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 26, 2019


The puppies are here!  The twins (fraternal) Molly and Maggie!  Adorable monsters!

Raising puppies is a 24/7 job.  Done right, that is.  I know some people put them in a crate overnight, and then in a crate when they run errands or go to work, but puppies are like human babies, except they don't wear diapers.

So no work on the house since December 7.  And no work in the coming weeks, as potty training for the twins is still a work in progress.  Lots of loads of laundry of the things they pee on, plus all the towels for soaking up the puddles from the plastic sheet that now covers the home theater floor.  It's not that they don't go outside — they do, mostly — but they each eat more than my 55-pound Golden Retriever mix, and drink a huge amount of water, and well, they have little bladders and short digestive tracts.  Sigh.

D'Argo, my dearly departed Australian Shepherd, wasn't accident-free until he was four months old.  These two little German Shepherds are actually showing progress, sometimes going to the door when it's time.  And they're now just past ten weeks, so good for them!

So if you've never had puppies, you should also know about the chewing.  Everything.  The floors are covered with chew toys, but they favor rugs and furniture, and cardboard boxes.  And each other — called sibling play. ๐Ÿ™„

There's the neighborhood walks (they first have to be leash trained — puppies aren't born knowing what "walks" are), there are the nature trail walks (including socialization with friendly humans and dogs), trips to the vet for puppy shots every three weeks, and trips to Home Depot (riding in a shopping cart — it's a big place and almost everyone in the store wants to pet the pups).

But there were also some construction projects required before the pups arrived.

First, the car.  The little German Shepherd pups are going to get real big before very long.  They're both female, so not as big as the males, but nevertheless their mother weighs 80 pounds and their dad tips the scales at 120 — so I expect they'll be 80-85.  And Sophie, my Golden Retriever mix isn't exactly tiny.  So more room needed in the car.

Fortunately, there are those wasted spaces for human's legs that can be utilized for more dog room.  All that was required was some tailored platforms and some cushions.  To wit (for the rear):

Cover the plywood with some padded duck canvas, and make a matching cushion:

And then add a washable quilt to absorb the dirt:

For the front passenger seat, something similar (driver's side remains untouched๐Ÿ˜Š):

Inside the house, now with three dogs, the sofa is no longer big enough to accommodate all the fur.  So I made two dog beds, using an excess 3" memory-foam topper from my twin-size guest bed, and a surplus pillow-top mattress cover.  Bought some duck canvas to cover it.  Here are the constituent parts:

And Sophie modeling one of the finished beds (they now have easily washable covers made from old flannel sheets):

When D'Argo was a puppy, I just let him sleep at night wherever he wanted, and would get up two or three times overnight to take him outside.  Unfortunately, he would sometimes relieve himself while I was getting dressed, no doubt wanting to be ready to play as soon as he was outside.  The recommended training method for sleep at night is to put the pup in a crate, under the theory that the pup will not want to soil his or her bed.  So this time I built a pen for the pups, positioned next to my bed, where they would stay until I was dressed and ready to take them outside.  Works well.  I used scrap wood and some extra wire mesh:

And this is what it looks like in place, with one of the dog beds inside (covered with plastic, flannel sheet, and towels).  I added a hinged lid after they grew big enough to climb out.

So I lift them out and take them to the door.  They run out and pee and poop, and then eat the birds' sunflower seeds, sticks, and the shriveled olives that have dropped from that tree.  A couple of nights ago, I noticed something had triggered my motion sensing garage light, and when I took them out, they would not leave the front porch.  Instead, they growled at the darkness, and then ran back into the house and availed themselves of the plastic on the home theater floor.  We have coyotes here; I see them often.  One even slept in my yard during the day awhile back.  I'm guessing one or more in the area scared the pups; good for them.

So, photos!

Molly's ears have come up, apparently the timing has to do with their teething.  They lose their baby teeth by the time they are four or five months old, and that is when the ears go up for good.  Big ears, big paws!

Here's Maggie sleeping with Sophie.

So next time hopefully I will be able to resume reframing the old garage side wall (to install the two new windows), and then work on finishing off the inside of the garage.  I need to do that before the solar panels and battery storage systems go in.  The pros will do that work.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Garage Extension — Part 8 (Finish Stucco) + Misc. Updates

The last post took the outside of the garage extension up through the stucco scratch coat.  Since then, I applied the second (brown) coat, and then the first coat of Home Depot's Elastomeric stucco paint (needs two coats).  That paint has the consistency of pancake batter, and maintains some rubber-like stretch after it dries — so it bridges any cracks that might have developed in the stucco, and also will stretch across any new cracks that might develop in the future.

Here's the front of the garage with the second coat of stucco applied:

And with the stucco paint:

And with the door closed:

See how easy that was?

Now on to the miscellaneous updates.

1) The Banana Tree

Yes, we have bananas!  But very peculiar indeed.  First, I would like to clarify that bananas are officially classified as berries. (!)

Leaf after leaf grew from the tree, until finally this reddish thing pushed out like an Alien chest-burster.

Which continued to grow bigger and heavier, and began to lean over.  The petals (or whatever you might call them) started to peel off, revealing rows of tiny green bananas, with strange little flowers attached to the end of each.

Until lots of little bananas and the end of the big flower thing.

At that point the petals stopped peeling off, and a whitish liquid started to seep out from that red thing, attracting ants.  So I chopped it off (which reportedly will allow the previously emerged bananas to grow larger, but we'll have to see about that).

I cut open the red end to see what was inside.  Looked like row after row of immature chest-bursters (but what do I know?).

At this point (the beginning of November) the weather is supposed to be getting cooler (not), and the banana development is supposed to slow to a crawl until Spring, when they continue to grow longer and fatter, until they ripen.  So stay tuned . . .

2) Electric Car update

That which is the reason for the garage extension.  In previous electric car updates I covered several potential candidates (BMW i3, Tesla Model 3, etc.).  I want to talk about two more for this episode — to wit, the VW ID.3 and the Tesla Model Y.

The VW ID.3 is a Golf-sized car on the outside, and because of the compactness of electric motors (compared to old-fashioned fossil engines), the ID.3 is Passat-sized on the inside.  Sort of like the Tardis.

 It went into limited production today (or yesterday), but won't go on sale until next summer.  The cars may be used for test drives/education in the interim — not real clear about that.  The ID.3 is a really nice car, and the first of many ID electric vehicles in VW's pipeline.  It's also the car that's going to be a game-changer, following in the footsteps of the iconic Beetle, and the Golf.  The ID.3 is the next one.  After Tesla, VW is the second major flag carrier for electric cars going into the future.

Unfortunately, it will initially not be sold in the U.S., where folks tend to like bigger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks.  For the U.S. market, VW will be offering the Tiguan-size ID.4 (a small all-wheel-drive crossover).  The ID.4 will go into production late-2020.

Here's a nice ID.3 promotional video (just 1:30 long):

The other EV of my immediate interest, and the one I will likely buy, is the Tesla Model Y.  It's a compact crossover based on the Model 3, but a little taller and with a hatch.  It will incorporate technical advancements and structural improvements developed over the course of the Model 3 production ramp.  It will also use improved battery tech (which Tesla plans to announce in the February/March time frame at an investor briefing).  The Model Y goes into production summer-fall of 2020.

Pre-production Model Ys are undergoing testing now, and have been sighted all over the country.  Here's one driving down a highway next to a Honda CR-V:

3) Puppy update

I've been working on preparations for the arrival of two female puppies (from the same litter) on December 7.  It's going to be a full-time job.  I've been making things to accommodate two more large dogs in my house and in my car.  I will likely do a post, or an addendum to a post, in December.  Right now the puppies are just three weeks old, and frankly, aren't much to look at (faces only a mother would love, or a dad).  But here is a photo of what they will look like when I bring them home (when they're eight weeks old):

Times two.  And likely around 85 pounds (each) when fully grown.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Garage Extension — Part 7 (Stucco)

Well, it's been a long time since the last post.  That was about putting new shingles on the roof, but ended with only the front part of the new garage roof with shingles on.  So after writing that shingle post, I still had to strip the old shingles off the back part of the garage roof, clean everything up, then apply the new shingles.  But now that's done (and before the first light rain of the season).

Before starting on the process of applying stucco, I pulled three photos of the garage extension west wall progress for context.  First is early framing, then plywood, then the first coat of stucco on.

Some of my posts from a few years ago detailed the nitty-gritty details of preparing for stucco; this is going to be the abridged version.  So you start with the sheathing (plywood), then staple on two layers of a black waterproof paper underlayment.  After that you need some sort of metal lathe — I use two layers of wire mesh (even though only one is called for) because two layers better anchor the stucco.  The wire mesh is fastened with "furring nails" placed over the underlying studs (the furring nails have a thick fiber washer that is used to hold the wire mesh slightly off the surface of the underlayment).  I then further attach the wire mesh with quarter-inch wide staples to the plywood between the furring nails so it's solidly attached to the wall. 

Then the first coat of stucco is applied (the "scratch coat", called that because after it is applied, a tool is run over the surface to put furrows or scratches in it, which gives the second coat something rough to adhere to).  Like this:

When I first started doing stucco, I had difficulty getting it to adhere to the corners, until I found and bought a special small trowel for corners.  Nice.

This next photo shows my progress on the front wall.  I did one section at a time, the size of each section determined by how far one 80-pound bag of stucco mix would cover.  I would generally only do one bag each day, then find other things to do the rest of the day.  If all I had to do was apply the stucco, it would go a lot faster and I could cover a lot more area at a time.  The limiting factor is mixing the stucco, by hand, which is why stucco crews employ power mixers and one person who does nothing but mix the stucco and deliver it to the people who are putting it up on the wall.  Again, just one of me (and climbing up and down an 8-foot ladder for the high parts).  Not speedy.

So distinct sections, and overlaps that show.  If I could do a whole wall at once, I could smooth it out while it was all wet, and it would be pretty.  Instead, I call my surface finish rustic.  You have to pay extra for that. ๐Ÿ™‚

The east wall (on the left side in the above photo):

And a soffit detail (remembering that here in Southern California soffits are unusual, compared to the East Coast):

And the new front of the garage with the first (scratch) coat of stucco applied:

So sorry, this is where this stucco post ends.  Call it Part 1.  If I waited to do this post until after putting on the second (brown) coat, and then three or four weeks later for applying the special elastomeric stucco paint (which ensures a uniform color), you might think I had died.  So the next post should be on the final coat of stucco (and new puppies prep!๐Ÿถ).

Another note: the new Andersen windows in the photos are darker than all the other windows and trim in the house, even though they are supposed to be the same Andersen "Terratone" color.  I will have to paint them to match.  Either Andersen decided to change the color after decades (but keep the old name), or someone at the factory screwed up.  No matter. 

Banana tree update:

Still no bananas.  Still growing fast. 

I read a web document on banana trees in Southern California that said banana trees in this area had to kick out 44 leaves before the bananas arrived, in which case I need ten or so more leaves before the big corm/flower emerges.  Another bit of wisdom was that it takes about 18 months from new baby tree to bananas, and that the corm (fruit/flower) and tiny bananas emerge in the fall, are pretty much dormant over the winter, and mature in the spring.  We'll see about that. ๐Ÿ™„

I talked about banana tree offspring last time — "pups."  My tree had four of these sprouting from the base.  I dug out #1 and #3 and put them in pots; they are happily growing and now about three feet high (I'll put them in the ground this winter).  #4 I just cut off.  #2 I left in the ground and it has taken off — now about eight feet high (you can see in the photo).  It now even has its own little pup poking out of the ground. 

Getting lots of water and fertilizer. 

Until next time . . .

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Garage Extension — Part 6 (Shingles)

Last September I replaced the 35-year-old shingles on the main part of my house, including the roof on the new porch (which is similar in shape to the new roof on the extended garage, but much smaller).  I documented that long job in two posts in some detail, so I won't dwell on the minutia this time.

I have an attached garage, but the roof on the garage is not at the same level as the main house roof, so it's essentially separate.  

After stripping the old shingles and roofing felt, I had to cut off the overhanging board that the builders of my house used instead of a drip edge.  Mark a line using a little jig, then cut with a circular saw (a full size saw for the part where I could stand on my house roof, and a small trim circular saw on the other side where I was precariously hanging off the edge).

In this photo of the peak of the garage roof, the offending overhang is shown on the right side.  On the left, I have already cut off the lip and painted the fascia.

With the bare roof prepared, I put on black roofing felt.  There is a newer plastic sheet material, but for whatever reason (including cost, and the roughness of the old deck on my roof), I bought the thicker old stuff.  This goes to the edge of the roof, and then metal drip edge is added.  Here on the Wast Coast, Home Depot offers much less variety in drip edge material (to my dismay), so I ended up using bare metal edge that was only 2" wide, rather than the fancier 3" variety I have used in the past.  Building practices on the East Coast are definitely different than what California does — more substantial in the East, I suppose because of the harsher weather.

So here is the drip edge I installed — two photos:

Next, along the edges of the roof, goes first course shingle material.  That's so the bottom of the first real row of shingles has something under it (water seeping between the seams of the shingles must be met by another shingle) .  The second row overlaps the first, etc. but there is no proper row below the first row.  Past practice was to cut the bottom off shingles and nail the top part to the roof edge, and then whole shingles on top of that, but now you can buy long rolls of first course shingle material that has adhesive on the bottom (and top).  No photo (other than if you want to go back to September 2018).

So start applying shingles at the bottom and work your way up.  My roof was more complicated because of the new garage extension gable, which meant there were valleys, necessitating weaving the shingles together where the two roof planes intersected.  Need to put the middle of a whole shingle over the valley center, and no nails in the middle.

So I worked on one side until I neared the top of the gable, and then started on the other side.  Of course the trick is to make sure when the shingles on the other side get up to the same level, the rows are even (because they will join into one row).  I used a thin board and marked the shingle spacing on that, and then transferred those markings onto the other side, and made sure my shingle spacing did not slowly diverge as I worked my way up.

Ready to start applying shingles to the second side:

I put these marks on the roofing felt (with a yellow construction crayon).  You can see the black marks on the board, taken from the shingles in the other side.  In theory, the spacing of the shingles should be uniform, but small variances can add up (or cancel, but better be safe than sorry).

Moving right along.

When both sides met at the peak, it was time to apply special ridge shingles, because at that point, the row of shingles on the main part of the roof had to go on top of those ridge shingles.  Finished front of the garage roof, two photos:

Which leaves the back of the garage roof, which mostly still has the old shingles on it.  The back part of the garage roof is a big simple rectangle, and I'm not going to say anything about that (although it will still be a lot of work — just not anything new or different).

So it's been hot here, and roofing work in the middle of the day is brutal, so during most of those periods, I worked on getting the (shady) walls prepared for stucco.  To wit, putting up two layers of black stucco underlayment and two layers of wire mesh.  The next post will be about applying stucco.  I will, however, supply photos of the finished roof, and maybe some of the freshly scraped and painted fascia and eves.  Refinishing the underside of the open eves is nasty work (full face respirator).  Probably why it seems not to have been done since the house was built (1984).  Sigh.

Should be done well before the fall rains arrive. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Garage Extension — Part 5

The roof is on.  It's been three weeks, so not as long as I thought.  Fortunately the weather has been comfortable, so time on the roof was not bad.  I finished up this morning under mostly cloudy skies which kept the heat away.  Unfortunately, starting this afternoon we're in for HEAT.  Hot during the day, and not cool at night.  It's been going down to about 58˚ F every night so I could open up the house and turn on a big fan; by morning the indoor temperature would be about 68˚.  By 3 p.m. I would turn the air conditioner on, but for just an hour, because at 4 p.m. the summer peak electricity rate goes up to 53¢ per kWh, which is obscene.  Can't wait for the solar panels and battery storage.  Sigh.

But back to the roof.

The first piece I put up was the 4-foot-tall beam supporting the ridge beam.  The ridge beam supports the rafters.  Tall beams (I-beams) are very stiff because the flange strength is proportional to the cube of the distance from the neutral axis (for symmetrical beams, that's half the beam height).  In this case, the beam's "web" is a sheet of 5/8" plywood, and the flanges are, on the bottom, a 2x4 ceiling joist, and on the top, the 2x8 ridge beam.  What matters is that it's unconventional construction but hugely strong.

In the photo above the top "flange" (the ridge beam) is not yet in place.  The large piece of plywood lying on the deck (above) will position the ridge beam.  It was cut out from a full-scale layout on my garage floor (derived from the plans I had drawn).

That piece of plywood is the first piece of the center section of the front wall; it will be securely fastened to that main plywood beam with screws and urethane glue.  I used all 19/32" plywood (about 5/8") which is pretty heavy, and trying to lift it into place and fastening it at the same time would be folly, without some temporary cleats to hold it in place (or else it would surely fall to the ground).

Looked like this when it was in place:

The next step was to attach the front rafters, but before that I had to lay out the rafters full scale on my garage floor (as part of the earlier full-size layout).  I then cut the angle on the top of one rafter and the notch on the other end, and used this one rafter as a template for cutting all the others.  It pays to be very precise when making this template.

The ridge beam is set in the notch in the plywood, and then the rafters at the front go on first.

Once this rafter pair is on, I cut and installed the notched studs for the upper front wall (cutting the notches using my table saw).

Then the other rafters can go on.  I marked their position on the ridge beam beforehand, and on the top plates of the side walls as well, so they went on quickly (3" screws and nails).

I cut the rafters long, and cut them off at the ends after they were installed, using a straight edge across the top of all of them, and then a level to plumb a vertical line on each one.  I then cut them off with a circular saw.  The idea is for the 2x6 sub-fascia to line up perfectly with the end of each rafter.  I beveled the top of those 2x6s at the same 22˚ rafter angle.

I screwed another 2x4 to the wall below the rafters, the bottom of which was at the same level as the 2x6 tying the rafter ends together.  The soffit on the sides of the roof will then be fastened to these two pieces of wood.

These two pieces of wood also extend out from the front wall to support the "flying" rafters, which creates the roof overhang.  The ridge beam also extends out the same amount (about 16").  The first rafter pair I installed at the front of the wall were 2x8s (7.5" wide).  I fastened another pair of 2x6 rafters directly to these; the soffit at the front is nailed into the underside of this second 2x6 rafter (the plywood front was fastened to the bottom 2" of the 2x8 that extended below the 2x6).  (Forgot to take a photo to illustrate.)

I installed 2x6 braces/spacers on 16" centers between the inner 2x6 rafter and the "flying" outer 2x6 rafter.  These are absolutely essential to give the overhang its strength, combined with the plywood on the roof (the upper flange) and the soffit (lower flange).  It forms a very strong box structure.

The 2x6 structural members on the periphery of the overhangs are not pretty.  On the outside of these goes 1x8 finished boards.  Besides presenting a nice smooth surface, these boards extend above the 2x6s to contain the plywood roof decking, and extend below to hide the edges of the soffit.

I beveled the tops of the 1x8 fascia boards to the same 22˚ roof angle.  Installing the plywood then becomes easy.  Butt the edges against the inside of the fascia board — no worries about it sliding out of position.

But before I could nail down the plywood, I had to get the heavy sheets up on the roof, by myself.  What worked quite well was to slide the plywood up my fiberglass extension ladder, placed at a relatively low angle against the roof.

While the bottom of the rafters that were over the new part of the garage were fastened to the top of the new extended garage wall, there was no convenient place to fasten them on the angled old roof, so I beveled long 2x6s and placed them to correctly locate the bottom end of the rafters for that part of the new roof (where the old and new fascias met).

Rafters could then be installed (not notched at the bottom end, but angled appropriately).  Again, I installed 2x6 spacers between adjacent rafters, which distribute point loads on the roof to adjacent rafters (making for a much stronger roof).  Incidentally, the old roof was constructed using 2x4 trusses spaced on 24" centers, with thin plywood (closer to 3/8"), so it tends to be a little springy when walking on it.  By contrast, my new roof has 2x6 rafters spaced on 16" centers with 5/8" plywood, so it's solid.

Before putting the plywood on, I also took the opportunity to install attic insulation on top of the new ceiling, as that part of the attic would not realistically be accessible after the roof is on.  You can see some of the white insulation already installed in the above photo. 

So the plywood and rafters go on:

And with all the plywood on:

And from the front:

Next step is to strip the remaining shingles off the front part of the garage roof, then apply new shingles (after all the preliminaries (roofing felt, drip edge, starter course, etc.).  And then repeat for the back of the garage roof.  Not going to go real fast with the hot weather headed my way.

After that, apply stucco to the walls.  Then finish the inside of the garage.  None of these projects is trivial.  But they'll all get done if I keep plugging away.  Sigh.