Terrific Broth

Beijinger in Denver | 北京人在丹佛

Category: Renovation (Page 1 of 6)

The Coolest Kids On The Block – Decision Making

Q: How do you become the coolest kids on the block?

A: By installing the best and the newest central AC!


LOL I know, this is lame. But I am apparently very excited about the new central AC and you can definitely tell by how my voice raised in this house tour when I mentioned the condenser!  There were tons of decisions we had to make during the installation process, and I am looking forward to sharing them with you today. We learned so much during the process about the house and ourselves, I think it is worth to memorize the whole process here since this blog is more or less a renovation dairy.

1. Do we really need an AC, NOW?

The first decision we needed to make was whether or not to install central AC this summer. We knew that adding a central AC would make our house more valuable, and we definitely planned to do it as some point. But we also knew that we would likely have to replace the furnace when we install the AC, and we have a handy one-year insurance on our furnace. So it is more economical to wait until the furnace fail, which will probably happen in the next year or two.

Then this historical heat wave hit us in July, just a couple weeks after we moved in. We thought it would not be a big deal – it is 5280 feet at where we live, and there is always cool breeze at night from the mountains. We also have a basement that is at least 5 degree cooler than the main floor. It actually worked for me, since I am comfortable in 80 degree range. But for Slav, this heat wave was a nightmare. It was literally a “night”mare because this guy just could not get a good night sleep. Even though he hid in the coolest room in the basement with a mattress on the floor, the night temperature was just a few degrees above what he needed to sleep soundly.

We all knew it was just a few weeks and he could probably be fine after that. But I still brought up the topic on getting it done THIS SUMMER – why wait another year if we could make Slav more comfortable now? After all, we did not buy our house to slave for it. We bought it to ENJOY it. So our (including the pups’) happiness and comfort should always be the first priority in all the renovation decisions we make.

2. Decision on choosing a local installer

We researched all the big box stores and found that they actually do not have their own tech team, so all the installation and future services would be done by local contractors. Then why not being local companies to begin with? City of Arvada actually gives rebates for installing high-efficiency units, and a few local companies are listed as trusted installers. So I made calls to four local companies for free estimates. They all came in within a few days and we picked one appearing to be the most knowledgeable, the most detail orientated, the most customizable, and with the best customer reviews – Go Green heating and air conditioning. They are not the one with the lowest quote, but they provide high efficiency units which are worth the price.

We also picked this company for the spectrum of their services – they  not only install central AC, but also furnace and water heaters. Since these three units are very much connected and compacted in a small space, we would like to have one company to replace/service them all.

3. Picking the features of the central AC

One other thing that made us feel better about the company we went with, was that they performed a load calculation during the free estimate visit. I know that our house is simple and a lot of people probably can tell what size of AC we need based on experience, but seeing a load calculation done made us feel that these guys were thorough.

Apparently, per Square footage has very little relevance with what size furnace or air conditioner you need. The relevant factors are your attic, wall insulation, the quality/size of your windows, the orientation of windows and doors and the whole house, and how many appliances you have in your home that give off heat. The ceiling height also matters, which indicates the overall volume of your home in “cubic” feet. Equipped with information in the load calculations, we Felt much more confidence to go with a 2-ton AC with specific features that would benefit our size/type of house the most. At the end, we went with a 2 ton, 1600 seer, high efficiency TXV indoor coil AC, paired with a 60000 BTU, 95% AFUE, single stage furnace but with ECM motor. We think it is a good balance for our small house with limited amount of people, and it is the most efficient and environmental friendly combo that we could afford.

4. Decision on replacing our furnace at the same time

Our furnace is about 17 years old and it is on its last legs. During house inspection, we were notified that it needs a cleaning/tone-up, which will cost us a few hundred bucks. Even through it could handle a central AC unit we wanted to install, we still decided to take the opportunity to replace our furnace at the same time. It does not only give us the peace of mind about our furnace, but also insures that our central AC is properly powered and performs as it should be. Changing both of them also saves us money on the service time, since replacing a furnace with an existing central AC on top of it would require much more work than replacing a standing-along furnace itself.

5. Location, location, location.

During the free estimate, we were asked where we would like the AC condenser unit to be, and whether we wished to relocate the furnace/AC. We totally choked – did not think we had the choice of either!  Apparently, we can locate the condenser unit anywhere around the house – it is just a matter of running a longer refrigerant line. Same thing for the furnace and AC cooling unit, it is just a matter of adding duct and connect to the gas line.

We tossed lots of ideas around, and decided that we are fine with where the furnace was. As I’ve shown you in the basement tour, the furnace, water heater, washer and drier are all side by side along one basement wall, so it is very easy to enclose all into a utility closet down the road. Remaining the furnace at its original location also saved us a lot of duct work (and money!).

But for the location of the condenser, Slav has a very clear demand – it has to be out of sight from our back patio. All the AC estimate guys told us that we could just put it under the kitchen window (which is ON our back patio) to save money, but Slav insists to have it on the side of the house. Fortunately, the distance is just under the limit for additional charge, so it did not cost of more money. The unit we choose is also pretty quite. So even it is just on the other side of our bedroom wall, we hardly notice it.

Here are the biggest five decisions we made before the installation started. Did you have to make these decisions? I will come back with lots of pictures next week and tell you all about what we had to tear down in the basement in preparation for the installation. At meanwhile, Roxie and Charlie are enjoying this:


Lucky pups!

The Small Project Continues

Hi friend! Happy Monday! We had another busy weekend here in the ranch house. We got a fire pit off Craigslist and picked up some free firewood in the area. Loading, splitting, and stacking firewood took a lot of time! Slav definitely got his workout in this weekend.

I, on the other hand, am recovering from the first week from work. Not working for 5 months really made a difference on my energy level, and driving 45-minute each way has taken a lot out of me. My did manage to take the Basic Life Support (BLS) and got certified! The BLS classes at my work are offered by American Heart Associations (AHA) and teach people how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use automated external defibrillator (AED) on adults, children, and even infants. I hope that I would never have chance to use my training – because that would mean someone is in trouble – but if there is an unfortunate situation, I could potentially save someone’s life!

Without my help, Slav still did plenty of updates on the ranch house. Some are big and some are small. I adore small updates, which could really make our life easier (I’ve shared you some before here). So I am excited to share the second round of small updates with you today!

1. Upgrade the backdoor lighting

Since we moved in, we have improved the function of the back entrance a lot by installing a new storm door. Demoing the old patio and metal covers and building a new concrete patio certainly helped too. However, the porch light next to the back door was till this giant stadium lighting:

It is 600W (!) and lights up not only ours, but also our neighbors’ backyards.


Because of its blinding power, we tried very hard not to use it. Slav finally could not take it anymore and bought this light from the Habitat for Humanity:


It can be mounted in three ways. We decided to honor the wall mount tradition. Since it was never used, all we needed to do was to install a LED light bulb (also from habitat for Humanity, for only $1.50 a pop!).


And this was what it looked like 20 minutes later:


Easier on the eyes, right?

2. Moving Dog leashes to the garage

As I told you before, our kitchen is a high high high traffic zone. From basement to the main floor, from garage to the living space, going out of the back door… to get anywhere, you would have to pass the kitchen. So it quickly became a messy drop-off zone. To keep the kitchen neat, I decided to find everything a designated place. That means shoes off in the garage, keys and wallets goes to the front entry, etc. This week, we moved the dog leases out of the kitchen to the garage. Our kitcken immediately looked cleaner, from this:


to this:


The leashes are now hanging on two hooks next to the garage-kitchen door , on the garage side:


I picked up these two lovely hooks from IKEA last time we stopped by:



I wanted these hooks years ago when they first came to the market, and finally had an excuse to get them! Yay!

3. Hang the closet door in Slav’s office

When we first moved in, we took all the main floor carpet out. And we removed the closet doors in the bedrooms to make things easier:

01 start from bedroom closet

After we removed the carpet, we did not bother to put back the closet doors. In our bedroom, we hung a pair of IKEA curtains instead of the doors:


But in Slav’s office, it looked like this for quiet a few weeks:


The closet is organized, but it still made the room look busy. So we decided to add the doors back on:


As you could see, I painted them white to match the wall color. Eventually we will reverse the closet to face the bedroom and dry wall this side, so I wanted to create a feeling that there is not a closet from the get-go. Now when we walk into the room, our eyes no longer land on the clothing in the closet, but more focus on the desk and the computer. I hope it will help Slav to be more focused when he works here.

4. Switching out all the baseboard vents and grilles

We have 6 baseboard vents and two return grilles on the main floor, and they all looked like this:



Two baseboard vents



Return Grilles

Since we were in the process of installing a central AC, we replaced all the old metal vents and grilles with these plastic ones from Lowe’s:


Slav spent a couple hours switching them out. The old metal ones were rusted and some screws were stuck. So it took some force to wrestle the old vent covers off. There was also a lot of dust tucked in these vents! So Slav vacuumed them all out. It made me feel so good knowing that we are no longer breathing these dust!


New vent in the bathroom


New vent in the kitchen



New return grilles in the living room

The crisp and bright white vents and grilles certainly made the floor look a lot worse. LOL. That is the story when you renovating an old house, anything new just makes the old stuff next to it 100 times worse! I am not bothered by the floor as much as Slav is, but we definitely want to refinish all the floor on the main level soon. More furniture we have here, more difficult the refinishing would be. So before we start knocking down walls or work on any build-ins, we will have to work on the floor first!

Here you go, four recent small updates! We are discovering small stuff to do everyday and I will come back to tell you more when we have a few done. Don’t you just love these small upgrades? Have you done any lately in your home?


A New Front – Curb Appeal Take II


Bang! Painted front door and trims and new storm door and stuff!

As you know, we have been working on the exterior of the house a lot since we moved in. Part of the reason is that Colorado winter is harsh, so we want to fix the exterior as much as we could during summer time. We also like to drive up and feel that the house is different – more ours – and exterior upgrades offers a more dramatic change of the feel of the house. Especially to our neighbors, who cannot not see what we have done inside, some exterior upgrades makes them feel that we are taking care of our property.

Since we moved in 7 weeks ago, we have

  1. weeded the front yard and trimmed the tree in the front;
  2. removed the flower bed next to our foundation;
  3. taken off the broken storm door;
  4. replaced the porch light;
  5. relocated mail box and house numbers;
  6. taken off the rusted metal awning; and
  7. demo-ed the sinking front porch.

All these effort surely made our front yard look better. This was the house front when we moved-in:


And this was the front of the house after our first round of clean-up:


And this was a few days ago:


I think we have probably earned 20% curb appeal at this point – am I too generous giving myself credit? I will take 15% for sure.

And today, we finished another big upgrade to our front entrance and I think this one really changed the look of the ranch for better! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new front door!


To be more precise, these are our new front storm door and our newly painted front door.


which is a far cry from what we inherited:


As far as the front doors go, we need both form and function. Unfortunately, the old combo offers neither. Let us talk about form first – the black on white color combination and the prison-like bars really did not speak for our style. Our living room is fairly dark, so we preferred keeping the front door open with the storm door closed when we were at home. And the old storm door made us feel that we are in a cell! It does not help that our neighbor is a cop and his police car parks right outside of our door!


We also wanted to change the color of the front door to a darker tone. Our brick is beige with orange tones – not something we are crazy about but something we have to deal with. And one way of dealing with it is not to have something white. We would like to use a darker color with cooler tone – something like steel gray or shotgun black – on the our window trims and doors.

The front doors we inherited are also lack of function. For one, the weather stripping was worn and the door threshold was badly cracked (you can see some of the cracks from the photo above). The door frames were also cracked and with tons of old nail holes:




The screen on the storm door was broken, and it did not lock properly anymore.


We took down the bad storm door shortly after move-in. So the first step for us was to get a new storm door that offers both form and function. Unlike the one in the back, we do not need to have doggy door installed, which gives us the option of a full-view storm door (the ones with a full glass panel). As I said before, our living room is fairly dark, so we would like to keep the front door open when we are at home and let in some light through the storm door. A full panel of glass will surely let in as much as light possible.

And this was our pick:


This Larson storm door comes with half a dozen colors, which made us scratching our heads a bit. The truth is, we knew that we would be painting the front door darker, but we had not decided on the color yet. We also wanted the storm door to disappear against the front door, which means the trim color of the storm door should be similar to the color of our future front door…you see the problem here!

Fortunately, although they offer six colors, pre-stocked doors in Lowe’s that day offered only two colors – white and smoky black. We knew that we did not want white, so black we went. Honestly, I would describe this color as “shotgun black”. I actually saw this color once on a muscle car in California and I loved it. It was almost black, but has a powdery feeling to it. After talking to the owner of the car, he told me that he had the car custom-painted to a “shotgun black”. And today I saw it on this door!

Now we had a storm door picked, the next step was to  decide which color to paint the front door. We could either go with a bold color, such as red, or color-match the storm door trims and paint it dark. it is always hard for me to imagine in my head, so I went on Pinterest:

This is what bold color with dark storm door look like:

And this is the “black on black” look:

The bold color door was a bit too busy to us. We want the front entrance to look simple, so color-matching we chose. I took a separate trip to Lowe’s with a piece of trim from our new storm door and hope to find a color that is close enough. To my surprise, the staffs there created a can of paint custom for me in the exact color of the storm door trim! I did not know it was possible and now our other paint projects are gonna be so much easier!

I then moved on to decide the color for the trims (I know, so many decisions) – white vs dark. After flipping through Pinterest, I found some looks I liked and listed them side by side:

White trims – 1

White trims – 2

White trims – 3

I think the key to these picture is how the trim color plays with not only the door color, but also the color of the house. All the white door trim pictures I like have darker house color, so by sandwiching in between the dark house and the dark door, the white trim really pops. The trims themselves also have to be beefy and well-finished to pull it off, because they are gonna become the center of attention.

On the other hand, the dark trim pictures I liked all have lighter exterior walls. In this way, the trims look like part of the front door, and it is easier to hide imperfections if there is any. It also make the front door look bigger/taller.

Black trims – 1

Black trims – 2

Black trims – 3

Black trim – 4, with storm doors!

And just like the last photo shows, thinner and plain trims would also work, because all the attention now is on the contrast between the door combination and the house.

Here are a couple examples of light color houses with white trim and dark doors. I felt that doing so only makes the front door look smaller.

Our brick color is almost the same as that in the last picture, and our trim is thin and aged.  You can see that why white trim would not work for us.

Once we made the decision to paint both the front door and trims dark, it was work time! First, I chipped off the loose paint and old silicone around the door frame, and gave it a good TSP wash:



Slav put in some screws to hold the broken frame, and I patched the holes:



I then took the door bell and hardware off, and gave our front door a good wipe with TSP to prepare it for painting:


Our front door has a glass panel on the top, which cannot be taken off. But the frame of it could be removed easily.


We decided to keep the inside of the door white to match our interior walls. I put on one coat of primer and two coats of paint on the front:


Then I painted the frame of the glass panel:


Slav applied new silicone around the door before I painted the trims dark. It took us almost a day but it was well worth it!


Slav then installed new door threshold and the storm door:




I was attacked by this vicious pitbull when I took this pictures…


We paired this handle with our new storm door:


Annnnnd…all done!


No more prison-like bars:



And so much more light! It is almost like there were no storm door there!

The dogs absolutely adore the new storm door. They have been glued to this spot people/dog watching. Lots of neighbors walk their dogs on our street in the mornings and evenings. Roxie and Charlie’s tails are getting tired wagging!


What do you think NOW? Our neighbors loved it and a few of them stopped by and complimented on how much we have improved the front – do we deserve a 30% on our curb appeal? Give me a score!

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