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

Tag: Demolition Page 2 of 5

Bye Bye, Chain Link


I love the result of a good renovation, but I am not a fan of the “things have to get worse before they get better” aspect of reno. I do not mind the work per se. What turns me off, is the mess.


Oh, the mess. The dust of drywall sanding, the nails of doorway trims, the missing baseboards, the exposed electrical wires…I dread them all. And there is no exception now we are building a fence.

Although the fence build is mostly outside, it still turned our house into a dust bowl. We constantly track dirt, mud, and even concrete mix into the house, and the garage has been packed with posts, pickets, and bags of concrete. As the pickets went up, our yard increasingly became a dump ground. The old fence panels and trimmings from new pickets were scattered along the perimeters, rocks and broken concrete accumulated in the veggie beds, and shipping pallets were pilling up behind the garden shed.



And the leaves. Our crabapple tree shed its leaves in merely three days, which covered the entire yard. The leaves did mask some of other mess, but personally, I’d rather seeing rusty nails than feeling their existence under the leaves.


Aside from the construction mess, building new fence somehow made our yard feel smaller. This is a bit unexpected, since the new front fences enclosed a lot more space into the backyard. But the old chain link fences were still standing while the new fence was constructed, the view of both fences really made the yard feel like a maximum security prison.


It’s time for a mid-project clean-up!

Slav and I like things to be tidy. With the dirt work behind us, we decided to it is time for a mid-project clean-up. And when we say clean-up, we really meant it. We vacuumed, swept, mopped, and washed all the bedding and textures in the house. Slav loaded all the spent material and shipping pallets on his trailer for disposal, and I picked up rocks and scrap wood pieces around the yard. The leaves were raked, and our poor lawn can finally take a breath!


After cleaning up the construction debris, we decided to push further and remove the chain links. We have already demo-ed the chain link on the South side, which we used as temporary fence for a while. But on the North side, we have chain link running all the way along our neighbor’s wooden fence. Since the ultimate goal of the whole fence project is to de-chain link our yard, we felt like removing some of the chain links now would be a great “pick-me-up” in the middle of this long project.


Step 1 | Removing the northwest side chain link

We first tackled the stretch of chain links on the Northwest corner of the yard. It was sitting behind the HVAC unit, aligned with the back of the house. With the new northwest fence constructed, we no longer needed this portion of the chain link to keep the dogs in.


Removing chain link fencing is not difficult in theory. Chain link fence is composed of vertical posts, top rails, and chain links. All these components were held together by screws and wires, which can be cut off to disassemble the structure.


Most part of this stretch came off easily. We did have a lilac growing around the corner post, which I would like to save. The stems have grown to be intermingled with the chain link wires.



Slav carefully cut open the wires to free the lilac branches. It took a while but we did not lose any branches that had set buds for next Spring.


This lilac is now free!


The puppies immediately showed up and gave their new territory a good sniff:



Charlie was a bit unsure at the beginning, but quickly warmed up to the new fence and started wagging his tails.


This space made the yard feel a lot bigger. It is only 17′ x 20′ of space, but I think the magic is that it was tugged away. You cannot see this side yard from the back door. But as you walk around the corner, the side yard suddenly appears. It feels like a secret garden.


This most satisfying part of this demo was pulling the chain link out of the soil. There were so many weeds growing onto it and all of the root came right out with the wires. I was thrilled.


Yay for our first win!


Step 2 | Removing the Northern chain link and fighting with the Elms

Although satisfying, removing the chain link along the neighbor’s fence was a pain in the neck (and back, too).


We unfortunately have three elm trees growing in between the double fences, and if you know elms, they shoot suckers out at every height and in every direction, mostly through the chain link wires:




We worked as a team to tackle these trees. I clipped all the lower branches off with a sawzall, and Slav followed me to cut loose the chain links from the metal posts. He then removed the top rails and cut the vertical posts off.





Some of the vertical posts were embedded in tree roots. It was quite a bit of work to remove them. Slav had to dig down to expose the metal as deep as he could, then wiggle them out with a pry bar.




Usually at this point, the chain link should just fall itself. But in our case, the wires has carved deep into the tree trunk, and we had to cut around or off the tree trunk to free the wires.



Step 3 | Trash removal

To our best knowledge, this double fence situation has been going on for decades. Decades, guys. Not only the Elm trees were thriving in between the double fence, everything fell in between stayed.





We found kids toys, footballs, golf balls, rotten food, candy wrappers, Styrofoam cups, bubble wraps, shipping boxes, and plastic bags in between the double fence. We were removing them by wheelbarrows.


See the difference between the two sides of the tree trunks? I’ve done cleaning the trash on the left side, and the right side has not been touched.


This is the same spot after stump and trash removal:


Slav worked on cutting tree stumps to the ground when I was on trash duty. The whole 90 feet of it.


Annnnd…all cleaned up!


Step 4 | Decluttering the Northeast corner

Although the trash removal was undoubtedly the worst part, the real devil in the double fence was the Northeast corner, behind the shed.


There is a gap between neighbor’s fence and our back fence. And the previous owner’s solution? Stuff random things to block the gap. Can you see there was a mop stick in the middle? Whoever put it there had creative minds.


We began by pulling off layers of the crap stuffed into this corner. Wood pieces, some are rotten, table tops (?), cut into pieces, a mop stick, a piece of reflective (no longer) foam, and of course candy wrappers and random trash. Someone lived here really loved Reeses.


We finally saw the chain link. And the last barrier between the neighbor’s fence and our chain link is a piece of foam. It really puzzles me why anyone would choose to do somethings like this. It would have been much easier (and prettier) to just extend our back fence by a picket or two…


Thankfully the wooden fence behind all the rotten wood is in a pretty good shape. Now it can breathe from both sides, I think it will last just fine. This gives me a lot more confidence in the new cedar fence we are building – apparently cedar is truly rot-resistant!


By removing the debris we exposed the small gap next to our back fence and retaining wall (the sleeper in the ground), which we will patch cleanly with leftover cedar from our fence construction. I already have some ideas to dress this corner up. Space like this can quickly become a catch-all for unsightly things. I aim to keep it completely empty and clean so we will feel more inclined to keep it that way.

Step 4 | The final inspection

With all the chain link removed, we had an opportunity to take a better look at our neighbor’s wooden fence. The two ends of the fence do not look bad at all. The posts are pretty straight, and the pickets are holding up nicely.



However, the middle of the fence is in really bad shape.





As you can see, the Elm trees really did a lot of damage to the posts. They were lifted by the tree roots and started to lean. The elms also pushed some panels off their posts.


Our plan to deal with the issue is cut the Elm trees below the ground, so the current extended root/trucks will be out of the way of the panels. Then we will try to reattach the panels to their posts. We can also add support the leaning posts by adding a “deadman”-like structure above the ground. This wooden fence will never be completely straight, but at least it will not be broken.

At last…

Finally, after a three-day cleaning spree, we have our yard back:




No more leaves, no more trash, and no more chain links! Yes we had to pause the fence build, but it has been such a “pick-me-up” that we really needed. Sometimes, sanity outweighs progress. Do you agree?

A New Opening + Office Drywall

The most nerve-racking part of renovation is not the actual work, but the decision-making. This is particularly true when floor plan is modified, or new window/door opening is created. Will the result be what we imagined? Will we like it as we hoped? How much time and money will we waste if we want to change it back?

Since we settled on the office plan weeks ago, the new opening to the living room has been on our minds. To me, this new opening is what makes the room or breaks the room. With the help of Sketchup, we tried our best to imagine what the view will change from every angle. We think we like it – but will we actually like it in real life?


The only way to find out is to make the new opening. So Friday night, we gathered some courage and waved the hammer to the wall…and made a new opening!


Do we like it? Well, we do not like it…

We love it!

A New Opening

Let me back up a little and tell you how the process went. According to our plan, the new opening is 6′, centered on the 10′ wall between living room and office.

I marked the proposed opening with blue tape on the living room side, which helped us to visualize the opening.


We were still waiting for our engineer on the new header size, so we could not knock done all the studs yet. To get a feel of how the two rooms connect, we decided to cut open the drywall while leaving most of the studs intact.



It did not take long at all to remove the drywall. We did have to relocate an electrical outlet, which involved cutting into one stud a bit.


We opened just 2 studs in the center, which is about 32″ wide, less than half width of the proposed opening (72″).


Slav cut open the other side. Suddenly, the two rooms were connected!


We immediately liked it. Even with only two studs open, the office already felt wider. This is how the same wall looked like before.


Framing the Old Doorway

With the new opening, we moved onto closing up the old doorway. Last time I showed you the office, we reversed the closet to face the bedroom, leaving the office/bedroom wall like this:


Our plan was to drywall the closet and the old doorway, and make one uninterrupted wall:


Slav took down the door and I popped the trims off:




I then proceeded to take the door jamb off. It is amazing how quickly one can learn on the job and feel confident. I am very comfortable with tackling these steps alone, which makes me very happy.


While we were working on the office, the living room inevitably suffered:


We then cut some 2 x 4 to size to frame the doorway:


We did not remove the header, which already supports all the weight. So the framing is basically for creating a structure for drywall to attach.

First Time Drywall!

Slav got drywall from Lowe’s and we cut them to size in the garage:


First piece up, more to go.


Putting up drywall is pretty straightforward. Size, cut, then Lego pieces together. We quickly finished the bedroom side:



Drywall finish requires a lot of sanding; so we will save it for another day. I loaded all the clothes back into the closet and was pretty happy to have enclosed bedroom again!


Remember what the closet wall used to look like? 😉


We next moved onto drywall the doorway. Slav cut a piece for dry-fitting:


And here came the challenge – our old wall is not straight. The old studs are bowed so our newly framed studs did not align.



Consequently, when we put new drywall against the new studs, it did not sit flash with the old drywall due to the misalignment.



The difference in height is too much for taping and mudding. Without taking down more drywall, there is not much we could do to fix the curved existing wall/studs. We decided to take off a slice of the new studs from its side to keep the new wall aligned with the old.


It does not fix the curved wall, but it fixed the misalignment and the curve is pretty small to notice. It is definitely a lot easier than replacing the whole framing behind the existing wall. The piece we took off is only 1/4″ thick, so we are not worried about the strength of the studs.

Then we could put the drywall up without a problem.


The Office in Progress

Done with the drywall, the office now looks like this:


We also decided to take off the center studs, so we do not have to pass the opening sideways:



We have been living with the opening for a couple days now, and it feels so natural to go in and out of the office from living room. Slav and I like to be on our computers in the evening, and I usually sit at the dining table in the living room. The new opening, although narrow, makes us feel like we are in the same room while having our own space. Needless to say, we are pretty excited to widen the opening to its full span!

We also like the changes in the little hallway leading to the bedroom. To remind you, here is the what the hallway looked like before closing the office doorway:


You can see that the hallway had doors on all four sides – office, bath, bedroom, and linen closet. Now with the old office door blocked, the hallway looks like this:


It has become a more private access to the bed/bath area, which makes the bedroom feel more like a suite than just a room. The new closet space in the bedroom is definitely a plus too. We are now 100% sold on the new floor plan!

While waiting on our header size, we are planning to start on the library built-ins. We got a foot of snow today and I am off next week. Cannot think of a better way of spending a few quiet days at home than assembling bookshelves!

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. As a household that tries to practice minimalism, books and vinyl records are exceptions.


This is a picture from our moving day, and all the boxes are books. Soon after we moved in, these books were transported into the office and neatly stacked in the corner. Over the last seven months, these boxes functioned 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 opening and desk, 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.


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!



Page 2 of 5

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén