#9 New Rental Property – Which Countertop Should I Use?

I guess this is a big give-away of what we picked…

We’ve made some big progress in January including unboxing this butcher-block countertop. After careful consideration, I bought this 6 ft butcher block countertop from Lowes (shipped to our house). 

Here’s the deal:

Ultimately the purpose of rental property is going to be valued on it’s return on investment. So I started by listing out all types of countertops and their prices. 

The common countertop types are engineered quartz, granite, marble, butcher block (wood), laminate, stainless steel, concrete, tile. 

Consider the price for a 6ft long countertop for this project:

  • High: tile ($500 – with installation labor), granite ($625), quartz ($875),
  • Medium:  concrete ($562), marble ($500),
  • Low: laminate ($99), butcher block ($169), 

I would have to hire out for almost every single type of countertops except for butcher block. For stainless steel, surprisingly I found a slab of 6ft stainless steel for only $122 but I don’t think I can cut this and put a sink in it. Rather, it may have to be custom made. If you are installing a countertop that doesn’t require cutting, this might be a cheaper option.

I considered laminate but it’s hard for me to imagine it in the barn without it screaming ‘CHEAP!’ So ultimately we went with a butcher block. It seems to be the easiest and cheapest option for short-term rental properties.

If we are doing the main kitchen in our house, we would have outsourced this job and chose engineered quartz since they can virtually be any color you like and be maintenance-free. You never have to worry about spilling red wine on a white countertop again.  

Tali supervising the installation

Mr. Code Junkie clamped the countertop to the cabinets and screwed them in from the bottom up in the four corners of the countertop plus a few other spots in the middle. I’ll admit, it’s probably a pretty hacky way of securing the countertop and I’d definitely leave it to the professionals next time (if it’s something bigger). It would’ve been nice if we fully leveled the top of the cabinets with another set of shims/wood pieces before putting the countertop on, and wood glue all the places that come into contact with the cabinets.

Our local plumber who’s installing the sink cut the sinkhole for us (a 22″ x 25″ sink) as we do not have a circular saw to cut wood this thick.  He said it took quite a bit of struggle since he doesn’t usually do that. I then found a piece of bent jigsaw blade in the trash pile the next day. I guess he indeed had a hard time wrestling with the 3-inch solid wood countertop!

Here I am putting on a couple of layers of wipe-on mineral oil that I had laying around. Hopefully, there will be little to no prep-work at all on this countertop, so I am not concerned about the mineral oil being food-grade. But there is food-grade mineral oil for that purpose as well for people who use butcher block in their day-to-day kitchen. 

New Bathroom Vanity from Wayfair

Here’s the before/after bathroom install

Another update we have is this lovely Matsumoto 30″ bathroom vanity I found on Wayfair for $280. Since the barn bathroom doesn’t have a lot of natural light, I chose white and can add small colorful items later on. The blue and green colors of the vanity both look really sleek as well.

For some reason, Wayfair is now selling this 30″ vanity at $419.99 which is a LOT more expensive than when I purchased it. I’ve noticed this on Wayfair for a couple of items I bookmarked that the prices actually fluctuate quite a lot (a few hundred dollars). I kept a spreadsheet of all the items I intended to buy and their prices while waiting for the construction to be done which worked out well. I came upon a similar website with camelcamelcamel for Amazon; it is called zeporter for Wayfair to track prices of an item to make sure you buy at the cheapest time. You may want to track the prices for a month or two before pulling the trigger if it’s a big ticket item.

If you are not crunching for time, I would wait to see if they have “open-box” items on Wayfair which is usually $50 cheaper. See the example below.

Installing Floor and Door Trims

Before/After adding trim

My first attempt putting door trim on. I watched some youtube videos (here, here, and here) before starting on this endeavor. A couple of things I learned from watching these videos:

  1. Put door trim on before the floor trim.
  2. Leave about a 1/4 inch distance between the door jam and actual door trim.
  3. You can shave/chisel the drywall to make sure it’s flush with the door jam before nailing the trim.
  4. It’s easiest to do the trim AFTER flooring is done.

Getting the trim home was a bit of a journey. Since Home Depot sells trims in 12 feet lengths, there is no way it could fit in my tiny little Volkswagen hatchback even hanging out of the sunroof. I had to wait for a sunny day and my friend who has a truck to go and pick it up.

We started doing the trim around the entire room but haven’t finished yet. I borrowed my friend’s nailgun and this starts to come together quickly.

Pro tip: if you don’t have a luxurious friend who has a truck, Home Depot usually have 1-2 trucks they let you rent by the hour, and it’s about $25 for 2 hours. You can also get a truck from U-haul for about the same price. You will just have to go to U-haul to pick it up first then drive to Home Depot/Lowes.

Want to keep browsing our building projects and furniture upgrades? This archive is completely dedicated to them. 

#8 A Winter Wonderland and How to Winterize Your House

We had one of the biggest snowstorms in Arkansas and it is going to be -12 F (-24 C) tonight! The groundhog 2021 prediction did say it is another 4-6 weeks of winter, so I guess he’s right! We got a call from Mr. Code Junkie’s dad with step by step instructions on how to shut off the water/winterize to prepare for the cold. I imagine every dad in America is out there calling their kids today, “make sure you shut your water off or keep it dripping so the pipe doesn’t freeze!” 

This is when good insulation pays off. We set the temperature in the barn at 62 degrees with a mini-split running, but it feels warmer than the house where the thermostat is set at 66.

We have a spigot outside and a water shutoff that the plumber installed.  You can barely tell where the water shutoff is with all the snow. I was quite excited to have a legitimate excuse to go outside. Even though it’s FREEZING, the air seems fresh and crisp. The little paw prints were left by Tali (our princess-greyhound) who really doesn’t like cold. She would run outside, pee, then dash back in and act like it was such laborious work.

The water shutoff usually has a black plastic top with a little hole for you to turn and lift the cover to open. Thank god this cover isn’t frozen shut when we tried to open it.

This is what it looks like inside. My reflection coupled with the trees makes this look a lot deeper and sinister but it’s about a foot deep in the ground where you can reach your arm in and turn the white handle from perpendicular to the pipe (on) to a 90-degree (off). I have no idea how I first learned about this but I guess it comes with homeownership!

Once the water is shut off, you turn on the spigot to drain the remaining water from the pipes to prevent them from freezing then damage the pipe.

Our house and cars are covered in snow, as well as the little free library! My friends from Houston said their utility companies started a rolling blackout to shut off their power every 2 hours for 30 minutes to save energy for the hospitals. It is indeed an insane winter! We turned down the heat to 62 to conserve energy. We also found some thick blankets to stuff to the bottom of our doors to prevent draft cold air from coming into the house. 

What are some ways you winterize your house?

Defeating the Monster of Convenience

Photo by Yaopey Yong on Unsplash

We live in a society now that’s filled with convenience: kitchen gadgets that prepare coffee for you on a timer, uber eats delivers your food right to your door within minutes, and Amazon Now delivers within two hours after your order. Moreover, you can now have:

  • vets that come to your house to do annual exams for your dog,
  • a personal trainer that would drive work-out equipment to your house for you to work out,
  • the KitchenAid that does all of your kneadings, 
  • your smart-thermostat turns on and heats the house to the proper temperature before you get home.

Wikipedia defines convenience as a labor-saving device, service, or substance which makes a task easier or more efficient than a traditional method

Sometimes, I don’t even see the convenience anymore because it is so ingrained in our daily lives. 

I remember when I was growing up in China, we hanged our clothes to dry outside on the balcony on a bamboo rod (my parents still do this). When I was 9, we had our first landline phones installed and I called my grandma a LOT back then because it was so new and fun. The excitement of talking to my grandma through a plastic device seemed endless to a 9-year-old. Then the internet came around when I was in middle school, and I can still remember the very distinct dial tone when the modem connects through the phone lines. Our modem was so shitty that it leaked electricity on the bottom.  If you put your hand underneath it, it makes your palm tingle a little. 

Convenience is just like anything else, once you have it, you want more. Three years ago, I bought my very first house and paid contractors to renovate it. Then I excitedly put in an entire set of new appliances: fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer, and dryer all in matching colors. I love the freshly laundered and dried clothes with these new machines, and it finally doesn’t smell like that slight mildew from a rental apartment washer & dryer. It wasn’t soon that I became unsatisfied even with that. I wanted my clothes done in 5 minutes instead of an hour and a half.  I found myself start thinking similar thoughts with driving to work and making meals. I want to get to work faster. It annoyed me that it takes 5 minutes to get to work, so I’d rather work from home. I find that I am always rushing. Rushing for the laundry to be done, rushing to go to work, rushing to come home, rushing to cook quickly (or Uber Eats before I head home).  

Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences.

The Tyranny of Convenience, Tim Wu

Too much convenience takes away our ability to appreciate what we have and live in the present. I couldn’t tell you exactly what I was rushing for back then, or why I needed all those efficiencies. I didn’t have a very demanding job and my boss was beyond reasonable when it comes to clocking in and out. What I did find was that I had less and less patience for other things as well. I would get easily annoyed if someone cuts in front of me in traffic, upset about waiting in line at the grocery checkout. Even waiting for the shower to warm up seems to be too long and too inconvenient. The monster of convenience seems to be looming in the shadows around every corner.

The way to defeat the monster is to purposefully add inconvenience to your life.

One day, I thought instead of optimizing my life, maybe I’d do the opposite and see what happens. So I biked to work that week. It took a little preparation because it was in the winter. I scouted out the route the weekend before, laid all my biking clothes out, and packed my work clothes in a bag to change into. It was a liberating feeling because I had to pay very close attention to the road, the same road I drive on but now I bike. Everything passes by slower. I see the stores on the side of the streets I never noticed before. I realize there was a slight incline of the road (bike harder, legs!). I was red in the face and breathing heavily as I got into work but my head felt clearer and my mood is lifted. 

It is a lot more hassle to bike to work instead of driving, but I started to enjoy it after a month or two. The inconvenience of biking to work forced me to make it another event, one that I have to devote almost my full attention to be present. Surprisingly, adding this inconvenience makes me happier. Along the way, I picked up biking as a hobby.

Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such. As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices: We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions. These are the non-instrumental activities that help to define us. They reward us with character because they involve an encounter with meaningful resistance — with nature’s laws, with the limits of our own bodies — as in carving wood, melding raw ingredients, fixing a broken appliance, writing code, timing waves or facing the point when the runner’s legs and lungs begin to rebel against him.

The Tyranny of Convenience, Tim Wu

Nowadays, we often find ourselves overwhelmed by too many things we commit, going from one place to another. Yet, we don’t reflect enough on the present and live in the present.

Consciously embracing inconvenience, or better, create inconvenience is a way for us to slow down and catch ourselves from being haunted by the ghost of the past or strangled by the worries of tomorrow.

#7 Our First Attempt of Installing Lowe’s Diamond Now Arcadia Cabinets

After a few weekends of rest from our exciting Colorado white Christmas, we are back at the barn again. Last week, I laid the floor up to the point where it’s close to the cabinets, and Mr. Code Junkie and I worked on installing base cabinets. 

I know this picture above just looks like we put the cabinets next to each other and against the wall but there’s way more involved than I had first anticipated!

First, I did some shopping around the local stores for cheap cabinets but they are all quite expensive for quality cabinets. The only thing cheaper we saw looked like it was made with paper and I might accidentally punch a hole in it by just touching. So we went back to the big box store – Home Depot and Lowes. 

I personally would not recommend shopping at Lowe’s ever again because their customer service was pretty horrendous. One of the cabinets came a little damaged and getting them replaced was a nightmare. Next time, I would drive 4 hours to an Ikea to get the cabinets I really want (SEKTION). Ikea cabinets would’ve been a total of $512 after tax (30 inches $153, 24 inches $172, and 18 inches $143) plus renting a truck and drive 8 hours round trip.

Here are the three cabinets we got from Lowes, from left to right they are 30 inches, 24 inches, and 18 inches. The total trip to Lowes was $601 which is more expensive than Ikea. Since I’ve never had Ikea cabinets so I can’t compare them but I would’ve liked the smooth finish of the Ikea cabinets better.

These Cabinets from Lowe’s are called Diamond Now Acadia cabinets. They are made of particleboard but covered up nicely. Although because it is made with particleboard, it’s very easy to break. We almost damaged a drawer moving these cabinets. They are fairly cheaply made but they are the most economical and ok-looking cabinets I can get my hands on, so they will do for this project.

We also bought a new stud-finder since our last one was from Home Depot and it was not accurate. When I was trying to find the stud for installing the A/C mini-split, the plumber happened to be here to help me find the stud and he just used a super strong magnet to find the nails that were in the stud. At first, I thought this method was like trying to find a needle in the haystack, but after he let me try to find the stud with his magnet and I found it, I felt pretty good about this new method instead of the beeping machine I used to have.

Because of the way the cabinets are, we had to add a piece of wood in between to cover the gap and screw it to the wall. 

We also screwed the cabinets to each other using these screws below. These came with a little flat (almost washer-like) collar that prevents the screw going into the particle board – another trick I learned from watching this youtube guy

Overall, this whole experience was a bit stressful because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing in terms of leveling the cabinets and screwing them in. The first cabinet is the hardest and they gradually got easier as we went along. There was no turning corners or upper cabinets to install which I am very thankful for!

I also had a hard time cutting the shims after leveled the cabinets. I saw online people used a multi-tool to cut the excess but since we don’t have that, we leveled the cabinets first, then carefully mark the shims, take them out by tilting the cabinets (and not moving it). We then cut the shims with a miter saw and put the shims back. This required me to check the levels, again and again, each time the cabinets were moved which was tedious but we got the job done in the end. 

Alas, let’s enjoy these lovely leveled cabinets one more time before I get back to laying the rest of the floor.