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!

Monday, August 18, 2014

New Laundry/Mechanicals Room - Part 3

At the end of Part 2 of the laundry room saga, we were left with an unwanted wall full of electrical cables, gas lines, drain pipes, water supply lines, and old studs.

Bit by bit, I began removing these things.  The gas pipe was relatively easy (not my first time, which helped).  Turn off the main gas (outside at the meter), bleed the pressure off at the gas dryer valve, saw off the branch pipe near where it goes into the main line, then use a pipe wrench to unscrew it from the coupler, then install a plug.  The water heater pilot light then needed relighting.

The big challenge was removing the washing machine drain pipe, which ran down into the concrete.  It turns out the people who built the house poured the footings, foundation wall, and slab all at once (called a monolithic pour or slab).  Doing it that way saves a lot of labor costs (associated with building and removing forms, and pouring concrete in three stages), but it uses a lot more concrete.  Most of this extra concrete ends up around the periphery of the slab (the foundation walls are a lot thicker than they need to be in order to be as wide as the footings are required to be, and because there are no forms on the inside of the foundation walls—just dirt, and the dirt tends to slump and need digging out, and the resulting bigger hole filled with yet more concrete).

So when I starting hammering down through the concrete, I was dismayed not to find the 4" slab thickness I encountered in the bathroom (away from the outside of the slab).

After digging down a foot through solid concrete (and still not finding dirt), I gave up, cut off the drain pipe below the surface, and covered the hole with a piece of plywood and a scrap of carpet.  With the drain/vent pipe gone, I could wheel the washing machine out (built a new dolly for that), and relocate my temporary sink to the new kitchen.  Of course they would be useless without a water supply, so I ran some new temporary pex water lines.

I had capped and removed the old 3/4" copper pipes running to that part of the house, so I removed those SharkBite caps, and using push-on SharkBite reducing couplers, hooked up the 1/2" pex to the 3/4" copper.  No soldering required.

Here is the temporary sink in its new location, with color-coded pex hot and cold water lines running down from the attic.  The sink drains to the new drain pipe I had already run for the permanent kitchen sink.  That drain pipe uses an air-admittance valve (the white thing at the top of the vertical black ABS drain) in place of a vent pipe running up through the roof.  Not much water running through the sink drain.  (At the other end of the drain line, there is a vent pipe that runs through the roof; it's just not real close to the sink.  The air-admittance valve supplements that other vent stack.)

With the sink and washing machine out of the new laundry room, I had more room to work on getting rid of the rest of the stuff in the wall:

Most of the copper supply lines could simply be cut off and capped in the attic, but there was one cold water line that ran through this mess and fed the toilet in the adjacent bathroom, and also an outside faucet.  There was an unused 1/2" copper cold water line in the attic; I connected a temporary 1/2" pex line to that (using a SharkBite coupler) which I ran down to the copper stub from the toilet and outside faucet.  I made the connection with a plastic elbow (using Uponor ProPex expander system) and another SharkBite coupling.  No soldering, very fast.

This morning I installed a reinforcing beam in the attic and removed the rest of the wall.  So now I can continue unfettered hammering through the concrete slab.  New drains for the guest bathroom sink, the washing machine, and two floor drains for the water softener backflush, and condensate from the future high-efficiency water heater and heat pump air handler.

Only that's not what I'm going to do next.  My brother is visiting from the east coast in a couple of weeks.  I'm going to prep for the new living room window, too big for me to lift by myself.  I'm also going to try to build the floor-to-ceiling kitchen cabinets for the wall oven and adjacent microwave.  The wall oven is too heavy/bulky for me to install by myself, so hopefully those cabinets will be finished by the time my brother arrives.  The side benefit for doing that is that I will be able to start baking again (bread and pizza from scratch!).

Will it happen?  Stay tuned.

Master Bathroom - Part Two

Work around here always seems to get shifted from one project to another on a somewhat arbitrary basis, but there is some logic to the progression (if not always apparent).

After removing the pocket door from the old laundry room, I installed it between the new master bedroom and master bathroom to get it out of the way (still needs some blocking on top—everything in its time):

With our unusually hot weather, work in the attic (preliminary to removing the unwanted wall in the middle of the new laundry/mechanicals room) has only been possible for a short time in the morning before the intense sun turned the attic into an oven.  So I started framing the shower in the new master bathroom during the rest of the day.

You may notice there is a washing machine sitting in the middle of the shower, and temporary pex hot and cold water supply lines dangling down from the ceiling.  Hmmm.  What you can't see is that the washer is sitting on a dolly, used to wheel the machine from the old laundry room to this new temporary location (where it is making good use of the newly installed shower drain pipe).

I've also been doing detailed design work on the bathroom, which takes time, and more time.  You'll see the results in a future post.  For now, work is being shifted to other projects ;-)

Friday, August 1, 2014

New Laundry/Mechanicals Room - Part 2

My foster dog Jenny had thirteen pups, starting at around 7 p.m., with the last little one coming out at 2:05 a.m.  Interesting experience, delivering babies; mom had the hardest time of it, to be sure, but she did not do all the work.  Two of the pups were stillborn, which left eleven for the new mom to nurse.  Too many, as it turned out.

Jenny became more secure in my house (less scared), and after a few days started acting more like a normal dog when she was out in back on her breaks (away from the voracious pups).  She was skin and bones when she came from the shelter, and despite eating four times a day, still seemed to be losing weight.  I separated out the four largest pups for bottle feeding, which they never really embraced, and tried getting them all to take the bottle, but it was not enough.  After about five days of nursing, Jenny's appetite dropped off, and later she stopped producing milk.

I urged my rescue contact to find someone to take some of the pups for hand-raising, but nothing came of that.  She was focused on the pups, and not on the mom; I was the reverse.  Finally the rescue told me to take mom and pups to the vet to get checked out.  Jenny was really stressed by that—shaking scared.  I was also informed that someone from another rescue with more "experience" raising pups would take over their care.

After that, it took three days to get any information from my rescue contact about Jenny's fate, and was simply told she was doing well.  Not sure there wasn't more I was not hearing, but in any case, I have been motivated to put my thoughts toward the remodel.  I told the rescue I would like to adopt Jenny; we'll see what happens.

Back to the laundry/mechanicals room.  The new entrance would be a four foot wide opening to the hall—no door.  As I explained in the last post, the wall in the middle of the new room was load bearing, and needed some extra support above the ceiling before the wall could be removed.  The first step was to remove the old pocket door and wall that separated the laundry from the hallway (not load bearing).  Thus:

Framing the new wall was relatively straightforward, although the recycled header/beam I was using over the opening was twisted and needed a few passes through a thickness planer to make it work.  The photos were taken from the hall and from inside the old cramped laundry room.

The next step was to put in the supporting beams in the attic before removing the load-bearing wall, but 1) the attic was too hot for that right now, and 2) I discovered the two black ABS vent pipes in the wall run up right where the new beams will go, so I needed to either move or remove those vent pipes (which service the washing machine and sink drains).  In the meantime I began removing more drywall.  Which brings us to this:

Everything inside that stud wall has to go: ABS drain and vent pipes, copper hot and cold water supply lines, electrical wiring, and a steel natural gas pipe (which was there to feed a gas clothes dryer—mine is electric).

That sink (covered with black plastic sheet) is the only one in the house now; I need that every day.  The washing machine also needs to remain operational.  I first considered moving them around in the room, but new drain pipes mean tearing up concrete (Oh, no!  Not that again!); I need open space!

So now the plan is to relocate the sink to the new kitchen, to make use of the newly installed kitchen sink drain pipe (as a temporary measure), and to relocate the washing machine to the new master bathroom, using the newly installed shower drain pipe.  Today I ordered a bunch of pex (cross-linked polyethylene) water supply line plumbing stuff, so I can rig up some temporary hot and cold water lines, which actually should be fairly simple.  Once I man-handle the sink cabinet and washing machine to their new locations, I can proceed with disappearing that unwanted wall.

Until next time . . .