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, December 27, 2015

Master Bathroom — Part 4

This is an update on progress on the master bathroom, which has been my focus for awhile, and that will continue.  It's nice to do work you can see at the end of the day, versus work on water supply lines, electrical, and insulation in the attic that is out of sight (but very important, of course). 

When last I reported on work on the shower, I had taken a break after struggling with intractable concrete work (I thought I had been done with it!).  As you may recall, the drain piece that came with my shower pan kit had to connect with the 2" drain pipe a few inches below the surface, and needed a nominal 4" diameter hole around it for clearance (or so the instructions said).  My initial attack looked like this:

Trying to dig out the concrete with a cold chisel and hammer wasn't working, so it was back to the brute force method of cutting out a big hole with the old diamond-bladed circular saw. 

You'll note the thick dust, that, notwithstanding my best countermeasures, spread a thin coating throughout the rest of the house.  Full-face respirator required while sawing the 2" deep cuts.  Then attack with the 20-pound electric demolition hammer. 

The resulting hole was big enough to saw off the drain pipe 2.75" below the surface, using a shortened hack saw blade.  You'll note the 4" diameter sleeve in the photo above, to be placed in the hole before pouring new concrete to provide the requisite clearance around the drain pipe. 

But oh, they lied!  Four inches was not quite enough.  So attack with a router and straight-cutting bit to remove some of the white PVC sleeve.

I was now ready to install the tapered high-density plastic foam shower pan, after spreading thin-set mortar on the concrete floor (using notched trowel).  Easy-peasy.  Then after insulating the walls around the shower (to keep heat in and noise abatement), the cement backer board started going up.  Special screws used.

The ceiling doesn't get tile (just paint), so moisture-resistant (green) drywall was installed there (after more insulation).  The six 3'x5' sheets of 1/2" cement board I had went fast, so I turned to filling the walls at the other (vanity) end of the bathroom with plumbing, electrical, and insulation.

A couple of stainless steel grab rails are going in the shower, and those must be attached with long screws anchored in solid wood (no drywall inserts for that).  So that reinforcement was added before the cement board went up, and yes, it will be nice to remember where that is after the tile is all on, so I measured, wrote the measurements on the wood, and took photos.  Documentation.

So this is what the shower looks like now.  You can see the shower drain part that will be mortared and glued into the drain pipe.  You can also see sitting on the floor the plastic curb that will be mortared to the floor at the front of the shower pan (it has to be shortened a wee bit first). 

At the left of the photo, the side wall has been covered with drywall; it has a lot of screws in it covered with smudges of joint compound.  That's because it is not screwed to a solid stud wall, but rather to a pocket door frame—somewhat flimsy in a wall that's just 4.5" thick with room for a door inside.  So on both sides of that pocket door frame, I've screwed 3/4" plywood to the back of the drywall.  That stiffens the wall a lot, and on the bathroom side, will allow me to screw towel racks into something solid.  No drywall inserts here either. 

This next photo is of the other end of the bathroom—the vanity end, the outside wall end, the window end.  The drywall is up and painted.  I did this early so I could install receptacles and switches in the electrical boxes, so I could use them during the construction. 

I also painted the ceiling, so I could finish the heating/cooling register (new duct installed in the attic), and the two recessed lights (no trim rings yet).  I'm going to put up crown molding in the bathroom (nowhere else), just for fun.  The two lights are on dimmers; one also motion controlled.

The fourth wall still needs a mess of plumbing; I placed an order from SupplyHouse.com today to do that—that's where I get all my PEX materials.  Home Depot sells some PEX stuff, but it's for the crimp connection method, and I use the expander method, which requires special PEX-a tubing and ProPEX fittings.  

 I also bought more cement backer board today, so I can finish covering the shower area.  I need to go shopping and make some decisions about tile details.  Cement board will also go on the bottom half of the wall in the photo above (after plumbing is done), where tile will go.  Paint and regular drywall goes on the top half. 

The heavy base for the vanity cabinet goes in soon, and I may just build that cabinet while I'm at it, since I have the plywood on hand.  We'll see. . .

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Master Bedroom — Part 1

I’m now working on the new master bedroom, master bathroom, and new water supply system (mostly in the attic), all concurrently.  For the sake of clarity, I’m going to do separate posts on each of those over the next few months (more than one post each).  Since I’m starting to focus mostly on the bathroom and water supply lines, this post will be about work to date on the bedroom, and the complications associated with its expansion.

The master bedroom that came with the house, as you may recall, is now the home theater.  I’m turning one of the other smaller bedrooms (12’ x 9’) into the new master bedroom, by connecting the original adjacent communal bathroom directly with the new master bedroom (with a pocket door), and by moving one of the bedroom’s walls by two feet (into the garage), making the bedroom large enough to accommodate my California queen size waterbed (longer than a standard queen).  The expanded bedroom will be 12’ deep by 11’ wide. 

Here is the original floorplan, and the new plan:

Working on the new bedroom, and considering the incursion into the garage, I had to make some decisions (now) about the future of the garage.  Here is a photo of the area in the garage that will be annexed by the bedroom.  Note the old water heater that will be removed when the new water heater takes over (the wall therefore can’t be relocated until the new water system is done).  When I said I planned to take over two feet of space, that is actually between 20” and 25”, depending on how I deal with the constraints, and when. 

I could move the wall 20” as soon as the water heater is gone.  I could move the wall 22” if I also add some structure in the attic and move the bracket that holds up the back of the garage door rail.  To gain more than 22” width in the bedroom, I would need to move the garage door railing; in other words, move the garage door.  That is not practical, of course, if the garage stays fundamentally the same. 

The garage was originally much deeper.  One of the earlier owners added a four-inch concrete slab to the back of the garage, and a partition wall, to gain another bedroom (my workshop/music room-to-be).  (The previous owner actually put down carpeting in the front of the garage and was using that as yet another bedroom.)  But as a result, my Honda CR-V will only fit in the garage if the rear bumper is touching the back wall, and then the garage door will just barely close.  Not a good situation, as I need to open the garage door to gain access to the other side of the garage. 

So I had been considering adding to the front of the garage, but thought I could deal with that at some point in the future (thinking I may buy a Tesla Model 3 electric car in 2018, and not yet knowing whether that EV will be longer than the CR-V).  As the short garage bay in any case is a constant aggravation, I have made the decision to add six feet to the front of the garage, and to replace the wide 2-car door with a 9’-wide one-car door, and a window.  I could then move the wall 25".  The plan above reflects the addition on the front of the garage. 

Timing is still up in the air.  To go wider than a 22” bedroom expansion requires that I do the garage addition before the bedroom expansion.  Or I can do 20” or 22” soon and the garage addition later.  Still thinking, but no decision required before the bathroom and new water system are done.    

Back to the bedroom work already accomplished. 

I had mentioned that I removed the short partition wall, started here:

This shows the scars left from that operation.

This next photo shows the result after patching, and adding a new light switch and receptacle, and paint.  I also patched the ceiling where the ceiling fan had been, and added three recessed lights (each with a 10.5 watt LED flood light—very bright; I will need to add a dimmer before moving in the bedroom). 

The north wall of the bedroom also needs work, a complete restructuring to remove the old single-glazed sliding window, and add two high-efficiency Andersen casement windows.  The next two photos show the wall before and after removing the drywall.

No more immediate work on that wall until we get a bit of warmer weather (which could be mid-January; never know around here), because the wall must be removed and a new one built, leaving a very large hole in the house for a day.

Next post will be about the master bathroom; I’ve installed the pre-fab shower pan and will start putting cement backerboard up on the shower walls. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Master Bathroom — Part 3

Okay, so you were expecting that this post would be about the new kitchen countertop (because that what I said was next), and I really thought it would be.   I did go to Home Depot and order the Corian countertop, gave them a diagram and all the details, and paid them in full.  They said their subcontractor would contact me within a day or two, but that didn't happen for four days, and then the subcontractor didn't seem to have any of the information about the countertop that I had given to Home Depot.  They asked: was this counter for a kitchen or a bathroom, among other things!  (I know Home Depot gave them the information; they just ignored it.)

They also said they would not be able to come out and measure for three weeks!  Disenchanted, I looked up the customer reviews for installed countertops on Home Depot's web site.  The reviews were for all over the country, but the reviews for the local installer were mostly one star out of five!  And one review said they would have given them zero stars if that had been possible.  Lots of nightmare stories.  Incompetence, indifference, lack of ethics.  Botched work.  One review said it took three weeks to get measured, and then another twelve weeks before the counter was actually installed—and even then there were installation problems.

I did not want my own nightmare story, so I cancelled.  I looked at some other countertop contractors, but did not find any that gave me a warm feeling, mainly because I could not find online reviews for most of them.  So I'm going to wait, maybe until January.

In the meantime, my work has been divided over a bunch of projects.

Scraping and painting the eves and fascias outside of the new shop.  Finishing the baseboards in the pottery studio.  More electrical and lighting work.  More work on the PEX water supply lines.  As the title of this post suggests, I'm trying to focus on the master bathroom.  But as the master bedroom shares electrical circuits (for both lighting and receptacles) with the master bathroom, I've also been working on the bedroom.

So where to start?

I wanted to make some visible progress on the shower.  The first step was to install the shower pan, but, well, there was the little matter of the drain coupling.  Way back when I was installing a new drain pipe for the shower, I assumed the drain fitting would be glued inside the 2" drain pipe.  Nope.  The Schl├╝ter KERDI shower system kit I subsequently obtained supplies the pan and drain coupling, and the latter slides over the outside of the drain pipe.  The instructions suggest that for concrete slabs, a 4" sleeve be placed around the 2" drain pipe when the concrete is poured, leaving a gap for the drain fitting.  That would have been nice; what I've got is concrete right up against the drain.  Oops!

Here's what the drain fitting looks like, underneath half of the shower pan (held up so you can see what needs to go below the surface of the concrete).

And this is how I have started to dig out a 3.5" deep hole around the drain pipe (which will need to be cut off 2+ inches below the top of the concrete).  I've been drilling holes in a circle around the drain pipe, with the intention of then using a cold chisel to remove the concrete from around the drain pipe.

It hasn't been working very well, so I've been ignoring it.  When I decide I have to get it done, I'm thinking of getting my little jack hammer out again, and blasting out the concrete, setting in a 4" diameter sleeve, and pouring new concrete.  Sigh.

In the meantime, there was plenty of other work to be done in the bathroom.  For one, running electrical cables and installing boxes for the receptacles and lighting.  Three separate lights, each with its own switch, and two receptacles.  And in this photo, hot and cold water lines for the sink.

I also needed to extend the wiring to two receptacles in the adjacent bedroom, and to the bedroom lights (three recessed cans in lieu of the old ceiling fan light).  Before I could do that, I had to remove a small partition wall next to the door (example of small job escalating).

So that wall is now gone and a new wall switch box installed and cables run.  You'll see photos later.  This photo below shows more wiring for the overhead shower light, and the PEX water supply lines (hot and cold) for the main shower valve, and the lower secondary (identical) dog shower valve.  That valve feeds a quick-release hose fitting, to which a short length of garden hose with a hand sprayer is connected—very convenient for giving the dog a shower with warm water year-round.  You'll see more on this later.  The photo also shows some of the insulation going into the walls around the shower (to retain heat); the whole bathroom will be insulated.  Oh, and I've installed heavy backer boards where the two grab rails will be installed (thinking ahead to when I'm old and decrepit :-). 

So all of these wires and PEX lines run up through the ceiling into the attic.  It gets hot up there when the weather is warm, and during the last few days the temperature has cooled enough for attic work to start.  As I've mentioned before, it's not a nice place, and nothing gets done quickly up there.

The photo above shows the main part of the attic, taken from the garage part of the attic through a large hole I opened up in the partition (after installing a reinforcing beam).  The copper pipes running across the opening will be removed after the new water supply system is operational.  And right in front of this opening, in the garage section of the attic, is an open-at-the-top void space:

This space may have been intended for the furnace (now in the attic, originally in the garage) or the hot water heater (now in the garage), but for whatever reason, it was sealed up on the ground floor.  It will eventually be a closet for the master bedroom, but for now, I have to structurally close over the top before I can run PEX water lines over it.  More on that in a later post.

I have located and started to put in structural elements to support the water supply manifolds at the heart of the water distribution system.  Those manifolds will go in this part of the garage attic, roughly over the water heater and washing machine.  Not real pretty now.

In the photo below, the longer assembled manifold is for cold water, with a 1" line coming in from the water softener, and 1", 3/4", and six 1/2" water lines connecting.  The line at the end of the cold manifold goes to the water heater; the water heater outlet goes into the hot water manifold (the shorter one in the photo).

Not all work here.  On warm days when I need to go to Trader Joe's, I sometimes continue down the coast to the dog beach for a nice break (both for me and Sophie).

Next post?  Who knows?  Probably more of the same.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Kitchen — Part 10

So last time the carcasses of the cabinets on the west side of the kitchen were installed; this post chronicles their dressing-up.  To wit, putting on the maple trim on the front edge of the bare plywood, as well as finishing off the water supply shut-off valves under the sink.  We'll start with this latter detail. 

I ran the PEX tubing some time ago, down through the wall from the attic, and left the ends a little long sticking out through a built-up hole in the wall, looking like this:

Before installing the sink cabinet, I cut a hole in the plywood back to clear the protruding wooden frame through which the PEX exits.  On the floor of the cabinet, you can also see the plastic shutoff valves and the escutcheons for dressing them up.  The valves are ceramic disc units, made of plastic by Uponor, which company makes the Pro-PEX fittings and the expandable PEX-a tubing I use, so they all play nice together.  The plastic/ceramic valves are immune to the corrosion and pitting that often plague metal valves, and they also have a better flow rate.  To open and close them, you twist a ring around the body (there's no handle per se).  Moving along . . .

To support the three PEX tubes, I cut a piece of plywood to fit the frame, cut it in half, then clamped it together and drilled three 5/8" holes (the outside diameter of the tubing) where I wanted the tubes to end up.  You can see the lower piece of this plywood sitting under the tubes (and both top and bottom, painted, in the photo below).  In the photo above, I have cut the tubes to length, then slid on the escutcheons and the reinforcing rings used to attach the PEX fittings.  At this point I used my tubing expansion tool to open up the ends of the tube, then quickly inserted the valves.  (You may recall my little video from a past post which shows how this is done.) 

Then I screwed the lower section of plywood in place, and fit the tubing in their cutouts.  The two valves on the right are hot and cold for the sink, and the one on the left is hot water for the dishwasher.

Then the top piece of plywood goes on, firmly clamping the flexible tubing.  This next photo shows everything painted and caulked.  The yellow wire is for the dishwasher; it will later be terminated in a junction box.  The vertical black ABS pipe is of course the drain for the sink, with a clean-out installed (a "Y" with a screw-on cap to make it easier to insert a snake to clear out any future clogs). 

Back to the cabinets.  Some of the maple trim is 1.5" wide, so in some places I had to glue on a 3/4" plywood doubler (see one clamped below).  At the right end of the cabinet, there was a big gap that also needed some underlying structure (pieces of 2x4) to support the countertop (on top), and a wider piece of maple trim on the front.

The maple trim is glued on using biscuits to reinforce and position the joint (in most cases), and held in position with finish nails while the glue dries.  I used a pneumatic finish nail gun which instantly shoots a nail in while the piece of wood is held in position; the old-fashioned way of pounding with a hammer typically knocks the wood out of alignment, and requires separate countersinking of the nail head.  Here's my finish nailer:

The ends of the nails are coated with glue.  The force of shooting them into the wood creates heat, which melts the glue, which ensures the nail will not easily pull out.  The gun drives the nail below the surface, which can then be filled with plastic wood (wood putty). 

This is the filled hole after sanding and two coats of polyurethane.  The color is not an exact match, but the hole is so small, that you never notice it (really :-).

And finally, this is the cabinet ready for the countertop (and, as always, ready for a bunch of drawers).

I also need to finish installing the remaining baseboards, but I'll get to that before the countertop arrives (which I haven't ordered yet—that will likely happen the day after tomorrow).  The countertop will be the subject of the next post.  I've also been working on the baseboard in the pottery studio, and scraping eves/fascia outside the workshop, getting ready for paint, and the stucco paint, etc. 

So much to do, but getting there.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

New Kitchen — Part 9

Last time I worked on the new kitchen, it was to put down the new tile floor.  Before I could do that, I had to install the bases for the cabinets on the west side of the kitchen, that is, the side opposite the mostly finished side (with oven, stainless steel counter, and refrigerator).  The cabinets on the west side will house the undermount stainless steel sink, the dishwasher, and the electric cooktop.  They are all lower cabinets; there are no uppers.  This post will cover the fabrication and installation (mostly) of the cabinet carcasses.

So, cabinets:  First was the sink cabinet.  I designed this with a recess for the trash can and pet food containers (on the floor under the sink); we'll see how that works.  I gave it a solid top, cut out for the sink, with a recess routed in around the rim to support the sink so that the top of the sink rim is flush with the underside of the countertop.  Typically, undermount sinks are supported with small screw inserts glued into the underside of the countertop—the screws attach small metal brackets.  I suppose strong enough, but I'd rather have the sink supported by a 3/4" plywood top.  Here is the sink cabinet being assembled on top of my tablesaw (the only really flat surface in the house; the garage floor is not close to flat).

The bases had been installed for some time, and even though they were straight and all cut to 7.25" width, by now they had dried out and had changed dimensions.  They weren't kiln-dried, and some pieces were heavier (wetter) than the others, so they shrunk more than the drier pieces of 2x8.  So I had to spend some time getting the bases acceptably flat and level before installing cabinets (trimming and shimming).  

My stainless steel countertop is a standard 25" deep, which means the supporting plywood cabinets were less than 24" deep, which meant that a single $50 4' x 8' sheet of cabinet-grade plywood could be cut to provide the top and bottom and two ends.  All my other cabinets are 30" deep, which meant for them I could only cut one length per piece of plywood; the other half was about 21" wide.  So I had a lot of 21" wide pieces of expensive plywood leftover.  For these new kitchen cabinets, I decided to use these too-narrow pieces by gluing two narrow pieces together to get one wide enough.  I used biscuits to strengthen this joint (I use them for other applications as well).  The biscuits (small flat football-shaped pieces of wood—see photo) strengthen and align the joint.

The photo shows a biscuit and the slot cut with a "biscuit jointer," which you use to cut opposing slots on both pieces of wood.  (Hold the pieces together dry and mark a pencil line across the joint first to assure proper alignment, then cut the slots using the pencil mark as a guide.)  Put glue on the joint and in the slots and clamp the two pieces of wood together.  Here's a photo of the biscuit in the slot:

The other type of joint I use at the corners of the box is the tongue-and-dado joint.  This joint aligns the edges (top-to-side, etc.) and makes the joint a lot stronger than a butt joint.  Both the tongue and the dado are cut on the table saw, using a dado blade set, which contains inner and outer cutter blades and a number of stackable chipper blades that go between to give you the desired thickness.  But a photo explains what the joint looks like (usually they are tighter than this, with good glue contact on all surfaces):

I assembled the sink cabinet in the garage because it was small and light enough to carry (with a dolly) into the house.  The other cabinet would be almost eight feet long and had to be assembled in the kitchen, just barely big enough to do that work.  I glued and screwed the pre-cut pieces and sub-assemblies one at a time, clamping the remaining pieces (no glue) to ensure (as much as possible) that the cabinet would end up straight and square and not twisted. After the glue dried, I would disassemble the dry-fit pieces and glue another piece.

At some point, gluing one piece at a time was not possible; I had to get all the remaining pieces together, with the 1/2" plywood back in place to hopefully hold it all square.

After cutting holes in the backs for wiring and plumbing, I slowly maneuvered the heavy cabinets into place, making sure the tops were all flat and in the same plane, as the one-piece Corian top will need to be uniformly supported by the tops of these sectional cabinets.  I also had to fabricate and install a top over the dishwasher bay (it does not get a separate cabinet).  I put the sink in position for the photo. 

The next post will cover the installation of additional drawer partitions, attachment of maple edge trim on the front of the cabinets, installation of the sink and dishwasher shut-off valves, and some finish work on the inside of the sink cabinet.  The post after that will see the Corian countertop (and backsplash) and sink installed by the Home Depot people, and the addition of the cooktop.

As always, the all-important drawer building and install will come sometime in the future. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Workshop — Part 3

Work on the workshop windows/electrical is done (except for outside painting).  I won't finish the room until most of the rest of the house has been completed, because it's going to be a hobby room (building instruments, etc.), and getting the kitchen, bathrooms, and bedroom done takes precedence over hobbies.  When that time comes, I will be installing a new floor (interlocking textured plastic tiles), work bench, and storage. 

Since my part 2 post, I continued applying stucco in the outside, and drywall on the inside.  In the photo, there is one section of wall without drywall, waiting for the 6" exhaust vent to be installed, which could not be done until the stucco was complete.

And here that is, with the last batch of stucco still wet.  I inserted a circular foam plug in the wall where the exhaust vent would go, and stuccoed around that so as not to have to cut a hole through the stucco when it dried. 

This is a closeup of the vent on the outside.

Once that was in, the last piece of drywall went on, joint compound applied and sanded (not my favorite thing), and the wall painted.  At that point, the electrical receptacles could be installed and cover plates attached, and that circuit switched on.  For the last year (?) I have relied on a 50' heavy-duty extension cord run from the home theater for power in the workshop, so this was a nice event.  Six new 120 volt (and one 240 volt) 20-amp receptacles.

After that, the window was trimmed out, nail holes spackled, and that painted.  Here's a halfway "before" photo and two "afters."

I now have a rough schedule for future work, based largely on seasonal temperatures: 

1) kitchen cabinets - October,
2) new water supply system - November - January,
3) master bathroom - December - March, and
4) new heat pump and ducting - April. 

Various other smaller projects will be done along the way.