Terrific Broth

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

Category: Renovation (Page 2 of 21)

The I-beam Discovery

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This post has been a long time coming. I usually write about projects that are ongoing or just finished. But today, I want to give you a glimpse into a year worth of slow progress in our basement.

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Above was the only basement photo I took during the walk-in. Hello 20 year old carpet + 1960 paneling. If you do not recall this space, I do not blame you. I sometimes forgot about it too. Since moved in, we only came to this basement once a week to do laundry…To remind all of us including myself, below is the basement floor plan.

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Besides the living space and a small laundry area, this basement was divided into three more kid’s bedrooms, two on the north end, and one next to the stairs. These three bedrooms bumped the total number of kid’s bedrooms to 5 in this small ranch.

The northwest bedroom

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The northeast bedroom

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The 5th bedroom next to the stairs:

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2017: Getting rid of the 5th bedroom

Culture phenomenal swings between extremes. The number of the kids/kid’s bedrooms in this house was no exception. Thus far we have reduced the number of the bedrooms in this house by 40%. First of all, we converted the second bedroom upstairs to an office for Slav. Second, we knocked down the 5th bedroom last summer to make HVAC and tankless water heater installation easier.

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Opening up the wet wall

Soon after, we exposed the wet wall behind the washer/dryer. This two story wall is the only wet wall in the house, and opening it allowed us to identify/fix several problems with the utility lines/ducts.

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By the end of 2017 the utility room looked like this. Utilitarian to the extreme.

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On the opposite side though, the purple walls and the tiny closet served as a reminder for the old bedroom:

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Behind the purple wall above is the basement stairs. The previous owners framed the space underneath the stairs into a closet.

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There was also a window in this bedroom, looking into the living space. I guess it was here for meeting codes? It is amazing what creativity and laziness could produce. With four kids sleeping downstairs, a gas furnace, and multiple space heaters, I am glad that whoever slept in this bedroom made it to the next house safely.

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Thus far it concludes all we had done in this utility room in 2017. For the matter of fact, this was all we’d done to the whole basement last year.

2018: Basement floor demo

2018 was supposed to be the year of basement renovation. But we really could not figure out what we want for this space and had to wait for the inspiration to strike. Fortunately, we did know what we do not want here. For example, the decade-old carpet. Early Spring, I started cutting off carpet and used them to suppress weed in the garden.

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Mid-May, as a surprise for my birthday, Slav removed all the remaining carpet in the basement when I was at work.

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Under the carpet we found tiles, all of which were glued to the basement slab. Slav chipped everything off and got down to the leveled concrete.

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Removing the flooring was a big step forward. Seeing less old fixture helped me to imagine what is possible. Our slab was in very good shape and we have the option of any type of flooring without much work. The next thing I knew would help to grasp the potential of this basement was to figure out how the house structure was supported.

The I-beam discovery

I once made a birthday card for Slav, which said “some people never grew up, their toys just became more expensive”. I think we are both this type of people that have to know the mechanisms underlying everything. Knowing the mechanisms opens the possibility for improvement, and gives maximum flexibility for what we desire.

Anyway, this is a long justification of my desire opening this wall, between the utility room and the living space.

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This was how the wall looked like from the utility room. The purple wall on the left with the window belonged to the 5th bedroom, and the white wall to the right used to be in the laundry room. The angled frame was where the bedroom door used to reside. The soffit above enclosed some air ducts.

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We knew that the supporting mechanism for the whole house was inside this wall, but there was no way of knowing what it is except opening it up. So this happened. And I can proudly say, I did it.

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All by myself. Without injuries.

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And what did I find inside this wall? An I-beam running along the mid-line of our house!

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You can read about the purpose of I-beam here. But after all, this I-beam is what supports all the floor joints above. The white pipe next to it is the old gas line, which has been discontinued during the HVAC installation.

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Having the I-beam means that none of the walls downstairs are weight bearing. In another word, all the basement walls were put up purely for creating rooms and can be removed to our liking.

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The I beam was held by three steel columns and likely sitting in notches on the foundation wall on both ends. The steel columns and the foundation wall are the ones that bear all the weight of the house. All the wood framing are not.

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In fact, you can see from the picture below that the 2″ x 4″ wall framing was practically hanging off the beams with nails. It was the I-beam that keeps the walls in place, not the other way around.

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Opening up more walls

Old houses like ours rarely come with structural blueprints. Often times, opening walls is the only way of learning how the house was structured. The I-beam discovery was a success in terms that we gained the option of open floor plan if we desire. However, not every open-wall investigations validate the best case scenario. For example, I later removed the weird bumped out drywall near the dryer, as well as the drywall covering the closet. In both cases, the demolition confirmed the need for their existence.

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It turned out that the bumped out portion next to the dryer was for hiding a pipe. If we were going to cover this portion with drywall, my demo work would have been a waste of time. Fortunately we will not be using drywall here. I will explain it in another post.

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Last I demoed the closet. After taking the door and all the shelves out, I removed all the drywall on the wall framing.

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This wall framing is also not structural. However, it does hold up the stairway drywall, so it stays. Before closing this wall again, we will likely widen the closet opening and put in some insulation. The latter will prevent the sound and warmth from travelling as readily between the two stories.

The basement today

Here you have it, our basement living/utility room today. Although what we did so far was pure demolition, it expanded the potential of this space which we had not seen before.

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As we speak, Slav is poking around in the bedrooms and the bathroom to find out more about the basement utility. Through the drywall dust we are contemplating a new plan for our basement, a plan far far from what we ever envisioned. Buckle up, guys!

Finished Doorway = Finished Office

Ladies and Gentlemen, our office doorway is FINISHED!

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Since we framed the office doorway back to Valentine’s day (!), we have been living with this rough opening for weeks.

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And today, we have this 🙂 :

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The original plan was to install a pair of 36″ french doors here. We picked out the doors early February, long before we framed the rough opening. However, longer we lived with the opening, more we prefer the doorless look and the uninterrupted flow. In the end, we made the decision to return the door slabs (thanks to Lowes’ 90 days no-fuss return policy) and finish the doorway with trims.

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The whole process of finishing the doorway was surprisingly straightforward and DIY-friendly. It included three steps: 1. Installing door jambs and door header (even though we are not putting up doors, we still want to finish the doorway as if we are installing them). 2 Installing trims to cover the gap between the jambs/header and the surrounding dry wall. And 3. caulk + paint.

1. Door Jambs and Header

The first step was to install door jambs and header. Door jambs are the vertical pieces on either side of the doorway (to which hinges would attach if there were doors). And the header refers to the horizontal piece at the top. The rule of the thumb is to have them slightly roomier than the door perimeter, leaving 1/8″ gap all around. They usually come with the pre-framed door purchase and ready for installation. But in our case, we had to buy door jambs and header separately. We ended up picking out two 8′ door jambs and a piece of pine board to make the header ourselves.

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As you can see from the picture above, pre-made door jambs have small notches on the top for the header to sit on. Due to the ceiling height, our door header sits a few inches lower than the framing header. So I added a few pieces of 2″x4″ blocks in between for the door header to attach to.

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The door jambs, header, and the floor below form a perimeter in which the doors sit. Understandably, they have to be a perfect rectangle, which means they need to be plumb, level, and square.

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To help squaring the assembly, I cut a spacer as the same length as the header and placed it on the floor and between the center of two door jambs. It creates 2 pairs of opposite, equal and parallel sides, so I knew I had a parallelogram to begin with.

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Let us talk about size for a second. The door jambs are ~11/16″ thick, taking just under 1.5″ inches of space total. The rule of thumb is to  leave 1/16″~1/8″ between a door and door jambs, which means 1/4″~3/8″ for a pair of doors (1/8″ in between the two doors and 1/16″~1/8″ between each door and its door jamb). With a pair of 36″ x 80″ doors in mind, I cut the door header and the spacer to 73 3/4″ so we have just the right width between the two door jambs both at the top and the bottom.

We also needed to leave 1/8″ above and below the door. For 80″ doors, the header should be 80 1/4″ above the floor. Our floor is 1/4″ off level, so I cut one door jamb to 80 1/4″ and the other 80 1/2″.

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To get a perfect rectangle, I made sure the door jambs were plumb and the header was level. This step was accomplished by putting shims between framing studs and the door jambs. It would have been a lot easier with two people – with one holding the frame while the other shim. I was flying solo so I screwed two plywood pieces at the top corner to hold the whole assembly in place.

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As you can tell from the gap between the framing studs and the door jambs, we framed the rough opening just wide enough (~74″). I always cut close – it give me a high for being risky. It also saved us unnecessary drywall work.

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Shimming was kind of fun. There was lots of leveling and hammering until everything was perfect. That is my definition of fun y’all.

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Professionals often square the door framing using a plumb bob, which aligns the center point of the header to the center point of the spacer. We do not have a plumb bob, so I measured the final opening diagonally to make sure I had the same distance between two measurements. And the result was pretty good.

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Once all the shims were set to place, I secured everything in place by shooting nails through the door jambs and the shims into the framing studs. Then I took the plywood pieces off.

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After I finished framing, Slav patched the missing drywall:

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and finished the seams with tape and joint compound.

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Up until this point we were still on the fence about the doors – you can see them in the picture above. Ha! Although we decided on a doorless look, I am still glad to have framed the doorway precisely so that we have the option to add doors later.

2. Trims

Things started looking up after the drywall was finished. We picked out trims and Slav cut them to length on our miter saw. Finishing nails hold everything in place.

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We decided to have a tiny bit of reveal (<1/16″) between the edge of the trim and the door jambs. It gives a layer look while keeping a narrow profile. My understanding is that reveal is for hiding imperfections of whatever you frame around, such as a door, a window, or an opening at the front of a furniture piece.  More crooked the opening is (in our case, door jambs), wider the reveal you will need. Fortunately, our door jambs are perfectly straight and plumb, enabling narrow but consistent reveal along the entire length of the trims. 🙂

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We also chose a narrow reveal to leave enough negative space between the trims and the library built-ins.

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We love how elegant the trims look – it is more decorative compared to rest of the trims in the house (now I want to replace everything!), but simple enough to not be distracting. It makes the office feel traditional and elegant.

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3. Caulk and paint

To polish everything off, Slav caulked around the trims and filled nail holes with wood filler. I then coated everything twice with ultra pure white by Behr in semi-gloss, the same paint used on all the trims and doors.

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A new grille covered the vent return that had stared us for months. :

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Within a couple days, we went from this:

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to this:

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then to this!

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It is amazing how trims transform a room. With the finished doorway, we officially closed the curtains on the office renovation. Starting early January, we’ve accomplished a long list of things in order to convert this small bedroom to Slav’s office/library:

Reverse the office closet to face the bedroom
Cut out a new doorway
Put up drywall in the closet and old doorway
Open up the new doorway to its final size and rough framing
Patch the floor
DIY built-in library (bookcase assembly, create a built-in look, DIY  baseboard drawers, add crowns and trims)
Upgrade lighting and hang window blinds
Install Ethernet cables
Drywall finish
Finish the now-bedroom closet with trims and paint
and today, finish the new doorway!

The “Before and After”s

Out of everything we did, I am most grateful for the decision of changing the layout. It certainly created a lot more work, but as a result, our living space became much more functional. For example, this was the office/living room wall before the renovation:

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And these are the shots from the same angles today:

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Closing the original doorway made room for our dream library wall. This is the office/bedroom wall when we moved in:

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And this is the same wall just before office renovation:

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And today 🙂 :

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Changing the layout also added the second closet to our bedroom.

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This was the same wall in our bedroom on move-in day:

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It looked a little better before we reversed the office closet, yet still failed to provide enough storage:

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We now have his-and-hers closets which are much more functional:

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Our master also feels more secluded, a bonus we totally did not expect. Closing the old office doorway created a new “entryway” dedicated to our bedroom and the bathroom. Although small, it creates an effective negative space separating the “master suite” area and the rest of the main floor.

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Comparing to the hallway when we moved in:

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And before the office renovation:

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Quite a transformation, right?

I think Roxie agrees.

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Master the Closets

This past week, we put our master closets back in order.

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Inside of the closets (including the ceiling) went Pale bud, which is characterized as an off-white with pink undertones. In our east-facing bedroom, it reads lavender-ish, which I love. It glows quietly behind the grey curtains and gives the best soft welcome in the morning.

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I could not mind to have it in the entire bedroom, but Slav vetoed it as soon as he saw the color – the man wants his white. As the result, the bedroom wall will go SW’s Extra White just like the office and living room. But I negotiated to used it in the closets and I think it is pretty.

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It was hard to cover the pink with clothes and hangers. Fortunately, I have a pretty slim wardrobe so I can still see the pretty walls.

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It is not without challenge to make this 4′ x 2′ closet feeling airy. We are lucky that the return walls on both side are narrow, granting good access. The simple design with a single rod under a shelf works well on keeping everything in a single layer and easy to reach.

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Coats, sweaters, and winter accessories on the left. I have too too many winter coats, but they are given by my parents with the fear of me being cold in a northern state. I think clothes are like an extension of parents’ arms. They are too far to protect us so they keep asking us to wear more layers. Being 6400 miles far away, I keep these pieces as an expression of their love.

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hanging organizer houses tops, shorts, and winter accessories. Pants and dressy items are kept on the right. A big check-in luggage contains the matching carry-on, my computer bag, my only handbag, and a few travel items.

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This is how my closet look like now, in 2018 Spring. I probably have 100 pieces of clothing, including T shirts, pjs, and sport gear. All of them fit into this small closet, which I am very happy about. I’ve been working towards a minimal closet for a few years. Given that where I live has four seasons, I am happy with the size.

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Charlie boy fell asleep while I was putting the closet together. He likes to sleep at this spot, which is quiet and cool. 🙂 If I have the curtain open he will go inside the closet to sleep, which is stinkin’ cute.

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Do you have a minimalist closet? Did you Spring clean it?

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