Um, what?

I’ve come to the conclusion that renovating a space is not entirely unlike creating a Frankensteinian monster.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect our In Law unit to terrorize the village locals; nor do I expect it to require a jolt of lightening before I can call this project complete.  With that said, there are some similarities that should not go unappreciated.

If you think of renovating as being a series of phases, we begin with the demolition phase.  From a Frankenstein standpoint, this might include digging up bodies and harvesting the good parts and chucking the bad parts.  “Oh..that legs is missing a foot, let’s go ahead and scratch that.  Onto the next body.”  From a building standpoint, you open up the walls and identify the rotten wood, or broken pipes.  Then you try to identify the parts of the space you plan on keeping.


Then you’re onto phase two, “repair.”  Now if I was a mad scientist, this is when I’d start opening things up and shoving things into place.  A kidney here, a femur there, etc.  As more of a mad-DIY’er than a mad-scientist, in this phase I prefer to put a floor in here and a wall in there.


Now, we’re onto the last phase, the “finishing” phase.  This would be when I (the mad scientist side of me) might stitch up the holes, put on the little neck bolts, hook my beast up to a lightning pole and hope for the best.  This would understandably be the most anxiety producing phase of the project.  Questions, that I might not want to know the answer to would go flying through my head, such as… “Will my monster eat children?  Will he chase screaming farmers off their land making it that much harder to find organic vegetables in the village?”

Now, as a DIY’er, this is the phase that has the highest level of instant gratification.  This is when the work space magically transforms and reflects its own personality and character (more like a butterfly than a crazed zombie beast).


This, my DIY following friends, is the phase I’m after!!  This is the prize I have my eye on!

The “Finishing” phase is right around the corner!  I am officially in the final throes of the “Repair” phase and after a few stitches supports here and a new kidney electrical outlet there, I’ll finally get to move onto the finishing phase!  (and don’t think I won’t yell “IT’S ALIVE!” when this is all over).

Here’s the list of everything that needs to be done before I can put up drywall.

  1. Raise the closet floor
  2. Add support where the wall mounted TV will be installed
  3. Add support where the sliding door tracks will be installed
  4. Stain the joists
  5. Insulate the walls
  6. Install the tub
  7. Add electrical outlet in the kitchen

So far I’ve knocked 4 items off my list.  Here’s the summary:

The Closet Floor:

Now that all of you blog readers are well versed in the art that is installing a floor, I will spare you the details of what it took to raise the closet floor.  Instead, I’ll show the summary in picture form:


As you can see in the picture above, there is a significant drop off from the main floor of the room to the closet floor.  While this didn’t bother me for a long time, when someone asked me about it the other day I decided that it would make more sense to bring it up to the height of the floor.

closet2 closet3


Unfortunately, the floor is about 1/2″ higher than the main room, but that may be able to be fixed when I put the new finished floor in.  At least you won’t break your leg when trying to get a shirt out of the closet.  It’s a…step…in the right direction. Get it? “Step” in the right direction.

Okay, moving on.

Support for Wall Mounted TV:

Here I just added a couple 2×4’s to the wall to give me something solid for the future attachment of the wall mounted TV arm.





Support For Sliding Door Tracks

As you know we will have two wall-mounted sliding ‘barn’ doors in this room.  One door will be for the closet and the other will be for the bathroom.  Both of these sliding door tracks will be holding anywhere from 75lbs to 200lbs, depending on what type of door I decide to buy or build.  These tracks will require a lot of support to carry that weight.

Here are the new supports for these doors:

Barn Style Sliding Closet Door:





Bathroom Door

The bathroom door will also be on a wall mounted track, although this one will be a little smaller to fit in the limited space.




Stain The Joists:

As you may recall, I intend to drywall between the ceiling joists so that about 2″ of wood remains exposed.  Since half of the room has beautiful old (original) Douglas Fir ceiling joists, and the other half of the room has new construction Douglas Fir, there is a noticeable difference between the colors of the two types of wood.  The old wood is dark and rich like a freshly brewed cup of coffee, while the new wood is bright and golden like the afternoon sunshine.


To create some degree of continuity, I decided to stain the new wood to get it to a closer color match with the old wood.  Unfortunately, trying to reflect the difference in photographs is quite hard.  The main beam, however, is big enough that you can see the difference in color.  Check it out…






With that work done, all I need to do is get the electrical to install one more outlet, get the plumber to set the tub and I’m on to insulating the walls and putting up drywall.  Then things will get really exciting!


I suppose that when you end your most recent post with “we will see what surprises are in store for me over the next few days,” you’re almost asking the universe to surprise you with something special.  While I‘m going to try to not read too far into this, the universe has decided to surprise me with a foot and a half long crack in our home’s sewage line.  

After opening up the walls in the In Law unit a couple of weeks ago, we found some pretty major water damage, along with clear signs of an ongoing leak.


My rough guess is that the leak has been happening for around 20 years.  I mean, it takes awhile to disintegrate over a foot of wood.  Needless to say, it was finally time to find the culprit.

After putting on my sleuth hat, I took the day off of work and met the plumber so we could investigate the source of the leak.  Naively, the lack of foul odor led me to believe the leak was coming from a water line.  Well, I’m not sure what’s wrong with my sense of smell, but as it turns out we found not one…not two…but three cracks in our sewage pipes.  

There was, of course, the afore-mentioned foot and a half long crack.  

sewage line  crack

Then there was a hole on the toilet flashing (which connects the toilet to the sewage line) that had been DIY-fixed with some sort of putty.  



And finally, there was another hole on the opposite side of the flashing that had not been DIY-fixed.


Now I’m not trying to ‘diss’ DIY home repair.  I mean, I’m a DIY’er and I have the magic of the inter-web at my fingertips.  Imagine in the days of yore, when indoor plumbing was a new-fangled luxury and plumbers were just former stable-hands that were trying to get in on the crazy pooping indoors fad.  It must have been a lot harder to become a properly educated DIY’er.  With that said, purely from a chemistry standpoint, some materials are more porous than others.  I’m no chemist, but my guess is that drywall putty is on the more porous spectrum, therefore, not being the best choice when trying to fix a leak.

With all that aside, there are some positive, and some negative, things that have come out of this experience.

On the negative side of things, our poop-pipe was leaking (for 20 years), resulting in some significant dry-rot in the In Law unit.    This realization meant we had to remove the pipe.  Removing a pipe of this nature is not only difficult, but also a bit gross.

sewage      empty

The positive side to this whole thing, however, is two-fold.

First, we have a brand new poop pipe that stretches the entire length of the house.


It’s almost a shame to cover it back up with drywall, but I don’t think that visitors will get as much joy as I do looking at this leak-free pipe.

pretty       silver

Second, I was able to spend a lot of the day working on the floor in the In Law unit while the plumber worked his magic in the house.  I made some significant progress, however, it’s not quite done.  For this reason I’m going to wait to share it when there is a finished product.  After all, I want it to be a surprise.  Just to be clear, the GOOD kind of surprise.

Today has been a very fruitful demolition day!  You might think that demolition usually results in things going away…well, today demolition both removed things from my life and added things to my life.

From a removal standpoint, with a little help from my trusty new reciprocating saw, I was able to rip down that old deck/ceiling.




ceilingAs you can see, quite a bit was removed from the ceiling.  What you can’t see, is everything that was added to my life during the demolition.

First, you might be wondering why the picture above says the ceiling was covered for 40 years.  I mean, the ceiling doesn’t actually speak to me, so how did I come up with that arbitrary length of time?  Well, it’s not just my house-whispering ways…it’s in the news!


lady2           batchlor

These useful and informative newspaper clippings were inside the ceiling when it came crashing down.  You might be thinking “wow!  what a lucrative find!”  Yes it was, but that’s not all I found.

You see, much like other large cities, San Francisco has its share of wildlife.  We have the bison in Golden Gate Park, the hawks soaring the sky, and the critters scampering playfully in the streets.  Well, sometimes those critters scamper playfully in the house.  I’ve been lucky in my time here that I’ve only found one mouse and that was after my cat joined it for a little roughhousing.  Apparently, the previous owners of our home had a bit of a larger critter problem.

I’m happy to introduce you to Ricky, Mickey’s cousin from Nor Cal.


Ricky Rat was nice enough to propel his mummified remains into the air, at an unusually high rate of speed given his current limited mobility, soaring proudly at me in quite a lifelike manner, as the ceiling came down during demolition.  Let’s just say that his zombie acrobatics have earned him a special place as a part of this project.  Therefore, he is officially the project mascot!

Welcome Ricky Rat to the “My First Renovation” extravaganza!

There comes a time in every DIY’ers life where they have to decide how far to pursue their curiosity.    I walked into this project intensely curious of a number of things.  Like, why does the corner of the house slope downward?  And, what is underneath that strange raised platform in the middle of the room?


While some of these questions have been answered (under that platform was concrete…exciting!), the pursuit of finding those answers have exposed all new questions.  Most of those questions begin with “Why.”  Such as…Why did they put a structural support on top of a cut 2″x6, and then sandwich a thin layer of concrete between that 2″x6″ and another 2″x6″?


The answer to that question may be lost to the ages.

There are an endless number of these “Why” questions, but this weekend I’ve uncovered a whole new breed of question…the “What” question.  While chipping away at the thin layer of concrete (using a sledge-hammer because it makes me feel tough) that was poured on top of the foundation, I got to a point where I thought…”I should probably stop unless I would like to rip up the entire floor.”  When I sat back to appreciate my handiwork, I found, to my surprise, that there was something imbedded in the concrete I had yet to remove.  In between the foundation and the remaining concrete is a cast iron lid.


Now, you can understand that I am intensely curious as to what is under this lid.  Dreams of gold-rush treasure keep coming to mind.  I mean, I’m not a greedy person.  I’d be happy with one moderately sized golden nugget.  At the same time, this iron lid could be massive, and could require me to completely rip up the floor to find out what it is hiding.


Realistically, what are the odds that there is buried treasure under that lid?  I’m guessing that the odds are higher that there is something I don’t want to find under there.  Probably nothing as dramatic as a human body, but also nothing as awesome as a buried treasure.  I’m thinking something more like   a lot of dirt where the foundation wasn’t poured, or a nest of attack spiders.

EIther way, I’ll probably leave it where it is and let the curiosity fill me with dreams of riches.  Of course I say this now…but tomorrow I might take a sledge-hammer to it.

What was it that curiosity did to that cat again?

I met with the plumber the other day.  It turns out that the plumbing in the In Law unit was probably also done by a DIY’er (circa 1980’s).  Normally I’d be proud of their go get ’em attitude, but being a DIY’er is a huge responsibility.  There are blogs to read, HGTV to watch and You Tube videos to consult before doing the work.  Apparently, this DIY’er was a DIY’er before DIY’ing was an acronym.

The biggest “whoopsy” with our plumbing is that it was originally installed without additionally installing a vent.  Here’s how I would explain this.  Have you ever gone to the store and purchased one of these boxes of water?


Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you have.  Now, if you’re like me, the first time you used one of these boxes of water you opened up the nozzle and enjoyed free-flowing water for about 10 seconds.  After that, the water stream went from free-flowing, to a trickle, then to nothing.

Finally, after shaking the box and scratching your head for a few minutes, you realized “oh, duh, you have to poke a hole in the top of the container.”  The reason for this is the air actually pushes the water out of the box.  Without a “vent” the water just hangs out in the box (no mater how hard you shake, trust me).

Well, apparently this concept also exists in bathrooms.  Without a vent, water simply doesn’t drain, or at least not well.

Long story short, we need a vent to go from the In Law unit, through the kitchen to the roof.  Luckily we have some space beside our sewage line that we can use for this vent. In all, the news isn’t horrible and not entirely unexpected.  Of course I say this now but I haven’t seen the estimate yet.  I’ll keep you posted.



I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and he was suspecting that my current In-Law unit was once a deck that was enclosed.  This would explain the strange mixture of new and old wood that I’ve found underneath the drywall.

Well, today the asbestos guys came out and nearly completed the demolition of the room for me!  (Yay for asbestos guys!)  All that’s left is that subfloor and a little insulation.

2013-03-06 16.47.11

If you ask me, now it resembles more of a rustic barn then either a deck or an In Law unit.  On the positive side, there is a secret part of me that always wanted to live in a barn.  I’m pretty sure that I can thank my childhood love of horses and the film ‘National Velvet’ for that.


This weekend I began the demolition.  The two biggest questions I have are, 1) what is under that raised platform where the bar was installed, and 2) what is under the wooden floor?

Here’s the room after the demolition:


After opening up the walls and part of the floor I’ve made a few discoveries.  First, let’s talk about that wooden floor:  

What I found was that half of the floor is covered in a sub-floor, under which is a concrete pad.  This is good news.  I’ll take out the old sub-floor, which has redwood directly on top of concrete, and put in a new sub-floor with pressure treated wood & a vapor barrier.  This should also help me make one level floor, verses the multi-level floor that I currently have.  

Demolition  2013-02-28 16.17.51

What I also found was that the second half of the room does not have a sub-floor.  Instead, the person who built this space glued asbestos tiles to, what I believe, is the same concrete pad that on the other side of the room is covered with sub-floor.  I’m not totally sure about this yet because I need to have a professional take out the asbestos tiles.  That will be happening this week so i can reassess the situation.

On a side note, what I’ve learned about asbestos during this process has been quite interesting.  Apparently, asbestos tile is one of the less harmful forms that asbestos comes in.  The asbestos is actually encapsulated in the tile, so the only way it would become air born (and thus dangerous) is if the tile is broken.  Also, asbestos was used quite freely back in the days of yore, mostly because it simply doesn’t burn.  It is a great insulator and fire retardant.  With that said, for my own comfort, I have decided to have it removed by a professional.


Finally, as you can also see in the picture above, there is a strange concrete pad in the middle of the room that was poured over the other concrete pad.  I have no idea why this was done, but it will have to be removed.  That is, after I have my structural engineer take a look.

As for the rest of the room, there has been no limit to the surprises I’ve uncovered.  Just so this stays within the boundaries of “blogging” and not “novel writing,” I’ll limit my breakdown of some of these treasures.

In the picture below you can see that the drywall had been installed directly over the siding from where the house use to end.  They even covered up an old window with all of the working parts still in place..


In this picture, you can see where the old kitchenette use to be (along with some of those asbestos tiles).  You can also see where some mold has grown behind where the sink use to be.  Luckily the mold is just on the surface of the wall, and not growing through the drywall.

2013-02-28 16.18.22

The best surprise was discovered after I opened up the wall behind the kitchenette.  From the looks of things, there is no structural support holding up this corner of the house.  Installing a new beam will definitely be something I’ll have to bring in a professional to do.  Much of this wood is rotted, so it may end up being more of a wall rebuild then I had anticipated.  We will see what the structural engineer has to say once he checks it out.

2013-03-03 17.37.56  2013-03-03 17.38.16

That’s it for now.  I’ll let you know what happens next in this adventure!

The day is finally here!  I’m taking the plunge!  No, I’m not getting married.  Well, not yet that is.  I’m starting my very first renovation!  I’ve been waiting for this day ever sense I was a kid trying to build a skateboard out of a few planks of wood and some caster wheels.  Let’s hope this project turns out better then that one did.

Speaking of project, let me tell you a little bit about what I’m doing.  Last year my fiancé and I purchased a 1920’s Edwardian house.  Our first grown-up house!  It has two bedrooms, a couple bathrooms and an In Law unit.  This In Law is going to be my first renovation project.

To give you a sense of the current state it is in, when you walk in it smells like a fragrant potpourri of mildew and cigarettes.   Years of neglect have made the space less than ideal as a guest room, which is where I come in!  I have no background in construction, but consider myself an avid DIY’er.  I love getting into things and figuring them out.  I love building things with power tools, and looking online for resources to troubleshoot issues.  I’m also a big fan of HGTV and the DIY Network.  Let’s hope all of this “home schooling” has properly prepared me for what I’m in for.


The In Law is not particularly large. Splitting the room in two is a bar that is on a raised platform. I’m not sure what is under that platform, but I’ll find out soon enough.

The bathroom has a tub/shower combo, a vanity, a toilet and a LOT of mold.


Just another shot of the ugly bathroom.

Stay Tuned…