Sunday, March 4, 2012

Drywall Part 1: Getting the Hang of It

Before I get into the monotonous specifics of our weekend of drywall installation, I feel compelled to offer a small bit of gratitude to the legions of Craigslisters out there who help make that site so effective. Another week into this project and we had another week of unloading items to eager recipients on Craigslist. This weekend it was the horde of hollow core doors and frames. I managed to get rid of 3 doors and two sets of sliding doors in only an hour or so; fantastic. So, with two wire racks from Lowes, which Kate assembled and reloaded with our junk, the basement is starting to pass the tipping point from chaos back into order; with that lets talk drywall.

Saturday we went to Home Depot and loaded up on drywall and related materials. We got special purple drywall, treated for wet areas, for the laundry room and regular drywall for everything else. We also got tape, mud and a pan and knife for Kate: she's actually excited to get to mud...silly girl. Last on our list was two pieces of pegboard to go in the laundry area and stoarge room for hand storage of small items. After our shopping spree we went home to finish the task of adding a switch and outlet for the laundry and storage area. Previously this string of lights existed on the same circuit as the lights in the stairway and hall. I had to change the orientation of the circuit (so it would start at my switch), add the switch and outlet and remove the connection to the hallway circuit. Fussing with wire amongst my ever shrinking skeleton of drop ceiling proved to be a bit more annoying than I originally had hoped. I also began incrementally running out of my small store of electrical bits (wire connections, face plates etc.) Kate ended up making two "emergency" runs to Ace to allow me to piece the wiring together and finish that project.

Today it was balls to the dry-wall all day long. I got an early start on installing the drywall which proved fortuitouse becuase it ended up taking the bulk of the day. The installation was actually really smooth, just continuous and taxing over an entire day. While I started at one end of the basement, Kate pulled the remaining paneling off the walls in the TV area on the other side. Through this effort (which I wish we'd done beforehand) we discovered that the prior owners had in fact installed their paneling over drywalled walls! None of the walls we'd encountered to that point hinted that this would be the case. So we were really surprised to find that most of the day's work (or what in the end would have been the 2nd day's work) was already done!. We still will have to tape and mud it, but we now can take several sheets of drywall back to Home Depot saving us a bit of cash.

That fortune aside it was still a long day of cutting, screwing and hauling drywall into the basement. As my blood sugar started to drop over the course of the afternoon I found myself getting a bit sloppy and lazy with my cuts. This lead to a bit more refining and shaving of some of my last pieces but I still managed to get it all done. I even got the corner bead installed so we're entirely ready for mud and least favorite part of the drywall process! The pictures below show the finished product (at least of this weekend's effort).
Panel removal revealed a hallway of drywall. Kate's patches on the bottom left

New walls: you can no longer look at the washer and dryer.

The new hallway, with our seed starter...already sprouting!

Order emerges from chaos. Above the purple drywall we're going to intall pegboard for additional storage options.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Heavy Metal

Well its been a couple weeks I think; well past the time for an update. The last 14 odd days saw a President's Day weekend full of automotive travails, the learning of a new skill and some work jammed in between to keep things real. Quite a bit to update on, so I better get to it.

First let me say that spring cannot get here fast enough. The past two weekends have had days of tolerably good weather and it has me anxious for outdoor activity. President's Day weekend the weather started off a bit rocky so we spent time plastering the basement wall and painting on Saturday. Everything is really starting to come together downstairs. The plan at the moment is to go crazy with drywall next weekend. Last Sunday the weather improved significantly so I took the opportunity to tear into a rather large car repair.

I popped the new rear heater core into the Vanagon: that was maybe a 40 min job....not the “large” part. I'd also ordered new shocks and leaf springs for the Jeep. The back end certainly was starting to drag and had developed an intriguing finger on chalk board kind of noise whenever you'd go over a bump. Everything I read online indicated that this is a relatively straightforward repair (which it technically is), so I thought that I'd be in and out in a manner of hours. Boy was I wrong. When doing research online for automotive projects I need to learn to be more exhaustive. What I failed to catch in my first round of net-surfing was the intense pain in the ass of getting corroded, rusty leaf springs off a 10 year old Jeep. A Jeep Cherokee's leafs are essentially held on by 2 large bolts per side (excluding the rear shackle which is another pair of bolts). IF (big if) you are lucky and in the favor of several deities these bolts will release after some spraying with PB Blaster and a bit of strenuous work with a breaker bar. If you are on the fast train to hell...apparently like myself...then no gods will smile upon you and you will be forced to wrench on these bolts for hours before you opt for the stomach churning option of cutting them out.

Let me say dear readers I got one bolt to actually come out clean and free. I got another to come out dragging along the sleeve from the bushing...which didn't exactly help my cause. The other two had to be extricated like wisdom teeth: with a lot of pain and some deep cutting. With the Jeep's back end hanging up in the air, rear diff resting on some blocks and axle free and loose I faced the prospect of having to get spare bolts on a holiday. Fortunately the good folks at Denver Spring were open promptly at 8:00 on Monday and I was able to get replacement bolts for a really good price. Armed with bolts I thought the reverse (without the 'benefit' of corrosion) would be a cake walk. Again, I failed to adequately research my task. I simply thought the new bushings would just slide into the eyes of the leaf springs: this my friends is not the case. They must be pressed, or forced, into the eyelets. So again I flew to the internet for some research on how the hell to do that, and I came across a clever design for a simple press made from a large bolt and some conduit flanges. I will say I took no pictures throughout the course of this ordeal: one because I was a greasy mess covered in PB Blaster and car debris, and because it was somewhat of an infuriating process and I wasn't in the mood for “documentation”. In hindsight, I should have taken some pictures of the bushing press. It didn't work “flawlessly” but it did get the bushings to seat far enough into the springs that you could whack them with a sledge and finish them off the rest of the way. Now with the bolts and the bushings properly seated the rest was actually pretty straightforward. Kate helped with the first side to hold the axle and center the differential, after which I was able to do the other side myself. So the lesson folks is check around first: had I looked at a couple more sites I would have seen the myriad number of posts from Jeep owners who'd suffered similar fates: I might have better known what I was getting myself into.

As back breaking as much of last weekend was, it wasn't all work and no play. In somewhat delayed fashion I enjoyed a bit of my birthday present last weekend. Kate got me a class at Club Workshop in Denver to learn how to MIG weld. So on Saturday after my comparatively relaxing VW repair I went to my welding class. Welding has been a skill that I've been very interested in for a while now: enough so that my wife must have gotten tired of me carrying on about it and finally decided to help get me trained up so I don't kill myself or burn the house down. The class was small and incorporated a lot of hands on practice and coaching. In the end we had to weld several pieces of metal together to form a vase of sorts which was intended to hold water; if your welds were correct. While mine wasn't impervious to a small drip in one corner, it held up far better than any of the others in the class. I felt quite accomplished driving home in my newly repaired Vanagon with my hunk of welded steel. So while in the middle of all of my other repairs last weekend I went out and acquired a new welder: an amalgamation of my birthday, Christmas and cash I 'earned' by selling a bunch of unused stuff on Craigslist (thank you to everyone for that bit of help!)

Before I could get my welder going I wanted to add a 240V circuit to the garage so it would run with full power. In terms of welders I got a Millermatic 211 which conveniently can run on 240V or 120V: but 240 yields a better range of power in the welder and thus better beads. Its also a welder that hopefully I can 'grow into' as I practice more. While welding odds and ends will be fun in its own right, and it will have utility around the house, in the garden and with the car my real long term objective is to be able to make parts for bikes or bikes themselves at some point. But I have to start off somewhere, and after my Jeep wrangling (not Jeep Wrangler) I ran the 240V circuit. Fortunately the prior owners already had run 8 gauge wire to the garage they just never hooked it up to a breaker. I added a 50 amp breaker to the panel and wired in the receptacle for near instantaneous 240V power!--unlike my Jeep effort this was a piece of cake. It took a couple days to acquire the remaining pieces of my welding outfit: helmet, gloves etc. but by mid week I was awkwardly sticking metal together in the garage.

This weekend I decided that I really wasn't in the mood for any more home projects: I was going to weld stuff. I figured after several weekends of labor either in the basement or under the dangling axle of our car I had earned a weekend to play around. I made a trip down to the scrap yard with the old leaf springs and the pipe from the basement and cashed it in for some 'new metal' funds. I took my small amount of cash down the street to the metal supply and rummaged through their yard of miscellaneous sized pieces. My goal was to get enough angle and plate to make a small cart to hold my welder and tank. This would hopefully accomplish two things: I'd get to practice welding and I'd get the welder off my table saw. Saturday I took my pile of metal and cut, ground and welded the hell out of it to make the basic frame for the cart. Today I finished up the work to put metal sheet on the top and base so it would actually be functional. All in all I'm very pleased with the experience, even if the cart itself is somewhat lacking. There's clearly an evolution to the welds that shows the progress from my first dozen plus attempts—in all their splattery, lumpy splendor—to my later efforts after an entire cart of practice.

The design is more or less an amalgamation of several designs I pulled together from the internet. The welder is angled up for better view of the controls. It sits on a base of caster wheels for easy mobility and has room (or at least planned room) for large cylinders on the back. I added two pieces of rod bent to seve as a cord wrap to help keep the ground cable and gun out of the way. Through the effort I learned about the need for thorough prep: which I did pretty well. I also learned about the effects of sustained welding on metal: it can twist it. And I learned a bit about designing and working with metal, which is a different medium for me. All it all it turned out pretty well for a first project. If you squint even the bad welds (once thoroughly worked over with a grinder) look pretty good. I do have some pics of this project below.

Welding Cart (More or Less Finished---needs grinding and paint)

Welding Cart, Side View of Cable Wrap

Small Cylinder in the Back, Larger One Will Go Next to It

A Few of My Only "Photo Worthy" Welds

Monday, February 13, 2012

Coming into Frame

Its been two more weeks of sawing and hammering and I've finally gotten everything framed, square (enough) and ready for drywall. Last week when I finished most of the rough framing we were still left with the question of how to handle the entrance to the new laundry/storage area. I made one trip to the hardware store to check my options for doors and get dimensions for the rough opening. While we surveyed the various door frame options we found ourselves wrestling with how the door should swing. Swing one way and it stops short at the adjacent wall. Open the other way and it swings out into the 'hall' somewhat blocking the way at least unless you open it entirely. Opening inward was completely out of the question due to the HVAC duct work running along the opening just inside the door; it might have cleared it...but then again maybe not. In weighing the options we were drawn to the simple and unassuming allure of the pocket door. The unfortunate part about the pocket door is that the opening essentially needs to be twice as wide as the door itself. Since I hadn't planned for this I found myself pulling out some of the existing framing that I had worked quite hard to salvage and keep in place. Fortunately I didn't have to tear out any of the new framing I had built in place of the two double sliders.

I got the opening squared and situated the week before, and this past week I managed to get the door installed and nailed up in its place: it slides smoothly and doesn't take up any extra room to do so. With the hard work behind me, Kate and I started moving out all of our misc junk and stuff from the existing storage area. As clean and tidy as our new laundry space is starting to look the rest of our basement is a mess of things and construction debris bound for the habitat store. Underneath our pile of camping gear and other bits were two substantive storage cabinets built by one of the prior owners. These massive pieces would have been a pain to deconstruct for the trash, so I had the idea to pull them out and put them on Craigslist in the free section. We had a taker for them in less than an hour, and with a bit of struggle and fussing we managed to get them out of the basement and out to the driveway for pickup. Almost instantaneously we went from a storage area choked with junk and over sized plywood boxes to a long, surprisingly spacious, space for our new storage area. The cleaned up space is starting to really look pretty nice.

Framing going in, and the opening for the pocket door.

Looking at the the laundry.

The new storage space leading to the utilty room

Pocket door

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Plumbing, Patching, Plaster and Paint

What I feared would be the most intensely time consuming piece of our laundry 'shift', the plumbing, turned out to go relatively quickly. Tore out in a day; replaced in a day. The time consuming piece, in terms of volume of days wasted doing it, was the repairs to the plaster covered concrete walls, sealing, priming and paint. Each phase of this part of the project, while brief in terms of man-hours, was accompanied by a "cure time of 3 days" type series of instructions. In incremental, bite sized chunks, I transformed cracked, pock marked, stained walls from dingy to a nice semi-gloss green color. Below are before and after shots, although the color doesn't quite come out in the pictures very well; its subtle yet brightly refreshing...the folks at Behr are free to use that without charge.

Note the transition from primer white to primer stained moving toward the corner.

Pretty much the same view, just post paint and with the appliances connected.
Everything was hooked up by mid week which allowed us to test out the new sink and laundry combination. The prior configuration with sub-code drain pipe frequently resulted in the washer backing up into the laundry sink. Now that I've cleaned out the skinny pipe in favor of 2" drains for everything the laundry now runs without spewing up a volcano of nasty suds into the sink. And I can also officially say that this series of plumbing projects has been 100% leak-free...a first for me I think. Getting a couple cycles of laundering in helped thoroughly test my drain pipe work, and everything is still bone dry.
Now that we've got our laundry back to a functional state I have moved on to framing out the new walls. I'm hoping to get a lot of mileage out of the pile of 2x4's from the previous wall-door-wall sequence. That will hopefully help save costs and reduce the number of cuts I have to make as everything has pretty much been cut to height already. I may make some headway on this part of the project tomorrow, or I may very well get lured outside by the promise of unseasonably warm temps again. Last weekend when we hit temps in the mid 60's I found myself repelled from basement tasks and instead out in the front yard trimming trees in my shirt sleeves. The raspberry canes need some attention before spring so if the warm weather delivers framing may just have to wait.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Door Number 3

It is certainly a bad sign when you go to log in to your blog and you hardly recognize the dashboard. Has it been so long that Blogger's completely redesigned their administrative interface? Apparently the answer to that question is: yes. Conveniently, in the spirit of design and change I'm here to post some updates on our latest home related project.

Long story short we attempted to sell our house last year at the peak of the worst real estate market in years. That proved to be just a touch foolish. With that epic fail behind us we've determined to at least learn a few things from the experience and hopefully make some improvements to the place to better our odds for another foolish attempt this spring. Along these lines we added an expanded patio to the backyard, finished the landscaping and put in a privacy fence around the master bedroom creating a private patio complete with fountain vis-a-vis HGTV. With the weather driving us back indoors we've decided to tackle the biggest project on our list of potential home buyer gripes: the basement.

Although our basement is technically 'finished', and we even painted and spruced it up last year, it still abounds with wood paneling and a preponderance of doors something akin to a scene in Alice and Wonderland. Take this example: the door to the washer.
Now you might be thinking, everyone has a door to their laundry room: it helps hide your laundry negligence. But I didn't say door to the laundry room...I said door to the washer; not to be confused with the doors to the dryer...

or the door to the laundry sink for that matter.
Yes, there's definitely a lot of paneling and doors in our basement. And while I would have hoped that potential buyers might have enjoyed the fun house feel to the place, apparently it was a sore spot with folks. So the paneling, the doors, the oddly angled walls all would have to go. Figuring out what to remove proved to be the easy part: figuring out what to put back in its place was a bit more challenging. As wacky as it looks there was a certain element of logic entailed in the design. We've got a beam, a whole host of pipes and vents, a floor drain and a main duct trunk to contend with in the space we'd ideally like to salvage. The easier, and in my opinion more cowardly, way out would be to slap up some walls and doors and call it good. The real solution however entails moving a fair amount of infrastructure and then putting up walls where you'd expect to find them: around your washer and dryer...not in between them. So while de-dooring the basement might in the end prove harder than its worth (vindicating the cowardly door mongers) we're armed with a pretty good design and with that we got our hammers swinging.
Last week I spent a couple evenings pulling down doors, paneling and 2x4's. The plan is to save a lot of the 2x4's and perhaps a door (or two) and take the rest to the Habitat for Humanity store to see if it someone else might want it. The result was a drastically improved, 'doorless' space for the laundry. Next I had to remove the shelving along the back wall and scoot the appliances out of the way. The plan is to move the laundry appliances into the back corner and then frame in a wall around the new space as well as a wall to hide the drain and vent pipes at the base of the stairs.

Over the weekend I got all of my plumbing and electrical parts assembled and with the help of my brother-in-law Paul, removed the old drain and vent stack, moved the 20 and 30 amp service for the washer/dryer and extended the water supply for the sink and laundry. While it was kind of a long Sunday we managed to get the guts of the new laundry moved and reconfigured. Temporarily it now looks like this:

Despite Paul's confidence in my amateur plumbing abilities I was certain the pipes would leak when I turned the water back on, but Paul's confidence wasn't wasted and the basement is dry as a bone and actually up to code.  With the tricky bits out of the way we've moved on to sealing the old plaster wall along the exterior, which will form two sides of the laundry. I have to patch a few holes in the plaster and then we'll paint it before moving the new appliances into their permanent homes. From there it'll be time to start framing in the walls and moving on to drywall, which after plumbing is my second least favorite home improvement project. But I suppose if I've managed to conquer my plumbing demons a little dry wall won't be too tough now will it?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"God's Country"

Had delicious pancakes with my brother and sister in law this morning. They were thick and warm and very tasty. I even think there were a couple left over, everyone was stuffed.  The sky is blue and sunny. Its cool but looks to be another great day in Colorado.  All this scenic wonder and perfection sure gets old...oh wait no it doesn't.  Have a great day dad :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Behind us lies the hectic fury and nonstop pace of prepping the house for the market. We cleaned, sorted, organized, decluttered, updated, purged…on and on for a couple weeks. As a result the house looks great. Clean--welcoming. Even despite my ever present pessimism I have to say I’m starting to see the optimistic angle on this one. The first week of traffic exceeded my expectations and I can’t help but start to agree with Kate; maybe we’ll be out of here sooner than I thought. And with all that anticipation yet to sort itself out with our reluctant friend the future, our home is now quiet. Even without a sold sign in the front yard there’s something deeply rewarding about the turn around in appearance, the successes of our productivity, the fruits of our labor. With a bit of free time now I can sit back and appreciate the transformation and peace of mind; the welcome return of quieter nights.