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!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Living Room — Part 2

This is the sequel to The Fireplace Must Go!  With the inside part of the fireplace gone, I rebuilt the west living room wall, adding the missing 3.5" of thickness.  After removing more of the old drywall, I discovered there indeed was a stud wall underneath (not just the chimney).

But first, some updates.  I managed to trim out the new windows in the master bedroom:

And I applied the elastomeric stucco paint to the new outside wall.  Here is a photo of the front of the house when I bought it (summer 2013):

And here is what the new stucco looked like before the two coats of paint:

I sort of liked that look, but the paint nevertheless went on:

Clearly a different look.  New tan shingles will replace the reddish ones, and there eventually will be a small covered porch protecting the front door.

And now back to the new living room wall.  This is what I saw as the old drywall came off:

I also found some severe insect damage, but it was confined to one board (replaced), and there was no sign of insects.

With all the old drywall removed from the recessed section of wall, I built a new 2x4 stud wall flush against the existing wall, and attached to it.  I had to chip away some more fireplace brick that protruded a little too far, and cut and chisel part of the warped header that was over the old fireplace for the same reason.  The whole process was relatively straightforward.

I tacked the wall bracket for the TV onto the studs to show the doublers I had to add so the ends of the wall mounting plate could be lag screwed into solid wood.  It was designed to be attached to two studs, but as it turned out, the center of the base fell squarely on a stud, and it wasn't quite wide enough to span three studs.  While the wall was open, I also wired two new electrical receptacles (obviously there was none in the fireplace, where the TV will now go).  I also ran speaker wire (inside the wall) to where the two surround speakers will go.  They should ideally be mounted on the side wall (or rear wall), but the left wall was crowded and inaccessible, and there was no right wall (open to the kitchen and foyer for the bottom eight feet).  The ceiling is twelve feet high at the right end of the living room, but there is a "wall" between eight and twelve feet.  Because of the difficulties, I chose to mount the surround speakers on the front wall, aimed to bounce their sound off the side walls, such as they are.  A compromise, to be sure, but the living room TV is for casual viewing only, so no biggie.

Moving along.

Walls are for insulation.  Here it's almost all installed, and showing the fireplace underneath.  Later, when I take down the chimney, I will fill in the fireplace opening with studs and insulate, for a total of seven inches. 

The drywall went up.

The corners around the sliding glass door got the bullnose treatment.

The seams and screw heads were filled in with joint compound.

And here is the finished wall (save for a couple of details).

The 52" (for scale) TV is operational, although the main left-right and center-channel speakers are not in place in the photo, and I need to build a suitable low cabinet to house the receiver, blu-ray/CD player, and center-channel speaker.

This is the first time I have wall-mounted a TV.  I used a simple fixed unit, that installed easily.  The wall bracket lag-screwed into the studs.

Two hanging brackets screwed into the back of the TV.

The TV just hangs onto the wall bracket, and a locking bar slides in from the side to keep it in place.

At this point, I would have liked to put down the bamboo flooring in the living room, added baseboard, and called it done.  But before that can happen, the bamboo in the long main hallway has to go in, after all that ceramic tile blasted away.  Not ready to do that.

I've started work on the guest bathroom infrastructure — water supply lines, heating duct, electrical — with the vanity cabinet and adjacent shelves coming along for the ride.  I just bought the new casement window for that bathroom (final new window in the house, except for the garage); that should go in soon.  The back yard's water supply now comes off the same line as the guest bathroom toilet water supply.  I need to run a separate line for that when the wall is open; outdoor water will not go through the water softener (when that is installed).

And work on the master bathroom shower tile continues in fits.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Fireplace Must Go!

But why?  Doesn’t everyone like a crackling log fire to take the chill off a cold winter’s night?  Never mind that the fire is sucking all the warm air in the house up the chimney, and to replace that air, sucking in frigid outside air through all the little leaks in the rest of the house.  Never mind having to haul out the ashes.  Never mind that the extra carbon dioxide produced contributes to global climate change.  And never mind that the smoke rising up through the chimney pollutes the air, so on those (mild) southern California winter nights when I take my dog for her bedtime walk in a neighborhood full of fireplaces, I feel like I’m sitting on the downwind side of a campfire. 

But no.  My fireplace is big and ugly, and with its big hearth, occupies a lot of space — space I’d rather use for something else.  And then there’s that strange 3.5” jog in the living room wall, next to the fireplace.

I wanted to make that wall flush across the room (a novel idea?), making the wall thicker in the process for added insulation.  Seems like whoever did the plans didn’t intend such a strange thing.  Seems like the builder might have sensed the opportunity for a short-cut, a chance to save a few more bucks on each of the matching tract houses on the street (3.5” is the width of a 2x4 stud wall).  Whatever the reason that odd jog was there, I was determined from the day I bought the house to make it straight! 

I had not intended to get rid of the fireplace until after more of the higher priority projects had been completed (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, etc.), but it just sat there in front of me every day — the elephant in the room — taunting me with mocking sarcasm — for years.  Tons of solid brick and mortar, a veritable bastion, always the only thing standing after fire razes a house — it let me know it was not threatened by mere flesh and blood.

An exquisite challenge?  The Berlin Wall was taken down with hammers and cold chisels.  And I had a Makita electric demolition hammer.  Ha!

Still, a daunting task. 

I started thinking I could just remove the front of the fireplace and fill in a short stud wall where that had been, extending down from the wall that must be just above the mantle.  Then insulate and put up drywall and add paint.  Tearing out the back of the fireplace (the base for the chimney) could wait for another time.  But after getting started, I discovered there was no wall back there.  There was just drywall slapped on to the chimney, probably with construction adhesive.  The missing 3.5”?  And so much for insulation.

I continued on, pulling off the bricks that had protruded into the living room, until I could look under and see the damper — jammed open, probably jammed open since the house was built.  It did not close easily, its mechanism clogged with decades worth of crud.  So essentially there has been a big hole in my house during the heat of summer and cold of winter.   Hmmm.

Seemed like a good place to stop.  Probably not wise to remove the base of the chimney while the the part above that was still up there. 

The Chimney Must Also Go

The base from the outside:

The part above:

So up on the roof I went.  The top of the chimney was pretty strong, resisting my attack with hand tools, but my little electric jack hammer made quick work of it.  After a couple of rows of brick were gone, the part below came apart pretty easily.  I was a little surprised to find there was nothing behind the chimney (other than the inside of the house) — no plywood/sheathing, but that was consistent with there being nothing behind the stucco.  Sigh.

With the chimney out of the way, there was a pretty big hole in the edge of the roof that needed filling.  I installed backing lumber to give continuity to the upper and lower sections of the roof edge, and then added some plywood and the missing fascia.

Add shingles and paint, and some badly needed plywood to the wall below:

At this point, I stopped due to two days of rare rain on the way (the Omega Block had moved on and El NiƱo was again taking control), and covered the open wall with plastic.  Removing the remainder of the chimney will take some planning, since there is no existing wall to separate my living room from the outdoors, once the bricks are gone.

So what’s next?  I’m working on trimming the new windows in the master bedroom.  Running water supply lines to the guest bathroom is also coming up; that will require some other work in the guest bathroom (which had been planned for the end of the remodel).  My structured six-month master plan has fallen apart, but I’m now good with that.  Ad lib is the new plan. 

Master Bathroom — Part 6

 Yes, here it is, finally!  (although yes, it’s a small post, but I wanted to get it off the table, as it were, because it might be some time before there’s more to show) 

When last we left the subject, the master bathroom shower had been lined with cement backerboard, and was waiting for the Kerdi waterproof membrane to go on.

The corners are the most vulnerable places where water can infiltrate into the wall (where planes intersect: two planes or three).  Where two planes intersect (two walls, or wall and floor, etc.), a band of waterproof membrane is applied, using a thin layer of mortar.  Then a sheet of the membrane goes on the wall (or floor), overlapping the corner bands.  In the three-plane corner, there is a pre-formed piece that is mortared in, overlapped by the bands and then the sheets.

So, after the walls were covered, the drain depression in the molded plastic foam shower pan was filled with mortar, then the black plastic ABS drain part was cemented to the underlying 2” ABS drain pipe, while pressing it into the mortar bed—a critical operation.  All good, fortunately.

The 2” hex mosaic floor tile then went down, using thin-set mortar.  The tile came in square-foot sheets, held together with a thin mesh.  There was yet another, smaller drain fitting that had to be installed at the same time.  A little tricky, and the small tiles had to be individually cut to fit properly around the 4” square stainless steel drain cover.

After letting the mortar cure for three days, I grouted the tile with a light platinum gray unsanded grout.  Ordinarily I would have preferred sanded grout for 1/8” spacing between tiles, but the gap between some of the tiles ended up being a little less.  Sanded grout is recommended for gaps 1/8” and larger; unsanded grout is used for 1/8” and smaller gaps.  I tend to leave 1/8” gaps, where either type should work.  (The sand makes the grout stronger; the unsanded is more easily pressed into narrow gaps.)

The floor in the rest of the bathroom will get the same tile and grout color.  I expect to alternate between putting tile on the shower walls, and tile on the bathroom floor.  Probably not logical, but the change is nice.