Category Archives: home improvement

home improvement

Bathroom Remodel Progress

We bought this house almost exactly two years ago, and at that time we knew that the biggest change we wanted to make was to redo the master bathroom/closet area. The original setup was a mini-hallway leading from the bedroom with a reach-in closet with sliding doors on the right and a doorway leading to the itty bitty bathroom on the left. After living in the house for a year our feelings on the matter were unchanged, so we started the demo. And then, as is our habit, we got distracted by other things and let the demolished bathroom sit for months… and months… and months. It helps that we have another, fully functional bathroom in the house, but eventually having our clothing piled in baskets all over the bedroom got the best of even clutter-happy people like us. Having a baby on the way may also have motivated us. So we got back to work.

The general plan is to create a new doorway to the bathroom leading directly from the bedroom and close off the “mini-hallway” to instead make a mini walk-in closet. We also plan to steal a bit of closet space for the shower so that we can have a shower bigger than a high school locker. 🙂 Here’s a post about the old shower before we destroyed it. Perhaps someday I’ll get organized and post some before and after floor plans, which will probably make more sense than my descriptions.

Anyway, all of the pictures I’ve taken of our progress are pretty bad, though I tried to improve them as best I could with post-processing. There really is not much lighting to be had and the spaces are all tiny. Ah well.

First up, we needed to frame the new closet doorway. Here’s a picture of the original “mini hallway” opening, taken from roughly the back wall of said hallway. The bedroom is hiding on the other side of the plastic  sheet. What used to be the closet is on the left, the bathroom is out of the picture on the right.

Closet opening

Step one involved cutting the hardwood (*gulp*) for the added bit of wall around the door:

Cutting the hardwood

And then nailing in the bottom plate with our swanky new nail gun:

Bottom plate

And then the top plate:

Top plate part 1

Top plate part 2

After that I actually put the camera down and helped Dave put in the verticals. So here’s the finished shot:

Closet doorway framed

We were able to salvage a fair amount of lumber when we first demoed the space, which is why the boards are different colors.

Next up was framing the new shower bump-out. Again this involved cutting some hardwood:

Shower subfloor

That picture was taken while I was standing in the middle of the bathroom looking out into the closet. The bedroom and the new closet doorway are out of the picture to the right. the studs and plumbing on the left side of the picture will eventually be removed and the empty space directly in front of me will become a wall. Anyway, a whole lot of ceiling drywall had to come down, since this was all we had removed thus far:

Shower ceiling

And here’s the first wall starting to be built:

Shower wall

The horizontal board is for the top of the built-in shelf that will reside along that wall.

Coming soon… framing the rest of the bathroom! Mostly that will entail closing up the original doorway and framing out the new doorway. We are also planning a pony wall between the toilet and the shower, so there will be a little more building going on there. And then we have to get the plumber in to move the pipes for the shower. After that it’s building the shower pan and then on to tiling the shower!

The baby is due at the end of March… what are the chances that we’ll be even close to done at that point? 🙂


Eco-Toilet Upgrade

The flush-lever on our toilet broke. It’s the only functional toilet in our house since we’re remodeling the other bathroom. And of course it broke fairly late in the evening, after stores had closed. So we rigged a quick fix to get us through the night:

Poor broken toilet handle

Here’s what it’s supposed to look like. You know, in case you’ve never seen a toilet before:

Unbroken toilet

Once we got to the hardware store the next morning I was suddenly enamored by the idea of installing a dual-flush handle. That’s one of those doohickeys where you have a less-water option for liquid waste, and the normal flush option for solid waste. It’s a little more involved than just buying a new lever, but the store had an “everything included” kit that wouldn’t break the bank, so we went for it.

Of course when we got home we discovered the kit only worked with certain toilet setups, but the extra conversion kit to get the correct setup was also fairly inexpensive. (Though it did require another trip to the hardware store.) Just to keep things annoying, the original kit had a broken piece in it. So that required yet ANOTHER trip to the store, though Dave didn’t have any issues getting it exchanged. It’s a good thing that we live conveniently close to multiple hardware stores though.

Dave installing the eco-flush

After all that, the installation was pretty easy. Unfortunately I don’t understand these newfangled contraptions as well as I do old-school toilet tanks, so hopefully this will work forever and never break until the end of time. Ha! Here’s how the toilet tank used to look. This at least looks familiar to me:

Toilet tank innards

And here’s how it looks now. Crazy:

Eco-toilet innards

Usage is simple enough: pull the lever up for the half flush, push it down for the normal flush. Since it looks pretty much like a normal flush-lever, we won’t have confused visitors yelling for help while doing their business. We hope. The lever isn’t exactly a piece of artwork, but it’s straightforward enough:

New toilet lever

Pulling upward for the half-flush is slightly weird because you have to hold it for an extra beat for it to work, but pushing downward works exactly as it did before. All in all it works perfectly so we’re happy for this easy little improvement.

And I’m just going to stop now because there’s only so much I can say about a toilet.

Just some lights for the garage

The garage did have some lights when we moved in. They were two big tube-lights hung with chain from the rafters. Some enterprising person had run an extension cord from the wall outlet up along the rafters, cut the end off, and spliced the exposed wires to the wires for the tube lights. The home inspector informed us this wasn’t to code. (We weren’t at all surprised.)

Old Garage Lights

There was also a bare bulb on the wall above the laundry area. This one was to code, but pretty ugly:

Old Garage Bulb

We figured we had 4ish areas of the garage that needed light: the work bench, the workout area, the laundry, and the chest freezer. So we got an inexpensive strip light with 4 spots that we could point where we wanted. Then we shelled out for nice LED bulbs that will hopefully last forever:

New Garage Lights

Much better. And instead of an extension cord, we removed the bare bulb light from the wall and ran electrical cable from that up to the new strip lights. Here’s what remains on that wall:

Junction Box

We’re thinking we still will want one more light on the far wall over the work bench though. When we’re using the miter saw it ends up completely in shadow due to the angle at which the light hits it. We do almost all of our mitering during the day so it hasn’t been an issue, but then it wouldn’t be very hard to install a light on that wall, whenever we get around to it.

This all happened back in November actually, but it’s not particularly exciting to write about utility lights. Up next: our toilet! The sad part is I’m not joking about that. Hopefully there will be more exciting things to post about soon though, as we’re finally making some real headway on the master bathroom remodel, and the baby is due in 2 months.

More Pantry Improvements

Dave’s away on a business trip for the week, so I decided to distract myself by tackling an easy construction project to fix something that’s been a small annoyance in the back of my brain for awhile now. One of the things we improved in the early months after we moved in was our kitchen pantry storage situation. Those deep shelves that we added to the left-hand side of the pantry are still awesome and still working great:

But the right-hand side of the pantry was not working for me. I had originally envisioned it filled with hanging baskets and hooks, but instead it’s pretty much been looking like this for the past year:

Now, neither of the above pictures really show the depth of the problem, because I took them after I had already pulled out a whole lot of  food and set it all on the counter. Yes somehow, all of this was getting stuffed in the existing shelves and baskets:

My new vision for the right-hand wall of the pantry was floor-to-ceiling shelving, just deep enough to fit a single 15 ounce can of food. When I measured how much space I had to work with given the placement of the actual pantry door frame, I discovered there was just enough clearance for 3.5 inch shelves. 3.5 inches, how perfect is that!? So I quickly formulated a plan involving 1 x 4 boards with 1 x 2 boards as cleats to support the shelves.

All of the food items in the picture above had a maximum width of 3.5 inches or less, and were therefore candidates for these new shelves. I laid them out like this to group them by height and make decisions on how far apart to put these new shelves. Once I had all of my measurements, I jumped right in:

Here you can see the 1 x 2 cleats getting screwed into the wall. This project was just my speed because it was pretty much all mitre sawing, drilling, and a bit of measuring and leveling. We even had the studs already marked since we screwed those metal baskets into them last year.

The only hitch was when I had to cut out notches in the shelves for the weird bump-out we have going on at the back of the pantry. It was my first time using our swanky new portable jigsaw. (I’ve decided I’m NOT a fan of a laser guide on a portable jigsaw, but I didn’t really bother to take the time to figure out if there was a way to turn it off.) And then I had some trouble jimmying the notched shelves into place since I had foolishly already screwed in all of the cleats:

I ended up having to unscrew those upper cleats to get the notched shelves into place. Ah well, it was still a pretty quick process. My other problem was that I had measured and planned out for nine shelves, but I only had enough wood on hand for six shelves. Boo. I decided going out and picking up 2 more boards was way too much effort, so I just left the pencil marks on the wall and I’ll add the last three shelves at some later date. Six new shelves were enough to hold everything I had laid out on the counter with room to spare:

And they don’t really take up any previously useful space, so the pantry can suddenly hold a lot more. I especially love how easy it is to see all of the different food items, something with which I had been struggling with the deeper shelves on the left-hand side.

Julie is pretty happy too, since she’s been stuck storing pretty much all of her food in a big wire basket on top of the refrigerator ever since she moved in with us. We went out and bought a few cheap plastic baskets today and used them to help organize some of the smaller things that are still on the left-hand shelves in a bit less haphazard fashion. (This was after I finished taking pictures, sorry.) Julie buys a lot more canned goods than I do, so now I just need to get those last 3 shelves in on the right-hand side and I think the top of our refrigerator will actually be pretty much completely freed up again.

And all of this while 20 weeks pregnant! Does this count as nesting? 🙂 Really the only time being pregnant came into play during this project was that while sitting inside the pantry screwing the cleats into place I could smell this faint whiff of something rotting. My powers of scent have been greatly enhanced, so I’m pretty sure this is something that I wouldn’t have even noticed before getting pregnant. But I took a break from drilling to pull everything off of the floor and scrub it down, and the smell went away. I guess this will just be a reminder to myself to make sure that I occasionally give the pantry floor a good cleaning in the future.



The Hallway Bath

Since we knew we were going to be down to one bathroom for a few months, we figured we should add some storage space to that bathroom to make it a bit more functional. Pedestal sinks look nice, but aren’t terribly practical.I forgot to get a true “before” shot, but here’s the old sink shortly after we started the removal process:

Before installing the new sink we decided to paint the walls and replace the towel-hanging hardware while we were at it. The walls were originally white white, and we decided to paint them with a super pale blue. I think it works pretty well with the dark dark blue floor tiles. You can see it in some of the following pictures, depending on whether I did a good job using the “white balance” function or not. 😀

We wanted the sink to be flush against the wall on two sides, which immediately caused issues since the base trim on the wall was the same type of tile as the floor, with a metal quarter round edging. (I’m probably not using the right terminology, sorry.) We debated a couple different solutions, and had mostly settled on tiling all the way up and around the sink so it would be flush. That still meant pulling up the metal trim piece…

But after some more work we ended up just pulling out the all the wall tiles/trim where the sink was going to go:

My thinking is that I don’t really like carrying the dark floor tiles onto the wall at all, and would like to eventually redo the baseboards with the more traditional white painted beveled wood baseboards like we have in the rest of the house. Boring? Yes.

Here’s the sink and vanity once we were done cleaning up the trim:

We were able to pick up the sink/vanity combo on clearance at the hardware store (there’s a little bit of cosmetic damage on the bottom lip of the sink) and it was exactly the amount of storage space we were looking for, while still having a somewhat interesting sink shape. Of course then we needed a faucet and drain, so I wandered around eBay until I found something I liked. We spent a little more than we could have, because we really like the oil rubbed bronze look and decided it would be fun to try something a little more modern.

Okay, that picture isn’t all that great, but I refuse to take more hi-res pics of a faucet. Sigh. The water is pretty cool-looking though. Every time  I use the sink it makes me smile.

Anyway, I’m leaving out a bunch of steps, since I believe we ended up having to replace a leaky valve and buy an extra adapter for the faucet since it was male instead of female or something like that. Also, we discovered that the faucet was European sized while the sink holes were American (or at least that was the impression Dave got from his Internet research). So we ended up using a ceramic bit on the Dremel tool to widen the faucet hole on the sink a little. And Dave will be sad if I don’t include a picture of his plumbing handiwork:

We’re slowly but surely getting more comfortable with the basic home improvement skills. 🙂 And here’s the closest thing I have to an “after” shot:

I still want to replace the light and the mirror, but they work just fine so it’s not really a priority for now. I should probably at least replace the doorknobs on the vanity…

We did do one other functional thing though, and that was add a ceiling vent. The bathroom has a window, so technically a vent isn’t required, but I’d rather clear out the moisture without shivering on cold mornings. 🙂 We had to fix up the electrical anyway, since the wires were coming in through the wall from the side by way of the master bathroom. (You know… the room that we’re totally renovating.) So we pulled up all of the wires from the two bathrooms and dropped a new wire from the attic down between the walls to that light switch you can see by the door in the picture above.

We were prepared to have to cut a hole in the drywall to make this happen, but by some stroke of luck Dave managed to drop a string with a screw weighting it directly through the wall from the hole he made in the attic to the opening in the light switch box. From there we were able to tie the new electrical wire to the string and pull it through. My Dad, who was overseeing/assisting, assures us that this method NEVER works. Whatever, I’ll take it! Here’s the boring but wonderfully functional ceiling vent:

And here’s the new light switch, now with TWO switches. yes, amazing I know.

That reminds me, I need to paint that stupid door and trim so it’s white instead of beige. Arg. Ah well, this is our only functioning bathroom for the time being, so it’ll have to wait!

Solar, solar, solar!

We had been making plans to install solar panels before we even moved into this house. Dave works for a solar company, and it’s something that we both think makes a lot of sense, so this was one of those “put your money where your mouth is” things for us.

But Dave wanted a specific set of panels, but they weren’t being installed in the US until very recently. So we had our initial estimates done last summer, but then sat around and waited… and waited… but finally, they’re here! It took a few days of finding places for all of the equipment and figuring out our crazy electrical system. The contractors finally decided that our house just wasn’t grounded, so they put a hole in the patio right under our electrical box and installed a ground:

The concrete patio is pretty ugly as it is, so an extra hole doesn’t really bother us. We’re hoping to redo the patio later this year anyway. Here’s a wider shot of the back wall:

The existing utility stuff is all painted to match the house, the new stuff is unpainted. The big box on the top left houses all of the electronics for the monitoring system. It’s not required, but of course we just had to get it. Unfortunately they had it all installed before I realized how close to the kitchen window it was… We get a pretty good view of it from the dining room, and it’s not exactly pretty. ah well I guess we’re not going to forget it’s there at any rate…

Anyway, enough of that, on to the actual panels! They’re installed over our garage, on the opposite side from our front door. Here’s a shot from the roof, looking towards the back of the house:

And here’s another from the roof, looking out towards the court:

They’re actually not very visible from the street, I had to stand in front of my neighbor’s house to get this shot:

The multitude of cars are more noticeable than the panels, really. 🙂 Here’s the view from the rarely-photographed (because it mostly just holds weeds and trash cans) south side of our house:

The electrical wires  come out towards the left of the panels in this picture, then curve around and enter our garage through the wall just out of the frame. Inside the garage:

We have the DC cutoff, the inverter, and then the AC cutoff, then it’s off to make friends with the electrical panel. Here’s a closer shot of the conduits in the garage over the side door:

Incoming from the panels on the top (with the bad ass “caution” sticker) and outgoing to the electrical panel underneath. The blue cable is a CAT5 for the monitoring equipment. And here’s another shot of the inverter:

Yeah, it’s pretty big. We moved a lot of stuff around and they put up a sheet of plywood to mount it on.

Anyway, enough of these boring, practical pictures, let’s see the glam shots! Here are the panels right before the sun disappeared behind the roof. (Sunset: not the best time for high power output.) And you can just make out the bones of our pollarded mulberry tree in front of the sun.

And here’s a closeup of the panels also taken at sunset:

Dave assures me that the fingerprints don’t affect the efficiency in any measurable way. 🙂

And here is the most glamorous shot of them all…

1.5 kilowatts at noon on a sunny day in the middle of February. We should be getting 1.9 kW at noon in the summer, and you bet I’ll be checking to make sure. 🙂 Net metering will soon be in effect for us, which means that the power we aren’t using will go into the grid and we’ll get a credit on our electrical bill. I don’t know all of the details yet, but I will very soon. We don’t have air conditioning in our house, so we really aren’t using much power during the day unless I run a load of laundry or something, so we’ll probably be putting a fair amount of our power output into the grid during peak hours.

All in all, we’re a little sad to see our savings account shrink, but we’re seriously stoked to have this done! I can’t wait to see our energy bills…

Backyard Light

just a quick one… here was our corroded, worn-looking, non-functional backyard light:

(Poor sad useless light...)

So we switched it out with a functional and somewhat nicer looking light:

(We pointed the lights at a more useful downward angle sometime after I snapped this pic.)

Even with a bit of chipping away at the wall to fit the new metal brace in the hole, this was a really easy switch.

(He's becoming quite the expert at this...)

Now we get a nice lit backyard every time a raccoon wanders through in the dark. I think Loki likes it too, he doesn’t feel the need to bark at every random rustle when he goes out to do his business at night. Success all around.

Corner Shower Curtain

We hate, hate, hate our “master” bathroom. It’s only 8 feet by 5 feet, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s laid out in a pretty inefficient manner, with a space-wasting linen closet and cheap little pre-fab corner shower. From day one it’s been our first planned major demo, and we’re saving money hard with the hopes of completely gutting it in the spring.

Unfortunately, first one door and then the other on the corner shower became almost completely non-functional. When little plastic tabs start breaking off you know it’s bad news. Anyway, we finally had to accept that the doors weren’t going to survive the 4-odd extra months that we needed them for. Neither of us really wanted to switch to the hall shower sooner than necessary, (the main issue being the miserable water pressure in there) so we came up with the idea of taking the doors off of the corner shower and rigging a shower curtain instead. I started looking around online for L-shaped curtain rods, but they all seemed to be in the $60 range! That just seemed silly for something that we only need for 4 months, so we decided to make our own out of PVC. Here’s the door removal:

The pieces are going to live out on the patio with our banished screen door for now:

And there was much scraping of excess caulk to clean things up…

And then we rigged the PVC connectors together, reminded me of playing with Pipeworks as a kid:

We didn’t see anything resembling a flange, so we just bought some end caps and screwed them directly into the wall:

And then everything was attached!

since our shower pan isn’t exactly very deep and we’ll be throwing it out in the spring too, we decided to glue one side of the shower curtain down directly to the wall and the pan, to minimize water escaping. Since there’s that vertical ceiling support, the curtain only opens halfway anyway.

All finished:

While we got the cheapest shower curtain possible, we did make sure it was a 7 foot tall curtain, since we had noticed the 6 foot tall shower doors weren’t stopping some water from spraying over and hitting the bathroom door. (You can actually see a bit of rust around the hinges. boo.)

Anyway, I don’t know if we would have gone this route if we weren’t fairly certain that it’d be a temporary solution. I guess we could have used galvanized pipe and a cool patterned curtain for an “industrial chic” look, but I’m pretty happy with the price for PVC:

  • 10′ PVC pipe – $1.68
  • PVC connectors – $2.55
  • PVC primer/cement- $7.51
  • shower curtain – $15
  • curtain hooks – $3
  • Caulk – $8.49

And we still have leftover PVC and plan to use it and the cement to make some obstacles for Loki since he needs to practice for his agility classes. The caulk will undoubtedly get used again too.

Getting rid of the beige

When we first moved in, almost the entire house was painted beige. The walls (except for the bathrooms), the doors, the door trim, all beige. But not the floorboards or the windowsills. Go figure. Of course we like the walls a lot more now that they are nice and green. (We like the walls that are brown and purplish-grey too.) But our nicely painted walls just make the beige doors and trim look even more dingy and blah.

The front door in particular has been especially beige-looking ever since we hung the white curtains. I didn’t take a fresh picture with the curtains in view, but here’s one from when we first hung the curtains. The front door is to the far right.

Anyway, I hadn’t really been feeling inspired the paint, but I guess a few weeks with the curtains pushed me over the edge. The beige front door had to go. Here’s the before. Don’t mind the paper/tape protecting the hardware…

Here’s how it looked after I started painting the trim on top. Seeing the beige with the white is such a contrast…

And here’s the finished product! Note how it actually matches the floorboards now…

Here’s a shot with the curtains in view. Sorry about the camera flash, it really isn’t all that shiny-looking in person…

Unfortunately there are another six doors, with trim, that are still very, very beige. And I need to paint BOTH sides of those doors… at least I can take them off of their hinges to paint. There are also two wall heaters that are beige. Eventually I’ll get around to figuring out if there is any way to paint them too…

Bedroom Organization

I don’t post too much about our bedroom, mainly because it gets pretty much the worst lighting of the entire house. I tend to take pictures with my iPhone because a) I know nothing about real photography and b) photos on the SLR just sit there forever and never end up being shared with anyone.

But now that we have the dedicated media computer, we also have an established system for getting photos off of the SLR and onto the internet in a reliable fashion. So that just left the issue of me being clueless about how to use real cameras effectively.

The bedroom is a pain because the one window is completely shaded by our patio roof, and the light bulb in our ceiling fan is a yellow, yellow halogen. While I love our yummy brown walls in person, in my photos they always look either dark and dreary (with the light off) or weirdly orange (with the light on). So in a fit of motivation, I unearthed our tripod, because I heard somewhere that those make photos better somehow. And I cornered Dave, who actually knows something about photography. More accurately, I made sure he saw me fumbling around with his SLR, so that he whisked it away and set it up for me. I win! Here are the results:

The point of this post is to reveal our slightly unconventional clothing storage. We decided when we finally moved out of Berkeley to not take our dressers with us, because we always over-stuffed the drawers and could never find anything. Instead we started collecting smaller baskets that let us separate out our clothing more specifically and keep things more organized.

So that leaves us with a bunch of baskets littered about the room. What a mess, and these pictures are after I tidied the room up! Anyway, our master plan all along has been to build a captain’s bed with storage cubbies to hold our myriad baskets. We also plan to build a storage bench that will hold the clothing in those three white baskets at the foot of the bed.

Of course that’s not all of our clothing. Most of it is stuffed into the closet off to the left.

Currently to get to the master bathroom you turn left into the closet, then left into the bathroom. Our hope is to close up the current bathroom doorway and instead have the bathroom open directly onto the bedroom. Then we can close off the closet area and make it a proper walk-in closet with way more storage space. (If you look closely in the picture above you can see the blue tape on the floor where we want put the new doorway leading into the closet.)

In the meantime, our closet gets to be a huge mess. Oh, and looking at these pictures makes me realize that I really need to decorate these walls!