Terrific Broth

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

Home Stay + Patio Planter Build

My personal life has always been driven by getting rid of stuff. I was Marie Kondo loooong before I even knew her existence. This Spring the urge of purging came stronger than ever, probably because I am stuck home with a husband and two messy dogs. But I am also cheap, led by my Chinese heritage. So I refuse to throw away anything that I can juice value out of. Balancing between saving things that can be used to create and getting stuff out of the house is the delicate dance I perform.

All this is to say that please imagine the extraordinary joy and relief I had when I turned leftover lumber from our horizontal fence build into a set of planter/seating combo for our patio. We used exclusively 1″x 6″ planks for our fence. But we did purchase fifty pieces of 1″ x 4″ planks for creating a decorative pattern, an idea was nixed quickly. Since returning these planks cost a restocking fee, my Chinese side decided to keep all the lumber in the garden shed for “future use”. Then my Kondo side blamed myself for the next 16 months every time I walked into the shed and saw this giant pile of wood.

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But not anymore. They are now my new planter/seating for our patio and for strawberries we will immensely enjoy over the summer months. Allow me to brag to you how I executed this perfect plan intersecting home organization, building projects, and garden planning. And feel free to admire along the way.

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A light bulb went off (on, actually…English is weird) moment

I’ve been wanting a planter/trellis combo on the north end of our patio. Our northern neighbor’s house sits lower than ours. Even though there is a 6′ fence between our properties, our patio is completely exposed to their eyes.

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We did plant some privacy trees along the fence but it will take years for them to grow into a sizable hedge. We need something to stop neighbor’s curious eyes now and for all four seasons. After some research, I decided on this design of planter box with tall climbing trellis.

Planter Boxes with Climbing Trellis

It does not only offer privacy, but also function for growing herbs and flowers near the kitchen. I also like how the simple look of this planter box echoes our horizontal fence. Lastly, it is easy to build with the 1″ x 4″ cedar planks I intended to use up.

The cedar I had on hand could build more than one planter. For the second one, I landed on a bench planter design. This planter will be facing our backyard, where we do not need tall trellis for privacy. Rather, we need more seating that can be utilized from both side. Compared to having individual chairs on the patio, integrated seating reduces visual clutter while offering seating for multiple guests when needed.

One big advance of DIY is personalization. Slav has some snowboards than he could ride. But just like me, he has a hard time to throw them away. I planned to use one of them to create an unique seating bench – a good way to incorporate things that reflect our interests and taste into this build.

Cut list: the Basic Design and Dimension of the Planter

The first step was to decide the dimension of the planter. The picture below shows the northeast corner of the patio, where the two planters will be placed. The trellis planter will be set on the short edge, to the right in the picture, whereas the long side of the patio will be boxed in with the bench planter. Our patio is 6″~8″ above the soil at this corner, so I decided the planters should be 32″ tall, with 24″ above the patio when placed next to it.

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I also decided on this dimension because the 2″x 4″s we would use for vertical support for the planters are 96″ long. So there will be no waste when I cut them to three 32″ pieces. In addition, the 32″ height happens to accommodate nine of the 1″ x 4″ boards when arranged horizontally with minimal gaps in between. It is a fairly polished look I like.

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To minimize the scraps with 6′ long planks, I decided to make the width 2′ (24″) for both planters. In this way each dog ear plank will produce three side pieces without any waste.

Planter 1: Design the carcasses

With the plans in place I got to work. First I transported all 50 pieces of 1″ x 4″ x 6″ boards and some 2″ x 4″s left from the gate build to our newly organized garage. It was so nice to have plenty of room and all the right tools in place.

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I started with the planter bench and built the side panels first (32″ tall and 24″ wide).

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Next was to decided where the planter ends and where the bench starts. I like the look of square planters, so I kept the length of the planters equal with the width (24″).

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I used a couple of the full length 1″ x 4″ planks to link the two side panels together. They also kept everything straight and square. Then, I built the third side panel (furthest to the right) as the side of the snowboard bench. It does not only offer support for the snowboard, but also creates a side table on each end of the seating.

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The picture below offers a better view of the third/inner side panel. The snowboard/seating surface will be inserted into it and on both sides.

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The next step is to add planks onto the carcasses. I decided to cover the back of the planter+ table area completely, but leave the under the table area open to the patio side for additional storage.

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Above is a top view of the 2′ x 2′ planter box on one end. The pictures below show how the snowboard seating would be positioned into the inner side panel.

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Planter 1: Complete the Other End

It took a while to build the first end of the planter. But once I figured out exactly the style I wanted and the dimension, the other end was fast to build.

First the far end panel:

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Then the middle panel with half of the table top incorporated. To save the 1″ x 4″ I used only the dog ear portion and one piece of leftover 1″ x 6″ at the bottom. This panel will be mostly hidden anyway.

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Last was the inner side panel. I left out one horizontal board to accommodate the snowboard.

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After all three side panel were built, I connected them with horizontal planks:

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it is worth while to line up the screws. For any horizontal build, this step really elevates the look:

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Now we could get a good idea on what the final planter bench looks like.

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I made sure that the height of the snowboard works as seating for our patio. The table top part was not in the initial design – it was created to accommodate the curvy ends of the snowboard. But I like it now. It offers a nice separation between the soil and seating, and serves as a great spot to set drinks.

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The Second Planter Build

was a lot more straightforward as it is just a big box. We will get a already-made trellis once the stay-at-home order is over.

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The height and width of this planter remains the same, 32″ and 24″, respectively. After building the sides we have only 18 1″ x 4″ planks left, and I decided to use all of them and make the most of them too. Since taking the dog ear portion off the 6″ planks results in 70″ of straight planks, these planters are set to be 70″ long.

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Being this long it needs additional vertical support. I added another two pieces of 2″ x 4″s to link the planks from the middle. I also linked the two middle vertical supports with scraped 2″ x 4″s at the bottom, so the pressure of the soil is less likely to cause blowout in the middle of the planter.

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Out of 50 pieces of 1″ x 4″ x 6′ material I was only short for two 24″ horizontal boards – soooo impressed! I did have shorter scraps so two were jointed together on each end to create the top boards.

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With the supporting blocks they looked pretty good from the outside. I was pleased.

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Placing the Planters on the Patio

It took me two days to design/build these planters. Before sunset on Sunday, the planters were set onto the patio. They looked sharp! And I think they balanced out the visual weight of our fire pit + seating on the other side of the patio just right. I left the long boards at the bottom – they will come in handy to ensure everything is at the right level when we set the planters in place. Of course after all the snow melts. 🙂

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I am extremely pleased to have these new planters on our patio. The current plan is to move our strawberry plants, which are currently in ground, into these planters. We got beautiful and delicious strawberries from them last summer but had to fight bunnies for the fruit. But not this summer!

More importantly (to me), now the shed is empty again! Crowded by these boards our poor garden shed has become so dusty and disorganized. I can see my next project in the horizon…

How are you doing in quarantine? Are you managing to work on some fun projects? Or just enjoying life? Be good and be well, everyone!

Home Stay + Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning at home

Hi friends! I hope you all had a good weekend, at least as good as it could be. It is hard to ignore the crazy pandemic, but we managed to stay stress-free and did not run into any trouble shopping. We do, however, start working from home in response to the “social distancing” order, which saves me hours on commute. With nothing else to do I got into Spring cleaning – for the first time in my life! All the surface was wiped down, every blanket was washed, and bathrooms got their fair share of scrubbing bubbles. With 60 degrees and sunny weather I had the windows open for the weekend. It feels like Spring!

After cleaning inside the house I quickly moved onto the garage. Our garage is a true work horse especially in winter months. Without working in it we just use it as an enclosed dumpster. Winter sport gear, shoes, tools, construction material and demolition trash are everywhere. It needs an organization badly.

The dump ground – we are animals

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Lots to store

I spent two days just to sort things out. Every storage box was open and every item now has my finger prints on it. Disposables, out to the trash/recycle. Donation items, out into my car. Gifts, packed and shipped! The garage started looking a lot better, but the real devil is how to store all the rest.

We had organized our garage before and divided it into multiple zones: paint storage, car repair and DIY tools, sport gears, and mud room area. But the recent basement renovation left us a lot of materials we have to keep. For example, the leftover tiles, paint, drywall, and flooring, all of which should be kept in case of future repairs.

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In addition, we also plan to keep the lumber from demolition.

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For the basement reno we also acquired more tools, including a Dewalt miter saw + saw stand. We had already owned lots of tools, both for DIY projects and for car repair/maintenance. And they have been piling on top of each other and getting lost in deep drawers.

I spent the entire third day getting everything out. Dust, categorize, and re-organize them into drawers and onto shelves.

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We had one of the wall organizers (left) which works really well for storing small parts. I got another one (right) and have everything labeled.

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Aside from general storage, I mounted several magnetic racks to hold small tools in open.

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Now at least I know exactly what tools we have and where everything is. Hopefully it will save us time and money from going to stores to buy things we already have.

Adding more shelves and create a wood working station

Shortly after moving in, we mounted a series of storage shelves on the southern wall to hold paint supplies, which have worked wonderfully.

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Soon after that, we added more shelves on the other end of the southern wall for seasonal storage, which we use to store things related to specific project – cycling gear, dog stuff, etc.

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To create more storage like this, I extended the upper storage shelf to run above the garage window for mostly wood working tools.

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Below the window used to be our construction storage. Now all the lumber was moved away, I took the opportunity to carve out a space for wood working. We regularly use the Bosch table saw and the Dewalt miter saw. They are wonderful tools, but difficult to setup. Sometimes we opted out using them purely because we were too lazy to set them up. To make sure these tools are readily available, I placed them next to each other, right under the garage window.

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This is a great spot for wood working tools. The lighting is good with the window (the white board is there temporarily). There is a wall outlet right between them, and the shelves holding all the paint cans and wood treatment are just an arm away.

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We have a piece of pegboard left over from the east wall project. Adhering to the “use it or lose it” rule, I mounted it under the window and it fits perfectly! It is a great spot to store protective gear for wood working.

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Keep the north wall for sport storage and as a mud room

The last wall in our garage is the north wall, shared between the garage and the living room/kitchen. It has been used for winter gear storage with a DIY ski rack:

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next to which is hanging space and shoe storage as a mudroom area.

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What is next?

Now the garage has been organized again, in the best way I can, we have yet to find storage for two more categories of things: Christmas decorations, and lumber.

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So naturally, I decide to use these lumber to created more storage in the garage for Christmas stuff – a one-stone-two-birds approach. Why not? And we happen to have this ugly corner above the roof trusses to cover up…Do you see where I am going with this?

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My next project will be to created storage above the trusses using the lumber we have, not only to conceal the electrical wires, but also to provide space for Christmas decors. Hopefully by the end of the week, we will be able to park a car, maybe even two cars, back to the garage again! Who would know?

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The Utility Room: It Is All About Plumbing

Two weeks have passed since we started working on the basement utility room. We’ve been busy!

First things first, Slav demoed the last bit old drywall in the utility room. Our house is finally purple wall-free.

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Without the big block of purple color, the space immediately felt lovely. I actually do not mind the concrete wall look. But to adhere to the new building codes we have to insulate to R-19. So new framing and drywall there will be.

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We also ripped out the drywall in the closet. Slav hates textured walls. It is just cheaper to re-drywall than to skim coat everything.

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The new framing will be 2″x 4″ in the closet, so the finished wall will be flush with the front of the electrical panel.

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Re-drywall also presents an opportunity to add soundproof insulation under the stairs.

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But the biggest progress we’ve made was plumbing. The plumber who finished our master bath came out again and spent three long days in the utility room. We did many small upgrades. Although pipes behind the wall are not my favorite subject to spend money on, it is worth noting the purpose behind every bit of plumbing projects we’ve completed.

1. Installing a new floor drain

A full day of work was dedicated to replacing the floor drain. Floor drain is required by building code in laundry rooms and close to water tank. But ours has been malfunctional since the day we moved in.

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Not only the old drain was rusted and clogged, its location also inconvenienced us. Sitting far from the wall, the concrete slab around it sloped down significantly towards the drain. The uneven slab prevents us from continuing the LVP flooring from the rest of the basement into the utility room.

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We decided to move the floor drain to one corner of the room so we can lay floors down the road. At the mean time, the old rusty drain would be replaced with a new PVC drain.

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The new drain would be set near the furnace and tankless water heater, near the condensation pump on the floor. By relocating it we will be able to eliminate the condensation pump completely.

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Although we are moving the floor drain by merely a few feet, the work involves breaking the concrete slab between the two locations and re-pouring the slab. Along with the material for the new drain, this work cost us ~$1800 including demo, debris removal, plumbing parts, gravel, concrete, and a day of our plumber’s labor.

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As soon as the sewer line was exposed, we knew why the drain was not working – the underground serer pipe has cracked and was inevitably filled with dirt. The drain pipe actually came out in two pieces.

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Our plumber cut off the old pipe close to the new location, and installed the new drain.

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After laying down a gravel base, concrete was poured and leveled to patch the floor.

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Look at the new drain! Once the utility closet is built the drain along with the furnace and water heater will be concealed from the rest of the room.

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2. The water main upgrade

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As our plumber came in for the floor drain quote, he also suggested a few upgrades, including installing a pressure reducing valve on our main water line.

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Pictured above was the main water line for our house. Water comes into the house from the bottom and below the shut-off valve, and runs up into the basement ceiling then to the wet wall. As you can see, we did not have a way to regulate the water pressure coming from the street. The gate valve in the picture above is an all-of-none shut-off.

After testing, our house receives 80~90 psi water pressure, which is higher than usual (70~80 psi). Higher water pressure can damage household appliances such as clothes washer and dishwasher, as well as reduce the lifespan of plumbing parts such as shower valve. To reduce water pressure, we needed a pressure reducing valve (PRV).

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Our plumber installed the PRV to hold the water pressure around 75 psi, and isolated the valve with two new ball-style shut-offs installed above and below.

3. New outdoor faucet

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Our front yard water faucet is fairly close to the main water line and has been leaking since we moved in. As the plumber worked on the pressure reducing valve, we asked him to replace the outdoor water faucet as well.

New faucet outside of the house:

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New connection inside:

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To work on the water main and outdoor faucet, we had to cut in the new drywall Slav installed (1, 2) and I painted. SAD! After the plumbing work we have been working on patching the drywall. We will be using a electrical access panel (2nd hand for $10!) to allow future access to the pressure reducing valve.

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4. Upgrading/upsizing the main water line

Since the ceiling is open, we also replaced the copper waterline with PVC. The old pipe was installed below the floor joists at places and held up by metal screws/brackets. Metal contact on copper line, regardless water or gas, is a big no-no as the contact point will slowly corrode and develop leaks. Our plumber replaced all the copper line he could see with PVC and raised the new line to be flush with the floor joists.

The old copper line held by metal screws:

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The new PVC held by plastic straps:

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5. Upgrading the waterlines for the main floor bathroom

Since the wet wall will be partially covered by the end of the utility room renovation, we decided to replace as much as plumbing for the upstairs floor bathroom and kitchen as possible. The picture below revealed two problems for the upstairs plumbing: the contact between copper line and sewer line, and undersized pipe.

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This pictured vertical copper pipe is a cold water pipe that supplies the upstairs toilet. It used to feed the water heater below, but the line has been capped when Slav installed the tankless water heater. However, the copper water pipe remains on top of the sewage line due to the narrow space. This contact has been something that keeps us up at night (how adult…).

In addition, the waterline to the right was narrower than the left. Since the horizontal line is where majority of the water travels, It should remain 1/2″ pipe as apposed to the 1/4″ our old plumber used. To fix both issues, we decided to replacing this copper connection completely all the way up to the upstairs toilet, and replace the waterline to 1/2″ throughout.

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As you can see, our plumber upsized the main line and the new line is no longer touching and rubbing on the sewage line.

As a result, we now have a new water line to the upstairs toilet.

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We did have to cut out the bathroom drywall for the work, but this bath’s days are numbered too, so it is OK. The new water line will functional a lot better for us down the road, compared to the old line:

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6. Replacing the outdoor faucet at the back the house

Running down the line, literally, we also replaced the outdoor faucet at the back of the house. Slav took this opportunity and installed a new vent cover for the bathroom fan. The back of the house looks instantly better.

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I do not have a closeup before picture at this location, but you can get an idea how messy it looked from this old shot shortly after we moved in:

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Remember the old window well? I did not. Wow that was bad. But anyway, let us focus on the very left side of the photo. From left to right we have  1. dryer vent, 2. telephone box, 3. old water faucet, and 4. bathroom fan vent. Slav took off the telephone box off and installed a new vent cap for the bathroom fan vent, which completely upgraded the look of this area.

7. Upgrading the kitchen plumbing

The last plumbing project was to upgrade the plumbing for upstairs kitchen, which includes replacing the sewage pipe all the way to under the sink, and replacing cold and hot water supply to the upstairs sink.

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The old sewer pipe with rusted clean out is made of copper and was replaced with new PVC pipe and a new clean out:

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Our plumber installed the Y connection (for ventilation) sideways for easy framing.

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Continue up the under-the-sink sewer pipe was replaced too. It was a huge mess in the sink cabinet:

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Both water lines and the sewer pipe were in serious despair. There must have been leaks and the entire cabinet and the wall behind was rotten and covered by mold. Cannot wait to replace all of them!

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Drywall tape held the connection to the garbage disposal. I faint…

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And look at the new stuff! Apparently the new practice is to run the sewer and water lines through the floor, which brings less disruption of the sink cabinets. Smart!

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The new water lines:

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What a sharp contrast between old and new sewer pipes:

Before

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After!

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The new waterlines were also raised into the floor joists, which will make drywall the ceiling easier.

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Whereas the old lines were below the floor joists:

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What’s next

By crossing off plumbing upgrade from the list, we are ready for framing and drywall! All the framing and drywall finish will be performed by a new GC which will start in April. Then we can take over in May to paint and install flooring. It is tough to wait another month to see new progress, but it also gave me time to finish designing the space and start looking at furniture. Stay tuned!

1. Demo the remaining purple drywall and drywall in the closet;
2. Replace plumbing needed and move the floor drain;
3. Framing walls, soffit when necessary, and add a pocket door to the closet;
4. Frame a floor-to-ceiling utility closet to conceal the furnace and water heater;
5. Electrical work necessary;
6. Insulate and drywall the ceilings and walls;
7. Paint the ceilings and walls;
8. Continue the NuCore flooring from the media room to the utility room;
9. Install trims and baseboard throughout the basement;
10. Create a laundry nook with cabinet storage.

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