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!
Thursday, December 29, 2016
I thought this post would include covering the wall where the chimney had been with stucco, as the weather forecasters were promising a long string of sunny days. But all we got were a few, and then four days of much needed on-and-off rain. The 2.25" we got was very much needed, but that interrupted the chimney work (that and other diversions), and now, after three days of warm sunny weather (80˚ today), we're getting even more rain. So the stucco will have to wait, but this post will not.
In this first photo, you can see how much of the upper chimney I demolished almost a year ago; it's marked by the plywood that has covered the guts of the house, and the plastic sheeting that has been keeping the weather out. The new demolition resumed just below that.
The major part of the chimney remaining can be seen from ground level — it's a lot of brick and mortar!
Midway through now. I usually loosen some brick with the electric demolition hammer, and then use a full-size crowbar to pry the brick apart (not as exhausting and dusty). I spread this work out over a number of days to let my body recover; it's hard work.
Getting down near the bottom, it wasn't clear exactly what sort of foundation there was. It could be a real challenge, or relatively straightforward — I was hoping for the latter.
I had to cut off the rebar as I went down to the base (always threatening to impale me), which was finally revealed as a poured layer of concrete over a row of the large bricks laid on their sides.
When I got those bricks out, I was surprised to find an empty chamber of sorts, with some cross supports. Rather than hauling the pieces of brick and rubble that I was still pulling out, I started dumping them in the hole.
With the demolition finished, I built the partial rear stud wall needed to fill in where the fireplace opening had been (remembering that I doubled the thickness of the surrounding part of the living room wall). I used a pressure-treated 2 x 4 for the base of that new section of wall.
After adding insulation to the new wall, the 1/2" sheathing went on. Again remembering that the house as originally built had no plywood covering the studs, just wire, roofing felt and stucco! Building standards?
Since I need to buy more roofing felt to cover the plywood (before stucco wire and stucco), and because it's supposed to rain tomorrow, I temporarily covered the plywood with plastic (hopefully not going to be there for another ten months :-). I also need to buy a metal-cutting blade for my angle grinder in order to cut away the steel flashing that was installed around the chimney (nasty stuff):
The new stucco can then be blended in with the old. I also will need to pour new concrete to cover the hole where the chimney had been, level with the patio slab. And there's the matter of disposing of the old brick and mortar :-(
So what's next? After the stucco, or perhaps intertwined? Still working on the master bedroom baseboard, and there's the waterbed base, and the pottery studio cabinets and countertop. And the pottery kiln installation (although when the pottery studio becomes operational, remodeling work could just possibly become intermittent.
And drawers! I'm planning to start building the more than hundred needed drawers this winter! Which will make life so much better.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
I finally finished attic prep, found a good heating contractor, and shortly thereafter Nate, Ryan, and Jeff spent two days at my house installing a new heat pump, air handler, and primary ducting. They did a fantastic job! Comfort at the touch of a button.
So what is a heat pump? Oddly, perhaps, I thought everyone knew, but when I told people I was getting a heat pump, I was met with blank faces and the inevitable question — "What's a heat pump?"
The short, non-technical answer is that a heat pump is like central air conditioning in the summer (pumping heat from inside the house to the great outdoors), but in the winter a valve is switched in the same equipment to pump heat from outdoors to the inside of the house. But wait, you say there's no heat outside in the winter? Actually, in milder climates, especially, there's lots of heat outside (it just doesn't feel very warm to humans).
Take my word for it (or google it).
So why a heat pump, instead of another gas furnace? Didn't like burning gas (fossil fuel & fire threat), and I have the ambition to get solar panels (and battery storage) in a few years. Free electricity for life (and free fuel if you have an electric car).
The new outside unit looks like this (very much larger than the very old, inefficient A/C unit it replaced):
It is connected to the air handler in my laundry/utility room via two refrigerant lines and an electrical control cable. The photo below shows the air handler opened up during installation. The vee-shaped tubing matrix is the heat exchanger; the warm fluids in the tubes heat the air passing through it. The black cylindrical thing below that is the blower which takes air from inside the room and runs it up from bottom to top, going through the ceiling into the attic ducting. Below the blower is where the electrostatic air cleaner goes.
This is what it looks like all buttoned up:
The white tubing is the condensate drain line, useful when moist house air hits the cold heat-exchanger fins (mostly in the summer). Water condenses and runs down into the floor drain (dehumidifying). Out in the hallway on the right of the photo, up on the wall, is the new programmable, touch-screen thermostat. It does way more things than I have a need for.
It's set for 69˚, but the inside temperature there is 74˚. Photo was taken in the afternoon on a warm, sunny day (actually high of 74˚ on December 14). The temperature inside the house slowly rises during the day (when it's sunny), and then slowly drops during the night. It used to rise and fall much faster than it does now, but I now have much more insulation in the attic (and double-glazed high-efficiency windows, and some thicker walls, as some of you loyal readers may recall).
So the heat pump actually does not run that much, pretty much not at all after 7 a.m. until sometime in the early morning hours. But I have programmed the variable-speed air handler to come on at low speed for some portion of every hour to give the Trane "CleanEffects" air cleaner something to do (the outside air in this arid climate is dusty). This also means that the air inside the house is thoroughly mixed together, pretty much a constant temperature everywhere—cooler at night. Very nice indeed.
The unseen pieces in the attic are largely responsible for this. So up to the attic!
The air exits the top of the air handler into something called a plenum — basically a big sheet-metal box. Out of the backside of the plenum there are three flexible ducts which travel the short distance to the rooms adjacent to the laundry room. In this photo the plenum is at lower right.
Leaving the front of the plenum is the rigid 14-inch diameter sheet-metal main duct, which travels down toward the other end of the house. Unlike flexible ducting, which is shaped by a spiral of wire (giving the interior a corrugated appearance), the interior of the rigid metal ducting is smooth, and therefore offers much less resistance to the flow of air.
That makes the ducting system more free-flowing and energy-efficient. The short flexible branch ducts that interconnect with the main duct go to the other five registers in the house.
Heat loss is greatest where the temperature gradient is the steepest — hot and cold separated by a very short distance. That condition exists, for example, where hot air in a duct is right next to cold air in the attic (winter), or the opposite during the summer, when the attic temperature can reach 130˚ and air inside the duct can be close to 60˚. If those extremes are separated by less than in inch of insulation (my old system), you will be cooling the attic in the summer and heating it in the winter. Enter insulation — lots of it!
At least 10" all over the attic, and that much over all of the ducting (and over all the water supply lines as well).
It's like an ocean of insulation :-) You can't see it from below, but you can feel it working. Money spent on insulation is money in the bank.
Looking forward to experiencing the air conditioning next summer . . .
So, catching up on some other things I've been getting done . . . like the door trim and baseboards installed in the master bedroom (setting off the new bamboo floor). The gap around the floating floor was wider in places than my usual baseboard, so I had to first install a 1x3 board (3/4" thick), and add regular molding on top of that, for a taller than usual baseboard for a modern house (it's growing on me).
And while I still haven't found a good supplier for my main kitchen countertop, I did silicone in my undermount stainless steel sink, and install the drain for that. Why worry about the drain, when I won't be able to install the faucet until I get the countertop done? Dishwasher. It's been installed for some time, except for its drain line, which connects into the sink's drain line. So I haven't been able to use it, until now.
I used an air admittance valve again for this installation (the white device sitting atop the black ABS pipe assembly).
And here is the drain system completed (going to the dishwasher to the left of the partition is the electrical connection on the top, then the drain line, then the hot water supply line):
Haven't used the dishwasher yet; I've been hand-washing so long that I haven't yet been able to start a new habit (although Friday night pizza-making produces lots of dirty paraphernalia, so maybe soon).
Next? A rare rain event tomorrow night, and then a long string of sun, so I'm planning to take down the rest of the chimney and rebuild/stucco the wall behind.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
First, putting down the new bamboo floor in the master bedroom. This did not actually take very long to do, but I had to order more bamboo flooring, and that took a week to arrive, and then they wanted you to take it out of the boxes to acclimate it to the humidity in the house before putting it down. And, they also wanted you to intermix batches, so that any variations in appearance would be distributed evenly (rather than having half the floor one shade and the other half looking slightly different).
As it turned out, the new flooring was a perfect match cosmetically to the old stuff, which I suppose is remarkable, considering that I bought the first four boxes two years ago. What was different, I discovered, was the design of the tongues (this flooring was of the click-together variety—no gluing or nailing). The new tongue design made the flooring go together much more easily than the old — a good thing, but it did not go together at all with the old tongue design.
So I ended up covering the first two-thirds of the floor with the old boards, and then machined the edge of one row of the new boards so they would butt up tight with the last row of the old boards. No click this way — I had to glue them together. But after that, all was good.
The 21" floor extension that I built into the garage was not perfectly flush everywhere with the main part of the concrete floor, so I had to level this. I ground down some concrete, and sanded down some wood, and for most of the out-of-level area, I troweled down some floor leveler. I ended up using thin-set mortar for this, and it worked well. Looked like this while still wet:
With the floor clean and level, I put down a special underlayment for floating floors (flooring not nailed or glued to the sub-floor/concrete). This layer acts as a moisture barrier and also provides a little cushioning, perhaps making the floor quieter. The first row needed to be cut to fit the marble threshold to the bathroom. The instructions also mandated a gap around the edge of the room to allow for expansion and contraction. The gap would be covered by the baseboard. Hopefully no gap will open at the marble threshold.
So row after row it went down. Clicks together along the length and also the ends of each board. At the end of each row, the board is cut to length, and the piece of flooring cut off can then be used at the other side of the room. Joints are staggered. The finished floor:
The staggered stack of flooring planks sitting in the middle of the room is acclimating while waiting to go down in the hallway. I still have to apply the baseboard. And here is the transition between the bathroom and bedroom floors.
The second thing I've been working on was getting the attic ready for the heatpump contractor. They will be coming out in a few days to assess the job in order to give me a price. I gave them a big package describing the work in detail, with photos. Will be nice to get that done.
Here are a few photos of the attic. One important step was providing a workable passageway between the attic stairs in the garage, and the main part of the attic (over the house proper). There are a couple of hatches in the ceiling for access from the house, but trying to get big sections of rigid ducting up through those would be impossible. Originally, there was a solid wall between the garage attic and the "house" attic. I have opened up a large passageway, with added structural reinforcement. I've also put down some plywood over a good number of PEX water supply lines that crossed over from the front and back of the house, to protect them.
In the next photo, you can see toward the left middle, one of the access hatches (with the hatch in place), and just to the right of that is a filter. The filter was below the furnace air return duct, now removed, and is where the outflow of the air handler will come up from the laundry/utility room into the attic. The heat pump contractor will install a large rectangular section rigid duct that will go from there, and turn the corner and go along the center of the house. Eight flexible ducts (shiny snake-like things) will take conditioned air from the new central duct and carry it to separate room registers. The flexible ducts and registers are in place now (part of what I have been doing).
Looking down the attic toward the west end of the house are more flexible ducts. I have disassembled and removed the furnace from the attic, but left the heat exchanger, because this still contains the air conditioning refrigerant that must be recovered by the contractor.
I'm still sorting out the old insulation and adding a lot more and that will continue, especially after the new ducting has been installed. At least 10" of insulation will cover all the ducting and water supply lines.
• Baseboards and door moldings in the master bedroom.
• Cabinets for the pottery studio (I would like to get that operational).
• Base for my waterbed mattress.
• Removing the rest of the chimney and finishing that outside wall with stucco (lest a storm blow away the plastic and soak the inside of the wall with water).
Sunday, October 30, 2016
It's taken awhile because the old wall was dividing the house proper and the attached garage, so it was load-bearing, and the ceilings were not on quite the same level. So I needed to add structure in the attic to support the mild load of the roof (already supported with trusses), and add structure for the new portion of the bedroom ceiling to make it level with the existing ceiling. Fussy work.
The other time consumer was what had originally been a compartment for the furnace (located in the garage when the house was built). When an early owner converted the back half of the garage to a bedroom, the furnace went up in the attic, but the small compartment was just walled over, sloppily, instead of ripping out the platform and restructuring that space into a useful part of the house or garage. What I ended up with was an appalling mess, consistent with the other work by this particular contractor that I uncovered when I put new windows in that part of the house.
In my last post, I had built the new wall, from the garage side. That built, I added the supporting structure in the attic and then removed the old bedroom wall. In this photo, you can see the new insulation (installed early to get it out of the way), with some of the old garage ceiling drywall still in place (to hold up the water lines and electrical cable above). I have just started putting in the 2 x 4 cross supports for the new ceiling drywall at the left end (with spacers to make them level — garage trusses lower than the house trusses).
At the right end of the wall is the old furnace cubicle, partially removed (including an old electrical receptacle for the original furnace), which will become a new small closet (it protrudes a bit deeper into the garage than the main bedroom extension). On the very right (pink insulation), the conversion contractor did not install floor-to-ceiling studs, and in one place had two layers of drywall. A lot of the structure was not fastened to anything but the drywall, so when I removed some of the furnace base structure, the drywall in the hallway simply broke free!
What was holding it all together was more than a half-inch of joint compound. When I put a straight-edge against the wall, I discovered there was a large bulge.
So back on the inside, I installed a baseplate at what would be the new floor level, and a corresponding top plate at the ceiling, aligned with the rest of the bedroom wall. Then I cut away enough of the maze of wood to install a couple new floor-to-ceiling studs. The new baseplate, and the old half-studs that extended down only as far as the original furnace platform:
A lot of tedious work. The dogs didn't seem to mind.
And then back to putting in the rest of the structure for the new ceiling.
And the structure for the new closet (sorry, I forgot the photos, but it's a basic stud wall), and then drywall goes up, followed by joint compound. This is where I am now:
With all the debris from this (and more demolition in the guest bathroom) piling up outside, it is once again time to rent a truck and make another dump run. Really hate it, but it's so nice after it's all gone.
Next, more joint compound and paint, and more attic work getting ready for the new heat pump and duct work. High temps in the 80s ahead (November in southern California), so no worries yet about not having a heating system in place.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
This project has been in the queue for a long time — back burner — but its time has finally come. Had to get the new water system up and running, and the master bathroom operational. The kitchen countertop had been ahead in priority, but with the new master bathroom operational, the trek across the house to the new bathroom from my guest bedroom (a.k.a. home theater) added new motivation.
This post is actually part one of the two-part wall move, and then there is the subsequent part about adding the bamboo flooring, and oh, the part about building the base for the queen-size waterbed — so unfortunately, no instant gratification.
Oh, in case you haven't been keeping up, the purpose of the wall move is to make one of the smaller secondary bedrooms big enough to be the master (because the original master bedroom became the home theater). The wall move gives the bedroom 21" more width, the added space taken from the garage, which will get a six-foot extension next year (or so). Juggling inches, as it were. Why 21 inches? That gives enough floor space on the far side of the bed to walk and open drawers in the base of the platform bed, and it also happens to be the largest amount that the wall could be moved without impinging on the garage door track. 22" and I would have to wait until I enlarged the garage and installed a single-car garage door. Too long a wait.
So let us begin.
After removing the old water heater from the garage, this is what the old wall looked like from the garage side. The water heater sat on a raised base in the corner; I've also removed the base at this point.
Since this is a garage, there is a requirement for a concrete curb to contain water — and I once read — gasoline leaked from cars. This requirement has been around a very long time, and gasoline cars at one time routinely leaked gas, oil, radiator coolant, brake fluid . . . Still pretty primitive compared to electric cars, but what are you going to do?
Anyway, any new concrete curb, on which a new wall will sit, needs to be anchored to the concrete slab in some way. I cut a slot in the slab for the new curb to key into.
On the right of the above photo is framing for the floor. On the left I placed a form to keep the poured concrete in place, right up to the left edge of the groove. The form was cut from a 2x6, with vegetable oil rolled onto its inner surface to keep the concrete from sticking. I cut it so the top of the form was where I wanted the top of the concrete to be, which was also the same height as the bedroom floor (the house concrete slab). I kept the form in place with heavy retaining wall blocks.
Since I was hand-mixing the concrete, I chose to build up the new sub-floor using pressure-treated construction lumber, with the open spaces insulated with 1" foam and fiberglass insulation. On top of this framework, I applied 3/4" oriented strand board (OSB). Then I poured concrete to form the curb (adding steel rebar to limit cracks).
I troweled the concrete level and inserted anchor bolts for the wall's base plate (blue masking tape wrapped around the threads of the bolts to keep them clean). After a day, I stripped the outer form off and bolted on the 2x4 base plate, then using a plumb bob, marked on the ceiling the location of the corresponding double top plate. With the top plate screwed into a roof truss, I could then start filling in the studs.
As I mentioned before, 21" was the absolute maximum amount I could move the wall (build a new wall and remove the old one). I actually had to install some new structure in the attic so I could bolt the garage door bracket further over, and cut off the end of the ceiling bracket so it would not be in the way of the wall.
Closer to the front of the door, there is a stiffening flange on the railing that only has clearance for a sheet of drywall. So the wall really could not even have been moved 21.1".
With all the studs in place (and this involved some further time-consuming removal of existing structure), drywall could go up. I substituted two 4x4 timbers for standard 2x4s, so that I could later on drill them for 1" dowels to use to hang my three ladders.
Two electrical boxes also had to be installed before drywall went on — one receptacle in the bedroom and another in the garage (these will have a GFCI in the circuit — needed for garage receptacles, not that water in the garage is something we see in Southern California's now-permanent drought).
Then the rest of the drywall (plus some joint compound):
I can't really make it pretty until after the old garage door is gone. So now work moves to the inside of the house, where the old wall gets removed after I add some structural reinforcement in the attic. Looks like this now.:
I'm also cleaning up the attic in preparation for the new heatpump and ductwork. Messy, cramped, unpleasant work requiring a full-face respirator and headlight, not very conducive to photo-taking.
Next time . . .
Saturday, September 24, 2016
After four days of not hearing anything from Rheem, I sent a followup, and after a week of waiting in vain for a response, returned to Home Depot, ready to take whatever they were willing to give me. Well, they were nice and called Rheem to grease the skids, talking to several people, and I was on the phone with one of them. He asked about the problem. I described it and he said it could not be repaired, that they would send a replacement (as their written warranty had laid out). I would just have to bring the defective water heater in to Home Depot. Great!
He then talked to the Home Depot person and I thought I was all set. Not. Apparently Home Depot has a close relationship with Rheem, but Home Depot handles warranty claims their own way, and only their own way, and if I was going to bring the defective unit back to Home Depot, they would only be able to give me a refund, and then I could reorder a new one. But the price for a new one was now $500 more than when I bought mine, and there was still the matter of a pro-rata refund for the water heater bought early-2015.
At this point I was ready to cut my losses, so I went home and uninstalled the defective water heater and brought it back to the store. I had known this particular Home Depot person for a couple of years, and she got the store manager involved, and after they had some further discussions with others, they came back and gave me a full refund. Thank you, and kudos to Home Depot!
But after the bad experience with Rheem, I was not going to buy another one, especially the same model for $500 more. So I went home again and did more water heater research, and found that there were only three primary manufacturers of water heaters (sometimes sold under other names). Rheem (sold by Home Depot), Whirlpool (sold by Lowe's), and another name that was sold through plumbers and contractors. After looking at Whirlpool reviews, I decided I would bite my tongue and buy another Rheem, although this time a no-frills, much cheaper electric water heater — and a model that Home Depot had in stock.
But first I had to undo all the gas water heater infrastructure. PVC pipes running up through the roof bringing in fresh air for the burners and exhausting combustion products, the condensate drain line, and that new steel gas line I had just installed. Fill in the holes in the ceiling and paint, etc. Then bring the new, smaller 40-gallon electric water heater home and put it in place. The old earthquake strap would have covered the upper thermostat access door, so I had to put the water heater up on blocks and lower the strap to make it fit.
The water inlet and outlet pipes fit fine, so I filled up the tank, purging air from the hot water pipes until the water ran freely from the bathroom faucet. No leaks! There was still the matter of the electrical connection. The water heater needed a 240-volt, 30-amp circuit, but I needed more space in the electrical sub-panel, so I ordered a combination circuit breaker made up of two 120-volt, 20-amp breakers (to replace two existing full-size units), and the one new 240-volt, 30-amp circuit breaker for the water heater. The combination unit takes up just two full-size spaces (regular breakers would have used four spaces). It's the unit lower center in this photo:
The 30-amp circuit took a 10-gauge cable (color coded orange), run the short distance over to the water heater and down from the ceiling through a blue flexible conduit. Very simple.
The whole electric water heater installation was very simple, so why did I install the complex, expensive high-tech gas water heater in the first place? 1) The forced-air unit had a sealed combustion chamber, drawing air from outside, so no open flame inside the house that cheaper, less-efficient gas water heaters have. The cheaper gas units also need a double-walled metal chimney running up through the roof, rather than a simple PVC pipe. And 2) Efficiency. The expensive gas water heater had an estimated $199 annual operating cost, while the electric unit's estimated operating cost is $550 per year. That's for a family's use, of course, and there's just one of me, so those numbers would be much lower. It's a trade-off. And, if I end up installing solar panels on the roof, electricity will be free for life (well, after the initial large capital expense). The same logic also applies to my decision to replace the aging gas furnace (plus electric A/C) with an electric heat pump, but that's a post for the future.
Before the new water heater installation was complete, my new water pressure reduction valve arrived, which I installed with no problems, resulting in a straight-through water path. I adjusted the pressure to 50 psi (down from the municipal 100 psi water pressure).
Once I had tamed the very high pressure, I was able to bring the water softener on-line, slightly opening the by-pass valve to slowly fill the tank of resin beads. Then program the controller. No problems and no leaks. The water tasted slightly salty, which was to be expected if sodium chloride was used to regenerate the resin beads (I didn't, but the supplier likely did.). I plan to use potassium chloride. In any case, I started using bottled water to drink pending my first regeneration with potassium chloride. What will it taste like? Different, no doubt, but any new taste will seem normal after awhile. I may get a water purification device for drinking water.
So everything is working, and I have glorious hot water again after three weeks without. :-)
My old hard water contained 26 grains per gallon of calcium and magnesium, and now my soft water has less than one gpg! It feels slippery to the touch. Towels washed in the soft water are not scratchy. Soap has suds. A brush glides through wet washed hair, rather than catching on the mineral-coated hair and pulling it out. Minerals will not coat the inside of the water heater, nor form a rough layer on the inside of porcelain toilets. Who knows what hard water would have done to the inside of my new dish washer. Certainly the white spots that covered my black granite pottery studio sink have disappeared.
Does the new puppy care? Probably not.
Next? Getting ready for a new heating and cooling system (electric heat pump plus new ducting), and enlarging the new master bedroom.
I removed the old gas furnace, disassembling it piece-by-piece, from the attic (except for the freon-filled heat exchanger), and have started insulating all the new PEX water pipes. I will remove the rest of the steel gas pipes from the attic (since my house is now all-electric), and get the flexible ducting and registers ready for the heat-pump installers, who will put in a large distribution duct running the length of the house. As always, attic work requires cooler temperatures, so nothing will happen quickly until fall arrives in earnest.