Terrific Broth

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

Category: Life Page 1 of 17

Life Happening + Basement Electrical

Life happening

For the past three months, we’ve been on pins and needles waiting for the basement bathroom to be completed. The promised July 8th deadline was abandoned with no new deadline, and the progress was very slow.

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When I say slow, I mean SLOW. The three pictures below showed the tiling of two of the bathroom walls, which took three months. THREE MONTHS! Some days we came home saw three tiles laid, and other days we only see tools being moved around.

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When an adult decided to not do his job there is really nothing you can do. By adult I mean our contractor. I considered firing him multiple times during the renovation, especially after he missed the July 8th deadline. But Slav advocated to keep him at least the quality of his work was decent. But when the wall of dark tile was laid, we could definitely see a drop on the quality of the work. And this was the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

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Another red flag with this contractor is that none of his subcontractors showed up on time. His drywall-er came in at night without notifying us, and his plumber friend never showed up. More recently, after we painted the basement, his electrician who wired the can lights was expected to come back and finish the rough-ins and installing the outlets and switches. But for weeks, our contractor failed to get him back. More ironically, this electrician is actually our contractor’s brother! How could we trust a contractor if his own brother does not want to work with him?

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When October rolled around, we realized neither electrical or plumbing would be finished by professionals. Our then contractor, despite his lack of experience, was planning to finish everything himself. This explained why he was not making progress – he does not know HOW to finish these things properly.

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By this point we just want to get the project wrapped up. We did not need a functional basement right away when we hired this contractor, but that was assuming the project would have been finished by July 8th. Slav’s mom is coming for Christmas and we are looking forward to hosting more family and friends in the coming spring. Besides we are just too tired of seeing exposed electrical wires by now!

In the bath

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So, this was the state of the union as of Oct. 23rd, the day we let the incompetent contractor go. It may look like we were close to the finishing line, but unfortunately we were not.

The Unfinished surfaces

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For one, the dark wall of tiles are not grouted, and the white tile wall has several unfinished edges we have to cover somehow. Slav will finish the grouting himself – we have ordered the right colors of grout and silicone caulk. And I will be tackling the painting drywall work as soon as Slav finishes grouting.

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On a side note, Slav actually does not have any grouting experience either. But he is handy and good at learning new things. And he takes his time. If there is one bright side of this unfortunate contractor experience, that is I now appreciate Slav a lot more for his dependability and responsible work ethics. Apparently not everyone is a man of integrity but I am lucky to be with a good one. ūüôā

Installing fixtures and finishing plumbing

The next step will be installing all the bathroom fixture, including the toilet, vanity/sinks, medicine cabinet, and shower fixtures. We have brought in an expert for the work, who pointed out several plumbing mistakes our previous contractor made with the first glance. Nothing cannot be fixed, and we are looking forward to a functional toilet down here really soon.

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Bathroom electrical finish

In addition to general electrical finish, such as outlets and switches, we needed to add two more mini can lights in the soffit which involves drilling the tiles. We brought in a wonderful electrician (his name is Paul) who installed these babies in just one morning:

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Paul also installed all the switches and outlet for the bath. His work completed the electrical in the bathroom, including two ceiling can lights, two mini can lights on the soffit, and one bathroom fan.

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Finishing the electrical for the rest of the basement

We also asked Paul to finish the rest of the electrical here for us. The previous electrician, the brother of our previous contractor, seemed to have done a decent job (phew). With Paul’s help, we added breakers to the subpanel, finished all the can lights, installed all the switches for can lights as well as all the outlets:

living room can lights

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controlled by two three-way dimmer switches:

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Bed room can lights and switches:

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Paul also installed the wall sconces in the bedroom.

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They are on dimmer and give the best warm light in the evening:

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The new to-do list

As we are coming down from this intense rollercoaster ride, here is the to-do list we still have to tackle for the basement reno 1.0.

Finding new bath vanity and sinks (the one we purchases back in June does not work with the plumbing our contractor did… SAD!)
Installing bathroom fixtures + medicine cabinet + vanity
Installing a glass shower door
Installing closets in the bedroom
Installing 4 new doors for the bathment bedroom, bathroom, and entry, including a pocket door between the bath and the bedroom
Installing baseboards and trims in the bedroom and media room

These tasks will for sure take us beyond the holidays, so we would have to move into the basement without baseboard or even doors. But that is OK as long as we have a working bathroom! So for now, we are focusing on bathroom finishes and everything bathroom. Stay tuned, friends!

2019, Set, Go!

It is 2019! The year I’ve been looking forward to. This is not only the year I turn 40, which I feel giddy with anticipation, but also our second full year living in this beautiful State of Colorado. Moving to the place we chose¬†and buying our first house here granted me a sense of belonging that I’ve never experienced since moving to the States. It feels nice to have a place to call home again.

2019 also marks the second year we live in our ranch. We adore this little house and the land it sits on. It is a responsibility. It is work. But it is also joy. We can change it anyway we want and we are doing just that. The process of making it ours is liberating and electrifying.

So what is in store for this cute little gem in 2019? Basement, basement, and basement. Basement renovation is our top priority this year, and saying that we are pumped is an understatement. It is amazing to think that merely a month ago, we were still clueless on what to do with this space. We were too intimated to even start demoing! But as soon as we discovered the I-beam, it is like a torch leading us out of darkness. Combining the two bedrooms and the decision to make it our master bedroom solidified our plans for the basement, and the rest became natural from there.

But there is renovation and there is renovation. To which point do we call it done? Our basement already has a very functional layout, especially after we connected the two bedrooms. We do not wish to tear it down to the studs or switch to fancy finishes, rather aim to create a comfortable nest to curl up in. It is already a big enough undertaking as every single room needs some upgrade. To make the process less stressful, I always look at such project in smaller chunks. And here they are:

1. Egress window and new bathroom windows

Sleeping in the basement makes fire safety the top priority of this renovation. We have gotten quotes from egress window contractors and are very close to committing to the installation. In short, a big window with a walk-out window well will be installed in our bedroom, likely on the wall facing the backyard. It costs around $4000, including cutting into the foundation. At the mean time, we will likely to ask the contractor to replace the broken bathroom window.

2. Sound proofing the bedroom ceiling

Our new bedroom will be directly beneath the future guest bedroom. To add privacy we would like to dampen the sound transfer between the main floor and the basement. A combination of sound-proof insulation between floor joints and resilient channels under the basement ceiling has been shown to be effective. And we are gonna give it a try. Such upgrade is not particularly expensive but rather labor-intensive since it involves removing the existing bedroom ceiling and re-drywall.

3. Can lights + new electrical

Since soundproofing requires the removal of basement bedroom ceiling, we will use this opportunity to run new electrical for recessed lights. The ceiling height in our basemen is 7 1/2 feet, so every inch of headroom counts. Eliminating ceiling lights and adding more can lights will make the basement feeling less like a closed box.

4. Water-proof laminate flooring

in 2018 we have removed all the basement flooring and exposed the concrete slab. Fortunately, the slab is in excellent shape Рdry and flat. Wanting something warm and comfortable under our feet, we will likely install water-proof laminate wood flooring over the slab. It shall cover the entire basement including the utility room. We estimate to spend ~$2000 on material and install the flooring ourselves

5. Bath vanity, storage cabinet, and fixtures

Due to water damage we had to toss both medicine cabinet and vanity in the bathroom. They will be replaced with new ones with slim profile and sufficient storage. We will also upgrade all the shower fixtures. Bathroom fixture choices are enormous. We will sure run into analysis paralysis so just wait for it.

6. Wardrobe system, furniture, paint, etc

Being completely empty this basement needs furnishing, starting with wardrobe closets. Slav and I are swinging back and forth between wardrobe cabinets such as IKEA PAX and Elfa system in framed closets. The second chuck of furnishing is for the basement living room, which will be turned into a projector-centered media room with a dedicated reading corner. A deep love seat for late night movies and soft rugs for dogs to nap on will be ideal. Last but not the least is paint. The living room are covered in dark paneling and all the existing drywall and ceilings have seen better days. Smoothing out the wall textures and painting the whole downstairs a brighter color is a must.

Above concludes the first phase of the basement renovation, which grants us a private master suite and a quiet sitting/media room separated from the main floor. Down the road, we would love to add a kitchenette in the utility room, and eventually turn it into a dry kitchen. But first we are gonna focus on getting us moved down here.

In addition to the basement, I also have plans to expand our edible garden in the new year. Nut trees and new planting beds for edible perennial shrubs will be added to the backyard. Site prepping and hardscape will likely to happen in early Spring, which will surely keep us away from the basement reno for a few weeks. I am looking forward to all the exciting changes happening inside and outside of our ranch. Are you?

Happy Anniversary, the Ranch + One Year House Tour

This Wednesday, we celebrated the first anniversary of our ranch.

Can you believe it has been a year since we signed the papers and drove the U-haul into the garage? This little ranch checked everything on our list, and was truly a ‚Äúdiamond in the rough‚ÄĚ. Although it required intense updates, we did not mind one bit. It was a blank canvas for two first-time home owners to learn and create.

It felt like that I just gave you the six-month house tour, and here we are, six months later. Unlike the first half-a-year, during which we focused on making our house sturdier, this recent six months were dedicated to make our living space more comfortable. Here is the video after the first six months, and click here to see our house today!

Improving our living space: before and afters

This was the living room two weeks after moving-in:

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And this is the living room today. We added a sofa, window treatment, and some art and plants:

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We also made our bedroom more comfortable and functional. This was the bedroom shortly after we moved in and bought a storage bed:

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And this is our bedroom today:

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We stole a closet from the spare bedroom to create his-and-her closets, and I DIY-ed the headboard and the floating nightstands to make the bedroom super cozy. Charlie loves to sleep here.

Slav uses the spare bedroom as his office. This was what it looked like a month shortly after we moved in and removed the carpet:

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We converted this bedroom into Slav’s office/library during the last a few months:

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The wall separating the office from the living room was opened up, and the original doorway opening to the hallway was closed off. These changes gave us the opportunity for a built-in library wall. You can read about all the office renovation here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; and how we build the library bookcases here, here, here, and here.

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We love having the office open to the living room. They two make a grand space for evening hangouts with books and music:

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Cleaning up the backyard: before and afters

Our 2018 goals did not include any yard work. But Spring came around and we just had to do some landscaping. The backyard was neglected for decades and overrun by weeds and random bushes:

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The back fence was falling over and the garden shed was rotting away:

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Our work here during the first summer was just getting rid of eyesores Рwe trimmed away dead trees, weeded the yard many, many times, power-washed the fence, and completely rebuilt the garden shed (here, here, here, here, here, and here).

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This Spring, we started to build a more permanent garden with fruit trees, perennial flowers, and vegetable beds and a drip irrigation system.

We planted the perennial garden early May:

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All the plants grew like crazy during the past 6 weeks:

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There are still a long list of to-dos to build a decent garden. I am a newbie at landscaping but have enjoyed very much figuring what looks good where and learning from experience. I will be happy just to get big anchor pieces such as trees and veggie beds into the ground this year, and I can fuss about the ornamental plants later.

Adding curb appeal

Last night, we celebrated the first birthday of #thePolskiRanch curling up in the newly finished outdoor chairs, next to a bonfire, on our beloved back patio.

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Literally looking back at our house from our chair, we certainly noticed the impact of our hard work. For one, we definitely changed the appearance of the ranch. It feels good to not be the ugliest house i the neighborhood anymore.

This was the front of the house when we moved in:

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And now:

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This was the back of the house, on move-in day:

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And today:

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To add curb appeal , we have replaced the 20-year-old roof and installed new gutters, painted the soffit and fascia to match the new gutter, demoed the porch awning, replaced the front screen door, painted the old front door and added trims around it, and planting under the mailbox.

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Around the mail box on move-in day:

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New plants under the mailbox:

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Making it stronger and safer

Replacing the 20-year-old roof and installed new gutters not only improved the look of the house, but also made sure that water drains ways from the house. On the same note, we tackled a series of projects to improve drainage around the foundations, such as removing vegetation against the foundation, replacing sinking patios and rusty window wells, sealing all the foundation cracks, and grading around the foundation. We also upgraded the electrical panel, a fire hazard identified by our inspector.

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Reducing its energy footprint

We also made upgrades to make sure that our house run more efficiently. We brought attic insulation from R19 to R50, installed high-efficiency HVAC and replaced our 50 gallon water tank with a tankless model, and added weather stripping to all the exterior doors. In the utility room, we brought in high-efficiency washer and dryer and sealed all the leaky ducts. We also upgraded all the lights , including garage work lights to LED.

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Creating enjoyable work spaces for future renovation

The ranch will surely see a lot of projects in the future. To better complete our work, we have overhauled our garage and garden shed and made them workhorses for us. I cannot tell you how much I love these two places! I am really proud of our organization in these two places Рeverything has its place and is easy to find, and the places stay clean. Since we finished these two spaces, we have not needed to tweak the organization one bit. The joy walking into them makes days-long and physical projects less of a work and more of a play.

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Crossing off the first year to-dos

In the process of writing this post, I came cross the first ranch to-do list from last summer, shortly after we moved in. It was more of a must-do list, as we were mostly correcting safety and structure related issues. We have since accomplished nearly everything on this must-do list, and a lot more:

1. Replace the roof and gutters; trim the tree branches over the roof.
2. Remove the flower bed; mud-jack/replace front and back patio; grading the soil around the house.
3. Seal the corner foundation cracks; level the corner of the garage pad; install new weather strip around the garage door.  (We also added weather stripping around our exterior doors and storm doors)
4. Inspect/fix all the exposed plumbing; high pressure cleaning/realign/replace the sewer line from our house to the street. (Our sewage line is in decent shape so we will upgrade it to PVC when necessary.)
5. Upgrade electrical panel; adding proper ground wire; adding an outdoor outlet; bring power to the shed.
6. Add central AC and replace the old furnace; upgrade the old water heater with a tankless heater. (We also fixed leaky ducts, brought in new washer/dryer combo, and upgraded our utility room)
7. Radon mitigation. (Adding radon pipe requires drilling the floor of the basement. We are researching the DIY options and will tackle it during basement renovation.)

At the mean time, we also completed some extra work:
8. Renovating and organizing the garage
9. Renovating the shed
10. Powerwash and seal the existing fence
11. Adding insulation into the attic

We even knocked half of our 2018 goals already:

1. Attic insulation
2. Converting the 2nd bedroom to Slav’s Office
3. Replacing the chain link fence
4. Basement Guest Suite

And tackled a few extra:

5. Planting fruit trees
6. Planting bee-friendly perennial gardens 
7. Laying out a vegetable garden

We could not have done so much without you guys cheering along us. Thank you for being here, and thank you for sending good vibes. I hope you enjoy reading about our renovation as much as I enjoy documenting it. With the pups on our side and power tools in our hands, we feel confident and ready to dive in the second year of renovation. Fence and basement, I am looking at you two!

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