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, July 23, 2014

New Laundry/Mechanicals Room - Part 1

So the idea for the next step was to install the PEX water supply lines for the kitchen and master bathroom (not necessarily connecting them to the water supply, but getting them into the walls), but the attic access hatch and furnace return vent were in the way.  As I studied the construction sequence more, the more it seemed I needed to work on the new laundry/mechanicals room before starting on the water supply lines.

My original idea for enlarging the existing cramped laundry room was just that—to increase the floor space by taking over part of the bathroom/closet from the old master bedroom.  There would then be room for a folding counter, storage space, and a cleaning closet (mops, buckets, vacuum cleaners, etc.).

Here's the original rough floor-plan for that area, and photos of the existing laundry room and the space I intended to annex.

I already ripped out that very low double-sink vanity, and replaced it with the kitchen sink that will be going into my pottery studio.

Later I decided I needed a modern high-efficiency hot water heater, and I didn't want it in the garage, where the old one was.  I was planning to expand the master bedroom, and the old water heater was in the way.  I also wanted a water softener; there was a strange walled-in void space across the hall from the laundry room where that would fit.  But then the water softener needed a drain, and I didn't look forward to trenching across the hall to install that.

The ancient central A/C unit tripped a breaker a few months ago on a very hot day, and the old uninsulated gas furnace unit that circulated the cool air was in the hot, hot attic.

So I decided to replace both the old A/C unit and the gas furnace with an electric heat pump, and put the air handler (heat exchanger and blower) unit in the new laundry room.  That air handler would also need a drain (for condensate), as would the new water heater (also for condensate).  So that meant three drains (plus one for the washer).

If I moved the water softener into the laundry room, it could share a drain with the air handler, and the void space across the hall could be added to my master bedroom.  Would it all fit?  I needed to make a scale drawing.

 The existing wall that runs through the new space will have to be removed, but since it is a load-bearing wall (separating the main house from the lower-roofed garage structure), I will have to install a new beam in the attic to carry the not-terribly-great load.  The double-beam will go at the bottom of this wall in the attic, fitted on both the house side as well as the garage side:

Access to the existing laundry room is via a pocket door, which will now be in the wrong place.  I am going to take the pocket door and install it between the new master bedroom and new master bathroom.  As you can see in the drawing above, access to the new larger laundry room will be a simple 4-foot wide opening in the wall (no door).  But since the new support beam for the space (going in the attic) will end over the access opening, I will install a substantial header/beam over the 4-foot entry opening; one end of the support beam in the attic will rest on that.  Yesterday I started reframing this wall, shared with the hallway.

So, back to the scale drawing:  The gas water heater will go next to the washer; its PVC air intake and PVC exhaust gas outflow pipes will go directly up through the relatively low garage roof.  The air handler (17.5" wide) and water softener (14.5" wide) will go on the opposite side and share a drain.  There will still be room for a 44" wide, 27" deep counter.  The currently open space behind the counter, now open to the home theater, will of course be filled in.

I plan to proceed with the structural modifications for the laundry/mechanicals room, so that when that is done I could start putting in the water supply lines.  But I may end up finishing this room next, so that the house's services infrastructure can be properly finished before work on the kitchen and master bathroom proceeds.  That would be how it's done if someone was building a new house, but not usually how I end up working.

In any case, work will be drastically slowing, as I just volunteered to foster a very pregnant white German Shepherd who was dumped at a shelter.  The rescue organization picked up the scared girl yesterday, took her to a vet, and then brought her here.  The vet x-rayed her and thought she was carrying 12 to 13 puppies (yikes!), and that she would go into labor last night or today.  No pups last night, or so far today.  But taking care of all of them will be my new preoccupation.

Friday, July 18, 2014

New Drain Pipes (Finally)

I waited a long, long, long time to do this (also known as procrastination).  The house is built on a concrete slab, and the old drain pipes were put in when the house was being built, and then 4" of reinforced concrete was poured over them.  First, that meant I really didn't know where the pipes ran, because I don't have X-ray vision.  Second, it meant I would have to blast through the concrete to find out what the old pipes looked like, and where they ran, and then dig more trenches to lay new drain pipes.

Why new drain pipes?  My new kitchen is located in what had been a bedroom, and bedrooms don't often have conveniently located drain pipes poking up through the floor.  My new master bathroom would be completely remodeled; the old drains were all in the wrong places.  Sigh.

I finally reached the point where I could no longer put off pipe relocation, so I just attacked the task head-on.  I was careful not to set a timetable, or even guess how long it would take.  I had previously thought it would be a monumentally difficult job, but as it turned out, it didn't take more than a week (more or less, depending how you measure time).  It was very unpleasant, however, and most often I wore ear plugs, knee pads, gloves, a full face respirator (or alternatively a nose/mouth respirator or dust mask, sometimes with goggles over my glasses), and a hat to keep the clouds of concrete dust from caking in my hair.

When I first removed the tub from what would be the new master bathroom, I discovered a hole in the concrete underneath for the tub drain pipes.  I was able to cut those pipes off and connect the drain pipe for my new vanity sink (then fill in the hole and cover with concrete).

That was the easy one.  The new toilet will be on the other side of the bathroom from the old one, so I excavated to see what sort of piping was under the old toilet, and planned to connect the new toilet drain to wherever the old one went.  Since I was removing a big section of the wall behind the old toilet (for a pocket door), all the plumbing (and wiring) that had been in that wall would have to be moved.  That included the vent pipe (which ran up through the roof of the house, so the water drains freely).  A new vent pipe (or two, as it turned out) would have to be installed elsewhere.

The above photo shows the old toilet flange in the foreground (stuffed with a piece of old green blanket to keep the sewer gases from flowing into the house).  That's what the old toilet sat on.  The larger horizontal pipe at the bottom of the hole is the 3" waste pipe connecting the toilet with a 3" vertical pipe that goes straight down 32" below the floor to the main (almost) horizontal waste drain that runs out to the street.  The smaller pipe running off to the left is the old tub drain pipe (now my vanity sink drain).  The vertical pipe at the top of the photo is the 2" vent pipe that went up through the roof.  It's in the same vertical line as the 3" waste pipe I mentioned earlier.  I would have to cut that 2" vent pipe off, as it was running through my new door.

The following photo shows the overall plan better.  I've cut off the 2" vent pipe below the level of the concrete (at the right end of the opening in the concrete).  The new toilet flange will be directly to the left of the old one, about a foot from the wall on the left.  The trench that angles toward the left foreground will connect to a new vent pipe running up through the wall, all the way through the roof.  Note my electric jack hammer (demolition hammer) sitting on the floor, without which this work would have been virtually impossible.

The next photo shows the new pipes all aligned, glued together and in place, ready to be carefully backfilled with sand and dirt.

With the fill dirt in and compacted, concrete was mixed by hand, shoveled in, and leveled (no need to pay for a gym membership).

For this first pipe rearrangement, I used my 4.5" grinder with a diamond cutting wheel to cut the trench outline in the concrete, before chipping away with my demolition hammer.  The cut was really too shallow to work well, so I bought a 7" diamond masonry blade for my circular saw, and cut in three passes, maybe an inch deep or so in the 4" thick slab.  It worked better, but I had to cut dry—no water (lest shocking things happen with my regular saw), and the cloud of dust it produced made it almost impossible to see the line I marked on the floor.  My shop vac was pretty useless in sucking up the dust as it came away from my saw in all directions.  A full-face respirator was mandatory, and contacts in my eyes, because my glasses broke the seal of the respirator and allowed the very nasty dust to be sucked in.

The other end of the bathroom will have a big shower.  The drain from that will connect to the drain stack that had been used for the two old vanity sinks.  Again, dig deep, cut off the 2" drain pipe, and tie in the drains from the shower, and from the sink in the new adjacent kitchen (a long run to that, going off to the right under the wall in the photo below).

You can see in the above photo, at the left and in the old wall, the remains of the old drain stack, with pipes coming off both sides for the old sinks (the vent pipe going up was also cut off at this point).  After chipping away the concrete, I had to cut through the reinforcing wire mesh and dig down a foot or so through sand and dirt to put in the new drain pipes.  The trench continues to the left (photo below), all the way across the kitchen, with the 2" drain pipe pitched (sloped) a minimum of 1/4" per foot of pipe run.  I left the concrete in place under the wall, and tunneled underneath.  I inserted the 10' length of pipe from the kitchen side.

After gluing on the new 2" vent stack, seen at the left of the photo below, I backfilled and compacted the sand and dirt, and then poured and leveled concrete.  

The above photo shows the concrete in, the vent stack pipe on the left (which will continue straight up through the roof) and the stub for the shower drain.  At this point, the trench had already been dug on the kitchen side of the wall on the right.  (In case you haven't figured it out already, you can click on any photo to make it bigger, and can also then click through the whole gallery of photos full size.)

So, the same routine for the 2" drain pipe running across under the kitchen floor to the proverbial kitchen sink.  You can see the 1.5" vertical drain pipe sticking out of the concrete in the photo below (reducer fitting used to go from 2" to 1.5" pipe).  There will be no separate vent stack through the roof for this sink; I will be using something called an "air admittance valve" which lets air in (equalizing pressure) when needed to prevent a partial vacuum from forming in the drain pipe, which could pull the water out of the sink trap (letting sewer gas into the house).  You'll see the air admittance valve installed when the kitchen sink finally goes in.

Oh, what a relief that was!  Next, I had planned to rough in the PEX water supply lines for the pottery studio, kitchen, and master bathroom, but it seems I will need to first work on some infrastructure.  The supply lines will run inside the house proper (not in the attic—where they are now, and not under the slab—where they are in some houses) along the long hallway ceiling.  Unfortunately, there is an access hatch for the attic there, as well as the return duct filter housing for the uninsulated furnace (also in the attic); those will have to be moved.  I am planning to replace the old broken central A/C and the awful little gas furnace in the attic with a heat pump, and put the new air handler in the as yet un-built laundry/mechanicals room.

My next post will cover the design and prep work for that rearrangement.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

New Front Door & Foyer - Inside

One of the first things I was going to do when I moved into the new house was to replace the front door. As it was, it took almost a year to finally get around to it, but the good part about that was the house design had evolved by then, and so the delay turned out to be a good thing.  In the intervening time, I decided to make the old kitchen and dining area into a pottery studio, and so added a door to what had been an open passageway from the small foyer (important to be able to close that space off, especially when the kiln is running).  And as I mentioned before, I decided to bump the entry door 2.5 feet out to make a more spacious foyer (less claustrophobic).  Note the ugly foyer light—had to go!

The initial work was outside.  I didn't start work on the inside until the new door was in place.  I could then remove the old double doors and dismantle the old door wall.

I then added drywall to the extended foyer walls, but decided to leave the old rough plywood ceiling (that had been outdoors) because it was flush with the inner ceiling.  I just gave it a skim coat of joint compound to smooth it out.  I could not yet put drywall on the part of the door wall over the small dog window because I needed to have access for installing the new doorbell button, and I could not do that until the stucco was finished and a hole drilled.

There was now 2.5 feet of the old porch inside the foyer, and it was a couple of inches lower than the inside floor, and covered with the same tile.  So I had to pour some concrete to level it up, but first I had to remove the tile to get a good bond.  Time for my 20-pound demolition hammer!

With the floor level (my concrete job was not perfect, so I had to grind off a couple of high spots), and the stucco up on the outside, I ran the doorbell wire, insulated the wall, and finished putting up the drywall.

After that, the next major step was to prepare the floor for tile.  I removed the old ceramic tile (again, with the demolition hammer) and discovered a layer of vinyl tile adhesive and backing.  Removing that was an unpleasant job that I did a little at a time with a beefy carbide scraper and a chipping hammer (the adhesive was brittle).

I then snapped centerlines on the floor and laid out the tile, determining spacing and how much I needed to cut off the border tiles.  Cutting tiles is no fun if you don't have the right tools; for years I used the old score and snap method, with nippers as a secondary implement.  When I tiled my parents' laundry room, I bought a diamond-blade sliding table wet saw, anticipating the tile jobs I would have to do here.  It's so nice!  And cheaper than hiring a professional for just one tile job (how I rationalized the purchase).

Tile going down.  I did this in about four sessions, over several days, so I could take my time getting the tiles spaced out, leveled, and cleaned up before continuing.  No rush—I'm not trying to make my living doing this.

At the near end of the foyer is the long hallway and living room, now floored with tile and carpet respectively.  Both areas will be getting bamboo flooring.  To make a neat transition from the foyer tile to the bamboo, I used an aluminum edge that gets set in the thin-set mortar under the tile.

And here is the finished foyer.  It's the first finished space in the whole house remodel (after a year of work), and while it's also the most modest space, I still stop and look at it frequently.  (hopefully that novelty will wear off as I complete other areas :-)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

New Front Door & Foyer — Outside

When I moved in, the front entrance to the house had a double door.  Each of the two doors was only 30" wide, and of course you only use one to go in and out, so a narrow entrance.  The doors themselves were original to the house, in poor condition, wooden with small half-circle lights at the top.  The hardware was cheap, and the deadbolt went into the lightly-secured secondary door instead of a sturdy jamb.  All in all, not good, and oh, by the way, did I mention that I already had a very nice 36" fiberglass door that I had been carting around with me for the last 30 years?

As long as I had to reframe the door wall, I thought it would be good to move it forward, using some of the alcove space to make a bigger foyer inside.  I settled on a 2.5' move.  That also meant that I could leave the existing door in place while I built the new wall, which had security benefits (and kept the cats from escaping).  The window on the left side of the alcove had to be removed in any case because it would not work with the new kitchen.  To anchor the new door wall, a new threshold had to be added to the concrete alcove floor (after removing the tile).  The concrete outside was of course lower than the inside floor, and sloped to drain water.  The threshold needed to be 2.25" thick and beveled 1 degree to match the inside floor.  New framing was also added to both side walls, and covered with plywood.

I then designed the structure for the wall, offsetting the door to one side.  When people go through a door, they don't walk straight through the middle of the doorway, but rather they go in or out through the side that opens (it's therefore very awkward if there is a wall immediately on that side).  That gave me some space on the side of the door that opened, which I decided to use for a window.  Because there was already glass in the door for me to look out, I positioned the new smaller window low so that my future dogs will be able to see who's coming to the door (dogs are always interested in visitors).  Framing was straightforward, and included a substantial header over the door.

Plywood went on over the framing, flashing on before the fixed window went in, and then the door frame was installed plumb and level.

I bought the new door long ago in upstate New York at an outlet run by a window and door manufacturer to get rid of their returned, damaged, and otherwise unwanted product.  My door had been a display unit, and as I now discovered, was probably a display unit because the frame was not square and the hinges were not aligned properly.  So the door and frame needed some adjustments and paint before I could put them in place.

When I moved the door wall out, I had to remove the doorbell button and the "traditional" porch light.  I therefore had to reroute the wiring for these, and install a new electrical ceiling box for the modern LED porch light.

The front of the house was covered with masonite simulated shingles that came in six-foot long panels.  These will be giving way to stucco (which already covers the sides and back of the house).  I'll apply the stucco on the front when I get all the new windows in.  For now, however, just the front door wall is getting the treatment: two layers of black construction paper, then stucco wire fastened with furring nails and staples, and metal stucco channels along the bottom of the wall (for potential drainage if water gets behind the stucco) and around the door frame (I ordered the windows with integral stucco channels).

The stucco itself goes in in three layers: a scratch coat (3/8"), a brown coat (3/8"), and a final color/top coat (1/8").  Since I am applying an "elastomeric" stucco paint over all the stucco, I only use the top coat where needed to level everything.

Here is the final product at dusk, with the ceiling porch light on.  The stucco is unfinished on the sides so it can be blended with the rest of the stucco when that goes up.  Back in a few days to show you what the process looked like from the inside.