Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Utility Page 3 of 4

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!

Welcome home, Merry and Pippin

Welcome home, Merry and Pippin!


Yes, I named our new(-ish) washer and dryer. And yes, I know they are giants. But Merry and Pippin reminded a good friend of mine with two dogs named after them and just sounded funny. So say hello to Merry, our new(-ish) washer, and Pippin, our new(-ish) dryer!

I keep calling them “new-ish” because they are not really brand new. We bought them second-hand off Craigslist (more on this later), a few days before we closed on our ranch. At that time, we were told that there would be no washer and dryer left on site, so we rushed to find decent washer and dryers without breaking our bank. But the day when we moved in, look  what we found in the basement:


Working washer and dryer! The dryer is a front load and has touch panels and special settings for linen and jeans. It was so much fancier that any dryer we have ever used.


We were initially grateful for the previous owner’s thoughtfulness – it was so convenient to have working washer and dryer when you are moving. If you remember our move in June, we torn out the dirty carpet on the first floor during the first a couple days without unpacking anything. It was such a nasty job that I changed every time during a long break – and these washer and dryer were definitely a strong work horse.

But we soon found out that there was another reason why these units were left behind – they are simply too big to be moved out of the utility room. If you look at our basement floor plan, you will find a dividing wall between the utility/laundry room and the weird third bedroom:

Ranch basement_current

And this is in reality how the wall looked like:


The utility/laundry room is on the left of the wall, and the weird third bedroom, painted in purple, is on the right side.

Based on the concrete floor and our close neighbors’ floor plan, we believe that there was just one big utility room when the house was built. The dry wall dividing it was put in later. Very likely, the dry wall was put up AFTER the current washer and dryer were wheeled in, which explains how these big units got in here. You can also see the original door frame to the living room and the poorly constructed bedroom door.

Sad door frame without trims


A hook as a door handle – gotta respect the pure function


As much as I wanted to believe in the good will of people, I had to say that this wall was probably the determinant why these units were left here. They did provide some convenience initially, but quickly became a headache when we wanted to switch to our new-ish washer and dryer combo.


Look at this corner and the bump-out from the big furnace – there was no way to take the washer and dryer out. Just when we decided to give up and sell the new-ish washer and dryer, an opportunity presented itself:


The furnace was out – during HVAC installation! And even better, there were two strong guys on site to help Slav to move the units. These units, especially the washers, were super heavy. Trust me. I tried. Even with the best night of sleep, protein shake in the morning, plus coffee, I could not move any of them even on flat ground. So never mind going  up and down the narrow basement stairs!

With the guys’ help, the dryer and washer were moved out of the laundry room and up to the garage.


We quickly discovered that there was no dry wall behind the dryer. The dark pipes you are looking at are the plumbing for BATHROOM VANITY on the other side of the wall! We think that the dry wall was cut out to install the vanity in the bathroom, then never patched up.


If we had lived downstairs, we would have noticed that whoever doing laundry could hear everything happening in the bathroom, and vice versa!

The missing dry wall extended all the way behind the washer:


At this point, there was nothing to lose. I decide to cut the rest of the dry wall out and see what was behind it. It would also make connenting the dryer vent easier:



Hello, sewer pipe with an access point! At least we know where the upstairs sewerage connects to the main line now. Let us hope that we never need to use this information, ever.

When everything was vacuumed twice and the floor was clean, Slav happily moved the new-ish units in. It was just enough room to rotate them in:


This picture was taken after everything was connected! Slav breathed a big sigh of relief that one big task of his was finally over. Look at his face, so happy and innocent. He did not know what was coming…


What was coming, is a disaster during which we could have gotten hurt badly. But Slav being Slav, who is very thorough and always makes sure his work is complete, prevented our house from burning down. Lots of people claimed that they pay “attention to details”, but Slav truly practices it, both at his work and at home.

Like this moment, it was 5 PM on a hot and dusty day and the HVAC guys have gone from their first day of work. I was down for a shower and some pizza, but Slav insisted to perform a test run on the washer and dryer, “just to make sure that they are doing their jobs”. And it turned out that the dryer was not. A couple minutes after turning on the dryer, it smelled like something was burning inside the dryer. The smell was so bad and the dryer got so hot, that we had to immediately turn it off and open the windows.


Slav took the door off. Immediately, we saw feathers.





Tons of feathers. It was like a pillow exploded in there. In fact, I think that was exactly what happened. A pillow worth of feather filled the filter compartment, all the way to the back between the dryer cavity and the outer siding, and the worst part, the heating compartment. Feathers were directly in contact with the wires and blocked the heat transfer, and they were burnt from just a couple minutes of usage of the dryer.

I do not want to think about what would have happened if we had not done the test run. The laundry units are in the basement and the only times we are down here are doing laundry. We typically start the machines, and go right back upstairs. In many cases, we turn on the dryer before going to sleep or going out. Without the test run, the first dryer run could have burnt the house down, and we might have gotten hurt really badly.

When it comes to second hand stuff, I always count on people’s honesty. When we sell something, we will tell people everything we know about it and price it accordingly. We did wonder why these units are so cheap – they looked almost unused and they were only 40% of their original price. And when the seller told us that he just want to get rid of the “spare set” and everything “runs great”, we believed him. Does he ever wonder if he has destroyed a room, a house, or a family? How does he sleep at night knowing the dryer could catch on fire first time it was used? I know I could not.


Slav started vacuuming, disassembling, vacuuming, disassembling. It took him two hours to get every pieces of feather out.

So there they were, Merry and Pippin, clean and free of feathers. They have been working for us for a month now and they have been great. They runs quiet and shout loudly when finished. I felt that we saved Merry and Pippin, and I love them even more now.


The only problem we have here now is the dry wall – the wall sits so close to Merry and Pippin that only I could squeeze through the open doors to do laundry. Since we really do not need the 5th bedroom in the house, we will broke down the dividing dry wall and return the big utility room to its original glory.

Ranch basement_proposal 1


Slav has put his hammer through the dry wall during HVAC installation – cannot wait to see the whole wall coming down now!

HVAC Installation

When we bought our ranch, we knew that we wanted to add central AC someday. It was not a high priority at the beginning, especially given that we had a leaky roof and a fire-hazard electrical panel to deal with.

Then a two-week long heat wave hit the Midwest…After a week of 90 degree days and nights, we quickly relabeled the central AC a “high priority” and started calling around. Lucky for us, we found a local company who could install both furnace and AC for us within a week!

After making a bunch of decisions, our installation was scheduled. We still needed to decide the location for pipe/duct work. Certain criteria had to be met for code and safety reasons, so we could not just hide all the ducts and pipes behind walls. But we could try to utilize existing ducts to minimize exposed pipes and avoid cutting new holes on the brick.

1. The copper refrigerant line

The first decision we needed to make was how to connect the condenser outside to the central AC unit that sits on top of the furnace. If you remember our basement layout, the furnace (marked with “F” in the picture below) sits in the corner of the utility room, and our condenser unit (marked with “C” below) will sit on the northeast corner of our house, outside of our bedroom wall.


You can see where the copper lines (containing refrigerant) between them (marked as yellow). The copper lines need to be as straight as possible, as tight turns will compromise the pipe and may cause leaks down the road. That means that they need to run perpendicular to our floor joint (from west to east). We certainly do not cut holes on the floor joint, so the copper lines has to run below the ceiling in the bedroom.


Above is the basement bedroom the lines will go through. The copper lines will come in from the ceiling from the right side (so we cut a hole on the brick instead of on the foundation), and run just below the ceiling to the left. We will keep it as close to the closet door and the existing duct as possible. From the bedroom going out, there was an existing duct in the wall that reaches the furnace, so that portion of the copper lines can be hidden.

2. The PVC pipes for air circulation

For a high efficiency furnace, two PVC pipes have to be put in to air the furnace, as shown above in blue lines. One pipe is to exhaust, and the other one is to supply fresh air. We could have run the PVCs directly above the furnace and out to the back of the house, but we would have to cut new holes on the brick. Luckily, there was an unused duct on top of the dry wall that separates the utility room and the weird bedroom:


It is connected to outside already so new PVC pipe can just thread through.


To gain access to the existing duct, we needed to remove the door frame and the dry wall around the pipe. So Slav got to work the day before the HVAC installation.


He first removed the ceiling around the doorway, then cut off the corner studs and chipped off all the dry walls around the existing pipe.






3. Getting rid of the old fresh air pipe and correct the gas lines

This was what the utility room looked like BEFORE installation…


This photo shows at least 5 code violations here according to our HVAC guy. I am glad we got this mess taking care of!

For respective, I labeled what these ducts and pipes were for:

HVAC room

As you can see, the new furnace will be a bit taller, and the new AC unit will sit right above it. The electrical supply pipe will remain and continue to give power to the furnace, and the thermostat will be rewired.


One thing will be gone with the old furnace is the old fresh air supply pipe to the furnace (blue arrow), which was hanging by a thread (literally) at 45 degrees. Another change will be to rewire the gas line. The current gas line ran across the top of the furnace, came down on its left side, and supply the furnace through a weird U curve. The U pipe not only blocked the furnace front panel and made changing filter a lot more difficult, but also increased the possibility of leakage. We will bring down the gas line down on the right side of the furnace instead, so the connections are more straight forward. The new furnace can also sit a couple inches closer to the wall.

We would love to see the old fresh air supply pipe for the furnace (the vertical pipe) go away, but we have to keep it since it doubles as the fresh air supply for the water heater. When we replace the water heater with a high efficiency one, or even better, a tankless one, it will use PVC for fresh air and the old fresh air pipe will go away completely.


4. Getting rid of the old furnace

With all the road block cleared out, our HVAC guy arrived the next morning with brand new units:




The new furnace from the bottom


The AC unit!


The first step was to cap the gas line and clear out the old furnace:



It was nasty – after an hour or so, the old furnace was out on the curb:


5. Setting up the refrigerate lines/copper pipes

While one guy (John) was inside removing the old furnace, his helper (Chase) went outside to set up the condenser unit:


Our electrician has already put in the AV outlet and a service outlet prior installation.

Chase leveled the ground, measured where exactly the supporting pad would go (a foot from the exterior wall and windows by code), then put down the pad. We made a last minute decision to add two poly layers below the pad, so water would not get into the gap between the condenser and the foundation.


Then Chase rolled out the copper lines:


These two lines would run along the bedroom and into the AC unit. You can see the form insulation around the copper pipes:


A hole was drilled on the side wall for the pipe to come into the house, just above the foundation:


It took both guys to push the copper lines through the hole and into the bedroom:



The next step was to run the pipe through over the bathroom and into the utility room. As I told you before, there was an existing duct already. The guys inserted a rigid PVC pipe through the duct, in order to piggyback the soft copper pipes into the utility room:



After some wrestling, the copper lines were finally in:


And this was what the bedroom looked like with exposed pipe. At the end of the installation, John kindly bent the pipe a bit so it runs closely next to the air duct. We plan to build a soffit down the road to hide the pipe.


Once the copper lines were in place, the guys moved to the outside to connect the copper pipes to the condenser:





6. Installing new furnace and AC unit

After the condenser unit was connected, the guys moved inside again to install the new units:


The capped gas line:


According to the code, a flexible (yet sealed) duct connector has to be put into any pipes that run vertically. This is to prevent leakage caused by potential ground shift – basically, if there is an earthquake that moves the pipes around or up and down a few inches, , the pipes should still be sealed.


The new furnace and AC unit were installed from ground up. The base of the new furnace was connected to the existing return duct:


The furnace unit and AC united were added on top. And the copper line and gas line were reconnected:


An additional PVC pipe were added to guide the condensation from both AC unit and furnace to a pump, which was connected to the floor drain.


7. Connect the exhaust and fresh air pipes

The last step was to set up the two PVC pipes for fresh air and exhaust.  Two PVCs were fed into the utility room from the outside:


And making their way into the utility room:





And the outdoor piping were cut to certain length and bent to different angles to make sure that the exhaust air is far enough from exterior windows and the fresh air intake.


8. Fill the copper lines with refrigerate

After these were all done, the air in the copper lines were vacuumed out and the refrigerate were pumped in:


We had cool air! Slav could not take the window ACs down fast enough.


And the northern side of our house went from this:


To this:


There are still lots of things we could do to improve the look here. We plan to

  1. Cover the refrigerate line with metal covers and paint it to match our trims.
  2. Replace all the old window wells.
  3. Grade around the foundation and put decorative rocks along the foundation.
  4. Create a private entrance to the basement on this side of the house someday.

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