Home Improvement

(No, not the TV show, though you can still hear my Mom say “More power, Tim!” randomly.) Earlier this week, I installed part one of a two part system that I hope will improve life in my apartment this winter — adding lights and a curtain to the stairway/entryway.

For those who haven’t been here, my apartment is the top floor of a three-floor Baltimore row home (basement & first floor belong to the downstairs neighbor, and I have the second/top floor). I have my own entrance on the side of the house, and when I unlock my door I am at the first-floor level (the house is built into a hill, so there are steps up to get to that point). As soon as I open my door, I have a flight of stairs up to the top floor where all the living space of my apartment is.

Last winter, I discovered that the apartment is very, very drafty. There are (chintzy) double-paned windows (except in the bathroom, which is still an old single-paned), none of which have a complete seal. In fact, there is one in the kitchen were a strip of wood has been nailed on to the sill because the gap between sill and sash is an inch at one end. The door also does not seal completely. The windows were not shrink-wrapped last winter when I moved in, and so while I will certainly do that this winter, I can’t exactly shrink-wrap the door.

The previous tenants left behind some hardware that told me what they did, and I am doing the same — stringing up a heavy curtain (I have a deep red faux velvet) at the top of the stairs, using Ikea’s Deka curtain wire (though I am not using the clips — the curtain I have will be slipped over the wire. The previous tenants had put up their curtain using what I thought was the same thing, but unfortunately for me, what they left behind and the Deka kit that I bought are just different enough that I can’t use them together. Maybe the sizes have changed in the interim, or there is some other flavor of this system at Ikea. So, this part of the project did not quite get done, because I first need to take the rest of the old installation down. Since I lack a Phillips head screwdriver that fits inside the anchor for the curtain wire, this part didn’t happen*.

I did install the lighting, though. Putting up this curtain will block the “stairwell” light, which is actually in the “hallway” (which is really just the stairway opening and the bathroom door). There is a shelf in the stairwell, and I initially thought about stashing a small lamp on that shelf, and plugging it in in the (conveniently located) outlet on the other side of the stairwell wall in the living room. But I was worried that I’d knock it over somehow, so I hit on the idea of getting a string of LED tube lights. In the end, I wound up picking up a set of white Dioder lights at Ikea.

This worked really well, because it solved another problem for me. The porch light isn’t on a timer, and it isn’t the kind that senses the change in daylight and flips on. It’s either on or off. That’s fine when I leave and it’s already dark (or getting close). But I don’t want to leave it burning for 8 hours, most of them daylight, when I’m at work. Anyway, because of the crappiness of the seal around my door, I had zero problems sliding a Dioder light out into the entryway. (Seen here – it should be pretty well-protected from the elements by the large awning over my doorway.) I put the other three up along the wall, and gathered the excess cord (there’s a lot!) on top of the shelf in a few little bundles. (Seen here.) Then I settled the rest of the cord around the corner into the living room, near the conveniently-placed outlet. Things worked out such that the on/off rocker is placed on the edge of that wall, just off the floor, so I can turn it on and off with my foot. The lights are plugged into a timer (Ikea Tanda, comes in a two pack for five bucks, not online, but you get what you pay for since one of mine is broken). I can turn the strand off when I get home, and turn it back on (though it will be off until the appropriate time) when I leave in the morning. The timer works well enough, but it’s pretty cheap and hard to get it to turn on at just the time I want. Or perhaps I’m too persnickety.

The LEDs have been working well – the one outside throws enough light that I can see to unlock the door (though there is also a streetlight on the corner, which helps), and the ones in the stairwell are bright enough that I can see to turn on a light in the living room. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll put up the curtain, and I’ll be ready for winter. (Um, except for the window with the top sash that doesn’t close. That is a problem that will require another pair of hands to solve, becuase guess what — the bottom sash slams shut when you open it!)

*It’s not that I don’t have any, it’s that they are all attached to something else and I can’t get them into the space I need to get at. Thus, I am finally going to have to go out and actually buy one. (Or take one from Dad when I see him in Oct and check my bag on the return flight.)