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

Tag: Basement Page 1 of 12

We Are Not Done with Plumbing Yet…

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Hi all! A couple weeks ago I was happy to announce that we were done with plumbing work in the main floor bathroom. But little did I know, plumbing was certainly not done with us yet! A few days after, on a Thursday night, as I was showering in our master bathroom, water started coming up from the basement shower drain as well as the floor drain in the utility closet. The water quickly got under the new flooring in the utility room, which fortunately held up well after drying. But boy, was it a scare.

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As any good home owner would do, Slav went to the big box store, rented a drain snake, and tried to clean out the sewage drain himself. Poor man worked over the entire weekend in snow and cold, only to make the situation worse by having the head of the snake stuck in the sewage pipe, under the house! Sunday night, we finally called an emergency plumber in, who ran a camera through all the drain pipes. The diagnose? A piece of old cast iron plumbing pipe under our house rusted through, and the snake head hooked to the side of this broken pipe.

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To give you a reference, above are the utility closet and laundry niche. The floor drain is located inside the utility closet, and our master bathroom was behind the wet wall. The snake head stuck right underneath the wet wall, somewhere behind the washer.

When we upgraded the bathroom plumbing and later the utility room floor drain, we did not replace all the cast iron pipes under the basement slab, only the drains that connected the utilities. Now looking back, based on how bad these cast iron connections look, we should have anticipated that the underground pipes were in pretty bad shape as well.

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And this is what the underground pipe looked like when our plumber broke the concrete slab and cut it out! The bottom of the pipe was completed rusted through. And the snake head probably finished the job of splitting it open.

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Next to the rusted cast iron pipe you can see one of the connectors. This portion of pipe was immediately downstream to the vertical kitchen sink drain, which we later learned that are usually in the worst shape for any house with cast iron drains.

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In the picture above is the kitchen drain. As you can see, we have replace the old pipes with new PVC ones till just above the basement slab. This upgrade was done when we upgraded the water lines for the basement and the kitchen, which was before the utility room was framed and drywalled. We did not want to go through the trouble of breaking the concrete slab then due to the cost, and now we have to do it – by breaking into the finished framing/drywall and with finished flooring! Guys, learn from our mistakes: do thing right at the first time, as early as possible, even it seems costly. It might not be the easiest decision to make, but you will not regret later!

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On the other end of the broken pipe there is the main connection under the house. Both main floor and basement toilets and the floor drain tie into it. Fortunately, it is in fairly good shape and our plumber was able to tie the new PVC pipe into it without replacing this piece.

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Below is the shot I took from the utility closet side. The plumber only needed to open a small portion of the dividing wall and remove very little framing. We were so happy that we did not need to replace this main connection, which would have required to demo some of the tiles in our master bathroom…

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The last connection the plumber had to address is the shower drain connection. The vertical pipe serves the main floor shower drain, and the bottom Y connection goes out to the basement shower drain as well as connects to the main drain line. By taking out the old pipe, we have to connect the showers back to the new pipe. At some point during the demo, it looked that we would have to demo part of the tiled master shower in order to replace this connection… But fortunately, our plumber was able to dig carefully under the master shower, and eventually replaced this connection without breaking the shower floor and wall tiles!

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After removing all the rusted pipes, our plumber finalized his shopping list, picked up pieces needed, then rebuilt our plumbing.

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Then he mixed some concrete and buries everything back up – After a 8-hour day of work, we have our laundry niche again minus some drywall:

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Now the pipes from the kitchen sink and main floor shower are completely upgraded to PVC! We could finally shower and use toilet at home again after days of gym showers and grocery store bathroom breaks…

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Slav reconnected the water and dryer vent. Now I could do laundry again!

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It was a huge undertaking plus lots of mini heart-attacks. but our plumber did a very good job to preserve our finished surfaces. At the end, we only had a few pieces of drywall open, and a small hole between the laundry niche and the utility closet. Inevitably we have to do some touchup paint work, but I was very grateful that we did not need to tile the master bathroom again.

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Our plumber also did a good job setting up protections around the work site. We did cover all the furniture in the basement with tarp, but the confinement kept most of the dust away from the media room so the final clean-up was surprisingly easy.

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It was a hell of week. On top of the plumbing issue, our dryer broke around the same time the plumbing issue happened. Fortunately, Slav was able to fix the dryer himself with some cheap replacement parts. And $4000 later (the emergency plumber/camera work + underground pipe replacement) we finally got some normality back into our lives. I have to say, this Spring has been tough. Probably because I was having high hopes for a “normal” Spring after the tough 12-month. Apparently, the difficult time is not over yet. Do not celebrate too early!

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Fortunately there was beauty in our lives too:

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My hellebores are blooming for the first time. How exciting.

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These hellebores were planted in the Fall of 2019. They did not bloom in 2020 which was a huge bummer. But this Spring, they showed me their beautiful faces:

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It will still be a few weeks before all the buds completely open. But they have already made me so happy in these cold Spring days that we had to pee behind our garden shed, along with the dogs.

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There is hope, guys!

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DIY Frame for Large Painting

Snow days are perfect for small DIY projects. Today’s showcase is a large picture frame I made for an oil painting.

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It may not look like much. But when compared to the look without the frame, I think it is a big improvement:

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We had this painting for a couple years now. Over time, we noticed that the frame slowly came out of plumb. I decided the best way of re-align the canvas without adding much more weight would be to add a strong frame around the original one.

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There are lots of tutorials online for frame making. I picked one of the simplest plan with a floating frame look:

Material list (for a 40″ ×40″ canvas):

  • Two 1″ x 2″ x 8′ red oak*
  • Scrap wood for corner reinforcement (I used a 42″ long 1″ x 4″ piece)
  • Wood stain/paint/finish desired
  • Hanging hardware

*You can use any wood species for the frame. I picked the relatively expensive red oak ($22/2 pieces after tax) for the look of its grain, with plan to stain the frame. We ended up painting the frame, so I could have used cheaper wood such as pine to get the same look.

Tools needed:

  • Miter saw (or handsaw + speed square)
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Pen or pencil
  • Wood glue
  • Nail gun and brad nails (or pocket screws if you want to get fancy)
  • Hammer or drill (for hanging the frames)

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The first step is measure and cut the frame pieces. I decided on having a small gap (1/16″ or so) between the canvas and the frame, so for 40″ canvas, I cut each side to be 40 1/8″ on the inner side. The canvas is about 3/4″ deep. For a floating look I made sure to have the 1″ side (actually 3/4″) facing up, to let the 2″ side (actually 1 1/2″) be the depth of the frame. I also chose to miter the corners for a more classic look. For simpler construction you can just butt joint the two pieces.

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To make sure the new frame is plumb I added corner pieces. Bigger/longer the corner pieces are, more sturdy the construction will be. I cut up a piece of 1″ x 4″ scape wood so each piece ended up to be around 10″ long. I also cut the ends at 45 degree so the corner pieces could sit flush against the inside of the frame.

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The corner pieces were cut with the 1″ side (true dimension 3/4″) facing the inside of the frame, allowing the 3/4″ canvas to sit flush with the surface of the frame, creating a floating look.

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Before assembling the frames I dry-fit all the pieces together on a flat surface. The whole frame was straight, square, and plumb, and I liked the gap around the canvas.

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At the last minute I decided to add a 1″x1″ piece horizontally. It added some strength, helped to keep the frame plumb, and provided more surface for the canvas to attach to the frame assembly.

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At this point I asked for Slav’s opinion on the finish of the frame. He requested dark color. So I painted the frame a shotgun black using the leftover paint from our front door.

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Even though this was among one of the smallest DIY projects, I still felt excited assembling the frame. We tacked together the frame pieces with 1 3/16″ brad nails (16-gauge or 18-gauge both worked fine) and a nail gun. You can also use just hammer and nails or pocket screws, just need to make sure to assemble on a flat surface with the front side facing down so the front of the frame is perfectly flush. We also used wood glue between the joints for added strength.

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After putting the frame together, we flipped it and attached the corner reinforcement and the horizontal brace again with glue and brad nails. We made sure that the frame and the corner pieces were on the flat floor, and pushed the corner pieces against the frame so the whole assembly came together flush.

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With both the painting and the frame face downward, we secured the canvas to the frame using 1″ brad nails from the back. This was the easiest way to ensure an even gap around the canvas. Just make sure that you clean the surface (in our case, the wood floor) really well before putting the painting face down.

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Total 10 nails (2 on each corner pieces, and two on the horizontal pieces) hold the canvas tight to the frame assembly.

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And this is how the painting looked standing up! Isn’t it nice?

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We kept the original hanging hardware and used the original screw onto which the canvas was hung before.

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I love the finished frame! The paint color on the frame is not exactly the color of the furniture underneath, but they match very well.

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Covered sides, floating look, and more importantly, straight and plumb!

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Compare to before, this art piece now looks much more finished:

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DIYing this frame piece turned out to be really straightforward, yet the finished look it delivered exceeded my expectation. I really adore this simple way of making floating frames. Now I want to make floating frame for al the paintings we have!

Back to Work + Basement Trims

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2020 has been intense so far. After staying home for months, I am finally back to work. We did well during the pandemic though. While Slav continued working from home, I accomplished a number of home improvement projects. From organizing the garage and creating more overhead storage to refinishing the bathroom door, from building patio planterstidying up the veggie garden, building a new terrace garden, to automating the drip irrigation, I did not rest a single day! You can see the result of our projects in the recent garden tours here.

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But the biggest ticket item Slav and I checked off during the stay-at-home period, is our basement utility room.

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Installing flooring and the doors in the utility room marked a near completion of our basement renovation, which we started a year and half ago! Now the only task left in the basement was installing trims and baseboards.

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With the momentum we decided to wrap up the basement reno before I had to go back to work. So during the last two weeks of my stay-at-home time, Slav joined me in the basement to work on trims.

We started with installing trims for the three doors we installed back in February. The profile we chose is called “craftsman“, which matches the best the profile of our doors.

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The top trims were pieced together with 1″ x 2″ and 1″ x 6″ boards for a beefy look. The side trims were all 1″x 6″ boards.

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Due to the height of the ceilings, we used simpler profile of trims on the closet doors and the bathroom pocket doors:

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One area that was difficult to address is the space between the two bathroom doors. There was not enough room here for the whole width of 1″x 6″. So we opted for a corner bead.

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We ran both door trims and the corner bead all the way to the floor for a clean look.

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After finishing the door trims, we installed baseboards. The baseboard we chose has a simple profile with tall base and a fat bead on top.

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The 5.5″ height hid all the imperfection on the bottom of drywall, and the 5/8″ thickness covered the 1/4″ gap between the flooring and the drywall well.

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We installed the same baseboard throughout the basement for a cohesive look.

The media room

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The master bedroom

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And the newly finished utility room

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There are a few places where the baseboards end on the face of the door trims. We used a return profile to finish the corner elegantly:

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Similar return profiles, with a different angle, were used to terminate baseboards where they meet the master closets.

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To make sure one pocket door closes tightly onto the wall, Slav installed baseboards up to the door from both side and did nice returns on both ends:

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It might not look like much, but it took us three days to get all the trims and baseboards installed. Following installation, Slav caulked all the nail holes, seams, and gaps, and I painted all the trims, baseboards, and closet doors in the same color of our main floor trims.

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This is the first time I tried this Valspar oil-enriched enamel paint. And it did not disappoint! It is almost self-leveling so there is not much brush marks. I chose satin finish, color matched to Behr ultra Pure White.

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After the paint dried on the doors and baseboards, Slav installed handles and magnet door stoppers to protect the walls. All the hardware are in satin nickel which matches our door hinges.

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After installing the trims and baseboards, I can finally get furniture for the media room! We only purchased a few pieces that are necessary for this room to function, including a new TV stand:

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We put the TV and its stand in between the bedroom door and bath door. They fit perfectly into this spot.

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Slav is on the mission of finding us a couch. At the mean time, the massage chair serves as a comfortable spot to watch TV from:

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The small heater was now moved to the wall between the utility room opening and the bathroom. I like to turn it on just for faux log fire.

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We also got a storage unit for Slav’s vinyl collection:

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I moved all the records and the player down as soon as the storage unit was assembled, and Slav set up the speakers so they can get input from our phones, computers, or the record player.

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I had painted the access panel to the water main to match the walls. Now with the record collection and speakers in front, you can hardly notice the access panel anymore.

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Can you believe that we finally crossed the finish line on this basement renovation? This is particularly significant since today happens to be the three-year anniversary of us moving into this house.

Finally, Charlie can enjoy some peace and quiet in his favorite spot in the house:

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Now when going down the stairs, we know that we would be entering a clean and relaxing space, without any work in sight. What an amazing feeling it is!

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Many thanks to those of you following our basement renovation for such a long time – 18 months to be exact. Thanks for your encouragement and cheers along the way! Now let us hope the pandemic is over soon so we can host movie nights in our new media room again!

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