The Small Wins Count

In my last post I wrote about my frustration of how little I have managed to accomplish this past several months due to the realities and physical limitations of being middle aged as well as having a recent spell of mild depression (something I have dealt with the majority of my life). I also mentioned that there had been some small wins in those months. So rather than dwell on what I didn’t get done, I am going to share what I did get accomplished.

Small Win #1 – Window Shakers

[Image: The window shaker in the parlor is very effective at keeping the majority of the main floor cool.]

Being an apartment dweller my entire adult life until now, I have always prided myself for having a smaller than average carbon footprint by a sizable margin. This has allowed me to live guilt free with one very privileged luxury… Air conditioning. To know me is to know that I don’t handle summer heat and humidity very well. I need to be able to come home to a cool comfortable home. Now that I am living in a 2,000 sq ft house instead of an apartment, and have a car for the first time in 25 years, I realize that my carbon footprint is bigger than it was. Thankfully, after a recent re-evaluation of my current carbon footprint (including my current use of air conditioning), I come in about 40% below the average American. Higher than it was, and there is room for improvement, but I will continue to feel slightly less guilty about keeping our house comfortable.


[Image: It turns out that the cabinet in the kitchen is the perfect height to hide the ugly window unit while allowing airflow.]

Eventually, our home will have whole house air-conditioning (and insulation) and will be much more efficient, but until that day arrives, we are reliant upon window units (aka: window shakers). With rooms still unoccupied (awaiting future renovations) we decided we needed to keep the main floor comfortable, as well as the room we sleep in. I also wanted the ability to cool my studio on the third floor when I am using it. To that end, we installed four window units. Two on the main floor running nearly all hours in economy-mode, keeping the parlor, dining room, and kitchen quite comfortable. The one in the bedroom is also almost always running, albeit at a higher setting during the day when we aren’t in there much (but because naps happen, we need to be able to cool the room down quickly). The one in my studio is only on when I am up there working. The amazing thing is that with three of the four units running nearly all the time, our highest electric bill has only been about $130, which is far less than our summer electric bill in our New York apartment.

Small Win #2 – Keeping the Heat Out

[Image: When I replaced our original thermostat in the parlor last January, I carried the old one up to the third floor to have an idea of the temperature difference. It has been as high as 97, but 95 is pretty damned hot for an indoor temp.]

Thanks to neighbors on both sides having a third story at the rear (we only have two) as well as our windows being deeply set into thick brick walls, most of our back windows are shaded much of the day. But the third floor rear windows are full on sun pretty much all day long. It doesn’t help that the uninsulated attic is also baking in the sun all day long. Keeping the main floor a comfortable 75 has been relatively simple and light(ish) on the wallet, but things change the moment you start to ascend the stairs. Less than halfway up to the second floor, the temperature starts to climb and the difference is palpable. I have a thermometer at the top of the stairs and can report that since the end of May, I haven’t seen it below 85, and it has been as high as 97 (ugh). This is only intensified by the fact that there is ZERO insulation in our house, and there won’t be before next year.


[Image: This is the third floor window at the top of the stairs. Applying the solar film isn’t very hard, but it is tedious.]

So to help reduce the heat gain from the windows, I decided that I needed to install solar film to allow light in while blocking heat gain. I didn’t do the nicest finish job on them, but I am thrilled by the results. As soon as I completed the top sash on my first window, I could feel the difference in the suns warmth on the back of my hand as I moved it between the upper and lower sash. And the difference is dramatic! I have no doubt that it would be even warmer on the third floor without the window film.

Small Win #3 – Vertical Pot Rack

[Image: This metal pegboard from Wall Control was originally purchased for my workbench in the basement, but it turned out to be perfect for our kitchen as well.]

When I did my Lipstick on a Pig facelift on the kitchen last spring, my original plan was to hang a pot rack from the ceiling in front of the window. I even went so far as to build one, only to realize that there were no ceiling joists where I wanted to hang it. Not wanting to rely upon the strength of our lath and plaster ceiling to hold the weight of the pots and pans, I abandoned the idea. But digging around for our pots and pans in the cabinets wasn’t working either as our space is limited and pulling out three items to get to the one on the bottom is a pain in the ass. (First world problems, true…  But still annoying).


[Image: Now all of our pots and pans are easy to get to and there is more space in our cabinets.]

It turns out that the solution was already here. Back in June I purchased a metal peg-board system from Wall Control to organize my tools on my future workbench (*Amazon sells this version for kitchens as well). In July, with the workbench still unbuilt, it occurred to me that the peg-board would make perfect storage for pots and pans in the kitchen. So, I used two panels and some hooks and within 30 minutes, the storage in our kitchen was greatly improved, and quite attractive at well! It is so much easier to grab a pot off of the wall than to dig around for it in a bottom cabinet. Quick, Simple, Affordable, and absolutely Beautiful!

Small Win #4: When it Rains, it Pours

You may have caught the video above on my Instagram stories from May when water poured over the top of the clogged downspout during a large and brief thunderstorm, dumping two plus inches of water into our back yard. This was frustrating because the downspout was cleaned out last year when we had work done on the house. Currently, all of the rainwater from the rear half of our top roof drains onto the rear shed roof which then flows to a single rain head with a four inch downspout. That adds up to more than 160 gallons of water in a single half inch rainfall event which can easily happen in a ten minute thunderstorm. Because the downspout is located above the dining room windows, it has two elbow joints before it flows down to the sewer pipe. (That’s right, I said sewer pipe. Philadelphia is one of those old cities in which storm runoff and raw sewage flow into a Combined Sewer System.) Looking at how the downspout was set up, I found it difficult to believe that our lower rear roof, which is still higher than any tree within 100 feet, could gather enough leaves to clog a four inch diameter downspout only a year after it was cleaned out. But it did. The problem lies in the first elbow turn above the dining room window. The leaves and debris get stuck at the turn, the downspout gets clogged up, and the water overflows at the top (as shown in the video) and then fills our 260 square foot concrete back yard with as much as three inches of water at the lowest point (when that drain is clogged). Not a good thing.


[Image: When the house was built, there were no windows below the roof drainage outlet, but our guess is that when the rear of the first floor was reconfigured in the late 1800s, the window configuration was changed.]

We learned that the previous owner who wasn’t very diligent about maintenance, never cleaned the downspout out and the rain has been overflowing the top for decades. This explains the dark streak on the wall, this explains the completely rotten wood window frame in the dining room, and this explains why the wall is damp on the inside. It also explains the two or three inches of standing water in the backyard after every storm and the damage that has been caused over the course of time. But… As you can guess, I’m not very keen to the idea of climbing a ladder to disconnect the downspout and clean out nasty fetid leaves every year. There had to be a better solution. Our 166 year old house does not have standard gutters, and standard off-the-shelf products for keeping leaves out of the downspout aren’t an option, so it was time to do some research. After several hours of sleuthing the Internets, I came across a device that just may work.


[Image: Having the downspout in front of the window isn’t ideal, but we plan to completely reconfigure the window layout when we renovate the rear of the house in a few years. For now, it is good enough.]

The *Leaf Eater Advanced Downspout Filter from Rain Harvest Systems is essentially a rain head which is installed directly below the downspout from the roof before the downspout turns to line up with the sewer. Because I needed to be able to access the filter screen without a ladder, my only option was to run the downspout straight down, directly in front of the dining room window. Not a very sexy solution, but until we do the renovations to the rear of the house (kitchen, dining, guest bedroom and bath) in a few years, it will work. Here it is in action!

Now when the thunder clouds roll in and the skies open up, the water on the roof flows directly downwards, the debris is kicked aside, and the now filtered rainwater flows cleanly to the sewer. When I did the plumbing for the drain, I included a clean out at the far end as well as a diverter for a future rainwater collection system to use for watering the plants in the rear yard.

Small Win #5: Let there be Art!

[Image: Bixby couldn’t care less that I was taking pictures of the parlor. This is our temporary set up until we can delve into the real work on the living room late this year or early next year. The artwork on the right is “Salir del closet” by Cuban artist Guillermo Estrada Viera.]

We are still many months away from diving into the parlor (living room) renovations. (Remember the medallion? Yes, I am still working on it.) But just because the room isn’t even close to being started doesn’t mean we can’t make it livable in the meantime. Every summer we spend a week at the same art filled house in P-town and coming home to blank walls this year made me sad. Up until this point, all of our art had been leaning along one wall in my studio on the third floor. In addition to the small collection we amassed in New York, we have continued to acquire a few works from eBay and Etsy, as well as some pieces in Cuba, so our collection has grown a bit. Of course, one of the major reasons we chose our house is because it is filled with rooms with lots of walls for art. Up until now, there have only been two pieces of art on the wall, both hung when we finished the facelift on our kitchen. That had to change…


[Image: It feels great to have a small sense of normalcy in our chaotic household. Artwork above fireplace is of Central Havana by Cuban artist Luis Rodríguez NOA.]

I told Y that I think we need to hang a few pieces, even if we aren’t close to getting to work on the room and he agreed. So over the course of a Thursday in Mid-July, I pulled out my supply of Command Strip Hooks and went to town hanging art. I hung some big pieces in the parlor, but also several around the house in hallways, our current bedroom, and the bathroom. Immediately, walking around our tired and unfinished interiors was made a bit more pleasurable. It also made our temporary set up in the parlor much more enjoyable. Instead of looking at hideous peach colored walls, we now get to look at our favorite artwork hung on hideous peach colored walls. In due time that will change.


[Image: Y is hard at work (checking his phone) while I am spending the afternoon hanging artwork on the walls. The portraits in the back are either eBay or Etsy. The piece just to the left of the door is by Cuban artist Guillermo Estrada Viera and is titled: No encuentro acomodo #2 (I cannot find comfort #2). The piece on the far left is by another Cuban artist, Aneet Fontes]

So that about sums up my small wins. I have to admit the pot-rack in the kitchen was the easiest and quickest project and has had a big impact on day to day living. I have a bigger project reveal coming later this week. It is very sexy and it involves my favorite color (red). Check out my Instagram @ourphillyrow for a clue… Also, please consider following me if you don’t already. There is also a clue above in this post 😉.

One more thing: In my last post I wrote about my debilitating battle with Plantar Fasciitis. Well, I am pleased to say that things are better for me. Only time will tell, but I think I have discovered a specific type of brace that while uncomfortable to wear, seems to help with the healing and reduced the heel pain by 75% within three days.


* Disclosure: Links above marked with an asterisk are Amazon affiliate links for products mentioned in the post. At no cost to you, I will make a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Visit my Endorsements and Other Considerations page to learn more about my affiliate connection as well as my view of product promotion in general.















Till next time. . .

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  • Alice says:

    That’s some great progress–particularly the downspout issue! I can’t wait to hear more!

    • Devyn says:

      Thanks Alice, The downspout has turned out to be a pretty important win. Especially now that the backyard now drains after each storm. My neighbor tells me there were issues with standing water in the yard for years because the previous owner neglected to do maintenance. We suspect there will be bigger structural issues to address when we get to the rear portion of the house in a few years, there is a sag in the first and second floors and signs of past dampness in the wall where the downspout was overflowing for all those years.

  • David B says:

    Love the pots and pans solution. Is the block of color on the ceiling of the parlor what you are leaning toward?

    • Devyn says:

      The pots and pans solution has really worked out well.
      That block of color is indeed what we are leaning towards. I will explain further in due time. We hope to be working on the living room by the end of the year and you can be sure I will be posting about it. 😊😊

  • These wins are all bigger than you allow yourself credit for! The air conditioning will make you feel better which will help you to accomplish more; same for the solar film. The pegboard has turned your cookware into an art installation… very nice! BTW, I really, really, like the painted gray “wainscot” that continues onto the door and woodwork; it gives the room a lot of character and visual width. Reconfiguring the downspouts was obviously a huge win; it will prevent more damage until you can find a sexier solution. The value of having art on your walls does not need confirmation; it is a self-evident necessity. Nice finds! You’re doing great – take a moment to reflect on your significant accomplishments and then jump into the next project! Thanks for sharing your progress.

    • Devyn says:

      Thanks, The AC has made being in the house quite comfortable, even on the hottest and muggiest days.
      The gray “wainscoting” was my effort to make the small (8×11) and poorly laid out kitchen feel more cohesive. I just carried the same gray of the lower cabinets around the room at the same height. Glad you like the pegboard, stay tuned to see more pegboard later this week 😉
      When we get to the rear “el” of the house (we really don’t know what to call it), I plan to change the dining room windows back to the original configuration of two double hung windows, and the downspout would then run between them resolving the problem.
      As for the living room, I wish it was as simple as just painting it, but alas, it will be a project unto it’s own involving the medallion, more electrical work, an as yet to be discussed fireplace surround alteration, and a lot of prep work to get it ready to paint. Fingers crossed, we can get there by the end of the year and have at least one room (aside from the kitchen) that reflects our true style and exemplify where we want things to go. In the meantime, having a small portion of our art on the walls has made being in the room far more pleasant, especially with the wretched wall color.

  • Stacy G. says:

    It’s really coming along! I love the pot rack.

  • Southern Gal (@sogalitno) says:

    you know its the SMALL things – the EVERYDAY things that make life livable… esp if you are living in a multi year renovation.

    i love your red pegboard and it makes me sad bec i did the same thing in my previous apt of 12 years. unfortunately this landlady will not let me be creative – no painting rooms colors no installing things like a pegboard. even though there are no kitchen cabinets in the kitchen (dont even …. ) but there is a small pantry with … yes no shelves! lets just say its a good thing i like ikea and had lots of billy bookcases and i found a great commercial supplier of wire shelving. (and have become their favorite non commercial customer).

    the AC is SO important ( i grew up in the DEEP South ). Good for you … i need to research that solar film – this apt is the entire top floor so i get sun morning noon and afternoon on three sides (E S W) and that film if not expensive would help tremendously esp since my BR faces DUE West.

    that downspout solution is SO fabulous – Congratulations – sometimes those surfing sessions DO pay off. such a HUGE improvement!

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