The Snowball Effect in the Home Office

One of the features that attracted us to the house was the comfortably-sized computer room in the addition. All that was needed, we thought, was a coat of paint and a new carpet. I was preparing to paint when I noticed that the switch plate did not fit tightly against the wall. Well, one thing led to another and soon I had the room gutted. I believe the technical term for this is “project creep.”

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Complete gut to the studs.

It’s funny how a device box protruding about a quarter inch from the wall could lead to my first renovation in our new house and awaken me to the fact that our new house had a multitude of problems. My first plan was to simply replace the box with a shallow one, but I could not make sense of the wiring.  I could have (should have?) hired an professional electrician to figure it out, but I decided it would be more affordable to remove a section of drywall and trace the wires myself since I was going to be painting anyway.

drywall removed to expose wiring
Opening the wall to try to make sense of the wiring.

There were three junction points where power first came into the room: at the light switch, behind a blank plate above the switch, and at the thermostat for the electric baseboard heater. There are methods of tracing wires that don’t require demolition, but I wanted to see for myself exactly where the wires went. Besides, with the wall open, I could easily address the protruding device box, which was my reason for this minor demolition in the first place.

gap in vapor barrier not taped
The vapor barrier was too thin and the seams were not taped.

Insulation

Talk about opening a proverbial can of worms!  Behind the drywall was four mil vapor barrier with un-taped seams. Our building code requires 6 mil, though that may have changed after the previous owner built the addition. That still doesn’t excuse the gaps, however.  No doubt the rest of the addition was in the same state, but I could at least make sure that this room was done properly.  Thus I decided to take down all the drywall in the room, fix the wiring and insulation and put up the correct 6 mil barrier.

Once I removed the old materials, I got a good look at the framing. The exterior walls were 2×4 construction which only allowed for R-12 insulation. With the walls opened up, I had a real opportunity to add more insulation. I chose add horizontal 2×2 strapping with batts of R-12 fiberglass insulation carefully separated in half, allowing roughly another R-6 with a bit of a thermal break.

horizontal strapping
Horizontal strapping added to the exterior walls
insulation
More insulation added to increase R-value

Carpet and trim

The original floor covering in the office was carpet tiles which felt very institutional. We chose to replace the tiles with a Berber carpet with the pad attached which I could easily lay myself.

carpet tile
Original flooring and trim was done with carpet tile.

The baseboard molding was also comprised of the carpet tiles. We would replace that with…wait for it… oak trim. This was going to be our forever house, so the last thing we did not want to skimp on the materials.

My first attempt at coping the corner was a dismal failure.

failed coping joint
My failed attempt at coping.

Fortunately, I found corner blocks at Home Depot that made the job much easier.

corner block
Corner blocks made installation much easier.

The position of the doorway is evidence of the previous owner’s lack of planning.  There was no room for any kind of trim on the hinge side. I could have installed a smaller door and narrower casing to properly trim it out.

awkward door location
The awkward location of the office door made trimming difficult.

Window trim

The window was trimmed out with 1/2″ thick oak. The bottom sill overhangs the wall by about an inch, and extends at about an inch past the edge of the casing molding at the sides.

window trim
The oak framed window looks good despite my mistakes.

Unfortunately, I made a big mistake by installing the box frame in place one piece at a time instead of pre-building it to make sure it was square. And sure enough, it isn’t square– a defect that made installing the casing molding and measuring for blinds more difficult.  But once finished, most people won’t notice my questionable workmanship.

More problems….

A number of deficiencies in the addition became known to us during this project and in the months that followed. The addition is far from meeting the minimum code requirements. There is no access to the crawl space. The framing is only 2×4 with minimal insulation. The electrical work is a mess. The foundation for the addition is of questionable quality. Walls are not straight and the ceiling sags in places. Some problems we noticed when we first looked at the house.  Other problems should have been noted by the home inspector.  To address all these issues would take such extensive work that we resigned ourselves to the fact that the addition would have to be torn down and rebuilt properly at some point in the future. Therefore, the work I did in the home office will eventually end up in the landfill.

Project completed in 2003

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