Terrific Broth

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

Category: DIY (Page 1 of 5)

Attic Insulation – It is Happening!

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With winter settling in, we are keeping a close eye on our energy consumption. With below freezing temperature every night, our electricity and gas bill increased about 20% last month. We do have to heat the entire basement this month for our guest, so overall our little ranch still performed better than we thought it would be (thanks to our brand new furnace, new roof, and all the insulation Slav has done on the exterior). However, we knew that we could further improve our energy efficiency by adding insulation into our attic. 

How much do we need?

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According to our house inspection, our attic currently has 8″ fiberglass insulation, which gives us insulation value of R-19. The recommended roof insulation value for Denver homes is R49-R60, which means that we are significantly lacking attic insulation. This might be due to the different building codes when our house was builtin 1960s. It could also because the height of our attic. As you could see from the picture below when we replace our subroof, the 8″ fiberglass has already filled the space at the low points. There is only about a few inches height for additional insulation along each side.

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To take a better look ourselves, Slav and I took a trip to out attic together. It was my first time being inside the attic, so it was pretty exciting to me.

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In general, the attic and the insulation are in better shape than we expected. We have a solid 8″ loose filled fiberglass insulation throughout, even 10″ to a foot at some places. There is no mold, rot, or any additional damage we could see. And there is no trace of any animals.

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We both wear respirators and goggles that seal against our skin. They helped a lot when we crawled around to even out some thin spots.

Inspect the vents

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While we are up in the attic, we spent some time inspected the duct and pipes going through the attic. Because our kitchen and bathroom are all centrally located, all our vents are clustered in a small area in the middle of the house. As you could see from the picture above, from left to right, we have the old water heater vent (which is no longer in use since we installed a new tankless water heater), the main floor bathroom vent, a sewer vent (the copper pipe), and the kitchen fan. All the pipes comes up from the dry wall ceiling below, and any gaps between dry wall and pipes need to sealed to prevent heat loss.

Picking the Right Insulation Material

In order to insulation our attic as much as possible, we set out to find blown-in material that gives us the most R value per inch height. We settled on the all borate-treated blown-in cellulose from Green Fiber. The reason for choosing blow-in cellulose is four-fold: we have to use blown-in because how our roof trusses are built, and we want to use cellulose to cover the old fiberglass for health concerns. Cellulose also offers the highest fire retardation rating, and has better pest and moist control compared to fiberglass. The particular type of Green Fiber product we chose has the best fire-rating, noise reduction, moisture control, and does not contain any ammonium sulfate. Ammonium sulfate is often added as a fire retarder if the cellulose is not borate-treated, and it is extremely corrosive to almost all metal when combined with moisture. Since we have bath fans, kitchen vent, and electrical conduit in the attic, the all-borate mix just makes it safer.

According to this insulation calculator, we need 26 bag of this type of Green Fiber product to beef us our attic insulation to R49 and 36 bags for R60. We decided to order a pallet of 36 bags, and spare a few bags to insulate the northern wall in our garage. This wall separates our garage and the main floor kitchen, and therefore has a lot of heat loss and poor fire rating. Blowing the Green Fiber cellulose between the 2″ x 4″ studs will give this wall almost R15 insulation, which is comparable to batt insulation and much easier for retrofitting.

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There is a Xcel Energy rebate for adding insulation in Colorado, which grants 30% rebate off the purchase. But there is a catch – the insulation has to be installed by licensed contractors. Since we are doing it ourselves, we cannot claim this rebate. But if you are hiring it out, do not forget to claim your rebate!

The DIY preparation list

Blown-in insulation is a good DIY-project. It is relatively cheap, fast, requires team work, and offers instant gratification. With our pallet purchase, we can get free rental for a blowing machine from Home Depot for a day. We also scheduled the insulation to be delivered to our door for free, saved us the effort of strapping on a 5′ x 5′ x 8′ pallet on our trailer and unload.

Aside from the machine and material, we also need to install rafter vents in between the rafters. They will not only prevent loose insulation to fall into the soffit and block the vents, but also create channels for any moisture to vent out from roof ridge vents when we pile up loose insulation into the attic. Most of the rafter vents sold in local stores are made in styrofoam, which breaks easily during handling and installation. Since we are retrofitting an old attic with 4:12 roof pitch, we decided to pay a little more for PVC rafter vents. The ones we will be installing is 51″ long, which offers more than 16″ height from the attic floor. So it can vent above our estimated total 16″ loose insulation without clogging the build-in tunnels or soffit went.

An Surprising Discovery

Good things happen to hard-working people, I firmly believe that. Crawling around the attic floor in 8″ fiberglass paid off handsomely – we found that our kitchen soffit is completely hollow inside!

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Do you know what it means? That means that the only reason the kitchen soffit is there, is for the upper cabinet to be mounted at a lower height. It also means that we can remove the soffit completely and build cabinets up! The best part of renovating this house so far has been demos – carpet (here and here), walls, and ceilings. And now I get to simplify the kitchen and adding more storage by demo the soffit? This just become the task I am most-looking forward to in the kitchen!

A couple months earlier, we did drill a couple holes into the soffit and use our awesome little endoscope to probe what was in it. When we saw fiberglass, it really confused us. We also could not figure out what else might be hidden in the soffit. And now we know – it is just insulation falling down from the attic!

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To make the future demo process easier, we decided to close the soffit up from the attic. It will create a floor to support the insulation. Before we nail down a piece of board, we decided to scoop up the insulation in the soffit and put them back to the attic. We did not have to do that, but I am so glad we did – because we found this!

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Below the existing insulation, the kitchen fan vent is completely detached. There is no tape and the alignment is waaay off. The pipes were replaced by our roofer back to September, so obviously they did not do it right. Oh well. We overall liked our new roof and think the roofers did a good job installing it. But this particular part is a bit disappointing.

There is nothing tape and the Great Stuff cannot fix.

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The Plan

So here is our handy to-do list before beefing up our attic insulation:

1. Order the insulation material
2. Seal air gaps, realign and tape-secure the kitchen vent
3. Scoop the insulation out of the kitchen soffit and close the top
4. Even out the existing insulation
5. Lay down ethernet cables for future use
6. Install rafter vents
7. Prepare the garage wall for blown-in
8. Book the machine and it will be the Blow day!

 

Adding Sliding Drawers to Our Kitchen Cabinet

Hi Friends! How come that we are in the middle of the holiday season already? Before I knew it, Slav and I were on the airplane to SFO for Thanksgiving. And by the time we returned, every other house on our street was lit up with Christmas lights! I’ve never seen that many inflatable snowman and Santa before. In the mornings, our street looks like a massacre has happened in Santa’s village – nearly every house features an empty sac of Santa laying on the front lawn or hanging off the chimney.

We always decorate light, and this year is no exception. A tree in the living room, a wreath on the front door, and a few string lights here and there. It is hard to decorate for Christmas when the house still needs lot of work – the garage ceiling is still open and the attic needs new insulation. But Slav is simply too busy with his work, so big renovation to-dos have to wait.

Without his help, I turned my eyes on small projects that I can handle myself, such as building sawhorses. I have never done carpentry before, but I really enjoyed working with a drill and a saw. This week, I had my eyes on another fun wood project in the kitchen.

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Picture above is our kitchen sideboard. It looks newer than other kitchen cabinets, but features the same countertop materials. Despite being very bulky, it does not offer much storage, due to the lack of drawers and shelving:

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See the images above? The long drawer front in the middle was fake. It was attached to the framing and there was no drawer behind it, leaving only two narrow drawers on the sides. The bottom cabinet did not have any shelf in it either. All of our pots and pans were cramped in and on top of each other.

To create more storage in the sideboard, I came up with a simple plan of adding a sliding shelf two-third way up in the bottom cabinet, and converting the fake drawer front to a real drawer. The sliding shelf will host our frying pans and small pots, and the drawer can be used for utensils. Giving my limited experience, I picked the simplest drawer design and the most basic drawer slides. The goal was to maximize the function over look and to gain more woodworking experience during this project.

1. Giving the sideboard a new back

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The first step is to clear everything out and detach the sideboard from the wall. We always wanted to rotate it 90 degree, against the stair rail, and it seemed to be a good opportunity to do it. The problem is that this sideboard had no back. It was bolted to the wall with some screws. So we also need to put a back on it.

Slav caulked the seams when he replaced all the silicone in the kitchen. He did such a good job that it took me quite some struggle to cut off all the caulking.

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We moved all the appliance to the sideboard in our living room.

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I picked up some a sheet of 4’x8′, 1/2″ thick MDF and cut the back pieces with a circular saw. The reason I had to do two pieces instead of one, is that the top rail of the sideboard is a bit wider. We do not have any clamp or guide, so it was hard to do any precise cut than running a straight line.

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The back pieces were bolted on the back with 2 3/4″ screws. The sideboard was rotated and pushed against the stair rail, which freed tons of space.

2 Converting the fake drawer front to a real drawer

Next I took the fake drawer front off and took some measurements. The drawer front was connected to the frame with some scrape pieces. A few pry with the smallest pry bar we have took care of them. I was definitely more comfortable using the pry bar now. Small progress!

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Our cabinet is 24″ deep and the other two drawers have 22″ drawer slides. So I picked up these 22″ drawer slides for the new drawer. The frame opening behind the fake drawer front is 33″, which meant that I needed to make the drawer 22″ deep by 32″ wide, allowing 1″ for drawer slides on both sides.

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Having all the measurements on hand, I moved onto cutting the drawer bottom and four sides out of the MDF sheet. I wish I have picked the 3/4″ plywood instead – the MDF sheet created so much fine saw dust that it was impossible to keep the work area reasonably clean. MDF sheet is also too soft to offer enough resistance to my circular saw. Without any guide pieces, it was hard to keep lines straight.

I did wear some PPE to protect myself from breathing in the fine saw dust as much as possible. The earmuffs was also very helpful as my circular saw is old and loud.

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With the help from this instruction, I managed to put together this drawer:

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And installed it into the sideboard. The whole process went very smoothly and so is does the sliding drawer!

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As you can see, the original fake drawer front now became the real drawer front. We pressed it against the drawer when it was closed, then carefully opened the drawer and drilled from the back. It would have been a lot easier if we had doubled-sided tape or a small nailer. Now I started to understand why Slav keeps buying tools!

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Here is my first drawer, loaded. 🙂

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3. Adding a sliding shelf in the lower cabinet

As I showed you above, we have so many pots and pans in the lower cabinet that they stack on top of each other, making it difficult to take them in and out.

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So I decided to make a shelf about 2/3 way up from the bottom of the cabinet. I want to make it sliding out in between the two framing posts, so we can easily reach for any pots and pans. It will have very low sides around to prevent anything from falling out, kind of like a very shallow drawer.

I had just enough MDF left to make this sliding shelf. To make sure that I can get all pieces out of it, I planned everything on the MDF first:

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I love it when there is very little waste.

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With the experience from the previous drawer, I did a better job designing and assembling this one. The biggest different is that the previous drawer bottom was flanked among the four sides, so the drawer slides were attached to the bottom of the sides. I made this shelf differently, by putting the sides on top of the bottom piece, so both drawer slides support the bottom. I think this design can handle more weight. Truth to be told, I’ve opened and closed drawers so many times and never paid any attention on how they are constructed! It is amazing that how much and how quickly you learn from building things yourself!

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Another lessons I learned is that I should have put on the back piece the last. It would have made it a lot easier to put on additional vertical support for the drawer slides to attach. We had to add scrape pieces of 2″x4″s due to lack of access.

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The front filler piece was added to make sure that the shelf slides pass the doors, which sit inside of the frame. As a consequence, the shelf is 1″ narrower than the drawer above it.

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Here is the shelf when I finished installation:

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Sliding out smoothly:

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And supports a good amount of weight:

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4. The updated sideboard,

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Here is our updated sideboard with a lot more storage than before. Its new compartment and location made the kitchen a lot more functional and feeling more spacious. Needless to say that I was beaming with pride. This building experience taught me how to pick the right screw for cabinet work, made me feeling a lot more comfortable with circular saw and planer, and allowed me to design something for the first time. It is incredibly fun!

 

 

My First Carpentry Work!

Ladies and gentlemen, I built these!

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And I built them 100% by myself, without Slav’s help!

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I’ve been wanting to learn woodwork for a while. But as a handyman’s wife, I am both lazy and intimidated to start. I do plenty of DIY. In fact, I designed most of the furniture we built. But when it gets to the actual cutting and drilling, Slav shows up with his drill and takes over. Over the years, the separation of our work flow became more and more exclusive, to which point I do not even know where our drill is anymore. There is nothing wrong with job specialization – it does speed up the process of a big project. But for small projects like door trims, a picture hedge, or hanging shelves, it would have been much more efficient if I did not have to call Slav every time I need to drill into a wall.

The problem is – better Slav gets, more clumsy I get, and more intimidated I am to try. I think we both just assume that I will hurt myself using tools at this point. And I really really want to change that. I want to feel comfortable with power tools. I want to be able to pick the right screws for the right job. And I want to be able to take over small projects so Slav can focus on large scale project such as walls and plumbing. The ranch house has brought so much work, and every single one involves using power tools. I do not want to just make a honey-to-do list and nag Slav to complete everything.

When the need of a pair of saw horses comes around, I saw a great opportunity for me to start. Sawhorses are simple to build – Ana White published this simple plan with a complete cut list and an easy-to-follow video, so I can just focus on the building part. The material is cheap and simple, just some 2″x4″s, so if I screw up, little will be wasted. Most importantly, these are just saw horses. They do not need to be pretty or have a nice finish, so I can feel free to practice on them and learn from my mistakes.

I started by gathering materials. We took down a wall in our utility room a while ago and still have some of these 2″x4″ framing lumber laying around. They are cut into random length during the demo process, and a lot of them have nails on them. But they are long enough to provide some usable pieces for the sawhorse.

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I picked out all the long and relatively good pieces and hammered out the nails. Slav reluctantly pointed out that 2″x4″s are cheap, so it does not make much sense to dig into junk wood pile and risk to cut my hands with rusty nails. And he is absolutely right. But I also to wanted to practice using pry bar and hammers, and I am stingy genetically. So I kindly reminded him that it was International Men’s Day and World Toilet Day, and he should be doing what men do on the toilet and leave me alone.

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After half an hour of work, I managed to harvest lots of good-looking lumber without breaking my skin. Points for that!

I did need more 2″x4″‘s, so I picked up two from Lowe’s along with some wood screws. I made two mistakes while doing that – one is I did not inspect the 2″x4″s carefully. I did check the straightness – and you bet I did it proudly because it made me felt like an expert. But I did not double check the length of these lumbers. One 2″x4″ is 4 inches shorted than expected 8’. But fortunately I did not need the whole length. The other mistake is that I did not get enough screws, apparently 50 of them are not enough for two saw horses!

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I marked length on all the pieces according to the cut list, and fired up the miter saw:

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Roxie watched me and licked saw dust off my hair. It is truly wonderful to have dogs.

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I dry fit the pieces together after cutting. I can definitely get better at the miter saw – the pieces were a bit uneven at the end and corners, and sometimes I did not push the miter saw down enough, which resulted in jagged edges. Luckily, none of the mistakes prevented me from continuing the assembly.

The next step was to put the pieces together. I picked deck screws for the job, which might be a bit overkill, but they grab so well that they made the job really easy. I made a mistake not picking up enough of them, which became a good lesson, because I got to try all different kinds of long screws we had around, and figured out that I did not like self-drilling screws so much. I also learned quickly that having two drills around can make the work a lot faster when pre-drilling is needed.

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It took me probably 20 minutes to assemble the first sawhorse, but a lot quicker for the other one. After building the first one, I decided to spice it up by adding on top a piece of 1″x8″ we had laying around:

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If you have looked the cut list, you will notice that I skipped the 1″x3″ cross braces. The sawhorses were already very steady and I was running low on long screws, so I decided that having a pretty top was more important than cross bracing. 🙂

Here are the sexy pair. Aside from the scrap wood, I bought one box of screws and two 2″x4″s.

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These saw horses are built to give our miter saw a boost, so we no longer need to cut on the patio. We have work benches in the garage, but we prefer to cut lumbers outside so our garage remains saw-dust free. Without a miter saw table, it can get really hard on our backs.

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Slav immediately used it for his quarter round trims (another weekend project, stay tuned). My build is now Slav-approved! Below is the photo evidence – right after Slav crossed himself for using my saw horses.

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To end today’s post, I want to give a shout to Ana’s Youtube channel. I have been watching it for a few months now, and it really inspired me to tackle woodwork myself. Guess who will be building more after today’s first project? This lady!

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