Residential Life

Before and After Photos of Regrouted + Sealed Tile

When I bought my home three years ago, the most defining features of the great room was cheap carpet and tacky tile. One year later, my brother and father came out to Arizona to help me remodel the first floor of my home, and the first items to go was that ugly carpet and tile…

Dad removes the tacky tile that will soon be replaced by travertine.

Once the floors were stripped down to the concrete foundation, I laid most of the the tile in a 16-hour marathon that began at 6pm and ended at 10am the following day.  The tile needed to get done ASAP so my brother could install the baseboards in the great room.

The good news is that my hard work paid off–my brother began the baseboards the next morning and the remodel continued on. The bad news is that the grout between the tiles “sunk” as it dried which made the tiles look uneven. I don’t know if the grout sunk because it was too thin and seeped beneath the tile, or maybe the dry Arizona air pulled the moisture out of the grout and caused it to lose volume. Regardless, the end result was a floor that looked good, but it didn’t look great. It wasn’t a priority at the time to apply more grout and make it perfect, so I left it as it was.

Now that the remodeling finished–18 months later–I’ve made my rounds and regrouted and sealed/polished the tile. Here are photos of what I did over the last couple of weekends…click on the small image and look for a detailed description on the bottom…

Now it’s time to clean the other side of the great room. It’s going to be a busy Saturday afternoon.

(I am beginning to see that the inside of my house and my website use the same color palette. That means I’m either consistent or boring.)

My Favorite Power Tools & Hand Tools

I’m writing this blog because a lot of my friends have begun work on their newly purchased “bottom of the market” homes and are intimidated by the work ahead yet eager to get started. As I write this, my brother-in-law is preparing to make a once-flooded foreclosed house into a livable home for his wife and young son. He’s texted me a couple times this week asking about tools he can borrow from my arsenal and what tools he should buy on his own. This brings up a big question: What tools does a new homeowner need to buy?

Want good results? Get the right tools.

I couldn't have made this paneling without the right tools.

My short answer is buy whatever tools you need.  I don’t like the idea that you need a complete and expansive arsenal of tools before you can get started. Every project demands a different set of tools, so prescribing a “must have” list of tools for an unknown project is misguided. Plus let’s not forget: tools can be expensive. Most of us can only afford one tool at a time.

Having said that, the tools listed below have come from my own needs as a homeowner. These are essentially wood working tools for finish carpentry, wainscoting, and furniture making. Although I did extensive drywall work and tiling throughout my remodel, the tools for those jobs are specialized, single-purpose tools that I won’t cover here.

So friends, here is a quick introduction to 20 versatile tools that will help you do a job that’s both professional and quick.

Power Tools

01. Electric Drill

This one is pretty obvious. Drilling out holes with a hand tool will make your muscles rock-hard, but you’ll waste your day getting the job done. Screwdrivers? You will certainly use a screwdriver with almost every project, but I’ve never met a man who has enough patience to use a screwdriver for an entire project. Save your sanity: buy an electric hand drill. I own a corded drill and a cordless battery powered drill.

02. Compound Miter Saw

This the ultimate power tool for doing finish carpentry. You can make accurate angled cuts for all moulding: baseboards, chair rails, and crown. This saw also makes light work of quickly cutting two-by-fours for framing. Unfortunately, a compound miter saw is expensive, even if you get a cheaper model. So if you aren’t planning on doing a lot of carpentry around the house, a basic miter saw will do a good job.

03. Circular Saw

A circular saw is a must-have tool for anyone working with wood. It’s small and easy to bring with you to different job sites. Although a table saw can make more consistent cuts, you don’t always have space or time to set it up. An added bonus is that a circular saw is one of the more affordable tools.

04. Table Saw

This is essentially a circular saw turned upside inside useful table. The advantage of a table saw is that you are able to make longer cuts–especially on sheets of plywood–straighter and more consistent, thanks to the table surface and the table fence.

05. Reciprocating Saw

This is not a precision cutting instrument, but a furious deconstruction tool. I’ve seen guys use a circular saw to take down a wall because that’s all they’ve had, but reciprocating saw gives better leverage and is more comfortable in your hands. This makes the job quicker and more safe (as long as you don’t cut through pipes and live electrical wires.) In short, if you need to tear it down, use a reciprocating saw. It’s fun.

06. Shop Vacuum

A shop vac is an important tool for a DIYer because it keeps your work space clean. A broom and a dust pan work fine if all you’re doing is cleaning the sawdust off the floor of your garage, but if you do work inside your home where cleanliness is a higher priority, then know that a shop vac is your best friend. An added bonus is that a shop vac can be fastened to some wood working tools to prevent dust from ever touching the ground. In my opinion, the best feature is that many shop vacs work both wet and dry. It’s works as well sucking up drywall dust as it does sucking up dirty puddles of water.

07. Router

A router is a powerful tool that allows the wood worker to make fancy edges, like a curved perimeter of a table top. This is my favorite power tool to use because when I pull it off the shelf in my garage, it means that I am putting the finishing touches on a project that will give it the “wow factor”. If you are planning on doing a lot of trim work on your home (baseboards, crown, chair rail), you can save a lot of money by purchasing ordinary boards and then giving them a fancy routed edge. I used my router to build up layers of wood to make the crown moulding that wraps the top of my kitchen pantry. Keep in mind that the router isn’t just for show. I’ve found that my router was very helpful when I was trying to make clean and consistent recesses in my wood doors for the hinges.

08. Finish Nailer + Air compressor

A hammer is a useful instrument that shouldn’t be forgotten, but it’s not the best tool for putting in every nail. A finish nailer is a low-impact tool for fastening wood pieces to one another. If you plan on doing framing or a larger construction job, be sure to get the more powerful framing nailer. I know there are some battery-powered nailers out there, but I haven’t had a chance to use them yet. I like my air compressor because it is a low-maintenance power source for many of my tools. A convenient tool for removing finishing nails is pair of end nipper pliers.

09. Random Orbit Sander

Let’s get real here–nobody wants to spend an afternoon sanding their wood project. It’s boring and monotonous and you will eventually lose patience and be tempted to skip to rolling on your finish. So if you are expecting to do a lot of remodeling on your home, it’s wise to purchase an electric sander. Bypass the small and limited hobby sanders and sheet sanders and go right for the electric random orbit sander for clean, consistent, and quick results.  It’s worth knowing that you have to purchase specialized sandpaper made specifically for your sander. Although it’s pricier than ordinary sand paper, you can save money by ordering online ahead of time. If you are doing a lot of sanding, it’s wise to pair this sander with your shop vac.

10. Jig Saw

Jig saw is the “tug boat” of my power tools. It may not be big and brutish, but it can make quick curvy cuts that no other power tool can accomplish. If you have children who want to join you on a carpentry project, the jig saw is one of the least dangerous power tools. (Of course, train your child well and keep a close eye on them as they work.)

Hand Tools

11. Hammer + Prybar

The hammer is an obvious tool for a new homeowner. However, a prybar is a handy addition to a hammer because it helps pull stubborn nails from wood. Also, a prybar is a terrific tool for helping lift heavy objects. I’ve used my prybar to lift a heavy pre-hung patio door off the ground while my brother slid in shims to make the door plumb.

12. Level

A level isn’t just for perfectionists! A good level is a convenient straight edge when you want to mark cut lines on a sheet of wood. Plus, a level can help you save time measuring. Let’s say you want to hang three framed photos on the wall 55 inches off the ground. You can measure once and mark your point. Then hold a level to the point horizontally and trace a line from left to right. That’s a lot more efficient than measuring and marking 55 inches three different times.

13. Tape measure

Because who wants to carry a rigid 10-foot ruler around the job site? Note: buy a bright colored tape measure or you will lose it again and again.

14. Plane

This is a small but powerful tool to have at your disposal for when sandpaper seems too weak to remove excess wood. It can be used to smooth out rough wood or to reduced the thickness of a piece of wood. This is an ideal tool for thinning out a wood door that gets stuck in the door frame.

15. Clamps

Want a third hand? That’s what a clamp is for! There are many different types of clamps out there, but the most effective clamp for the work that I’ve done is the pistol grip clamp (or “bar clamp”) because it only requires one hand to properly set the clamp. Buying a clamp is not as exciting as buying a cool new power tool, but I’ve never met a guy who regretted purchasing clamps. They will without a doubt make your job easier.

16. Sanding Block

It’s tempting to start rubbing a flat surface with sandpaper alone, but you will not get consistent results because your hand is a pliable surface. But an inexpensive rubber sanding block can be quickly  wrapped with sandpaper and will return admirable results. However, if your want to sand a curved surface, say excess dried wood filler from the face of crown moulding, try purchasing inexpensive abrasive sponges. They will adjust to the contours of your moulding more consistently than your hand alone. If you have a variety of surfaces to sand, try adhering sand paper to a variety of wood shapes with spray adhesive.

17. Nail Set

Don’t expect to do professional carpentry work if you do not have a nail set. It’s a pretty straight-forward tool. You fix the tip of the nail set on the head of a nail that has already been hammered into the surface. Strike the nail set with a hammer to drive the nail head beneath the surface of the wood. Next, fill the hole with wood putty, let it dry, and then sand the surface smoothly. A good woodworker makes it nearly impossible to detect where he used nails. Note: get a bright colored nail set so you don’t lose it.

18. Chalk Line/Chalk Box with a String Level

A chalk line a smart tool for marking long and straight lines. It’s most obvious use is for snapping lines on sheets of wood or drywall or for marking roofs for shingles, but it’s also good for finding the center of rooms for laying tile. While you are buying a chalk line, look out for a simple metal level that hooks onto your string. Together the tools will help you snap perfect lines.

19. Miter Box and Saw

It’s not necessary to set up the electric miter saw every time you need to cut a 45 degree angle. A classic handsaw and a miter box gets the job done just fine. What I also like about a miter box and saw is that they’re inexpensive–less than $20–and it’s easy to use. New carpenters build their confidence in making angled cuts. (Your whole family can use this set for school and craft projects.) Purists may not like the bright yellow plastic miter box, but these ubiquitous miter boxes come with handy pegs that brace the wood while you cut. Just be sure to screw the miter box into your worktable to keep it from rocking around as you saw.

20. Chisels

Chisels are capable of removing excess wood in narrow or awkward spaces. With proper care, chisels can last for a life time. For what it’s worth, there’s a timeless satisfaction that comes from sharpening your chisels in between woodworking projects. Chisels have been used by generations of woodworkers.


If you are interested purchasing any of the tools above, consult the the senior staff members in the tool department at your local home store. They can help you find the right tool for your job that works with your budget. Also, spend some time researching online to find out what companies make the most precise and reliable tools. You want to feel confident that the purchase you are going to make is a wise investment for the long haul.

Finding Design Inspiration from San Diego’s Beach Houses

Introduction: There are few home styles more inviting and charming as a Southern California beach house. But finding out what “makes a beach house a beach house” can be hard to quantify. So I dug through my photo archive of my favorite beach houses in North County San Diego to share with all of you DIYers out there who want to add beachy touches to their own homes. To be clear, there is no strict formula for what defines a Southern California beach house, but there are distinct architectural and design details that creative homeowners can apply to their homes. Let’s get started…

Pour yourself a cup of coffee and listen to Jack Johnson.

Big Design Inspiration in Humble Buildings

A life guard tower in Carlsbad, CA

Before we get into the houses, let’s first stop to appreciate the icon of the beach: the lifeguard tower.  The three details to notice here are the color, and railing, and roof:

  1. Color. Over the decades, the Southern California lifeguard towers have always been aqua in colored: power blue, teal blue, teal green, mint green, etc.
  2. Railing. Here the railings are modest bent piping, probably stainless steel. Although pipe railings might have reached peak popularity in the 1980s (think art-deco Miami Beach around the time of Miami Vice), they’re still a stylish and low-maintenance option that let you maximize ocean views.
  3. Cantilevered Roof. Notice that the roof extends out far beyond the walls of the tower without any structural support. These cantilevered roofs shade the lifeguard from the sun, but they also point the way to the ocean view, a detail you will see in many beach houses. Although you won’t see it in this tower, early lifeguard towers had simple, low-pitched roofs that accentuated the forward-looking overhand.

Now lets take a look at some beachy details on some modest buildings at my favorite campground overlooking the Pacific Ocean. These buildings and structures are important to a DIYer because they are low-cost and simple to build, yet they still glow with beachy details.  Click on the photos below to get large images with detailed descriptions.

What details did we see?

  1. Layers of painted woodwork: white and aqua in color
  2. Cantilevered roofs / deep overhangs
  3. Exposed rafters / no soffit or fascia boards
  4. No elaborate wood cuts
  5. Slender support posts
  6. Staircase posts (or balusters) that attach the the exterior of the staircase and dip below the structure.

Let’s see some of these details from both the lifeguard tower plus beach side buildings and structures can be applied to a home.

Elements of Beach House Design

I snapped this photo below in Leucadia, a beach side community in North County San Diego. Notice the aqua colors and the low-pitched cantilevered roof, both details taken from traditional lifeguard towers. What is interesting here is that this room above the garage doesn’t even have an view of the ocean. The windows facing left open up to the side of their neighbor’s home; the real ocean view on the far side of the home. But the simple details give this low-cost structure an undeniable beachy feel.

A simple home with big charm.

Although the builder used fascia boards to hide the ends of the rafters, he opted not to use soffit boards so the rafters would be exposed. (Look under the overhang by the white door into the home.)

Below is another small but attractive beach house within walking distance to the beach. The details to appreciate here are the low-pitched roof, exposed rafters, white painted trim work, and clerestory windows on the left structure and above doors to the deck. These windows maximize natural sunlight without sacrificing privacy.

Notice too that the deck railing is constructed of both painted and natural wood.

The two photos below are of one of North County’s more remarkable ocean side homes. Clearly, the homeowner had a larger budget than the homes above. But it’s interesting that they did not deviate from the mystique of the lifeguard tower.

The stunning interpretation of a lifeguard tower gives a commanding view of the ocean in the distance.

Notice the multitude of exposed rafter tails.

The front entry is filled with good design.

The photo above reveals a multitude of architectural details.

  • Exposed rafters are exposed beyond the roof, capped with galvanized steel to prevent them from rotting.
  • Slender support posts that hang below the cement block stair structure.
  • Hand rail the uses taught lines of cable, not unlike the cable found on yachts.

Let’s take a look at another well-thought-out home in quiet neighborhood close to Encinitas’s Moonlight Beach. The details to notice cantilevered roof supported by simple four-by-four post. The railing that wraps the deck is similar to the staircases that lead people from the bluff down to the beach.

A small beach house with contemporary leanings.

Again, a cantilevered roof suggests a beautiful view in the distance. But in the case of the home above, the only view is of street-side parking (notice rear window of the black SUV). The home was built on a peculiar plot of land that dipped a good 15 feet beneath the surface of the street. But clever design with well-placed beachy details allowed a charming home to rise out of made a scrappy lot.

Architectural Details

Now let’s take a look at a dozen beach homes and see how they repeat design details.

Ranch House >> Beach House

So how do you apply these architectural details to a home that wasn’t “built for the beach”? Let’s take a look at a straight-forward ranch style home that was redesigned to look like it belonged by the ocean…

My Favorite Home: Modern & Beachy

I want to close with a gallery of one of my favorite homes in San Diego. The architect successfully combined traditional beachy elements like white-painted trim, exposed rafters, steal cable railings, and sunshine-colored siding. But you’ll also find boxy contemporary details including concrete fencing, tall contemporary windows, and the boxy stuccoed structures that wraps the garage and continues along the side of the home. Although this homes leans towards contemporary, it is without a doubt a beach home.

Arizona and Georgia Photos from May and June

First, some random photos from the last couple of months. After clicking on each photo, be sure to read caption on the lower left.

Over the past four weeks, I’ve been a speaker/presenter at three big events: summer camp for junior high kids at Covecrest, a Steubenville Conference for teenagers in Ohio, and the Life Teen Training Convention for adults in Carefree, Arizona. Each stop was a powerful experience of community–people taking time to care for other people. It is good for the soul.

Who’s Yard is This Anyway?

My wife is an impulsive photographer. She will carry Norah into the other room while she’s looking for her flip flops. Fifteen minutes later, I get curious and explore the house to see what happened to my two ladies. In the corner of the living room, I’ll find Norah laying on a black blanket by the windows. Candyce will have the camera on a tripod. She snaps photos with one hand while shaking a baby toy with her other hand. I’ll ask Candyce, “Didn’t you come in here to find your flip flops? I’m confused about what is happening here.”

Candyce continues to snap photos and shake the toy and then slowly explains, “She just looked so cute I couldn’t help myself.”

Whenever Norah had on a particularly “precious” outfit, Candyce would carry her outside and trample through our front yard to our neighbor’s yard. Then she would lower Norah onto his flawless thatch of green and start snapping photos. Why? My patchy brownish yard was a raw and savage terrain that was not fit for an infant.

This hurt my self esteem.

That was two months ago. How things have changed! Take a look at the photo below that I snapped over the weekend. The black Jeep in the distance is the driveway belongs to my neighbor, the young doctor who has unknowingly hosted photo shoots with Norah. Sure, you can see a minor shift of texture between the two yards, near the white planter box. But make no mistake, that big ocean of green that covers most of the photo is my own yard.

Green Yard


I cannot take credit for nursing my yard back to health. I can only take credit for hiring Marcel & Associates to do the job for me. After nearly eight years of home ownership, I recognized that life has changed and I did not have the time to take care of my yard.

Now my yard is ready for a photo shoot with Norah. If any of my friends and family want to take some photos on a flawless yard, just give me a call and we’ll arrange a time.