Home Improvements

I have new home improvements on the horizon.  I’m so excited.

When we bought the house back in August of 2013 it was a mess.  It was a foreclosure house that needed a lot of help. We tore off 1/3 of the house and added on a lot.  It wasn’t a rags to riches story as we ran out of money and the riches didn’t happen.

It was totally okay as my husband kept on doing the home improvements until his passing in 2019.  At that time, I paid off the house and have been slowly doing some of the improvements that he never got to.

Last year I got the back unattached garage shingled and sided.  This year I got the bathroom on the main floor fixed.  I’m so happy with those improvements.

Now it’s time to start working towards the next goal.  I want to finish the back deck on the house.

Here is a picture of how it currently looks.  (Mess courtesy of grandkids).  What you see is what we added to the house.  The bottom door goes into my kitchen.  The upper door goes into my sewing room.  We had to put that door there as there was no way to get our big antique furniture up the stairs as the turn at the stair landing is too narrow and tight.  There is really no way to get things upstairs except for that outer door.

So…that’s why the big beam is there to attach a deck to.  It’s been like that since we built the house.  What an eye sore!


At the time we finished the rest of the house, as I said, we were out of money and out of any energy it would take to tackle the project.

After Kramer died I made a list of projects that I wanted to get done.  As soon as one is done, I start planning for the next.  I figure it’s the only way I’ll get them done.  On my list of projects to do, this is next.  So…now it’s time for me to tackle this and get the deck put on.

Kalissa suggested I contact a local gal and see if she could draw up plans.  She did and I’ve been pouring over them trying to see what might work and what I liked.


Heidi came to my house.  She took some pictures and measurements and then listened to me as far as what I might be interested in.

I listed these things as what I wanted…
-to get furniture up and down
-possibly planter boxes
-fire ring
-some shade
Later we messaged her and said a porch swing.

She did two different designs.

This is the first one…
This was okay…but I didn’t love it.

There were components I liked but nothing was WOW!!

Then I opened the second set of designs and I was VERY EXCITED!!

Here is the second set of designs.  This one has a big upper deck with the porch swing below.  This sold me immediately.  When we lived at the farm, we had a porch swing that was similar to how this is laid out.  We loved it and used it all of the time.  Yep…this was the one I would make work.


I talked with the family and looked over the yard.  We made the decision that we didn’t want to do the fire ring.  It would go out pretty far into the yard and take up an awful lot of space.  Right now that space is better served by kids.
The rest of this design is what I’m going with except for a few tweaks.

At the top of the stairs, there will be a bigger landing area and the stairs will start back a little further to make it easier to move furniture.    That will put the stairs a little further into the lawn area so we’ll likely add more cement and make the patio area bigger.
We’ll likely reposition the planter boxes and extend the privacy fence out too.  It’s mostly little tweaks.  I’ll make sure to have gates at the top and bottom of the stairs too.  Again…there won’t be a fire ring area.

At the middle landing on the stairs, I’ll have them make it so that the section of rail can be removed so furniture can come out there easier.

I sent in my added ideas to Heidi the designer and hopefully, I’ll be hearing back from her soon.  I went ahead and got on the contractor’s list…I’m guessing it won’t happen until next summer but that’s okay.  I have time to save some money.  This one isn’t going to be cheap.

I’m super excited about the prospect.  This is probably going to be the project that costs the largest amount of money.  I’m okay with that as it’s really going to be a big improvement that I will enjoy the rest of my days at this home.

I actually am taking this as a big improvement for the kids and family too.  I just know we will use this area so much more.

So tell me what you think?  Are there other changes you would make?  This is my chance to get this right!!  I don’t want to regret any choices so please leave a comment and let me know how you would tackle this project.

61 thoughts on “Home Improvements

  1. Sandi

    I think your ideas are great! That larger area upstairs with be nice if you want to sit out and sew or cross stitch. Hugs,

    Reply
  2. Samantha M

    Wow, Jo, how exciting! This will be a great addition to your home. Good idea to have a gate top and bottom. The only thing I thought of is to make sure your railings around the top deck are spaced so Rosie can’t get through. But you probably already thought about that :-)

    Reply
  3. Betty Woodlee

    Jo, your plans look fantastic! You may love love love the white spindle railing. I agree it is very pretty but here in western Kentucky we deal with lots of mildew making this type of railing very high maintenance. Another option is to use wire fencing for the rails. Another plus is the fencing does not block your view. Enjoy your new area.

    Reply
  4. Margaret Tobin

    Easy to add a fire pit your self later. Craig will help pencil attached to a string the length of the radius of the pit. Make the circle ⭕️ cinder blocks stacked so there is air flow for the fire. One of those molds for cement that looks like cobble stone for the area around the fire pit. I watched my friend build this by himself and ate s’mores there after it was finished. Not a huge project. Put it on Craig’s list. I am volunteering him. Poor planning I should have had a son in law. ♥️♥️♥️You do so many wonderful things.

    Reply
  5. Kate

    Maybe you could get a steel fire pit and put camp chairs around it … it wouldn’t take up much room and could be packed away when not in use, but you still get to enjoy it ☺️

    Reply
  6. Denise House

    This looks lovely. It may not be practical or affordable, but I would love some sort of water feature. Maybe a small pond with a gentle waterfall or a tiered bird fountain. I love the sound of moving water. I think they even make water features that will attach to the wall.

    Reply
    1. Jo Post author

      That’s a great idea Denise if it was just me around but I have so many grandkids around here that water makes me nervous, even if it’s a little bit.

      Reply
      1. Liz

        Just my opinion, don’t do a water feature. We have a pond and it’s a pain the in rear to take care of. The pumps plug up, the pumps have to be cleaned. Ducks have found the pond the last couple of years, and they plug the pumps up (think poo). Fall…..leaves fall in the water and make a huge mess to clean out in the spring. AND as Jo has mentioned, the children. When our granddaughter was little, I was constantly making sure she stayed away from it. Ponds or even a fountain would be a lot of work.

        Reply
        1. Janice

          Theres always pondless waterfalls too instead if a pond. Easy to clean..and relaxing sound without worrying about the littles.

          Reply
  7. Cheryl

    Now I know why much older homes have a door nstead of a window on the second floo! I always learn something new from your blog Thanks Jo

    Reply
  8. Judith M Fairchild

    I would suggest a roof over the upper deck so the sun doesn’t get your sewing room to hot to work in. And have Shady place to sit and enjoy your space.

    Reply
    1. MarianneK

      That will cut down on the light in the sewing room too much!

      I think what you’ve planned looks great except I’d keep the fire pit. The kids will not be little forever.

      Reply
      1. Kathryn Martin

        Just looking at the level of that landing for “turning left”, it would be easy for kids of certain heights to smack their heads there. I know you have been daycare provider forever. Are there protective products for outdoor areas like this?

        Reply
  9. Rita in Iowa

    Love your plans, make sure you have outlets for both up and down. Makes life easier if you want extra lights or setting up your sewing machine outside for a sew day!

    Reply
  10. SusanV

    What direction does the back of the house face? I like Judith’s suggestion of shading the sewing room door. Maybe an awning. But I can see a little umbrella and bistro table on that upper deck. Nice!

    Reply
  11. Bonnie in SE CT

    i agree with Judith. Our back deck is a lovely place to sit except for the summer afternoons. It gets miserably hot out there. We have had umbrellas and pop-up canopies but they don’t last. We are trying to come up with an affordable, permanent solution. Good luck on your project!

    Reply
    1. Jan McCann

      I agree, if there’s too much sun, the upper deck will be miserable! And, even sunbrella fabric (which is used
      For shade covers on boats) only lasts 5-7 yrs. Also agree about the weight bearing aspect, especially with regards to supporting the swing.

      Reply
  12. Polly Currier

    Load bearing..how much weight the upper deck could hold. It looks big enough to fit a lot of people and you don’t want it falling down. Please ignore this if you have already factored that in.
    We have green coated wire fencing around our pool. Don’t even see it. It’s been there for 13 years and held up very well.
    So glad you have the fencing for Rosie, you’ll be able to let her out from your sewing room with no worries!

    Reply
  13. Julie

    I like the way you are thinking about this project in terms of how you and your family will interact in the spaces. Winston Churchill said it best: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards they shape us.” As for the fire pit…holding off now makes sense. We have a house that came with a very fancy one and while we like the idea of it, we rarely use it except for occasional s’mores. The kids and grandkids would rather play corn hole or toss around footballs in the side yard! A retractable roof or perhaps a pergola type roof over the upper deck might be really nice, depending on how the sun hits that area in the afternoons. You could hang flowering baskets and bird feeders from a pergola. On gates: We have white wooden folding gates that we attach with white bungie cords. They don’t cost much, keep the dogs and kiddos corralled, but can be easily stored away.

    Reply
  14. Amy Kollasch

    The only thing I would suggest is that instead of making the railing removable, I would make a mini deck there at the lower landing. My aunt did that with hers and they put a couple chairs there to sit on so they could be close to the grandkids playing, but also see their above ground pool while the kids and grandkids were in it, but she didn’t want to be in it. I know you don’t have a pool, but you never know what the future may bring. Love it the way it is though too. So many choice!

    Reply
  15. Becky

    I agree on a roof or retractable awning for the deck. Mine gets so hot in the afternoon you can’t sit out there until almost dark. It is however a considerable expense, but you might ask how much and if that cost is worth it to you. I’ve been told it’s easier to do when building the deck, but I’m not a builder.

    Reply
  16. Kate

    What great plans! This will be so fun and smart to have the access to the back yard. I really like the swing. My family always had one and even had it hanging on tree when no porch. You and your family know your needs best so I can’t think of anything to add to their suggestions.

    Reply
  17. RuthW in MD

    Check out the choices for that upper deck flooring. Please consider a lighter color rather than a dark color. The dark composite materials hold the heat and make a deck way too hot to use in the summer. Happened to a neighbor of mine. As an extension of the deck beams, a pergola up top would be nice! You could later string fabric over it, or that stuff nurseries use to shade their plants.
    I love the little scallops on your gable! I’ll have to check back and see the finished bathroom, think I missed that.

    Reply
  18. Allison C Bayer

    Oh wow! Sounds like you’ve given this much thought as to how it will work for you, your family, and kiddos in your life. I’m super excited for you.

    Reply
  19. Joyce

    Jo, I love the plans. Being new to Iowa (and at least 10 years older than you), I may view things a little differently. How much snow will you have to shovel off the upper porch in the winter? If it’s only a few times, maybe not a big deal but I know you have a shoulder that sometimes acts up. I looked into a retractable awning for my backyard but haven’t made that commitment yet. We have so much wind here that I’d worry about furniture on an upper porch. You’ve lived in this area much longer than I have so you’ll know those answers best. Just things that came to mind when I was looking at the design.

    Reply
  20. The Joyful Quilter

    The plans look good, Jo. Personally, I think removing the fire ring from the plans was smart! You can always add that later on (when the grands are older.) It’s a cool feature, but we haven’t used ours in the year since moving here!

    Reply
  21. RuthW in MD

    Check out the upper deck flooring choices. Please consider a lighter color rather than a dark color. The dark composite materials make a deck way too hot in the summer. Happened to a neighbor of mine. As an extension of the deck beams a pergola up top would be really nice! Later you could string fabric over it, or the stuff nurseries use to shade their plants. I really like the scallops on your gable end!
    (I hope I am not posting this twice)

    Reply
  22. Julie Hutcherson

    Hi, Jo! What a wondeful addition!

    I know this would be a huge change to the plans…my thought on the stairs, make them straight with no turns. The removable rail would be at the top, alongside the stairs. I know that sticks out into the yard further, but you could nestle the fire pit area up against it later. Straight would be much easier for furniture carrying. Ask your crew/kids.

    Reply
    1. TeriDegonia

      I agree with straight stairs. We just redid our deck. It costs a lot more to have the landing put in. It’s more posts and decking. So if you can move your fence and have them straight it would be cheaper. Also we got black metal rails. They are great because they kind of blend into the scenery. You don’t notice them when you look out over the yard. Trex decking is what all our bidders recommended. The lighter the color the better for heat. I always go bearfoot so need light color on my deck.
      Lots of decisions but you will so enjoy it when you are finished. Hope this helps a little.

      Reply
  23. Norma

    Be prepared, this will change the lighting in your kitchen. I think leaving the fire pit area off is a good idea there will be space and visibility for your active little munchkins!

    Reply
  24. Joy

    As someone who’s helped carry large pieces of furniture up and down stairs, I’d see if there was a way to ditch the middle landing, or else make the steps a little wider than normal to make navigating the turns in the middle and at the top easier. If you do go with a section of removable railing, make sure it is substantial enough not to wobble when it’s in use. I’ll echo the suggestion to make sure the upper deck has enough support, both for the people on it and for anyone who might be in the swing below. I can relate to doing things as you have the money. My next project is the spare bathroom which needs a new floor and tub, but I need to get the master bathroom functional before I can begin.

    Reply
  25. Holly

    One of your first blogs I followed was herring your neighbor to lift furniture of to the door as you stood there to catch it. Hilarious. I see much cross stitching and fly swatting and iced tea in your future.

    Reply
  26. Virginia Grenier

    I’m guessing that there will be a grill so where do you plan to have the picnic tables? I say tables because if you have the whole family there you’ll need more than one. Below the deck would be nicely shaded but on the deck you may want an umbrella. The problem with umbrellas is the windy days will want to take them “into orbit”.

    Reply
  27. Ila

    I would go with a straight run for the steps to make furniture moving easier. Also make them a little wider. Enjoy your new space!

    Reply
  28. Elle

    I agree on choosing the actual usable deck upstairs. My changes? 1. Have the stair go straight out and avoid another switchback. It eats up patio area. 2. Have the stairs off the side of the house so your patio use is straight on the edge? (unless that is totally weird looking when actually looking at your house.) The additional cost is concrete of course.

    Reply
  29. Julie Thomas

    I love your plans, Jo! My only though was, would it be possible to flip the direction the stairs go and run them down the side of the house in a straight run? This would give you more room in your backyard where all the action is. Whatever you decide, it’s going to be such a great addition.

    Reply
  30. Carmen

    It looks beautiful. One thing I would change, is to put in a patio or French door coming from the kitchen. Of course that depends on your space inside, but I think it would be helpful to make the space more family friendly.

    Reply
  31. Darlene

    We had white railings on our deck. We too had a mildew issue. It was fine most of the summer but come late August with cooler nights and morning dew mildew would form. Obviously it forms on all railings but it really shows up on white! FYI, the best solution to remove the mildew easily was Deck Wash by ArmorAll.
    I agree with some form of shading, our current deck is unusable with afternoon sun, just too hot!
    I know you feel the deck board is an eye sore, and stairs would make furniture moving easier but will a deck accessed from the second story or from steps outside be extremely useful? I’m 63 and i know as I get older steps will get harder and harder to navigate. It would definitely look nice. but a HUGE expense especially with current prices.

    Reply
  32. Cathy O.

    Make sure there is room for a picnic table on the patio, you will use it a lot with your family. Such an exciting plan Jo.

    Reply
  33. Kris in WI

    I’m having “porch swing envy”. We loved the one at our first house. Hmm, have you thought about storm/screen doors? It won’t always be this hot and it is nice to have fresh air throughout the house. You will decide what works best for you!

    Reply
  34. Linda

    My two cents. Move the pergola area closer to the house without that middle sidewalk. Run the planter from the side fence to the pergola or beyond. The pergola area looks a little floating out there with no relation to the house. The dining table area could go under the deck so even if there are a few sprinkles or lots of wind, dining would still work. That way you could have great lighting above even in the evening. I think that corner area where it is will get real hot.

    Reply
  35. JustGail

    With that first plan, my thought was that it was a very tight corner to move furniture especially 9-ish feet in the air. And overall, rather undersized and sort of half-done or half-hearted.
    I agree the 2nd plan is more useable, and with moving the stairs out a bit, a removable panel on the lower landing, and waiting on the fire pit area. I would consider adding an arbor or trellis above the upper door if it faces south or west. Not necessarily a solid roof that would block light totally, just something to break up the hot sun. I might consider keeping the arbor over the table from the first plan – something to break up hot sunshine, yet allow plenty of light and air movement.
    And instead of pickets for the railings on the deck, what about using cattle panels? They might be less maintenance, not block the view as much, and would tie in with your love of farm things.
    And be careful to use a quality brand if you go with maintenance free decking materials. We used some off-brand and after 12-15 years it is looking bad. It’s like the wood pulp in some pieces was able to soak up water and swell over the years, get a rough surface, and grow mold/mildew & lichens.

    Reply
  36. Lucia

    What a great idea this project is! It seems to me you are certainly providing for a lot of furniture moving. Do you store furniture upstairs or ???? My only suggestion is to deeply consider the shade as if what we hear is true, it will just get hotter! Good luck!!

    Reply
    1. Jo Post author

      Lucia…no we only have regular furniture we use upstairs. But even things as simple as a queen-sized split box spring can’t even make it up my regular stairs. It’s really hard to get anything up the stairs. We always just wanted some freedom to move furniture or buy furniture without having to hire a telehandler to get it through the upper door.

      Reply
  37. shirley

    Looking awesome. Been through similar project. So exciting for something special like this. Couple suggestions that others suggest and I have learned from. Do it all in light colored composite. More expensive but pays for itself in time and money that wood requires. I did the awning…birds try nest and poop on it, wind damages it. Umbrellas need to be relocated maintained or removed in windy weather. A full roof can cause winter issues…extra weight and damage from storms. Tried all these and tried a sail. It is nice but needs to be taken up and down. A pergola is the way I am going to go as per many others I talked to. Wish I had done it when we originally did the work. I am sure your contractor will figure in weight. A couple pillars can look awesome and give the support. Outlets are a must upper and lower. cement is less maintenance than pavers on the bottom. Water is awesome but does require maintenance, especially in winter. I wish I had all the people giving me their advice like you have. Mine are mostly a repeat of what others are saying, just fresh in my mind from working on recent similar projects and trial and error.

    Reply
  38. Anne Fisher

    LOTS of different ideas- but one comment I agree with–is about the white -railings and “mildew” -or like I get on side of my house for the open fields and black dirt builds with all the wind, it can be a mess and it is hard work “scrubbing” — I am usually in Maine in the summer time and daughter has white vinyl grid around her deck–and I’ve scrubbed that every summer, I’m guessing at least 20 years!! Lots of Greased Lightning, a scrub brush and energy!! Design you like–looks terrific–can see many ideas are great, and it sure will take a LOT of thinking about the how and what when you start!!

    Reply
  39. Barbara

    Great plan! Love it. Now my 2 cents on straight stairs. We age, it happens. The way the stairs are now designed will be easier to navigate than a straight run and falling risk. Also how often are you going to be moving furniture? If not a lot then go for the design as is. It’s pretty. The open concept of the upstairs deck will be lovely in the fall and spring, and who knows a few winter days. Sunny hot chocolate days. If Iowa winters have any. I would imagine in the summer you wouldn’t be on the upper deck or lower deck on toasty afternoons anyway. You would be outside in the evenings as a matter of course. The lower deck will be shaded, right off the kitchen – great for family b-ques. Kudos to you and your designer.

    Reply
  40. Cat Snyder

    Your plans look lovely, my two cents would be to consider how the stairs or other large items may block line of sight for watching kiddos play.

    Reply
  41. Kim from TN

    I like what you have planned out and I think there is lots of great ideas from your readers. I look forward to seeing your final design from Heidi, and eventually your finished project.

    Reply
  42. Nance in Reno

    I like the 2nd plan better. Not sure how the kitchen is oriented with the sun, but I wondered if the upper deck is going to shade the kitchen window. If so, maybe move the upper deck to the left.

    Reply
  43. Martha W

    Lots of good ideas have been presented here. I always look for storage space. I suggest a gate in the privacy fence that runs next to the stairs and behind the swing. That area under the stairs would be a good place to park outdoor kids toys. By doing that the kids won’t have to deal with getting around the swing. I’m jealous that you’re getting a backyard updo. I’ve been waiting for mine for 12 years.

    Reply
  44. Jane

    I would make the upper deck a little bigger so I could comfortably put a chair up there. Nice place to take a sewing break

    Reply
  45. Ellen

    Knowing which direction your house faces solves many of the issues people have mentioned regarding hot sun on your upper deck. With that in mind, my family likes to eat meals on our covered patio, so I wondered if you have considered adding a covering to the area above your picnic table. If your back yard is shaded in the afternoon, then no covering is needed since your house is tall enough to provide shade.
    Love your plans.

    Reply
    1. Jo Post author

      The back of the house faces West. We’ve always just moved to the East front porch if it’s too hot.

      Reply
  46. sewhappy

    Thanks for asking for our input. I hope you will go with what works for you and your family. I thought some of the comments were crazy. Kids can be taught many things. Not to run around the stairs and doors. Enjoy whatever is built next year.

    Reply
  47. Susan Rizzi

    Personally I would like the deck to extend across the width of your house and have the stair start at the corner of the deck ( away from the house) and extend further into your yard and also extend the privacy fence. That way you would have the use of the full concrete pad underneath the deck. We have a 2nd floor covered deck and use both levels all summer long. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

    Reply

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