Archive for September, 2011

The Remodel Expands…Again

As you know we’re in the middle of our master bedroom, master bathroom, and main bathroom remodel and to re-route the plumbing and ductwork we decided to take up the floor. While we were tearing up the floor I half-jokingly suggested that we should redo the basement lighting while we were at it. If I remember right Flannel Man’s exact reaction was, “Woman why do you have to make everything so difficult?!” But the longer he thought about it the more work it would be to install the basement lighting later rather than now. We would need to tear out most of the ceiling to route wiring later. So the remodel has officially expanded…again.


Backstory: The remodel started out as two bathroom remodels but because we wanted to steal space from the master bedroom it expanded to include the bedroom too. When I worked out a master bathroom layout and we saw how tiny the master bedroom was going to be we decided to move the wall between the living room and master bedroom which is where the fireplace is. So we had to pick between boxing in the fireplace and loosing the space or removing both fireplace and chimney. We picked the more labor intensive option where we gained space. Then we decided against installing temporary master bedroom carpet that we would just tear out later to install hardwood floors. But the only good location to stop the hardwood floors was at the entry. Which now leads us to installing hardwood floors in all three bedrooms and the hallway…so half of our house.


The finished half of our basement is a huge 620sf rec room with no real purpose besides storage right now. It is a strange shape with a fireplace nook that cuts the space in half, a not so useful wide hallway, a low beam encased in a soffit, a shallow nook under the window, a kitchen countertop with a sink, and a stove outlet coming out of the floor nearby. The basement level:

We were told the original owners had a daughter who was mentally disabled so they built the basement to be a mini suite for her to live in. She had her own bathroom, kitchenette, and seating area near the fireplace. The space is completely above ground with two big windows and has a door to the back patio so it would have been a great “apartment.” The original owners lived here for 25 years before they sold the house and moved to Arizona. Unfortunately, they couldn’t convince their daughter to come along and she later committed suicide. : (

The second owners lived here for 10 years and they used the space for mostly storage. When we toured the house the room was packed to the gills with stuff.


We didn’t realize how big the room really was until our final walk through.

Gotta love that retro carpet.

Shallow nook around the window.

Kitchenette with soffit above and stove outlet on the floor.

The hallway for example was much wider than it had looked previously!


Someday we hope to turn it into a multi-functional space we’ll use on a regular basis. I’m a big planner (I know what a surprise right?) so I had started planning out the room’s layout when we bought the house three years ago.

We’re going to have a TV watching area in the center of the room.

A built in desk in the nook under the window with an island on casters right behind it for additional workspace while maintaining flexibility. One side of the island will have an overhang for seating.

The current sink and countertop will be redone and used as a utility sink because we don’t have one anywhere else in the house. The extra wide hallway to the bathroom and unfinished side of the basement will have floor to ceiling built-in storage hidden by sliding doors on either side of the soffit. With an infrared sensor we can hide the TV equipment and DVDs in this storage area.

The mini room where the massive fireplace used to be will be an exercise/future kids space with big sliding barn doors. For now we hope to use it as an exercise room but if we ever have kids we could use this configuration where we use a bookcase down the center for a divider to create a small play area.

The left over area between the patio door and main door will have a glass display case and a deep bench or daybed for reading. If we go with a deep bench we might try to fit a small table with chair in front of it or just design it to work with the height of our card table. A daybed on the other hand could work for a guest bed since we don’t plan to have at guest bedroom in the future.


So I had to come up with a lighting plan for the space and fast! Originally, there were only two ugly semi-flush light fixtures for the whole space. They did not put out nearly enough light so at night the space felt like a dungeon.


We wanted even diffused light that was adjustable depending on what we used the space for. Some task lighting was a must too. The basement has lower ceilings than the main floor so I wanted recessed lighting because it would make the space feel taller. We’re going to put all of the recessed lights on dimmers so we can adjust them for whatever we are using the space for. After talking to my lighting department at work I came up with this layout:

The space will go from 2 fixtures to 12 + task lighting! I put the recessed lights on an 8’ spacing because they are about 8’ off the floor. As a general rule that seems to work pretty well except that it’s a long skinny space and I didn’t want a single row of lights going down the room. How boring would that be? It would make this space look like a commercial corridor. So I took the width of the room, divided it in three, and put a zig-zag pattern of lights going down the room.

This uses less lights than a square grid (two lights per floor joist which run from the top to bottom of this picture) and adds interest.

Once I had that all drawn up I had to figure out which floor joist to start in and if I wanted more lights on the top or bottom line of lights. That was all decided on by where I could squeeze lights in under our master bathroom. That area is congested with plumbing and ductwork so finding a place to lights after the fact was a real treat. I found a way to make it work though by limiting the number of lights we had under that area and using task lights for the desk and sink. In the tightest spot we will need to use a smaller remodel housing to fit in the same floor joist cavity as the toilet waste line.


The exercise/storage room/possible play area will have it’s own light switch.

The desk will have two mini pendants hanging in front of the window for extra light.

The sink area will have four small recessed lights in the soffit above it. Currently, the space has it’s own flush mount light and switch but the light is behind where you stand so it only casts a lot of shadows on the sink. Not a very good design but with the floor tore up above we can see the beam takes up most of the soffit so there isn’t going to be much room to work with there.

The reading area will have two adjustable wall sconces on arms flanking the daybed/bench.


So what do you think? Do you like the new plan? Have your remodeling projects expanded again and again like ours?


Ductwork & Plumbing Win

As soon as we had the floor up we started working on re-routing the ductwork. Though we are hiring out the plumbing and electrical I have experience working for mechanical contractors and can easily run ductwork myself. Just give me some sheet metal self-tapping hex screws and let me at it!

We needed to both add and re-route duct runs. Originally, there were only two runs for the master bedroom area; one under each window. With our new plan everything had to get moved. Unlike electrical or plumbing you can’t drill through floor joists with a 6” round duct you need to remove it back to the main and put it in a new floor cavity. That is why we went through all of the trouble to take up so much of the floor. Don’t get me started on those high velocity systems that can be drilled through floor joists. Just avoid those at all costs OK? Moving on.

Flannel Man had never worked with ductwork so our first duct run was kind of like Ductwork 101. We started with the easiest runs in the master bedroom where the floor cavities were relatively empty compared to the bathroom. The duct run under the south window was pretty straight forward.


Where we tapped into the main Flannel Man first tried a hole cutter that was in the ductwork aisle but all it did was dull and throw sparks. On the back of the package it clearly said for drywall only. So why was it being sold in the ductwork section? Who knows. For future reference the only ductwork hole cutter I’ve ever had good luck with uses a drill bit. With a dented circle in the main we turned to a spade bit and jigsaw for this connection. Then we added in a collar to connect the round to the main. It has bendable teeth on one side and a crimped round on the other.


When we got to where the fireplaces used to be and had angled floor joists. So we had to pop down below the ceiling which fortunately was a perfect height to tap into the supply main. We’ll eventually build a soffit around the duct to hide it but this whole nook of the basement will eventually be storage so it’s not a big deal. Of course in our rush to get it done we forgot to put in the damper at the end of run. Duh. So we had to rip apart the last straight section and reinstall it.


The second master bedroom was not too far from the old run so we were able to salvage a lot of straight pieces of ductwork. The boots and fittings get pretty tore up when we removed them. Everything was pop riveted together so it was a combination of drilling through those and just brute strength. The old ductwork was a nice heavy gauge (much thicker than today’s standard gauge) so I was glad we could reuse a lot of it. We removed the old run and patched the hole in the main then cut a new hole.


Because the main was run tight to the bottom of the floor joists we couldn’t just tap a 6” collar straight in the side like we did with the previous run. Instead we went with a top tap off boot which has a square end. Why square? Because cutting a square in a tight spot is a lot easier than a circle.


As we constructed the new and salvaged ductwork we sealed all of the seams with duct sealant. It’s a cheap and easy way to save energy and make your system more efficient. No need to dump air we’re paying to heat/cool in the floor cavity. I also sealed any seam in the existing ductwork I could get my hands on.


Before we could get the bathroom ductwork figured out the plumber came to do the rough-in. It was a nice change to pace to just hire a professional and let him do his job!


Progress after the first day.


Working on a new stack location (see the rags stuffed in the old stack and the new location in the upper left). On the right the main bathroom toilet.


Master bathroom. On the left a sink drain. On the right the toilet.


Almost complete after the second day. Initially, we really wanted all copper piping because we know how to work with it in case we ever need to change or fix anything. But the cost was significantly more for both materials and labor. So we ended up with a compromise of having extra copper used on the ends of the rough-in. From there we can use solid copper and easily solder on valves but the majority of the run is easier to install PEX.


Master shower drain.


New stack location in the 6″ wall.


On the third and last day the inspector came by an approved everything.


In the main bathroom we didn’t have to move the duct because one wall was staying. Yay! We also were able to fix the reason the basement bath (which is directly below this bathroom) has an extra low ceiling in the shower. Originally, the tub drain crossed over a duct which required the duct to jog down. Thus the claustrophobic shower I get to use everyday. With a little maneuvering we were able to straighten the elbows without even removing any of the duct.

That means that someday when we get around to remodeling the basement bathroom we can raise the shower ceiling. Someday previous owners we will have corrected all of your mistakes!


With the plumber gone and everything approved we were back on ductwork duty. Only this time we were in a real pickle. My plan got thrown out the window when we pulled up the floor and saw how many floor joists were already full of ductwork and later piping. With the size of the new master bathroom and the fact that it now had two exterior walls and two windows I needed to get two floor registers in the room which is difficult when bathrooms have limited floor area for a register. The old master bathroom duct would work it just needed to be extended a few feet. But on the opposite exterior wall there wasn’t anything and there wasn’t any way to add another run since every floor cavity was full with either ductwork, piping, or both. There was an existing floor register under the big 6’ slider that used to serve the bedroom but that is where our tub is going so that wouldn’t work. After a lot of hemming and hawing it finally occurred to me just change the basement registers around. So without having to change the majority of the runs we swapped the upstairs and downstairs registers.


The only problem was that the tub drain P trap came into that space and we had to cross the toilet waste pipe to get to the exterior wall. Hmm this calls for some creative ductwork…


Our nosy dog needs to be right in the action even if that action is on a plywood island in the middle of a construction site. See that guilty face? That is because 3 seconds after this picture she decided it was boring and wanted to get back off the island.


To get over the toilet drain we only had 3″ of height to work with. Two straight boots with a rectangular band bent to cover the joint. Lots of duct sealant and self tapping screws later:


Check out this sh*t! Ductwork WIN! Round to vertical flat oval. To round. To an offset elbow. To a round straight piece. To a boot. To an extreme short straight rectangular. To a boot. To a round straight. To an up boot. All done with the standard ductwork pieces Menard’s carries.

Yes this register will get less air because of the increased static pressure but I’m going to balance the dampers as best I can to overcome that and a low flow register is better than none at all.


Meanwhile the house is getting messier. Now I can answer all of Flannel Man’s “Hey Honey where is the _insert random tool here_?” questions with “It’s behind the couch.”


Our big bathroom remodel is cosmetic plus the fact that we wanted to expand the size of the bathrooms. The bathrooms were both functional for the most part so the plan was to salvage as much as we could to donate/sell/give away. After making a call to our local ReStore I was excited to find out they would be scheduling a day to come pick up everything we were saving. The doors, toilets, light fixtures, shower and tub surrounds, sinks, and vanities were all going to go to a new home! However, the next day I got a call back saying they won’t accept anything that is more than 10 years old. 10 years old?! No wonder our ReStore stinks. Other people post about amazing mantels or multi-paneled doors but ours is full of cheap builder grade crap. I called around to places listed as “salvage yards” but only found one place that would take building materials. The conversation went something like this:

    “Hi I’m remodeling my house do you take older building materials?”

    “Yes actually we love old stuff! In fact we often pay people for the stuff…”

    Hmm I doubt you’re going to pay me for an avacdo green toilet.

    “…The only requirement is that it needs to be from the 1940’s or older.”

Dang it! So what are people with homes from the 1950-2000 supposed to do? Fill up the landfills? Great. Craigslist I hope you can come through on this one.


We had saved the shower and tub surrounds for both bathrooms but a we found out they didn’t fit through the front door and since apparently no one wants them they got cut up in a fit of frustration.

Don’t worry this isn’t on our front lawn anymore…just our driveway. Klassy. Yes with a “k.”


You may remember we left the main bathroom in this state during demo hoping we could go another couple days of having a bathroom upstairs. It’s seriously a luxury you guys even in the bathroom is missing a wall and straight out of the 70’s! Unfortunately, our harvest gold beauty threw in the towel early and that night while I was in the middle of my shower it switched to cold and even with the handle pushed all the way in it the water wouldn’t turn off! Eeek! The plus side to having a bathroom open to the rest of your house is that Flannel Man was able to hear my shriek right away and went to turn off the water main.

The next weekend we tore out the main bathroom. You can see how the old vs. new footprint of the bathroom compares. The new wall between the two bathrooms needed to be 2×6 to fit the main stack.

The best way to remove plywood where you can’t access the nails. Use spare 2x4s as a lever and pivot then stand on one end.


With the top layer of particle board off we started removing the plywood subfloor below. As we removed subfloor we put it back down so we could stand on it.


The rest of the bathroom walls went up. For the plumber to come we needed the walls up but we also needed the floor up. So we took the floor up. Added braces built the wall then cut the plywood on either side of the sill plate. This way the plywood was sandwiched between the sill plate and braces between floor joists.


We tried not to remove the subfloor along the exterior walls if we didn’t need to because the west wall (the side with the new casement windows) is load bearing so extra stability is always good and bracing between floor joists was needed along all of the exterior walls.


Here’s my rough sketch showing the layout of the new bathrooms to help you visualize. The main bathroom:

And the master bathroom:

This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
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