Zero Carbon Yard & Garden Care

It seems like every homeowner I meet has developed a collection of gas powered tools to help them maintain their outdoor spaces. Lawn mowers, chainsaws, hedge trimmers. edgers, and weed whackers whirling away during any given sunny day is commonplace in all neighborhoods.

When I first purchased my semi-urban home, I immediately began looking into getting my own collection of carbon fueled monsters and yard care toys. My yard and gardens were overgrown from years of neglect. I knew that the only answer was horsepower, gasoline, and carbon fueled machines. However, that was before I saw my first reel mower being used by an older neighbor….I was intrigued, and set out to see how many non-carbon fueled yard care items I could acquire.

I went to the big box hardware store and found myself in the midst of an onslaught from various types of gasoline lawnmowers. I asked the clerk to show me a reel mower, and his blank stare proved that I was barking up the wrong tree. I next asked for some hand shears, and was shown a battery powered trimmer. The collection of options at most Big Box stores was clearly not going to suit my new Carbon Zero desires. Online shopping would be the best option per usual 🙂


Amazon has a variety of options in reel mowers, saws, watering cans, and hand shears. I bought one of each and set to work on the overgrown jungle that was my backyard. At first, I had a lot of neighbors offering me to let me borrow different gas powered items to assist with the job. I actively had to resist people bringing me over different tools to help with my outdoor maintenance.

Below I’ve provided links to the items I use most frequently

American Reel Mower: Cost = $100 (Reel Mower: LINK to AMAZON)

This is 4th year with this mower. I’ve sharpened the blades each year and had to replace the handle grips after 2 years. It is still working well for my lawn care, and maintains a nice cut. Overall, it’s very lightweight and I can carry it with one hand. Here is a link to the sharpening kit which should last me over 5 years of sharpening for $16. (Sharpening Kit: LINK to AMAZON)

Folding Saw: Cost = $23 (Saw: LINK to AMAZON)

This is the closest comparable saw I can find to my current one. I’ve two of these for over 5 years now; one for lawn care and one for backpacking. They are amazingly lightweight and have held up well for cutting branches, small firewood, fences etc.

Steel 6″ Hand Shears: Cost = $18 (Shears: LINK to LOWES)

I’ve had these shears for 3 years now. I used them very often for trimming bushes, cutting out weeds, and edging my grass around flower beds and sidewalks. They have three different positions and although have developed some blade rust, still cut nicely.

On a weekly basis I use 3-6 tools to keep everything ship shape. I have over 30 perennials planted, roughly 1100 sq ft of grass, 2 large garden boxes (vegetables & herbs), 6 bushes, and a mixture of small trees.

Nowadays, my neighbors has become used to my strange yard care tactics. If you ever drive around Columbus and see a man trimming his grass edges with a pair of hand shears….that is probably me!

I honestly believe that storing gasoline, charging batteries, replacing spark plugs, maintaining engines, and mixing oil ratios takes longer than grabbing a trusty hand tool and getting to work. No pull starts for me; just a little time and effort.

The benefit of my carbon zero approach? Everything is quiet, lightweight, and doesn’t admit nasty fumes. Further, hand tools give me superior control when compared to larger gas powered options. Finally, the sustainability aspect is rewarding to me. I feel like I’m operating my own little organic garden in Columbus’ urban core 🙂


Written By:

Luke Langhals

Penny Kitchen Countertops: An experimental idea

Continuing down the rabbit hole of my Kitchen renovation — the next step was to complete a countertop and backsplash makeover. I went through a variety of options and settled upon something that was DIY friendly, unique, and relatively inexpensive.

I chose to remake my countertops out of pennies. That is correct….I said pennies.

To make things interesting, I’ve included a “before” picture below. This was with me beginning to clean out the kitchen and prepare for the new countertops.

Countertops Before 2018
Starting the process!

Summary of steps:

  1. Clean the laminate countertops and backsplash with a grease remover.
  2. Rough the laminate up with sandpaper.
  3. Paint & Primer the countertops black for a good backdrop behind the pennies.
  4. Layout main section of pennies in the style/pattern of your choosing.
  5. Cut edge pennies to have them “end” at the edge of the countertop
  6. Pour 3 layers of Epoxy over the countertops to seal everything in place
  7. Install finishing touches as desired; edge trim and backsplash

Summary of Countertop Costs:

  1. $95.00 = Pennies
  2. $135.00 = Epoxy
  3. $15.00 = Paint
  4. $15.00 = Glue & Tape & Caulk
  5. $35.00 = Misc Items
  6. $20.00 = Edge trim board

Total Project = $315.00

To begin, I started cleaning off years of grime and cooking grease that inherently builds up on countertops. Household cleaners work great to start and then wipe the laminate down with a mixture of ammonia and water.

Next, I took a rough sand paper and sanded the laminate countertops to give it texture. You should be able to feel the texture by hand after wiping away the sanding dust. After another round of cleaning (to remove all sanding particles), I began painting the countertops using a black paint + primer.

Countertops Painted 2018
Paint + Primer brushed onto countertops

After removing the sink, it was time to start laying some pennies. This is a relatively time staking process and involves placing each penny independently by hand. Insure the edges touch the neighboring pennies and that you place you coins with the side up of your choosing. Personally, I chose all pennies with tails up.

One trick I used was to brush on some fresh paint before laying a section of pennies. Rather than gluing each individual penny; the paint served as a temporary holder until my epoxy sealed everything in place. The only places I used glue was on the edge pennies.

Countertops Penny laying 2018
Using wet paint to get pennies to stay in place

Next, I got out my handy Tin Snips and began cutting pennies in half. I found there is no way to do this besides a few hours of “sit and snip.” It makes for a sore hand, and I recommend a variety of sizes to help fill all gaps around the edges and up to the lip of the countertop. After collecting a large number of half pennies and quarter pennies, I glued these securely to the back and front edges of the countertops. If you have perfectly straight countertops — this might not be required on both the back and front edges.

Countertops Before Tape and Epoxy 2018
Pennies on, sink removed, and edges snipped: Right before Epoxy

Before finishing the pennies, I had to remove my sink to make a clear countertop space. I also snipped half pennies to reach all the way underneath where the new sink would overlap. Using a drop in sink vs a under mount sink makes this much easier. I’m not sure how I could’ve used an under mount sink in this particular scenario.

After all my penny edges were done, It was time to epoxy over my new penny covered surface. Use foil tape (in the HVAC section of your hardware store) to make edges to hold in the epoxy. The epoxy is self leveling and will run off the countertops if you don’t put up an edge barrier to hold it all in. Also, don’t forget to make a tape edge around the sink cut out. Put the tape about 1/2 inch above the countertop surface to prevent any epoxy from overflowing. You do not want epoxy dripping on your cabinets or floor. Be liberal with drop cloths and plastic to protect everything just in case.

Countertops With Tape No Epoxy 2018

Finally, its time to do the only “difficult” part of this project. You need to prepare for covering your penny surface with several layers of self leveling epoxy. I purchased mine from Amazon and chose the “Pro Marine Supplies: Crystal Clear Bar Top: 2 Gallon Kit.” Using Epoxy involves exact reading of the manufacturers directions and precise timing. I had one batch come out a milky hazy tone, and pitched it rather than trying to see if cleared up after the pour.

The 2 gallon kit covered my 24 sq ft of countertop. It included 1 gallon of Epoxy and 1 gallon of Hardener. I purchased 10 measurement containers from the hardware store; I would highly recommend 24 oz buckets for this project. You need to have the parts mixed exactly for the Epoxy to turn out correctly. My containers were 24 oz each and included measurement lines at both 12 oz and 24 oz.

We poured two containers as a seal coat. Waited 6 hours. Poured another 2 containers. Waited 12 hours. Poured a single third container.

**If I did this again — I would’ve insured we had enough epoxy to do a full two containers on the last/third pour; we ran out and I’ll talk about how we messed that up later in this blog.

  1. Pour Epoxy (A) into measurement container up to 12 oz line. Pour Epoxy Hardener (B) into the same container until level reaches 24 oz line. Try to be very exact with this.
  2. Use a wooden stir stick and began mixing the two semi-liquid compounds together for exactly 5 minutes. Changing the rotation of your stir every 30 seconds. STIR BY HAND.
  3. Now pour the mixed epoxy into a second container, scraping the sides of the first mixing container to get everything out as much as possible. Throw away the first container.
  4. Continue mixing in the new container for 5 minutes.
  5. Have your partner start the next batch while you are stirring the second container.
  6. After you finish the mixing process you should have a clear bucket of glue thickness Epoxy liquid. There will be some small bubbles inside the epoxy, don’t worry about these. Begin to slowly pour the epoxy in large sections on the countertop. I poured it in sections about the size of a dining plate.
  7. Use a foam brush to help spread the epoxy and meet the pours together. Do not spread the material too thin, you should see it roll over the edges of your pennies and drop into the area in between. Try not to pull any pennies up while brushing….we only had that problem in one section and I quickly pushed it back into place. POUR SLOWLY and BRUSH GENTLY!
  8. Take the now stirred second container from your partner and repeat the pouring process in the next area of countertop. Each container covered about 12 sq ft of countertop for us.
  9. The self leveling nature of Epoxy will “settle” slightly over the next 15 minutes and epoxy will drift towards the edges and fill in many of the gaps.
  10. After 15 minutes of leveling; to remove small air bubbles, use a propane torch and hold the flame about 2 inches above the bubble for less than a second. You will see the bubbles disappear instantly from the heat.
Countertops Epoxy Buckets 2018
Cover EVERYTHING in plastic while mixing epoxy!

Your goal for the first pour is not to get a perfect glass sheet over the pennies. You want to get everything sealed into place and have the gaps between your pennies filled. I waited 6 hours and the Epoxy was semi hard. My first pour got everything covered, but you could still see some of the pennies sticking through the epoxy glaze. The second pour fully covered everything in an even sheet, with the exception of a few spots and corners.

Countertops Epoxy Edge Tape 2018
Second Layer of Epoxy poured

After waiting overnight, I had enough epoxy left for 1 single 24 oz epoxy pour. I went around and poured small sections where the previous layers hadn’t full covered. I should have gotten more and done a complete final layer. Without enough epoxy to spread over the entire surface, I ended up with some lines and edges in certain places — essentially you can see where I filled in the gaps because there wasn’t enough to cover the entire surface. Spreading too thin left streaks in my final coat, so don’t try that either. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone would notice these imperfections besides myself…but it is something to watch out for. Only pour enough epoxy if you can cover the entire area.

After the epoxy had fully cured for 48 hours; I removed the foil tape, and sanded the epoxy edges where it met the tape border. I then purchased a 10 ft length of floor trim. This was flexible enough to make the curve in my countertop. My plan is to wrap this edge piece in solid copper, but that will be in a couple months. Before installing the edge trim; I spray painted the edging with Copper color paint and put 2 layers of polyurethane on. I them drilled it directly into the countertop edges and clear caulked between the countertop and the edge trim.


Countertops Finished 1 2018
Finished countertops with sink installed

Written By:

Luke Langhals

More Pictures:

Countertop Before & After Edited 2 2018
Before and After picture

Finding and Restoring: Original Hardwood

When I first purchased my home, i was praying that original hardwood was hiding underneath the massive amounts of carpet that blanketed the house. Luckily, I was able to pull up the carpet and found beautiful 100 year old hardwood available for refinishing! After refinishing the floors in the rest of the house 2 years ago, I decided it was finally time to find out what was happening underneath the layers of linoleum in the kitchen.

Job Summary:

1. Refinishing hardwood can be a sustainable way to keep an old home’s character and restore the vibrancy of beautiful wood.

2. Perform demo by removing Linoleum, Tacking Nails, Underlayment, felt/tar paper, and glue.

3. Prep the floors, repair damaged sections, sand the floors, polyurethane!

Job Cost = $900.00 (demo by myself; refinishing by professional)

When pulling up glued linoleum, I always start at a floor grate. Remove the grate and begin chipping underneath the flooring with a flat head screw driver. Below you can see the beginning of this process taking place. Getting down two layers of linoleum to reach the underlayment wood (praying there would be hardwood underneath the sheets of underlayment).

Kitchen Floor Begin Demo 2018
Starting to remove the top layer of flooring

A crowbar is very useful for removing linoleum tiles. After getting down to the wood underlayment sheets, you can start at a doorway and get your crowbar underneath the wooden underlayment that was put down below the linoleum. These sheets are generally 1/4″ thick and are tacked down to the floor below. Using a crow bar as leverage, force the wooden sheets to pop up and try to avoid splitting them as much as possible. They should be roughly 4′ by 8′ sheets and they splinter easily.

Kitchen Floor Demo 2 2018
Getting down to the original hardwood

After removing all the underlayment materials, I found 2 more layers of linoleum glued to felt paper that was glued directly to the wood floor. These layers had hundreds of tacks through them from the multiple layers of flooring that were installed over the years. The best way to remove these tacks is a simple lineman plier. use the wire cutting section to get under the nail-head and leverage the nail out of the floor. This is the longest part of any wood floor reveal. Removing carpet tacking is the exact same process. I’ve seen people run a pry bar along the floor to rip up all these tacks….but personally I find using pliers on each individual nail does a better job and protects the floor from damage.

Kitchen Floor tack remove 2018
Pliers removing nail

We are getting close to hardwood and beginning to see the wood lines underneath all of this mess!

However, I discovered that my floors had some form of felt paper glued on top of the hardwood planks — probably about 60 years ago. This felt material was extremely durable and probably helped protect the floors from glue and moisture. However, it was also impossible to remove with a sander or scraper. It just would not budge off the wood and I knew even a commercial sander would just become immediately gummed up trying to cut through this.

I tried laying down wet towels to saturate the felt paper, I tried mineral spirits to break up the old glue, I tried scraping by hand….nothing worked to get this sticky mess off my floor.

Finally, I came across another blog that mentioned using a wall paper steamer to dislodge the stuck paper. After filling my steamer up with water, I let the steamer square sit on the felt paper for about 20 seconds. I then moved it to the next section and scraped the now wet/hot tar paper with a standard 2.5″ putty knife — it came off sooo easily now!

I worked in sections, moving the steamer square another foot and scraping the previous part of floor that was just steamed. The picture below shows my progress. I would estimate the entire kitchen took about 4 hours of this process of steam then scrape. Use kneepads to save yourself some pain.

Kitchen Floor Steamer 2018
Removing old tar paper with steamer

After steaming and scraping you can see the now uncovered original hardwood floors. They are ready to be refinished.

Kitchen Floor Finsih Demo 2018
After steamer and before sanding

I’ve tried to refinish floors myself in the past….and despite a valiant effort, I do not have the skill required. Sanding, finishing, and poly is an art form. I always recommend hiring a professional for your personal home. On rental properties, I have no problem sanding and putting on some polyurethane — However, I like my house to have a more specialized touch.

After performing all the demo and exposing the wood, I called my wood floor guy and scheduled the finishing work. He used his 240V sander to expose fresh hardwood, countersunk all remaining nail heads that were too deep to remove, and then putty’d the entire floor to cover cracks and holes. This putty is a special material used specifically to flex with wood flooring. It isn’t used on new wood floors but it is very useful on 100 year old floors with some splitting and hole issues. My floor guy did one level of sanding, troweled on the putty, and returned the next day for a final sand.

kitchen floor paste 2018
Floors with wood putty troweled on to remove imperfections and fill holes

After the final sanding, the only remaining steps are to apply the first coat of polyurethane — wait a few hours — apply a second coat of polyurethane — wait 24 more hours.

Kitchen Floor Poly on 2018
Floors after first coat of poly. BEAUTIFUL!

The Kitchen Floors are finished and it’s time to continue with the rest of the Kitchen remodel. Let’s get to cutting and replacing the floor trim!

Written By:
Luke Langhals


Painting and Updating: Wood Paneling

At some point in my home’s history — the owner thought wood paneling would be a nice update. Over the years, many old houses have had their plaster walls covered with inexpensive wood paneling. The reasoning is simple…it is inexpensive!

However, wood paneling has become a bit outdated and often makes rooms feel a little cheap/gloomy.

One option is to cheaply paint the wood paneling and give it a nice updated feel. I’ve done this several times in houses and feel confident in the quality of my work. Paneling generally has a shiny coat and requires close attention to detail in order for paint too adhere.

Paneling Paint 2018
Before Picture

First: Clean the wood paneling using warm water and vinegar. This removes the buildup of oil, grease, and dust.

Second: Prep the wood by sanding; use a semi-fine grit sand paper and make sure you rough up all areas. I recommend sanding up and down in the direction of the panels. Circle sanding might show through your finished paint. You do not need to sand all the way through the finish — just insure it is rough to the touch after sanding. Wipe off sanding dust with damp paper towels.

Third: Brush a quality interior primer on the wood paneling. Allow this to dry completely for 24 hours to increase adherence. I always use the KILZ Hide-All primer which costs under $15 a gallon.

Fourth: Choose your paint color and buy a quality paint + primer in one. I prefer the look of Satin finishes for interior work. Semi-Gloss often ends up too shiny for living spaces. I brush the first layer on to insure I get all the nooks within the paneling. After this I roll on another coat of paint for a smooth finish.

Paneling Painted 2018
After paint: Light Gray with slight purple hue

This is an easy project that can be done in 1-2 days. The most time consuming step is lightly sanding the glossy finish off of your wood paneling.

Let me know if you have questions.


Concrete Countertops: Over Laminate Countertops

My pantry has several cabinets and a small section of countertop. Mainly I use this space for growing indoor plants and storing food. The countertops are extremely outdated laminate; which unfortunately extends up as the area’s backsplash. I wanted a project that would cost under $100.00 and be unique/functional.

First, I removed all the cabinet doors and hardware. I wanted to paint these a dark gray to offset the white subway tile.

I’ve seen a few other blogs outline their use of thin layers of ‘feather’ concrete over a solid wooden base. I decided concrete countertops and a subway tile backsplash would give a modern, chic, and solid look.

Material List:

  • Sandpaper ($5.00)
  • Ardex Self Drying Cement ($26.00)
  • Subway Tiles ($23.00)
  • Tile Adhesive ($12.00)
  • Gray Grout ($14.00)
  • Concrete Sealer ($22.00

I began by sanding the laminate surface to give something for the concrete and tile to adhere to. Use a rough grit and sand both the countertop and the backsplash.

Concrete Countertops laminate before 2018
Laminate being sanded to remove finish and create rough surface

So to begin, I made up a batch of the Ardex Self Crying Cement. I used a drywall mud pan ($4) and standard 8 inch flat taping knife ($7). I mixed the cement per the packages direction to create a toothpaste like texture. I then spread the paste on top of the laminate in 1/4 inch layers. You can still see the laminate countertop after the first layer drys.

Concrete Countertops first layer 2018
First layer of cement going over laminate

You will need to allow each layer to dry before putting on the next layer. Sand off uneven sections after the surface is dry. I decided to add one layer per day and 5 layers total.

Concrete Countertops 3rd layer 2018
After 3rd layer and before sanding

After the 4th layer was dry — I sanded it down to a very smooth surface. personally, I didn’t like the look of the cement when it was super smooth. This is why I added a 5th layer and allowed it to maintain some texture. I would encourage everyone to continue spreading on layers until you like the look

Next, you will require a sealer to insure the concrete countertops do not absorb water and have a glossy finish.

Concrete sealer going on with a hand sponge

I bought a concrete sealer from Lowes for $22.00. It’s a very large gallon container and I used approximately 10% of the bottle for this small section of countertop. I filled a plastic disposable cup and rubbed the sealant onto the countertop with a sponge. I personally felt that three treatments of sealer was good for this job. It ended up with a glossy finish and does not absorb water (I checked by dripping water from my finger tips).

To finish the project, I installed a subway tile backsplash and reinstalled my newly painted cabinet doors. Overall, I’m happy with the look.

Concrete Countertops Finished 2018
Finished (Before caulk and cleanup)

We will see how this holds up over time. It feels sturdy to the touch and hasn’t cracked in any locations. The rough but shiny look gives this section a very modern feel.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Re-purposing an old workbench into a kitchen island

Rental property number 3 had a major kitchen countertop issue! Its countertop space was extremely limited and I was looking for a way to make it more suitable for cooking. I didn’t want to invest a ton in this project and decided the only option was to create a crafty kitchen island for under $30.

Luckily, my mother had found an old basement workbench for $2. A complete steal for assembled treated wood!

Well worth the $2 investment

The overall dimensions were 6ft by 3ft. It was sturdy, ugly, and ready for refurbishment. I began by lightly sanding and painting on primer.

1 coat of “no sand” primer. My favorite brand is “Kilz Hide-All”

After priming was complete, the table is ready for tile prep. I used inexpensive 3″ x 1″ pine boards to line the long edges. I chose metal tile edging for the short table sides; mainly to give it a little contrast. Total cost of edging was about $15.


Next, I painted the pine edging to match the kitchen walls. My thinking was that this would break up the white a bit. It would also match well with the gray grout I was planning to use on the tile. I chose 3″x6″ self spacing subway tile. This was an easy decision because I had it laying around AND its inexpensive to install/use. At 22 pennies per tile….this is a great choice whenever possible.

I laid my mortar and prepared to set the subway tile. After this it’s as simple as snap, stagger, lay, and repeat. The metal edging is pushed in the mortar and installed underneath the tile to create a clean edge on the short table sides. On the long table sides, I screwed the painted pine edges about 1/2″ above the table top. This allows the subway tiles to set within this edge and create a clean “lip.”

Also, please note the paper plates underneath each leg for painting. Paper plates and plastic cups are THE MOST USEFUL thing to have around any renovation project.

Pressing in subway tile

Finally, I ended my project with some gray grout to offset the white subway tiles and match the kitchen walls. Overall, I see this as a successful re-purposing. The tenant will have added countertop space and a nice eat-in area.

Finished project: Under $30.00…roughly

Revitalizing old pieces can be a great addition to any property. I’ve done many similar projects in my own home. Although it might be high in labor….it is definitely inexpensive in materials!


Written By:
Luke Langhals


Utilizing Wasted Space: Attic Facelift

Old houses often come with rooms that are difficult to use. Strange layouts, low ceilings, and quirky entrances can equal a lot of wasted space.

This is exactly what I found in my third floor attic area. It quickly became my “box” room. The space where clutter is stored away and eventually forgotten about. I decided to rectify this issue by changing the area into a usable guest room and a kids play space.

My first goal is to obviously use space more effectively. This means adding storage locations, usable floor area, and making it comfortable for occupants. Wasted space = wasted resourced = wasted energy!

First Issue: What would make people walk into a scary attic?

First Answer: A fun entryway!



Next step was brightening up the space to encourage use. It is a fact that people do not like sitting in caverns. This is why most basement rooms often go underutilized. A white ceiling and bright colored walls greatly improved my attics ‘likeability’.

Continuing the idea of brightness; I added some cheery window curtains and made sure all the windows are both operational and have screens for air circulation. Attics have a way of becoming stale and uncomfortable. Windows located on opposite ends allows a cross flow whenever the weather is nice. I would also like to add a high efficiency “breathing” style ERV system….but this will be a project down the road.