Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Basement Page 6 of 8

Our Water Heater Breakdown – Attack from the Within!

Our October goals, originally, had nothing to do with laboring in the basement. We want to hike with our pups, watch leaves changing colors, watch ski movies, and hit thrift shops and flea markets. We will still work on the ranch, but after replacing the roof, grading around the house, and caulking every seam inside and out, we were done thinking about anything water-related. For heaven’s sake – I typed the phrase “water-proof” so many times that my browser now auto-completes it for me!

Just when we thought we were done with water. Water is not done with us. Last Saturday, in a bright, sunny morning, our basement flooded:


We had done so much to protect our house from water coming from the outside, and did not think that we could get water from within. Yep, it was the water heater – the last piece of major utility appliances we had not replaced:


Fortunately, we have a floor drain nearby and the leaked water went down there. The flood was pretty confined.



Slav immediately terminated the gas and cold water supply to the heater, and started to drain the hot water tank directly to the floor drain:


It was last weekend we opened up the utility room to the neighboring bedroom. Imagine how difficult it would have been to work with the water heater if we have not done that!

We happened to have just purchased a wireless endoscope. It was immediately put in use:


This endoscope/camera kit transmits signal wirelessly to our phones and tablets. After some probing, Slav caught this video from his phone:

He slowly retracted the probe end out of the water heater, so we could see that the leak is really close to the bottom of the rusted tank reservoir. It makes sense since that is the location with the highest pressure. It also meant that the leak would only stop when all the water was drained out.


It took almost the rest of the weekend before the tank was drained completely. During this time, we contacted our insurance company. We purchased a separate home warranty for a year, which covers major appliances and plumbing during our first year of home ownership. We got it with the old furnace and water heater in mind. We had replaced the furnace out-of-pocket during HVAC installation, so it is not a bad thing that the water heater went out during the first year of our ownership.

We submitted some pictures and the video showing the leak, and on Monday, the insurance company sent a plumber to complete a report. Our claim was of course accepted, but only for a basic water heater that matches our capacity and labor cost for simple replacement, which added up to merely $500. From the plumber’s quote, we knew that it would not be the actual cost, because codes have changed dramatically since the last water heater was installed 15 years ago. Even installing a new basic water heater would require us to switch tubing and modify the gas line, adding about another $500 which we have to pay out-of-pocket.

Slav called me at work mid-day to discuss all options and our preferences. We decided to get a tankless water heater instead of a standard one. For one, tankless is what we had wanted all along. Second, it will cost us as much as the plumber’s quote, which is about a grand, and Slav can install it himself to save the labor cost. Our insurance company agreed to cash-in, so we are still getting the $500 that would have gone to the plumber, and still paying another $500 out-of-pocket which would have gone to the plumber as well. So we might as well let the $1000 go to ourselves for a new tankless water heater.

When I got home from work on Monday, this was the first thing I saw walking down to the basement:


The man has clearly done something. Let me tell you – Slav is a very, very, very patient man. He is the most accommodating and gentle person I knew. But there is a limit. This house is clearly pressing his button with the old, rusty water heater. The misbehavior will not go unpunished.

Within a few short hours Monday afternoon, Slav has gotten the insurance company straightened out, gone to the city hall to get a permit for self-installation, gathered codes and manuals for installation, and decided on a water heater to purchase. He also (!) disconnected the water heater and capped the water and gas lines:


And kicked it out of his way:


For a high energy efficient tankless water heater, two 3-inches PVC pipes are required to be directly connected to the water heater to supply fresh air and exhaust. Slav removed old supply pipe (labeled with blue arrow in the picture below) along with the exhaust pipe directly above the heater.

HVAC room


This old fresh air supply pipe came from the back side of the house, went through the ceiling and was parallel to the PVC pipes for the new furnace. You can see it in the pictures below:



It came out of the back wall immediately to the right of our furnace PVC pipes, above the window well:


After we removed the dividing wall last weekend, the pipe was already exposed:



So Slav removed it completely to make room for the new 3-inch PVC pipes. In this way, we have both PVCs come out of the house just like the setup for our furnace, and the roof vent can be capped.


With insurance cash coming in, and permit on hand, Slav started planning pipe layout and getting all the supplies. The man is on the move!

The First Wall Down (with videos!)

Happy Monday, friends and family! I am happy to report that we have knocked down the first wall in the ranch house. I am sure that there will be many more to follow, but this basement wall will forever hold a special place in my heart – this is my first time seeing a wall coming down and it is just so thrilling!

As usual, I tried to document everything with my lens, and it reaaaly annoyed Slav. He hates taking pictures, especially when he has to be in it. So I apologize for not getting many progress photos as I would like to get – we’ve all seen Fargo and you do not want to get on you guy’s nerves in a basement laundry room while he is holding a hammer.

You might remember our utility room from our basement tour, but in case you missed that video, let me take you back to the beginning – this is the utility/bedroom combo we inherited when we moved in:


We believe that there used to be only one room, based on our neighbors’ floor plans and the floor situation here. Switching out the old washer and dryer further convinced us that the wall between the laundry area and the purple bedroom was built later, likely by the last owner, because the old washer and dryer were too big to get out without removing the furnace.

After we moved in, the purple bedroom quickly became a storage space:


It has a closet under the stairs, which holds surprisingly good deal of stuff. Any closet in this 1964 ranch is appreciated.



We had a solid plan for our basement from the beginning – to convert it into a private guest suite. And the plan is to combine the purple bedroom and the laundry room to make enough room for a kitchen.

This is our current floor plan and you can see the laundry room and the third bedroom above the living room, to the left of the stairs:

Ranch basement_current

And this is what it should look like once we combine the two rooms:

Ranch basement_proposal 1

Although the basement renovation will not come until next year, we are super motivated to knock down this wall already, because our new front-open washer and dryer do not work well in this narrow space on the left.


We removed part of the door frame during HVAC installation, which made the room look a lot worse:


So on a bright Sunday morning, when Slav descended to the basement with his music, a hammer, and a pry bar, I knew exactly what’s happening and quickly grabbed my camera and followed him.

The frame was down in two songs:


After another 20 minutes, the purple dry wall was gone:


Then the dry wall on the laundry side followed. There was a lot of dust and debris, but the process was quick.


The framing here is not weight-bearing, and in fact very poorly nailed together. It was easy to take apart:


So much better! It was instantly brighter and the new utility room is so spacious! I always felt cramped down here, either in the laundry room or in the purple bedroom. Somehow the new room feels bigger than I imagined them together. It changed the entire vibe of the downstairs.

Yay for easy laundry access!


We are left with some dry wall to patch on the ceiling, but the concrete floor is continuous.



Since we are planning to change the water heater soon and putting in a kitchen eventually, we are not going to do any dry wall repair or electrical work for now. What we will do in near future, is to widen the doorway by a foot and a half to the right, so the kitchen and the living room are more connected.


The purple room has this weird moldy window looking into the living room. I am wondering if this was put in for fire safety concerns. We think it is dorky, but the window itself are too moldy to be saved.


After the wall was gone, I took a short video of our new utility room:

We decided to get all the storage out so we could map out the potential cabinet space for the future kitchen. So I took everything out of the room including the stuff in the closet:


After cleaning up, I taped out the potential kitchen layout. Below is option one – this is the corner to your right when you walk in the doorway:


It gives decent size of counter space for a simple kitchen setup and the closet on the left could be used as a pantry. However, these two walls does not offer any utility lines, including gas, water, and sewer. It makes more economical sense to put the stove and sink where the utility lines are and preferable with a window.


This wall faces the back of the house, which we could run a vent easily. It does have a shorter wall. One way of adding counter space is to lower the washer and dryer to counter height, so we could run a continuous “L” shape counter top. Luckily, the drawers at the bottom of Merry and Pippin are purely storage. They can be removed to make Merry and Pippin even shorter, to merely 38.5″. Standard kitchen counters are usually 36″ so we think that we could get away with it.


As of the furnace corner, the 2 feet dry wall behind the trash can will be trimmed down mostly, and the furnace will be concealed with a closet. We plan to replace the big water heater with a tankless one in the next a few month to free some space.


So, this is the new utility room we are left with after a day of demoing, cleaning, and organizing:

We love how big and bright it became – I found myself visiting this room a lot to daydream a simple, cute, and minimalist kitchen. If you have good ideas for cabinets or small appliance, tell us in the comments below!

Curb Appeal Take III – Replacing the Window Wells


The first time we showed our parents the picture of the ranch, they offered nothing but support, encouragement and endless joy for us. Of course this was not a beautiful and flawless new construction they wish we had bought, but being house owners themselves, our parents understood the value of a well-built old home. Their eyes were all on the positive features about our ranch (and also because they love us).

But one thing both side of our parents asked (with reasonable amount of the hesitation), was “what are these rusted metal thingy sticking out of the ground? ”

It took us a while to realize that they were asking about the window wells. It made us realize that how quickly we got used to these window wells. The questions from our folks reminded us (very much needed) how these window wells stood out to us when we first laid our eyes on this house, and to other people who see the house for the first time.


With all the other high-priority to-dos in the store, something cosmetic like window wells just have to take a back seat. But we did not forgot them. These rusty wells are on our minds every task we tackle. We lowered the soil around them when we removed the front flower bed, we demo-ed the sagging front porch in order to replace one of them properly, and we cleared out vegetation during the HVAC installation. Hey, we even replaced one ourselves during the construction of our new back patio!



Successfully replaced a window well ourselves really taught us a lot. We are now fully confidence that we could do a good job replacing them ourselves, and we are now sure that the 24″ plastic well and the ridge, plastic cover are perfect fits for our basement windows.


We also realized that replacing these wells is a task we need to complete before grading around our foundations. Since we need to finish the grading before winter, which can be early as October for Colorado, replacing window wells floats right on top of our to-do list.

Besides the one for basement utility room, which we replaced a few weeks ago, there are six more we need to tackle:


Above are the two window wells on the northern side of the house. The two windows you are looking at are for the two bedrooms in the basement. We would like to get as much sunlight from these windows as possible, so the goal is to put the wells as low as possible into the ground.

And then we realized – these two window wells are not functional! They sat directly ON the soil. All the water came in the well directly flew out of the well from the bottom to the surface of the lawn, which does not make much sense. You know what this means – what if we just do not use window wells on these two windows?


It sounded scary at the beginning, but after thought it through, we could see no harm done. So Slav removed the wells and we were sooo pleased that how much natural light streamed into these windows! And the best part? The cost of dealing with these two window wells is ZERO!

So on this side of the yard, we went from this:


to this:


This left us four more windows to deal with – the one used to be buried in the old flower bed:


The one used to sit in the old front porch:


And two at the back of the house:


Yeah. They look baaaaad…


The two wells at the back are almost sitting above the soil as well. But the difference between these wells and the ones on the northern side, is that the soil level on the northern side is already near where they should be for adequate drainage, but the soil near the back of the house needs to be built up. So the two back wells cannot be eliminated. However, we can set them a bit lower into the ground, which allows more light into these windows.

Once the plan is set, I went to the Home Depot and got four sets of window wells and covers, and Slav started digging the old ones out:



It took him about 4 hours to remove the old wells and dig out these big enough area for the new wells:




So. Rusty!

When we replaced our patio window well last time, the most time consuming part is to drill holes into the concrete foundations. We just do not have the right drill for it and it took forever. So this time, with four wells for installation, we decided to pick up a hammer drill for the job. While Slav was in the store picking up the drill, I cleaned the windows and marked the drill holes with measuring square and levels.

With the new drill, Slav was able to put on all four wells in just an hour:


Then we back-filled, again, with me supporting the wells from the inside just like last time. It took us a few more hours to level the ground, until it was dark. But the result was well worth it!




It was pretty dusty during our work. Charlie boy was happy to enjoy a drink after the dust had settled:


These window wells really look good! By burying three out of four wells deeper, the basement bedrooms became so much brighter. The next step is to finish grading around the house perimeters and use pretty gravel to dress up the bare ground around the house. And guess what? Dirt and gravel will be delivered to our door tomorrow morning! Our curb appeal is about to get reaaaaaal-good!


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