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!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tool room transformation — Weather Tech floor tiles

When I bought the house in 2013, it had four bedrooms—I only needed one.  The back bedroom had initially been created by a former owner by partitioning off the back part of the garage.  This left me with a garage that was too short (in fact, the prior occupant was using the garage as a fifth bedroom, complete with carpet).  To make the garage usable, I added six feet to the front (the subject of many blog posts).  I completed the first phase of that fourth bedroom remodel (windows, structure, upgraded electrics, etc.) years ago, and then started using it as a tool room, basically a place to store the tools and supplies I needed to do my remodel/renovation.  It became a disorganized mess.

Since I no longer needed it as a bedroom, it didn't need a closet, so I repatriated that precious space back to the garage.  The former closet opening then had to be walled off.  And to cover the old opening with drywall, I first had to dismantle and remove the heavy-duty shelves from the wall on that side of the room (along with all the tools piled high).

Then add drywall.

And joint compound and paint.  Then it was time to rip up the remainder of the old carpeting, and scrape the concrete floor clean.  While searching for possible plastic floor tiles for the garage, I discovered that Weather Tech (automotive floor mats, etc.) also made floor tiles, but they were only a quarter-inch thick, and not ideal for a garage floor.  But I thought they would do well for my new music-room/instrument workshop (I build electric guitars and basses, steel-string and classical acoustic guitars, and violins).

After placing a few on the floor and walking on them, I discovered they were noisy—mostly caused by the hard plastic clacking on the concrete when you stepped on them.  So I first put down an eighth-inch insulated underlayment, which was the same as I used under my bamboo flooring.  It did the job.

The floor tiles have interlocking edges that need to be pounded together with a rubber mallet; the most effective technique is discovered fairly quickly.

The tiles around at least two of the edges of the floor need to be cut.  I saw on some videos of Swiss Trax installations that cutting with a table saw could melt the plastic, so I used a narrow blade on my band saw and pushed the tile through quickly to minimize heat.  It worked well. 

So here are a couple of photos of the finished room:

Of course, it doesn't look like this anymore, since music room furnishings and much of the stuff I moved out (and didn't throw away) had to be moved back in while the garage is being completed.

I'm happy with the floor.  I will compare it with the Swiss Trax tile when I install that flooring in the garage. 

First I need to build the next group of about twenty-two more drawers.  Drawer factory.

Garage — Part 10 (the inside)

It's been four months since my last post.  Sigh.  My old goal was to do two posts per month, so obviously slow going.  I've been doing a lot of work, but finishing off the inside of the garage was a lot of the same thing, so not conducive to several installments.  And there is still the matter of the high-maintenance puppies—now eight months old—interfering with remodeling time.

When last I reported, I was waiting for a delivery of drywall.  So this post will cover putting up drywall, joint compound, window trim, painting, and cabinets.  At the same time I added one of the sheets of drywall to finish off the back-side of the garage wall, in the adjacent work room.  I ended up finishing off that room, which will be a separate post (also written today).

As I reviewed my photos for this project, I found I had few of hanging drywall and applying joint compound (and sanding).  Likewise painting all that.  I've had previous posts going into more detail on those mundane chores, so for this post, there will be just a few photos (and few words).  Most will be about the workbench cabinet I built to house tools (14 drawers), and provide a benchtop for miter saw, dovetail jig, vise, etc.

The house remodel has been something of a musical chair evolution, with my stuff being shuffled around from room to room, waiting until everything finds its permanent place (or sold or trashed).  So, clear out a room (moving everything someplace else), remodel the room, and then find space for the stuff inhabiting the next room.

So the "beauty shots" of the garage will have to wait until it gets its new floor and drawers made for the new cabinets.  Otherwise, there will be clutter.

On with the show.

Drywall starts to go up.  You can see what had been a closet in the back room, that space now reclaimed for the garage.  On the upper right, I've screwed a sheet of 5/8" plywood to the wall where solar system/battery storage electrics will be attached later this year—there will be a post for that.

In the next photo, the west wall has been covered with drywall and painted.  There are three pairs of large dowels inserted into the wall (into holes drilled into two 4x4s used in lieu of 2x4s when that wall was framed as part of the bedroom expansion—wall moved 21" into old garage space).  My three ladders will be hung on the dowels.

On the right side of the above photo, there is a recess in the new garage extension.  I built shelves in this space, with a drawer unit.  Drawer slides were installed before this drawer unit was assembled; drawers not yet built.  This:

I also installed the drawer slides in the six-foot wide workbench cabinet for the garage, while it was still in pieces.  It's very difficult to install the slides after the cabinet has been put together (something learned the hard way), and accuracy also suffers.  If you install the slides while the cabinet is still in pieces, everything can be open and flat on a workbench.

The base for the cabinet was made from 2x6s cut down to a 5" width.  Construction lumber often is of variable width, depending on how dry it was when cut, and how dry it is when you get it.  Make sure all pieces are uniformly dry, or each piece could end up a different width after a couple of months, after shrinkage—with poor results.

This is the cabinet carcass assembled, without the top and front trim.

Trim on the front plywood edges is just 3/4" x 3/4" pine, attached with some glue and finish nails.  I used a pneumatic nailer, which ordinarily gives excellent results, but if the nail gun is not aimed at right angles, the nail can veer out.  In this case, I was holding the trim in place with my hand, negligently, just where the nail was being placed, and the nail went through my finger.  Actually very little pain, and with immediate washing, antibiotic ointment and bandaging for a few days, it healed well.  Could have been a different story had the nail hit a bone or something else important.

For the cabinet top, I elected to use plain kiln-dried 2x4s, run through my jointer and thickness planer (to 1.25" thick), and glued together with biscuits.  I did that in three separate sections, then ran each section through the planer and trued each edge in the jointer, and then glued the three sections together.  I used a couple of pieces of mahogany I had for visual interest, and coated top and bottom with epoxy.  Nothing fancy.  It will have things screwed and bolted into it, and get dinged up.  The glue-up:

Below is a photo of the cabinet, minus the fourteen drawers—six heavy duty use with full extension drawers slides, and eight more without slides.  I'll be doing a separate post on a marathon drawer building session (for garage, kitchen, bathroom, pottery studio), hopefully soon.

This will give you an idea of what the cabinet will look like, as well as a couple of the new windows trimmed out.

I'm going to do the post on the back room remodel later today.  It's going to be the music room/instrument-building workshop.  The floor is covered with Weather Tech plastic floor tiles, which I had considered for the garage, but not heavy-duty enough.

I will be doing a separate post on the garage floor, which will use thick Swiss Trax plastic floor tiles, bought from Home Depot.  I will post more photos of the completed garage when all that happens.

There is also now a new Tesla Model Y in my garage, so that will be another "garage" post, hopefully with a demo video explaining features, including magnetic braking and one-pedal driving.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Garage Extension — Part 9 (old interior)

So the actual new garage extension is pretty much done, but the rest of the associated garage remodel is in progress and involves a substantial amount of work.  Once complete, I can get the planned solar/battery storage system installed (in the garage).

Work is moving along at a deliberate pace, that is to say, not terribly fast.  This is because the puppies are still, well, puppies, and so high maintenance.  They're each eating five cups of food a day, and drinking a prodigious amount water — and growing like weeds, all of which means they need to be taken out to pee and poop at frequent intervals.  Overnight excursions are now down to two, from three or four.  I'm looking forward to them getting big enough to last the whole night without a potty break.

But I digress.

The old part of the garage was outfitted with the last remaining single-glazed, aluminum-framed window (a slider) in the house.  The best that could be said for it was that it let in light, but also heat, cold, and noise, and oh, by the way, it wouldn't open.  So it had to go.

In its place I installed two new smaller fixed windows (in addition to an identical window that went in the new section of the same side wall).  The first of these two new windows I put in a solid part of the wall.  That involved reframing on the inside, and cutting out a big rectangle of stucco on the outside.  The header still to be installed.

I cut out the stucco using a circular saw fitted with a diamond masonry blade:

The integral window flange was then fastened to the framing.

Further along down the wall was the old window.  The stucco had to be cut out around the periphery to remove the window, which surprisingly was only attached with about four nails (plus the stucco). (I've stapled sheet plastic in this photo to keep the breeze out.)

Also in this photo you can see the work started to recover the space taken from the garage for a closet for the back bedroom (my new stringed instrument workshop, not needing a closet).  For that, I framed off the closet opening, and in this photo, have removed the drywall and insulation from the old closet back wall (old studs still remain at this point).

The old window had a substantial header over it, which I left in place; removing would have been a lot of work, without any advantage.  So I reframed for the smaller window within the larger opening.

In this photo, the studs for the old closet back wall have been removed, except where connected to the ceiling and floor.

 From the outside, this shows the old window cut out, and new framing (plywood was then fastened over the part of the opening around the new window):

And here's the new window installed:

Black building paper and a couple layers of wire mesh went on, followed by new stucco.

What it looks like on the inside, ready for insulation (recycled wherever possible).

And here it is, ready for new drywall:

Before the insulation went in, rough electrical for new receptacles and recessed lights was  installed.  A Home Depot delivery is on the way with ten sheets of drywall (plus more plywood for new garage cabinets, a pallet of retaining wall blocks, and 720 pavers for a new front walk).  Next post should therefore be on drywall and paint.  Window trim after that, and on and on.  Sigh.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Urinal water supply and other plumbing upgrades

So the plan was to start working on the garage interior next — to get that finished so the solar panels and battery storage system could be installed, but because the puppies still require more or less constant attention, I chose a project that could be done in short snippets.  To wit — providing a soft water supply for my urinal.

When I first installed it, instructions were not very helpful.  Urinals are still not mainstream in residences, so it's a commercial plumber thing.  I did talk to the Kohler people who said 1/2" supply lines would be inadequate, and at least 50 psi pressure would be required.  So I used a full 1" PEX supply line, and set my water pressure at a fairly standard 55 psi.  So far, so good.

But then I found a fine print mention that the urinal flush valve needed a 30 gallon per minute (GPM) flow rate.  That would ordinarily not be a problem with 55 psi and 1" supply lines, but I had a water softener.  That works by running the incoming mineral-laden hard water through a large tank full of resin beads, which slows the flow rate to just 10 gpm.

The only solution that came to mind was to take the urinal water supply from the line before it passed through the water softener.  The downside to that is the minerals in Southern California's very hard water would clog the valves inside the flush unit and also coat the porcelain inside the bowl, allowing stains to stick.

Well, a few years after installing the urinal, the valves did indeed become clogged, and the flushing became ineffective.  I had dealt with the staining by using an acid cleaner to dissolve the mineral deposits, but that was a constant cleaning chore.  So what to do?

I remembered from a house I owned many years ago, that I had installed a large water pressure tank so the submersible pump did not have to start and stop every time I used some water.  Instead, the pump would half-fill the water pressure tank (half air and half water, separated by a rubber membrane).  When you turned on a faucet, or flushed the toilet, the air pressure would force water from the tank out the faucet without the pump needing to turn on (until after you used 10 or 20 gallons of water).

With the urinal, I could install a two-gallon pressure tank between the water softener and the urinal.  So when I flushed, the pressure in the line would drop a little, triggering the air pressure in the tank to force its water into the supply line, supplementing the inadequate flow from the softener.  Since the urinal flush valve only uses a half gallon of water, a two-gallon pressure tank is plenty big.

So where to start?

First, plug up the old 1" line upstream from the water softener.  It's the line branching off to the left.

Cut it and add a plug.

Next, insert a tee-fitting in the 1" PEX line coming from the water softener, and connect the new supply line to the urinal (it's the one heading off to the lower right).

Then add the pressure tank to that new supply line.

And then just replace all the insulation.  Done.

A couple of days after I ordered the parts for that job, I noticed water coming up from between the side of my house in the back where the outside faucet is, and the concrete apron next to that.  I also noticed that my water usage for the month of December was about a thousand gallons higher than it should have been.  Ouch!

The problems with the PVC irrigation circuit that came with the house were 1) the PVC pipe and its connections are weak, and 2) the outside water supply (irrigation and hoses, etc.) branched off the main water supply pipe coming into the house before it passed though the pressure reduction valve.  I had replaced that valve because the one I inherited was broken.  The city water pressure is very high (110 psi).  I suppose that is desirable if you have a large high-volume sprinkler system (I didn't), but not at all desirable for the integrity of the outside plumbing (my neighbors are constantly repairing leaks).

No doubt this extremely high pressure contributed (or caused) the leak in my back yard water pipes, so I decided to fix the high pressure problem first and then attack the back faucet replacement.

So this is what the water supply lines looked like where they enter my house (in the garage).  Most is new I installed; the old copper is at the bottom.  Going straight up at the left is the main 1" PEX water line for the inside of the house.  On the right going up is the 3/4" PEX supply for the front faucet and continuing up goes to the back yard.

What I decided to do was to run all the water (inside and out) through the one pressure reduction valve rather than adding a second pressure reduction valve for the outside water.  ( I decided I was going to set the pressure the same for both, so the one valve was good).  So I needed to cap or plug the outside line bypassing the pressure reduction valve, and tap into the main 1" PEX line downstream from the pressure reduction valve (line going up from the valve in the photo) for the new outside water.

Here's a closeup of the old lower section (below).  In the best of worlds, the line would be capped close to where it branched out from the main water line coming into the garage (from underneath the concrete slab), at point A.  That would involve cutting off the copper pipe and cleaning it up, then soldering on a cap.  But that old pipe is a mess, and the inlet pipe can't really be drained of water, so heating up the pipe with a torch would be problematic, and if a problem ensued, the house would be out of water for the duration.

The shutoff valve for the outside water supply (B) leaks, so that was also a problem, but it was going to be replaced in any case.  I decided to cap the line in another location, to wit — "C".  That's one of the new PEX lines, and easy to plug.

The new PEX water supply is shown in the photo below.  The new outside line is now taken off the pressure regulated main 1" PEX line.  A new shutoff valve is installed in the cross PEX line, and runs into the outside lines.

So now that the outside water line pressure was under control, it was time to repair the back yard faucet, which was a mess.  This was the last bit of the original water supply lines that I had not replaced.  Notice the PVC pipe leading down from the broken faucet, into the concrete.

The handle on that old outside faucet had broken off years ago, so I was using another faucet connected to the underground PVC irrigation system (that I never used).  A few years ago I dug down a bit to see how much buried PVC pipe was was (there was another faucet at the back edge of the yard).  There seemed to be some leakage at that time, but I stopped digging for some reason.  But this is the faucet I've been using:

But back to that broken faucet — cut off — and stucco cut open:

On the inside of the wall you can see how I connected (a few years ago) the new PEX line from the garage to the copper pipe feeding the outside faucet:

And here is the replacement supply line, with new faucet:

This photo shows this last new section of the puzzle (before installation):

What it looks like from the outside, installed:

I'm now in the process of replacing the drywall on the inside and adding new stucco to the outside.

Now that my leaky water supply problem is fixed, I can get back to work on the garage.

Thursday, December 26, 2019


The puppies are here!  The twins (fraternal) Molly and Maggie!  Adorable monsters!

Raising puppies is a 24/7 job.  Done right, that is.  I know some people put them in a crate overnight, and then in a crate when they run errands or go to work, but puppies are like human babies, except they don't wear diapers.

So no work on the house since December 7.  And no work in the coming weeks, as potty training for the twins is still a work in progress.  Lots of loads of laundry of the things they pee on, plus all the towels for soaking up the puddles from the plastic sheet that now covers the home theater floor.  It's not that they don't go outside — they do, mostly — but they each eat more than my 55-pound Golden Retriever mix, and drink a huge amount of water, and well, they have little bladders and short digestive tracts.  Sigh.

D'Argo, my dearly departed Australian Shepherd, wasn't accident-free until he was four months old.  These two little German Shepherds are actually showing progress, sometimes going to the door when it's time.  And they're now just past ten weeks, so good for them!

So if you've never had puppies, you should also know about the chewing.  Everything.  The floors are covered with chew toys, but they favor rugs and furniture, and cardboard boxes.  And each other — called sibling play. 🙄

There's the neighborhood walks (they first have to be leash trained — puppies aren't born knowing what "walks" are), there are the nature trail walks (including socialization with friendly humans and dogs), trips to the vet for puppy shots every three weeks, and trips to Home Depot (riding in a shopping cart — it's a big place and almost everyone in the store wants to pet the pups).

But there were also some construction projects required before the pups arrived.

First, the car.  The little German Shepherd pups are going to get real big before very long.  They're both female, so not as big as the males, but nevertheless their mother weighs 80 pounds and their dad tips the scales at 120 — so I expect they'll be 80-85.  And Sophie, my Golden Retriever mix isn't exactly tiny.  So more room needed in the car.

Fortunately, there are those wasted spaces for human's legs that can be utilized for more dog room.  All that was required was some tailored platforms and some cushions.  To wit (for the rear):

Cover the plywood with some padded duck canvas, and make a matching cushion:

And then add a washable quilt to absorb the dirt:

For the front passenger seat, something similar (driver's side remains untouched😊):

Inside the house, now with three dogs, the sofa is no longer big enough to accommodate all the fur.  So I made two dog beds, using an excess 3" memory-foam topper from my twin-size guest bed, and a surplus pillow-top mattress cover.  Bought some duck canvas to cover it.  Here are the constituent parts:

And Sophie modeling one of the finished beds (they now have easily washable covers made from old flannel sheets):

When D'Argo was a puppy, I just let him sleep at night wherever he wanted, and would get up two or three times overnight to take him outside.  Unfortunately, he would sometimes relieve himself while I was getting dressed, no doubt wanting to be ready to play as soon as he was outside.  The recommended training method for sleep at night is to put the pup in a crate, under the theory that the pup will not want to soil his or her bed.  So this time I built a pen for the pups, positioned next to my bed, where they would stay until I was dressed and ready to take them outside.  Works well.  I used scrap wood and some extra wire mesh:

And this is what it looks like in place, with one of the dog beds inside (covered with plastic, flannel sheet, and towels).  I added a hinged lid after they grew big enough to climb out.

So I lift them out and take them to the door.  They run out and pee and poop, and then eat the birds' sunflower seeds, sticks, and the shriveled olives that have dropped from that tree.  A couple of nights ago, I noticed something had triggered my motion sensing garage light, and when I took them out, they would not leave the front porch.  Instead, they growled at the darkness, and then ran back into the house and availed themselves of the plastic on the home theater floor.  We have coyotes here; I see them often.  One even slept in my yard during the day awhile back.  I'm guessing one or more in the area scared the pups; good for them.

So, photos!

Molly's ears have come up, apparently the timing has to do with their teething.  They lose their baby teeth by the time they are four or five months old, and that is when the ears go up for good.  Big ears, big paws!

Here's Maggie sleeping with Sophie.

So next time hopefully I will be able to resume reframing the old garage side wall (to install the two new windows), and then work on finishing off the inside of the garage.  I need to do that before the solar panels and battery storage systems go in.  The pros will do that work.

Happy New Year!