Wednesday, July 30, 2014


So, at the end of last week we had an inspector come by to check out the plumbing and electric work so that we can start closing up the walls. Unfortunately, the inspector quickly identified a wall that was not included in the drawings that we had permitted. The idea was that there was all kinds of great storage space under the stairs that lead from the basement to the first floor. We wanted to keep access to it, so we needed a wall to separate our storage area from the rest of the basement. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the plans, so it had to go.

The team quickly demolished the new wall, and then the inspector returned. He approved everything in the basement. I was worried that passing inspections would take forever, based on our experience getting the permits in the first place. It's great that this moved as quickly as it did. Not sure what to do about the storage issue, but we'll think of something.

the wall is up

the wall is gone

lots of storage space under the stairs that we want to keep
Next Steps
Now that we've passed inspections, they can start putting up sheetrock. While the sheets will go up super quick, it'll take some time for the mud to smooth out the seems. Since it's a basement and we have a ridiculous humidity level, so it takes forever for things to dry. Also hoping that the windows will go in soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bathrooms and Windows

In our 8th week of this project, things continue to slowly trek along. We had a couple big changes that are starting to make this construction zone feel more like a house.

What We Did:
After a discussion with our contractors, we discovered everything was ready for inspections, except the shower pan, which we planned to build. We both did lots of research and watched a bunch of youtube videos, learning how to build the shower base ourselves. Saturday morning, we got up early and ran to Home Depot to buy all the materials we would need, to avoid holding up the inspections. When we got home, we discovered that they had finished it while we were out. Needless to say, we weren't thrilled to have just wasted our morning buying materials that were no longer needed. On the other hand, they finished something in a couple hours that would have taken us all weekend.

Since we weren't building the shower base anymore, we focused on the closets. R's closet is going to become the new washer/dryer room, so his stuff needed to get out. Since he wakes up earlier than me, it made the most sense to move my stuff out of the green room and into the master bedroom closet, and move his stuff into the green room. After a whole day of shuffling clothes around, his closet is now empty and ready for some work.

What They Did:
The contractors finished up the plumbing to prep for the inspections, and started installing windows.

In the Basement:
In the bathroom, they built the new shower base (to our total surprise) and installed the shower valve in the wall. They added a fan which vents outside, and electrical hookups for a vanity light and overhead light. At this point, we think that they are done with this bathroom and that we'll finish the rest. [But who knows.]

The only other project down here was to finish the demolition of the wall under the stairs so that we can have better access to storage. We will put in some shelves eventually. They also insulated all the exterior walls.

insulated front wall
new shower pan and walls
bathroom wall with insulation and plumbing
new washer/dryer closet in the basement
back wall with insulation
On the First Floor:
They finished up the plumbing rough-ins for the new half bath, which no longer can be called a pantry. The plumbing is now all ready to go, which will be a quick project for us once this is all finished. They added a window, which makes a huge difference. This space came a long way this week and is really starting to look like a room.

half bath with toilet drain

half bath window and sink plumbing
One window went in upstairs too, and the other should go in shortly. They still need to add siding outside and insulation inside, but otherwise this is pretty much all the work they plan to do to the old sleeping porch. I'm already getting really excited about options for the new office, which is also starting to feel like a room.

new window in the future master bath
current view of the back of the house

Friday, July 18, 2014

More Plumbing and the Pantry

I think we're wrapping up the 6th week of the renovation at this point- but I'm starting to lose track. The contractors haven't made huge progress recently. We get the impression that our contractors have a couple other projects they are working on, so the team wasn't at our house for most of last week. Here's what they've been up to:

In the Basement
The plumbers continued to work in the basement, expanding the trench in the floor to connect to a drainage pipe below. They've now filled that hole back in, and made new ones for the bathroom shower drain and the kitchen sink drain. They also finished connecting new pipes for the basement bathroom shower and sink, which means all the old galvanized stuff is gone, and all the remaining pipes will be hidden out of sight, in the ceiling and walls. The framers fixed our termite damage by adding new floor joists and connecting them to the old boards. They also framed in the bathroom walls, which we were planning to do, but they did anyway.

big trench for washer/dryer drain is closed back up
new pipes running through the basement
basement ceiling joists - new lumber next to old termite-damaged ones
basement bathroom- the new hole for the shower drain & newly framed walls

basement bathroom - looking at the new vanity from the shower

On the First Floor
They finished demolition of the pantry, and began framing it in. There is a new support beam to hold the weight of the wall, and a wall to separate the mudroom from the half bath, with space for a new pocket door. They also framed in the ceiling and floor so that they will be level with the kitchen.  Plumbing is coming through the floor for the new half bath and to supply the master bath, which will eventually be above it.

kitchen- old pantry door is framed over & closed up
new plumbing in half bath

framing in new mudroom
current view of the back of house with scaffolding

On the Second Floor
They started prepping for the new washer/dryer upstairs by running pipes up from the basement, through a few holes in walls on the first floor.

pipes coming up from the basement, heading up to the new washer/dryer upstairs

Most Annoying Thing So Far
So living without laundry is still a really big deal and major inconvenience, as is having a team of workers in the house at 8 am every day. But this week, the most annoying aspect was the lack of information. Our contractors aren't great at keeping us informed on what's going on, and that's starting to be really annoying. We don't know when the team will show up, which means I don't know if I need to corral the cats or not each morning. Since they work some Saturdays but not all Saturdays, we don't know if we can plan to do work down there in advance.  It also means we're surprised when we come home and see work that has been done, before we had finalized decisions on how we wanted something done, or whether to do it at all.

When you do projects yourself, you have complete control of the budget and schedule. I'm starting to miss that, and feeling annoyed by being completely clueless about what's happening in my house. I think we've crossed a line from being excited about the project to being really ready for it to be done.

Next Steps
We are coming to the end of the plumbing. Our windows arrived and will go in next. Then we'll have inspections.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Painting the wall above the stairs

We are still waiting on the contractors to finish up some things in the basement bathroom before we can get to work down there. So this weekend, we took a break from the renovation and got another important project taken care of. You may remember that as soon as we moved in, I got to work repainting every room in the house. The downstairs was all painted a lovely pink color that just had to go, so I got to work replacing it with a subtle light grey. I painted every room, but got stuck on the wall over the stairs, which was too tall for my little ladder to reach, even with an extender handle for the roller.

The contractors left a huge two-story ladder in the back yard, presumably for the windows and siding that will go up on the second floor. We decided to borrow it briefly to finish up the painting. The hardest part was maneuvering the massive ladder, which is very heavy and very long, even when not extended. Once in place, it was pretty easy to just climb right up and finish the painting, with the help of a paint brush I duct-taped to a paint stir for extra length. It was miserably hot at the top of the ladder, due to that whole heat-rising thing. I felt pretty proud of myself climbing up to the top, while holding a paint tray and the long roller, and then leaning and bending to hit all the pink spots, while periodically checking the score of the world cup final.

atop my ladder with my extendy paintbrush and tray 
Once I finished and cleaned everything up- I noticed that the newly-painted parts are slightly darker than the rest of the wall. I'm hoping that it just needs more time to dry or fade or something, because I'm definitely not repainting everything or getting back on that ladder. Still- it looks better than it used to.

Corner to the left

Corner to the right

a view down the stairs
Total time: 1.5 years
Active time: 2 hours

Thursday, July 10, 2014

More Shopping and Decisionmaking

For our long, holiday weekend, we wanted to make some progress on the basement bathroom. As you may remember, when we demolished the ceiling, we discovered serious termite damage in a few of the ceiling joists. We are waiting on the contractors to fix it, before we can finish framing the room. While we wait, we spent the weekend finalizing more decisions and shopping. It seems like there are endless things to shop for and decisions to make, so we wanted to get as many out of the way as possible.

Faucets and Fixtures.
A quick shout-out to the internet-- shopping online is so much infinitely better than shopping in person. There are a million options, I don't have to drive anywhere, and I can easily find reviews from other customers that are often useful. For the lights and faucets, we did everything online from and We went for the brushed nickel finish- and picked the cheapest options that looked decent. Lights can be awfully cheap, but we figured that faucets have some moving parts, so we didn't pick the cheapest option. After an hour or two searching, while comfortable on the couch, we selected these lovelies. All are purchased and on their way.

bathroom ceiling light

bathroom vanity light
bathroom sink faucet

bathroom shower faucet
kitchen sink faucet

The Fourth of July is a holiday for appliance sales for some reason. We spent the last week or so checking out the various deals, and decided that HH Gregg, an appliance-only store, had the best deal. Not only were a lot of the good name brands on sale, but the more appliances you bought, the more you saved. We maxed out the deal with $500 back. Not bad.

Our dilemma was how to deal with the upcoming kitchen renovation upstairs. When we upgrade our kitchen, we will want new appliances and a new configuration, but we're not doing it yet. We want to avoid wasting money in the long run by buying as many new appliances for ourselves, and moving our current ones (which are in good shape) down to the basement. Some of the new appliances we want upstairs will require reconfiguring the cabinets- which we can't do yet (new vent hood) and other will just be too expensive to do now (nice fridge). So the downstairs kitchen will have some new appliances and some hand-me-downs from upstairs, and we will potentially have some waste once we do the full renovation. Not perfect- but the best we could do now.

Both upstairs and downstairs get new stackable washers/dryers, but ours will be slightly nicer with steam [Sidenote- it's really hard to have any sense of perspective in picking laundry machines, when basically a bucket and a fan would be a big step up from what we have now]. The dishwasher that we have upstairs is a drawer dishwasher, which has never worked for us, so it will go downstairs and we will get a new full-sized one. The basement apartment gets a new refrigerator.  Since the basement ceiling is totally open, it's easy enough to move the gas line and hook up a new gas stove upstairs, so our electric stove will move downstairs. Our current microwave/vent hood goes downstairs, and we buy the new microwave we intend to keep, and a cheapie hood that will be replaced by a nice vent when we renovate.

We got free delivery and cheaper taxes by buying in the store instead of online, so we braved the long journey into the deep suburbs, and waited for over an hour to finalize everything with the sales clerk. By the end- we were exhausted and felt pretty good about all the decisions made, but left with nothing more than a garbage disposal in hand.

new stackable washer/dryer for the basement
new slightly-nicer stackable washer/dryer for us
new full-sized dishwasher for us
new fridge for the basement
new gas stove for us
better be a nice garbage disposal
The Bathroom Layout.
So one more big decision to figure out was the layout for the bathroom. We had a cheapie corner unit before that was absolutely tiny. Once we removed all the sheetrock, wall boards, etc, we gained a couple inches in every dimension to allow for something bigger.

Argument 1: It's a basement rental unit - we should keep things cheap. Let's just do the standard corner unit with the plastic base.
Argument 2: It's a basement rental unit - we should pick durable things. Let's build a solid base and cover it with tile.

Layouts of the two shower options - To scale - because that's how I fly.
We went back and forth on it for a while. On the one hand, I built a shower base at my mom's house in the past- it was really difficult and I'm not sure we did it right, which could mean water problems in the future. On the other hand, there are new products and lots of demonstration videos online that would make this a lot easier and more reliable. 
In the end, the numbers made the decision. For the same price as a cheap corner kit that would likely need to be replaced shortly, we could build our own base, cover it with nice tile, and have nice doors. Decision made-- option B all the way.  We have a few more items to pick- like the new vanity and its sink- but mostly the bathroom is now pretty finalized.
So all in all- we made a lot of progress on the decision-making part of this project. Lots of stuff is ordered and on its way, and hopefully we've got all the shopping taken care of for a while. I'm ready to get back down there and get my hands dirty. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Plumbing and the Pantry

Okey dokey- so week 5 was all about plumbing.  It seems like plumbing was added to the basement after the house was built- so the pipes were all outside of the walls, in plain view. The contractors once referred to it as the "submarine look". Not only was it a total head-banging hazard, but it definitely just looked tacky and unkempt, and like a basement. In addition to all that- it turns out the pipes were all galvanized, which I guess is 1940's technology that only had about a 40 year lifespan, so we were well-overdue for an update. Old galvanized pipes not only corrode, which can lead to build up in the pipes and crappy water pressure, but apparently they also have the ability to leak lead into your drinking water. So we pretty much had to replace them. The good news is that the new material is PEX pipes, which are small plastic pipes that are color coordinated and bend easily, and therefore fit into smaller spaces easily. So the team has been slowly removing all the old pipes and putting the new ones in the ceiling.  

In the living room- old galvanized pipes on the left, new ones tucked in the soffit on the right

Looking down the hall towards the back- big galvanized pipes stick out on the left, all gone on the right

Looking from the bedroom towards the bathroom- lots of pipes on the left, no more wall on the right. 

Also- there's this. we have a massive hole in the floor. we assume it's related to a drainage pipe. 

Upstairs, the demo team kept working on the pantry. They've now fully removed two of the walls. The far one will stay and be one of the walls for the new half bath.  And- thankfully- they removed the plywood barrier over the kitchen door, and just boarded up the pantry door for safety, which means we can get back into the back yard again. Yay!

You can see red and blue pipes coming up for the new half bath. 

Looks like we're ready to fight off the zombies, but we're very happy to get back into the back yard. 

 So, next week we expect the plumbers to finish up in the basement and connect the last few pipes and remove the remaining ones. Hopefully they will also fill the massive hole back up. There's a bit more framing to finish up, and then I think we're ready for inspections.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Shopping and New Mexico!

Ok- so we are wrapping up the fifth week of renovation right now. With so much going on, I've started splitting it into two blogs- one on what we did, and one on what the contracts did.

So, for us, this week was all about shopping. Our contractors were able to hook us up with two vendors that offer discounts to contractors and had way better stuff than we could get ourselves.

First up, a place that sells kitchen cabinets made of solid wood (no pressed sawdust to be found!). After a brief email exchange with our preferred layout, she gave us a mockup of the design and a great price. Including delivery, it was about $300 more than Ikea would have been. We figured that avoiding the hassle of going to the store to pick them up, bringing them home, and putting them together was all worth at least that much. And with better quality, it was hard to say no.
our new cabinets- in white
kitchen design- looking towards the back of the house

kitchen design- looking to the right
Then they put us in touch with a tile store that is a distributor for the area. I assumed they would be ridiculously expensive, as other specialty tile stores often are, but they had prices that were lower than any other of the options we'd been looking at. After pulling some of the many samples together and a quick convo with our lady, we picked all of our tile and countertops. Afterwards we swung by the Tile Shop and Lowes to compare, but they didn't have anything as nice for even close to the price. Plus, our guys will deliver. I have no idea how we would get this much tile back to the house in our car, so delivery is pretty important.
wood-look tile for the main floor

the kitchen counter on top of the bathroom floor tile, a light grey linen

more kitchen counter- looks like marble, but it's solid surface

kitchen backsplash- grey marble with some stainless steel and glass
And then, just as things were starting to come together, I skipped out of town for a work trip to New Mexico.

atop the mesa at the Acoma Pueblo

a kokopeli hieroglyph

an awesome stormy sunset
a new addition to the house- a seed pot from the pueblo- still needs a spot to go.
So- now I'm back and getting back to normal. It was a great trip, and I learned a lot. Best of all, I avoided most of the chaos of the house this week and got to enjoy a clean, air conditioned hotel room, while R was stuck corralling the cat monsters and dealing with the mess.
Most Annoying Thing So Far:
Acknowledging that I wasn't present for most of this week so I don't really get a vote, I still think the most difficult part of living through the renovation this week was the lack of access to the back yard. Last week the contractors began to demolish the pantry, and had to board up the back door for security. That meant that we couldn't use the back door to get into the back yard or to the garage. Why is that a big deal? Well, we have to use our car occasionally. The only way to get to it now, is through the front door, walking all the way around the block to the alley behind the house. That means we hauled all of our dirty laundry outside, bumping into neighbors, when we needed to go do laundry, my suitcase coming and going to the airport, groceries, etc. Pain in the butt. It also means I haven't been able to water any of the plants in my beautiful back yard, so this heat wave is probably going to kill something. Which sucks.  
Update on the contractors' progress coming shortly...