The Saga of the Industrial Sander

Further to our post from yesterday, our renovations will forever be linked to the story about the saga of the industrial sander. I covered it in this column in the Kitchener Post:

Surviving a potential do-it-yourself disaster

Industrial sander bares its teeth in home reno project, says James Bow

We've been renovating our house this past month. I'm saying this because we are both proud, exhausted and kind of surprised.

Have you ever seen those do-it-yourself reality shows on HGTV, possibly entitled DIY Disaster? That's the one where camera crews trawl the parking lots of local hardware stores, looking for the unlikeliest couples hauling out the largest power equipment.

That may describe our relationship when it comes to tools. To start with, we have to find them.

I'm sure that half of the time spent doing handyman tasks around the house is wasted trying to find where we've placed a particular screwdriver, a particular bit or a particular power tool. I've no idea where our jigsaw has gone. Only large items like a mitre saw or a table saw have proven difficult to lose.

We now possess multiple ratcheting screwdrivers and tape measures because we've found it easier to buy new rather than hunt for the old. I wonder how many hardware stores are in business thanks to our absent mindedness.

In our most recent renovation, however, we made use of two services in the city to give us the tools we needed.

Recently, the Kitchener-Waterloo Library of Things opened its doors. Located at 91 Moore Ave. and open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, this community-run resource is a lending library for all manner of tools and devices. Need a wet saw? Want to borrow a chocolate fountain? A year membership costs just $40, and you can borrow up to 10 items each week.

We borrowed two pairs of knee pads and a circular saw, which saved us money and storage space in our home. We would have borrowed a pry-bar, but these are among the items on their wish list (donations are gratefully accepted). I expect to be using this service a lot these next few months.

For bigger items, we had to rent tools at a large hardware store in a nearby power centre. And, there, we may have been a little unwise.

We wanted to scrape carpet glue off of a concrete floor, and the scrapers we had on hand weren't cutting it. So, we decided that something more industrially-scaled was necessary.

When you think of an industrial sander, you think of a mechanical sander only bigger. I was expecting to deal with a large disk of sandpaper. What I got was a spinning wheel of razor blades.

Looking at this device, I wondered what part of it held the sander in place and kept it from careening off out the door and down the street terrorizing the squirrels. I soon realized that the particular part was actually yours truly, and that, in this, the design was highly optimistic.

To our credit, after 15 minutes, we did get most of the carpet glue off the floor. After several near-misses, and some weird accident that snapped the spinning disk and sent razor blades in all directions, we decided we needed to return the industrial sander to the hardware store.

The attendant on duty said, "Well, at least you got damage insurance," accepted our return and kept a straight face until we were just out the door. We only think we heard them laughing from the parking lot.

So far, we've installed cabinets, sinks and counter tops. We've laid down flooring. I am pleased to say that our marriage has withstood these famous tests of character.

But I also have to say that these accomplishments feel far better having been done, than doing them.

The Month of Renovations

renovation-start.jpgI haven't spoken too much about this because, at the time we were doing it, we wanted it to be a surprise.

Back in December, my mother-in-law and her husband rented out their condominium to a nice young family, and used the funds to head south for the winter (good choice). The lease they signed was for six months, but they still expected to return to Ontario in early April (not such a good choice in retrospect). So, for the three months, at least, between their return from Florida and the end of their tenants' lease, we decided the best thing was to have them bunk in with us.

The guest room, such as it was, was my downstairs office, and while it was still a functional office, it had taken something of a beating over the past couple of years. We'd had a leak from the concrete wall, thanks to a eavestroph issue that we solved, and it meant that we had to rip out the carpet, leaving the concrete floor. There was a couch that expanded into a guest bed, but it was less than comfortable, and not a pleasant experience to be had by someone planning to stay for more than a few days.

But we decided to look at this as an opportunity. We had to lay down new flooring in the basement office -- that was a given. However, we also had two other rooms that were not living up to their full potential and were instead dumping grounds for stuff we needed to store. There was an actual storage room in behind the basement office, and there was a sun room upstairs, that we had planned to use as a kid's play room, but was now a storage repository for the kids games and other things.

The upstairs sun room was bright, and could function quite reasonably as an office. In any event, I was finding myself upstairs more than often, working at the dining room table while the kids were at home. This arrangement was precisely the reason why we decided we needed to move to a place with more room, like a dedicated office. The sun room was right behind the dining room that I was using as a de-facto office.

So, the plan came together. We would pull out all of the books and bookcases in the office and move everything into the sunroom upstairs. We would buy flooring and waterproof underlay at Lowes to provide a finished floor for the old office, now guest room. My desk would be moved behind one of the big windows in the sun room, and some of the bookcases mounted to the walls there. And the storage room... now there was an opportunity. If we pulled off the door and turned it into an alcove of the old office, we could place a bed in there, and make the guest room space much more livable.

This required not just removing all of the stuff in the storeroom, but pulling down and actually finishing the walls and the ceiling, and we knew that this was beyond us. So this was the surprise. We hired a contractor, one of two candidates who really impressed us, to strip everything back to the concrete, put in new studs and drywall, finish the ceiling and fix the electrical.

That was our March, and the late part of February, and some of April too. We rearranged our storage needs (moving some shelves to the laundry room), culled what we could, sold a surprising amount of stuff on Kijiji, and bought a lot of stuff on Kijiji. We laid down surprisingly unforgiving vinyl flooring while our contractor did amazing things, and we were mostly done for the reveal when my mother-in-law and her husband surprised us by arriving early.

We are exhausted, but quite proud of what's been accomplished, here. The new space has added quite a lot of value to the home, and the office, while still somewhat cluttered, has come together in a really good way that hasn't hampered my productivity. Erin even comes in to sit with me occasionally, which is something she didn't do when my office was downstairs.

I'd like to thank Cameron Dixon who came up to Kitchener and willingly got put to work laying down the new flooring. And I'm thankful for the patience of my family, as they put up with a month of chaos. In the end, it has really been worth it.

You can see pictures of the renovation in progress on my Flickr here.


The North Wind Doth Blow, and We Shall Have Snow...

put-out-robin.jpg...and what will little robin do then, poor thing?

The picture above is a zoom-in of our pond. It's frozen over again, and the heater to allow some oxygen to get through the ice to the koi now provides a small respite to a robin who didn't come north to deal with all this poop.

This weekend has been a little hard to take, but I also think we may have dodged a bullet, especially compared to some of the things I've been hearing elsewhere in southern Ontario.

On Friday, we listened in disbelief as Environment Canada warned of a potentially "historic" ice storm affecting southern Ontario. The warnings came and went, and then came back, so we decided to stock up on supplies, and prepare to stay indoors for the weekend. By Saturday morning, it was clear we were having some weather. At first the ice came as pellets, such that it felt like it was raining wet sand. It didn't coat any branches, which is a good thing, but it settled on the driveway and our sidewalks with the consistency of cement.

Sunday was substantially worse. More and deeper ice pellets. Then, as evening set in, the classic freezing rain arrived. The wind picked up, and I was sure we'd be seeing power outages.

As Monday dawned, it was too slick to move. The schools wisely cancelled classes, with everybody shocked that such a thing was possible on April 16 in southern Ontario. Ida our electric car did not come with winter tires (we'll install these later in the year), and its approach to encountering slick conditions in our driveway was to simply stop the wheels turning. Fascinating. So, we decided to stay off the roads as much as possible, at least until the plows were through.

The city has been cleaning itself up. The garbage and recycling people did heroic work picking up ice-laden waste at the side of the road this morning. I was amazed. And Kitchener-Waterloo seems to have escaped any power outages or tree damage.

Even so, every local that I know is in mourning at winter's last gasp. It just doesn't seem fair or right, especially after the earlier signs of spring-like weather that we saw last month.

But while April is capricious, spring is coming. We see the sun on Wednesday, and temperatures start climbing into the teens this weekend. We may finally be leaving the minuses behind.

Farewell Lance, Hello Ida


Twelve years and two months ago, we purchased Lance the Elantra. As I said at the time:

"Erin and I have bought a car, a nice used Hyundai Elantra with good fuel economy. This will allow me to bring Vivian up to work so that she and Erin can do lunch. And much as I enjoy taking transit here in Kitchener-Waterloo (and still intend to), I am reminded yet again of how much this city is designed for the car. I have no objection to people buying cars as a luxury, but when an automobile ceases to be a luxury and becomes a necessity, something's wrong with the neighbourhood. We can function without a car here in Waterloo Region, but the area still has some ways to go before it's really transit and pedestrian friendly."

A fair amount has changed in the twelve years since. Transit in Waterloo Region has improved. Transit connections between Kitchener and Toronto have improved. Erin now works from home, as do I. Most of our driving has been in town, ferrying the kids to school and handling heavy shopping duties.

But we still clocked a lot of miles on Lance the Elantra (yes, we named him, just like we named Freddy, the faithful Ford). Twelve years, and with the odometer showing 253,950 kilometres, we drove Lance to the Kitchener Hyundai dealership where it was originally sold, and traded it in for scrap value.

There were some trumped up tears. Yes, we knew that Lance was on its last legs (check out the video and listen to that baby purr!), but Lance was a significant part of our lives. We drove her thousands of miles across a fair chunk of North America. She's been to Nebraska several times. She's been to Washington, DC. Just sorting through the detritus at the bottom of the car brings back memories.

But the tears were trumped up, because waiting for us at the Hyundai dealership was Ida, the 2018 Ioniq.

Our situation has changed. We are working from home and trying to walk more. I take transit whenever I go into Toronto, since driving into that city is insane. Most of the driving we do is in town, and we probably do less than 50 kilometres per day, on average. And we've been watching how well electric cars have been improving these past few years. The charging stations are multiplying, as is the range. The 2017 Nissan Leaf had a range of 80 kilometres (correction: 80 MILES, or roughly 130 kilometers). The 2018 model had a range of 240 kilometers.

We have been taking some concrete steps to reduce the carbon footprint of our home. We've leased our roof to a solar power company. We top up our electricity purchase with Bullfrog Power, providing support to wind and solar power providers. And now, with Ida the Ioniq driving past gas stations everywhere and charing overnight at home, the only thing in the house that is directly reliant on carbon-based energy is our hot water heater.

This will require some adjustments. If we have to travel beyond London or Burlington, we will probably have to rent a car. I am busy learning the etiquette of electric vehicle ownership. But I am looking forward to spending less money on car fuel. And I'm looking forward to experiencing how much car technology has changed in the past twelve years. A rear-view camera is now standard. Push button start-ups are cool. And the car is silent like a ninja!

So here's to new memories, and new trips. It will be interesting to see where electric cars are in 2023 when the lease expires.