Terrific Broth

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

Category: Projects Page 4 of 38

Two Trees Out, Two Trees In

Oh boy did time fly…It has been two months since I last opened the blog page. What happened? Work. Work, work, and work. In good news, Slav started a new job which he enjoys. But it sucked 200 hours out of him in just the first 3.5 weeks. 200 hours! I barely saw him in February. Luckily I was also up to my neck in my work – writing one manuscript and one grant proposal stole entire February away from me. Needless to say that we did not do a thing to the house/yard during this time.

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This is the latest picture I took in the basement after putting in a new egress window in. It was late January, right before our money-making jobs got in the way of our money-burning renovations. Since then, we devoted the last bits of spare energy into ski trips – priorities. 🙂 And before we know it, it was March!

March brought a sense of emergency – I’ve told you of my plan on planting more edibles this Spring, which is contingent on removing all the vegetation along the northern fence. This is the only portion of fence that does not belong to us, and it was in very rough shape:

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This photo was taken after we removed the chain link fence from our side. You can see the trees along the fence have grown into the posts and started to lift the panels off the ground. These are elms trees, which in Colorado are considered “trash trees” because they are invasive and easy to catch diseases. They likely seeded themselves and no one could get in between the two layers of fences to remove them in time.

These photos show what they look like during the growing season. Due to lack of care and diseases, The elm tree in the middle and half of the other two elm trees were already dead. In the second picture, you can see only the trunks of the middle elm tree because it had fell down.

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To eliminate the danger of them falling on the house or one of us, and also to save the fence, we decided to cut them down even through they are technically not our trees. But someone gotta do it. Right?

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Removing the chain link fence exposed the entire trunks of these elm trees for easy removal. To do it safely, we hired a licensed and insured tree company (Arborist Alliance) to remove the elm trees and the big stump left from the elm in the middle. We were fortunate to have a couple sunny days in between snow storms for safe operation.

Elm tree No. 1

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Elm tree No. 2

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Of course I took a day off to watch this exciting operation. I took zillions of pictures kneeling in melting snow + mud despite the weird looks from the crew members, only to find in the evening that there was no memory card in the camera. Oops. Anyway, I hope you still get the excitement with the blurry cell phone pictures below:

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A crew of five people arrived bright and early and started working. The tree on the right were brought down by cutting at the chest height, one trunk at a time. But the one on the left were cut down a lot more slowly and carefully due to its close proximity to the houses.

The one on the right was done in half an hour:

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The one on the left were cut down branch by branch, a couple feet a time:

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This crew worked like a well-oiled machine and very efficiently. Two crew members worked on the two elm trees while the third crew member assisted them from the ground. As the branches came down, two other members separated the branches from the main trunks with chainsaws, and brought the smaller branches to the wood chipper parked in front of our house.

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All the smaller branches were turned into wood chips immediately. Technically, the trunk of the tree and big branches can be chipped too. But we wanted them for firewood, so it worked well in both their benefit and ours to just leave the main tree trunks in our yard. They cut the tree trunks and bigger branches into 3 feet sections and stacked them neatly next to our firewood pile.

The task that took the longest was actually cutting down the elm tree on the left. It was not only because it was sandwiched in between our house and the neighbor’s house, but also that there were several big nests on the tree and potentially had wild life in them. Just like we guessed, one of them was used by squirrels. The mother escaped before a crew member climbed onto the tree, left two babies behind:

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We carefully transferred the babies and all the nesting materials into a cardboard box, then set the box near the tree trunks after all the tree work (with loud noises) was done. The baby squirrels were picked up by the mother within half an hour and relocated to another nest. No animal was harmed during our operation! Yay!

The crew arrived around 830 AM. By noon, the two elms were gone and the decris were mostly cleared out:

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After lunch break, the crew worked on stump grinding. They brought in a machine which has a saw blade running vertically into the ground to grind the stumps and roots into basically saw dust. Due to the close proximity of the stumps to the fence, they removed a fence panel to get to as much tree stump as possible.

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Grinding three tree stumps (one left from the elm tree in the middle which had fallen down) took about 2 hours with the machine and just one guy. Other members spent this time cleaning up in both our yard and our neighbor’s yard. All the debris was racked up and put into the chipper. At the end, the fence panel was nailed back.

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Even without the main branches and big tree trunks, the wood chips generated from our trees still filled more than one big truck load. I asked if they could leave some for us to use as mulch, and I got a big “Yes!” as the reply. It actually takes tree business money, gas, and time to dump wood chips at the city. So downloading some to customers was always welcomed. They kindly suggested to leave the wood chips from their previous job, which were all from a healthy tree instead of the wood chips from our diseased elms. So, just like that, we got a bunch of firewood + ~10 yards of fresh wood chip mulch, and in addition $100 discount for taking them off the tree crew’s hands. A win-win for both of us!

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10 yards of wood chips did not look like much, but it took Slav two days to move all of them to the backyard where I wanted. At the mean time, the two hazelnut trees came in early March. They were planted along but ~8 feet away from the wooden fence, in the middle of the sloped hill.

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Hazelnuts need cross-pollination to fruit, so it requires at least two different varieties of the hazelnuts trees. We ordered two dwarf North American native varieties, one called Jefferson, and the one called Yamhill.

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These hazelnut trees are supposed to get to 8~12 feet tall in 3~4 years. I expect them to provide some privacy year around between us and the northern neighbor, as they flowers in winter. They also should eventually provide shade to the mulched area below, which will create more forest-like micro-environment. But before they reach their mature size, we will use the space around them for wine crops such as melons and pumpkins, and for bushy crops including rhubarb, zucchini, and squash plants. These plants will keep the mulch moist and discourage weeds from coming up. It will be fun!

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Just like that, two elms are out and two hazelnuts are in. The berry garden is the next and I could not wait to get all the edibles into the ground before the real Spring comes!

New Egress Window in The Master

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Egress window came to our minds when we decided to move our master bedroom into the basement. Colorado weather is dry and each summer our city issues fire warning for several months. Adding an egress in our basement bedroom not only improves fire safety, but also brings our house to code for future resale.

We also want a bigger window in the basement for better ventilation. The summer nights here are cool and it is more comfortable to sleep with windows open than using air conditioning. For maximum privacy, we decided to install the new egress in place of the existing bedroom window facing the backyard.

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Above was what the east side of the bedroom looked like on last Tuesday, and below was the same angle on Saturday! You have to see it in person to appreciate how much difference the new window makes.

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As expected, the new egress brings much more light into the bedroom. The light color window well also helps to reflect light inside.

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We did not DIY the egress ourselves. Instead, we hired DesignCrew, who specializes in egress windows and have done work in our neighborhood on similar houses. Egress installation involves cutting into concrete foundation, which we have neither tools nor skill for.

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The foundation cutting was done from the outside of the house. The window closer to the downspout in the picture above is the one we replaced with egress. When grading around the foundation we put down 6-mil plastic and gravel around the foundation, both of which had to be removed for the window replacement.

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Egress window has many codes and regulations due to fire safety. We went with standard dimensions and location, with only one customization: lower the window well as much as possible so we can see the backyard. We never like standard window wells, especially the look from the inside. Since our backyard slopes down from the house, we have the option of installing the new well a few inches below the old level to get a better view of the garden.

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Several codes dictate where the egress window shall be installed. First, the window has to be less than 44″ from the floor of the bedroom. Second,  the window opening – not necessarily the size of the window – needs to be at least 5.7 sqft. Our current window is 32″ wide. So we chose a 32″ x 48″ casement window to satisfy these requirements.

DesignCrew moved fast. On the first day, a back hoe drove in (through our walk gate!) to excavate the soil around the window.

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It was sad to see the window well we installed gone. But the demo contractor said that we did a great job installing it. So there is that.

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Another worker came over the second day to cut the window opening with a diamond blade saw. On the third day, the concrete block was pulled out and the window well was installed.

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You can see the new window opening on the foundation from the picture below. The framing and drywall inside were cut away later. After installing the window well, the soil was backfilled and packed down around the well and the foundation.

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The bottom of the well was graded so the soil base slopes away from the house. Pea gravel was applied on top to facilitate the drainage.

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This was the look from the inside right before the drywall was cut and the window was installed. The old window opening looked so small! It was only 18″ tall and we could not see any part of the backyard from the old window.

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On the fifth day we welcomed window installation. The plywood was removed and the drywall behind the new opening was cut off:

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Before any part of the window going in, the concrete opening was polished to create a smooth surface to which the window sill plate and jamb could be glued down.  The aggregates in concrete looked so pretty!

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The sill plates went in next. It was cut to size on site using pre-treated lumber.

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Everything was screwed to the studs. From the picture below you can see the well was installed a few inches below the window sill, which prevents water penetration during rain storms. The well was cut short according to our request, so no ladder is needed inside of the wall for an adult person to escape (by code).

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After securing the new window onto the sill and jamb on each side, the gaps around the window casing was filled and window trims were installed. We picked the simplest design of the trim to match the existing ones around the doorways.

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The egress can be opened from the top like a hopper window to let cool air in. We plan to put our bed against this wall we can see the night sky from our bed. 🙂

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Below is what the window looks like from the inside today. The soil behind the window well is leftover from the backfill. We will be relocating it to a future garden bed. Once it is out of the way we should be able to see more of the backyard.

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The window casing outside is also finished nicely. We picked white color to match the existing basement windows.

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The new metal cover is strong enough for me to walk on it:

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We would like to scrape the soil around both window wells a bit lower and layer the plastic and gravel back around the foundation. You can tell from the picture below that the new well was installed much lower than bathroom window well.

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Speaking of the bathroom window, we now have a new one! Remember how bad it was? We had a hard time replacing it ourselves due to its non-standard size. DesignCrew custom-made one for us and installed it with the egress window:

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It might not look impressive from the outside because of our rusted window sill. But it is the perfect window for this small bathroom. It is tempered for safety, obscured for privacy, and a hopper style so we can open it from the top to let moisture out. We are very happy with the result:

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Much better from the old window:

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It is so nice to cross the basement window work off our to-do list. We are also very pleased with the professional work our contractor did. This is the first time any contractor moved faster than I could anticipate, which was scary but exciting at the same time. We signed the contract on Jan 11th and by the 19th, all the work was completed. It is pretty impressive given that the excavation, foundation cutting, window well installation, and window installation was done by four different teams of contractors, plus a custom-made window. If you live in Denver area and wanted to do some window/door work, I highly recommend DesignCrew.

With the egress window installed and bathroom window replaced, we are moving onto the next phrase of the future master suite construction. Plumbing, electrical, and new insulation float to the top of the priority list. Cannot wait to show you our progress in the next post!

 

The Basement Bathroom: Before + Progress

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When closing on our ranch, the most intriguing aspect was definitely getting the second bathroom. Slav and I had always lived with a single bath. Getting ready at the same time in the morning sounded exciting.

So, it might sound like a surprise that we’ve only used the basement bathroom a handful of times thus far. Well, until you see what it looks like.

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Hello the future master bath.

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It is not a diamond in the rough. It is the rough. We took no pleasure walking into this room, let alone using it. Sitting empty did not do this room any favor either. Over the last a year and a half, bugs and spider webs took over.

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We have been wondering about the hole in the soffit above the shower. It turns out to carry an important function: the upstairs bathtub leaks and this hole lets water drain directly into the basement shower. Although unacceptable, you cannot deny the previous owner’s ability of thinking outside the box.

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The soffit wrapped around the mirror wall and ended at a weird bump-out above the toilet. By opening the utility room drywall, we learned that the only thing inside the soffit was the fan vent pipe, and the weird bump-out used to conceal the water heater ventilation pipe, which has been discontinued when we upgraded to a tankless water heater.

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The first order of business is to assess the room. Although small, this bathroom has the potential to be highly efficient, if we could properly address the following issues:

1. Poor ventilation.

The old bathroom fan was noisy and weak, and the only window in the bathroom does not open. Being the only old window in the basement, it will be replaced with a window that can be fully opened to the outside air. We will also install a proper fan to vent the bathroom efficiently.

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2. The nearly-empty soffit.

As I mentioned, the soffit only houses the vent pipe for the bathroom fan, which will be replaced and relocated. There will be no reason for the soffit to stay, and removing it will allow us to raise the light fixture higher as well as install a taller medicine cabinet.

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3. Builder grade finishes (of the worst variety).

Popcorn ceiling, heavily textured walls, and outdated aluminum fixtures. Ugh.

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4. Direction of the door swing

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Currently the door swings inside, which not only blocks the toilet paper, but also limits the usable space in the bathroom. We have discussed the possibility of removing the door completely and reinstalling it at the living room doorway. Moving the door two feet out will not only save floor space in front of the toilet, but also create better flow between the future master bed and bath.

5. Lack of storage

Currently, the only storage in the bathroom is the medicine cabinet. Unfortunately, it is made of MDF and was completely waterlogged. We have been using medicine cabinets for years and really like the hidden storage they provide. Adding a new and potentially bigger one will completely take care of the storage needs in this space.

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6. The shower area

To save money and work, we plan to keep the shower area and floor tiles. Some good scrubbing and a new grout job will surely make them look as well as they function.

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7. Saving space with a narrow vanity

I actually like the vanity for its narrow profile and the depth of the sink. Unfortunately, it was completely waterlogged down both of the side panel. We are in search of something similar as a replacement.

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Something even more bizarre was the back of the vanity was completely removed and so was the drywall behind. A quick and dirty way to finish the plumbing job, like everything in this house. Ugh.

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The Demo Progress

After getting on the same page on what to keep and what to get rid of, I took the pry bar and removed the soffit.

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It is amazing how much drywall trash this small soffit turned into.

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The flexible pipe you see below was for the old bathroom fan. It had been disconnected inside the soffit until we bought the house. This bathroom was used by four children and inevitably, all the moisture trapped in the soffit has led to mold behind the soffit.

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The U shape pipe next the fan vent is connected to the upstairs bathtub. It leaks when we take showers upstairs. Based on the condition of the subfloor, we think it has been leaking for quite some time as well.

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The medicine cabinet came off without a fight. The hanging metal box housed the broken bathroom fan.

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Removing the corner soffit exposed the old ventilation pipe for the old water heater. This pipe goes up all the way to the roof. The current plan is to trim it at the ceiling level so we can re-drywall. But we also have the option of using it to vent through the roof.

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The bathroom demo concluded the demolition in the basement, at least for the part that we intended to remove. While the drywall dust settles, we officially enter the planning phase, with home improvement stores to visit and plumbers to call. I cannot wait to come back for another update on this little space, which probably involves replacing the window or fixing the plumbing. The bath will only get cuter from now!

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