Category Archives: Diary

Day-to-day stuff. Watch projects unfold in real time.

The DIY Shuffle

Looking back on 2016…

So we bought ourselves another house– one that was not butchered by a previous owner.  It may not be perfect but at least it’s structurally sound.  So you would think we would just move in, breathe a huge sigh of relief, and enjoy living in a house that is not a constant construction zone before diving into some home improvements.

Well, you would be wrong.

I wish you were right.  I really do.  But it turns out that I am a sick man.  I cannot look at a house– any house– without seeing flaws.  And apparently I cannot live in a house– any house– without turning at least half of it into a big DIY project.


It started at the first showing

The very first time we set foot in this house with our real estate agent, I criticized the closet in the master bedroom.  The closet was six and a half feet wide, but the opening was only four feet and was over to one side, leaving 2 feet of closet space behind a wall.

No problem, I said.  I can re-frame that door opening.

Yes.  I was already talking about renovating a house we had only set foot in less than ten minutes before.  Our agent was appalled.

I also said I wasn’t crazy about the popcorn ceiling in the master but noticing the glares from both by wife and the agent, I quickly added that I could live with it.

We walked through the rest of the house and we loved enough about it to put in an offer that night, knowing that there was going to be a lot of competition for this particular property.


It started the first day of ownership

The same day we got the keys to the house, I started demolition in the bedroom to re-frame the closet doorway.  We had a bridge loan, so we actually owned both houses at the same time for a week.  Our ambitious plan was to paint the bedrooms and the family room, plus do this little framing project in the master before we had to be out of our old house.

closet demolition
First week of home ownership and demolition of the closet begins

We both took vacation time so it’s not like we were completely delusional.

However, the master bedroom didn’t stop with the closet.  I ended up scraping the popcorn ceiling and taking up the laminate floor which had some unsightly damage in a highly visible high traffic area.  The room was in construction zone mode when we closed on our other house and had to move the rest of our stuff in.

We were already down a bedroom and we hadn’t done any painting at all.

And thus began…..


The DIY Shuffle

So, what exactly is the DIY Shuffle?

  1.  Moving (or shuffling) stuff from one area of the house to another in order to work on a project in the first area.
  2.   Jumping (or shuffling) from one project to another without finishing the first one.  Having multiple unfinished projects going at the same time.

Both of these definitions apply.

Our house is a four level back-split.  Living room, dining room and kitchen are on the main floor.  You go up half a dozen steps to three bedrooms and a bathroom.  You go down half a dozen steps to the family room and a bonus room, and then down another half dozen steps to the basement, which has another family room, plus a large laundry room and mechanical room (picture a traditional ranch style house split in the middle with half of it shifted up half a storey).

We plan to use the rooms thusly:

Upstairs:  Master bedroom, daughter’s bedroom and daughter’s study.  Downstairs: the bonus room becomes the guest room.  And the second family room in the basement will become my home office.


Moving day (January)

The master bedroom is a construction zone so we put our bedroom in the study and set up our daughter in her bedroom.  The guest room is used for temporary storage of stuff until we can find a place for it.   And my computer and desk go down in the office.  Wall hangings are stored temporarily in the office area.  A lot of our stuff is in self-storage.  My larger woodworking tools are in storage.  The rest of my tools are either in the garage or in the laundry room.


The flood waters cometh (February)

A sump pump failure and heavy rains.  Hundreds of gallons of water.  It was a mess.

flooded basement
Water, water, everywhere

We manage to move stuff out of the basement but we quickly run out of places to put it.  We have now spread clutter throughout the house.

The waterproofing gets done in July but the walls still need to be repaired and new flooring needs to be installed.

french drain waterproofing
Waterproofing the basement with a French drain system (July)

A place for everything and everything in its place?  Nope!


Electrical work (April)

We needed a new panel and I wanted the garage wired for my woodworking shop so we hired an electrician.  To give him room to work in the garage, I move some of the boxes of tools to the garden shed.


The in-laws are coming (June):  we need a guest room

The master bedroom is not finished, but is done enough that we can move our stuff from the study to the master.

We were still using the future guest room for storage downstairs.  Our daughter’s bedroom was bigger than her future study, so we decided to make her bedroom the temporary guest room and moved her bedroom into the study that we had just finished using as our temporary master bedroom.

Future guest room was being used for storage, dumping ground.


School starts in September

Okay… I want my daughter to have dedicated study space separate from her bedroom.  She is in the ninth grade this year so this is a priority.

The plan is to replace the door.  The bedroom doors are just basic hollow core slabs that are not in very good condition.  Whoever installed the flooring didn’t undercut the door frames, so the flooring just goes up to the frame instead of under, leaving unsightly gaps.  We will eventually replace each door and fix up the floor at the same time.

I have matching flooring and a new door to make everything right for the bedroom.  I pry up the poor fitting pieces of oak flooring in the doorway, but in the process, I damage a piece of the bamboo floor in the bedroom.  No problem.  There’s some leftover bamboo flooring stored in the basement.  One thing leads to another– long story short, let’s just blame it on some sloppy work with the circular saw– and I now have half a dozen boards to replace.

Yeah.  That’s right.  Six.

bamboo floor
Bamboo floor: one damaged board leads to another which leads to another….

Tired?  Frustrated?  Work getting sloppy as a result? Making stupid mistakes?  It’s time to quit for the day, right?  But no.  I will not admit defeat.  At least not until half a dozen boards are damaged.

When it comes time to replace the boards– I am well-rested– the first two fit perfectly.  I’m feeling pretty confident.  But the next board is less than about 1/16 of an inch too wide.  It won’t fit.  I try it in another spot.  Nope.  So I try another board.  Same result.  And another….  The DIY gods are having a good laugh at my expense

After much thought and discussion, we decide to take up the bamboo floor and replace it with a high quality laminate.  And by we, I mean my wife and I make the decision but I am the one who takes up the bamboo floor (and the half dozen or so staples for each board).  Not fun.  Not fun at all.

I’ve wasted a lot of time and I am way behind schedule.

Before I can install the laminate floor I need to drop this project and turn my attention to the guest room on the lower level because in about 6 weeks we are going to have a…


House Guest Invasion

Our niece and her husband visit us for a week around the Canadian Thanksgiving.  And so do my wife’s parents.  We needed to turn that bonus room into a guest room.

Did I mention the bonus room only had 3 walls?

As the Tragically Hip performed their farewell concert in August, I was probably the only Canadian not at the show or watching it on television.  Instead, I was framing a partition wall.

Stuff stored in the bonus room had to be sorted, put away, donated or tossed out.  We moved a lot of it to other areas of the house.

Anyone else could have finished the project in a couple weekends, but I’m lazy and I’m a procrastinator.

Anyway, when our guests arrived in October, I had just finished hanging the drywall.  I am talking about the same day.  I was a sweaty gypsum covered mess when they rolled up in our driveway.

We set up an AeroBed in the guest room for our niece and her husband.  The room was far from finished but at least they had some privacy.

guest room
The guest room in the morning. House guests arrived in the afternoon. Drywall was hung and the room was cleaned out in time before they arrived.

Meanwhile, the guest room upstairs (which will become our daughter’s bedroom) was still set up as a guest room for mom and dad-in-law, but now it had a bare sub-floor.  Not exactly five star accommodations, but it would have to do.

Despite the primitive conditions, it was a wonderful visit.



With my wife’s folks returning yet one more time at the end of the year I really wanted to have the guest room completely finished in time for Christmas.  That didn’t quite happen.  I did finish the drywall and painting and installed the trim.

guest room
The guest room is finished except for the ceiling.

The only thing left to do is to install a SnapClip ceiling.

King of the unfinished projects

(I read that on a t-shirt once and it applies here)

You may notice a recurring theme here.

Of all the projects I started since we moved in, I have completely finished none.  I still have to install trim in the master bedroom and the flooring in our daughter’s bedroom.   There is still some work to do in the guest room.  I painted one side of the family room but not the other and I have yet to do any work at all in the basement.

I have jumped from one project to another without finishing anything.  And I have shifted “stuff” from one area to another area to another area, and it seems like nothing has yet found its permanent home.

Meanwhile, if I am looking for a tool, it will either be in the basement, in the garage, in the tool shed or in one of our two storage units. ….  No wonder I can’t seem to get anything done.  I spend more time looking for my tools than I do actually working on the projects, or at least so it seems.

It’s all part of the DIY Shuffle….

Waiting on the HVAC guys

Monday was peaceful. Almost a little too peaceful considering that the HVAC guys were supposed to come back to wrap up their job. While the other construction was going on, they came and went at various times without saying anything. One minute their truck would be in the driveway.   But whenever I wanted to ask them a question, they would be gone. The erratic schedule didn’t matter much when the other contractors were on site and we didn’t have to be here. But now we do, so scheduling is becoming an issue.

The guy said he was going to be back on Monday to install the radiators in the basement.  Now I was under a bit of pressure to get some drywall up on the walls in the workroom and storage room. However, being my usual procrastinating self, I didn’t get around to it until Sunday night.  I had no Tuck Tape to repair the vapor barrier so it would have to wait until I could rush out to Home Depot first thing in the morning.  I made the necessary repairs and even hung a couple of the two foot high strips of drywall before I taking the kid to school. The HVAC guys never showed up.

On the one hand, I always appreciate a kick in the butt to get something done.  A deadline will do that.  And at least the basement is ready for the HVAC guys.  But their total lack of consideration for my time and schedule is frustrating.

Right now, we still aren’t using our air conditioning. I took the cover off the unit at the side of the house and hosed it out ready for action. But upstairs in the side attic, the switch for the air handler remains disconnected from when I re-routed the wiring. I will leave it to the HVAC guys to get everything in working order, something they won’t be able to do unless they actually return….

On a more positive note, I got the shelves and rod up in my daughter’s closet. Now, for the first time in 6 years, her clothes will be in her own closet instead of ours.

On a negative note, I may have to re-do her closet in a few years as I merely guessed at the installation height. Turns out, there are standards for the rod height– 68″ is typical for a single rod– and I am several inches below that. It will work out well for now (she can easily reach the hangers). After a couple more growth spurts, though, I may be doing a closet re-design. Or not. Either way, it’s not anything I need to worry about now and I can apply the lessons learned to the guest room closet.

The Major Renovation: The final week

The contractors have been absolutely clear that this will be the final full week of construction on our renovation project.  They will be starting another project on Monday.  If there are any loose ends on our project after Friday, they will return to tie them up in within the next couple of weeks.

I totally understand their desire to put this project behind them but at the same time their apparent impatience to move on feels personal.   My wife and I have a number of gripes that have been simmering just below the surface for a while now.  The contractor-client relationship is definitely precarious.

Update August 2013:  As I look back now, I totally understand the source of a lot of the frustration.  It is obvious now that the contractors were lining up other work and we were throwing off their schedule. There was an apparent lack of communication between the project manager and the contractors about the scope of our project.  There was also an unwillingness on the part of the contractors to listen to us and understand our expectations.  A one to two month job had morphed into three months.  No doubt other clients that they had lined up were getting frustrated as well, expecting their projects to start sooner.  It was a bad situation for everyone involved.

Day 55:  Painting, grouting and HVAC

Monday June 1

The contractors finished the hallways on the main floor and second floor, installed the tile at the back door and grouted the floor tile in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, the heating and cooling guys finished and tested the in-floor heat.  They also continued roughing in the pipes for the rads in the workroom and storage room.  That should take one more day.   Then, when I am ready, they will return to connect the rads in those two rooms.

With the drywall work finished, I can finally get the air conditioner ready for the season.  That will make it much more comfortable upstairs for when I finish the closets and connect the QuickPort jacks.  I just need to get off of my lazy butt.


Day 56:  Sump pump drainage

Tuesday June 2

There was yet another company helping out on our project.  The contractor arranged for a landscaping company to dig the trench for the sump pump drainage.  The machine they used is appropriately called a trencher.  It is basically a large chain saw that can cut a narrow four foot deep ditch.  ABS pipe runs from the sump pump, out through a hole in the foundation about 40 inches below grade and then transitions to larger perforated drainage pipe, commonly called “big O.”  Unfortunately, the trencher bit the dust after about 25 feet of the planned 50 foot length, so they did not finish today.

As an added bonus, we discovered the location of our septic leach field.   The machine sliced through 3 drainage tiles resulting but couplings to join a new length of big O to the old sections easily repaired the damage.

While this work was going on in the back yard, the contractors drilled a hole through the basement wall for the new pipe and prepped the rest of the plumbing inside.  And somewhere along the way, somebody found the time to apply a third coat of paint to the kitchen.

The HVAC contractors were also on site for part of the day, doing whatever it is they were doing.  I am certainly glad that I am not paying those guys by the hour because they sure seem to be taking their time.


Day 57: New basement window

Wednesday June 3

Our dishwasher was delivered in the morning to be installed whenever the contractors are ready.  The contractors grouted the tile in the hallway, installed the new sump pump and tied in the necessary plumbing.  And they also installed the new window in the basement.

The new window was no small project.  The previous owner (or the house mover or the company that had built the foundation) had installed a large picture window without properly supporting the structure above it. A couple of weeks ago he contractors fixed the framing inside with jack posts and angle iron.   Today, they installed a piece of angle iron as a lintel to support the bricks outside.

The old window was also installed at ground level and the ground sloped towards the house which had caused some water infiltration in the basement.  We could have installed a window well, but we would have had to modify the covered porch.  Regardless, the wood had deteriorated,  so we had to replace the window anyway.

The new window is smaller, and the contractors built the wall up so the window is now several inches off the ground.  Now I can build up the landscaping for proper drainage.


Granite counter tops

The granite counter tops were delivered and installed on Wednesday.  The installation took a couple of hours.  Afterwards. the installers took the time to educate my wife and me about the maintenance and care of the counter tops and offered to answer any questions that we may have had.  I am confident that we made the right decision to spend the extra money for granite as opposed to selecting a cheaper laminate top.  The granite is absolutely stunning.  I doubt I can throw around enough superlatives to properly convey how thrilled we are with how thrilled we are with the new kitchen.

granite counters
Granite counter tops installed.


Day 58:  Appliances and a new front door

Thursday June 4

The contractors installed our new front door and storm door.  Three months after starting this renovation, there is finally a change to the curb appeal of our house.  The new door lets in a lot of light, making the hallway feel open, bright and airy.

In the kitchen, they hooked up the plumbing for the sink and the dishwasher.    Once you live without a kitchen sink for a month, you realize just what a luxury it truly is.

I reversed the doors on the refrigerator before we moved it from it’s temporary spot in the family room to its new permanent home in the kitchen.   I then spent way too much time leveling and balancing it.

We can finally use the kitchen.   Just being able to do dishes in the kitchen sink is cause enough for celebration at this point.  Getting the refrigerator out of the family room and reclaiming that space is just gravy!

HVAC:  not quite finished just yet

Meanwhile, the HVAC guys “finished” their job– their words, not mine.   They still have to install a take-off for the AC vent in the bathroom.  They also have to drain the heating system to repair a leak in the line.  So they will be returning on Monday.

They want to install the baseboard rads in the workroom and storage room while they are here on Monday, rather than waiting until the fall as we had originally planned.  That means that I have to hang some drywall this weekend, not something I was planning to do yet.  But this way, the HVAC guys will be completely finished with our project on Monday.


Day 59: The renovation is (almost) complete

Friday June 5

One contractor put up the tile back splash in the kitchen while the other one installed aluminum capping around the basement window and front door.

There are still a few finishing touches remaining– some minor touch-ups, a piece of trim here and there, and they intend to take care of them when they return to install the front window.   While we are disappointed that the project isn’t 100% completed at this point, a break in the action will give our bank account a chance to recover.  It also gives me a little time to maybe take care of some things myself to save some money.  We’ll see if ambition prevails over laziness.

In retrospect, I could have done myself a lot of things myself to save money, but it wasn’t obvious until a couple of weeks ago just how badly we blew our budget.  At any rate, we have drained our finances so it’s not like we have much choice now but to roll up our sleeves and take care of some of the finishing touches ourselves.  Once the contractors return to install the front window, we want absolutely everything associated with the renovation to be completely finished by the time they leave.


This post contains content consolidated from 3 posts originally published June 2 – June 7, 2009

The Major Renovation: Life in a construction zone as we enter the home stretch

Four adults, one child and three dogs.  Under one roof.  In a house that is a still a construction zone.  In a perfect world, the work would have been done by now.  Alas, a perfect world this is not.

Day 50:  Finishing touches on the cabinets

Monday May 25

Still recovering from the 11-hour road trip, picked up our dog from the kennel in the morning.   She needed to be able to establish her dominance in her own domain as early as possible.  Meanwhile, the contractors installed the back door and the cabinetmaker was taking care of some finishing touches in the kitchen.  It was a hectic morning.

Besides installing shoe molding around the kitchen cabinets, the cabinetmaker also installed the re-worked linen cabinet in the bathroom.  Except for a little more tile work, the bathroom is now finished and we have tons of usable storage.  Best of all, we have now paid him in full, signalling an actual end to one of the phases of the renovation.

linen cabinet
The re-worked linen cabinet– downsized, reoriented, but still lots of useful storage space.

The other major accomplishment on Monday was the installation of a new back door.  Wood paneling completely covered the old door and did not let in any light. The back landing was dark and depressing.

One of the first projects I tackled as a do-it-yourselfer was installing a pre-hung exterior door so I had always assumed that I would eventually replace the back door myself.  After seeing experienced contractors take most of the day on this task, I am glad I left it to the pros.   Now our back landing is flooded with light from the laundry room and the new half-lite back door.

Day 51:  Electrical

Tuesday May 26

On Tuesday May 26, the contractors continued applying mud to the transition between the old and new walls.  It will take many more coats to blend everything together.  They also installed the new electrical subpanel in the basement.  Where we had a six space panel previously, we now have 24 spaces. This abundance of space means each kitchen plug is on its own circuit.  Not only does this exceed code, it also means we will probably never pop another breaker (something that happened with anger-inducing frequency in our old kitchen).  Plus we have plenty of room for future growth


Day 52: HVAC

Wednesday May 27

Two of the three contractors were on another job, leaving one guy to work alone applying additional coats of mud.  Meanwhile, the HVAC guys returned to finish installing the in-floor heat, which they roughed in at least a month ago.  They are also installing radiators in the laundry room and bedroom on the main floor, and in the bathroom, workroom and storage room in the basement.

The in-laws have started to settle in, and all the dogs get along okay.  Not bad considering everything that’s going on right now.


Day 53 and 54:  We’re in the Home stretch

Thursday May 28 and  Friday May29

The end is near, and by “end” I not only mean the end of this renovation but also the end of our savings.  On Thursday, the walls were primed and on Friday, the first top coats of paint were applied.  The tiles were cut and installed for the baseboard in the kitchen and other tiles cut ready to be installed for the baseboard in the hallway.  The washer and dryer have been moved to the laundry room giving us more storage in the family room.  The punch list is shrinking and the contractors hope to wrap up most of the work by the end of the first week of June.

empty piggy bank
Image: IOU in a piggy bank by Images_of_Money, on Flickr

And the end doesn’t come a moment too soon as our money is running out.  My plan to have some money left in the bank as “seed money” towards the addition and garage is a pipe dream.  We will be saving towards that project from a starting point of zero.

I did manage to get some cash flowing back our way on Thursday and Friday as I returned some unused materials but I also managed to spend most it on some new items.

At least we haven’t taken on any new debt, unless you count a “six months same as cash” purchase from Home Depot which I will pay off during the interest free period.  That’s something to be thankful for.


The punch list

We should be getting the counter top this week, which will allow the contractors to finish tiling the back splash and for us to finish moving into the kitchen.  Most of all, I’m looking forward to using our oven again, rather than relying on the grill or the microwave.

And I still have to install the shelves and rods in the closets upstairs.  I also want to replace the ivory switches and plugs with white ones to match the trim.  Plus I want to hook up the satellite in our bedroom and the guest room, which means the tedious job of wiring up the QuickPorts.  And we still have to shop for window coverings because one of these days, I’m going to forget to change clothes in the walk-in closet or bathroom.

Yes, the end is near, but for every major item we tick off of the punch list, another small item pops up.  But at least we will be getting relief from the constant out-flowing of money.


This post contains content consolidated from 2 posts originally published May 28 and June 1, 2009

The Major Renovation: Closets, cabinets and moving day

This is how the week of May 18 shaped up.

Day 45:  Victoria Day Holiday

Monday May 18

The contractors had let us know that they were going to be on another job over the holiday weekend and would not be returning to our project until Wednesday.  After the cabinet maker dropped off the upper cabinets.  I headed out to one of the big box stores (they are all a blur to me now) to purchase shelving for our closet.  Later, I assembled the Cubeicals for our daughter’s bedroom and we started moving a few things upstairs.


Day 46:  Upper cabinets in kitchen

Tuesday May 19

As expected, the contractors were still at their side job.

I was installing the shelving and storage towers in our closet when the town’s bylaw enforcement officer dropped by for a quick chat about the state of our front lawn.  One of the contractors usually parked his truck on the lawn, for convenient access to his tools.  It’s really hard to cut grass when there is a truck parked on it.   I didn’t have that excuse today and in fact, it was already on my “to-do” list.  But the visit by the officer was the kick in the butt that I needed to take a break from my work inside and get some fresh air.

The cabinet maker began installing the upper cabinets and discovered that he had made an error in measurement.  He would have to build another box to fill a 10 inch gap.  My wife and I decided on an open shelf, suitable for a few cookbooks.

kitchen cabinets
The upper cabinets have been installed.


Day 47:  Moving day

Wednesday May 20

The contractors were back on the job on Wednesday.  Their focus was to get the hallway ready to lay the tile on Thursday and Friday.  We were going to be heading down the highway to visit the in laws and would be out of their way on those days.  The tile would have the entire weekend to set up before we returned.  Because this was our last day before leaving, it was our last opportunity to move stuff from storage and get the bedrooms ready.

Next time I might consider another mover

We hired the same mover that we used to move the stuff from my Dad’s house into storage last year.  I figured that since they were the ones that crammed the stuff into the storage unit, they might as well be the ones to get it out.  We scheduled the move for 9:30.  They were an hour and a half late.  Had I known they were going to be late, I could have used that time to pick up our daughter’s new mattress.  That would have saved me about half an hour on the way home.

This was not my first negative experience with this mover.  When I moved from my apartment to my first house back in 1996, I had hired this same company.  It was a small move.   There was more than enough time to accomplish it before I had to be at work for the afternoon shift.  But they were running more than hour behind at that time, too. Rather than risk being late for work, I cancelled them and hired another company for the next day.   That company showed up on time and completed the move in 2 hours.  Unfortunately, they no longer appear to be in business.

The lengthy delay in the morning set the tone for the entire day.  There was simply too much to do and not enough time to do it and we had to run some other errands to get ready for our road trip on Thursday.  At the end of the day, the state of the house was far from perfect, although we managed to get the guest room in order and set up the new mattress in our daughter’s room.  Wednesday night marked the first night that our daughter slept in her own bed in her own room in this house since we first moved in six years ago.  I guess that in itself is a major milestone worth celebrating.

Cool angles in the kid’s room.


Day 48 and 49:  Work continues while we’re away

Thursday May 21- Friday May 22

The contractors continued working on our house while we were hundreds of miles away visiting my wife’s family.  We returned home Sunday night to find that the contractors had indeed laid the tile in the kitchen and in the hallway as planned.  Sunday marked the first night of a two month visit by my mother and father-in-law.

We had managed to keep the extent of the renovations a secret in order to surprise them.  Unfortunately, the extent of the construction still going on was also a surprise.  It’s hard to say at this point exactly how they felt about the whole chaotic nature of our house, though they seemed impressed.

tile floor
Tile floor in kitchen.


Kitchen tile looks good

Once again, it is my wife who deserves the credit for the color choice.  The tile works really well with the cabinets, and the bold wall color makes everything pop.  (The tile has not yet been grouted.  That will be one of the last things the contractors do on this renovation).

Progress in the hallway

The contractors had applied several coats of drywall compound in the hallway, to unitize the mix of new drywall with the old button board and plaster.

They also finished removing the heavy stucco on the ceilings going down to the back landing and down to the basement.


The transitions between the old wall and new drywall. Also, notice the smooth ceiling.  No more thick stucco.

So on Sunday night, while we gave the in-laws a tour of the renovation, we were also getting our first look at the latest developments.


This post contains content consolidated from 2 posts originally published May 2 and May 28, 2009.

The Major Renovation: The Upstairs Bedrooms

We have not used the second floor of our house since shortly after we moved in.  Within the first year, I had gutted it to the studs in order to replace the insulation.  In 2005, we hired a contractor to completely renovate this space.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t defined “completely.”  In 2007, we had the plumbing for the hot water heating system completely overhauled, and in order to run new pipes to the second floor, the plumber had to cut access holes in the floor.

Upstairs was a mess, but now it was finally going to be finished.  And with my wife’s parents coming in a couple of weeks to stay with us for a two months, time was of the essence.

DAY 40:  Work on the 2nd floor begins

Monday May 11

A lot was happening on Monday.  The contractors brought in a helper as they began working upstairs.  The helper busied himself patching the holes in the floor that the plumber had cut in 2007.   The contractors fixed the wall in the guest room that they damaged their first week here when they erected the supporting walls in the basement.  They also worked on fixing up the rest of the drywall, since the work of the contractor that had installed it several years ago was not up to their standards.  Things seem to be moving at a very fast pace now.

wall repair
Cleaning up some of the of the sloppy work done by the previous contractor.
wall repair
Repair to the wall in the guest room that had been extensively damaged by the structural work


Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the cabinet maker spent several hours installing the base cabinets that he delivered on Sunday.  We are now ready for the granite guys to do their thing.  The upper cabinets will go in next weekend.

base cabinets
The base cabinets for our new cherry kitchen.


While the contractors work, we shop

As all this was going on, my wife and I (sharing a rare day off together) headed out to shop for the hardware for the cabinets.  The supplier allowed us to borrow a few samples to see how they looked on the cabinets.  Although my wife and I were not in complete agreement, her choice does look fantastic.  I have learned that when it comes to most decorating decisions, my wife is usually right.  She is much better than I am at visualizing how things will look when they are finished.  I, on the other hand, am much more indecisive.

We also dropped by Home Depot, to pick up paint for the second floor bedrooms.  Our daughter has been very vocal about the color choices for her bedroom– the colors we chose four years ago just didn’t cut it with her.  She prefers blue instead of lavender walls, and wants a much darker pink than the pale shade we had chosen for the ceiling.  She’s seven, and I suspect her tastes will change again in a couple of years.  For now, we are going to stick with the existing colors.

While we were at Home Depot, we finally ordered our front door.  The last few times I have been in the store, it’s been impossible to find someone working around the windows and doors.  This time was no exception and it was about 20 minutes before we finally able to talk to an associate.

Our door is going to take about four weeks.  The contractors will finish the rest of the renovation long before then, so they will likely have to tie up the loose ends here after they start another project elsewhere.  On a positive note, a break of a couple of weeks will help us replenish our bank account


Day 41-43: Work on the second floor continues

Tuesday May 12 to Thursday May 14
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the three contractors fixed up the drywall (mud and primer), laid the bamboo floor, hung doors, installed trim and finished painting one of the rooms.  Was all of this work within my abilities as a DIYer?  Probably.  I did get a little overwhelmed when it came to patching the sub-floor, but as it turns out, even that wasn’t a difficult fix.  In fact, they did it exactly the same way I was planning to–  I never should have doubted myself.

However, had I finished upstairs a couple of years ago, I would have been wasting my efforts.   When the contractors repaired the structure in the basement and on the main floor, they caused a significant amount of movement to the structure on the second floor.  It is just as well that I had put everything on hold.

Could I have finished the second floor myself now?  Sure.  Could I have done it in a week?  Working alone?  Probably not.  I could have saved a few thousand dollars by doing it myself, but I would have never finished it in a week.  And there comes a time when one has to factor in how much one’s time is worth.

bamboo floor
The bamboo floor in our daughter’s room.
doors in guest room
The entry door and bi-fold closet door in the guest room.

So, what’s left now?

Here we are, in the “whatever week it is, I lost count” and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It just doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.  Here is the remaining work:

  • Install upper cabinets and hardware in kitchen
  • Lay tile in kitchen
  • Install granite counter tops
  • Lay tile in hallway
  • Finish drywall in main floor hallway
  • Finish plumbing in kitchen and basement
  • Connect in-floor heating, baseboard radiators, and rads in the basement (HVAC contractor)
  • Hang front and back doors
  • Finish stairs (carpet?)


DAY 44:  Upstairs (almost) finished

Friday May 15

Friday was the contractors’ 44th day working on our house and they finished the second floor bedrooms, except for a bit of trim in one closet.   We can now start moving things upstairs, and we will be calling a mover to get some of the large items out of storage.


Another weekend shopping spree


OCALOn Saturday, my wife, daughter and I headed out and spent another thousand bucks.

  • Hardware for the kitchen cabinets:  $150
  • Mattress and box spring for our daughter’s room:  $400
  • Audio tower for the television in our bedroom; Cubeicals” for our daughter’s bedroom:  $200
  • Closet supplies for second floor bedrooms:  $200
  • Shark steam mop for keeping our new floors clean:  $100

This rather expensive excursion lasted more than four hours and, considering our late start, was our only accomplishment for the day.


I had purchased two “Debbie Travis” closet towers at Canadian Tire while they were on sale for 40% off.  Rods were not included and had to be purchased separately (hence the purchase on Saturday).  I struggled a bit putting the first one together, mainly because I didn’t have a whole lot of room in which to work and because of a few quality issues with the product itself.  Pilot holes were drilled in the wrong place, shelf pegs were such a tight fit that they were difficult to move, and the instructions  probably could have offered a little more clarity.    I took way too long assembling the first tower, but was able to assemble the second one in about 15 minutes.

Another problem with the towers is their height.  They are only 73 inches high whereas most closet organizers are 80 inches high.  This becomes a big deal when it is time to install the hanging rods.  To hang a double row of rods only allows about 3 feet of hanging height for each one, which just isn’t practical.  We don’t want the top row of clothes dragging on the bottom rod, nor do we want our bottom row of clothes too close to the floor.  So I had to make changes to my planned closet configuration.  Gawd I hate this stuff….  Even as I write this, I am rethinking my all of my closet plans.

And the problems don’t end there.  The walls in the closet aren’t perfectly square and, because the contractors over-corrected when they jacked up the joist in the basement, the floor in the closet is not level.  In such a small these imperfections are amplified.  I will have to shim the closet organizers quite a bit to compensate for the floor.

It is now Monday.  Including today, there are only three days before we leave to pick up the in-laws.  That ain’t much time….


Budget?  What budget?

Before we started, we had a ballpark figure for the renovation and an approximate time of completion.  Of course, I knew at time that the estimates weren’t even close to being realistic, and I doubled both of them.  We have since surpassed my estimates.  Worse than that, I am beginning to worry that we will not have enough money to finish the project.  The one thing I keep telling myself, as I see my dream of a new garage slipping farther and farther into the future, is that we are at least paying for the renovation with money that we have.  We have not taken on any consumer debt, or added any amount to our mortgage.  That in and of itself is a relief.

This post contains content consolidated from 3 posts originally published between May 12 and May 18, 2009.


The Major Renovation: Good-bye to the old, dysfunctional kitchen

A month and a half into the major renovation,  the contractors now turned their attention to the kitchen.  We were finally going to get rid of the old, dysfunctional mess that was a paragon of bad design.  The old kitchen had issues…


Problems with the old kitchen

The original kitchen was small, no doubt about it, but until we used it for a while, we thought it was well laid out.  We were wrong.

cooking and prep
The cooking and prep area.

The cooking and preparation area was located on the dividing wall between the kitchen and living room.  The counter top was small and usually very cluttered, but it was still the best area, ergonomically, to prepare our food.  The doorway in the picture leads to the hallway.  With the wall filled in, this will be the new location for the stove.  The chimney was located behind the wall between the cabinets and hall doorway.

kitchen sink
The cleaning and storage area.

The dishwasher (in the foreground) was located in a peninsula, which seemed like a good idea.  However, this location proved to be very awkward for loading and unloading the dishwasher.  The glass door cabinets above the counter top were too low, rendering it useless as a work space.  Instead, this became the drop zone for dirty dishes.  Therefore, it was always cluttered.


sink and peninsula
Another view of the sink and peninsula.


But the deficiencies did not end with the general design.  The electrical was bad, the plumbing was bad, and the construction of the cabinets was bad.

The electrical problems in this house have been well-documented on this site.  The kitchen was originally on a single overloaded circuit, and that’s including the fridge, microwave, counter plugs and lighting.  I broke that circuit up as best I could by adding a pony panel and 6 separate circuits.  As a result, we lost use of one of the counter plugs, and the microwave still managed to pop the breaker on a fairly regular basis.  Finally, we will have a kitchen wired to code.

The plumbing under the sink was improper.  Although vented, the trap configuration negated the vent.  Actually, the vent was completely plugged.  I know little to nothing about plumbing, so I had always assumed the sink was sluggish to drain because of build-up in the pipes.  The issue was never serious enough for me to bother with, especially with the other priorities in the house.  I just figured that the problem would be solved when we remodeled the kitchen.  Fortunately that time has now come.

And fortunately the time has also come for new cabinets.  The old doors were just painted particle board slabs with unfinished edges.  And while we liked the color of the paint, it wasn’t very durable.  Any grease and splatters caused stains that could not be cleaned.  The new cherry cabinets will look incredible in comparison.


Day 31-32:  Demolition

Monday April 27- Tuesday April 28
Hammers and pry bars (not to mention the contractors) were given a workout on Monday and Tuesday as the old cabinets were ripped out of the kitchen and the ceiling and walls were stripped back to the joists and studs. There were no real surprises– no major structural defects or bad wiring to discover. This should be a straight forward remodel.

gutted kitchen
The mostly gutted kitchen (looking from the family room).  The doorway to the hall will be closed off.

With the kitchen gutted back to the studs, it is easy to get a feel for what the new space will look like.  You can see the outline of the peninsula on the floor above which the glass cabinets hung.  There was also an architectural detail above this spot that divided this space into two areas– the kitchen and the eating area.  That detail is now gone, and we are left with one big room for the kitchen.

gutted kitchen
The gutted kitchen, looking towards the family room.

In this picture, you see the archway to the family room addition.  You can also get a sense of the clutter we are living with in the family room!


Day 33

Wednesday April 29

Half of the work crew has headed to warmer climes for a week, leaving the other contractor on the job.  On Wednesday, he brought in a helper to assist with gutting the rest of the kitchen and starting the rough-in of the electrical.


Shopping for granite

Thursday April 30

The contractor was unable to work on Thursday so my wife and I spent part of the day looking at granite.  I think we have finalized our choice for the counter top.  Once the base cabinets are installed, the granite people will come and make the template.

Justifying the expense

I have mixed feelings about opting for granite over laminate, which would be much more affordable.  We are now stretching the budget.  Every dollar we spend now further delays the addition and garage.  But at the same time, we don’t want to stop short.  If we end up having to sell this house, granite would definitely be a positive selling point.  Laminate may deter some buyers.  And if we stay in this house (which is ideally what we are going to do until our daughter drags us off kicking and screaming to the nursing home), I don’t think I could be happy with a laminate counter top, no matter how nice, knowing that we could have had granite.

We’ve gone this far.  Why stop now?  The cost of granite represents only a small percentage of the overall cost of the renovation.


Day 34

Friday May 1

The contractor worked solo, finishing the electrical rough-in, installing insulation, and starting to hang the drywall.


Day 35-39:  Kitchen renovation continues

Monday May 4- Friday May 8

Only one contractor was on the job from Monday to Wednesday, but the kitchen renovation progressed at a steady pace.  The other contractor, refreshed from his week’s vacation, returned on Thursday, and by the end of the day Friday, we were ready for the base cabinets to be delivered.

The drywall was hung on Monday and Tuesday and the cement board went down on the floor on Wednesday.  Then the kitchen was primed (Thursday) and painted (Friday).  Not bad for a week’s work.

The newly drywalled kitchen with the hall doorway eliminated.

The weekend:  A little shopping and a little relaxing


On Saturday, I ventured out to Canadian Tire to pick up some closet organizers for the master closet (on sale, 40% off).  and an LCD television (also on sale) for the guest room.  Finding someone to open the locked cabinet for the TV took about an hour as the store was very busy and help was pretty scarce.  After that frustration, I decided to wait until later in the afternoon to go to Home Depot to pick up some QuickPorts and order our front door.

I guess my timing was also pretty bad at Home Depot, as there was nobody around the doors.  With my daughter in tow, and still feeling burnt out from my earlier trip to Canadian Tire I decided that I wasn’t going to waste any more time.  The door would wait.

On Sunday, the cabinet maker delivered the base cabinets, ready to be installed on Monday.  The granite people will be coming mid-week to measure for the counter tops and the upper cabinets will be ready to go in next weekend.

base cabinets
The base cabinets have been delivered.

The weather was beautiful and my wife and I spent quite a bit of time just sitting on the deck enjoying the view of our back yard.  It was the kind of day that reminded us of why we bought this house in the first place.  And with the house finally being fixed up, there wasn’t the underlying stress that we have felt other years.

back yard
The view of our back yard from our deck.


This post contains content consolidated from 3 posts originally published between May 5 and May 11, 2009.

The Major Renovation: Work in the Bedroom, Bathroom and Laundry Continues

The next few weeks were a flurry of activity as the contractors finished the bed, bath and laundry rooms, and we made plans for the next stage of the renovation:  the kitchen.

Day 19, 20, 21

Tuesday April 7 to Thursday April 9

The movers delivered the tub early Tuesday morning.  The contractors took it apart outside and brought it in, one piece at a time.  While one contractor worked at installing the tub, the other set about applying compound to the drywall.  The tub is beautiful but I am a bit disappointed.

Glaringly obvious is the lack of the back massage jets.  Remember, we ordered this tub through a member’s only showroom.  Their website clearly states that this particular tub includes the back jets, so I expected back jets.    However, I then took a look at the manufacturer’s website which states that the back jets, while standard with the <em>massage system</em> we ordered, are not available with the <em>tub model</em> we ordered.  Confusing, no?   Unfortunately, although I did a LOT of research, I somehow missed this fine print.

The bottom line:  we got what we bought.  Since we designed the bathroom around this particular tub, it was too late to make any changes now.

Another disappointment is the height of the shower unit, or lack thereof.   The contractor was unable to mount the shower head at the standard 78 inches.  Admittedly, at 6’2″, I am the only person in the family that is affected.  The shower in the original bathroom was also short, so I’m already used to this deficiency.   Still,  an upgrade would have been nice.  An important point to remember is that the interior dimensions are always going to be less than the exterior dimensions (obviously).

<em>[Update December 2012:  the height of the shower head is fine.  My complaint was largely based on the opinion of the contractor.  In actual use, there is no issue.]</em>

Despite these disappointments, I am still thrilled with the tub.  It really is a beautiful unit that will no doubt get a lot of use in the coming years.

By the end of Thursday, the contractors  finished hanging all the drywall and have applied three coats of compound.  They have also installed the cement board in the laundry room and bathroom ready for the tile.

In floor heat!

We got a price on in-floor heat for the tiled floors (the bathroom, hallway and kitchen).  The system is surprisingly affordable.   Radiators would be less money, but not by much, and having an in-floor system will definitely help the resale value of the house.

The system we are having installed is a “dry” or “below deck” system, where the tubing is attached to the underside of the sub-floor.  While not as good as a thin slab system where the tubing is installed on the sub-floor and covered with lightweight concrete or gypsum cement, it is less expensive and less messy.  Plus, there is no risk of damage to the tubes during future renovations if removal of the tile floors is desired.

Custom cabinets!

We got an estimate for custom made cherry cabinets for the kitchen that was perfectly in-line with what we were expecting.  We are really excited about this part of the renovation because the design of our current kitchen just doesn’t work well.

Even though we have tiles and counter tops already picked out, we will be going to a tile store with the architect to look at other options on Monday, so some of those choices may change.   We need to finalize these decisions quickly so the contractors can start laying the tile this week.

In fact, the project is now moving at a very fast pace.  Second-guessing is no longer an option– we will have to live with any decisions we make now.

Day 22:  Picking out kitchen materials

Monday April 13 (following the 3-day Easter weekend)

While the contractors sprayed and back-rolled the primer on all the drywall, we met with the architect at the local tile store.  Three things happened at the tile store:  we changed our tile choices, we picked out the bedroom flooring, and we are now seriously considering a different counter top surface.

The tile choice isn’t much different than what we had chosen at Home Depot.  The main difference is that we are going with just one tile in the hallway, bathroom and laundry room, whereas before, we had two tiles selected, with the bathroom differing from the rest.  Plus, “on sale” and “in stock” helped sway our decision.

For the bedroom floor, we are selected traditional oak hardwood flooring,   Some of the other options we were considering were not as durable and  Durability is good when there is a 50 pound black lab sharing the space.

The biggest development on Monday was that we are now considering spending more money and investing in granite counter tops for the kitchen.  The granite is at least twice the price of the laminate we had selected, but it will definitely affect resale value (whereas the lack of granite might deter some buyers).  We have gone with relatively high end fixtures in this renovation, so it makes sense to not stop short.  Our kitchen is relatively small in size, so the actual dollar amount for granite counters is not going to break the bank.

Day 23:  Painting

Tuesday April 14

The contractors spent the entire day painting.  Once again, my wife has proven herself to be a woman of good taste (this in spite of the fact that she is married to me).  Her color selection is excellent!

Day 24 and 25:  Flooring

Wednesday and Thursday April 15-16

Floors! The contractors installed the tile and wood floors have been installed.  They had other commitments on Friday, The grout would wait until Monday, giving the floors a chance to set up over the weekend.

bathroom floor tile
The tile has been installed in the bathroom, laundry and hallway.


Kitchen cabinet production starts

We met with the cabinet maker on Friday to give him the down payment so he could start making sawdust.  We have chosen natural cherry with a Mission-style door– simple, clean lines, light colored wood– that will give our kitchen a touch of elegance and class.  I’m just happy to get rid of the 1/2 inch particle board slab doors with unfinished edges that we have now.

The cabinet maker came by to take some measurements on Thursday, and in his conversation with the contractors, it was revealed that the gutting of our current kitchen could take place as soon as the end of next week.

The bottom cabinets will be finished first, so the granite guys (if we go with granite) can make their template and get started on the counters as soon as possible.  However, it is beginning to look doubtful that the project will be finished in time for the in-laws’ visit.

Day 26: Fixtures and doors

Monday April 20

The contractors picked up the replacement vanity early in the morning and installed it today.   They also hung the doors and installed plugs and lights  The vanity looks amazing.   The tile looks amazing with the vanity.   Everything is coming together.  Well, almost everything.

Linen cabinet disappointment

The bathroom was designed around the specific dimensions of the matching linen cabinet that we had ordered.  Unfortunately, those dimensions did not account for the crown molding which does not quite fit within the space.  Simply put, the cabinet just looked out of place.

Enter the cabinet maker

What’s another cabinet when you’re doing a whole kitchen?  The cabinet maker will modify the linen tower once he is finished the kitchen cabinets.

Pictures pictures pictures

You can really get a sense of how things are coming together.

Day 27: Trim

Tuesday April 21

The contractors are installing trim.  There’s a lot of trim.  But getting to this point means we will likely be finished this phase of the renovation by the end of the week.  It has now been 6 weeks since we stated.

The toilet base has been installed, the baseboard trim has all been nailed up, and the tile has been grouted. There are just a few finishing touches left before we can move into the new bedroom.

Last night, after the contractors left, I took my shoes off and walked into the brand new master bedroom. It’s hard to believe that it is the same space that was once occupied by two horrendous little bathrooms. It looks and feels like a brand new house (which I guess it is, really). We certainly have come a long way in a month and a half….

Day 29 and 30:  Finishing touches

Thursday April 23 and Friday April 24

The contractors took care of the final touch-ups in the bedroom and bathroom.  We are still waiting on the customized linen cabinet in the bathroom.  I intend to install some closet organizers in the walk-in closet myself.  But for all intents and purposes this phase of construction is complete.

Our seven year old daughter had the honors of taking the first bath in the massage tub on Thursday.  My wife followed on Friday, and I finally had my turn on Saturday.  Wonderful!

Also on Thursday, the contractors dealt with what we hope will be the final major structural repair in the basement.  The previous owner had installed an oversize window in the basement without a proper header inside to support the framing and without a proper lintel outside to support the bricks.   A piece of angle iron and a couple of jack posts now supports the structure inside.  We are waiting on a new window, and when that gets installed, so will the lintel outside.

I cost me more money…

There was a marked lack of progress on Friday and it was my own fault.

Clearing out the kitchen took much longer than I anticipated, and I had to make multiple trips to the supermarket to get more boxes (our supermarket places empty boxes at the front front of the store for customers to take/use).   We should have cleared out the kitchen by Thursday night.

While we were moving our kitchen stuff, the contractors busied themselves with cleaning up the basement.  That was something I should have done myself long before now.  But I’m used to maneuvering around the mess, the contractors are not, nor should they have to.  Still, it would have been nice if they had put me on notice that they would clean the basement if I didn’t.   It certainly wasn’t worth the amount of money I was paying them.

But then, what else were they going to do while waiting for us to clear out the kitchen cabinets?

A few pictures of the current state of the front hall.

The kitchen is next…

Over the weekend, we busied ourselves with getting the rest of the stuff out of the kitchen as well as moving some of the stuff from the living room into the bedroom.  We temporarily set our daughter up in the new laundry room, which is just barely big enough for a twin size bed and a small dresser.  Meanwhile, our family room is overflowing with stuff.

The stress finally takes its toll

On Sunday, as I was moving our “stuff” around, trying to find room for it and maintain room for ourselves, I reached my breaking point.  A happy camper I was not.  We have a ridiculous amount of “stuff,” much of which could possibly be classified as “crap” and “junk.”  When we actually start moving into our permanent rooms, there will be a lot of purging.  But that is a couple of weeks away.  In the mean time, we have to live in a very crowded family room.  Frankly, I don’t know how much more of this I can take without completely snapping….


This post contains content consolidated from 5 posts originally published between April 11 and April 27, 2009.

The Major Renovation: An unnecessarily expensive day

Day 18:  April 6 2009

It would have been funnier if it wasn’t costing us so much money.

The tub and surround

On Monday, the contractor and I went to that members-only showroom to pick up the tub-shower which had finally arrived on Friday.  We assumed that it would fit in the back of his truck.  We were wrong.

Even though it is a three piece unit, it was assembled for shipping.  We could have disassembled it, but that would have increased the chances of damage during the ride home.  The warehouse guy told us that other customers use pickup trucks to transport these sort of things but neither of us knew anyone with a pickup truck that we could call on short notice.

We could only think of one other option:  call a mover.  I figured that the mover’s insurance would cover any damages that might occur during transport.

The bathroom cabinets

Not to waste the trip, we decided to pick up the bathroom cabinets which had been delivered to the nearby Home Depot about a week or two ago. The forklift driver brought the cabinets from the back and we gave it a quick once-over.  Everything seemed fine so it was loaded into the truck.

Back at the house, the contractor backed his truck up on the lawn as he had done many times throughout this renovation in order to save steps to the front door.  The first thing the other contractor noticed when we swung the doors open was that there was a hole in the box.  Closer inspection revealed some serious damage (think:  shattered) to the front corner of the vanity.  This side of the box had been against the back of the forklift, so it was not visible when I did a quick inspection of the boxes at the store.

After making a phone call, Home Depot agreed to accept the return.  No problem.  The contractor would take care of the return for me, but he had to be back at the store by 5.  He tried to leave around 4:30, but our front yard refused to let go of the truck, thanks to the significant amount of rain that we had had over the past couple of days.  A tow truck eventually had to be called and he was finally on his way home after 5:30.  The trip to Home Depot would have to wait until Tuesday morning.

nicubunu_MoneyThe costs

Let’s take a look at what today cost us

  • Contractor’s labor rate times 1.5 hours for the trip to pick up the tub.
  • Contractor’s labor rate times 2 hours at Home Depot.   We waited a long time for Speedy Gonzales (or rather, Slowpoke Rodriguez) to retrieve the cabinets.
  • Loss of time on the actual job, prolonging the length of the project.
  • Shipping charge for hiring the mover (about $140)
  • Tow truck was free (auto club) but there is significant damage to the lawn which will require quite a bit of top soil and seed when the weather clears.

How we could have saved our money

  • We could have purchased the tub unit from a local retailer.  In all likelihood, they would have arranged delivery.
  • I should have confirmed the size of the unit before going to pick it up.  We would have known that it wouldn’t fit in the contractor’s truck without wasting a couple of hours.
  • Instead of hiring a mover, I could have rented a U-Haul truck, even though it would have been riskier.
  • We could have called Home Depot ahead of time.  They could have pulled the stock from the back before we got there.
  • After the forklift placed the cabinets in the truck, we should have taken another look at the box.  Had we done that, we would have discovered the damage while still at Home Depot.
  • We probably should have known the ground was too soft for the contractor to park his truck on the lawn that day.
Update:  I never did patch the ruts left in the lawn.  Later that summer, I would step in one of the ruts and hyper-extend my knee, tearing the meniscus.  After a couple of years of pain, I had surgery which required time off work.  Let’s add that into the equation…

The bottom line:  we always worry about the unforeseen complications that can derail a renovation budget.  But the smaller expenses can really add up.   Planning ahead can help mitigate some of those expenses.


The Major Renovation: Bedroom, Bathroom and Laundry

With the new bathroom fully functional in the basement, it was time to start the major renovation on the main floor.   The next two weeks focused on the hidden things that nobody will see, but that are crucial to a successful renovation.

The contractors spent Wednesday March 18 finishing up at another job, giving us an extra day to clear out the bedroom, bathroom and closets.  Sure, this may sound like a simple task, but we are running out of places to put stuff.

Day 6:  Demolition

Thursday March 19

The breaking begins.  (Note:  I am numbering the days that the contractors are doing work at our property.  Weekends and days spent at other projects don’t count).

There were no real surprises with the electrical. I had already disconnected everything from the basement, and I already knew about the one hidden junction point that I could see under the floor upstairs. The biggest surprise came from the ceiling.

We were aware that the previous owner had removed a supporting wall.  We also knew that the ceiling had been lowered to hide the top plate of that wall (again, this was something that could be seen under the floor upstairs once some floorboards were taken out). But when we removed the drywall we exposed a bizarre framework that defied logic.

When the previous owner removed the supporting wall, he did not remove the top plate.  One would assume that the reason for lowering the ceiling was to hide the top plate.  To accomplish this, he nailed two by fours around the perimeter of the room below the top plate.  The new ceiling was at least 7 or 8 inches beneath the old ceiling, so the previous owner had enough room to beef up the structure had he chosen to do so. Instead, he installed a framework of 2x4s that did nothing more than support the new drywall ceiling.

The first ceiling came down easily enough, but the original ceiling was plaster over gypsum and was much heavier and more difficult to remove.

Once we gutted the room, it was easy to see just how much everything had sagged due to the removal of the load-bearing wall.

sagging top plate
The top plate had sagged significantly due to the previous owner removing the load bearing studs.

Day 7: Demolition continues

Friday March 20

The contractors completely gutted the main floor bathroom.  Again, there were no real surprises, except for some water that had seeped under the floor tiles.  I also got some validation.  The repair that I had done to the bathroom wall using Barker Tileboard in the tub/shower had stood the test of time (well, at least for the few years since I did it).  No water had penetrated the area that I had fixed.  It’s almost like I know what I’m doing, sometimes.

Day 8:  Replacing Structure

Monday March 23

After two days of destruction, not to mention the six years of my own de-construction, the house is finally being put back together.  Not only have we erased the massive mistakes of the previous owner (at least in this area of the house), but the structure is better and stronger than it ever was.  Hiring professional contractors is really paying huge dividends.

Load bearing structure, re-engineered

To quickly review:  In the span of the space that was once two bedrooms with a bathroom in between, there were two load bearing walls– the walls of the original bathroom.  The previous owner removed one of those walls to expand the bedroom.

The simplest solution, and the one that I would have considered as a DIYer, is to replace the structure  by rebuilding the wall or by installing a beam where the wall had been.  The problem is that this solution was not compatible with our design.  Notice how I phrased this– it was the solution not compatible with the design, not the other way around.

The solution used in our renovation is a little more creative.  A load bearing  steel beam has been installed several feet away from the original location, and the other stud wall has been reinforced with new studs that bring the joists up to level.  Brand new joists have been installed to span between the two load-bearing structures, effectively making the old floor joists in this span obsolete.

The stud wall had been compromised when the previous owner cut it to run the plumbing vent stack and put in a doorway to the ensuite bathroom.  Now, in this renovation, more of it was removed and replaced with a header,  to create an “L” which becomes part of the new bedroom, serving as a dressing area with doorways to the walk-in closet and the main bathroom.

In the bedroom area, at least, we have erased the handiwork of the previous owner.  I would love to show him what we had to do in order to fix his mistakes, but what purpose would that serve?

I wonder how many house flippers have made similar mistakes….

Day 9-10: Laundry access, more framing

Tuesday March 24- Wednesday March 25

The contractors punched a hole in the wall for the entrance to the laundry room off the back landing.


opening in wall for new doorway
The wall is opened up for the new steps to the laundry room.

The wall sat upon a block wall in the basement.  They built a small structure in the basement to support the floor joists that had to be cut back for the steps and therefore would no longer be supported by the block wall.  With the new support in place, they knocked out the block wall cut the floor and installed new steps.

New steps from landing to laundry room.

The laundry room is now accessible two ways:  from the master bedroom closet and from the back landing.

Also on these two days, most of the framing went up and the new rooms started taking shape.  Additionally, the contractors nailed 2×2′s on all the exterior wall studs to accommodate R-20 insulation.


With the skeleton in place, it is easy to see how the space works.  It is one thing to see a plan on paper, but it doesn’t compare to being able to physically walk through the space.

Day 11

Thursday March 26

The hole in the old ensuite bathroom floor has finally been patched.  Where the jacuzzi tub was sunk in the floor is now solid and level.  The contractors also installed the plumbing for the new bathroom.


Day 12:  Yet more demolition

Friday March 27

A few years ago, the contractor we hired to work upstairs had removed the chimney to just below the level of the second floor.  That left approximately another 16 feet or so to go.  Well… today it went.  With surgical precision.  Yes, apparently surgical precision is possible with a sledgehammer.   Only one wall was opened up to gain access to the chimney and no other wall was damaged during the demolition.

It’s a miracle this house never burned down

When the contractors stripped the hallway ceiling, we became aware of the fact that there was inadequate support for the hallway above the stairs– just a couple of 2 x 4s.  This was a relatively easy fix:  insert a piece of angle iron to support the structure.   Today, in preparation for the repair, the wood trim– a piece of 1×4 stained pine– on the underside of the 2×4′s was removed revealing 2 surprises.

The first surprise was the markings on the underside of the 2×4′s indicated the locations for studs.  This means that there was originally a wall here, and the stairs were added later.

The second surprise was the fact that this house never burned down.   Not only was there electrical wiring tucked up between the trim and the 2×4′s, but there was also a junction point hidden here.  Check this out:

exposed wiring
Yet another example of how not to do wiring. (looking up)

And this wasn’t the only one….  In another area, under similar circumstances was another wire with a similar junction point.  In that case, the wires were just twisted together and taped.

The first example, the one in the picture, was part of a circuit that I had disconnected a few years ago.    The second example– the somewhat more dangerous one– had been live up until two weeks ago when I killed the circuit for the renovation.  Yikes.

Day 13: More Structure

Monday March 30

Another area where there was insufficient structural support was in the basement.  The main support beam stopped at the chimney.  Between the chimney and the other supporting wall, there was a doorway to the boiler room which did not have a proper header, and the stairs going up to the main floor.

Now with the chimney out of the way, the support beam could now be continued to the stairs.  A 2 x 6 stud wall supports the new section of beam, and joins it to the existing beam.  And the new doorway to the boiler room has a proper header.

support beam
The new section of the main support beam, supported by a 2×6 stud wall.


Day 14: Wiring heating duct work

Tuesday March 31

As the contractors roughed in most of the electrical wiring, and the HVAC contractors re-routed heating lines and air conditioning duct work, I roughed in the communications wiring.  That’s five of us working in the same area of the house trying not to trip over each other.  Somehow, we managed to stay out of each other’s way.

Phone_LineThis is how things break down:

Electrical: The laundry room has  separate circuits for the washer and dryer.   The overhead light and 2 plugs are on a 20 amp circuit.   An Arc Fault Interrupter protects the circuit for the bedroom plugs and a hallway plug.  The bathroom takes up another circuit, with yet another one to be added for the massage tub.  The lights make extensive use of three-way switching, so that each light can be controlled from a couple of locations in each room.

Communications: Just as in my daughter’s room upstairs, I wanted to keep the potential layout of the master bedroom as flexible as possible.  This meant running two Cat5e and two RG6 coax cables to three locations in the room.  That’s another dozen wires terminating at the hub in the basement.  That’s also a lot of tedious work with Quick Ports in the future.

HVAC:  With the steps to the laundry room now in place, the HVAC contractors were able to re-connect the hot water lines for the heat.  They also ran the duct work to the new rooms, so we will have air conditioning in the bedroom, bathroom and laundry.

With all the rough-ins complete, we are ready for the insulation and drywall which arrived this morning.

Day 15,16,17: Insulation and drywall

Wednesday April 1- Friday April 3

The insulation was put in place on Wednesday and most of the drywall was hung on Thursday and Friday.  We  are still waiting on the tub shower unit, which is delaying the bathroom.  But everything is coming together and looks fantastic.  Unlike professional sheet-rockers that we’ve seen on home improvement shows, these guys worked at a somewhat slower pace– probably not much faster than my speed.   However, my back is thankful that someone else is doing this heavy work.

Drywall: View from the master bedroom to the dressing area.



Kitchen plans are now in hand

We now have the plans for the kitchen.  The architect and his staff had tossed around a lot of ideas, from closing off walls to removing walls so we really had no idea what to expect from the first set of drawings.  We received the drawings  on Wednesday and I don’t think there will be any need to revise them at all.   We are going to close off one doorway to create a fully functional U-shaped kitchen with loads of storage and counter space.

My wife and I  came to quick agreement about the style and stain we wanted, and we had already picked out a floor tile.  The only thing left was to choose our counter top and backsplash.  Today, we visited a local granite supplier with the architect and chose our counter. Now we just have to get an estimate for the custom-made cabinets.

This post contains content consolidated from seven posts originally published between March 20 and April 5, 2009