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American System-Built Home, architecture, follies

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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DIY, follies

Getting High with Mr. Belvedere: Repairing the Leaking Roof



Back in the 1980s, when I was impressionable young lad with a lot of time on my hands, I spent a lot of time watching television. I was easily entertained back then and was particularly drawn to family sitcoms. Mr. Belvedere, one such sitcom, was one of those shows that entertained me. This is the one line synopsis from IMDB: “The humorous adventures of an English housekeeper working for an American family.”  That really does say it all. Christopher Hewett plays an English gentleman who uses his proper English traditions and manners to keep a typical American family, led by Bob Uecker, in line. Hilarity ensues. Well, I’m sure the term ‘hilarity’ is relative. What was funny to me when I was 10 to 15 years old would probably not hold up today.

This is all to say that when we learned that the little box that sits on the top of the roof is called a belvedere, the first thing I thought of was Mr. Belvedere. And since that discovery I’ve been referring to the the rooftop box as Mr. Belvedere. As in, Mr. Belvedere sprang a leak!

Now, technically, this is not really a belvedere. By definition, belvedere is “an architectural term for a structure in the form of a turret or other vantage point designed to incorporate a view.” As there are no windows on our belvedere, it shouldn’t really be referred to as one. As we don’t have any other name for it, however, I’m going to stick with calling it a belvedere.

belvedere08One night while a friend and I were watching a movie, I kept thinking I heard dripping. It was raining that night and I just assumed that the drip was coming from outside. It wasn’t until I was on my way to the restroom that I noticed the little puddle of water that had collected in the upstairs hallway directly under the attic door. It was dark that night and I had a couple glasses of scotch in me so my first solution was to place a bucket under the drip. Given my tipsy state, it seemed safer to wait until daylight (and sobriety) to climb into the attic to investigate the drip.

In the light of day I was able to locate the general area of the drip. I was pleased to discover that the leak didn’t seem to be coming from the main roof. Instead, the water was leaking from the belvedere. Of course, there’s nothing we could do about the leak from inside the attic. This would require some Spiderman style investigation up on the roof. belvedere04

The first time I climbed up on the roof, The Mister held the ladder and loudly worried about my safety. I was worried about my safety too. The Mister’s knees knocked so much from worry that he was shaking the ladder! It also happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer which made the roof feel like the surface of the sun. I climbed up, surveyed the rooftop and then climbed back down again. When I relayed this story to our friend Steve later that night he volunteered to lend a hand in repairing the roof.

Climbing up and getting on the roof is actually pretty easy. That is, it was easy once we figured out the best way to get up there. Last year when I cleaned the windows, I discovered exactly how TALL the house is. While our extension ladder reaches up to the roof, climbing up there from ground level is absolutely frightening. Climbing up to the addition that connects the house to the garage and then up another ladder to the roof of the house, on the other hand, is quite easy. And once on the roof I was happy to discover that it isn’t steeply pitched. I was also happy to see that the shingles on the roof appear to be in great shape. It’s just the belvedere that needs a little attention.


The roof of the belvedere is flat and covered in a sheet of metal. The top layer of sealant is the silver, heat reflecting type. Under that is some red paint that I assume was also a sealer. I used a steel brush to try to scrape off the loose flakes of old sealant before applying a thick coat of Sta-Kool Elastomeric Roof Coat  to the entire surface. I took a paint tray up to the roof with us but Steve had the wonderful idea of simply pouring the roof coat onto the roof and then using the foam roller to spread it around. That was much easier than trying to hold a paint tray while also trying not to fall off the roof.


I couldn’t quite tell where the leak was originating so I also applied a generous layer of Through The Roof Sealant around the base of the chimney. The sealant is the consistency of model glue (it smelled like it too!) so I used a big foam brush to glob the entire can of it where the chimney meets the roof. I’m hoping that this will cover our bases should the leak be coming from the seam around the chimney.


And, of course, while I was on the roof I had to snap a photo of the view. The trees are still quite full of leaves and that hampered the visibility a bit. But if it weren’t for the fact that the roof is so dangerously high, I’d want to get up on top of it more often! It’s from up here that you can really appreciate the rolling landscape and the fact that our little town is surrounded by farm fields on all sides.

Here’s hoping this fixed the leak. I’d like to not have to climb back up on the roof any time soon.

follies, Maintenance

The Mystery of the Drip in the Basement: Solved!


The Mystery of the Drip in the Basement: Solved!

For the past couple of months we’ve been dealing with a slow leak in the basement. Drip, drip, drip, it’s a tiny little leak but it adds up over time. Such as when we’ve been away for a week. And then we return to find an overflowing bucket sitting in the middle of a puddle. In a fit of desperation last weekend, I finally got to the bottom of this drip!

Every time we’ve encountered the drip over the past few months we’ve come up a new theory.

My first thought was that the drip was somehow related to the chimney. Based on the drip’s close proximity to the base of the chimney and the fact that it first made its presence when the snow first started melting this spring I thought that was a logical answer. Perhaps the melting snow and spring rains were making their way down the chimney and then dripping into the basement. We already know that the interior of the chimney is crumbling so that helped add some validity to this theory.

But what if something is dripping from the bathroom on the second floor and making its way all the way to the basement? We ruled that one out when we reasoned that the bathroom plumbing is not in line with the drip location.

What if the house is haunted and these are the tears of ghosts who are stuck in the attic? OK, maybe that one’s a little more far fetched. But, hey, this house IS almost 100 years old! Anything could happen, right?

When I started to really reason it out, however, the cause of the drip was pretty obvious. I stood there in the basement, right beside the drip, and thought about what was directly above me. There’s no plumbing up there but there is … a refrigerator. A refrigerator with an ice maker. I sprinted up the stairs, flashlight in hand, and pulled the refrigerator away from the wall. Eureka! A little pool of water had collected near the baseboard and was slowly dripping down into the basement.

drip2Having found the cause of the drip, now I just had to make it stop. I lifted the little lever inside the freezer that stops ice production but that didn’t do the trick. Still, I was confident that it was the ice maker, or at least the water line feeding into it, that was causing the problem. I checked the water line and it seems fine. Finally, I noticed that the refrigerator itself is leaking. But I still wasn’t quite ready to give up on the ice maker theory.

drip3Armed with the flashlight, I was able to follow the path of the tube that connects to the refrigerator tot he main water pipe. (Gotta love an old house with an unfinished basement!) Lo and behold, after I turned off the water supply for the ice maker, the drip stopped. So it is the ice maker that’s causing the issue. Well, we’ll just have to make our own ice for the time being. The refrigerator needs to be replaced sooner than later so I think we’ll survive making ice the old fashioned way in the meantime. I’m just happy that the mystery of the leak has finally been solved!

Images: This American House



dream house, follies

We’re In! A Quick Update from the Dream House


In the weeks leading up to taking possession of the dream house, we wiled away the hours planning all the things we would do once we were in. We talked about everything from paint colors to lighting as we waited to close on the house. But at the very top of the list was something neither of us could stop talking about — building a fire in the wood burning stove in the basement.

When the temperatures in the Midwest drop, we’ve often complained about not having a fireplace in our city apartment. There may be nothing more comforting on a cold day than a roaring fire. So on our first night in the house, with icy fingers from unloading the moving truck, we went straight down to the basement to build a fire in the stove.

Now, I have some experience with fireplaces and wood stoves. We’ve rented a number of houses and cabins over the years specifically for their indoor fire offerings. Whenever we do have access to a fireplace, I’m always the fire starter. I was never a Boy Scout or anything, but building a fire is something I just get. Open the damper, build a little wood pyramid, light the fire and watch it go. It’s usually a pretty straight forward endeavor. So as we started to build the fire in the house’s stove, I was confident I knew what I was doing.

As smoke started to fill the basement, we knew something wasn’t right. There’s no damper on the wood stove so we knew that wasn’t the reason smoke wasn’t being sucked up through the chimney. We flapped our arms and opened windows and hoped that once the fire got going the smoke would travel up the chimney and out of the house. As the smoke got really thick in the basement we fled upstairs to escape, only to discover that the rest of the house was filled with smoke. We hurriedly opened windows, had a good laugh about the fire folly and vowed to have the chimney swept and stove inspected before we tried again.

Fast forward to the day before Thanksgiving and we were back at it again. I made an appointment with a chimney sweep but they can’t make it out until the second week of December. Impatient, and armed with some information on wood stoves that I picked up online, we decided to give the stove another try. Once again, the house filled with smoke, the alarm went off and I’m pretty sure the cat thought that we had brought her to the house with the intention of smoking her to death. She kept circling around our legs and walking toward the back door as if to say, “You silly humans! Get the hell outside before we all die!”

We let the house air out and, once again, have vowed not to attempt a fire in the stove until the chimney sweep looks at it in two weeks. Until then we’ll have to be content with tackling all the other things on our first-week-in-the-house to-do list.

The one good thing to come of the fire follies was that I got the amazing shot at the top of this post. With the sun streaming in through the old windows, the smoke filled house looked especially photogenic. I grabbed my camera and snapped a few photos before I started waving my arms around to try to disperse the smoke.

The lesson here: always look on the bright side. Oh, and call in the professionals where fire is concerned.

— J. Blandings

Image: Mr and Mr Blandings