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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Foyer Remodel


We are a shoes off household so I thought the original entry way was lacking a couple key features to accommodate said lifestyle. How does one maintain closet functionality whist adding a sitting area, shoe storage and a splash of color? The classic mudroom look lends itself more to the utility room or secondary point of entry but I think it works here. It opens up the area a little and makes it a lot more usable. The closet area is a 19 3/4" PAX system from IKEA. We set it up with a hanger rod for coats, and shelves for miscellaneous stuff. I'll probably add a couple of drawers later for gloves and hats.


Probably the biggest issue with the original closet was the flooring. The previous owner stapled down a rather large welcome rug/mat and when it was removed, the hardwood was forever stained. The wood had to be replaced and with it, the closet.


Wow, two "before and after" pictures in the same blog post, what did you do to get so lucky. For the foyer area, we decided to lay down the same flooring we used in the kitchen. We liked the look, I already had the tools and knowledge, and it tied the room together nicely.  Excavating the floor was the tricky part. Getting a clean cut and making it perfectly square were key here. I taped off the area and dry fitted the tiles just to make sure everything was going to look the way I wanted. To make the cuts, I screwed down a guide board and used a circular saw for most of it. The ends near the baseboards were completed using an oscillating multi-purpose tool. This thing has gotten me out of quite a few jams. The 50 year old baseboards didn't give up their nails willingly. The screeching sound that was generated when prying up the boards was deafening. I actually has to wear earplugs.


My son Lucas put together the rest of the sitting area. He basically combined a bunch of varied width 1 bys from Home Depot with a sprinkle of plywood to make a bench and a few cubbies for decoration. I think he did a great job. He says he wants to be a construction guy when he grows up just like his daddy. He may already be there.


Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Dining Room Renovation


I built a pantry cabinet into the kitchen mostly because it was the only thing that looked right next to the fridge. It was briefly used as food storage, but the plan all along was to store room temp food and some small appliances in another place. We though about the living room cabinets, mentioned in a previous post, but decided they would be inadequate for that purpose. Hey, we had a dining room wall just standing around being lazy. Maybe we could build something there.


There were challenges, of course. Why is there always an HVAC register where I don't want it? Looks like I would have to do a little duct trickery to coerce said register under the new pantry. And
how hard could it possibly be to find a right angle piece of duct-work that fit the geometry of my current system. Turns out, I'd have to wait three months to source the proper part. After having a very good experience finding replacement windows that fit the rough openings in my house, I was slightly over confident about the availability of finding material for my other projects. This was one of those cases. Luckily there were plenty of other tasks I could work on while I waited.


Billy bookcases from IKEA gave us approximately 56sqft. of pantry space. We like to eat. They fit the space perfectly and take nicely to being modified. Toss in some trim and crown molding and wallah, it looks built in. I'll admit, there is more function than form going on here but the costs were supper low and it provides such an invaluable service to our daily lives. Part of the barrier to entry for cooking is assembling the equipment and ingredients in a timely manner. Having everything you need at your fingertips is key.



Thursday, May 31, 2018

Living Room Bookshelf and Entertainment Center


My wife collects cookbooks and until now, we didn't have a place to put them where they could be accessed quickly. One of the living rooms walls adjacent to the kitchen wasn't doing too much so we decided to put up some shelves to accommodate said books. This is what we built.


There are about a billion different ways you can install shelves so we sat down and put together a list of must haves. In addition to book storage, we wanted a wine rack, decorative lighting, space for a monitor, cabinets for kitchen overflow, and a coffee bar. Oh, and it has to look built in. I think we checked all those boxes.


I was really happy that I got to re-purposed some old kitchen cabinets. A couple of the doors were missing but I wanted to follow the kitchen aesthetic and go with Shaker style doors anyway so no big loss there. Screwing, Sanding, spackling, sanding, priming, sanding, painting...ugh!


The shelves had to be custom built since I couldn't find something off the shelf to suit my needs. This is about the extent of my finish carpentry skills. Measure two times, think about cutting the wood, then measure one more time.


The built in look was accomplished by propping up the base cabinets on a frame of 2x4's so the baseboards could run around the unit. I also tied the shelves into the ceiling with crown molding. I stained a piece of furniture grade plywood for the countertop and added new hardware to the doors to finish things off.

We love our mini cookbook library.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

DIY Kitchen Overhaul


Kitchen Renovation Before and After

Technically I rehabbed the oak flooring before I tackled the kitchen but this post is coming first because ya gotta start with the good stuff. Yikes, thinking about what to write and staring at the picture above is starting to make my back ache.  I'm going to take a quick break and eat some ice cream.


This is the original kitchen. I considered rehabbing the cabinets with new doors and a fresh coat of paint but structurally most of them were too far gone to save. I was able to recycle a few of the uppers in another project though. That was mostly enough to satisfy my desire for reuse. I quickly discovered, and would have to accept, that many of the features in this house did not stand up successfully against the rigor of time and the elements. Want another "after" picture?


This is the view from the dining area. knocking down most of the longer wall and widening the main entry way really opened up the space. And now you can see out the front window from the kitchen.  I kept the walls to delineate the kitchen area but added arches to soften the transitions. They were a bear to construct but by far my favorite part of the kitchen.


After relieving the exterior walls of their tile, it was apparent that they were in really bad shape. I came to the painful realization that I needed to tear this thing down to studs to learn what I was really working with. Everything needed to be fixed... electrical, plumbing, HVAC, insulation, and a little framing.


I really hate drywall. I know hate is a strong word and I try to avoid using it but I really hate drywall. Sheetrock, drywall, Satan's wall board... it doesn't matter what you call it, I hate working with it. Cutting, mudding, sanding, priming, just not something I enjoy. However, I can do it and DIYing it saves a bunch of money so I reluctantly dive in every time. 


RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets have been on my radar for a while. They are all over the renovation tv shows I frequent. We went with the Cognac Shaker style from RTACabinetStore.com. Whomever came up with the term "sweat equity" was probably putting together their cabinets at the time. There was definitely a learning curve but by the time I got to the last cabinet, I was almost good at it. It was hard work but worth it, we saved a thousands over going with a contractor and buying prefab cabinets of similar quality. I'd do it again.


We splurged a little on the appliances. The GE Cafe slide-in double gas oven really drove the selections here. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.  We got the matching fridge but deviated with a Kitchenaid dishwasher. Reviews...yaknow. I wasn't going to fool around with counter tops. The professionals came in to handle this job. We happened upon a sale and got a high grade slab of granite for about half the cost of our original choice of engineered quartz. We liked the idea of quartz but loved the look of our granite and the thousands we saved.


We installed an Armstrong Alterna product called Light Gray Mesa Stone for our flooring. This provided an interesting alternative over stone, ceramic, or porcelain. Forget what you know about vinyl tiles. This stuff is legit. It costs a little more than the typical stuff but well worth it for the ease of installation and durability. I've seen too many cracked tiles in these older houses with insufficient subfloors. Not a problem with Alterna. And given the applied height is only about 3/8", it sat flush with the hardwood which still makes me happy.


We put in a lot of fun little touches along the way. Wainscoting under the breakfast bar, pendant lighting, under-cabinet lighting, over-cabinet lighting, under-counter microwave, slide out refuse bins, oversized sink, range hood... I'm probably missing something. Point is, this kitchen renovation was a ton of work but we made it ours. There were some misshaps along the way and some some wounds, both physical and emotional, that will need healing but the effort was well worth it in our opinion.



Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Complete Home Rehab



So I haven't posted on this blog for four years... I've been busy. My wife and I had a little boy, then we bought a house, then we renovated the house ourselves, then we had another little boy. I'm going to clarify that part in the middle. Did I mention that we fixed up the house? We fixed the whole house. That wasn't all together unexpected since we did buy a project house but the full scale didn't reveal itself until we started to dig in a little. This is going to be a long story, a very long story that will likely take many blogs posts to tell. Let's begin.

I love doing home renovation projects so when it came time to buy a home, purchasing a house in need of some work was definitely an option in my mind. Convincing my wife was easier than expected. Bless her heart. One of my wife's best and worst traits is her willingness to participant in some of my "brilliant" ideas. I love her for it, but she really needs to rein me in more often. In hindsight, this was one of those times ;) Here's a secret. Most "affordable" homes need some work. The more affordable, the more work. We chose to live in Northern Virginia which means the housing prices are pretty high. I've had many a conversation that included the phrase "man, housing prices are getting crazy". Yeah, they're high.

We purchased the house for quite the discount below what comparable houses in the neighborhood were going for. The budget was pretty simple. Spend less than the difference. The goal was to not be under water when this whole thing was done. I think we did a pretty good job keeping costs reasonable when we could, however there's no getting around material expenses. We splurged on professional help a few times but we made sure it was all carefully planned out.

This house took well be being fixed and renovated. Each living space can be accessed from below and above. This made plumbing, HVAC, and electrical a relative breeze. There are also no load bearing walls within the structure. It's beam and joist on the lower levels and trusses support the roof. I knew I wanted to knock out a few walls right away and it was nice to know our design vision wouldn't be constrained.  Not everything went smoothly though. In fact, most things didn't. Every wall hides a secret and every job has a little demon waiting to escape. I found them all!

Our house has red oak floors in all of the above grade living areas. They would all need to be refinished. This is where we started. Buckle up.

NOTE: There will be plenty of before and after picture in subsequent posts.