Mobile Home Makeover: Outdoor Rehab Progress = less crazy & dysfunction

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by Robin

When we first bought our weekend retreat we had visions of regularly updating you guys with our DIY improvements.  We knew it needed a lot of work: but little did we know it needed EVERYTHING done to it. So much more than we even expected. It was full of rot, mice and so much ugly!  It was a goldmine for projects to share on the blog.  (For example, here's our rodent proofing guide for how to get rid of mice - we've learned it all. The hard way.)

But, you might have noticed, we've been sharing very little.  What's up with that? 

There are a few reasons.  Probably the biggest thing holding us back is - everything is in progress.  Nothing is "done".  There is no space we've been able to call an "After".

It's been our pattern here to get all our projects to the "After" point and then share them.  There's a comfort for us to invite folks in when we're all done - vs. mid-way when things are decidedly not perfect.  Like having a clean, tidy house before you invite in your guests.

I'm fighting my urge to wait for the perfect "After" and I'm inviting you in now.  Dang - it takes some vulnerability to do this.  But, there's a lot that's interesting about the progress we've made - though nothing is truly done.

Here's our update after owning the place for two years and 2 months now.

We've made a few big changes on the outside - the focus of this post.  One of the first jobs we needed to do after discovering all the rot in the walls was to fix previous owners mistakes.  There were so so so many!

Nasty surprise #1: water pooled between the back door and the screen door.  Perhaps the only spot in the place truly sealed.  That sitting water rotted through the sill and then the joist.

1. Eavestroughs - so our walls don't rot again! 

Nasty Surprise #2: The stupid install of the roof and gutters meant water ran into the walls.  This is just one of 2 major areas that were rotted so badly they needed entirely rebuilt.  Notice the soggy, crumbling rim joist, too.  This is the point we may have regretted this entire purchase.

The first big job we tackled ourselves (well, Ed-selves - he did all this work) was adding eavestroughs. (Or gutters - is that what you call them where you live?).  

Whoever added the new rubber roofing material put in on in such a way that the water by-passed the tiny gutters and seeped into the walls.  So crazy!

So Ed spent many dozens of hours installing new full-size eavestroughs on the whole mobile home.

Before: can you even see the tiny gutters?  They're there - and installed super stupidly.
Progress: we didn't predict how much nicer the new eavestroughs would make the home look: a bit more polished and newer.

2. New windows and doors - so the inside is dry!

The next outdoor job we hired out.  There were some walls and rim joists that were rotted (see above) - plus the nasty 70's trailer windows and doors needed replacing.

We could have worked away at this on our own - but we knew we'd hate that work and didn't have enough time or skill - plus we wanted to know for certain that the place was watertight before we made any other improvements inside.

Before: maybe half of these nasty, aluminum, crank-out widows actually closed all the way.
Progress: all new vinyl windows were a humungous expense, but worth it.  The place is sealed, bright and newer looking.

We chose windows and doors that maximized light and function - you can read more about it here.

We are thrilled with the difference!  They've cut down on road noise, bring more light into our shaded interior and there are none of those annoying window cranks to walk into.

It was staggeringly costly!  When we got the final bill we may have regretted buying the place at all - but that feeling faded fast.  In the end, this investment felt entirely worth it.  We have made so many happy memories here already.  (In case you're wondering here's why we bought it in the first place.)

3. We pared back the CRAZY!

About 10% of the "fun" decor original to the place - and literally the dregs of the Souvenir Table.  Lots of the best treasures have been taken to new homes - and what's left here survived a major river flooding that went OVER this table!

I really should have better documented all the lawn ornament craziness that was everywhere when we first got the place.  Everywhere.  Like a garage sale sneezed on the place. The picture above barely scratches the surface.  

I found it quite unsettling - and not just because the trees had staring eyes and mustaches.  For us, this retreat is about relaxing in nature.  Seeing all this yard sale tchatchkas barfed everywhere was distracting from the beauty.

I think it was day 2 of ownership that I walked around and took everything down that I could.  For lack of a better place, I piled it all on a patio table.  Folks - that pile was about 2 feet high when I was done.  Little did I know that this would turn out to be genius!  

We named it and gave it a purpose - and helped us weed it down: "The Souvenir Table"!

Every time the kids would have a friend over we would let them choose something from the souvenir table.  So long gargoyles, gnomes and wind chimes!  I'm sure those kids' parents are thrilled with their new decor items...

4. A bigger deck - that's less wonky, no one falls down and not an obstacle course!

Before: At bottom = stairs of death.  At top = hot tub obstacle course.
Progress: Sure, needs railings and proper stairs, but the route to the BBQ and hot tub is safe and we have room for a dining table now! (Update: here's how we built the deck extension.)

This year we started another project outdoors - we lengthened the deck! (Details on how we added onto the deck here.) This experience was entirely easier after Ed learned so much building the deck at our house (more here on that one).  The original deck was big - about 20' long.  It's covered by a roof which is great when it rains and to keep stinky river shoes outside but still out of the elements.

There was some weirdness with the original deck - it had steep steps down to the BBQ that were perpetually slippery - no less than 6 people fell down them in the first year of owning the place.

Also, there was a landing with stairs outside the back door - which was perfectly functional - but so ugly.  It made it really hard to go from the back door into the secluded spot we liked the hot tub. (Our late night modus operandi is to put a movie on for the kids and their friends and then sneak out the back door and slip into the hot tub - shhh)

To get in the hot tub we needed to go down the stairs, atop an old railroad tie, and climb along the seat of a picnic table in order to reach the hot tub.  A bit precarious.  Then when you were in the hot tub your view was blocked by the green lattice railing.

We had a vision of a grander deck that stretched from one end of the mobile home right to the back.  This way we had room for a table and chairs for meals, an accessible BBQ and we could climb right into the hot tub.

This summer we had wildly ambitious plans for this project.  We were going to tear off the old deck AND the roof to the porch part.  Though we had no safe idea of how we'd get that roof down.  We would then level the old wonky deck, extend it and cover it with all new boards.  THEN we'd simply rebuild the roof end.

We held this delusion until one day the week before "Deck Camp". "Deck Camp" was how we were marketing this to the kids to make a week of deck work sound fun.  It was working - the kids were legit excited for it - but we knew it wouldn't have lasted.

We tried to prise off ONE deck board from the old deck - with the view of reusing it later as skirting.  It was horrible - after 20 intense minutes of wrestling we had it off and it looked awful.  There was a combination of nails and screws that defied removing.

As the minutes progressed we got grumpier and glum and snippy with each other.  This part of the job alone was going to take days - not hours - and this was just demo.

Folks, I may have cried. A project had never gotten us feeling so dejected.  It was going to be torture to do this project. I think we would have preferred waterboarding to what we were about to start.

We came to our senses.

Along the way we've learned to remind ourselves that this isn't our home - this is a mobile home in the woods.  It needs to be done well - but just to cottage standards.  We need to enjoy the place - not resent it - and doing a perfect job was going to make us hate it - and have a terrible time.  While we have strategies to DIY together and not fight much - this would have been a trying few weeks.

We modified the plan to this : 
  • Leave the old deck - besides some levelling and bracing. 
  • Leave the porch roof alone - it serves its function fine enough.  
  • Build an extension to the old deck.  
  • Call it done. 

Next year, when time and budget allow, we plan to replace the deck boards on the old part (unless by some miracle they pressure wash to match the new ones) and level the nonsense that is going on underneath it.  Sure, there are lots of concrete block under there - BUT THEY DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!  It's supported in about 3 places.  Seems like more would be helpful...

5. Pretty Dock Chairs - that don't fall off and aren't broken!

Before: remember the flood I mentioned - that's why the dock is so tipsy in this photo - best case scenario really.  Notice the dingy breaking-down chairs.
Progress: cheerful, yellow, low-maintenance Muskoka chairs - that won't fall off the dock!

I am charmed by the look of bright colourful Muskoka (aka Adirondack) chairs overlooking the water. That's not what we had. On our dock, we had a wonky wicker-like chair and a quickly degrading broken wooden chair.

I priced out replacing them and painting my pretty choice: the cheapest wooden Muskoka's I could find were $85+ each - plus they'd need painting.  And the finish would degrade in the sun and weather - unless I brought them indoors all the time.  Not. Going. To. Happen.

Then I had a brainstorm - and here's the result:

These resin Muskoka chairs were $16 each at a home improvement store and already a cheerful yellow.  The colour may fade - but that's about the worst that will happen - not like the wood that will rot and crack without taking immaculate care of them.

The clever part - if I do say so myself - is that we screwed them to the dock!
  • This way they won't ever blow away - which is a concern with the light plastic.  
  • AND by screwing them down you can sit on the small dock in comfort without fearing a chair leg will slide off the side and dump you in the river.  It's actually truly comforting!

I'll be first to admit - there's very little eye candy in this post.  There were some stories that maybe make one think twice about buying an old mobile home on a river - but very few pretty things.

Hold tight!  Very soon we've got a couple interior update posts to share!  We've made huge progress indoors giving the place a more modern cabin feel, on an ultra tight budget!

In 2018 we completed another exterior project - a shed makeover - it turned out so well! 

In the meantime, get caught up with our Mobile Home Makeover series projects here.  (Like our post on how to build a treehouse your kids will love for years.) You won't be disappointed!

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