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Sunday, March 26, 2017

DIY Disasters: What to Do When a Project Goes Wrong

Every year during my Spring Break my wife goes out of town for a work trip. For the week that she is gone, I get to be on full-time daddy duty. I look for fun things to do with my kids, but we also look for home projects to do to surprise mommy when she returns. This year we filled our time with a train park, the zoo, irrigation, electrical work, and painting.

And here's what happened...


I wanted to run an irrigation line for my kids' Secret Garden. Seeing where the water pipe ran into my workshop, I trenched 15 feet for the placement of the sprinkler valves, including two feet under a walkway that I had built. Having laid out everything in preparation for the waterline, I then cut into the water pipe. There was a sizzle, some smoke, a pop, and then a clean cut through the pipe. Apparently when my workshop was built, instead of running the electrical through in-the-ground-approved conduit, they cut corners and used sprinkler PVC. So now I had a cut line that needed to be repaired, no electrical going to my workshop, and the trenching that I had done was useless. The rest of my day was spent repairing the electrical line, so at the end of the day I had accomplished exactly nothing towards the completion of this project.
Whoops. That was live electricity.

The next day I shifted gears and did some trenching to replace and re-run sprinklers in my yard. I added five sprinkler heads, so there was quite a bit of trenching that I needed to do for that, but I knew that I was running it from actual water lines, so I had that going for me. I had to stop before completing the project, knowing that I could finish it up the next day.

Early the next morning, I awoke to the sound of rain. I was a little confused, since there was no rain in the forecast, but I listened for about five minutes, just enjoying the sound of the rain. Then, as I gradually woke up, I realized that I wasn't hearing rain. I ran outside, only to witness water shooting up 20 feet in the air. Apparently, as I was trenching for the new sprinkler line, I nicked an existing line for another part of the yard. That small crack created enough pressure to give us our very own Old Faithful in our backyard. I suspended the irrigation, and the next day was spent digging out and repairing the broken irrigation line.

And these used to be my PVC cutters.
At times like this I ask myself, "Why do I DIY?" I have so many stories of projects that were less than ideal. But for me, those less-than-ideal situations are way overshadowed by the times that things go right. The Secret Garden is something that I can't stop looking at. Not because everything there is perfect and I am an amazing builder. But because my kids love the time they spend there. I can't stop looking at it because of the joy it brings them.

Before you go thinking that I'm some sort of altruistic giver of joy, I need to tell you that I'm not. Unfortunately I don't just do things to bring other people joy. I build and garden and DIY because, when I don't, I feel restless. I'm like Roger Rabbit in the recesses of a bar, trying to stay quiet while Shave and a Haircut is being tapped. When I don't DIY, I start to go crazy.

When mishaps, blunders, mistakes, or catastrophes occur, I become BATMAN. Here's what I do:

Breathe - I take a deep breath, or twelve, and calm myself down. No matter what I've done, it could always be worse (I'm the guy who cut part of his own thumb off once).
So much new trenching, I was bound to nick an existing pipe.

Assess the situation - Look at what has happened. See if it is as bad as you think it is. Make sure that it won't get worse (turn off water, electricity, or nuclear power if necessary).

Take a break - Often, after assessing, I need to take a break from what I was doing. I need to clear my head. The opposite would be to go into the situation with guns a-blazing, and that will typically make things worse.

Make a list - Check on the supplies needed for the unexpected repair. There may be something that you already have, or you may need to run to your local hardware store. Take pictures of the problem to make sure that you cover all of your bases.

Now there's another repair in the books.
Ask for help - You may need to turn to the internet, somebody at a hardware store, or a friend for advice or help. The internet is a wonderful resource, but some of the DIY advice out there is a bit shady.

Nod at a job well done - This is after you have tackled the repair, but give yourself the satisfaction of looking at the completed repair/job and relish in the fact that you made it happen.


 So while I prefer to have projects completed with no disasters and nothing but pure perfection in the end, I will gladly take the broken water pipes and severed electrical lines over not getting to do a project. I prefer fighting with uneven floors or paint spills over letting my hands be idle. I DIY because that is what is inside of me, and I embrace it. After all, I am BATMAN.

But I would still rather not destroy a hand tool with live electricity in the future.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My Pool Remodel: To DIY or Not to DIY

As an avid DIYer, I like to take on any project around the house. If it's something that I am not familiar with, I will read up on the process, talk to pros, and estimate the cost savings of doing it myself versus hiring somebody to do it. So as our pool surface began to slowly crumble over the past two years, I looked into what I could do to make the repairs myself.

How did I know the pool needed to be repaired?

The plaster in pools is extremely porous. Over time, it becomes more and more porous, and the chemicals have a difficult time killing algae that attaches to the plaster. We had some black algae that I could not get rid of, and as I asked several experts, they stated that it was time to resurface. Additionally, there were areas where the plaster was falling off, especially around the stairs. And finally, our waterfall had developed some large cracks and holes, rendering it completely unusable, and in the final days, somewhat dangerous. It was time to do something.

To DIY, or Not to DIY? That's the question

Old rocks, old tile, old surface
I started looking at ways to DIY the surface of my pool. The process would have been to drain the pool, clean the surface, and use a multiple step epoxy to coat the pool. At first glance it seemed quite doable. In fact, I started staging myself for the project, going so far as to purchase a pressure washer for the surface prep (like I needed an excuse). But then as I looked at the cost of a surface coat, and as I read reviews of people who had used them, I started to realize that this process was quite finicky and rather expensive. It would have cost more than $2000 to DIY the pool surface, and I read enough reviews from people who ended up having to surface again after only a couple of years because of an epoxy coat that did not adhere. I realized that this was probably a Not DIY project.

Not to DIY. What next?

Chipped out pools are fun to run in!
Whenever I look to hire a professional, I turn to the most trusted source that I have found in the state for home improvement - Rosie on the House. Rosie is a local contractor, but he has a contractor network with vetted professionals that cover every area of the home. Going through the network, I found a veteran-owned local company that I decided to call.

Above and Beyond

I figured it wouldn't hurt to get a free quote, so I called Above and Beyond Pool Remodeling. I was fully expecting an astronomical cost for a pool resurface, based on the size of our pool, but I was pleasantly surprised at what it would cost to resurface our pool. In fact, we ended up upgrading to a mini pebble surface compared with our plaster surface, which bumped our surface warranty from 5 years to 15 years (interesting tidbit - plaster pools don't last as long nowadays as they used to because they no longer have asbestos in the plaster. I can only imagine what I absorbed through my feet all those years playing in the pool as a kid). A second company that I had previously contacted was working on our waterfall, but Above and Beyond (AB) was the company that we felt most comfortable with for our remodel.
The slide added to the waterfall

The Process

I expected the pool remodel to be a several month long process. I was extremely surprised at how quickly our pool went from run down and broken to pristine and new. The short of it is that the pool was worked on for a total of 7 days. This doesn't take into account the rain delays (yes, we do occasionally get rain in Arizona), or the time that work wasn't happening because we were out of town.

Preparing to spray in the surface
Days 1 and 2 - Drain and chipout. Little E loved this day. He thought it was awesome watching the plaster and tile being broken out. In fact, he asked the AB crew for a piece of plaster, which they gladly shared with him. He was so happy with how sparkly it was. And then I threw it away when he wasn't looking (because, asbestos).

Days 3, 4, and 5 - Waterfall repair, addition, and painting. Our waterfall was in bad shape. It was hollow and falling apart. As we looked to repair it, we saw some pictures of waterfalls that had built-in slides. As we figured out how we could add this, we were able to cut costs by utilizing the waterfall itself as the steps to the slide. The forms were built, the concrete poured, the texture and outlines added, and the stain applied. This was also the day that the kids saw that they were getting a slide. Big excitement in the house!
Surface cured - filling it up!

Day 6 - Tile. Our old faded tile was replaced. This went in rather quickly, and I couldn't stop looking at the pool, anticipating many wonderful family gatherings (and hoping that Cousin Eddie realized he couldn't swim and didn't come).

Day 7 - Mini Pebble. This day blew me away. I was so intrigued by the process that I worked from home this morning. Watching the guys spray in the surface, smooth it out, and spray on the pebbles was absolutely enthralling. It was truly like watching artists at work. Within a couple of hours, the entire pool was coated and left to dry. Yet again, when I came home I continually went to the door to look at the pool, amazed at how quickly everything had transformed.
Look at that beautiful new tile and surface!

Day 8 - Acid wash and filling. So I initially didn't count this as one of the days, but it was an important one to make sure that everything was clean before we started filling the pool. The hose was turned on, and by the next day the kids were already in the pool (it happened to be 55 degrees that day, but the kids didn't care. They had a new pool that needed to be christened, and they were up for the challenge).

While the water has still been quite cold, I did make it in the pool once, just out of sheer stubbornness of wanting to enjoy the new pool. The kids, on the other hand, have been in daily. I can't wait to join them when the weather warms up a bit. And I can't recommend Above and Beyond enough. I am always amazed when I have an experience with a contractor that ends up being so positive that I want to refer everybody I know to them. Wonderful company, wonderful owner, wonderful process.
Looks inviting!

In the end, this was a costly repair, but because of the avenue we took, we will have a pool that will not have to be resurfaced again for close to 20 years or more. Our backyard is back to its enjoyable self, and we don't have to worry about inviting the family over to swim in algae water with possible asbestos chunks at the bottom. Not to DIY was a great choice, and Above and Beyond is a highly recommended company for those in the Phoenix area. 

But now I'm ready for some kind of DIY... This itch needs to be scratched.




And it is inviting...
...but cold.