Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Master Planning

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How are we in June already? The days in April and May were such a blur. We spent most of the April researching about basement renovation, interviewing contractors, and comparing bids. May was entirely devoted to making decisions on everything basement bath-related. Slav has been busy with his work during this whole time, and somehow we still managed to celebrate a birthday with friends.

The basement reno has picked up the pace. I’ve shown you the demo in the living room, bedroom, and bathroom,¬†the installation of the egress window, the new electrical panel and recessed lighting, and how we sound proofed the basement. This week we crossed finishing line of framing and plumbing, which gave us a lot better idea of the new layout.

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1. The bathroom

To expand the bathroom we demoed the hallway closet, which I briefly talked about here. The goal is to accommodate a double-sink vanity in here.

The shower area

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The shower will remain at the end of the room, with the shower head on the left side. A double-sink vanity will be placed next to the shower on the wet wall, and a medicine cabinet will be installed above the vanity and under the soffit.

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The toilet will locate under the air duct and close to the doorways. I am not a big fan on having the toilet next to the door, but we’d rather place toilet but not the vanity under the low ceiling.

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We are in the process of picking out the tiles for the bathroom. We have basically narrowed down to using two tiles, a large dark one on one wall and the floor, with a white subway tiles on the other three walls.

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2. The master bedroom

By removing the closet wall used to divide the two bedrooms, we created a big and long bedroom. The I beam has been boxed in and will be drywall-ed over, which creates a natural divider to separate the sleeping area from the closet area.

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Under the egress window will be our sleeping area. We decided to put the king bed on the wall adjacent to the backyard for less noise, more fresh air, and east facing windows. The bed will be centered on the east wall of the master and flanked by the floating nightstands I built last year. The column to the right envelopes of the supporting columns for the I beam. I am considering putting a skinny bookshelf on the left to mirror the column on the right, which along with the I-beam creates the look of a sleeping nook.

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This is the view from the living room, through the two bathroom doors, into the bedroom. It will be a simple but comfortable space to nest.

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The front side of the bedroom, which is next to the front yard and under Slav’s office, will become a closet area. We plan to align wardrobe cabinets along the wall on both sides, which will provide more storage space than we currently have in the bedroom closets.

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3. The utility room

The last big changed we made is to remove the wall between the living room and the utility room. Remember the old laundry/utility room when we moved in? It was just a small hallway and hard to even open the dryer door. We first demoed a bedroom there to open up the utility area, and now with the living room wall coming down, we have the entire place opened up to the living room.

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We do plan to frame an utility room closet down the road to enclose the furnace and the water heater, and add a countertop on top of the washer/dryer. The small closet under the stairs will remain as a storage space.

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4. The living room

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Compared to other rooms, the living area changed the least. Aside from losing a wall, the only change is to add recessing lights and sound proofing in the ceiling. Instead of making this another living room, we will likely using it as a media/reading room. Before the sound proofing material went in the ceiling, electrical and Ethernet for TV box and projector had been put in. Slav has big plans for this space, and all I am responsible for is choosing a big and comfortable sofa down here. It will be a great room for late evening movies and friends to gather, but for rest of the year this big and empty room will probably remain big and empty.

The month of June will be hanging the drywall and tiling the bathroom, which will be done by a contractor. We will take the torch in July, after the drywall is finished.  Before moving down here we still need to paint, figure out clothes storage, and hopefully install some flooring at least in the bedroom before we move down here. We are far from fruition now, so it is hard to imagine to have smooth drywall and functional toilet again. There are still lots of decision to make (paint! shower doors! floors!)  and lots of little things to consider (tower bars! toilet holders! bathroom storage!). And I am trying to pump the optimism by keeping myself busy shopping. Cannot wait for everything to be over!

OMG OMG OMG We Got New Windows!

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Hallelujah, we finally updated all the windows!

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We used to have aluminum windows throughout the main floor of our ranch. Since day 1, Slav has been wanting to replace them. I do not blame him. The old aluminum windows lack both form and function. They are dingy, hard to clean, and do a terrible job insulating the cold/heat and noise.

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The pictures above show the old aluminum windows on the back and the north side of the house. These are windows in the kitchen, our bedroom, and the office:

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The previous owners added more layers to insulate, which made it impossible to clean between the layers:

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Some of the windows are so rusted that they do not open. During winter months,  condensation formed and mold was growing along the window frames:

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Colorado is so dry that we do not usually deal with mold problems. But these windows were exception. Needless to say that we were ready for this upgrade for a long time. So when DesignCrew, who did our basement egress gave us a very reasonable quote, we jumped on it with both feet. Their quote does not only include replacing 7 old aluminum windows with custom vinyl windows, but also includes the cost of making the office window bigger.

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The picture above shows the old office window on the left, and the living room window on the right. You can see the office window was shorter. To bring some symmetry to the front of the house we wanted to make the office window taller so it would match the height of the living room window.

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Making this window taller requires cutting the brick window sill off, removing a few rows of bricks below the sill, and building the sill back up again. The DesignCrew guys subcontracts the brick work to a masonry contractor so the quality of the brick work is professional.

In the morning of the window installation, we pushed everything away from the old windows and covered our stuff.

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The crew arrived after 8 AM and worked their way from the inside out, so they can clean after themselves effectively. Lee, the father of the company started to enlarge the front office window (the left window in the picture above) right away, while Ryan (one of his sons) worked on the smaller window on the north side (the right one in the pictured above).

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The bricks were removed before the windows were taking down. Lee, the guy in the picture explained to me that doing things in this order prevented the dust from entering the house. I really like how methodical and organized these guys work. Cannot recommend the DesignCrew enough!

Within an hour the bricks demo was done. Lee then removed the window and trimmed the wood framing to meet the new opening on the exterior brick. You can see how much we were lowering the sill from the picture below:

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Before noon, the new opening was done and I had a rare opportunity to peak into our exterior walls.

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Apparently our brick house was constructed in the following layers: a layer of brick, a layer of insulation board, then interior wood framing. There is no insulation between the interior studs as we discovered during the ethernet cable installation.

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It is so cool to be able to look into the walls – I love the mechanical aspect of the house a lot more than the finishes. Maybe one day we will build a house from scratch!

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The rebuilding of the window was pretty quick. I snapped the last picture above and went for a walk in the neighborhood. By the time I was back, the new window was up!

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The new and bigger window let in so much more light and the office was instantly brighter:

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And we can see a lot more of the front yard garden now with a lower sill. All the flower beds are visible as soon as you walk into the office. This new window has become my favorite spot in the morning. I love sipping my tea while watching birds and flowers in the comfort of my pj.

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All the new windows facing the front and back are double-slider windows – both glass panels are movable and can stop at any position along the window track. The panels can also be pop off easily from the inside for easy cleaning. Each window comes with a bug screen which is a continuous one-piece. The screen can be removed for clearer view. This feature is useful during winter months when we do not open the windows.

Lee saved all the sill bricks during demo so the masonry contractor could re-point them back onto the wall.

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He also replaced the bricks on the side that were cut into halves with bricks taken from the bottom of the window, so the wall on both sides of the new window looks seamless.

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And this is the new look in the front of the house! Doesn’t it look much better with both windows at the same height?

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Compared to this:

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So satisfying!

While Lee tackled the office window, Ryan worked on replacing the two small windows on the north side.

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We rarely open these small windows due to the furniture placement. All they are there for is letting the light in. To have a better view we opted for awning windows, a decision we are so happy with.

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We anticipated that awning windows will appear bigger, but we did not think it would look THIS much bigger and better. The unobstructed view out of these windows looks like a picture and instantly made the rooms feel more finished. In the bathroom downstairs we chose a hopper which is also without the middle frame. For small windows I highly recommend this approach. It also made the windows look bigger from the outside.

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And there will be no more mold!

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Also replaced are the kitchen windows:

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Which Roxie is clearly excited about:

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And the other window in our  bedroom. Directly below is the egress window DesignCrew put in for us back in January.

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A much better view of the backyard from our bed:

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The last window we replaced is in the garage! The old aluminum one was completely rusted and could not open.

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And here is the new one:

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We have been living with the new windows for a couple weeks now and really like them. We no longer hear traffic on the street, and every room is a lot brighter. The temperature inside is a lot more stable, and opening and closing the windows have been a breeze.

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In addition to the comfort, upgrading the windows brought such an instant upgrade to our curb appeal. We keep asking ourselves why we had not done it sooner! After removing the old front porch, installing a new roof, putting in new landscaping, building a new horizontal fence, and now with brand new windows, we finally checked off all the big items on our exterior renovation list. Remember the front of the house when we bought it?

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A very different view today:

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Now we can finally move into the decorative elements for the exterior. Slav has been wanting to add stone veneer to the bare foundation, and I’ve been dreaming about climbing clematis on over-window pergolas. Slav is also very motivated to paint the gables and the garage door darker to better match the bronze trims and gutters – or I should say, to let me paint the gables and the garage door darker. This summer will be full of small and fun projects to continue improving our curb appeal, and I cannot wait!

The New Electrical is in!

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With the recent rain and snow our yard has been insanely beautiful. On the opposite, the basement of our ranch was gloomy. Boob lights poorly light rooms and all the renovation efforts underneath. Fortunately all was in the past – because the can lights are finally in!

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The decision of adding recessed lighting was easy Рa single boob light was all we had in each room before, including the big 20 x 14  living area. Since we are opening up the ceilings for sound insulation (more on that later), it was the perfect timing to brighten up the basement with can lights. Dimmerable LED is a must, and three-way switches are placed near every doorway so we can control the lights when entering and leaving each room.

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For 850 sqft of the space we put in 23 can lights – 8 in the living room, 5 in the bedroom, 4 in the bathroom, and 6 in the utility room.

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The can lights in the living room is more or less evenly spaced so we will not have any dark corners.

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In the bedroom, the placement of the cans was a big tricky due to the heat ducts. At the end, three cans were placed along the midline of the future closet area:

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And two can lights were centered above the sleeping area. We have a big egress window for natural lighting on this side and two additional sconce lights on the side of the bed.

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The bathroom is gonna be so bright! Two can lights on the ceiling and two mini can lights on the soffit should make up for the lack of natural light here. I am also excited to have separated switches for a bathroom fan, ceiling lights, and soffit can lights. The current master bath upstairs has everything wired on the same circuit, which means the fan comes on (and it is loud) whenever we use the bathroom, even just for washing hands. It is so annoying! I know the separated light and fan feature comes with 99.9% of the houses and apartments – but not in our old ranch, which really taught us to appreciate simple pleasures such as separating your fan and lights.

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The utility room will not be finished this time with the living area and master suite, for several good reasons. First, we want to put a dry kitchen and bar area here which requires a lot more time. Second, it will be convenient to have the wet wall uncovered and all the plumbing exposed until we renovate the bathroom and kitchen upstairs. But we decided to get the electrical part done with the rest of the basement. It just makes sense to upgrade the essentials all at the same time. In the utility room, four can lights were added to cover the middle:

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And one more was added above the washer and dryer:

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We also asked the electrician to add one can light inside the utility room closet. After opening up the bedrooms and getting rid of the linen closet, this closet became the only hidden storage in the basement. Adding can light spared us from the loose hanging light bulb there before and saved some much-needed head room in this under-the-stairs closet.

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In the picture you can also see the sub-panel. We did not know we needed it until the electrician took a closer look at the existing panel installed in 2017. On our main panel there was barely enough room for all the lights and utility we need, and definitely not enough room for the future dry kitchen. Adding a sub-panel not only makes wiring all the downstairs utility easier, but also allows us to reset the circuit without leaving the basement.

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The sub-panel was connected to the main one with wires threaded through the floor joints under the backdoor landing. We decided that the closet is the best place to conceal the unsightly sub panel. To meet the code the doorway had to be enlarged by a few inches, and no door can be added, which is not a problem at all. The wider opening actually made getting in and out of the closet a lot easier, and I have a few idea to make this closet not only functional but pleasant to look at even without a door.

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In addition to can light, we also asked for more outlets in the bedroom and the living area. Two outlets and two sconce lights were wired to flank the bed:

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And two electrical outlets were also added to the ceiling where the future projector, TV, and sound systems will be. Slav dropped ethernet cables (of course) next to the electrical outlets so everything we need for future entertainment will be concealed behind the finished ceiling. Last, we added one outlet and ethenet cable near the main entry. This will be a future bar area and I can see the need for charging cables and hardwired internet connection here:

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After all the electrical was done, we moved onto sound-proofing the basement. With the hardwood floor upstairs we really hear every step. It was like a disco party over the head whenever Roxie and Charlie play. To damp the sound, Slav installed the mineral wool insulation batt between the floor joints.

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We have quite some ducts in between the floor joints. Slav torn the insulation apart and stuffed them around the ducts and can lights really well. It was quite a messy job – I highly recommend a respirator – although it was no comparison to this attic insulation project we did ourselves. Applause to the husband who took care of the work so I did not have to!

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The result turned out exactly as we expected – the insulation damped the footsteps in large and helped a lot with the conversation noise. The bedroom actually got double layers of the insulation, which should help with the sound transfer between our future master and the guest room above.

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We ordered 20 bags of the mineral wool insulation, and used 19 bags in the ceiling. Instead of returning the last bag, Slav installed the leftover insulation around the furnace. We plan to build a closet around the furnace down the road. With the help of the mineral wool insulation, we hope to minimize the furnace noise when it comes on and off.

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With both electrical and insulation done, we are ready for drywall. I had some anxiety closing up the ceiling and walls – I cannot help but wondering if we forget something important between the studs. We already determined to wireless connect the future speakers, then what else we could do when the studs are still exposed? Is there anything could be useful down the road, even though we are not using today? Give us a shout out if you have any ideas!

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