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Basement Renovation: A diary of the “Home Stretch”

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Major renovation projects seem to drag on endlessly, and the punch list– that list of things left to do before the project is complete– tends to grow instead of shrink. Your house is a mess, your nerves are frayed and you wonder if you will ever realize the vision that you had for your project. Sound familiar? Don’t worry– it’s normal. And, good news, it is not necessarily as bad as you think.

December 2001: After plugging away at my basement renovation for over four years, with no pressure to finish it, I suddenly found myself up against a looming deadline. Our first child was due in January. Before I knew it, January was little more than a month away (funny how fast nine months fly by). The future nursery was currently our computer room and office. The basement renovation included a new computer room but before moving our computer equipment and books downstairs, we would have to finish the basement at least to the point of having carpet on the floor. Christmas seemed like a logical deadline to accomplish this so that I could use the week off between Christmas and New Year’s to get the nursery ready.

The following diary chronicles my progress through the month of December in my attempt to finally finish the basement renovation….

Saturday December 1

Cleaning blitz. I washed the peel and stick floor tile in the laundry room with Armstrong Once ‘n Done. Since moving in, I had only washed the floor once other time, about five years ago.

Laundry room floor BEFORE cleaning

Once ‘n Done worked amazingly well to bring the floor back to life. Although it had seemingly been destroyed by years of abuse, the floor is in good enough shape that it will not have to be replaced. That will save me a few dollars.

Laundry room floor AFTER cleaning

During the course of renovations, various tools became scattered and lost. Ditto with boxes of fasteners such as screws and nails. For the first time in a couple of years, I collected and organized these items, finding some things that I forgot I had, and recovering things that had been given up for lost months or years ago. Layers of drywall dust were washed off of each tool and toolbox.

I swept, vacuumed and washed half of the basement floor. [Important: Read the safety note at the bottom of this page]. My wife called around for a handyman type plumber to move the copper pipes for the laundry tub (downsizing from a double to a single), replace the outdoor tap, and fix a couple of other minor problems. Yes, these are all things that I could learn to do myself, but time is of the essence.

Rating for the day: 3/4

Sunday December 2

I didn’t accomplish much today. Despite a full night’s sleep, I felt groggy from my 18-hour cleaning blitz yesterday. I took measurements for some materials and pondered my approaches to a couple of situations. That “thinking stuff” now will help make the “doing stuff” a little easier.

Although I finished the cellar/ storage room under the porch a while ago, I still had to run the wire for the dedicated freezer outlet to the electrical panel. This I did today.

In the workshop, I cut the materials for the electrical box cabinet. It took a while to install the blade guard on the table saw and align it properly. Since having an unfortunate mishap with my old bench top table saw, where the guard hit the blade and caused considerable damage, I have been leery of having the guard in place. However, last week I experienced kick-back with a 30″x20″ sheet of quarter inch plywood, injuring a finger. Today, I was cutting a 4′x4′ sheet of three-quarter inch plywood when I considered the possibility of kick-back and the kind of damage the thicker material could do and decided that having the splitter (which is part of the blade guard) in place would be a good idea….

After a break for dinner, I felt too tired to return to the workshop, which is a dangerous place if not in a state of total awareness, so I quit for the day.

Rating for the day: 1/4

Monday December 3

This was one of those days where I accomplished quite a bit without making much progress. The plumber came to take a look at the work I needed done. He pointed out that the drainage problem in the bathroom was not a result of me incorrectly installing the p-trap under the vanity, but was rather nothing more complex than a clog. He made it clear to me that he does not snake drains so I would have to do that myself before he could fix the leak at the junction of the ABS pipe and the galvanized pipe. (I had not wrapped the pipe threads well enough with Teflon tape, and figured that a pro could guarantee a proper connection). All the other work was straight forward, and his price was reasonable. He will do the work on Thursday.

After he left, I removed the vanity and uninstalled the ABS pipe and set about snaking out the galvanized pipe. Now, folks, I had snaked out my laundry drain a few years ago, and as disgusting as old lint can seem, it is not as repulsive as old hair. I pulled out enough hair to make a small toupee, so my drainage woes should be solved.

Home Depot got more of my money as I picked up a laundry tub and some other supplies.

Rating for the day: 2.5/4

Tuesday December 4

Part of today was taken up by my wife’s ultrasound and low-stress test. Everything is looking good and we now know with 99% certainty that we will be having a girl (oh boy!). As the rule goes, it is impossible to be in two places at the same time, and certainly there is no question which was the bigger priority. So nothing got done in the basement. I did make it to Home Depot to pick up an acrylic tile wall board and other supplies for the laundry room. The existing backsplash is badly damaged.

Rating for the day: 1.5/4 basement, 4/4 baby.

Wednesday December 5

Gave the laundry room a quick coat of paint. The walls are paneled and I had painted them just after moving in, but they were in serious need of freshening up. I also installed the new acrylic tile board by first attaching sheathing with tap-cons that reached through the existing wall to the block. I trimmed the tile board to size and adhered it in place. And I made a Home Depot run to pick up three of the six fourteen foot length base moldings needed for the family room.

Rating for the day: 2.5/4

Thursday December 6

Today was a planned day off from work. Unfortunately, the plumber had to cancel because his first job for the day took longer than he anticipated. I was not happy about the fact that he did not inform me about the cancellation until 2 hours after the appointment time. I spent those 2 hours waiting for him– I did not want to miss him if I happened to be out in the workshop. Note to plumbers: If you are running behind schedule, pick up the phone and give your next appointment an ETA.

I did make it over to Home Depot to pick up the rest of the moldings for the family room, hardly an accomplishment worth giving up a day’s pay for.

Rating for the day: 1/4 (and that is being generous).

Friday December 7

Today the plumber did show up within fifteen minutes of the time that he said he would. He went to work while I took some measurements for valances, etc. I remained nearby so I could lend a third hand if needed. He took about six hours to complete the work, so he really didn’t make a heck of a lot on the job. I did suffer a bit of sticker shock at the final total: materials cost a lot more than I had expected. The plumbing work was impeccable but this guy was far from neat and clean. I had a mess of ABS shavings and solder splatters to clean up which I spent the rest of the day cleaning up. I also caulked between the vanity counter top and the wall in the bathroom.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that one of the main support post for the side landing was severely rotted. It had been set in the concrete slab and was wicking up moisture for fifty years. Two 2×6′s sistered together were reduced to the equivalent of maybe a 2×2 or a 1×3. A co-worker experienced with this sort of structural renovation had offered to help me to replace this post with a steel jack-post. Today, I went to a building supply store to purchase the post.

Rating for the day: 2.5/4

Saturday December 8

I awakened to the sound of my co-worker knocking at the door. Actually, I awakened to the sound of my alarm going off, but kept hitting the snooze button. The knocking is what finally got me out of bed. Replacing the post took less than an hour, and I didn’t do much at all. When I say “we”, I probably mean “he”. We screwed a 2×4 to a location to act as a temporary support. Then we removed a large piece of the damaged post to where the wood was sound. We put the jack-post in place and adjusted it to the point that the it took the off of the temporary support. We then enjoyed some coffee and donuts after the job was done.

support post
New support post in place.

My wife and I ran a few errands in the afternoon– groceries and some Christmas shopping.

In the evening, down in the laundry room, I installed angle molding around the tile wall, moved the wiring for the washing machine to a more convenient location and stuffed some packing and siliconed around the laundry tub drain.

Rating for the day: basement 3/4; Christmas shopping 4/4

Sunday December 9

The laundry room is done. I painted the baseboard moldings and the door casing. I cleaned the washer and dryer and re-washed the floor. Everything is in place and fully functional. As I stepped back to admire my work, I noticed that I forgot to paint the frame around the window. I will have to re-visit this job later.

Out in the workshop, I tested my Veritas “Snug Plug” cutters on some scrap wood and test fit a few joints. The cabinet for the electrical service will be kept as simple as possible, but this is my first actual wood-working project so I am a tad apprehensive. It will be mostly held together with screws concealed by wood plugs.

Rating for the day: 2/4

Monday December 10

A half hour nap lasted three hours and even then I did not feel alert enough to operate the table saw. A lost day.

Rating for the day: 0/4

Tuesday December 11

Only worked for a couple of hours at place of employment; took rest of the day off. In the workshop, I constructed the cabinet for the electrical panel. This is my first woodworking project and boy, it shows. Maybe someday in the future after I hone my skills, I might build something prettier, but for now, ’twill suffice.

I assembled one of the three valances I need for the windows. I tried reaching a carpet supplier that had been recommended to me, but only connected with their voice mail. We may have to look elsewhere. We will be having the carpet professionally installed because it is a large area with three seams.

Rating for the day: 2.5/4

Wednesday December 12

My wife and I went to a flooring store (not the one I tried reaching yesterday) to select our carpet and arrange for installation. I was hoping for Thursday or Friday next week which would be hectic enough, but would be the last possible chance to have the carpet installed before Christmas. Well… as luck would have it, the only opening they had was for “Wednesday the 18th”– a bit more of a rush but I figured that it might be our only option at this point. We selected our carpet and the salesman came around to the house to take the measurements. Aside from the initial sticker shock (double the budget that I had planned), I was quite satisfied with our purchase decision.

Two problems reared their ugly heads. The stairs have an open side but there is no side overhang to wrap the carpet around. This would have to be modified. The second problem: the 18th is Tuesday, not Wednesday, and the installation was scheduled according to the date, not the day. Now, on top of everything else, I have to add extensions to the side of the stairs, and I have a deadline looming three days earlier than I originally hoped for.

I installed the one valance that I had ready and started adding 2×2 extensions to the side of the stairs for the carpet, but I found myself fading quickly.

Rating for the day: 2.5/4

Thursday December 13

Took the day off of work. In the area under the stairs, there was a built-in cupboard unit. I had considered modifying this area to house a built-in bookshelf. However, this structure had been supported by the old post and was now just hanging there. My simplest remedy now was to completely remove what was left and put up a stud wall, which would open up some more storage space accessed from the laundry room. I swore that I was finished with drywall, but apparently that is not the case. Even at this late date, plans change.

I removed the remnants of the old cupboard. With the help of my friend, I hung the cabinet that will cover the electrical panel. I cut and installed one of the other valances and finished adding the extensions on the side of the stairs.

I called my co-worker, the guy who helped install the jack-post, and he came over to estimate the materials for the ceiling, which we purchased at a building centre. Later, I made a Home Depot run to pick up the remaining ceiling tiles (we only purchased about a quarter of them at the other building centre), two sheets of drywall and some fresh compound. I built the stud wall to fit under the stairs, and roughed in some wiring for a new outlet. Fatigue set in before I could hang the drywall.

Rating for the day: 3/4

Friday December 14

Took the day off of work. Carpet is being delivered and installed in 4 days. With my friend’s help, I hung the drywall, which I later taped and applied the first coat of mud. He also helped me install a hardboard “skin” over the OSB we had earlier installed to conceal the ductwork. The hardboard will be a better surface for the textured wallpaper I plan to use for this edifice…. I assembled another valance and did some other minor but necessary tasks that are not significant enough to mention here.

In the past, I have worked on the basement in spurts. I would get a lot accomplished in a short period of time and then go for a couple of months where I wouldn’t feel like doing anything at all. I am currently in the latter stage of that cycle.

For the last couple of weeks, I have neglected a number of things. I have no clue where we stand financially, and will probably be in for a terrible shock once the credit card bills start rolling in. I am also in the worst physical condition of my life. If you cut me, I will bleed Coca-Cola. I have been attempting to stay alert through a prolonged sugar and caffeine rush. For meals, I have been opting for the convenience of fast food. I will have to lose about forty pounds once I finish the basement.

Rating for the day: 3/4

Saturday December 15; Sunday December 16

The first two days of a three day blitz where I worked around the clock to finish the drywall and painting.

  • Finished the other valances and hung and painted them (two coats primer, two top coats of semi-gloss.)
  • Installed the cat litter cubby box under the stairs and installed hardboard to enclose the rest of the lower steps.
  • Installed hardboard over the damaged areas of the upper walls beside the stairs, and the ceiling transition to the basement. I will be covering the hardboard with “Fiber-Decor.”
  • A few other transitional areas were finished off.
  • Took breaks only for meals and a five hour nap between Sunday and Monday morning.

Biggest disappointment was missing my nieces’ Christmas pageant, but I did get a lot of work done.

Rating for the day: 3/4

Monday December 17

Took the day off work. My co-worker came by and we started the suspended ceiling. Got most of the j-channel up, as well as one of the main tees and a few cross tees. His “one-day job” prediction proved to be overly optimistic.

I cut most of the base moldings for the basement, which I labeled and bundled to store in the garage. I moved much of the stuff stored in the new computer room out of the way, but will need help moving some of the larger items once part of the carpet is down.

Next, I picked up the garbage, tools and what-not to completely clear out the basement. Then I swept, vacuumed and washed the entire basement floor in the family room. [Important: read the Safety Note at the end of this post!]

Basement before the final cleaning blitz

During the blur of the last three days, I managed to finish all the painting (two top coats on surfaces that were already primed, and two coats of primer on surfaces to be covered with Fibre-Decor).

Clean, empty and ready for carpet.

Rating for the day: 3/4

Tuesday December 18

Another day off work. The carpet is here! Took them over nine hours to complete the job. What a transformation! Gone is the dirty dingy black adhesive covered concrete floor, and in its place is a wonderful, light neutral Berber carpet. The room is a lot brighter and warmer and, whoo hoo, we can now go downstairs without putting shoes on.

I am physically exhausted after the 3 day blitz and little more than 5 hours’ sleep in 72 hours. I have come to realize that the basement is not going to be “finished” per se, but at least it is usable. Now I can take a realistic pace to finish it off a bit at a time. We can move our computer equipment downstairs and start setting up the nursery, which was the reason for the final push.

Rating for the day: 4/4

Still to do:

Cut the remaining base molding (about 5 pieces), cut 2 more door casings, and casing trim for three windows. Paint the pieces with 2 coats of gloss paint, install patch and touch up. Some finishing trim in a couple of transition areas.

Wallpaper the duct covering, and install corner moldings.

Apply Fibre-Decor to a few areas, install all finishing trim.

Set up furnishings.

There is no rush or time limit on the rest of this work, which could probably be accomplished by another 3 day blitz. Instead will be finished gradually over the next couple of months.

Important Safety note: the black tile adhesive most likely contained asbestos (older black mastic usually does). I was completely ignorant of this fact. I had easily removed the old commercial tile earlier in the renovation (it just popped up with very little effort) and didn’t give a second thought to the black mastic left behind. The carpet guys didn’t say anything about it either when they installed the carpet. What you don’t know can hurt you. You may find the following thread on Bob Vila’s website helpful:

If you are looking for more information about the products recommended in that thread, you can find it at these links:



I would recommend buying directly from the manufacturer, but if you choose to buy on Amazon, you can help me out by using my affiliate link:

The Basement Renovation


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