Tuesday, April 02, 2019

3D Printed Toothbrush Shelf

My wife and I both use an electric toothbrush and they used to reside on the vanity along with their oddly long cords. It really wasn't a big problem until I got into one of my de-cluttering moods and decided something had to be done. I had some space between the mirrors and above the outlets so proceeded to search for a suitable shelf on Amazon and Google. Hiding the cord was a must have and the main reason why I didn't find what I was looking for. There were some interesting takes on the problem but ultimately, I went in a different direction. Why buy something when you can make it fast and free?

Heard of 3D printing? I've designed a few nick-knacks in the past so the tool chain was already in place to make short work of this project. To the uninitiated, a three dimensional object can be created using a machine that builds up material (usually plastic) in layers until the desired shape is formed. I use the free online version of SketchUp to model my objects. A quick YouTube tutorial can get you up and running in no time. Getting access to a 3D printer is a bit trickier. If you live in Fairfax Virginia, like I do, the public library system has pretty good machines that you can use for free. You upload your model file (STL format) via their website, wait about 10 days, then pick up your creation at the closest available location. Maybe your town has something similar.

I've printed adapters to help install sliding kitchen cabinet drawers, bookshelf  pegs, a sliding barn door guide, and many other useful little objects.  And you can too. You don't have to be an engineer to think up something useful and bring it to life. You just need a PC and an idea.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Master Bedroom Remodel

Our house used to have four bedrooms upstairs. Now it has three. Let me tell you why. We knew going in that the master bathroom (en suite) required a fair amount of work to function properly. Seeing as it was undersized by modern standards, I made plans to enlarge it. I'll leave those details for another post, but for now I will tell you that the best solution was to enlist the area of the walk in closet for the extra space required. I was not sad to see the closet go. Normally walk-ins are great but  ours was maddeningly inefficient from a geometric standpoint. And for some reason, it got wickedly cold in there. It needed to be gutted. For a little while I thought I could add closets to the existing master bedroom without knocking down a wall but it became obvious that the sledge hammer would soon be necessary.

In the "before" picture above, a wall once stood where you can see a break in the floorboards. Nothing is ever easy when you want to take out a wall. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Electrical, plumbing or HVAC, you will have at least two of these in every interior wall that you don't want. Transitioning wall registers to floor registers took a little magic but not much work. Reconnecting the broken electrical was another story. Large swaths of drywall had to be removed to make new wiring runs and much time was spent in the attic crawl space trying to make sense of the lighting.  This was two rooms, after all, so there were two light switches which controlled two circuits of switched outlets and two switches that controlled two ceiling fans. It's a good that I like this sort of thing.

 I waffled for a while about what to do with the flooring. Do I stick with the hardwood or carpet the whole level? There is no easy answer. One thing was for certain though, I was going to have a pro do whatever I decided. I refinished the main level hardwood and vowed to never do that again. We flipped a coin and went with the wood but did set ourselves up if we ever wanted carpet in the future. I installed the baseboards 1/2" off the base of the floor so carpet could get tucked underneath saving whomever did the install the trouble of ripping out and reapplying the baseboards. Quarter round hid the gap nicely and made up for any inconsistencies in the floor level.

Like any bedroom, the space being absorbed into the master had a closet and entryway. Those doors would need to be removed and the openings covered with Sheetrock. With years of cumulative paint, the new drywall did not match the existing drywall width so I used some foam tape to "shim" the new panel. I made the mistake of not including the tape on the lower level and the mudding was a nightmare.

To spiffy up the room a bit, I finished it by installing new windows, crown molding, window and door casings, paint, lights, and curtains.  I also replaced the dated ceiling fan. Did I mentions closets?

I've worked with the PAX closet system from IKEA before and I really like it. I installed three 49" units for a total of 12 and a quarter linear feet of clothes storage. Since they truly go floor to ceiling, they pack a surprisingly large amount of space. My little son Malcolm loves dancing in front of the mirrored doors on the single unit. 

Losing a bedroom upstairs was a hard decision. We don't regret it though. The boys still have their own bedrooms and there is an extra bedroom downstairs for guests. Having the extra space in the master is really key. It's were the boys get ready in the morning and at night after baths. It's were they like to read books and do their gymnastics.We spend a lot of time as a family in the extra space which makes all the effort to combine the two rooms totally worth it.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hallway Renovation

Seven steps up from the main level and you're in the hallway that connects to three upstairs bedrooms and a guest bathroom. All of which were completed before the hallway took shape. They had to be. The paint, the floors, the trim, the electric, the doors...it was all connected in one way or another.  There were efficiencies to be had by combining some of the jobs together and completing the hallway piecemeal.

Have you ever heard of a whole house fan. We had one. It didn't work. I'm not sure how it ever worked. Here's the gist. You open the main level windows and the fan pulls air from outside through the house and exhausts it into the attic where it presumably exits via the roof ridge vent. If you want a dusty house, this is how you get a dusty house. I took this monster out and loved every second of it.

There were three main goals for the hallway. Lighting, lighting, lighting. The original fixture housed a single bulb that was woefully inadequate for the space. Cable lights to the rescue. They fill the void with light without flooding it. They create all the right kinds of shadows that make the room feel bigger than it really is. That was a welcome and unintended consequence of the install.

I'm not entirely sure why I put chair rail in the hallway and did a two tone paint job but I did and we love it. Here's a top tip with molding of any kind. Buy all you need plus 10%. If you have to get more a month or even a couple weeks later, the profiles are often a hair off. The store probably received another shipment, and for some reason, the suppliers can change and there is no standard.  I was short about six inches after a miss-cut and had to scour the area for a section that would fit. That was not fun.

Most of the top level has crown molding but I had to think for a bit about how I was going to apply it to the hallway because of how the walls transition into the stairs. I think the above picture is a decent solution. This is a detail I hardly notice but appreciate it when I do.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Utility Room Renovation

Our utility room was pretty beat up. We didn't take people down there. It's on the lower level at the rear of the house and was generally avoided. It would have been nice to tackle this room first but there were too many issues with the design to justify beginning the project until many of those questions were answered. Leaving the room unfinished for a while worked out in our favor though. Having a climate controlled space that you don't mind getting a little nicked up can be very useful. Many things were painted, cut, nailed, and glued down there during the hot and cold months.

Pretty much everything down there was replaced. I started by replacing the exterior door and window. A run of the mill steal door at one of the big box stores can be very reasonable. You pay a little more for the glass but it hardly breaks the budget. The exterior of the house at the door opening is brick and the door would be inset which means that there would be no wiggle room for the attached trim if it ran a little big at the factory. It couldn't have fit more perfectly. It brings a smile to my face every time I walk through it. The window fit just as well but I had to get a little creative. My regular outlets didn't stock a replacement window with the rough opening that I needed so I bought a "new construction" window that was a little smaller but had nailing flanges. Again, the exterior of the house at the window opening was brick and the window would be inset. There was one continuous flange around the outside of the window so I cut the corners effectively making four flaps. I used masonry screws to attach wooden stops to the inside of the brick and cinder block rough opening where I wanted the window to sit. Using a heat gun, I softened up up the flanges so they would easily bend and slid the window in from the outside. When the flanges cooled, they locked the window in place. They also provided a good caulking surface. Result!

I bought a paint sprayer a while back anticipating that I was going to paint the exterior of the house. I didn't consider spraying any of the inside until it came to resurfacing the cinder block walls of this room. I wasn't looking forward to rolling the paint in this room because of all the exposed pipe and uneven surfaces. Spraying would take care of all of this but prep is crucial. I spent a couple nights taping up everything. The floor wasn't down yet so I wasn't terrible worried about over-spray but I ended up brown-papering the ground anyway. I am a huge fan of the sprayer now. It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. I'm actually looking forward to spraying the outside of the house now.

I was back and forth a lot over what flooring to put down. I ended up going with the $1 per square foot cheep self adhesive vinyl stuff you buy at Home Depot. I know a lot of people aren't fans but I think it turned out great. Clean up is easy, it's super affordable and it's a breeze to put down. I'll go high dollar in our livable spaces but willing to save a few bucks where I can. It's been months and I haven't had an issue with it. I'm happy.

We rounded off the renovation with a new stainless bench, utility sink and a sweet washer and dryer from Samsung. Gotta thank my neighbor Pete for suggesting the stacked corner install. Love it. Although I did have to change the plumbing a little to make that work. Working with PEX made that easy though. That stuff is the real winner here.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Office Remodel

This is our guest room/office. It's in our lower level and right next to the rec room that I wrote about recently. I lot more work went into this room than you might think. I wanted to maximize the livable area so I knocked out the wall that formed the closet and claiming about 2 feet of space from the utility room. I'll write about how that worked in the next post. I addition to increasing its size, we wanted to add a lot more light to this cave. Four recessed fixtures should do the trick. Wiring them up was a breeze because I had access to the ceiling joists from the utility room and the rec room which both have Ceilume (removable ceiling tiles) installed. Oddly, my track record hasn't been good in the lighting department so far on this build but this room ended up being lit perfectly... in my opinion. The bamboo flooring was continued on from the rec room and half bath. BTW, nothing in this house is either square or plumb. Decisions and calculations had to be made before even the first plank was placed in the rec room to ensure that the angles between floor boars and walls in the office didn't look too weird. I guess my trig teacher was right, I would end up using that stuff in the real world after all.  The room was buttoned up with a couple of brand new windows, some paint and wider baseboards. And there is one more thing... Ya know what, I think the muphy bed deserves its own post.

Some people ask me about when I get the time to do work. It's usually late and very dark ;)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Half Bath Remodel

This is a half bath that hangs off the rec room in the lower level. Silly me thought that this part of the renovation was going to be easy. Just a little paint I thought. Maybe change some fixtures. How hard could that be? I'd be in and out in a couple days. You think I would have learned by now.

Ok, the before and after was for dramatic effect. This is what the bathroom looked like when I started. It was pretty clean and integral to the rest of the renovation effort because for a short time, it served as our only toilet. Problems arose when I began removing everything to strip the wallpaper. I now know why they put the paper up, the wall was in terrible condition. There was even a hole behind the mirror. Presumably it was the access the pipes or wiring. I enlarged it to do just that. The sconces on either side of the hole worked but didn't have gang boxes. They were screwed into a piece of wood behind the drywall. Top tip, don't do that.

I'm glad I decided to explore the wiring further. I'm really not sure what to make of this. There was a metal receptical box in the wall but it was only loosely screwed into a stud and didn't have a cover. I think it was installed to so a wiring connection could be made within the box. Two splices were made but neither were in the box and they both involved a section of lamp cord. Again kids, this is something to avoid. At this point, I decided to rip the whole thing down and start from scratch.

I fixed the wiring, freshened up the plumbing with new copper pipe and valves and patched up the walls. Instead of replacing all the drywall, I skim-coated the top half of the room with mud and spent wayyyyyy too much time sanding. The bottom half of the room is covered in beadboard and trimmed out with chair rail molding. I found the design on Pinterest. Why re-invent the wheel. A keen observed would notice that I re-used the pedestal sink and toilet. They were both in really good shape so I lucked out there. I did change out the faucet on the sink though. It was my goal to remove every piece of gold colored hardware in this house. It wasn't easy.

The exhaust fan worked but was in desperate need of updating. I think the installer though this thing would last the life of the house because it was NOT easy to take out. Nails must have been on sale that week. And .... AND the ceiling drywall overlapped the nailing flanges so I had to cut out a bunch of drywall just to get a hammer claw on this thing.  Yikes.

My favorite part of the bathroom is the mirror. I must have stared at that thing for an hour trying to get the perfect amount overlap with the chair molding. There's no math here, just what feels right. Ya gotta shimmy and nudge until it snaps into just the right position. Then you sneeze and start over.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Rec Room Remodel

Despite the transformation, it still feels a little weird spending time in the Rec Room based on what it was before. Our house is a split level and this room is part of the lower level which is partly below grade. The plus side is that we don't pay property taxes on square footage below grade, the negative is that we don't get much nature light down there. There was a dungeon feel for sure. This fact coupled with six inches less of ceiling height compared to the rest of the house made for some design challenges.

This room was demoed on day one. My friend Nick was visiting the DC area from the middle east and requested to come over and break something. We sent him downstairs with only one instruction... destroy.  I think he enjoyed himself.

As you can see, everything was taken out. The carpet was removed, the wood paneling was removed, the shelves were removed and even the ceiling was ripped down. It was all necessary, I'll explain why. The carpet was showing many years of pet and water staining. This was a no-brainer. I was hoping that the wood paneling was hiding a stud wall but I wouldn't be so lucky. Under closer inspection, the wood paneling was nailed into furring strips and the electric receptacles were recessed into the cinder block. I probably could have gotten away with putting drywall on the existing strips but adding sconces would have been a real pain. And framing up a wall would give me extra insulating power for an already chilly basement.

Replacing the windows wasn't in the original budget but I figured I'd look into it while the wall was open. Apparently Home Depot has been doing their homework because they actively stock windows with the required rough openings for houses in my neighborhood. Every window is basically a custom job so they make a huge order and shelve up windows that they know people in the immediate area will need. Brilliant. Installing replacement windows was far easier than I thought it would be. And cheaper too!

I love it so much, I really should do a whole post on Ceilume.  The existing ceiling had to come down for a number of reasons but the main reason by far was that it gave me an excuse to put these beautiful tiles up. The main advantage is accessibility. Now I have access to plumbing, electric, HVAC, entertainment wiring, and network wiring. All of which I have worked with. I even put in sound deadening insulation so I can watch Game of Thrones without waking the kids. That stuff is great.

I waffled on what to do with the fireplace brick for a very long time. Months I think. There are those that think painting brick is a sin. I didn't go quite that far but paint did factor into the solution. I applied a white wash faux finish and down-lit it with MR12 recessed lights. I applied the finish by brushing on a 50/50 mix of white paint and water. After applying approximately 4 square feet of paint, I took a rag and gently rubbed off the excess. It was a painstaking process but worth it.

We chose 5" carbonized bamboo interlocking planks to lay down the floor. Since it's going over concrete, the boards are floating. If you value your back, don't put down hardwood flooring by yourself.

Now we're getting to the good part. No house is complete without a HD projector and 100" retractable screen ;) And ya gotta have the in-wall speakers. The look is so clean. I've actually wanted to have a home theater set up like this for a long time. It's not in the perfect space by far but it still delivers on the theater experience in a big way. I am pleased with the way it turned out.