The Snowball Effect in the Home Office

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 the room was gutted.

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 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.

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.

Talk about opening a proverbial can of worms!  Behind the drywall was four mil vapor barrier with seams that were not taped. 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.

With the old materials removed, I had a good look at how the addition was framed. 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.

carpet tiles
The original flooring and base trim was done with carpet tile.

The original floor covering in the office was carpet tiles which had a very institutional feel to them. We chose to replace the tiles with a Berber carpet with the pad attached. 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 wanted to do was skimp on the materials.


My first attempt at coping the corner was a dismal failure. Fortunately, corner blocks I found at Home Depot made the job 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.

office door
The awkward location of the office door made trimming difficult.
oak window trim.
The oak framed window looks good despite my mistakes.

The window was trimmed out with 1/2″ thick oak.  The sides and top were cut to be flush with the drywall. The bottom sill was cut to overhang by about an inch, with the side wings each extending about an inch past the edge of the casing molding.

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.

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 computer room is not permanent.

Project completed in 2003