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!

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. ๐Ÿ™„

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 untouched๐Ÿ˜Š):

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!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Garage Extension — Part 8 (Finish Stucco) + Misc. Updates

The last post took the outside of the garage extension up through the stucco scratch coat.  Since then, I applied the second (brown) coat, and then the first coat of Home Depot's Elastomeric stucco paint (needs two coats).  That paint has the consistency of pancake batter, and maintains some rubber-like stretch after it dries — so it bridges any cracks that might have developed in the stucco, and also will stretch across any new cracks that might develop in the future.

Here's the front of the garage with the second coat of stucco applied:

And with the stucco paint:

And with the door closed:

See how easy that was?

Now on to the miscellaneous updates.

1) The Banana Tree

Yes, we have bananas!  But very peculiar indeed.  First, I would like to clarify that bananas are officially classified as berries. (!)

Leaf after leaf grew from the tree, until finally this reddish thing pushed out like an Alien chest-burster.

Which continued to grow bigger and heavier, and began to lean over.  The petals (or whatever you might call them) started to peel off, revealing rows of tiny green bananas, with strange little flowers attached to the end of each.

Until lots of little bananas and the end of the big flower thing.

At that point the petals stopped peeling off, and a whitish liquid started to seep out from that red thing, attracting ants.  So I chopped it off (which reportedly will allow the previously emerged bananas to grow larger, but we'll have to see about that).

I cut open the red end to see what was inside.  Looked like row after row of immature chest-bursters (but what do I know?).

At this point (the beginning of November) the weather is supposed to be getting cooler (not), and the banana development is supposed to slow to a crawl until Spring, when they continue to grow longer and fatter, until they ripen.  So stay tuned . . .

2) Electric Car update

That which is the reason for the garage extension.  In previous electric car updates I covered several potential candidates (BMW i3, Tesla Model 3, etc.).  I want to talk about two more for this episode — to wit, the VW ID.3 and the Tesla Model Y.

The VW ID.3 is a Golf-sized car on the outside, and because of the compactness of electric motors (compared to old-fashioned fossil engines), the ID.3 is Passat-sized on the inside.  Sort of like the Tardis.

 It went into limited production today (or yesterday), but won't go on sale until next summer.  The cars may be used for test drives/education in the interim — not real clear about that.  The ID.3 is a really nice car, and the first of many ID electric vehicles in VW's pipeline.  It's also the car that's going to be a game-changer, following in the footsteps of the iconic Beetle, and the Golf.  The ID.3 is the next one.  After Tesla, VW is the second major flag carrier for electric cars going into the future.

Unfortunately, it will initially not be sold in the U.S., where folks tend to like bigger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks.  For the U.S. market, VW will be offering the Tiguan-size ID.4 (a small all-wheel-drive crossover).  The ID.4 will go into production late-2020.

Here's a nice ID.3 promotional video (just 1:30 long):

The other EV of my immediate interest, and the one I will likely buy, is the Tesla Model Y.  It's a compact crossover based on the Model 3, but a little taller and with a hatch.  It will incorporate technical advancements and structural improvements developed over the course of the Model 3 production ramp.  It will also use improved battery tech (which Tesla plans to announce in the February/March time frame at an investor briefing).  The Model Y goes into production summer-fall of 2020.

Pre-production Model Ys are undergoing testing now, and have been sighted all over the country.  Here's one driving down a highway next to a Honda CR-V:

3) Puppy update

I've been working on preparations for the arrival of two female puppies (from the same litter) on December 7.  It's going to be a full-time job.  I've been making things to accommodate two more large dogs in my house and in my car.  I will likely do a post, or an addendum to a post, in December.  Right now the puppies are just three weeks old, and frankly, aren't much to look at (faces only a mother would love, or a dad).  But here is a photo of what they will look like when I bring them home (when they're eight weeks old):

Times two.  And likely around 85 pounds (each) when fully grown.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Garage Extension — Part 7 (Stucco)

Well, it's been a long time since the last post.  That was about putting new shingles on the roof, but ended with only the front part of the new garage roof with shingles on.  So after writing that shingle post, I still had to strip the old shingles off the back part of the garage roof, clean everything up, then apply the new shingles.  But now that's done (and before the first light rain of the season).

Before starting on the process of applying stucco, I pulled three photos of the garage extension west wall progress for context.  First is early framing, then plywood, then the first coat of stucco on.

Some of my posts from a few years ago detailed the nitty-gritty details of preparing for stucco; this is going to be the abridged version.  So you start with the sheathing (plywood), then staple on two layers of a black waterproof paper underlayment.  After that you need some sort of metal lathe — I use two layers of wire mesh (even though only one is called for) because two layers better anchor the stucco.  The wire mesh is fastened with "furring nails" placed over the underlying studs (the furring nails have a thick fiber washer that is used to hold the wire mesh slightly off the surface of the underlayment).  I then further attach the wire mesh with quarter-inch wide staples to the plywood between the furring nails so it's solidly attached to the wall. 

Then the first coat of stucco is applied (the "scratch coat", called that because after it is applied, a tool is run over the surface to put furrows or scratches in it, which gives the second coat something rough to adhere to).  Like this:

When I first started doing stucco, I had difficulty getting it to adhere to the corners, until I found and bought a special small trowel for corners.  Nice.

This next photo shows my progress on the front wall.  I did one section at a time, the size of each section determined by how far one 80-pound bag of stucco mix would cover.  I would generally only do one bag each day, then find other things to do the rest of the day.  If all I had to do was apply the stucco, it would go a lot faster and I could cover a lot more area at a time.  The limiting factor is mixing the stucco, by hand, which is why stucco crews employ power mixers and one person who does nothing but mix the stucco and deliver it to the people who are putting it up on the wall.  Again, just one of me (and climbing up and down an 8-foot ladder for the high parts).  Not speedy.

So distinct sections, and overlaps that show.  If I could do a whole wall at once, I could smooth it out while it was all wet, and it would be pretty.  Instead, I call my surface finish rustic.  You have to pay extra for that. ๐Ÿ™‚

The east wall (on the left side in the above photo):

And a soffit detail (remembering that here in Southern California soffits are unusual, compared to the East Coast):

And the new front of the garage with the first (scratch) coat of stucco applied:

So sorry, this is where this stucco post ends.  Call it Part 1.  If I waited to do this post until after putting on the second (brown) coat, and then three or four weeks later for applying the special elastomeric stucco paint (which ensures a uniform color), you might think I had died.  So the next post should be on the final coat of stucco (and new puppies prep!๐Ÿถ).

Another note: the new Andersen windows in the photos are darker than all the other windows and trim in the house, even though they are supposed to be the same Andersen "Terratone" color.  I will have to paint them to match.  Either Andersen decided to change the color after decades (but keep the old name), or someone at the factory screwed up.  No matter. 

Banana tree update:

Still no bananas.  Still growing fast. 

I read a web document on banana trees in Southern California that said banana trees in this area had to kick out 44 leaves before the bananas arrived, in which case I need ten or so more leaves before the big corm/flower emerges.  Another bit of wisdom was that it takes about 18 months from new baby tree to bananas, and that the corm (fruit/flower) and tiny bananas emerge in the fall, are pretty much dormant over the winter, and mature in the spring.  We'll see about that. ๐Ÿ™„

I talked about banana tree offspring last time — "pups."  My tree had four of these sprouting from the base.  I dug out #1 and #3 and put them in pots; they are happily growing and now about three feet high (I'll put them in the ground this winter).  #4 I just cut off.  #2 I left in the ground and it has taken off — now about eight feet high (you can see in the photo).  It now even has its own little pup poking out of the ground. 

Getting lots of water and fertilizer. 

Until next time . . .