Terrific Broth

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

Terrific Broth

Category: DIY (Page 1 of 7)

Chipping Away at the Office

Happy Chinese New Year! Woof! Woof! 2018 is dog year and we have several dog people in my family, including Slav. The Chinese tradition for people in their animal year is to wear something red, so my side of the family got Slav red thermals for skiing. It is so practical yet sweet.

The tradition also says that you are not supposed to work during Chinese New Year. Failing to obey this rule will lead to a whole year of hard work. But who are we kidding here – how could we stay away from our projects when the office looks like this after we framed the opening?


One urgent task we needed to address was the floor under the office opening. There was no hardwood floor under the old wall:


And now there is!


The Long Floor Story

Let me back up a little and fill you in with our floor situation. The whole ranch was carpeted when we bought it. And on the closing day, we found hardwood flooring throughout the main story. We were scheduled to move in the same afternoon, so instead of moving furniture in, we unloaded all of our possessions into the garage and started ripping off the carpet. It was the first renovation we did in the ranch and it was crunch time.


Our wood floor is not in a bad condition – there was no rot or significant damage, although the old carpet certainly left its mark. We plan to refinish our floors this coming spring, as soon as the weather is warm enough to leave windows and doors open. However, changing the office layout certainly exposed some bare spots, including the area underneath the old closet wall (now the opening entry to Slav’s closet):


And the area under the old office/living room wall (now the new office opening):


We decided to patch these sections with hardwood flooring. Our old floor was generic and easy to track down. We ordered a whole box several weeks ahead of time to let the new floor planks get acclimated to the room.

In the morning of installation, I laid all the planks out based on their length. We also inspected the planks for straightness and quality.


Roxie is always curious about whatever we are doing and usually sticks around during our work (until the vacuum comes out). However, Charlie is afraid of loud noises and always stays in the backyard. This time was no exception. Charlie was nowhere to be found whereas Roxie sat and guarded all the floor planks.


An Easy Start

This is our first time working with hardwood floors. So we decided to start with the section that is relative easy – Slav’s closet.


The existing flooring was cut down on both sides to meet the old closet wall, so we started by removing one row of the old flooring from each side.


As you can see, our flooring is in tong-and-groove style. To patch the flooring, we would be fitting our new floor planks’ groove into the tong of the existing flooring.


The long piece just outside of the closet was pretty damaged by carpet furring strips. So we took this opportunity to replace it. Slav removed it with a chisel.



Removing the two rows next to the bare spot enlarged the area we needed to patch, but we gained intact tong and groove to fit the new planks onto.


Our bed quickly became a work zone. We have a tarp dedicated for covering our bed, which we called our “bed tarp”. Whenever things are happening in the bedroom, the bed tarp is out!


We fit the new flooring planks on by gluing the tong of the new pieces to the old pieces’ groove. This is rather unconventional since the typical way of laying tong and groove flooring is to work from the groove side to the tong side. Ideally, after every piece goes in, the tong side should be stapled down to the plywood subfloor for stability. We had to work backwards because we wanted the narrower pieces to be hidden inside the closet. Since there was no tong for us to staple down, we had to use glue to joint pieces together.


After applying glue, Slav tapped the new pieces in with a hammer.


We made effort to fit every piece neatly, including tucking the new planks under the existing trims, baseboard, and drywall.


Slav and I worked as a team – I selected pieces with the right grain and length, while Slav glued and tapped each piece in. It went really quick until we hit the last row.


The last row is always a challenge since it is usually narrower than a full piece, and there is usually not enough room for the tong and groove to come together.


We ripped the new flooring down to the width on the tong side, then cut off the bottom groove so we could just dropped it in to place.


The first piece fit right in.


And the rest followed. The new flooring is a bit lighter than the old flooring, likely due to the discoloration of the old flooring overtime. After we refinish the floor, the new planks should blend right in.


The Real Challenge

Encouraged by the success in the bedroom, we moved onto the office opening. The flooring situation here is much more complicated. The first challenge is the direction in which the flooring runs. The easy way to go about it is to lay down some long pieces to fill the gap, which would lay perpendicular to the existing flooring. It would define the two rooms better by giving the office a clear “boundary”. It should also work well with the thick french door slabs we picked for this opening.


The other strategy would be laying the new floor planks parallel to the existing ones. For example, we could cut the new floor into short pieces and stack them from left to right to fill the gap. Since the existing wood flooring in the two rooms align perfectly, laying the floor parallel would give the entire living space a more connected look. We expect the office door to be left open 90% of the time, so having the two rooms feel like one would be nice.

We could also go one step further and remove some of the existing floor planks, in which way the seams between planks could be staggered (as shown below). This strategy gives the most seamless look between the two rooms. It would look like that the flooring was laid all at once and never patched.


The third option is obvious more difficult and labor-intensive, but it would give us the best result. It also provides an opportunity to replace some old planks that were scratched badly. So the decision was made! As always, the Sloniowski family went for the most difficult route, for which we would hate ourselves in the next two days.

We started by laying pieces of flooring over the gap, in order to determine how much old flooring to remove. Being dangerously close to use up all of our floor planks, we tried to concentrate on replacing the pieces with visible damage. We also wanted to stagger the seams so the final flooring is more stable.


This required some calculations on what we had vs. what we would need. I grew up calculating everything by hand and am still terrible at using calculators. Long worksheet is my friend.


Since almost all the new planks would be cut down into various different length, I made an effort to minimize scraps. For example, if I needed two pieces that are 20″ and 40″ long, respectively, I tried to find a plank close to 60.5″ to make these two boards.


Chipping Away

While I was busy planning and cutting new floor planks to size, Slav was busy demoing the old flooring. He used circular saw to cut longitudinally, along the plank grain, then used an oscillating saw to cross-cut the ends. As the last step, he used a chisel to finish all the corners and clean around the tongs and grooves. It was a lot of work and required quite a bit of accuracy. It took Slav two entire afternoons (about 5 hours each afternoon) to chip away every bits of old flooring.





This is where we stopped at the end of the first day. Long hours on our knees.


Patching the Subfloor

While cutting away the old floor planks, we also made some repairs on the plywood subfloor. Some portion of the old subfloor was rotten and sagging, and there was a big piece missing under the old return vent.


Slav cut off the rotten part, and some more old subflooring around the vent so the new piece can go over the floor joints.




We added a block of 2″ x 4″ scrap underneath to support the new subfloor, then I cut a piece of 1/2″ plywood to fit.



Patching It Up!

By the end of the second afternoon, we had all the old flooring cut away to match the new pieces. We checked and double checked by dry-fitting every new piece before cutting the old planks to the final length.


Now it was time to patch! We used the conventional method of nailing down the tong down to the subfloor. I’ve been wanting a brad nailer for a long time and this seems to be the perfect excuse to get one. It was only $20 (!!!) from HFT and light enough for me to use. We used 2″ nails and you can see the nail holes in the picture below.


To fit longer pieces behind the grooves of the old piece, we usually cut off a portion of the tong. The pieces went in mostly OK, with a few that needed some hammer persuasion. Slav and I again worked as a team, with him cutting on the table saw and me tap the new piece into place and firing the nail gun.


Things moved along nicely but we still worked well into the evening.



It was definitely a push to finish, but it felt so, so, so good when I nailed the last piece in! Look what we accmplished!


This portion of our old floor was pretty beaten up, so the new and smooth flooring planks really jumps out. We are hoping to blend everything in by sanding and refinishing the floor. But for now, it certainly beats what we had before:


What do you think? We think it was definitely worth it to go with the parallel direction of patching and stagger the seams. Being newbies to this type of work, It was solid three afternoons on our knees. We are both pretty tired. But with the office looks nicer and nicer each week, we are pumped to push through the next big project – door framing. Stay tuned, friends!

The Office: Framing the New Opening

I may have taken a break from blogging, but we did not take breaks from renovating. We have made lots of progress in the office, which I will tell you about this week. But first, one big announcement – we bought a table saw! It was well sought after for months and I am glad that we went for something new and in good quality – a Bosch. It cuts everything like butter. So worth it!

We started working on Slav’s office a month ago. Most of our work has concentrated on the library wall (here, here, here, and here), with much more to do for the rest of the room. I figured it will be better explained in a video, so here it is:

I cannot believe how many to-dos it takes to make a room. From the library wall going clockwise, the list includes:

1. Frame the new opening between office and living room
2. Patch the hardwood floor
3. Drywall work and paint around the new opening
4. Hang doors
5. Install new lighting and window treatment in the office
6. Enlarge office window (phase II)
7. Build a new desk w/storage cabinets
8. Build baseboard drawers for the bookcases
9. Trim out the bookcases





We want to address dusty tasks first, so here is the working order we have established:

1. Frame the new opening between office and living room
2. Patch the hardwood floor
3. Drywall work and paint around the new opening
4. Hang doors
5. Install new lighting and window treatment in the office
6. Build baseboard drawers for the bookcases
7. Trim out the bookcases
8. Build a new desk w/ storage cabinet
9. Enlarge office window (phase II)

We figured that establish the big new opening to the office will make the rest of the work easier. It will also help us to come up with a more realistic layout for the room. So open the wall we did.


Widening the Doorway

To minimize drywall work, Slav only cut off the drywall where the new opening would be. We had to cut a little higher in order to install a new header.





Removing drywall is extremely dusty so I did not take many photos. It took us a whole afternoon to demo, because we had to cut off small sections to get clean and straight edges.


Suddenly, the office and living room were much more connected. Slav loved it right away, which makes all the hard work worth it. 🙂

There were a pair of receptacles in the wall, Slav moved them a few studs over.




You can see the library wall as soon as you walk into the front door now, a much better view I’d say.


Framing the New Opening

This office/living room wall is parallel to our roof trusses and not weight bearing. However, we’d like to preserve as much of it as possible for lateral support. We also want to install a pair of doors at this opening, so Slav has the option to close off the room during conference calls. Our engineer friend helped us to figure out what we needed to do for the framing, which is illustrated below:

Framing plan

The framing includes a pair of king studs, which runs between the top plate and the bottom plate, and two jack studs on each side. The header will run right below the top plate, between the king studs, and be supported by the the jack studs.

The engineering plan also calls for installing ladder support between the king studs and the remaining studs in the wall. The ladder support is basically horizontal lumber that links two studs together to add rigidity. In our case, we need to add three pieces of 2″x4″s between the king studs and the next studs over.

We cleaned up the drywall dust and started framing. Since we preserved drywall on both sides, we framed everything one layer at a time, slowly filling inside the drywall cavity with framing blocks.


The first ones went in were the ladder support. We attached them to the existing studs deep inside the wall (yet still within arm’s reach) on both sides.


Then the king studs went in. They were screwed onto the ladder support and attached to the top and bottom plate.



At this point, we could cut off the studs within the opening:


The next one went in was the header. As advised by our engineer, we used two pieces of 2″x6″s, sandwiching a piece of 1/2″ plywood in between.


We assembled the header on the floor first, then Slav raised it in place. It was a very snug fit.


We attached the header to the top plate with screws:


We then filled in the jack studs on both side. They were attached to the king studs, bottom plate, and header with screws. The framing was now completed!


What do you think? I think it is the prettiest thing in the world. It is nice to be able to watch SNL on Slav’s monitor from the living room.


Next, the floors!

The B.L.O.W

This pallet of insulation was delivered before the New Year, and had been sitting in our garage…


…until yesterday!


Yep! We blew!


We intended to do the insulation before the New Year, but Slav has been busy with his work. In top of that, we were just swimming in small tasks in preparation for the blow. Sealing the gaps, taping the pipes, closing the missing portion on ceiling drywall, laying down Ethernet cables for future use, you name it. Most recently, we installed rafter vents as preparation for adding more insulation. It was an incredible tiring and dusty job, but we were so excited to finish it so our insulation could finally go where it should be!

We were so pumped to blow!

We got up early Saturday morning and headed to Home Depot. We ordered our insulation from their website, so even through the product was delivered directly to our door, the store honored the purchase and rent us the cellulose blower for free.



The blower came with 75 feet of hose, which was just enough for reaching the end of our attic.




The process was pretty straightforward and the instruction was posted right on the machine. An on-and-off switch turns on a set of rotating paddles, breaking insulation apart and mixing it with air. The speed of blower can be controlled by a slider on the side, which dictates how much air is pumped into the machine. One person feeds chucks of insulation into the machine from the top, and the other person holding the end of the hose to direct where to pump.


In our case, I fed the insulation and Slav went into the attic. It did take some practice to get used to this machine. First, our machine did not come with a slider, which means we were always blowing on the maximum speed. Since there is no on-and-off switch on the end of the hose, I tried to feed the machine different amount and in different speed while staying on the phone with Slav to get feedback on how things worked on his end.

I did research a bit on the blowing process, and everyone says that it is desirable to break the cellulose into very small bit, since big chucks tends to clog the machine. But in our case, I did not find it matters much, The machine comes with a 3 x 3 grid on top, and as long as the insulation chuck was small enough to fall into the machine, it got broken down by the strong moving paddles nicely.

What mattered the most, in our experience, is the amount of the insulation one feeds each time. I started feeding 1/3 bag a time, which is about 10 pounds. It almost fills the machine, but the blower spilled out insulation like toothpaste. It did not work at all for us. We figured that too much insulation blocked air into the machine, so I started feeding much smaller chucks and it worked much better – the blower started to shoot fine insulation constantly and evenly, as it intended to.


Another problem we had at first, was unwanted spills. Due to the missing slider, insulation kept spilling out from the open slot, so I taped it over. The hose also came off a few times, resulted in a big mess in the garage:



Slav came out of the attic and use a rubber cord to hold the hose in place. We were back in business!


A couple bags insulation in, we had worked out all the wrinkles and the process started picking up the pace. I fed small chucks of insulation constantly, and Slav directed the hose while slowly backing out.


I opened six bags at a time, which should fill 4 rafters. It was very helpful to stay on the phone all the time so we could ensure that we had a good coverage.




The 36 bags quickly disappeared. In a couple hours, we had only 4 bags left and majority of the attic was covered with 11″ additional insulation (R41):


Beautiful, isn’t it?

This is what we had before, only 5 inches of loose fiberglass (R13):


And this was what we have at that point, 16″ all around:


We have tried to blow into the garage wall without much success. So we decided to add the rest four bags into the attic, because why not. Slav went back into the end of the attic to address some uneven spots.

We soon ended up with this:


16″ near the rafter vents and 18″ in the middle.


It gives us R54~R60 insulation value. The effect was immediate – our furnace hardly came on the last two nights and house became much quieter.

The garage is clean again. We could not say that about ourselves though…



We are keeping close eye on the thermostat, and will give you guys an update on how much it saves at the end of this month. Our little ranch feels really fancy now!

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