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Summer Heat and Home Warranties

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The guy who flipped our house was an HVAC guy by trade. I may have mentioned that in an earlier post. He did some of the major things to the house that allowed us to buy it and do our own renovations, like adding a master bathroom and washroom. He did the roof, installed a basement bathroom, and installed a new furnace, all big ticket items. He also installed an air conditioner. The house has never had an AC. We’ve talked to the previous owners and they put a swamp cooler in the window and convinced themselves the cement block walls kept the house cool.

Last week was the first taste of summer heat and let me tell you, the walls keep the heat in! Excited that we had a brand new AC, I flipped the switch. A fan came one and air started blowing from the vents. I checked the filter. It was nasty with construction dust. Of course he chose a furnace with a non standard filter size, so after failed attempts at multiple stores we bought a replacement online. Then we noticed. The air blowing from the vents was not cold. It wasn’t hot, but it certainly was not cold.

I went outside and found the compressor to be silent and the fan still. I checked that everything was plugged in and everything had power. No dice. Luckily we asked for a home warranty when we bought the house. I submitted a claim. This was Friday evening, so of course I would not hear back from the assigned contractor until Monday. We endured the heat with fans in the window, not falling asleep until after midnight when it finally cooled enough. Monday I called the contractor when I hadn’t heard from them by early afternoon. Lo and behold, the were slammed. Everyone waits to get their unit serviced until it gets hot.

Well my unit is brand spankin’ new! I didn’t see any reason for it to get serviced. It should work perfectly! We can fit you in next Monday! Yikes! Well, if that’s the earliest you’ve got, then we will wait. We looked at the forecast. It was going to be hot all week and then cool off significantly next Monday. Of course!

Thursday rolls around and I am texting with my mom. We have a portable AC in our basement. You should just grab that. Wait, what??? How did I not know this? I’ve seen it sitting there in the closet multiple times, but it never registered. You mean I had been suffering all week for nothing? Of course we went and grabbed it.

Monday came and the AC guy showed up an hour and a half late. That’s not a big deal other than I didn’t have to leave work so early. He looks everything over and determined the wire leading out to the condenser was old and brittle. The flipper installed a brand new AC and used old wire. Figures. He replaced the wire, which was covered under the warranty and we were good to go. Just in time for summer.

The Endless Bathroom Project

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Yes, we are still working on the master bathroom. I know I know, it has been months. You don’t have to tell me about six people sharing one shower. But life happens. Despite life, progress is being made, visible progress. I was very concerned about doing the shower correctly. The last thing I want after this major project is to have a leak in the shower.

I met with delay after delay trying to complete the shower. First off, we bought the shower head/faucet kit online. We really liked the style and it was a good price. Once it arrived and I tried the pieces I realized I had not really read the description carefully. The threads were all European. To be honest, even if I had, I would not have understood the implications since this is my first time buy European fixtures. I found an adapter online, but it did not fit quite right and leaked. So I went to all of my local plumbing stores to include the big box stores and found no one carries the adapter. In one store, the guy said he gets the question quite a bit, and mostly from people who bought fixtures at Ikea. Doesn’t Ikea sell the adapters since they know everyone will have to get them? Surprisingly no. He said to try online, so I went back online and found a different brand. Thankfully these worked.

Off to the races I thought naively. I started to put everything together and the piece I bought the adapter for had a hole in it. Really??!! I contacted the seller, a little wary because I knew it was a Chinese company. But they were great. They responded right away and sent me a new pair at no charge. Of course, this caused yet another delay.

During the waiting period I completed the pre-slope, liner, and poured the pan. I used a quick slope guide to help make sure I got it right and then it was just about taking the time to get the mix right and the slope smooth. I installed the bottom row of cement board walls. I kept them about an inche off of the floor and then the pan essentially cemented the bottom edge of the boards in so there is no give. You can’t screw them in lower than about 8 inches from the bottom so the pan serves as the bottom screws if you will.

Once I got the parts in I could complete the remaining rows of cement board and install the faucet. The ceiling board was a pain but with my dad’s help we got it up. There just wasn’t much room for two people with ladders to be in the shower. It’s big, but not that big. Then it was time to tape and mud all of the seams with thinset and cement board tape.

Now remember, while this is happening, we are working on the yard, installing wainscoting, and living life. Some days we are too tired to do anything. The next step was to waterproof the shower from the outside. For this I used Red Guard a paint on membrane. Make sure you have good ventilation if you are going to use this product! It rolls on super easy and you know it is dry when it changes color. We did find we needed another bucket. The cement board really sucked it up. But the end result is a waterproof shower and peace of mind.

Time to tile the shower you ask? Why no. The shower is already to be tiled, but that will not happen yet. I wanted to prep it first however, because I ran the Red Guard out onto the floor. The next step was wiring the in floor heating and setting it out. This did not take to long, but I faced another delay. I blew a fuse in my multi-meter doing something else, so I had to get that fixed or replaced. I found I could buy 100 replacement fuses, or for a few dollars more just buy a replacement. Why did Radio Shack have to go out of business. It would have made life so much easier. But this added another delay of a few days. Once that was received, I could check the voltage and proceed with encasing the element in thin-set.

And finally it was time to dust off the boxes of tile we purchased way back when we started this project. I spent last night dry fitting the entire floor. The are sheets of small hex tiles, so I didn’t need to cut the actual tiles, but had to cut around plumbing and vents. This took the entire evening, but will make installation tonight much easier. What will we do with an actual floor? It has been plywood for so long!

I’ll update you on the floor and shower as they are finished. Whenever people ask how our project is coming along, I always answer, “slowly but surely.” The shower and floor are great evidence of that!

Pulled Every Which Way But Up

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We got the house ready for move in. That was the goal. It happened. But did that allow us to become more efficient and get more done? One would think so. After all, we don’t have to commute back and forth everyday. But the truth, I must say, is a bit more complicated. Living in the home requires that we unpack boxes and move furniture. Living requires that things are comfortable and not covered in dust. Living in the house has been great, don’t get me wrong. We love the location and the house’s potential but it has been hard to focus on the original project, the master bathroom.

Yesterday it was irrigation. We have two water shares with the house. For anyone who lives out west, you know what I’m talking about. For city folk, or easterners, you may not understand. Out west water is gold and that gold is used to irrigate crops, water animals, grow gardens, and survive. There are families who still don’t speak to each other after generations because of old water disputes. It’s a big deal. We were lucky to get two shares with the property. The previous owner ran pipe to every shed and outbuilding so the property is set. The problem is the water company never informed us which day they were going to turn the water on. So I got home yesterday, with full intentions of doing the pre-slope in the shower, but instead was faced with a flooding pasture and bubbling driveway. The pipe at the back of the pasture was left open for the winter to let the water drain, but the plug was nowhere to be found. And the guy who flipped the house and put in the nice concrete sidewalk and stairs just cut the PVC pipe leading to the flower beds against the house and capped it with duct tape. Yes, duct tape! So instead of mixing mud in the bathroom, I had to head down to the local Ace to buy PVC parts and get the system fixed.

On a previous day I spent the evening installing a TV antenna in the attic and adjusting it to find a signal. We happen to live at just the wrong angle to get the majority of signals. There’s a pesky little mountain in the way. Five miles further north and we would have been golden. Fortunately I kept at it and faced the antenna south, which apparently allowed me to capture the signal bouncing off the mountain behind us. We don’t get all of the OTA channels, but at least two of the major networks. I guess that will have to do.

Tonight I have full plans to do that pesky pre-slope, but I guess we will see how it goes. One day it will get done.

The Ceiling is Safe

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As I mentioned in my previous post, there are two load bearing walls running the length of the house. So before we could do anything else, we needed to take care of the sagging 2×4 beam in the bedroom. It has been under supported for who knows how long. I set up a temporary wall to support the joists while I was working and then took put the remaining studs to clear the way across the entire room. I prepped a beam and installed the jack studs at either end to support it. Four of us attempted to lift the beam into place and found the existing beam to have a significant sag, which made it impossible to fit the beam into one end. We used a jack to at least get the beam to sit on the stud, but it would not go in all the way. Using two jacks and a cross piece, we jacked up the joists just enough to get the beam in and then let the ceiling fall down onto our brand new beam. It worked like a charm! The sag is gone and we no longer have to worry about the ceiling caving in one us as we sleep.

No Open Concept Here

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Open concept is the design du jour and if you watch any kind of home improvement television is seen as a requirement in every remodel. Although I can see the value of an open concept, I’m also not sold on opening everything up. I still think there’s value in having a room separate from the chaos and mess of the kitchen and den. Of course, one does not always have the choice, like us.

Between our kitchen and the living room are the two load bearing walls sandwiched by the staircase to the basement. I guess we could get two beams and put up railings for the stairs, but that would look weird having a hole in the middle of the room. Also good design generally follows a circular pattern, but in our house there is only one way to get to the living room from the kitchen. We could have put a door in the opposite end except that is where they installed the new electrical panel. I guess we could relocate the panel, but that’s so far down the list it’s not even worth mentioning.

The kitchen had a small peninsula, which added some counter space and cupboards. But as there is no dining room, we need extra space for our kitchen table. So we lifted the peninsula out and cut it to size to lay flat against the wall. You can see the outline in the floor where the peninsula used to be. I can’t guarantee this will be our final solution, but it works for now and will give us the room to eat and cook. With some new counter tops, paint, and back splash, it should look nice.

My grandparents had an eat in kitchen in their farm house it, so we can too!

Old House Surprises

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Demo is great. Nothing feels better than swinging a hammer and knocking down a wall on purpose. Old homes are great. They have character and history and are built to last. I mean, our house has already lasted for 68 years. That should be a good indicator it was done right. Demo and old homes together? Some things great, some things not so much.

The footprint of our house is a simple rectangle. There are two walls running down the center of the house, so we figured either one or both would be load bearing. The most likely load bearing wall was the one between the master bedroom and the suite. It was the best candidate because it is the most continuous. A huge closet was cut into the other wall spanning the entire width of the master bedroom. That would be why taking walls down to the studs and having access to the attic are so important. The truth is out there.

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Upon further inspection I found sistered ceiling joists which meet in between the two walls. The western most joist sat on the west wall and the eastern most joist on the east wall. They then butt up against the opposite wall. So I had confirmation they are both load bearing. Not that big a deal, except for the fact the “beam” is a dimensional 2×4 sitting on it’s face, and that’s it! I am assuming the closet was added later and was just not adequately supported.  We are going to have to add a beam and just incorporate it into the design of the room.

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We also found an old doorway between the master and the suite. I wonder what that was used for in the past?? Unfortunately we can’t just use it because it would significantly cut into closet storage space.  We have to move the door over toward the center of the wall.

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Other surprises? The bathroom ceiling had an extra layer of drywall tacked on, which had to be removed to make the entire ceiling uniform. That was fun. But I did find this wallpapered ceiling underneath, so you can’t beat that!

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And a good surprise? The floor joists run the opposite of the ceiling joists, which will make it so much easier to run plumbing to the new bathroom in between the joists!  Hooray!!

Designing the Space

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I wanted to do more than just draw my design on a piece of paper, which would have turned into several pieces of paper as I tried things out and changed my mind. It was a good thing I didn’t, because there were several iterations of the design. I also wanted something that would help all of us envision what the space would look like that was pretty close to being “to scale.”

I looked up a popular CAD program, SketchUp. They offer a free version and a Pro version. The Pro version is fairly priced for what it can do, but way too much for someone like me with one project. It really is for the pros who do this kind of thing for a living. As I was looking I found they had a beta of their web based version. So being me, I of course had to try it. And it is awesome! It does take a little time getting used to the different functions. If you’ve never worked in 3D modeling before, it may take some time to wrap your brain around the different dimensions. My first effort was a fail and quickly abandoned as a training exercise. My second effort looked great, but is not to scale at all. So when I learned I was going to have to change the design completely anyway, I went in and created a model pretty close to scale. I am not going to say it’s perfect, because I know it’s not.

Once you get the hang of it, you can throw up some walls pretty quickly. I am very happy with the result. It has been very useful figuring out the design and also planning my materials list. If you are embarking on any kind of remodel or design change, or if you just like playing around, I recommend checking out my.sketchup.com.

Here is my model:

The Farm House Restoration Project

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We are a week away from closing on a little farm house built in 1949. We are so excited! It is in great shape for its age. The previous owner replaced the roof and poured some concrete sidewalks and steps, so all of the structural stuff has been done. He added a builder grade bathroom in the basement and installed a new furnace and AC unit. That means we get to focus on the remodel!

We were actually looking for something a bit older but discovered a few problems in our area. The majority of the old homes were built in the city center, which is now a business district or an undesirable area. If you want land, which we did, you have to move outside of the city. The only older homes with land outside of the city were on county land and depended on well water. That seemed fine until we started talking to some neighbors and they all have had to drop 35-40k in the last few years to re-drill dried up wells. No thank you!

This house is on just over an acre and is a horse property, so we are able to have small and large animals should we so choose. After we close, we have some work to do before the house is ready for move in. Throughout the restoration, I plan to write blog posts, take photos, and even post videos on my YouTube channel. So please check back often to see how things are coming.