Bathroom Remodel

This Bathroom didn't look all that bad from the first impression. 

 There were a few tell tale signs that I saw on the initial inspection . . . Some of the tile had separation lines.  The tub was a whirlpool tub with a shower head.  The tub was not designed to have a shower head and the window had tile cracks and black grout lines.  I could smell trouble . . . and the smell of trouble was mold.

I told the Realtor and prospective owner that I needed permission to do a little exploratory surgery.  Under the window on the exterior would be an ideal location. The following picture was what I found behind the siding, from my test hole . . . Pretty ugly!  Looked like a total gut out job, remove the tub, exterior wall and floor under the tub and then rebuild it all.

I suggested going with a normal tub, moving the plumbing to an end wall and take the shower head out of the ceiling.  The extra space could be used for storage and moving the window to the end of the wall and out of the tub space,would take it out of the shower and away from the water that had caused the problem in the first place. 

The owner agreed and I removed the tub.  What a Mess!  Everything was pretty far gone and would require re-framing the floor, walls and floor replacement.  The plumbing had to be re-located for the new tub location.  After a couple of long days the bathroom looked and smelled like a completely different room.

The owners were using the house for a rental and were anxious to get the project completed and also to have a normal - low maintenance bathroom.  The Kohler tub and surround were made from a cast plastic that is quite rigid and also had the advantage of being
a deeper than normal soaking tub, without the additional cost of purchasing a custom unit.  I was impressed with the interlocking - no caulk 3 piece tub surround.  In the past these units required caulk that would discolor and mildew, which is unsightly and a maintenance item.  The walls were cast with integral support ribs that made the surround rigid and durable.  The interlocking seams directed all water back into the tub.

The space beyond the tub/shower wall held a 24" storage cabinet and I had a piece of Granite countertop that was a close match to the existing laminate vanity top to cap off the cabinet.  I re-used the vinyl window after cleaning it up.  The whole project came in on budget and will work well for years to come with very little maintenance required.

Molding and Trim - Make a Big Difference

     I pressed in the code and the gate opened, inviting me into a very impressive neighborhood.  The homes were all beautiful, custom masterpieces that had spectacular water views.  My destination was at the end of the Cul de Sac down a steep driveway.  The home was large and had a commanding view of the bay.  It was a truly gorgeous site.  Upon entering the home, there was immediately the feeling that something wasn't right.  The stair case was hideous and tight.  The doors and windows were trimmed with 2 1/4" Colonial Casing.  The base molding was 2 1/2" Colonial base.  Nothing fit with the home or the setting, it was actually disturbing and unsettling.

     I sat with the owners and told them frankly what I was feeling.  They described feeling exactly the same way, every time they sat in their Living Room.
     They gave me the go ahead and I started in the downstairs family room and worked my way through the house, converting it to the Home they desired.  I apologize for not taking any before pictures, the pictures I took are of the finished product. 

     The window trim is a three piece trim that I designed using two profiles and flat stock.  I matched the profile in the arch windows over the Entry, Living Room and Master Bedroom, so that everything had continuity.  It makes the room feel warm and inviting.  The ceilings are all tall or cathedral, so it was begging for wainscot paneling.  I do not use the drywall finish and apply molding when I build wainscot panels, it really feels flat and fake.  Using a 1/4" thick paint grade panel (MDF) makes all the difference in the substantial feeling of the panels.  I also think a matching profile of panel molding adds a lot of character and depth to the stiles and rails of the paneling.

     Base molding details are critical to achieve the
right feeling.  The stairwell walls had a drywall radius bull nose. To make the wainscot and base look right I made up corners with 22 1/2 degree bevels to tie the wall, wainscot and base together.  It is a lot of cutting and fitting, but well worth the extra work.

     The stairs were carpeted plywood, so I ripped it all out and installed Oak treads.  I pre-finished the treads and added paint grade risers.  The stair handrail was a very dark purplish/black color so I stripped it down, sanded it and refinished it to match the natural color of the flooring.

      The cap detail on the windows and doors is a piece of crown molding with a 3/4" thick shelf that sticks out 3/4" past the crown.  It creates a nice finish detail and gives a rich feeling to the wide trim.  The Tuscan columns are part of the existing home and were not added by me.

     The upstairs family room adjoins the kitchen and a dining nook and are all open to each other. It forms a great room, where the family naturally tend to gravitate and gather together.  The ceiling of this large area was flat and unadorned.  I really wanted to put in a coffer beam ceiling and match the wood and finish of the kitchen cabinets.

     The owners gave me the go ahead, so I proceede.  The Maple lumber and Crown Molding were purchased from Continental Hardwoods in Kent, WA.  In my shop I fabricated the beams and pre-finished them.  Maple is a hardwood that does not accept stain like other woods, so it requires a lot more work to finish than most other hardwoods.

      I pre-sealed the Maple with a coat of water based polyurethane.  Next I mixed colors into the polyurethane until I had a good color match with the cabinets.  I brought a cabinet door to my shop to use for a color match.  It was a lot of work, but the end results were very satisfying.

     The downstairs family room is very large and has a low ceiling, so the beams were made of hemlock lumber that was pre-finished in the garage and assembled in place.  The beams are only 3" and 4" deep, so that they will not intrude into the room.  They add a lot of visual interest to an otherwise boring expanse of textured drywall, and they frame the recessed lights nicely.

Roofing Repair and Carpenter Ants

    I went out on a service call to repair a leaky roof.  The owner noticed some water in his closet and water stains on the wall.  Upon inspecting the roof, I found a roof valley running into a wall.  The shingles were older three tab roofing that was getting near the end of their life.  The step flashing was rusty and pretty well deteriorated on one side of the valley. The other side of the valley had been recently repaired and had new shingles and step flashing.

     The owner told me he had purchased the house about a year ago and a roofer had done some repairs and given him a roof certification.  I assumed the leak was coming from the older portion of the roof and went to work stripping off the damaged roofing, removed the siding and step shingles and  worked my way down toward the gutters.  The roof had been installed over an older roof that was really in bad shape.  It made it very difficult to see clearly where the roof was leaking.  I removed a 3 ft. wide path of roofing and found some rot at the gutter and replaced  a couple of boards. 

     Next I glued down some 30 lb. felt with asphalt emulsion and started weaving in the new shingles and new step flashing working my way up the wall toward the valley.  When I got to the valley, as added insurance against leaks, I  put asphalt emulsion under every shingle.  I felt pretty confident that the roof would be impervious to leaks; at least in this area.   It was time to clean up, load up my ladders and tools and call it a day.   It was perfect timing, because it was starting to sprinkle.  It rained hard for two days and then my phone rang.

    Bummer, the closet still had water coming in.  I dropped what I was working on and jumped in my truck to go over and check it out.  I really hate it when things like this happen.  Sure enough the plywood under the carpet was wet. 

    I went up in the attic to see if I could see exactly where the leak was and it appeared to be coming in from the sidewall, just up from where I had done all of my repairs.  I picked up some insulation to see how wet things might be and the whole area underneath, looked like a pile of sawdust or dirt I poked at it and the pile began wiggling and moving.  Ants swarmed out and began repairing the damage to their nest.  I broke the bad news to the owner, and let him know I would return the next morning.

     The next day I went up on the roof and made more repairs, this time replacing the roofing and flashing that I had assumed to be good.  I found a missing piece of step flashing 6" above where I had stopped two days before.  The lesson for me is to never assume that a previous repair was done correctly. Attending Hard Knocks University is never fun and a few hours of warranty work, doesn't help pay the bills. 

     I next removed the siding below the roof line to figure out where all of these ants were coming from.  The siding was old and brittle, so it was tedious and careful work. 

     Underneath was a super highway of ant traffic.  They had eaten all of the sheathing, including the asphalt emulsion face.  The picture at left is insect damage.  I did not remove any of the sheathing, they ate it all and built their nest from the digested material.

     I removed more siding and the insulation and cut the sheathing back to the studs.  The whole colony began to rain down on me and I knew the meaning of the children's poem.  "I have ants in my pants, and I do the boogie dance!"

     Fortunately, the ants all shook off, with only a few bites.  (Carpenter ant bites are not very painful )  I did have that feeling that bugs were crawling on my skin for a while.

    I removed the siding below this area down to the concrete porch and found where the ants were coming in from the ground.  The slab, abutted the poured concrete foundation and the ants were coming in between the small space of the expansion crack.  After removing all of the ants and nest materials, I called it a day.

     I started the next day by pouring a gallon of Black Guard Ant and Insect Killer  into the crack, it all drained rapidly into the space.  Next I replaced the affected lumber and added blocking.  I treated all exposed spaces and wood with Copper based 'Termin 8 to block any future infestation, and then sprayed everything down with insecticide. 

     Now it was time to put everything back together.  New Insulation and sheathing, then carefully putting the brittle siding back.  Some of the siding had to be glued back together.  It was a combed vertical face tongue and groove fir siding that would have been next to impossible to find, but it all went back together nicely.  I left thinking about that scripture, "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth."  Just change the verse to, "Behold how great a matter a little drop causeth."  Fortunately it was found before the damage was severe.

Plumbing for a Kitchen Island Sink

An Island sink is indispensable when remodeling your kitchen. It gives two people a place to work, without bumping into each other. It also gives the kids a sink to wash up, or rinse something off, while you are preparing food at another sink.

One of the big issues when adding an island sink, is how to vent the waste line. If you have a wall behind the cabinet, the plumbing is no problem, but in an island, most of the time the cabinet is free standing with an applied finished back. Which is the case here. Other issues can be the joist placement in the floor. This cabinet sat over an electrical chase in the adjoining joist space, so the plumbing had to come up right in the middle of the cabinet. (Less than Ideal!)

The waste and vent line were stubbed up through the toe kick and floor of the cabinet just far enough to accommodate 45 degree fittings that offset the lines over to the edge of the cabinet. The vent loop - [second picture] - should be as tall possible, beside the sink and up to the counter top. The vent loops and goes back down under the floor. The vent line has a T fitting installed that ties into a waste line to drain any condensation or water that gets trapped in the vent line; from the T fitting the vent line runs to the nearest wall and up from there into the attic and through the roof.

Always install a T fitting after the vent line goes back into the floor, other wise the vent will slowly fill with water and become ineffective over time. There is nothing worse than a slow draining, gurgling, burping sink that vents through the sink drain.

There are after-market mechanical vents available, and these are code approved for mobile homes and repair work, but for this application in a remodel, they really should not be considered. A mechanical vent works with a very weak spring, which holds a rubber diaphragm closed. When draining water runs down from the sink, it creates a suction that pulls on the diaphragm and depresses the spring. These vents work great as long as they are not blocked or obstructed, but spiders build webs. Condensation is corrosive and over time causes mineral buildup, and people throw all kinds of stuff under a sink, so a vent is important and worth doing right.

A little trick to remember when assembling ABS fittings and pipe; make your cuts with a chop saw - wherever they will be visible and wipe off the excess glue with a rag, while assembling the loop. It will be much more attractive and uniform when completed.

Kitchen Design Considerations

Before any Kitchen remodel, there is an extensive process of design.  Many things will come into play - The shape of the room,  your cooking and life style, the type of cabinets - counter tops and appliances you dream of having and then the big item of "Budget".  Do you have enough money to build the kitchen of your dreams?  That is where something called value engineering comes in.  You take what you want, factor in the cost than see how much money you have, and if it isn't enough - weigh your options and try to get as close as you can to the dream.

Most kitchens have one sink, but many times there are two people cooking - which makes for a crowded kitchen. If you are incorporating a peninsula or island, this is usually also a great place to add a sink. Try and offset the sinks so the chefs are not bumping into each other. It just takes a little bit of tricky plumbing to vent the drain, involving a loop vent - in islands and penninsulas.  I'll write a how to post on this in an upcoming article.

Storage in your cabinets is a big consideration.  I really think cabinets with doors and roll out shelving are a waste of money.  Why not just put in drawers to start with?  Drawers are easy to organize and are completely accessible.  Opening doors and then pulling out a roll out shelf - not only wastes space, but it is inconvenient. The only place I would use cabinets that are not drawer banks would be in a sink base - where you have plumbing, in blind and inside corners and on pantry cabinets.  Drawer banks work great for almost all lower cabinets.

Under counter lighting is something you must plan for in advance of construction. Prewiring for fixture location and switches are done in the planning stages.  Lighting and controls are also essential design elements, in the planning stages. Task lighting, must be planned and it is very handy to split the switches up, so that all of the lights do not have to be on at the same time.  The undercounter lights are really nice for those late night snacks and are great for parties.  They are not something you want to add as an afterthought.

Appliances can wipe out your budget and many times are not very well planned for in advance. This built in refrigerater/freezer is a massive unit. It takes up five feet in width. The unit looked kind of squatty on the show-room floor, because of it's width, so we planned a toe space in advance to elevate the unit four inches. This makes it much more scaleable to its space. The units' trim package had a very tall louvred aluminum panel that goes over the top. This panel was so large that there would not be any storage space above. We cut the panel down on a tablesaw and trimmed the outside metal frame. There are now two cabinets over the refrigerator/freezer and we still provided adequate ventilation for the units. 
Details:  The peninsula has a nice overhang that provides more countertop space and doubles as a bar counter.  This is a high traffic area, so the granite tops were fabricated with an eased radius on the corners.  It wouldn't be a whole lot of fun to bang your hip on a sharp corner as you walked by.  Other details included having a window sill fabricated out of the same granite to match the countertops.  The backsplashes were made from the same slate as the floor and laid diagonally like the flooring to help tie the design together.  It provides more interest than granite slab backsplashes.  The end result saved money and was more attractive.

A Goofed Up Mess!!

Have you ever wondered why remodels so often cost more than the original bid or estimate?  Well this bathroom remodel had a lot of unanticipated problems, that reared their ugly heads after the old bathroom was demolished.  This looks like a pretty normal electrical box, except for the fact that it was buried in the wall, behind the sheetrock.  This was the work of a previous re-muddeler.   Why is this a problem you ask?  Well if there was ever a problem with a switch, outlet or light not receiving power, it would be impossible to find or track down - because it was buried in the wall and inaccessible. It also is a violation of building code and a fire hazard.

 See the next picture?  I call this an air-splice, no box - no protection, they just wire nut the wires together and bury them inside the wall.  This splice was only two feet from the buried box.

Same bathroom - in the ceiling is an epoxy patch, where the pipe was leaking - the ceiling was black under this pipe, from the constant drip.  The drywall is removed and the wood has been treated to prevent further mold.  The pipe will be replaced with new copper.

Here we go again - another negligent goof up. The wire was cut and left hanging in the wall behind the bath tub.  You won't believe it - but the wire is hot.
This is not the end of the mess - there was another spot where copper pipe and wire were touching and the insulation was worn off of the romex wire down to almost copper to copper contact.  This bathroom presented a major hazard and frustration.  Many times a wall is opened and there are conditions that could not have been anticipated.  These conditions must be repaired and it all takes time and money.  Whenever we run into issues like this, if it is not something minor that can just be handled and incorporated into the job. I always bring in the owner or client and show them what we have found and what it will take to fix it.  Everybody should know exactly how their money is being spent, especially in this economy.

Removing Popcorn/Acoustical Ceiling Texture

Those old popcorn ceilings really are horrible - they collect spider webs and dust and they are just plain ugly and old fashioned. If your house has them, it isn't too tough to remove, as long as they do not contain Asbestos.  This example was from a house built in 1978, that did not contain Asbestos, so it could safely be removed.

You start out with a spray bottle filled with warm water and a few drops of dish washing liquid or liquid hand soap.  The soap helps the water penetrate the texture.  Spray the water generously on the area to be removed and let it soak in for about five minutes.  Spray one more time, just before scraping, then  grab your putty knife and scrape away. I use a four and six inch knife.  The smaller knife is for stubborn areas. This ceiling was a real bummer to scrape, because it had been painted, which made it take longer to soften up and it did a better job of repelling the water, but persistence and sweat paid off and it all came down.  Before you start scraping, make sure you have a layer of plastic on the floor to catch all of the texture. When the job is complete, you simply roll up the plastic with the texture and your floor will be relatively clean. If the texture has never been painted, you can sometimes use a floor scraper. The long handle of a floor scraper can really save your neck and back some of the torture of scraping up close to the ceiling.

This picture shows the ceiling after it is scraped. One of the reason popcorn texture was sprayed on ceilings, was to save time in drywall preparation.  The finish quality of taped joints and nail and screw impressions did not have to be very high if you were going to cover it with a quarter inch of gloppy goo.  The heavy work is not completed at this point. The joints and defects must now be re-coated just like a fresh drywall job has to be, after it is taped and coated once.  The final coat was never done with popcorn texture.  In the picture you can see the nails and joints.  This final ceiling will be an imperfect smooth finish, which is not a normal texture.  It will look like an old fashioned plaster job, when it is completed.  The next step is to break out the hawk and trowel.  The joints will receive a coat of mud, then the whole ceiling will troweled to completely cover it. It will be ready to paint after a light sanding.  Imperfect smooth leaves some of the tool marks and light defects to have the appearance of a hand finished plaster coat.  I use a swimming pool trowel with round corners for the final coat.

 The last picture here shows the finish coat in progress. You can see the tool marks and overlaps in the mud. It will be sanded to reduce, but not eliminate those marks. They are part of the character of the final product. 

Imperfect smooth finished walls and ceilings have the solid old world craftsman feel of an old lath and plaster home.  It is definitely more work than a spray on texture job, but well worth the extra effort.