Affordable Ways to Update an Outdated Kitchen

Affordable Ways to Update an Outdated Kitchen

By Jane Blanchard, Guest Blogger

Your kitchen isn’t just where you cook your meals and store your food. Today the kitchen is the center of our home; it’s where we eat, where we hang out, and is frequently the room where families spend the most time together. If you’re wanting to bring your kitchen into the twenty-first century and a total overhaul isn’t within your budget, here are some effective yet inexpensive ways to update your kitchen and make it a space that better represents your design sensibilities.

Paint Those Dark, Dated Cabinets

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If your home was built twenty or more years ago, you’ve probably got very dark cabinets, which means you’ll want to bring color and light into the space. When your cabinets are wood and still structurally sound, a couple coats of paint in a fun color can bring your kitchen back into the now.

In the kitchen pictured above, the cabinets were painted a lovely shade of matte blue and affixed with stainless steel fixtures to give a more refreshing, playful, contemporary look. And the best part is that this transformation will cost you just a fraction of what even the cheapest cabinets would set you back.

Rethink the Lighting Situation

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Lighting is easily overlooked, but putting in new fixtures and adding under-cabinet lighting can make a huge difference. The galley kitchen pictured here, at left, features hanging beaded globe lights that cast beautiful and dramatic light through the room.

The lighting installed beneath the cabinets can illuminate all the chopping and prep for your meals and are as attractive as they are functional.

Additionally, if you shop smart for your fixtures, this update definitely won’t break the bank.

Crown Those Cabinets

You’re probably aware that most kitchen cabinets don’t reach the ceiling. Depending on ceiling height and cabinet size, there could be a small space up to a rather large space between the top of your cabinets and your ceiling.

A great way to add style to your kitchen without replacing your cabinetry is to build crown molding to attach to the top of your cabinets. Whether the molding closes the gap to the ceiling or is just a decorative extension, building crown moldings won’t cost near as much as replacing your cabinets would.

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Additionally, if you build a frame on the molding you can attach the moldings from behind without having to fill nail holes. As you can see in the kitchen pictured here, crown moldings can enhance the way your cabinets look and make a huge difference in your kitchen.

Bringing Back Vinyl

Vinyl floors have had a bad reputation. However, there are now some truly beautiful vinyl floors on the market that are inexpensive and come in a remarkable variety of colors and patterns. Whether you want a hardwood or poured concrete look, or maybe you prefer a tiled look, there are many vinyl options to choose from.

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Vinyl peel-and-stick tiles are laid one by one, which is why they look infinitely better than those sheets of linoleum that probably make you cringe. As in the kitchen pictured here with vinyl floors meant to look like stained concrete, vinyl is a great, affordable way to renew your outdated kitchen.

For more ideas and inspiration, please go to

Sparks of Romance, Peppered with Love

Shaker “Colpo di fulmine.” A bolt of lightning. That’s what the Italians call it when love strikes at first glance.

My friend Joe Dusel, a fine woodworker, recently shared a story that reminded me of this wonderful Italian turn of phrase. It’s the perfect tale to get you in the mood for Valentine’s Day.

A customer from Virginia asked Joe to make a custom pepper grinder from wood that had deep sentimental value. The pepper grinder was to be a first anniversary gift from Katie, a chef, to her husband, Nate, also a chef.

Struck by Lightning

Katie told Joe, “We were married under a tree, which was hit by lightning about a month afterwards! I was able to get several pieces of that tree. It would thrill me to be able to give Jack a pepper mill made from our wedding tree as a first anniversary gift.”

Nate at Katie under the trees at their wedding. Photo by Amie Otto Photography.
Nate and Katie under the trees at their wedding. Photo by Amie Otto Photography.

Joe was the perfect choice for such a project. He’s a bit of a romantic; it’s obvious from a glance at his website that he dotes on his wife and daughters.

Joe’s family is multicultural: His wife, Katsuyo Fukuyama, lived in Okinawa, Japan for around 22 years and speaks fluent Japanese. Their two daughters, Emi and Hana, are from China.

Joe’s Woodworking Background

Joe is a skilled and talented craftsman. He owns a firm called Woodistry, located in Vista, California. He has been designing and making furniture, cabinetry and crafts since about 1989. He studied for almost four years under Ian Kirby at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, where he currently teaches.

Joe creates modern furniture and crafts in the tradition of the Arts and Crafts movement; his work features simple designs, quality materials and solid construction.

A health-conscious vegan, Joe likes to use environmentally friendly materials like bamboo and formaldehyde-free plywood. He also uses water-based finishes, “so we are not spewing volatile organic compounds into the air we breathe.”

Asian Influences

Given his family background, it’s not surprising that Joe’s work shows Asian influences. The ring box below is one example.


Another example: Some years ago, Katsuyo wanted a place near the door to store shoes. In Japan, families own cabinets that are called “getabako”. Over the years, Woodistry had created a variety of shoe benches but not an actual getabako.

Katsuyo’s request led Joe to design pieces similar to “a traditional getabako or kutsubako that can be placed in your own genkan, which is Japanese for the entrance hallway of a home.”  Some of those handsome pieces are shown at the bottom of this blog post.

Good Things Take Time


Despite Joe’s woodworking skill, the pepper grinder turned out to be a small project with a big timeline. It took about a year! He explains, “The wood that Katie sent me was very wet, so we had to wait a while…”

Quite a while!

The handsome pepper shaker turned out to be a second anniversary gift. Joe says that his client, Katie, is very happy with it.

Shaker2However, Joe’s own anniversary is coming up. In the past, he has made “an Art and Crafts style picnic table and benches, coffee tables, shoe benches, cutting boards, pepper mills and a whole bunch of cabinets” for Katsuyo.

“I better get working on something special for our anniversary,” he muses. Here’s to Joe’s creativity setting off some sparks at home!


More Information

Joe’s woodworking and furniture can be found on:

One of Joe’s shoe storage cabinet designs. This is shown in amber bamboo with painted side panels. Dimensions: 33″w x 44″h x 15″d
Nisei Coffee Table Padauk– about 46″ long x 23″ wide x 17″ high.
Joe says, “This is our neo-Arts & Crafts style coffee table with Asian inspiration in natural birch and Paduak. I just love this Paduak! We made a variety of these solid wood coffee tables for some local galleries in various combinations of wood. These coffee tables contain NO particle-board! They are 100% solid wood with natural water-based finishes. We don’t use some cheesy veneer or plastic wrapped manufactured formaldehyde filled panel for these coffee table tops like the cheap junk that is coming in by the boat-load from China. And, we don’t normally use any stains since we want the natural beauty of the wood – not some uniform brown color.”

Old Beams Get New Life

America’s history — tons of it — rests in the Distinguished Boards and Beams lumberyard. The timber here comes from old factories and barns all across the United States, a few dating baBarn375ck to before there was a United States.

“Right now we have wood from a 1775 Kentucky chestnut cabin and a barn built in 1890 in Michigan,” DB&B owner Robbie Williams told the Sopris Sun. “We took those buildings down ourselves and numbered all the boards, so they can be put back up again.” The barn was huge: 40-by-70 feet with a roof peak 48 feet high. The trees harvested to build it were at least 100 years old, so they began their lives around the time when Peter the Great was crowned Czar of Russia.

It would be tough today to find lumber this massive; some beams measure as much two feet square by 36 feet long and weigh more than a ton. The wood is denser than modern lumber because it came from slow-to-mature species in first-growth forests: hardwood oak, elm, ash, hickory and maple. The yard also holds softer woods like Douglas fir, redwood and longleaf heart pine.

Because DB&B relies on scouts across the U.S. to find outdated barns and buildings slated for demolition, nearly all of the wood comes from domestic forests. DB&B re-manufactures all of the lumber here in Carbondale.

Restaurant interior made using lumber from Distinguished Boards & Beams

DB&B’s reclaimed wood is used for flooring, paneling and ceilings in custom homes, restaurants and office projects. It can be seen in the bar at Hattie Thompson’s restaurant in River Valley Ranch, and at Town restaurant and Fatbelly Burgers on Main Street. Architects and interior designers in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond prize the lumber because weathering, saw and axe patterns, worm holes and hand-cut mortise and tenon joints give it exceptional character.

Right now, in addition to the Michigan barn, DB&B’s stock includes two complete cabins, redwood salvaged from wine and yeast vats, and white oak reclaimed from a defunct factory — all of it dated before 1910.

Detail of old, hand-hewn beams — lots of character!

“Every now and again, we find dates chiseled and signatures into the lumber,” Williams said. “We see Roman numerals cut in to tell carpenters how to put a building together. The builders would cut all of the wood and then move it and reassemble it in place.”

Although there are environmental benefits to recycling old trees, reclaimed lumber can contain rusty nails and hardware. It can host dirt, mold, bacteria and bugs. In addition, many types of wood shrinks and develops “face checking,” small cracks that parallel the grain, when lumber is moved from moister areas to Colorado’s dry climate.

To stabilize the wood, DB&B dries its lumber for five to 10 days in one of two kilns. Next, they square up the boards, trimming them to the client’s specifications, milling them to consistent depths and adding tongue-and-groove edges that prepare them for second lives as flooring or wall panels.

Met in college

Williams and his wife, Carbondale Board of Trustee member Pam Zentmyer, started Distinguished Boards & Beams about 10 years ago. The two met in Boulder during college. Williams, who grew up in Gunnison, spent a month climbing in Peru, and returned to the U.S. “completely broke.” He offered to housesit for friends in Zentmyer’s hometown and wound up becoming a Carbondale resident.

Flooring made from recycled wood.

The company now keeps 14 full-time staffers busy. Three of them, including Zentmyer, run the office. The rest sort wood for orders; run big, commercial Wood-Mizer saws that can churn out as much 15,000 board feet per run; and create custom millwork for clients.

Williams’s first exposure to reclaimed wood came after a friend who had done a demolition job in Crested Butte suggested, “we should try selling this to people.” Soon after, Williams’s brother Brad invited him to help him pull down a New Hampshire barn that had been built in 1780.

“We brought the barn back to Carbondale and sold it in pieces,” Williams recalls. “We rented some space and stored the barn. That got the inventory started. Then we had a bunch of wood that came out of a big auto factory in the Midwest. Those beams were 17-by-17 inches and 20 feet long. We had five semi loads of them.”

Although the auto factory is long gone, Williams still has a piece of the barn. It’s a chunk of weathered wood that holds an inscribed brass plaque and a photo, a commemorative gift to Williams from brother Brad.


NOTE: This story originally
appeared in the Sopris Sun,
Carbondale’s community newspaper. Images courtesy of
Distinguished Boards & Beams.

Board by Design Furniture – Modern with a Grin

The following story originally appeared in the Sopris Sun, Carbondale, Colorado’s community newspaper.
Red Double Rocker 2_640
Windsorrondack rocker in double width

The playfully modern furnishings that Brad Reed Nelson crafts in his Carbondale, Colorado studio are sold nationwide, and it’s easy to see why. Despite the name of his company — Board by Design — he’s clearly not!

“The name has an obvious a double meaning,” Nelson chuckled. “I wanted it to be provocative and contrary. I have a snarky sense of humor.”

Nelson’s humor shows up in his product names, as well as his design. For example, Board By Design (BBD) sells a “Very Holy” lamp; it’s a column of Plexiglas pierced all over in a polka dot pattern.

Elefunction organizer
Elefunction organizer – a heavy duty magnet is holding the keys. The elephant never forgets them.

BBD’s “Elefunction” organizers are rectangular wooden plaques that spout long trunks. A bungee cord crosses the body of the wall-mounted block, functioning to hang wallets and sunglasses. Four “herculean earth magnets” are embedded behind the trunk so that keys will stick to it. You won’t be searching for your keys, Nelson quips, because the Elephant never forgets!

Nelson does use boards in Board by Design furniture. “I love wood for its beauty,” he commented. “It creates a sense of warmth, and you can decide just what parts of the wood you want to use.”

The furniture designer in his shop. (Dig those shoelaces!)
Furniture designer Brad Reed Nelson in his shop. (Dig those shoelaces!)

Nelson uses only environmentally sustainable lumber. His Red House table, a hefty rectangle of Douglas fir cradled in a red steel frame, was crafted from a discarded beam found at a Snowmass construction site. Some of BBD’s organizers are fashioned from beetle-kill pine.

The lines of Nelson’s chairs echo the grace of mid-century modern style, but their wood slats are accented with a playful fillip of color that comes from steel framing. “I love steel for its directness,” said Nelson. “Steel can be very thin and strong. If you want something light, steel works better. And we love color! Color adds fun and humor.”

Nelson’s Windsorrondack line of swings and rockers — handsome, classic chairs that sell for $4200 in the single-seat version — can be crafted from mahogany, ash or North Carolina walnut, and their steel frames are offered in shades of poppy red, Caribbean blue, Bermuda blue or Fruita green.

KrisKrosNelson, who earned a master’s degree in sculpture from Arizona State University, first came to the Roaring Fork Valley to study at Anderson Ranch, eventually becoming its interim director.  He founded Board by Design in 2001, running the firm from the Aspen Business Center for seven years.

But Brad and his wife wanted to live in Carbondale – enough so that they turned down a two-bedroom affordable housing unit in Aspen, Colorado’s Burlingame development after winning it. Nelson and his wife, a jewelry designer, now lives here with their seven-year-old daughter. Brad opened his Carbondale studio in 2007.

Very Holy lamp.

All of BBD’s furniture is made in that studio. Nelson, who says that he would “like to be the inventor and have it made by someone else,” often partners with other Carbondale artisans for manufacturing. Local furniture maker David Rasmussen, for example, assembles BBD’s organizers.

Currently, Nelson is creating benches for Fold, a new Carbondale restaurant located just few doors down from BBD’s studio on Dolores Way. BBD furniture is also sold through the Harvey Meadows gallery in Aspen.

But more BBD products are exported beyond the Roaring Fork Valley than are sold here. Last summer, BBD shipped 41 tables to Shaw Media in Toronto. BBD sells accessories nationwide via the Etsy online website, and BBD furniture is offered by William Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, Urban Outfitter and Y Living stores, among others.

execuglideNelson markets his work at two national furniture fairs, and although he calls himself “an analog boy in a digital world,” the Internet is contributing to Board By Design’s fame. Recently the Design Sponge blog wrote about BBD, and the international Apartment Therapy website named BBD’s hanging Bike All rack one of its favorites.

“I try to make beautiful, functional objects that solve problems and are not being shipped from everywhere,” commented Nelson. “I want to make things that will always be cherished. With good materials. And made in America.”

Made right here in Carbondale, in fact.

Floods and Fires at “Five Minutes to Midnight”: The Spiritual Challenge of Climate Change

This is a sweet pea blossom. I didn’t need the climate report to tell me that global warming is real; the sweet peas told me. I grew gardens for years in San Francisco, and my sweet peas usually blossomed in late August or early September when the summer fog finally cleared. The vines died by Thanksgiving. But in 2009, the vines lived through the entire winter. In 2010, I had sweet pea blossoms on the table at Thanksgiving!

A confession: I’m terrified.

I know that climate change is happening now, and the knowledge of what that means for humankind keeps me awake at night. Avoiding depression is a spiritual challenge for me.

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that said that “the earth was set for further warming and more heat waves, floods, droughts, and rising sea levels, as greenhouse gases built up in the atmosphere.”

Rajendra Pachauri, who heads the IPCC,  says that time is fast running out to avoid the catastrophic collapse of the natural systems on which human life depends. His chilling summation: “We have five minutes before midnight.”

The report is most serious scientific warning to date, stating that “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

That old Pogo quote from the 1970’s seems apt: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

A Helping Hand to Victims on the Front Range

Recently, I volunteered to lend a hand to Boulder Flood Relief (BFR), a volunteer that is helping to clean up homes devastated by Colorado’s recent floods. In less than three weeks, BFR has cleaned up more than 150 homes — a handful in context of the damage done by the recent floods here. Colorado’s Office of Emergency Management reports that 1,882 homes were destroyed and 17,500 damaged. Most homeowners did not have flood insurance, and neither FEMA nor insurance will cover more than a small fraction of their losses.

The people who suffered those losses are victims of global warming.

Early victims.

As Thomas Stocker, a German scientist who served as a leader of the IPCC group that wrote climate change report said, “As a result of our past, present and expected future emissions of [carbon dioxide], we are committed to climate change, and effects will persist for many centuries even if emissions . . . stop.”

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council has called the report “a warning bell to the world.” She warns that the impacts are fierce wildfires, drought, floods and storms that will get worse with if we delay.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Our children and our children’s children will reap the whirlwind, the wildfire, the floods, the droughts, the famines. Millions living on coasts will become homeless. The world will see tides of refugees. Wars. Starvation. Disease.

As the social fabric frays, social services and infrastructure will fall apart. Much like the world after the black plague — a downward social spiral like the one that Barbara Tuchman described in her book In a Distant Mirror.

Ruined belongings from the basement of a house on 1200 block of Columbia in Longmont, Colorado. In an epic flood, the St. Vrain River overflowed its banks and swelled to nearly a mile and half wide. Every home on the block, and many adjacent blocks, had piles of ruined furnishings in front of it.

I have had a personal glimpse of what this unraveling of social infrastructure will look like because I have traveled in third-world countries where the phones don’t connect, the planes don’t fly, the railroads don’t run and there is no health care. The government doesn’t work and there is no such thing as public safety.

The social contract doesn’t hold, and it’s every man for himself. (Too true too often; women and children are disproportionately the victims.)

Start Where You Are

When I joined the Boulder Flood Relief volunteers cleaning up Glenn Wright’s slimy, muddy Longmont basement, it was still stinking from the sewage carried by the flood waters. The job of stripping out the ruined carpeting and wallboard was  as dirty and disgusting as cleaning up a toilet overflow. But, like Wright, I often found myself moved to tears by the efforts of those pitching in free of charge to help their neighbors.

Crisis brings out best in the human spirit, as exemplified by the volunteers and first responders, but it also highlights human folly. On the radio news during my drive to Longmont, I heard a lot about the lack of flood insurance, very little about building in flood plains and almost nothing about climate change! But looking up and down Wright’s street at the heaps of ruined belongings accumulating in front of every house, I knew that I was seeing its toll.

Somehow, the time I spent slogging through the mud and volunteering in the Boulder Flood Relief office gave me some respite from the anxiety I feel in the wee hours — the fear I feel about living at “five minutes to midnight”.

My lifespan will probably cover another 20 to 30 years — not long enough to see the worst of the coming crisis. But long enough to challenge my spiritual resources. And long enough to give me time to try and help those who are suffering now. Maybe even time enough to avert some of the suffering in the years to come.

I wish I knew how to do that.

A Prayer: Let Me Be of Use

I have made a lot of changes in my own lifestyle: making my home more energy efficient, limiting my use of air travel and sharing my automobile. I have also been removing big chunks of my fuel-intensive lawn in favor of a xeriscape.

The center stone in my xeriscape meditation garden. The words painted on the stone read, “The earth does not belong to us
We belong to the earth.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth
Befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life.
We are merely a strand within it.”

To deal with the spiritual challenge, I make a daily spiritual practice of walking in my garden, meditating on the stones that pay homage to all the creatures that lived and died there over the eons — many of them perished due to changes in climate. As I walk, I’m saying a mantra that goes something like this:

So much I cannot fix, so much I cannot save. And so I walk the red flagstone path that spirals into the center of my garden. I breathe the scent of lavender and artemisia. I meditate and breathe. Live. And breathe.

The changes that I have made in my home and travel habits are a drop in the bucket, compared to what I would need to do to truly live sustainably. So I will continue to make more changes. (Solar panels on top of the house are probably at the top of my list.)

My personal conviction as to what we need to do to save ourselves is to leave all the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. No one is asking my opinion about that, and I’m pretty sure that political and economic inertia ensures that humans will keep on mainlining fossil fuels until they are gone. (Economics – that big lever that prompts individual and social change – makes it very tough just to change one’s driving habits, much less to alter the myriad other ways we all use fossil fuel.)

Climate-Change Related Depression?

As challenging as the change of fuel habits is for me, I find the spiritual fight against depression and paralysis is even more daunting.

I haven’t solved that; I doubt that anyone has.

While writing this post, I did Google my term “climate-change related depression” and found that I didn’t coin the term.  Psychologists for Social Responsibility have written about this problem already. Here’s an excerpt from what they have to say about it:

While it’s impossible at this juncture to predict how climate change will show itself and how people will respond to it, already the planet is experiencing historic levels of heat waves, droughts, storms, floods, rising sea levels, and the melting of vital ice resources that have contributed to higher rates of anxiety, depression, conflict, and other behavioral symptoms in Earth’s citizens.

Psychologists for Social Responsibility also include a checklist of “symptoms in response to climate change’s stressors.” I am battling  several of them: anxiety, depression, persistent grief and “avoidance from the awareness of climate change.”

That last one – avoidance – stops with this post.

A Prayer and My Best Prescription

I have learned a few hard-won spiritual and emotional lessons during my decades on this planet. Many of them are related to dealing with crisis, change and managing depression. Here are the anti-depressive prescriptions that have worked best for me:

  • Whatever topic prompts a knot of anxiety in your stomach, that’s the one you must talk about
  • Among best cures for depression and its attendant paralysis are social engagement and helping other people
  • Life’s meaning and purpose is found in putting one’s gifts to use, and people who feel purpose in their lives are happier and at less risk for depression

As I said before, I don’t know quite how to put all this into practice. In times of stressful change, I often remember the words of Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I’m right here — near Aspen, Colorado and on the internet — and here’s what I have to offer: My gifts include writing, a background in social change, a knowledge of sustainable building practices and the ability to re-design houses in ways that anticipate changes in the human lifespan.

I’m not sure how to bundle all these in a way that is useful, but I am putting out this post as a prayer to the universe, and to all who read these words.

If you know of ways that I may be of use, please let me know.


To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy


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What To Do If You’re Flooded: Advice from the School of Hard Knocks

Daniel Russ, a retired fire Nevada chief, owns a house near the coast of Southwest Louisiana. boulder flood reliefThe place has been flooded not once, but twice! First it was inundated by hurricane Rita, and then by hurricane Ike. Each time, more than four feet of water invaded the house.

Having graduated from the school of hard knocks, Dan has seasoned advice to offer.

I met Dan on Boulder Flood Relief’s website, and then corresponded with him personally. He told me, “I found that, after returning to my flooded home, I didn’t quite know what to do. Here is a list that I made up and followed. If you have a friend who was flooded please, please print this out and give it to them.”

It’s a great list, and I’m sure lots of folks here in Colorado can use it. Share it with everyone!

 What to do if your home is flooded

  1. Turn off the power at the breaker box.
  2. Make sure the house is stable and safe to enter.

    Ruined furnishings pulled out of a house in Longmont.
  3. If you can locate a camera, take lots of pictures. Be sure to take pictures of the outside of the house as well.
  4. Wear rubber boots, Playtex-type gloves, cheap filter masks (N95) and eye protection, if needed.
  5. Clean out the fridge right away! Get that stinky food out of the house.
  6. Get all of the ruined furniture out to the road or in the front yard.
  7. Store good stuff elsewhere. Remove valuables!
  8. Find a squeegy and/or wide shovel, and a box of large heavy duty black trash bags.
  9. Cut the drywall above the high water mark. Remove any drywall or paneling at least a foot above the high water mark.

    Drywall cut above the line of flooding.
    Drywall cut above the line of flooding.
  10. Remove any wet insulation.
  11. Get all of the wet stuff (insulation, drywall, and carpet) out of the house.
  12. If you can find a propane or butane heater, open the windows and fire it up. You should be able to drive a lot of moisture out of the windows before mold takes over.
  13. Go to Sam’s Club or Walmart and buy something called Odo-Ban (a little of it goes a long way). It will kill the smell. Use only as directed! The sooner you do it the better!
  14. If you have or can borrow a travel trailer, move it to your yard and have someone stay there. This will ensure that your belongings will remain yours.

Ross writes, “These are all immediate repairs you can make. Most people can do it themselves  — and with a few friends.” Currently, Boulder Food Relief, the  organization I wrote about in my previous post, is organizing lots of new friends to help flood victims in Boulder and Longmont, Colorado to take the above 14 steps.

What happened to Russ’ home

“In my case,” Russ told me, “the house was considered a ‘total loss’ by the FEMA inspector who came several months after the storm. (Then a year later I was hit by another hurricane and flood.) I got a modest amount of money to start my rebuild.“

Russ notes that most Colorado flood victims were unlikely to have flood insurance, and adds that “only rising waters covered by flood insurance. So everything you can do to save your house will be a major savings to you and your family.”

More flood recovery tips

  • Saving photos. If your photos are all wet, keep them wet (for now). Store them in water until you can dry them properly. Drying photos — by placing them behind glass or plastic photo album covers — will not work. They will stick as they dry, which will ruin them. They must be spread out on a table or hung (like photographers do) to dry properly.

    Renata Hill and her husband, Steve, helped move tons of mud and sand in the hard-hit area of north Boulder near Jay Road.
  • Generator and Heater Safety Tips. Please remember that if you are running a generator or a butane or propane heater, these devices are dangerous.  To dry your house, you need to follow these precautions:
    • Operate any generator, butane or propane heater outside, in a well-ventilated area. Well-ventilated does not mean in the garage. Both devices give off poisonous carbon monoxide gas, which can kill you if breathed in over a period of time. You cannot smell carbon monoxide gas. It will put you to sleep, and then you will die.
    • If you are drying your house out with a butane or propane heater, get it working and then get out of the house.
    • Keep electrical cords out of the water.
    • ]If your house is serviced by gas or propane and it smells of rotten eggs when you enter. Leave the house right away, leaving the door open. Find the gas valve on the tank or on the gas meter and turn it off. Enter only after the smell clears.”

    The entire CU-Boulder men’s lacrosse team pitched in to help Boulder flood victims.

Watch out for the sharks

While volunteering with Boulder Flood Relief, I saw both extremes of human nature on view at the flood site. As I followed the volunteers into a house, a man stopped me on the street and asked, “Do you need help?”

Boulder Flood Relief Volunteers rally for another day of mudslinging.
Boulder Flood Relief Volunteers rally for another day of mudslinging.

I laughed and replied, “No, I’m here to give help.”

He grinned slyly and said, “Are you makin’ money?”

Shocked, I replied, “No, not at all. I drove a couple hundred miles to be here, at my own expense. I’m with a team of volunteers, all of whom are giving their time.”

At that, he just walked off.

Interior of Boulder grocery store during the flood.
Interior of Boulder grocery store during the flood.

Although I was taken aback, Russ would not be surprised at this exchange. He said, “There will be a lot of fly-by-night contractors fleeing to your area. They will show up at your door offering help and talk a good line of B.S. It’s important to remember that it’s all an act and they are only there to take your money and enrich themselves. Tell them you’ll “have to think about it” and get rid of them.”

Unfortunately, disasters bring out all sorts of unscrupulous characters, and Russ sends this piece of advice about working with contractors.

  • Only deal with contractors who are licensed, reputable, established and from your area. Many will overbook themselves and then string you along.
  • Ask for their license and get everything in writing!
  • Do not pay anything up front.

Russ says, “I learned this the hard way.  I lost tens of thousands trying to deal with these types. Use extreme caution. Only use established local contractors or do it yourself.”

Re: Occupy – Volunteers Lift Spirits as Boulder’s Floods Recede

Volunteers from Boulder Flood Relief bring buckets of mud out of Wright's basement.
Volunteers from Boulder Flood Relief bring buckets of mud out of Wright’s basement.

Looking at the line of volunteers who are slogging out to the junk heap at the curb, Longmont homeowner Glenn Wright says, “This is overwhelming. This makes me start to cry. It’s way more than my tenants and I could do.”

Wright has been visited by several groups of volunteers. Today’s are from Boulder Flood Relief, an impromptu organization that sprung to life less than a week ago in the wake of Colorado’s devastating floods. County officials estimate that more than 7,200 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed in Larimer and Boulder counties, the hardest-hit areas.

Glenn Wright points out the high water line at the top of the basement stairs. It’s that horizonal black line on the wall board to the left of him, above the studs that are now shorn of wallboard.

Standing on the stairs to the basement, Wright points to a line about two inches below his kitchen floor. “This is where the water came to. About an inch below the basement ceiling.” He looks around the basement, now stripped of its wallboard and furnishings and quickly losing its smelly, squishy carpeting at the volunteers’ hands.“This is pristine compared to what it was,” he says. “This empty space was a storage room. We don’t need a storage room anymore. There’s nothing to store.”

Wright, 57, a CPA who occupies the house at 1208 Columbia with two tenants, is surprisingly cheerful for a man watching his belongings accumulate in the gutter, piled more than five feet high.

Volunteer Linda Angiono pulling down ruined ceiling material.
Volunteer Linda Angiono pulling down ruined ceiling material.

“I was a little depressed this morning,” he admits. “Kids from the high school came and helped yesterday, but the volunteers who were going to come this morning didn’t show. I was so glad when you showed up.”

I’m tagging along with the Boulder Flood Volunteers today. I drove down from my home in Carbondale, near Aspen, a three-a-half hour drive. My car is filled with tools, “muck boots” and my ugliest clothes.

Like me, volunteer Linda Angiono showed up after responding to a message that Boulder Flood Relief posted on Facebook.  While pulling ruined gypsum board off the ceiling, she says, “I got tired of reading all these messages on official websites saying that volunteers weren’t needed. I went to Craigslist and found plenty of people who needed help, and that’s how I found Boulder Flood Relief. This is my second day volunteering for them.”

Boulder Flood Relief was started by veterans of the Occupy movement. It’s organized in ways vetted by the Occupy group that helped victims of Hurricane Sandy. The core group is working out of donated headquarters on Walnut Street in Boulder and has gathered more than 400 volunteers. As of September 19th, they have begun reaching out to nearby communities, including washed-out Lyons, Colorado.

Volunteer Courtnee McIlwee pulls out nasty, wet carpeting.

The tech-savvy group is directly linking helpers to victims largely by using Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and other internet tools.

Courtnee McIlwee, who is pulling up ruined carpet, just moved to Boulder from Kansas City, Missouri, to enroll in an environmental studies program. She says, “I put out the intention to volunteer yesterday. Then Upworthy posted a link about a guy playing piano in a flooded house. Under that was a link for Boulder Flood Relief. I saw it and thought, ‘I’m supposed to do this’.”

The room that the two women are emptying belongs to Anthony, a tenant who moved into Wright’s home on September 1. When the swollen St. Vrain River began to pour into his room, he had to flee, taking just enough time to grab his cat and his clothes.

Volunteer Chris Beliveau. Those shorts were white at the beginning of the day!

“That was on September 12,” says Wright. “The country had 9/11, and now in Colorado, we have 9/12. We won’t forget this.” On 9/12, Wright had to rescue his own cat by wading through waist-deep water with the animal on his shoulder.

Even though the household never got an evacuation order, Wright recalls, “It was pretty obvious when we had to leave.” The City of Longmont did issue an evacuation phone call – akin to a reverse 911 call – but Wright’s phone service had gone dead. The phone never rang.

The flood waters were so swift that they overturned a refrigerator, swept it out of Wright’s garage and marooned it by the side of the house.

When the waters began to recede, Wright’s tenants joined volunteers working to bail muddy water out of the house. “There’s got to be a special place in heaven for those two guys. They have jobs, and they are helping as much as they can,” says Wright.

“Yesterday was Anthony’s 21st birthday,” he adds. “He spent it carrying buckets of mud. “

The two tenants are currently staying nearby with Wright’s son, while other friends cat-sit.

Currently, Wright’s house has no phone or internet service. The gas is off and

Boulder Flood Relief volunteers gather to go into Longmont neighborhoods.

electricity works in only spots. Wright’s cell phone won’t work either, possibly because the flood destroyed local relay towers.

That lack of communication services complicates the recovery process. To apply to FEMA, homeowners need show their vital records and insurance policies – a process made doubly difficult when communications have been severed and the necessary papers have been swept away or destroyed by the flood. Many of Wright’s business papers are sitting in his garage, glued together with mud.

Every house on the block has a pile of ruined belongings in front of it. This is one of dozens.

Now that the sun is out, they are rapidly hardening into bricks.

“This is going to go on for days and days,” says Wright. “I’m grateful for all the volunteers, because cleaning out this house was an overwhelming amount of work. They got everything ready so I can get the professionals in to pressure wash the place, replace the furnace and rebuild the walls.”

James Maxwell, a spokesman for Boulder Flood Relief, comments, “We have to act now, when they’re not inundated with mold. We can go in, remove the damage before it has a chance to start. That’s very important.”

Those needing assistance or wanting to volunteer may visit the organization’s website –