Gonna rise up. Find my direction magnetically.

Category: Projects (Page 1 of 3)

Bathroom Remodeling Fun

DSC_8835In the past, I have taken on the bigger remodeling/home improvement jobs myself: finishing the basement, installing wood floors, rebuilding closets, landscaping, etc., but when Julie and I decided it was time to deal with our upstairs bath, I balked. We have been having issues with the upstairs bathroom for several years now. These issues culminated with water pouring through the living room ceiling below a few years ago which required pretty extensive drywall and moulding work.

Plumbing is not a craft that I have any extensive experience with. Framing, drywall, electrical, heck… even some masonry and I am good to go, but water is a whole different matter. This, combined with the desire to have some rather extensive tile work done which is something else I have zero experience with, and it was a no brainer. Time to hire a professional!


The problem of what to do with the layout of the upstairs bathroom and how to improve it was not easily addressed. We had several plumbers and friends share their thoughts, but it wasn’t until the last contractor came in that we settled on a plan that finally made sense to us. Coincidentally, we also ended up hiring the contractor to do the work. The main premise of the design was to keep the vanity, toilet, and bathtub where they were at but to rework the shower and all the framing around it. When I write that, it doesn’t sound like it should have taken that long to come up with the plan… but it did.

The old shower was a neo-corner unit that was very cheap and had leaks in both corners where it met the drywall. I had to recaulk annually and had cut a nice piece of large baseboard to hid the growing hole in the corner. There was also a pocket door that came out into the bathroom and provided an enclosed section to keep the shower separate from the room. Kind of nice for privacy, but not a great use of the space. The plan was to rip out the pocket door and the wall that hid it and replace that with a standard door. The neo-corner unit would be pulled out and replaced by a 34″x42″ swanstone shower pan with a bench.

Julie fell in love with slate (shocking!) and found inspiration for what she wanted on the web. You can checkout her pinterest album here: http://pinterest.com/denalidreamer/for-the-home/

Julie also found project details for refinishing our old vanity on pinterest, which we were going to attempt and salvage from the old bathroom. New plumbing fixtures were a must and we decided to replace the old lights with 4″ cans that had a glass, water resistant enclosure while we were at it.


Completed Project

Our contractor started the first week in March and it took 3 weeks to finish it. We had a few touch up things in week 4, but they held pretty true to the original estimate I was provided. I learned a lot from this experience. Several things I thought were settled, turned out to require more effort and planning, like replacing Kohler fixtures with Delta (protip: if you are remodeling a bathroom try and just keep all the base plumbing fixtures and just swap out trim if possible). We also had a bad experience with builddirect.com where we ordered the slate tile from. The reviews were good and the tile looked great, but the tiles were not square and the thickness varied wildly (some variation is expected in natural tile). I thought we could save a few bucks and still get a great tile but it ended up slowing things down and we returned a bunch of tile.

Thoughts about the project:

  • Having someone else do this was the way to go. It was stressful enough with having someone else do it. I wouldn’t have been able to manage work plus this.
  • We made a lot of right calls on things like plumbing fixtures, lights, etc. One area I would do differently next time is with the slate floor. I would have pushed for something that was smooth and consistent (thickness and size). The floor looks cool, but the uneven aspects and bumpiness will mean it will be difficult to clean and it’s not the most comfortable to walk on.
  • Instead of a heated tile floor, which I did extensive research into, we went with a kickspace heater. This worked out great and we have it on a timer mounted next to the light switch. I am really happy with this!
  • We got several quotes on different countertops and we were not excited about paying $1000+ for a granite one (I am looking at YOU Home Depot and Lowes!). I did a little searching and found this place: graniteselection.com. This place gets my top recommendation. We got our granite counter top + backsplash and undermount sink for $370. We lucked out because this place is only 15 minutes from my work. Nailed it! It also makes you feel like a bad ass when two huge Russian guys carry your countertop out to your car in the middle of winter at an unmarked building.
  • The vanity turned out awesome and saved us a bundle. If you look at the pics, you’ll see it turned from the golden oak color to a dark espresso color. Big points for Julie on that one.
  • If you are running electric and need to end a job short of completing it, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS CAP ANY WIRES. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t connected to anything. Always do it. Never leave a bare end of a wire without a wire nut. No need to ask why I am dropping this piece of advice here…
  • Our two-flush toilet rocks (1 button for liquids, 1 for solids)
  • Slate tile is a pain in the ass to get grout off of.
  • My wife has some great ideas and is a great match for me.
  • I am awesome at picking out paint colors. Show me 30 chips and I can tell which exact one we need to get. Haven’t had a bad pick yet in 13 years!
  • Mark Ripley was the contractor and he and his crew did a great job. I don’t want to post his email directly, but if you’d like to contact him about a job, just send me a message and I’ll get you the contact info. Highly recommended… that guy knows his stuff.

Only thing left is for the glass shower door to get installed. We have gotten two quotes and will be deciding that this week. I’ll post a few more pictures when it’s totally done and the window casing + shower doors are in. A pretty exciting, yet exhausting experience. It’s nice to have the bathroom functioning again upstairs!







photo 3

photo 2-1


Multiple iDevice Stand

The Problem

First of all, I know that this is a ‘first world problem’ and in the big scheme of things, trying to improve how and where we charge all our electronics is not a big deal. Still, it was a fun project that I made with some scrap that I found in my wood pile so I figured I would share.

The need for a better way to organize our charging area became apparent while walking past it last weekend. I noticed that with two iPads and two iPhones, we end up just laying them all out on the counter and when they are all connected, it takes up a significant amount of counter space and just doesn’t look as organized as my mind likes to keep things.

Julie bought me our existing charging station for Christmas or a birthday a few years ago. It consists of a drawer and a hollow area for a power strip below a top that has slots for devices to rest. The problem is that you can’t put iPads on it and because of that, and the need to pull the charging cables out really far to reach the iPads, no devices end up actually on the charging station.

The Solution

I thought if I could find a relatively small piece of wood and cut some angled slots in, it might do just the trick and be free! I did a little googling and found out that I was not alone in this line of thinking. Lots of different ideas similar to this are out there, but since it’s so simple there is little you get from seeing what others have done.

I took a piece of 1×6 oak I had lying around, cut it to 14″ and got started. I needed to cut four slots with enough space in-between to allow for them to sit at an angle. The table saw was the logical tool to make the cuts since they needed to be angled and precise. I laid out the design on the block of wood, set the angle of the blade to 12 degrees (I wanted the devices to angle a little, but remain mostly upright), and got cutting.

The only real piece of advice on this was to GO SLOW and have all your devices on hand. I made my stand custom for each devices width, including the case. This is one of the major benefits over buying a prefabricated stand. I took the exact device and test fit it as I was cutting my grooves. Most stands have a fixed width which may not fit your device while it’s in the case. Some stain, two coats of poly, and it’s done.

End result, not bad… not bad at all, and we now have our counter back.

The summer has begun

1st Sleepover in Basement

The first sleepover for the girls is planned for this Saturday night. The basement is now in a state that the kids can use it and stay down there practically the whole night. Woot!

The projector showed up last week and I spent some time this weekend finishing the crown along with other small trim pieces. Julie did touch-ups with the paint and we are good to go. The search for furniture has gone a little slow since we still can’t decide exactly what we want. Frustrating…

I am ordering the electronics bit by bit because the overall cost of everything gave Julie some sticker shock. The second Apple TV is on its way and the receiver will be ordered shortly. This will allow for access to the vast media library stored on the NAS and allow us to set up the Wii down there.

I ordered the cabinet doors this weekend. Depot doesn’t do business with the company I used before when I needed custom doors, so I went online. Rawdoors.net came through for me. $200 for 4 shaker style solid oak doors. I am happy with it. The picture below shows a closeup of the cabinet in the front. Notice the three holes in the back of the middle shelf to allow for cords along with the supports for the middle shelf and top counter. Nothing really fancy here, just needed to make it as solid as possible so there is no risk of it failing. I have stood on the counter without it moving at all. Very happy with how it turned out.

The projector rocks… as I had hoped it would. 105″ of excitement. I don’t have a screen yet so I am just putting it up on a white wall we painted in the front of the room. It does look MUCH better with low light, but the contrast on the projector and overall size is overwhelming.

Yes, that is the Muppets Movie. Am I a muppet, or a man???

Cabinets and Trim

Cabinets and Trim

Last weekend we got all the plywood (5 sheets total, Honda mini-van FTW!) and supplies for doing the cabinets. After putting in the carpet, we got inspired to try and tackle this part of it rather quickly. It’s not done yet, but we made huge progress in the past week. I ripped all the material and planned it all out last weekend. Julie spent the week staining and finishing all the material (she did an awesome job!) so that I could do the install this weekend.

The most amazing thing is that there is really only one part that I screwed up and need to go back to correct. At the last-minute, I decided to drop the height of the bookcases at the ends about 6.25″ so that I could wrap the crown around the top of the bookcase instead of ending the crown and then starting it again. Here is a better shot of what I am talking about:

I did this by boxing in the area above the top shelf, or ‘header’. The problem is that I screwed up the small piece I inserted to create the header on the other end which is why if you look at the picture at the top of this post, you’ll notice that corner doesn’t have crown yet. Overall, a very minor issue. Not like cutting a piece too short or splitting a piece.

I have three shelves that will sit in the bookcases, but I needed to special order the adjustable shelve brackets so that will need to wait until the shipment arrives. I looked everywhere for Knape and Vogt shelve supports but couldn’t find them at any of the big box stores. Really frustrating… so I ordered them online at The Hardware Hut. I really like these types of supports because the actual support locks in place and can support a ton of weight.

The kids are pumped and Julie seems excited to be able to unload some of the storage stuff onto the shelves to free up space in the laundry room. I still have to do a lot of finishing trim, get 2 sets of doors for the middle set of cabinets to hide all the electronics, and caulk the crown moulding in preparation for paint, but overall it was a very successful weekend and the end of the basement project is in sight. Woot!

First set of electronics show up tomorrow and we are now on the hunt for some furniture!

Carpet, at last!

One step closer

After weeks of trying to figure out what to do with the basement floor, we finally made a call and finished it off yesterday. Our original plan was to have carpet installed by Home Depot, but after we found some ‘environmental’ concerns during the install/inspection process, we needed to consider alternatives.

Out of all the options, we ended up going with 2′ carpet squares made by Simply Seamless. It has a decent carpet pad on it and the quality of the actual carpet is a step up from what we were going to get installed by HD. The installation went pretty quick and between Friday night and a few hours Saturday morning, we got it all wrapped up. The room now has a definite ‘finished’ feeling to it. I have some minor moulding work to finish up and then there is the big cabinet system on the back wall, but it feels good to have the basement now in a state that is ready for daily use.

You can see the vinyl tiles we had to put down because the previous home owner had removed a bunch of the 9″x9″ tiles and just left the concrete. There was a lip between the tiles and the concrete that could be felt through the carpet when we put down a test piece.

Bet you thought I gave up

Finally got back to it

After taking a break from basement work for 2 weeks (1 week was due to a work trip), I got back to it yesterday. Most of the remaining work is finish carpentry and touch-ups. Unfortunately, this is one area that takes longer than the others. With framing, electrical, drywall, etc. you are building the foundation that you can cover up or deal with mistakes without significant effort. When it comes to the trim and detail work, I go pretty slow because this is the first area people usually notice. How tight are the miters in the casing, how does the crown look, etc.

So here is what I got done yesterday:

  • All baseboard is done. Ready for carpet (most likely after we get back from spring break).
  • All crown that can go up without doing the front cabinets is completed.
  • Window is framed and it’s only missing one small piece of casing which I stained last night. This should be done this week.
  • Hand railing was put up so the stairs are complete.
  • Casing for all doors is now done.
  • New light at the top of the stairs was purchased and installed yesterday.
  • Work on some of the final moulding surrounding the outside of the staircase was started but not finished.
  • Julie finally stopped complaining about me not doing anything in the basement for a day (major accomplishment!)

I have the projector picked out and have looked at the electronics side of things for the past couple of days. I’m thinking that the initial setup will have the projector, receiver with 5.1, Xbox, and an apple tv (jailbroken to run xbmc). This will provide me the ability to play all the digital content I already have, plus use the Xbox as a Blu-ray player in addition to a gaming platform. For me, this is the payoff of all the work in the basement. Just need to find some guys to come over and break in the new system with me in April…

Painting, DONE.

One step forward

We finished the last of the painting today. Cottage white on the ceiling and projection wall, Organic field on everything else. We got the Behr Ultra paint which is the primer + paint in one. The coverage was less than stellar and we still needed two coats even after 1-2 coats of drywall primer. Julie did a great job doing the detailed work on the ceiling/wall edge along the stairway. Using my father-in-law’s adjustable ladder made the work far easier and less treacherous.

The girls got their first lesson on electrical today by helping me wire up the outlets. Things are starting to come together and we spent an hour cleaning everything up after the electric was done. The girls actually went back down there after we were done to play for a couple of hours. Amazing how quickly they want to take advantage of the new space.

One of the things I had to take care of today was the bottom drywall edge. When we initially hung the drywall, I wanted it to be 1/2-1″ short so there would be plenty of space between the bottom of the drywall and the floor. We were able to get this on most of the sheets, but a few were pretty tight so I went around with a dremel and cut off the bottom 1/2″ to make sure. If (when) it gets wet on the floor, the last thing I want is water working it’s way up the drywall.

Moulding and Trim

Before we get the carpet installed, I need to finish the trim work and get the room prepped. Not only will this cut down on the mess that will get made installing the trim, but it will mean that when the carpet goes down, I can put the done stamp on this part of the project.

We knew when we put up the drywall that we were going to use some type of crown which saved me from having to finish all those inside corners around the whole room. We have oak trim through most of the house and Julie loves it, so our first thought was a 3 1/4″ oak crown with oak base and casing. In theory, this would work great. As we started to work through it in more detail, some issues arose.

  1. The ceiling isn’t perfectly flat (I know… I know… my fault) so when you put the crown up against it, you will see gaps. These small gaps are no issue if you are using a primed, white crown because you can just fill the gaps with caulk and they disappear. With oak, you cannot hide these very easily and when you do, it’s obvious.
  2. If we go with a white, primed crown, base and casing, how will that look if the cabinet system I am going to build is in oak? Will the basement be the only room in the house that doesn’t have oak as the primary trim material?
  3. How will all the trim work around the cabinet system that doesn’t exist yet? I do NOT want to have to take down and recut a lot of pieces once I build it. I just don’t have the time to do it now so I’m going to have to really pay attention to this. Probably means I’ll have to fully design the cabinet to make sure it will work out.

What we have agreed on for now, is to have white, primed crown (painted same color as ceiling) and oak base and casing. Mixing these was not ideal, but it does solve most of our issues. We searched the internet to see if anyone else had sought out advice on a similar topic. Only a few hits were found and the consensus was that it was allowed, but more common in Europe (Spain) than the US. So what do you think? Below is a picture that shows roughly how it will look.

Oh, and I think I am going to have to build at least the base of the cabinet system before the carpet gets installed. I do not want the carpet below the cabinets. If it ever gets wet and has to be removed, I do not want to mess with the cabinets at all. Awesome… add it to the list!

Final Day

2 week vacation

So that’s it… I’m not going to get anymore done in the basement before I got back to work tomorrow. It’s been a crazy two weeks. The picture in the upper right was taken on Jan 8th, the picture at the bottom is from today. I tried to keep a similar camera angle. The second collage is from the opposite angle.

Some stats (for those that are so inclined):

  • 8 trips to Home Depot, 1 to Lowes and 1 to Menards (although I didn’t buy anything here and it was a 10 min run in… does that still count?)
  • 11 sheets of 5/8″ drywall, 23 sheets of 1/2″
  • 18 gallons of mud
  • 4 gallons of primer
  • ~1600 drywall screws (1 1/4″, 1 5/8″ and 2″ combined)
  • 10 outlets, 6 cans, and 2 dimmers
  • 1 rental (drywall sander)
  • Number of days I worked by myself (or just with Julie and no outside help): 3
  • Number of days above 40 degrees: 8
  • Number of days above 50 degrees: 2
  • Total snowfall: ~10″ (two major storms)

I really do owe a lot to all the friends and family that helped me. Without them, I would still be hanging drywall or finishing framing. Thanks to my father and mother-in-law, my Dad, Tom, Craig T., Nadeem, and Julie. I have learned a lot from this experience and I appreciate the conversations and time spent with everyone as much as the actual construction. Julie made a lot of lunches for various sized work crews and did a great job putting up with everything.

What’s next?

The last steps will take me a few weeks to complete. I was pushing hard to get painting completed so I could get the carpet in quickly. Putting the done stamp on it would be really nice, but I think that might be rushing this last stage a little. I decided to finish all the trim work before carpet so I am planning on completing the painting this upcoming weekend (just the walls remain now) and then spend another week doing the trim. Hopefully the carpet will be good to go the second week in Feb. This means no super bowl in the basement :(, but this will coincide with another experiment Julie and I are going to try out: NO CABLE! We have discussed it and are ready to give it a go soon, but that is another post…

Here are some updated pictures I took earlier today after we finished priming all the drywall and put the final coat of paint on the ceiling. Enjoy!

The end of drywall work is in sight

Day 14

So today is officially day 14 of working on the basement. After going back to work for two days (Thurs. and Fri.), I got back to it yesterday and today. It’s all about drywall finishing now. Taping, mudding, and sanding is the meaning of life until it’s done. This is by far my least favorite part of home improvement. It’s a pain and because I am not great at it, I need to do a few more cycles of mudding/sanding than the pros.

I bought a new sander to help and since we didn’t hire out the job, I thought a $30 tool to help things go faster was justified. Turns out, it wasn’t up to the job. The sander is manual and you can use screens or regular paper. It has an attachment that allows you to hook it up to a shop vac and it sucks around the sander as you work. It works pretty well, but not for a project this size. So after trying to do an initial sanding of the walls with it yesterday, I gave in and rented a power sander from Depot. I have used these a few times before and they are great, but you need to be very careful because they can be very aggressive. In the picture below you can see the manual sander with the attached hose as well as the power sander.

The sander gets heavy after a while and my arms as well as my back are killing me after two days of using this, but it is way quicker. It attaches to a vacuum you get when you rent the sander and for $30/day, it’s a pretty good deal.

So where am I at? I have put the last coats of mud on and have finished about 95% of the sanding. Mostly just touch up work remains that I need to complete tomorrow morning before the drywall primer goes up. When I return the sander tomorrow, I will be picking up a few gallons of paint for the ceiling and walls. The main room will get painted first because the stairway and soffit are a pain. Lots of small areas that I need to baby… sanding, mudding, sanding, etc. I am betting the stairway won’t be painted until Sat. 🙁

Protip: To make sure your mudding job is done, go around the walls with a high-powered work light set an angle to the wall. This will highlight any imperfections in the mud job before you prime. Credit goes to my father-in-law for teaching me this.

My goal was to have everything except the carpet done when I go back to work Wed., but I don’t want push things at this stage. Taking your time and getting the mudding just right makes trim and paint go so much easier.

Problem area

When finishing a basement or doing any large project, you always run into a few snags or unexpected things. I’ll share two of mine… extending the air ducts to meet the new soffit and returning the soffit into the stairs.

First, the air ducts. The air duct that ran next to the i-beam had two vents into the basement. You can see them in the first picture below. Once we put up the soffit 2×2 framing, these vents needed to be extended the 2″ (1.5 for the 2×2 and .5 for the drywall… we used 5/8″ on the soffit, but the .5 made it a hair shy and is what we needed). The internet was no help so I went to Menard’s and then Depot looking for ideas. The original vents were 12 x 6 but I could only find ‘risers’ or sheet metal cut into a rectangle shape in a 12 x 4 size. I thought the smaller vent would actually look better since it would be centered on the soffit more so I bought some new vents and the riser material.

My brother helped out with this part of the project. We cut and shaped the riser material and then used foil tape and sheet metal screws to put it all together. It looks pretty good if you ask me.

I got help with soffit return from my father-in-law. I framed and drywalled the return knowing that I didn’t like it, but pushed on knowing I would have to come back to it later. Well, the time came on Friday night because I had to get it resolved before all the drywall finishing got into full gear.

My first idea was to angle the return and then use some trim on it or something. I didn’t like it, but it seemed like it would work. My father-in-laws idea was since I was already losing the 2″ on the stairs, I should just bring the soffit all the way into the stairs. As you can see, this looks better and feels ‘finished’. The carpet and molding will go right up against it. Awesome!

More pictures

I got a few comments that I didn’t post enough pictures… so here is a grouping to show the current state.

Day 12 – Drywall finishing


Our drywall finisher came in with a quote that was nearly double what we were looking for…. so…. here is a picture of me in the middle of taping/mudding from today.

Yep, made the call last night to push ahead. Julie and I got one coat on the walls last night and then my Dad came over today to hit the walls again and get a first coat on the soffit and ceiling.

Am I glad we saved the money and went at it on our own? Sure.  Am I excited to do 2 more coats + sanding? Hell no.

The low height of the ceiling is finally paying off in some way since I can mud it while standing on the floor. We are putting up some crown, so I am not doing the joint between the walls and ceiling which saves me a LOT of work. My arms and neck are pretty sore and I can feel my body breaking down after 12 days of doing basement work, but after this  part it’s on to paint + carpet and then done! The end is in sight.

I had mentioned in an earlier post about putting up a projector. I still think we are going to move ahead with that, but the wall cabinet system will have to wait. Maybe in a few months I will have the energy to tackle that project. I am heading back to work tomorrow and Friday so I won’t have any update until Sat. Hopefully that will be the day we finish the drywall work and start priming.

The old man showed a lot of love today by coming out and learning how to mud. Thanks!

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