Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Utility Page 3 of 5

The I-beam Discovery


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.


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.


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



The northeast bedroom



The 5th bedroom next to the stairs:



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.





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.


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


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



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



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.


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.



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


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.




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.


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.



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.


All by myself. Without injuries.



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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




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.




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.


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.


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!


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?


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:


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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


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:



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


Everything is taped shut and properly secured to the framing:


The washer water lines are cleaned and reconnected as well.



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


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.


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.


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. 🙂


The Current Utility Room

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


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!



Installing a New Tankless Water Heater

Meet the beauty, who now lives in our home:


And here she is, undressed:


The other side of the room however, now looks significantly worse:



With PVC dust that is impossible to clean:


Following the breakdown of our water heater last Saturday, we got the insurance company straightened out and the old water heater pushed aside. We decided to cash out of insurance claim and invest it towards a tankless water heater. To save some $$$, Slav decided to install it himself.

Wednesday night, Slav and I went to Lowe’s and picked up the only gas tankless water heater they have in stock, along with a few supplies. It had been five days without hot water at this point; the cold showers really motivated us to push forward.


Slav did some research and determined that the Rinnai one Lowe’s has in stock is sufficient for our house. It has 7.5 gallon per minute output, which supplies a couple sinks and appliances (washer, dishwasher, etc) and a shower at the same time. It has temperature settings from 120 degree to 150 degree, which is similar and above the temperature we have set our tank heater in the past (~125 degrees). This unit also qualifies us for $100 X-cel energy rebate being high sufficiency (>90% energy factor), and we received a tax-free wavier from the Arvada city hall for purchasing it locally.


The water heater is $899 in Lowe’s now. With all the rebate ($100) and tax waiver, this unit now costs us only $800. We are getting about $550 from our insurance company, and Slav is installing it himself with a permit ($69) from the city. So for the heater itself, the price is about $320. We did need a bunch of fittings and PVC pipes, which cost a couple hundred dollars in total, but with tons of left overs for future projects. In the end, I think we are paying out-of pocket ~$500 for this heater.


The two metal pipes ($10 each) on the right are for cold and hot water. Slav also purchased a pair of isolation valve ($99) to connect them to the water heater. The yellow pipe at the bottom (similar) is for gas. We could use black iron pipe, but this flexible pipe makes the final 2 feet of connections much easier. We bought 25 feet and the leftover pipe will be used to connect the future gas stove in our upstairs kitchen.



Slav also bought some PVC pipes and elbows for fresh air supply and exhaust. The building codes dictate how long the PVC pipes could be between the heater and outside, and the use of any elbow will count towards the length. Therefore, it is important to check the installation manual and local building codes to make sure that the heater is not installed too far away from an exterior wall. Our ranch is very narrow, so it is not a problem for us to install the heater right at where the old one was.

Slav opened up the ceiling a bit more to make the PVC pipe installation easier:



And he worked through Thursday to install the heaters on the wall:


Our initial plan was to fit in an utility sink underneath, but unfortunately, the installation manual and building codes prevent us from mounting the heater any higher. I guess we would still do an utility tub if we want to.


The heater is connected to the cold and hot water lines and the gas line from the bottom. The yellow flexible gas line is connected to the black iron gas pipe with a shut-off valve:


It is a big upgrade from our old gas line, which is no longer up to code in our city:


Later on, we learned that by code, we needed to establish electrical continuity between the black iron pipe and the new flexible metal pipe. So Slav connected the piece of copper wire between them using two clamps:



The clear pipe coming out of the heater is for condensation. Tankless water heater like ours requires two condensation pipes, one from the heater itself and the other one from the exhaust pipe. You can see in the picture below a skinny PVC going straight down from the exhaust pipe to the condensation pump.


We installed this condensation pump during the HVAC installation. It has four receiving ports, one for AC and furnace, the other two are occupied by the heater. This pump is connected to the washer drain, which directs any condensation down the floor drain in the utility room.


The cold (blue) and hot (red) water lines are connected to the bottom of the water heater, with the two isolation kits in between. The isolation kits are technically not needed – you can connect the hot and cold water pipe directly to the heater. But they make future diagnose and maintenance a lot easier. The side valves on these isolation kits function as drainage and an access point for flashing the heater, which is a recommended yearly maintenance.

The copper pipe on the side of the hot water isolation valve is an emergency valve. If there is a buildup of hot water for some reason, this valve will open itself with certain pressure to let the hot water out, so we are not risking an explosion. We are not sure at this point where we should connect it to yet, a question for our inspector.


Connected to the top of the heater are fresh air supply and exhaust, which are two 3 inch PVC pipes.


They are directed away to the heater, running parallel to the PVC pipes of the furnace:



These pipe runs out of the back of the house, from the opening of the old fresh air supply:



Slav mirrored the furnace pipes. Now it looks like an art! A metal panel leftover from our furnace was cut out to cover the hole on our brick:


One of the good outcomes from this installation is that the exhaust vent is no longer needed. It actually came out of our roof, which was just reinstalled. It could be covered if the water heater was down just two weeks early! Oops!


The real advantage of removing the pipe is to save space in the neighboring bathroom. See the triangle shape of soffit on the very right corner? It encloses the exhaust pipe you see in the picture above.


We think the big bump next to it is for accommodating the exhaust pipe as well. We are pretty sure by this point that there are two pipes behind the soffit in the bathroom and the utility room above the washer and dryer, which are for the bathroom vent and the dryer vent. But these pipes are not supposed to take so much space.



We hope by capping the exhaust pipe and opening up the soffit in these two rooms, we can consolidate the pipes to make at least the soffit in the bathroom disappear. That will add so much head space in the bathroom!

With the momentum going strong in the basement, Slav is opening walls left and right in the utility room. 🙂 I am looking forward to showing you what we’ve found after the cleanup!

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