Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Demolition (Page 1 of 5)

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!

The I-beam Discovery

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This post has been a long time coming. I usually write about projects that are ongoing or just finished. But today, I want to give you a glimpse into a year worth of slow progress in our basement.

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Above was the only basement photo I took during the walk-in. Hello 20 year old carpet + 1960 paneling. If you do not recall this space, I do not blame you. I sometimes forgot about it too. Since moved in, we only came to this basement once a week to do laundry…To remind all of us including myself, below is the basement floor plan.

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Besides the living space and a small laundry area, this basement was divided into three more kid’s bedrooms, two on the north end, and one next to the stairs. These three bedrooms bumped the total number of kid’s bedrooms to 5 in this small ranch.

The northwest bedroom

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The northeast bedroom

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The 5th bedroom next to the stairs:

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2017: Getting rid of the 5th bedroom

Culture phenomenal swings between extremes. The number of the kids/kid’s bedrooms in this house was no exception. Thus far we have reduced the number of the bedrooms in this house by 40%. First of all, we converted the second bedroom upstairs to an office for Slav. Second, we knocked down the 5th bedroom last summer to make HVAC and tankless water heater installation easier.

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Opening up the wet wall

Soon after, we exposed the wet wall behind the washer/dryer. This two story wall is the only wet wall in the house, and opening it allowed us to identify/fix several problems with the utility lines/ducts.

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By the end of 2017 the utility room looked like this. Utilitarian to the extreme.

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On the opposite side though, the purple walls and the tiny closet served as a reminder for the old bedroom:

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Behind the purple wall above is the basement stairs. The previous owners framed the space underneath the stairs into a closet.

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There was also a window in this bedroom, looking into the living space. I guess it was here for meeting codes? It is amazing what creativity and laziness could produce. With four kids sleeping downstairs, a gas furnace, and multiple space heaters, I am glad that whoever slept in this bedroom made it to the next house safely.

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Thus far it concludes all we had done in this utility room in 2017. For the matter of fact, this was all we’d done to the whole basement last year.

2018: Basement floor demo

2018 was supposed to be the year of basement renovation. But we really could not figure out what we want for this space and had to wait for the inspiration to strike. Fortunately, we did know what we do not want here. For example, the decade-old carpet. Early Spring, I started cutting off carpet and used them to suppress weed in the garden.

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Mid-May, as a surprise for my birthday, Slav removed all the remaining carpet in the basement when I was at work.

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Under the carpet we found tiles, all of which were glued to the basement slab. Slav chipped everything off and got down to the leveled concrete.

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Removing the flooring was a big step forward. Seeing less old fixture helped me to imagine what is possible. Our slab was in very good shape and we have the option of any type of flooring without much work. The next thing I knew would help to grasp the potential of this basement was to figure out how the house structure was supported.

The I-beam discovery

I once made a birthday card for Slav, which said “some people never grew up, their toys just became more expensive”. I think we are both this type of people that have to know the mechanisms underlying everything. Knowing the mechanisms opens the possibility for improvement, and gives maximum flexibility for what we desire.

Anyway, this is a long justification of my desire opening this wall, between the utility room and the living space.

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This was how the wall looked like from the utility room. The purple wall on the left with the window belonged to the 5th bedroom, and the white wall to the right used to be in the laundry room. The angled frame was where the bedroom door used to reside. The soffit above enclosed some air ducts.

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We knew that the supporting mechanism for the whole house was inside this wall, but there was no way of knowing what it is except opening it up. So this happened. And I can proudly say, I did it.

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All by myself. Without injuries.

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And what did I find inside this wall? An I-beam running along the mid-line of our house!

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You can read about the purpose of I-beam here. But after all, this I-beam is what supports all the floor joints above. The white pipe next to it is the old gas line, which has been discontinued during the HVAC installation.

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Having the I-beam means that none of the walls downstairs are weight bearing. In another word, all the basement walls were put up purely for creating rooms and can be removed to our liking.

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The I beam was held by three steel columns and likely sitting in notches on the foundation wall on both ends. The steel columns and the foundation wall are the ones that bear all the weight of the house. All the wood framing are not.

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In fact, you can see from the picture below that the 2″ x 4″ wall framing was practically hanging off the beams with nails. It was the I-beam that keeps the walls in place, not the other way around.

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Opening up more walls

Old houses like ours rarely come with structural blueprints. Often times, opening walls is the only way of learning how the house was structured. The I-beam discovery was a success in terms that we gained the option of open floor plan if we desire. However, not every open-wall investigations validate the best case scenario. For example, I later removed the weird bumped out drywall near the dryer, as well as the drywall covering the closet. In both cases, the demolition confirmed the need for their existence.

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It turned out that the bumped out portion next to the dryer was for hiding a pipe. If we were going to cover this portion with drywall, my demo work would have been a waste of time. Fortunately we will not be using drywall here. I will explain it in another post.

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Last I demoed the closet. After taking the door and all the shelves out, I removed all the drywall on the wall framing.

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This wall framing is also not structural. However, it does hold up the stairway drywall, so it stays. Before closing this wall again, we will likely widen the closet opening and put in some insulation. The latter will prevent the sound and warmth from travelling as readily between the two stories.

The basement today

Here you have it, our basement living/utility room today. Although what we did so far was pure demolition, it expanded the potential of this space which we had not seen before.

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As we speak, Slav is poking around in the bedrooms and the bathroom to find out more about the basement utility. Through the drywall dust we are contemplating a new plan for our basement, a plan far far from what we ever envisioned. Buckle up, guys!

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