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

Category: Renovation Page 1 of 37

A New Parking Pad Addition

Last week, I showed you the new concrete porch in the front of the house. Today, let us go to the backyard for another concrete project – the new trailer parking pad!


This area is located on the south side of our garage. When we moved in back in 2017, this area was part of the front yard lawn:


In 2018, we constructing a new fence here and enclosed this area behind. Since then, this side yard has been used to park our utility trailer.


Although very functional, parking the trailer here slowly killed the lawn grass beneath, and the dogs started use it as a sandbox to nap in.



The soil surrounding the trailer also became more compact. Instead of healthy lawn grass, weeds started to grow.




We had talked about pouring a proper parking pad for a couple years. This July, when we hired a concrete contractor to build the new front porch, we added this area into the concrete work, filling the space between the gravel area under the fence line and the existing sidewalk.



Before the contractors came, Slav and I removed the pea gravel and pulled up the landscape edging around the work area. These pea gravels would be put back eventually. But for then, we wanted to give the contractor some space to build the form.



On the day of concrete work, the contractors started by removing a few inches of soil from the space. Then they built the form and compacted down the soil.



A metal wire mesh was added to prevent the new concrete pad from cracking and separating. The new pad would fill the entire length from the drive gate to the end of the sidewalk.



The same contractor also worked on the garage floor for my neighbor across the street on the same day. Sharing the labor and the concrete truck significantly lowered the cost for both of us. But the parking situation on our street that day was kinda crazy.



The pups were locked in the house for good measure – we do not want hundreds of paw prints all over the new concrete patio!


By mid-afternoon, the new parking pad was poured and finished. It was amazing how a team of people worked so seamlessly that they created this in only 6 hours.


The edge of the pad is about 8″ away from the fence line. This space would be filled with pea gravel again after the concrete pad was properly cured.



We were told to stay off the new pad for 5 days. A temporary fencing was set up to block the dogs out. Although every single of them could easily clear the low fencing, lucky for us, none of them attempted.



After five days, we removed the temporary fencing, put the pea gravel back, and parked the trailer onto the new pad.


As you can see, the new parking pad was a lot longer than the trailer itself. This is intentional for easier access from the back of the trailer.


Here is Dazumble, checking out the new parking spot!


Here is a closer look of the pea gravel area along the fence. The height of the new pad is tall enough to hold back the pea gravel, so we no longer need to use landscape edging here.


Beyond the parking pad area, we put in landscape edging to better contain the small-size pea gravel, then aligned it with decorative concrete blocks that match other area of the backyard.



As you can imagine, the pups are happy to get their yard back!


A New Front Entry

A month flew by and lots have happened. We have been spending time with our first foster dog, Dazumble. She quickly came out of her shell and is now a happy, sweet, dorky, and loyal pup.

Besides working our full-time jobs and taking Dazumble to weekly adoption events, we accomplished a feel-good project at the ranch house – a new front porch.


Below was the front porch when we purchased the house. We tackled this area immediately after moving in, including demoing the awning and the old sinking concrete patio, replacing the storm door and painting the front door a new color, and laying the drainage rocks.


Then the front porch looked like this for the last six years. It was always in our plan to rebuild a concrete front porch. The drainage rock was meant to be temporary, just to hold down the plastic underneath and to prevent water penetration.


To my surprise, this gravel area has worked well for the last 6 years. The melting snow and spring rain flew down to the pathway below and the lawn smoothly, and the 3/4″ rocks stayed in place. We never needed to add more rocks. Overall, this “temporary” solution was functional. However, we still wished for a real concrete patio for better look.



Came around this June, one of our neighbors did a concrete project and brought in some contractors. We had a chance to talk to the contractor about this porch job. In early July, Slav removed all the drainage rocks (and incorporated them into other areas around the house), lifted the 6 mil plastic, and the new concrete porch was poured.


New porch was levered with the adjacent pathway and went around the window well we installed ourselves. It was finished with a nice broom finish to match the pathway.


Just like that, we have a large and leveled surface next to the house again. The new porch patio is in a cooler grey color when compared to the older door steps and pathway, but it certainly looks better than the colorful gravel!


Although we are not interested in furnishing the front porch, we do want to add a couple planters for seasonal colors. Slav also requested some screening plants in front of the pathway, just to obscure the exposed foundation and the window well from the street.


So the same week when the concrete patio was finished, I placed order for eight Green Mountain boxwood. The plan was to grow a low and evergreen hedge to hide all the concrete from the street. It will also to make the front porch look more formal and tidy.


I chose the “Green Mountain” variety for its bright green foliage, resistance to winter burn, and its upright growing habit. Leaving alone, the Green mountain boxwood grows naturally into a cone shape, so it does not require as much trimming as other varieties of boxwood. Leaving untrimmed, these boxwoods will grow into a line of connecting cones, and stay above 4′ tall. We will likely trim the sides and top to keep a more formal, smooth wall-like look.


Here are the boxwood, all planted! We cut away the sod to create a skinny flower bed, then planted all the boxwoods in line. When reaching maturity, these boxwood plants will grow over 3′ wide, so their canopies will completely cover the mulched area.


So, this is our curb appeal as of today. It might not look like not a big change when compared the “before” look just a few weeks ago, but it is a good start for something lush and lively in a few years. Imagine when the boxwoods grow into a 4′ tall green wall, with a couple tall planters behind it filled with summer annuals. The honeysuckle will cover the trellises around Slav’s office window by then. Cannot wait!


How Much Does It Really Cost? Looking Back at the Kitchen Renovation

It never fails to impress me whenever I check the popularity of my blog posts, that the cost summary for our horizontal fence remains on the top. Maybe there are just so few cost summary posts out there with actual numbers? Last year, before we pulled the triggers on the kitchen renovation, I was desperate to find any information on cabinet cost. I understood the price would vary depending on the location and the manufacture, even for the same cabinets. But a ballpark number would have helped so, so much. So you guessed it! Today, I will attempt to put out actual numbers from our kitchen renovation, including the cost of materials, contracted work, cabinets, countertops, and appliances. We will also provide some post-purchase analysis on our new kitchen. I hope this post will help you to estimate how much you might spend on your renovation, or to decide if a property you intend to flip is worth buying. So without further ado, let us look at the numbers!


GC vs Subcontracting

First of all, we did not hire a general contractor (also called GC) but managed the renovation ourselves instead. A GC would generally be responsible for choosing contractors in different trades, such as plumbing, electrical, and drywall, and managing their work flow to make sure tasks are completed in the correct sequence and in a timely manner. Therefore the renovation process generally goes much smoother with the help of a GC. However, we decided to manage our kitchen renovation ourselves this time. We had experience with gut renovation and knew the general sequence of events. We also have identified a list of people who are credible and skilled. Given our currently level of experience in renovating, plus the PTSD from our last GC, we decided to take on the management task ourselves.

The disadvantage with a GC is the overhead cost. We compared quotes from GCs when we renovated our guest bathroom in 2021, and having a GC would have easily costed us 30% more. Of course, this percentage might change depending on nature of work. But, for complex projects like a kitchen or bathroom renovation, we were certain there would be high GC overhead. In addition, GCs generally decide what kind of permits to pull, which can cause a few thousand dollars alone. Since we were managing the work, we could only pull permits on essential utilities which saved a lot.

Our kitchen was a gut renovation, which means all the existing cabinets, countertops, walls, and floors were demolished, and new utilities and fixtures were put in. This involves demolition and haul-away, framing, plumbing, electrical, utility lines (gas), floors (tiles), walls (a mixed drywall and tiles), lighting, cabinets, sinks and countertops, appliance installation, and finishing carpentry work. We hired out everything except the items in italics. And below is the cost breakdown in each categories.

The Demolition

We had handled all demolitions previously, because we’d like to do it gently to prevent from potential damage to other structures and utility lines. It also helps us to understand how things were built and connected, so we could make rapid adjustment on how we want to build it back up again. But for the kitchen, we hired the demolition out. It was mainly due to the lack of time, the amount of the debris we would have to drag to the landfill ourselves, and our anticipation on how hard the floor demo could be based on our experience with the adjacent bathroom.


We were charged $2000 for demolition, which includes setting up plastic barriers, protecting the previously finished floors in the living room with thick contractor paper, removing all cabinets, countertops, appliances, floors and walls, and hauling away all the waste materials. Our contractor worked on it for 4.5 days, with the floor demolition alone lasted 2.5 days. Giving the weight of the waste he had to bring to the landfill, we think $2000 is a reasonable price. You can read about the demolition process here.

Utilities – Plumbing, Gas, and Electrical

We paid very little to the utilities running into the kitchen during this renovation. The hot and cold water supply and the sink drain were upgraded a couple years ago. It costed us $965, including replacing 8 feet of the waste pipe in the basement below the kitchen. However, please keep in mind that we got it done when the basement wall and ceiling studs were all exposed (everything was super easy to access) and with other plumbing work in the basement. If your plumbing upgrade involves opening ceilings and walls, it will generally cost more to complete.


Slav brought up the gas line from the basement utility closet. He had worked on gas lines before when he installed the tankless water heater. So he was very confident to handle this task himself. To be honest, connecting gas line is really easy with the new corrugated flexible tubing. You can get it from any home improvement stores, and the metal lining inside prevents it from getting kinks, being damaged, or developing pinholes. This is what’s required to use by code of our city too. We bough 25 ft which costed us around $70.

We saved so much on the electrical work, because Slav did it himself! All we paid was $685 for materials, which included 16 new can lights (8 for the kitchen and 8 for the living room), new electrical and low voltage wires (for thermostat and doorbell), countless boxes, connectors, outlets, switches, and cover plates. We would have contracted it out to professionals if we had found anyone. Unfortunately, none of the electricians we contacted could come in within our time frame. Slav had run electrical for our guest bathroom and was confident to run the electrical for the kitchen. It totally worked! In fact, I think because it was Slav who did the work, all the connections were installed the safest way possible and we were be able to replace old wires as much as we could.


In total, we installed 8 switches, 8 new outlets, and 16 recessed lights. Slav wired for the range hood in the attic ceiling, moved the 220V line for the old stove/oven, rewired for two doorbells and the thermostat, capped the phone line, and terminated old wires which used to run down the dividing wall we removed. In total, he worked on the electrical for two weekends – one for running all the electrical, and the other for installing the recess lighting. This amount of the electrical work could easily cost us $5000, if not more.


The floor

After demolishing the old tile floor, we found some water damage and the placed the old plywood floor. We paid $200 to install the new plywood subfloors, and $750 to install the underlayment (150 sqft). We purchased the floor tiles ourselves for around $280, and our contractor tiled all 150 sqft flooring for $1800.




Our contractor picked up most of the materials used in this renovation, and we just reimbursed him for all the material he purchased. In total we spent $1485.86, which included the plywood subfloor, underlayment, all the materials for tiling the floor and the backsplash (mortar, grout, tile edging, etc), 2″ x 4″s for wall framing before drywall, and minimal plumbing connections (for connecting the garbage disposal).

Drywall and Mud Installation with Smooth Texture

After all the utilities were run and the floor tiles were finished, we bought insulations ($117.62), and put them up ourselves. Our contractor or the drywall contractor could have done it for a little bit more cost, but we still had some insulation batts left from previous projects, so we decided to do it ourselves and use everything up.


The drywall was put up and finished by a different contractor for $3000. This price is a bit high for a $150 sqft kitchen, but we did ask for the ceiling and the entire staircase to be mudded smooth. We also chose a very smooth finish, which is the most time-consuming and therefore the most expensive finish for drywall work. You can read about it in this post.


The Kitchen Cabinet


The kitchen cabinet cost was what I was most confused about. I read everywhere that IKEA cabinets save money, but with the hardware and delivery cost, I think the quote came out about the same as the semi-custom cabinets from home improvement stores. Given the recent complaints about IKEA cabinet delivery and customer service, we decided not to risk it and ordered a Diamond line from Lowe’s. We picked a mid-range quality cabinet line which costed $16705.24. With the 30% Lowe’s sale at the time, and an additional 5% discount with the store card, the final payment was ~$11850. This price includes all the cabinets, doors, drawer fronts, fridge side panels, filler pieces, trims, crown moldings, and baseboards for finishing carpentry. Our contractor installed the cabinets and trims for $1000, which took him two days to complete. It is worth mentioning that this installation price includes appliance installation – including the range, dishwasher, and fridge. You can find our cabinet purchase details here, and installation details here.


We ended up with way more crown molding/wide trim pieces we needed, and these pieces are very expensive ($45 per foot for some trims). But they were made with our paint color and finish, so we could not return them. If we had not over ordered the trims, the price could have been $11000. We also did not order any drawer/cabinet pulls with our cabinet order – we did not like their choices that much and it would have costed us $4 per pull. We ended up picking up these cabinet knobs (~$100). They costed similarly to the stocked options from the Diamond cabinet order, but we liked them way better. Our contractor installed all the cabinet pulls for $50.



We bought all new appliances. You can find more details about our appliances choices here. Our kitchen is small so we went with narrow dishwasher, stove, and small fridge which are cheaper. We also picked mostly domestic brands for better customer service.

KitchenAid stove, HD, $1402.98

Cosmo range hood, HD, $302.28


KitchenAid dishwasher, Bestbuy, $1020.2

LG fridge, Costco, $1500


Countertops, Sink, and Garbage Disposal

One of the best choice we made with this kitchen is to install quartz countertops. We initially considered ordering countertops from Floor & Decor, where we got all of our flooring and wall tiles. But we soon found out that it would take months from ordering to template, then installation, which did not work with our timeline. We later learned that Floor & Decor does not manufacture nor install the countertops they sell. They subcontract everything to local stone yard and companies, and our local installer has very poor service record according to Google reviews. Fortunately, we found a local shop, Renovate, LLC who provided us super fast and excellent service. They actually installed the slab sooner than what the contract stated, and ordering the same material and finishes as those from Floor & Decor did not cost us more. We ended up paying $2475.56 for a whole slab of quartz (58.7 sqft total area) for our 45 sqft counters, and the manufacture and installation costed us $1571.05. This price includes the production of two window stools using leftover material from our slab. Those window stools were installed with the slab on the same day.


You can find our countertop purchase and installation details here.


The countertop installation also included mounting the sink, which we purchased from HD for $225.64. The countertop company could have connected our sink when they installed the countertops, but since we have already given the job to our main contractor, we did not include this portion in the quote. Connecting the sink plumbing and installing the garbage disposal (Moen, $93 from Amazon) ended up costing us $100.



The marble tile backsplash is definitely where we splurged. Not only marble tiles are more expensive, we also decided to tile the entire wall behind the stove, all the way to the ceiling. The tile alone costed us almost $600, and we paid our main contractor $500 to install them. The supplies needed for tiling the backsplash was paid with other materials (see above), so I do not know exactly how much the mortal and grout costed us.



Installing backsplash in kitchens of our size usually costs a lot less, especially if you choose in-stock subway tiles. But since we opened the kitchen to the living room, this stove wall is the first view people see upon entering the house. We decided to spend more here to make an impact, and it worked! All the visitors we had so far commended on how much they liked it. So it is well worth the money in our opinion.


This category consists of a few things we had to install in our kitchen, which may not apply to other people’s renovations. We installed a new stair railing leading to the basement, which sits above the new tiled floor in the kitchen. The railing kit costed $600 from Home Depot and our main contractor installed it for $250. We also installed two return grills on our island cabinets ourselves and paid ~$30 for materials.


Cost Summary:

In the end, we paid $2000 for demolition, ~$1000 for plumbing, ~$750 for gas and electrical (materials only), $4130 for floor and backsplash (including the tile costs and the labor, 150 sqft), $3000 for drywall and mudding (including the ceiling and the stairwell), $13000 for cabinets and installations, ~$4050 for countertops, and ~$4550 for appliances including the sink. We paid ~$1500 for extra materials like plywood and tiling supplies, and ~$850 to install stair railings. So for our 150 sqft kitchen, plus some work in the adjacent stairwell, we spent ~$35000 total, roughly 6.6% of our house/property value. This price can be considered very UNDER-BUDGET. From what I read, kitchen renovations generally cost 10-20% of the home. We can achieve this price because 1) we did not hire a GC; 2) Slav did all the electrical; and 3) we contracted most of the work to one contractor, beside the drywall and countertops. We had good experience working with our main contractor. He is a one man show but he can demo, frame, tile, do basic plumbing, and install cabinets. Having only a few contractors really helps to keep transitions between tasks seamless and waste production to minimal. It also helps to make the communication accurate and timely, which made the renovation process as less stressful as possible.


The biggest ticket item we paid for this kitchen are the cabinets, which costed nearly 40% of the whole budget. The cabinets could have been cheaper if we had hired local cabinet makers, and I think the quality could have been higher as well.


I was surprised how little we spent on the appliances, which was only slightly over 10% of the whole renovation. Our small footprint limited the size of all appliances, which could be the reason. We also went with American brands like KitchenAid instead of off-shore brands like Bosch, mainly due to service and parts accessibility concerns. In the end, I’d say that our kitchen renovation spending is very reasonable for the results we got. And thanks to our main contractor who is professional and honest, we did not see any “surprise bill”.


The whole process took 8.5 weeks, and it could have been 6 weeks if our kitchen cabinets were delivered on time. It was stressful, but so worth it given what we had to live with before. If you are considering of renovating your kitchen, do not be afraid! Our brains are so tuned to only remember the pleasant moments in life, the moment of successful completions, and to forget about all the stress and those long nights of vacuuming and dusting after a 10-hour work day. I hope this post can help even just a little bit. If you decide to go without a GC, I’d highly recommend to have fewer contractors possible and make sure all contractors talk directly to each other. Plan well, save enough, and pull the trigger. You can do it!

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