Terrific Broth

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

The Office: Reversing the Closet

In case you missed our plan for Slav’s office, you can find it here. The office will get a new opening, and the existing door and the closet opening will be covered to make room for built-in library shelves. Last weekend, we kicked off the renovation by reversing the office closet to face the bedroom.


Demoing the new opening would have been way more satisfying, but we decided to work on the wall of build-ins first. There is a very good reason for this – and a very practical one – we do not have room:


Yep, this pile of books is sitting right against the office-living room wall, and we have to move them somewhere before we could work on the new opening. I guess as someone who tries to practice minimalism, book is an exception.


This is a picture from our moving day, and all the boxes are books. They were neatly stacked in the office at the beginning, but soon became a dumping ground for coats, electronics, half-done projects… anything and everything we did not know where to store.


The other end of the room is not much better. Once clean and sleek, Slav’s desk has changed from this:


to this:



As you can see, before we could work on the new layout, we have to give the books and all the electronics a place to go. The best we can do is to get the library shelves up first so we do not need to move all the books twice.



Had the decision been made, we started by taking the closet door off. I pried off the trims carefully, and found that the door jamb is attached to the framing lumber using blocks and shims:



After taking the trims inside off, I was surprised to see how big the gaps were between the door jamb and framing. Is it normal to have so much a big gap only covered by trims? Or is this because the original opening was intended to be larger?



I removed the door jamb off and unscrewed the top track for the sliding doors. Taking the top track off revealed the header, a pair of 2x4s joined together by small shims.



For a brief moment, the closet actually looked better. I guess it is because of the clean lines around the framing. Maybe instead of reuse the old trims, morden trim is the way to go?



The next step was to remove the drywall, which will open the closet to the bedroom behind. We took everything out of the closet including the shelf first:


Things had to get worse before getting better:


Slav cut into the drywall using a sawzall. Do not ask me why we have a sawzall. I had no idea.


It was pretty easy to remove the office side of the drywall. On the bedroom side, we wanted to only cut away the desired opening. While Slav was working on the demo on the office side, I traced the opening on the bedroom side, using old trim pieces as a template:




This opening is symmetrical to the existing closet in the bedroom. With my pencil lines as a guide, Slav went to town with the drywall demo:



Thing went pretty fast at this point. Within minutes, the two rooms were connected:


We kept the windows open during demo and had nice breeze through the two rooms. It was so tempting to keep them connected! The apartments I grew up in China always has windows on both southern and northern side of the building facing each other for cross breeze. I’ve not seen much of similar design in the States.


But we knew that we desperately need closet space and book storage, so the work continued. The next step is to frame the closet. As you can see, the closet wall was framed with studs 16″ apart, sitting on a bottom plate.


It was pretty cool to see pencil lines from decades ago indicating where the studs needed to go:


Slav cut away the studs flash with the bottom plate and top plate, then freed the bottom plate using a pry bar:



As we predicted, there is no wood flooring below the bottom plate. It was sitting directly on the sub-floor. Fortunately, we have the most standard oak flooring that can be found from any big box store, so patching the floor will not be costly or difficult.

To frame the office side, we simply transferred the bottom plate and studs over  a couple feet to align with the office wall. The studs had to be cut down to fit the old closet opening of course, but in general this step was very straightforward.



We attached the bottom plate to the side studs, and the vertical studs to the bottom plate and old header. We kept the outlet on the bedroom wall so we can use it in the closet down the road:


The next step was to frame the closet opening on the bedroom side. The rough opening could use some reinforcement so they would not be floating over empty space, and we need something to attach the door jamb to. We started by building a strong header mimicking the header design on the office side, using leftover lumber from the headboard project.

Someone was excited to put in the new header, I guess.


After the header was installed, we added two more 2″x4″ studs on each side of the closet opening. The door jamb can be attached to them later.


This was first time any of us did any framing. It was intimating to think about, but once we started, it was very straightforward with some common sense. We were pretty happy with our new(ly reversed) closet.


This is what the closets currently look like from the bedroom side. We can finally get dressed without walking back and forth between two rooms. The next step is to drywall, then we can start assembling all the Billy bookshelves. Cannot wait!



The Office Design

Hi guys! I hope you enjoyed the “B.L.O.W” post last week. It was an incredibly messy and tiring task due to our low-pitch roof, but I am happy to report that we have already felt the positive result. The house was instantly warmer. No kidding. The first night after the blow, our furnace barely came on! Since then, the furnace has been coming on a lot less frequent and a lot shorter each time. We did not change the settings on our thermostat, so the house must be holding heat better. Less furnace time brings some additional advantages we did not expect, such as less noise, and less dryness. We sleep better at night, and no longer wake up with dry throat.

It is so nice to know that our little ranch is running more efficiently, which is our top renovation priority. To be honest, what we spent on insulation ($160 on rafter vents and $450 for the insulation) will take years to recover. But we’d rather putting our money towards increasing efficiency than burning natural gas, because the cost is also on the environment.

Speaking of the comfort inside, I mentioned in our new year plan that we are starting on the indoor space, and Slav’s office is the first one in order. We started demo this past weekend, and boy it felt good. I do not always have a clear vision for a room, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do for this room the moment I saw it. I knew I wanted to give it to Slav as an office, and I knew that I wanted to open it up to the living room instead of to the bed/bath. I wanted to keep it simple but masculine with wall-to-wall library shelves and a leather chair; a streamlined custom desk for Slav is a must.



A New Opening

Ranch main floor_3D

The office is room No. 4 in the floor plan above. It is immediately to the left of the front door, but separated from the living room by a dividing wall. Being a bedroom its entire life, this room opens through a small doorway to the hall, directly facing the main floor bath.


But small opening it will have no more – I knew from the get-go that I want to open the dividing wall, and make the office an extension of the living space. The view from the living room to the office will change from this:


to this:


It will make our living space feels twice as big when you walk into the front door – you now see the entire span of the first floor.





Closing the Existing Doorway and Reversing the Closet

This room also has a small closet. It is identical to the small closet we have on the bedroom side. In response to having a new doorway, we will close the existing doorway to the hall, and reverse the office closet to the bedroom side.


The master room will double its closet space, from this:


to this:


And the office side will gain an entire uninterrupted wall, from this:


to this:


Creating a Library Wall

This new wall gained in the office is begging for built-ins. We have thousands of books sitting on the office floor in boxes, and we are dying to get them onto the shelves. This new wall will be one of the first thing you see when you walk into the front door, so a wall-to-wall library will be a bold statement as well as a functional addition to the office.

My inspiration

We had IKEA Billy before and very happy with their look and quality. They are so versatile and can be easily modified for a built-in look. I’ve always chosen lighter color in the past for myself. But this time around, I decided to go for a darker wood tone, similar to my inspiration photo, for a more masculine feel. IKEA had a big sale on the Billy last November and we snatched five of them in brown ash veneer. Two months have passed since then and these shelves are very patiently waiting in the garage for our attention. However, my patience has run out and I cannot wait to assemble them! #LEGOforadult

A New Desk and Desktop

Aside from a new opening and a new library wall, we also plan to get Slav a new desktop computer (his current one is 10-year-old!) and I will custom build him a new desk. I am feeling a lot of pressure to create the perfect desk for him. It needs to have lots of work space and sufficient storage without feeling bulky. It also needs to incorporate the motorized legs and to conceal lots of cables. It needs to fit three big monitors, and I want to add better task lighting and a bit of decor. The expectation is high. Most importantly, I want the desk and the library shelves work together to give a traditional and masculine feel to the room, while keep things fairly streamlined and minimal. It will be a fun design challenge to take on.

W have started on the closet last Saturday and this was where we were that afternoon. We are making progress and I hope to be back in couple days to show you a more finished product. This is our first time framing, so wish us luck!



The B.L.O.W

This pallet of insulation was delivered before the New Year, and had been sitting in our garage…


…until yesterday!


Yep! We blew!


We intended to do the insulation before the New Year, but Slav has been busy with his work. In top of that, we were just swimming in small tasks in preparation for the blow. Sealing the gaps, taping the pipes, closing the missing portion on ceiling drywall, laying down Ethernet cables for future use, you name it. Most recently, we installed rafter vents as preparation for adding more insulation. It was an incredible tiring and dusty job, but we were so excited to finish it so our insulation could finally go where it should be!

We were so pumped to blow!

We got up early Saturday morning and headed to Home Depot. We ordered our insulation from their website, so even through the product was delivered directly to our door, the store honored the purchase and rent us the cellulose blower for free.



The blower came with 75 feet of hose, which was just enough for reaching the end of our attic.




The process was pretty straightforward and the instruction was posted right on the machine. An on-and-off switch turns on a set of rotating paddles, breaking insulation apart and mixing it with air. The speed of blower can be controlled by a slider on the side, which dictates how much air is pumped into the machine. One person feeds chucks of insulation into the machine from the top, and the other person holding the end of the hose to direct where to pump.


In our case, I fed the insulation and Slav went into the attic. It did take some practice to get used to this machine. First, our machine did not come with a slider, which means we were always blowing on the maximum speed. Since there is no on-and-off switch on the end of the hose, I tried to feed the machine different amount and in different speed while staying on the phone with Slav to get feedback on how things worked on his end.

I did research a bit on the blowing process, and everyone says that it is desirable to break the cellulose into very small bit, since big chucks tends to clog the machine. But in our case, I did not find it matters much, The machine comes with a 3 x 3 grid on top, and as long as the insulation chuck was small enough to fall into the machine, it got broken down by the strong moving paddles nicely.

What mattered the most, in our experience, is the amount of the insulation one feeds each time. I started feeding 1/3 bag a time, which is about 10 pounds. It almost fills the machine, but the blower spilled out insulation like toothpaste. It did not work at all for us. We figured that too much insulation blocked air into the machine, so I started feeding much smaller chucks and it worked much better – the blower started to shoot fine insulation constantly and evenly, as it intended to.


Another problem we had at first, was unwanted spills. Due to the missing slider, insulation kept spilling out from the open slot, so I taped it over. The hose also came off a few times, resulted in a big mess in the garage:



Slav came out of the attic and use a rubber cord to hold the hose in place. We were back in business!


A couple bags insulation in, we had worked out all the wrinkles and the process started picking up the pace. I fed small chucks of insulation constantly, and Slav directed the hose while slowly backing out.


I opened six bags at a time, which should fill 4 rafters. It was very helpful to stay on the phone all the time so we could ensure that we had a good coverage.




The 36 bags quickly disappeared. In a couple hours, we had only 4 bags left and majority of the attic was covered with 11″ additional insulation (R41):


Beautiful, isn’t it?

This is what we had before, only 5 inches of loose fiberglass (R13):


And this was what we have at that point, 16″ all around:


We have tried to blow into the garage wall without much success. So we decided to add the rest four bags into the attic, because why not. Slav went back into the end of the attic to address some uneven spots.

We soon ended up with this:


16″ near the rafter vents and 18″ in the middle.


It gives us R54~R60 insulation value. The effect was immediate – our furnace hardly came on the last two nights and house became much quieter.

The garage is clean again. We could not say that about ourselves though…



We are keeping close eye on the thermostat, and will give you guys an update on how much it saves at the end of this month. Our little ranch feels really fancy now!

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