drain plug setup (not even needed since the sink ships with one) and even came with braided supply lines pre-installed.  In addition to that, the single hole faucets are not common and are a bit pricey.  Click the image (below) for a direct link to the Krakskar faucet.

Krakskar single hole faucet, IKEA

Here is a photo of our Lillangen Sink.  This is located in a cottage with a 5′ x 5′ bathroom.  We choose to wall mount the cabinet without legs.

Lillangen Sink from Ikea. with Krakskar faucet