Terrific Broth

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

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The New Electrical is in!

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With the recent rain and snow our yard has been insanely beautiful. On the opposite, the basement of our ranch was gloomy. Boob lights poorly light rooms and all the renovation efforts underneath. Fortunately all was in the past – because the can lights are finally in!

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The decision of adding recessed lighting was easy – a single boob light was all we had in each room before, including the big 20 x 14  living area. Since we are opening up the ceilings for sound insulation (more on that later), it was the perfect timing to brighten up the basement with can lights. Dimmerable LED is a must, and three-way switches are placed near every doorway so we can control the lights when entering and leaving each room.

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For 850 sqft of the space we put in 23 can lights – 8 in the living room, 5 in the bedroom, 4 in the bathroom, and 6 in the utility room.

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The can lights in the living room is more or less evenly spaced so we will not have any dark corners.

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In the bedroom, the placement of the cans was a big tricky due to the heat ducts. At the end, three cans were placed along the midline of the future closet area:

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And two can lights were centered above the sleeping area. We have a big egress window for natural lighting on this side and two additional sconce lights on the side of the bed.

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The bathroom is gonna be so bright! Two can lights on the ceiling and two mini can lights on the soffit should make up for the lack of natural light here. I am also excited to have separated switches for a bathroom fan, ceiling lights, and soffit can lights. The current master bath upstairs has everything wired on the same circuit, which means the fan comes on (and it is loud) whenever we use the bathroom, even just for washing hands. It is so annoying! I know the separated light and fan feature comes with 99.9% of the houses and apartments – but not in our old ranch, which really taught us to appreciate simple pleasures such as separating your fan and lights.

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The utility room will not be finished this time with the living area and master suite, for several good reasons. First, we want to put a dry kitchen and bar area here which requires a lot more time. Second, it will be convenient to have the wet wall uncovered and all the plumbing exposed until we renovate the bathroom and kitchen upstairs. But we decided to get the electrical part done with the rest of the basement. It just makes sense to upgrade the essentials all at the same time. In the utility room, four can lights were added to cover the middle:

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And one more was added above the washer and dryer:

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We also asked the electrician to add one can light inside the utility room closet. After opening up the bedrooms and getting rid of the linen closet, this closet became the only hidden storage in the basement. Adding can light spared us from the loose hanging light bulb there before and saved some much-needed head room in this under-the-stairs closet.

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In the picture you can also see the sub-panel. We did not know we needed it until the electrician took a closer look at the existing panel installed in 2017. On our main panel there was barely enough room for all the lights and utility we need, and definitely not enough room for the future dry kitchen. Adding a sub-panel not only makes wiring all the downstairs utility easier, but also allows us to reset the circuit without leaving the basement.

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The sub-panel was connected to the main one with wires threaded through the floor joints under the backdoor landing. We decided that the closet is the best place to conceal the unsightly sub panel. To meet the code the doorway had to be enlarged by a few inches, and no door can be added, which is not a problem at all. The wider opening actually made getting in and out of the closet a lot easier, and I have a few idea to make this closet not only functional but pleasant to look at even without a door.

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In addition to can light, we also asked for more outlets in the bedroom and the living area. Two outlets and two sconce lights were wired to flank the bed:

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And two electrical outlets were also added to the ceiling where the future projector, TV, and sound systems will be. Slav dropped ethernet cables (of course) next to the electrical outlets so everything we need for future entertainment will be concealed behind the finished ceiling. Last, we added one outlet and ethenet cable near the main entry. This will be a future bar area and I can see the need for charging cables and hardwired internet connection here:

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After all the electrical was done, we moved onto sound-proofing the basement. With the hardwood floor upstairs we really hear every step. It was like a disco party over the head whenever Roxie and Charlie play. To damp the sound, Slav installed the mineral wool insulation batt between the floor joints.

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We have quite some ducts in between the floor joints. Slav torn the insulation apart and stuffed them around the ducts and can lights really well. It was quite a messy job – I highly recommend a respirator – although it was no comparison to this attic insulation project we did ourselves. Applause to the husband who took care of the work so I did not have to!

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The result turned out exactly as we expected – the insulation damped the footsteps in large and helped a lot with the conversation noise. The bedroom actually got double layers of the insulation, which should help with the sound transfer between our future master and the guest room above.

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We ordered 20 bags of the mineral wool insulation, and used 19 bags in the ceiling. Instead of returning the last bag, Slav installed the leftover insulation around the furnace. We plan to build a closet around the furnace down the road. With the help of the mineral wool insulation, we hope to minimize the furnace noise when it comes on and off.

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With both electrical and insulation done, we are ready for drywall. I had some anxiety closing up the ceiling and walls – I cannot help but wondering if we forget something important between the studs. We already determined to wireless connect the future speakers, then what else we could do when the studs are still exposed? Is there anything could be useful down the road, even though we are not using today? Give us a shout out if you have any ideas!

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!

More Dry Walls Down – Performing Open Surgery on Our Utility Room

Who would knew this little laundry room in our basement has gotten most of our attention? Our bedroom only got a bed, the living room does not even have a sofa yet, and Slav’s office has been a dump ground for all the books and magazines. But this little laundry room, boy, has renovated changed 100%! We sacrificed a whole bedroom to return its old glory, we have installed a new HVAC, and everything else in the room has been replaced, including the furnace, the washer and dryer, and most recently, the water heater.

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Above was the laundry room when we bought the house, you can see the old washer and dryer combo to the left and the purple bedroom to the right. Below was after we combined the purple bedroom and the laundry room to make a “new” utility room.

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Before we could even do a load of laundry in our new utility room, the old water heater went out. Slav installed a new tankless water heater which marks the last appliance replacement in the room – at this point, every single thing in the utility room is added/replaced by us. However, the pipes and connections hidden in these walls are still old, and we were 99% sure that some of them were leaking. So Slav said, what the heck, let us open it up and straighten things out!

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I knew that I’ve praised Slav on this blog before, but this man is really my hero. He has worked for the entire week prior since the water heater broke, and I can tell that he has had enough of this room. But Slav is also a guy who always does the right thing. Regardless if it is work, or life, I have never seen him taking a shortcut, or trying to get away from his responsibilities. He knew that the pipes and connections behind the appliances must be a mess, and that is what brought him back to this room to take down these walls.

And this is what the room looks like now. How could I not praise this man?

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To understand everything Slav did back there, let us go back to the same wall a couple days ago, right after the new water heater was installed:

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1. Getting rid of the partition wall and soffit

As you can see, there was a wall between the laundry units and the water heater. There is also a soffit above the laundry units. The clear pipe held by metal clips connects the condensation pump to the washer drain, which drains our HVAC, furnace, and water heater.

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We decided to tear down the partition wall, dry wall and the soffit entirely. We knew what’s behind the soffit – our dryer vent. But we still want to open it in order to fix the neighboring bathroom vent behind it. We suspect that the bathroom fan vents directly into the wall, instead of carrying moisture outside of the house. It can produce mold in the walls, and need to be fixed before the bathroom can be used regularly. Without a clear renovation plan, we’d rather not open up any walls in the bathroom, so it makes a lot more sense to open up the soffit in the utility room to troubleshoot.

What made things easier is that the bottom half of the drywall here was already missing.

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See the wall cavity between dryer vent and the washer? That is the inside of our bathroom vanity. Yep, you can put an arm through the wall, open the vanity door, and grab someone’s leg when he/she washes hands in the sink. It will be the best Halloween scare ever.

So Slav went to town and removed the partition wall (not weight bearing), the soffit and the dry wall in between. Now we could see all the connections, and things were messy:

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For one, the water lines feeding into the washer were not fixed to the framing. The connections are supposed to be bolted onto studs to prevent water pipes from vibrating when water comes in, which could cause leaks at distal connections.

Behind the dryer, the vent pipe was a mess. It consists of three different sections, all in different material, and they are only loosely attached to each other.

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And it is definitely snapped open in the middle, which means some of the hot and moist air was pumped into the walls whenever the dryer was in use.

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Slav peeled off the dryer vent completely to reconnect the pipes properly. See the duct tape on one section? Oh boy.

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2. Switching/Reconnect Merry and Pippin

I have requested to switch Merry and Pippin around, so their doors can open to each other, instead of against each other. So Slav dragged them out, vacuumed clean between the studs, and relocated Pippin (the dryer) to the right side and Merry on the left.

Since Pippin is now next to the exterior wall, Slav shortened the dryer vent pipe and mounted it neatly:

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See the bath tissue between Merry and Pippin? Hello bathroom vanity!

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Everything is taped shut and properly secured to the framing:

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The washer water lines are cleaned and reconnected as well.

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Ans this is what Merry and Pippin looks like today – how neat!

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3. Fixing the bathroom vent

As expected, we got to peek into the bathroom soffit from this side. This is the view of bathroom vent pipe, and it was – wait for it – not connected to the bathroom fan at all.

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With sufficient lighting from the utility room, you can also see the pipe from the bathroom too.  Yes, there is a hole at the bottom of soffit, directly above the shower. And no, we did not make the hole. It came with the house.

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Slav reconnected the bathroom vent pipe to the fan and clamped down the connection. Now our bathroom fan is venting to the outside as it is supposed to, and no moisture, either from the dryer vent pipe, or from the bathroom fan, will accumulate in the wall anymore. 🙂

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The Current Utility Room

After 6 hours of work, this is the “new” new utility room we now have:

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I love how clean, and organized this room is. Everything works and there is no mystery. We plan to keep the utility wall open like without drywall over, which makes it a lot easier to renovate the bathroom down the road. For appearance, we might build a closet to conceal all the appliances down the road. But for now, we are enjoying the easy access and clean sight. No other room in this house gives me such sense of proud, victory, and peace – we own it, 100% – our “new” utility room!

 

 

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