Author Archives: Jason

To Guard or To Suck: How to Fix Our Clogged Gutters?

After complaining about the window box and its persistent flooding flaw, we’ve had few dry weeks during which we’ve been able to enjoy the box and its bounty. I plopped these sunflowers in the box earlier this summer knowing that if it flooded, they’d be goners. Fortunately, we haven’t seen a return of the blustery storms we had at the beginning of the season. And so these sunflowers have been peeking at us through the window. But of course we know this dry box is only going to last so long. And the frustrating thing is that we’ve figured out reason for the flooding – and have even fixed it –  but we’re not able to get to it as often as we need to.

You see, the window box really only floods when the gutter and downspout are clogged. When that happens, rain flows off the roof like a waterfall and dumps the deluge into the window box. We were home during a particularly heavy rainstorm last summer and watched as the window box quickly filled with water. That was when I had a eureka moment. If only there was some way to free the clog in the downspout, we might be able to solve the waterfall issue. I went scavenging in the garage and workshop until I found a long hook – the kind that is used for hanging plants from a pole in the garden. During the heavy the rainstorm I reached out the bedroom window, hook in hand, and scraped the inside of the gutter. Suddenly there was a whoosh, followed by the sound of flowing water. I looked down at the ground and saw that a giant clump of maple leaves (the kind that we’ve always called helicopters for the way they spin through the air when they fall from the tree) had flowed down the spout and emptied onto the grass. The waterfall stopped, the window box stopped filling and I felt like the smartest man on the planet.

But that genius was short lived. By the early fall we were experiencing the same issue with a clogged downspout and soggy window box. As the big, mature trees, the ones we love for shading the house all summer, began shedding their leaves, the gutter and downspout clogged all over again.

When we first bought the house three years ago, I made all sorts of proclamations about not being afraid of climbing on the roof and getting on top of ladders to clean the windows. I’ve always been a bit of monkey and have never shied away from balancing on tops of ladders and other high places. And then I actually climbed a ladder to patch the roof of the belvedere. Standing there on the top of the pitched roof wasn’t so bad. In fact, the birds eye view of the yard was rather refreshing. But then I eased myself down the slope and there, looking out over the gutter and to the ground two stories below, that was when I got nervous. It was then that I knew that climbing on top of the Delbert Meier house was not for me!

So this spring we searched around the area for a gutter cleaning service. At the risk of sounding like my grandfather, you just can’t find people to do that kind of work anymore. Oh, we found quite a few businesses that will replace our gutters or install gutter guards, but we came up empty when I called around in search of someone to simply clean them.

We’ve considered gutter guards but question whether they would block out the walnut leaves. In my experience those flat little leaves that twist their way down from the tree limbs have a way of working themselves into the smallest cracks and crevices. I’m concerned that the gutter guards will not block the leaves and we’ll still end up clogged butters. And with the guards in place we wouldn’t be able to access the gutters to clean them out.

In the meantime, we’ve been waiting around for another strong storm so we can use our hook to unplug the downspout again. The trick only works when there’s a really strong storm. The trick requires the rush of washer to force the clogged leaves down the spout.

And then I saw this video for the Gutter Clutter Buster. It’s basically a long tube that can be connected to a shop vac to vacuum out the gutters without climbing a ladder. In all honesty, I’m dubious about this tool’s effectiveness. In the video above they demonstrate using the tool on a single story house. I’m not convinced that using the tool with the number of attachments that it would take to reach the top of our big, old vintage house would be as effective.

And so the question remains: guard or suck? Which will be the solution to our clogged gutter problem?

Our Love/Hate Relationship with the Window Box

Window Box - American System Built Home

We have a love/hate relationship with the window box on our American System Built Home. We love it as a design feature. Filled with plants in the summer and evergreen branches in the winter, the window box creates a natural landscape right outside our living room window. But we hate the fact that the window box takes on more water than the Titanic. And did I mention that the box doesn’t have a drain or even a rudimentary hole that allows the water to escape? Yeah, so frequently the window box is more akin to a reflecting pool than a flower box. (The sunlight reflecting on the collected water does make beautiful patterns on the living room ceiling!)

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The Easy $13 DIY Laundry Shelf

Easy $13 DIY Shelf from This American House

Following up on the upcycled vintage hooks, I wrapped up another easy DIY project that had been sitting on the back burner for a number of months. We needed a simple shelf to hold laundry supplies at the city apartment and having worked with plumbing pipes and cheap wood once before, I knew it would be an effective solution for this problem spot too. And that’s how I created the $13 DIY shelf.

As you can see in the image above, this shelf came together with just a few supplies. Here’s what I used:

1 piece of wood, stained – I found a two by four in our garage and cut it down to size before staining it.
2 – 1/2″ plumbing pipes – I used 6″ long pipes
2 – 1/2″ pipe flanges
2 – 1/2″ pipe end caps
8 black screws

First, I cut the piece of wood down to size. The wall where I wanted to install the shelf is 24″ wide so I cut the wood down to 18″ in length. Once it was cut, I used the same wood stain that I had used on the backing for the vintage hooks.

(Sidebar: Can I tell you how excited I am that I’m starting to collect things like spare pieces of wood? All our years as city dwellers have meant that we haven’t had any sort of storage where it would make sense to hang on to things like pieces of wood. Now, with a big old house, basement, garage AND carriage house, I find myself collecting every little piece of wood and loose screw I come across. It’s a slippery slope from here to being a full on hoarder.)

DIY Pipe and Wood Shelf on This American House

With the wood cut and stained, it was simply a matter of hanging the shelf. First, I assembled the end cap, pipe and flange. Then, I measured and marked where I wanted to place the shelf. Next, I measured and marked where the flanges would need to be placed on the wall. Since this is a chalkboard wall, I was able to mark the wall with a piece of chalk and then use a ruler and a level to make sure my placement was straight.

Once the flanges had been secured to the wall, I basically had shelf brackets! The final step was to place the piece of wood on top of the pipe. Well, actually, the final step was to place laundry supplies in big jars and then draw all over the wall. But the final step in creating the shelving was placing the wood on top of the pipes.

Preserving Packaging: How I Made These Vintage Hooks Functional While Restoring Their Charm

Vintage Hook DIY Project from This American House

From the moment I saw these vintage utility hooks – with their kitschy packaging still intact! – I knew that I would have to somehow upcycle the whole thing. I mean, you can’t find something that’s over 50 years old and still includes the packaging and not try to save it, right?

I don’t know when this “Hold All” All Purpose Utility Hanger was made. Judging by the drawings on the packaging, I’m assuming the early 1960’s. And I don’t know why the price is marked as $69. Surely this little metal track with sliding hooks didn’t cost $69 back in the ’60s! I only paid a couple bucks for it, an amount that I can’t imagine is much more than its value when it was new.

At any rate, I love that kitschy packaging. “Teach Junior how to hang things in place,” it says next to a drawing of a boy lining up his rather dapper wardrobe on the back of a door. “Use it throughout your home and garage,” it suggests alongside images of kitchen utensils and bathroom items. And don’t even get me started on the color palette. Brown and yellow – oh yes!

After sitting on the workshop table for months, I finally concocted a way to use the hooks and the packaging while still keeping the hooks’ functionality.

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Thank God for Daffodils

There’s a reason that midwesterners are strong, hardy people. It’s because midwestern winters are long, bleak periods of torture. Everything is brown and gray and barren and depressing for months on end. And then one day you see daffodils at the grocery store and you heave a sigh of relief.

“Soon, it will be grey no more,” you whisper to yourself.

In a matter of weeks the leaves will populate the trees, flowers will dot the landscape and life will seem worth living.

Until then, we have these little stems of sunshine.