Every place I've ever lived has been designed for that "average American family," with lots of bedrooms, living room, dining room, family room, etc. The problem was that I was a single person, not an average family. I needed space, but for hobbies, not people. And because I'm over 6'2", bending over to use sinks designed for children was a constant frustration. Over the years, I collected a list of things I would change if I could have my dream house. As I approached retirement, I realized time was running out for that house; it was now or never.
Dreams are not always perfect, however. I could never afford my dream house, a spacious Southern California home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But I could afford a modest ranch house, with a 20-mile drive to the beach. It was a very long way from perfect, but it had potential.
This blog documents the process of turning that small average house into something that matches my lifestyle. It will be as close to my dream house as I can make it. I'm doing all the work myself to stretch my resources. By not hiring contractors, I can afford high quality materials, and I'll know the job is always done right. The remodeling will be my primary avocation for a few years, even as I try to fit in my writing and other hobbies.
It promises to be an interesting journey, and a challenging one!
Sunday, April 2, 2017
Something seemed to be off with my right eye vision a few days ago (a Friday), so I began looking for the symptoms of a retinal detachment. Found it after lunch: a very small dark semicircular area (with wavy distortions) intruding from the edge of my field of view. I drove down to the university eye center where my first retinal detachment was fixed, but they were closed for a Caesar Chavez holiday (?). I drove home and finally ended up that evening (8:30 p.m.) at the main university hospital, with my detachment ominously larger. An on-call ophthalmologist confirmed the detachment. She called the on-call eye surgeon and we relocated to the eye center (15 minute drive). The decidedly unpleasant but necessary procedure was finished just before midnight. I drove home with my right eye patched.
The pneumatic cryopexy procedure uses a extremely cold probe to seal up the small tears and holes in the detached retina, which also tacks the retina to the underlying tissue. When that part is done, a special gas is injected into the eye. The resulting bubbles float to the top of the eyeball, and the patient (me) orients himself so that the detached retina is at the top of the eye. The floating gas bubble then holds the retina to the inside of the eye until it bonds together.
My detachment was at the upper right of the eyeball, so that means I have to continuously keep my head upright (front to back), and tilted to the left, for pretty much a week. That includes sleep time, propped up on my sofa with my head appropriately positioned. Not something you would want to do forever, but sure beats blindness. (If left untreated, a detached retina can lead to blindness within a couple of days. The more promptly treated, the better the chances for a good outcome. Nasty business.) Still blurry at this writing.
Which brings me to the point of this post, and its relevance to my house remodel/renovation. Hard to get any work done if you can't freely move your head around. Certainly I can move my head out of position for brief moments, but carpentry is out of the question. There is also the matter that lifting heavy weights is forbidden — your core stiffens and blood pressure spikes, which can do damage to delicate blood vessels in a healing eye.
But before this disaster, I did make some remodel progress. The first was the decision to build the water bed platform next. The base I designed consists of three main parts: 1) a simple 2" base constructed from ripped 2x4s to raise the platform off the floor, 2) a 10" high cabinet section that will contain drawers, and 3) the section that contains the 8" deep water bed mattress.
The plan is to build the center drawer section first. It will be constructed of three sub-sections: two identical drawer sections on each side of the bed, and a third section in between. I had one sheet of 3/4" cabinet-grade plywood on hand, which would be enough for the top and bottom of one of the side sections. I would use the same tongue and dado slot technique that I use for all my cabinets to join the corners. Normally I cut the slots with a dado blade in my table saw, but in this case the dados would have to be made in the ends of a 7.5-foot long piece of plywood. In other words, sideways, and too cumbersome to do on the saw. The slots would be 3/8" wide, and look like this:
I cut these using a router with a template guide and a 1/4" carbide spiral straight bit:
And built a jig with a half-inch wide slot to guide the router. That gives a 3/8" dado. The jig has a piece of plywood with a stop screwed to the bottom, that when pushed up against the end of the plywood, positions the slot correctly.
Worked great! Needed to cut eight slots with it: top and bottom pieces for the two drawer cabinet sections. At this point, I needed lots more plywood. I ordered from Home Depot for delivery, and it arrived Friday morning:
That's enough for the bed and most of the pottery studio cabinets, and also the laundry room table. Alas, an hour later I discovered my new detached retina (a recurring nightmare), so the plywood sits.
I also made a decision about my long-awaited kitchen countertop, which had been planned to be solid surface acrylic, ordered from a contractor. I was ready to make a fourth attempt going the contractor route when I decided to epoxy-laminate my own from maple strips (with a couple of walnut stripes down the middle). I will use low-viscosity West System epoxy (generally used for boat building); it soaks into the wood, stabilizing and water-proofing. I would finally roll on a couple of coats of epoxy on the surface and sand to a nice satin finish. We'll see how that goes . . .
But first, need my vision back.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
If you recall, tearing up the tile in the hallway left a lot of tenacious areas of mortar stuck to the concrete floor. And at the far end, which had originally been part of the garage, I discovered that the concrete slab was especially torn up (like a little mountain range, much of it a half-inch too low, along with some peaks too high).
At the end of the last post, I had erected a plastic "tent" to contain the clouds of dust produced by my diamond grinder, with the hopes of sending the dust down the hall to the air handler to be filtered.
Didn't work, so I found a shroud on amazon that clamped around the grinding cup and connected to my shop vacuum. Had to wait a week or so before that came. In the interim, I went up and down the hall attacking small bits of the excess mortar with a cold chisel and hammer. Did that a number of times over the weeks. The shroud came and looked like this from the top and from the bottom:
It initially did not fit my grinder (had to use a hack saw and file), and vacuum hose did not fit either (used duct tape and small wood splints). The rubber hose adapter also would pull out as I moved the grinder around (with predictable consequences), so I held the grinder with one hand and held the hose in place with the other. I would not want to use it that way regularly, but for this one job, it was manageable, and it did substantially reduce the amount of dust escaping into the house.
I went down the hall and ground off the offending blobs of mortar, and then went back with a straight edge checking for flatness. The slab was mostly flat, but there were a couple of areas with high areas. I marked those places with a Sharpie, and then went back over those with my grinder.
Then repeated this process again (and again). Not a lot of fun, and the weather was great outside, so on one grocery store run, I made a small detour to the dog beach. (the big perk of living in Southern California — 82˚ that early March day at my house, upper 60s at the beach).
And then back to the grind (literally).
For the low rough area at the end of the hallway, I mixed some floor leveler. I didn't measure the amount, and just added water until the viscosity seemed right (I had used it in the laundry room), and poured the bucket of leveler into the low area. Pretty reckless of me. Then used a 24" float to spread it out, and it leveled itself, and amazingly, it almost exactly came up to the right level. There was just one part (under the 2x4, where I did not "help" it to level) that ended up slightly high. I ground that down. Pure luck it didn't turn out to be a disaster.
I made one last check of the floor's flatness, using my fingers to feel for bumps and the cold chisel and hammer to remove any small bumps. Then came the underlayment — a 2 millimeter thick insulation/cushion/moisture barrier. The work of fitting the bamboo planks along the edge of the hallway was very fussy and time consuming. That was not too critical along the walls where the edge would be covered by baseboard, but it took time to match the edge of the bamboo with the tile areas (foyer, kitchen, and laundry room). I used a clear silicone to secure the bamboo to the aluminum tile edging.
The planks in the whole middle area of the hallway went down very quickly. At the doorway to the bedroom, which already had bamboo installed, I used a special bamboo transition piece, here shown upside down:
The piece installed:
The next photo shows what the installation looks like at the kitchen entrance. The baseboard has been installed but not caulked yet, and nail holes not yet filled, nor paint touched up. (Need to move on to something else for awhile before coming back to the final details.)
The last photo looking down the completed hallway:
Thinking about the waterbed base or the kitchen countertop next, or maybe some work outside . . .
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Another incentive to go slow was a further complication from my cataract eye surgery a couple of years ago. My right eye vision has become blurry due to "posterior capsule opacification." Or, the back of the membrane supporting my replacement lens has thickened and become cloudy — it's a complication that close to half of cataract surgery patients experience. I go in for the minor laser surgical procedure to correct it on Monday, but while waiting for an appointment to confirm that diagnosis, I was somewhat distracted. Sigh.
Anyway, the hall is three feet wide and thirty-six feet long. Unlike the tile I removed elsewhere in the house, that was put down over vinyl sheet flooring (and therefore popped right off), this tile was mortared directly onto the concrete slab. It resisted.
I started at the foyer end, intending to work straight through to the garage end, but the spray of tiny tile and mortar bits, plus lots of dust, covered the foyer, living room and kitchen, so I abandoned that and jumped down further along the hall to a point where there were walls on both sides.
Here's a photo showing where I started, and I put a piece of bamboo next to the foyer tile:
I took the photo after building a plastic-covered frame intended to confine the masonry bits as much as possible. Here's a view down the hall, showing where I resumed ripping the tile up (and happily, the tile down there came up easier, often in big pieces).
I turned on the air-handler fan in the laundry room so it would tend to suck the dust down the hall and into a filter. The system instructions warned against running the air handler while there was construction going on because the cement dust is corrosive and would damage the heat exchanger and also the metal electrostatic elements in the air cleaner. I therefore placed a regular pleated paper filter temporarily over the air handler intake to catch the objectionable dust.
All went relatively smoothly until I neared the far end of the hall, and encountered tile that would not come off in big pieces, and barely in very small pieces. As I blasted tile and mortar off a small section, I was reminded that I had made it to the part of the house that was originally the back half of the garage. The new slab they poured to raise that part of the garage floor was not quite level with the house slab. When I did the new laundry room, I had to pour floor leveler to raise the level even with the house side. But out in the hall, the underlying concrete is rough, uneven. In some places it is higher than the rest of the hall and close by it is lower. When they put down the old tile, they compensated by making the mortar thinner or thicker. Can't do that with the bamboo.
Nasty! I'll either have to grind down the concrete (huge clouds of thick dust), or chip away at the slab with my jack hammer (ugh!). And then make everything level with some sort of thin mortar. So I made the command decision to ignore it and go back to ripping up the tile near the kitchen and living room that I had passed over. That's when I built the plastic covered frame to contain the debris and dust. (And that's where I am now.)
Going forward, I think I'll get the floor prepared for the first thirty feet or so and put down the bamboo that far, then move the plastic tent over the difficult last section and mount a new attack. Last night, when my 8-month-old puppy decided to chew my jack hammer cord in two, I decided this project should be broken into two blog posts. (Fortunately the cord wasn't plugged in when he sunk his teeth into it!)
Part 2 may end up being delayed until after the water bed frame is done. Or it may end up becoming a three-parter. Never can tell about these things.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Anyway, the rain has kept the plastic over the wall where the chimney was, so I've been doing design work, and no stucco, but the rain ended and since then we've had our usual sunny mild weather. So back to the physical stuff.
First, there was the matter of the gaping hole where the fireplace foundation had been. I filled that with five bags of hand-mixed concrete.
Then I started on the prep work needed before the stucco could go up:
1) cut off the metal flashing that was around the chimney, using a metal cutting disc on my 4.5" angle grinder,
2) ground a bevel on the old stucco that surrounded the chimney, so the new stucco could bond and blend in with the old (I again used my angle grinder, but with a diamond masonry grinding wheel),
3) applied two layers of roofing felt over the plywood,
4) fastened a metal channel to the bottom of the wall, to define the bottom of the stucco and enable drainage of any water that happened to get behind the stucco, and
5) applied two layers of wire mesh to hold the stucco to the wall (using furring nails and staples).
Looked like this:
Here's a photo of the scratch (first) coat of stucco, and there's a section that has the second coat on. They call it the scratch coat because it's "scratched" to enhance the physical bond with the second coat. There is a special tool to create rectangular grooves in the wet stucco (wait too long and you get pretty much no depression at all).
And here's the photo of the stucco up (still wet), with my signature "rustic" texture. Typically, a third thin, colored finish coat would go on next, but I opt instead to apply two coats of a special elastomeric (flexible) stucco paint that bridges any cracks that may develop, and provides enhanced waterproofing. It makes getting a uniform color easy, especially since the stucco has been going on piecemeal over a period of years. That special paint can't go on until the stucco has cured for at least 30 days.
I was going to build the waterbed base next, but the bamboo flooring for the hallway is stored in the bedroom, so I may tear up the ceramic tile off the hall floor, and put the bamboo down next. But that's a very dusty proposition. We shall see.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
I thought this post would include covering the wall where the chimney had been with stucco, as the weather forecasters were promising a long string of sunny days. But all we got were a few, and then four days of much needed on-and-off rain. The 2.25" we got was very much needed, but that interrupted the chimney work (that and other diversions), and now, after three days of warm sunny weather (80˚ today), we're getting even more rain. So the stucco will have to wait, but this post will not.
In this first photo, you can see how much of the upper chimney I demolished almost a year ago; it's marked by the plywood that has covered the guts of the house, and the plastic sheeting that has been keeping the weather out. The new demolition resumed just below that.
The major part of the chimney remaining can be seen from ground level — it's a lot of brick and mortar!
Midway through now. I usually loosen some brick with the electric demolition hammer, and then use a full-size crowbar to pry the brick apart (not as exhausting and dusty). I spread this work out over a number of days to let my body recover; it's hard work.
Getting down near the bottom, it wasn't clear exactly what sort of foundation there was. It could be a real challenge, or relatively straightforward — I was hoping for the latter.
I had to cut off the rebar as I went down to the base (always threatening to impale me), which was finally revealed as a poured layer of concrete over a row of the large bricks laid on their sides.
When I got those bricks out, I was surprised to find an empty chamber of sorts, with some cross supports. Rather than hauling the pieces of brick and rubble that I was still pulling out, I started dumping them in the hole.
With the demolition finished, I built the partial rear stud wall needed to fill in where the fireplace opening had been (remembering that I doubled the thickness of the surrounding part of the living room wall). I used a pressure-treated 2 x 4 for the base of that new section of wall.
After adding insulation to the new wall, the 1/2" sheathing went on. Again remembering that the house as originally built had no plywood covering the studs, just wire, roofing felt and stucco! Building standards?
Since I need to buy more roofing felt to cover the plywood (before stucco wire and stucco), and because it's supposed to rain tomorrow, I temporarily covered the plywood with plastic (hopefully not going to be there for another ten months :-). I also need to buy a metal-cutting blade for my angle grinder in order to cut away the steel flashing that was installed around the chimney (nasty stuff):
The new stucco can then be blended in with the old. I also will need to pour new concrete to cover the hole where the chimney had been, level with the patio slab. And there's the matter of disposing of the old brick and mortar :-(
So what's next? After the stucco, or perhaps intertwined? Still working on the master bedroom baseboard, and there's the waterbed base, and the pottery studio cabinets and countertop. And the pottery kiln installation (although when the pottery studio becomes operational, remodeling work could just possibly become intermittent.
And drawers! I'm planning to start building the more than hundred needed drawers this winter! Which will make life so much better.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
I finally finished attic prep, found a good heating contractor, and shortly thereafter Nate, Ryan, and Jeff spent two days at my house installing a new heat pump, air handler, and primary ducting. They did a fantastic job! Comfort at the touch of a button.
So what is a heat pump? Oddly, perhaps, I thought everyone knew, but when I told people I was getting a heat pump, I was met with blank faces and the inevitable question — "What's a heat pump?"
The short, non-technical answer is that a heat pump is like central air conditioning in the summer (pumping heat from inside the house to the great outdoors), but in the winter a valve is switched in the same equipment to pump heat from outdoors to the inside of the house. But wait, you say there's no heat outside in the winter? Actually, in milder climates, especially, there's lots of heat outside (it just doesn't feel very warm to humans).
Take my word for it (or google it).
So why a heat pump, instead of another gas furnace? Didn't like burning gas (fossil fuel & fire threat), and I have the ambition to get solar panels (and battery storage) in a few years. Free electricity for life (and free fuel if you have an electric car).
The new outside unit looks like this (very much larger than the very old, inefficient A/C unit it replaced):
It is connected to the air handler in my laundry/utility room via two refrigerant lines and an electrical control cable. The photo below shows the air handler opened up during installation. The vee-shaped tubing matrix is the heat exchanger; the warm fluids in the tubes heat the air passing through it. The black cylindrical thing below that is the blower which takes air from inside the room and runs it up from bottom to top, going through the ceiling into the attic ducting. Below the blower is where the electrostatic air cleaner goes.
This is what it looks like all buttoned up:
The white tubing is the condensate drain line, useful when moist house air hits the cold heat-exchanger fins (mostly in the summer). Water condenses and runs down into the floor drain (dehumidifying). Out in the hallway on the right of the photo, up on the wall, is the new programmable, touch-screen thermostat. It does way more things than I have a need for.
It's set for 69˚, but the inside temperature there is 74˚. Photo was taken in the afternoon on a warm, sunny day (actually high of 74˚ on December 14). The temperature inside the house slowly rises during the day (when it's sunny), and then slowly drops during the night. It used to rise and fall much faster than it does now, but I now have much more insulation in the attic (and double-glazed high-efficiency windows, and some thicker walls, as some of you loyal readers may recall).
So the heat pump actually does not run that much, pretty much not at all after 7 a.m. until sometime in the early morning hours. But I have programmed the variable-speed air handler to come on at low speed for some portion of every hour to give the Trane "CleanEffects" air cleaner something to do (the outside air in this arid climate is dusty). This also means that the air inside the house is thoroughly mixed together, pretty much a constant temperature everywhere—cooler at night. Very nice indeed.
The unseen pieces in the attic are largely responsible for this. So up to the attic!
The air exits the top of the air handler into something called a plenum — basically a big sheet-metal box. Out of the backside of the plenum there are three flexible ducts which travel the short distance to the rooms adjacent to the laundry room. In this photo the plenum is at lower right.
Leaving the front of the plenum is the rigid 14-inch diameter sheet-metal main duct, which travels down toward the other end of the house. Unlike flexible ducting, which is shaped by a spiral of wire (giving the interior a corrugated appearance), the interior of the rigid metal ducting is smooth, and therefore offers much less resistance to the flow of air.
That makes the ducting system more free-flowing and energy-efficient. The short flexible branch ducts that interconnect with the main duct go to the other five registers in the house.
Heat loss is greatest where the temperature gradient is the steepest — hot and cold separated by a very short distance. That condition exists, for example, where hot air in a duct is right next to cold air in the attic (winter), or the opposite during the summer, when the attic temperature can reach 130˚ and air inside the duct can be close to 60˚. If those extremes are separated by less than in inch of insulation (my old system), you will be cooling the attic in the summer and heating it in the winter. Enter insulation — lots of it!
At least 10" all over the attic, and that much over all of the ducting (and over all the water supply lines as well).
It's like an ocean of insulation :-) You can't see it from below, but you can feel it working. Money spent on insulation is money in the bank.
Looking forward to experiencing the air conditioning next summer . . .
So, catching up on some other things I've been getting done . . . like the door trim and baseboards installed in the master bedroom (setting off the new bamboo floor). The gap around the floating floor was wider in places than my usual baseboard, so I had to first install a 1x3 board (3/4" thick), and add regular molding on top of that, for a taller than usual baseboard for a modern house (it's growing on me).
And while I still haven't found a good supplier for my main kitchen countertop, I did silicone in my undermount stainless steel sink, and install the drain for that. Why worry about the drain, when I won't be able to install the faucet until I get the countertop done? Dishwasher. It's been installed for some time, except for its drain line, which connects into the sink's drain line. So I haven't been able to use it, until now.
I used an air admittance valve again for this installation (the white device sitting atop the black ABS pipe assembly).
And here is the drain system completed (going to the dishwasher to the left of the partition is the electrical connection on the top, then the drain line, then the hot water supply line):
Haven't used the dishwasher yet; I've been hand-washing so long that I haven't yet been able to start a new habit (although Friday night pizza-making produces lots of dirty paraphernalia, so maybe soon).
Next? A rare rain event tomorrow night, and then a long string of sun, so I'm planning to take down the rest of the chimney and rebuild/stucco the wall behind.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
First, putting down the new bamboo floor in the master bedroom. This did not actually take very long to do, but I had to order more bamboo flooring, and that took a week to arrive, and then they wanted you to take it out of the boxes to acclimate it to the humidity in the house before putting it down. And, they also wanted you to intermix batches, so that any variations in appearance would be distributed evenly (rather than having half the floor one shade and the other half looking slightly different).
As it turned out, the new flooring was a perfect match cosmetically to the old stuff, which I suppose is remarkable, considering that I bought the first four boxes two years ago. What was different, I discovered, was the design of the tongues (this flooring was of the click-together variety—no gluing or nailing). The new tongue design made the flooring go together much more easily than the old — a good thing, but it did not go together at all with the old tongue design.
So I ended up covering the first two-thirds of the floor with the old boards, and then machined the edge of one row of the new boards so they would butt up tight with the last row of the old boards. No click this way — I had to glue them together. But after that, all was good.
The 21" floor extension that I built into the garage was not perfectly flush everywhere with the main part of the concrete floor, so I had to level this. I ground down some concrete, and sanded down some wood, and for most of the out-of-level area, I troweled down some floor leveler. I ended up using thin-set mortar for this, and it worked well. Looked like this while still wet:
With the floor clean and level, I put down a special underlayment for floating floors (flooring not nailed or glued to the sub-floor/concrete). This layer acts as a moisture barrier and also provides a little cushioning, perhaps making the floor quieter. The first row needed to be cut to fit the marble threshold to the bathroom. The instructions also mandated a gap around the edge of the room to allow for expansion and contraction. The gap would be covered by the baseboard. Hopefully no gap will open at the marble threshold.
So row after row it went down. Clicks together along the length and also the ends of each board. At the end of each row, the board is cut to length, and the piece of flooring cut off can then be used at the other side of the room. Joints are staggered. The finished floor:
The staggered stack of flooring planks sitting in the middle of the room is acclimating while waiting to go down in the hallway. I still have to apply the baseboard. And here is the transition between the bathroom and bedroom floors.
The second thing I've been working on was getting the attic ready for the heatpump contractor. They will be coming out in a few days to assess the job in order to give me a price. I gave them a big package describing the work in detail, with photos. Will be nice to get that done.
Here are a few photos of the attic. One important step was providing a workable passageway between the attic stairs in the garage, and the main part of the attic (over the house proper). There are a couple of hatches in the ceiling for access from the house, but trying to get big sections of rigid ducting up through those would be impossible. Originally, there was a solid wall between the garage attic and the "house" attic. I have opened up a large passageway, with added structural reinforcement. I've also put down some plywood over a good number of PEX water supply lines that crossed over from the front and back of the house, to protect them.
In the next photo, you can see toward the left middle, one of the access hatches (with the hatch in place), and just to the right of that is a filter. The filter was below the furnace air return duct, now removed, and is where the outflow of the air handler will come up from the laundry/utility room into the attic. The heat pump contractor will install a large rectangular section rigid duct that will go from there, and turn the corner and go along the center of the house. Eight flexible ducts (shiny snake-like things) will take conditioned air from the new central duct and carry it to separate room registers. The flexible ducts and registers are in place now (part of what I have been doing).
Looking down the attic toward the west end of the house are more flexible ducts. I have disassembled and removed the furnace from the attic, but left the heat exchanger, because this still contains the air conditioning refrigerant that must be recovered by the contractor.
I'm still sorting out the old insulation and adding a lot more and that will continue, especially after the new ducting has been installed. At least 10" of insulation will cover all the ducting and water supply lines.
• Baseboards and door moldings in the master bedroom.
• Cabinets for the pottery studio (I would like to get that operational).
• Base for my waterbed mattress.
• Removing the rest of the chimney and finishing that outside wall with stucco (lest a storm blow away the plastic and soak the inside of the wall with water).