Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Basement Page 5 of 9

2019, Set, Go!

It is 2019! The year I’ve been looking forward to. This is not only the year I turn 40, which I feel giddy with anticipation, but also our second full year living in this beautiful State of Colorado. Moving to the place we chose and buying our first house here granted me a sense of belonging that I’ve never experienced since moving to the States. It feels nice to have a place to call home again.

2019 also marks the second year we live in our ranch. We adore this little house and the land it sits on. It is a responsibility. It is work. But it is also joy. We can change it anyway we want and we are doing just that. The process of making it ours is liberating and electrifying.

So what is in store for this cute little gem in 2019? Basement, basement, and basement. Basement renovation is our top priority this year, and saying that we are pumped is an understatement. It is amazing to think that merely a month ago, we were still clueless on what to do with this space. We were too intimated to even start demoing! But as soon as we discovered the I-beam, it is like a torch leading us out of darkness. Combining the two bedrooms and the decision to make it our master bedroom solidified our plans for the basement, and the rest became natural from there.

But there is renovation and there is renovation. To which point do we call it done? Our basement already has a very functional layout, especially after we connected the two bedrooms. We do not wish to tear it down to the studs or switch to fancy finishes, rather aim to create a comfortable nest to curl up in. It is already a big enough undertaking as every single room needs some upgrade. To make the process less stressful, I always look at such project in smaller chunks. And here they are:

1. Egress window and new bathroom windows

Sleeping in the basement makes fire safety the top priority of this renovation. We have gotten quotes from egress window contractors and are very close to committing to the installation. In short, a big window with a walk-out window well will be installed in our bedroom, likely on the wall facing the backyard. It costs around $4000, including cutting into the foundation. At the mean time, we will likely to ask the contractor to replace the broken bathroom window.

2. Sound proofing the bedroom ceiling

Our new bedroom will be directly beneath the future guest bedroom. To add privacy we would like to dampen the sound transfer between the main floor and the basement. A combination of sound-proof insulation between floor joints and resilient channels under the basement ceiling has been shown to be effective. And we are gonna give it a try. Such upgrade is not particularly expensive but rather labor-intensive since it involves removing the existing bedroom ceiling and re-drywall.

3. Can lights + new electrical

Since soundproofing requires the removal of basement bedroom ceiling, we will use this opportunity to run new electrical for recessed lights. The ceiling height in our basemen is 7 1/2 feet, so every inch of headroom counts. Eliminating ceiling lights and adding more can lights will make the basement feeling less like a closed box.

4. Water-proof laminate flooring

in 2018 we have removed all the basement flooring and exposed the concrete slab. Fortunately, the slab is in excellent shape – dry and flat. Wanting something warm and comfortable under our feet, we will likely install water-proof laminate wood flooring over the slab. It shall cover the entire basement including the utility room. We estimate to spend ~$2000 on material and install the flooring ourselves

5. Bath vanity, storage cabinet, and fixtures

Due to water damage we had to toss both medicine cabinet and vanity in the bathroom. They will be replaced with new ones with slim profile and sufficient storage. We will also upgrade all the shower fixtures. Bathroom fixture choices are enormous. We will sure run into analysis paralysis so just wait for it.

6. Wardrobe system, furniture, paint, etc

Being completely empty this basement needs furnishing, starting with wardrobe closets. Slav and I are swinging back and forth between wardrobe cabinets such as IKEA PAX and Elfa system in framed closets. The second chuck of furnishing is for the basement living room, which will be turned into a projector-centered media room with a dedicated reading corner. A deep love seat for late night movies and soft rugs for dogs to nap on will be ideal. Last but not the least is paint. The living room are covered in dark paneling and all the existing drywall and ceilings have seen better days. Smoothing out the wall textures and painting the whole downstairs a brighter color is a must.

Above concludes the first phase of the basement renovation, which grants us a private master suite and a quiet sitting/media room separated from the main floor. Down the road, we would love to add a kitchenette in the utility room, and eventually turn it into a dry kitchen. But first we are gonna focus on getting us moved down here.

In addition to the basement, I also have plans to expand our edible garden in the new year. Nut trees and new planting beds for edible perennial shrubs will be added to the backyard. Site prepping and hardscape will likely to happen in early Spring, which will surely keep us away from the basement reno for a few weeks. I am looking forward to all the exciting changes happening inside and outside of our ranch. Are you?

The Basement Bathroom: Before + Progress

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When closing on our ranch, the most intriguing aspect was definitely getting the second bathroom. Slav and I had always lived with a single bath. Getting ready at the same time in the morning sounded exciting.

So, it might sound like a surprise that we’ve only used the basement bathroom a handful of times thus far. Well, until you see what it looks like.

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Hello the future master bath.

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It is not a diamond in the rough. It is the rough. We took no pleasure walking into this room, let alone using it. Sitting empty did not do this room any favor either. Over the last a year and a half, bugs and spider webs took over.

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We have been wondering about the hole in the soffit above the shower. It turns out to carry an important function: the upstairs bathtub leaks and this hole lets water drain directly into the basement shower. Although unacceptable, you cannot deny the previous owner’s ability of thinking outside the box.

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The soffit wrapped around the mirror wall and ended at a weird bump-out above the toilet. By opening the utility room drywall, we learned that the only thing inside the soffit was the fan vent pipe, and the weird bump-out used to conceal the water heater ventilation pipe, which has been discontinued when we upgraded to a tankless water heater.

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The first order of business is to assess the room. Although small, this bathroom has the potential to be highly efficient, if we could properly address the following issues:

1. Poor ventilation.

The old bathroom fan was noisy and weak, and the only window in the bathroom does not open. Being the only old window in the basement, it will be replaced with a window that can be fully opened to the outside air. We will also install a proper fan to vent the bathroom efficiently.

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2. The nearly-empty soffit.

As I mentioned, the soffit only houses the vent pipe for the bathroom fan, which will be replaced and relocated. There will be no reason for the soffit to stay, and removing it will allow us to raise the light fixture higher as well as install a taller medicine cabinet.

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3. Builder grade finishes (of the worst variety).

Popcorn ceiling, heavily textured walls, and outdated aluminum fixtures. Ugh.

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4. Direction of the door swing

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Currently the door swings inside, which not only blocks the toilet paper, but also limits the usable space in the bathroom. We have discussed the possibility of removing the door completely and reinstalling it at the living room doorway. Moving the door two feet out will not only save floor space in front of the toilet, but also create better flow between the future master bed and bath.

5. Lack of storage

Currently, the only storage in the bathroom is the medicine cabinet. Unfortunately, it is made of MDF and was completely waterlogged. We have been using medicine cabinets for years and really like the hidden storage they provide. Adding a new and potentially bigger one will completely take care of the storage needs in this space.

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6. The shower area

To save money and work, we plan to keep the shower area and floor tiles. Some good scrubbing and a new grout job will surely make them look as well as they function.

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7. Saving space with a narrow vanity

I actually like the vanity for its narrow profile and the depth of the sink. Unfortunately, it was completely waterlogged down both of the side panel. We are in search of something similar as a replacement.

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Something even more bizarre was the back of the vanity was completely removed and so was the drywall behind. A quick and dirty way to finish the plumbing job, like everything in this house. Ugh.

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The Demo Progress

After getting on the same page on what to keep and what to get rid of, I took the pry bar and removed the soffit.

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It is amazing how much drywall trash this small soffit turned into.

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The flexible pipe you see below was for the old bathroom fan. It had been disconnected inside the soffit until we bought the house. This bathroom was used by four children and inevitably, all the moisture trapped in the soffit has led to mold behind the soffit.

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The U shape pipe next the fan vent is connected to the upstairs bathtub. It leaks when we take showers upstairs. Based on the condition of the subfloor, we think it has been leaking for quite some time as well.

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The medicine cabinet came off without a fight. The hanging metal box housed the broken bathroom fan.

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Removing the corner soffit exposed the old ventilation pipe for the old water heater. This pipe goes up all the way to the roof. The current plan is to trim it at the ceiling level so we can re-drywall. But we also have the option of using it to vent through the roof.

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The bathroom demo concluded the demolition in the basement, at least for the part that we intended to remove. While the drywall dust settles, we officially enter the planning phase, with home improvement stores to visit and plumbers to call. I cannot wait to come back for another update on this little space, which probably involves replacing the window or fixing the plumbing. The bath will only get cuter from now!

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The Birth of A New Master

Holy smoke. We are officially in a 2-bedroom house now.

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Remember the two bedrooms on the north end of our basement? The ones directly below Slav’s office and our current bedroom?

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Well, they are now one big room…

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It has been a long struggle to find a purpose for the basement bedrooms. They are small, with tiny closets, and unavoidably dark. Initially, we considered renting the whole basement out as a 2b/1b suite. After all, it was a finished space when we bought it. Although we did not like the finishes (carpet + paneling), it was still acceptable as a rental with a fresh coat of paint. But having only one laundry facility in the basement made this plan difficult to execute.

We also considered to convert the basement into a short-term rental + a guest suite by adding a private entry. But we quickly nixed the idea due to cost of cutting into the foundation and creating a new entry. Most recently, we tossed around the idea of using the bedrooms as Slav’s office + additional media room. However, this plan would have resulted in no guest bedroom in our house, which is not ideal.

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As we were weighting on these options, the basement stayed empty. 18 months in, we decided to get rid of all the unwanted fixtures in the basement. Our hope was that reducing this space to its bare bone could inspire the best usage for it. To my surprise, this plan worked! During demo, we discovered the I-beam support for our house, which opened the possibility of removing the dividing wall between the bedrooms and make them one big room. This option was never on the table before. But as soon as it popped up, we could not get it out of our minds.

Slav and I are both highly intuitive people, which can be a blessing and a curse. Before we decided how to use the combined room, the dividing wall had already come down.

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In fact, the dividing wall was not merely a wall, but hosting two neighboring closets. This setup is commonly seen in old houses and identical to the former closets in our bedroom and Slav’s office, which we reversed to both face the bedroom.

This was the northeast bedroom closet, neighboring a wall of graffiti. I do not miss it one bit.

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The soffit above is actually an air duct painted white, and the pipe in front belongs to the HVAC system.

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Behind the wall of graffiti was the closet in the formal northwest bedroom. Weirdly, the two closets was connected via an small opening. The previous owner has a small dog – maybe this opening was made for the dog?

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We are fully aware the consequence of removing closets – by our city code, a bedroom has to have a closet that meets minimal size requirement. Removing these two closets and reversing the closet in Slav’s office technically reduced the number of coded bedrooms in our house to one. But closet is fairly simple to construct, and we are not planning to sell this house any time soon, so we went ahead with the demo.

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Demoing the closets gave the new room good lighting from all three sides. This space became a lot more bright and pleasant throughout the day. It is amazing how a space can speak for itself. As soon as the demo was done, we knew that it would become our new master bedroom.

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The east side of this 240 sqft space will host our king bed. With the headboard against the east wall, there will be plenty room on either side of the bed to walk around. One complain Slav has for our current bedroom is the space between the bed and his side of the wall is too narrow.

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The west side will become a dressing area. We will be building floor-to-ceiling wardrobe closets around the two windows. There closets will be big enough to host all of clothes, camping gears, and linings.

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There is also a 3/4 bathroom right off the former northeast bedroom door. In the picture below, the door direct in front leads to a lining closet, which will stay and become our bathroom closet. The bathroom is to the left.

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It was the bathroom that inspired me to move the master bedroom downstairs. Slav and I both prefer a 3/4 bath to a full bath. We never liked taking showers in a bathtub and even talked about relocating the bathtub in our current bathroom to the basement bath. It never occurred to us that we could just move the bed!

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The doorway on the right leads to the living area. You can also see this doorway better from the picture below. We will be adding a lockable door here and taking down the current bathroom door to add more floor space.

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The door on the left in the picture above used to lead to the northwest bedroom. It will become the main entry to the master.

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There are a couple things we need to address here, such as how to deal with the exposed ducts here. The old air duct extends into the room by a few feet. It not only supplies air to the basement bedrooms, but also to our current bedroom and Slav’s office on the main floor. It has to stay, and so does the HVAC line. We would need to build a soffit to enclose them.

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Removing the closet framing also exposed the I-beam above. We will likely to enclose it in the same soffit with the ducts.

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We also found the third supporting column (grey) tucked away in one of the closets.

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My mind has been spinning since the birth of this new room. With a 3/4 bathroom next to it, and the location of the doors, it is so inclined to be a master bedroom. On the same note, our current bedroom is a much better choice for guests. It is moderate in size, near a full bath, and on the main floor.

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While Slav is pocking around in the bathroom, I cannot help but thinking how I want this space to feel. As I get older, I’ve been craving more traditional Chinese elements in my space. For example, I’ve always liked the look of symmetrical partition walls as separation between two connected areas. We kind of did it in the Slav’s office by keeping some walls on both sides of the opening.

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I would like to repeat the partition walls in the new master. The space is long and narrow and I think a pair of partition walls will work wonders between the sleeping area and the dressing area. Moreover, I’d like to do something more elaborate than just drywall, such as wood carving designs:

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Or some kind of moon gate like this. When used in bedrooms there are usually curtains hanging on one side of the moon gate to add privacy.

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There’s still lots of work to do before we build up the bedroom. We will take the opportunity of the room being a blank slate to do some basic improvements including lighting, electrical, and soundproofing. It means that we might need to open up more walls and ceilings. We are also considering adding an egress window, which will involves cutting into foundation walls and has to be done by professionals. This will be our second Christmas in the ranch and somehow we managed to make drywall dust in both years. Fortunately the mess will be contained in one floor and kept out of our living space!

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