You may be wondering what has been happening over the last few days.

Perhaps you have a vision of me dressed in my flannel shirt, Carhart pants and protective eyewear, revving power tools dangerously, yet thrillingly, in my hands while willing my In Law unit to build itself using pure intimidation…


I mean, I don’t want to say that you’re wrong, but…

As you may recall, last weekend I made some great progress on projects that required reaching over my head.  Well, what I didn’t mention was that I also made some minimal progress on projects that required me to be hunched over.  Specifically, showing that jack hammer who’s boss.  Well, as it turns out, the jack hammer is boss.  Also, I’ve renamed the jack hammer, the back hammer.

I was able to dig this hole though…

2013-03-23 14.53.46

Unfortunately, it is about half the size that it needs to be for the plumber.  I expect that digging will resume in the next few days.

In the mean time (as I let my back heal so I can once again resume back-hammering) I’ve been in planning mode.  Mostly, I’ve been dreaming about our future subfloor.  For a few reasons, not the least of which is cost, I’ve decided to build a subfloor rather than pour concrete.  This decision requires me to try and access the recesses of my mind for the little bit of geometry that I learned in high-school that remains (much of which has since been replaced by cute kitty memes)


The problem is trying to build a sub-floor to handle all of the varying levels of concrete.


While I’d like to try and keep the floor as low as possible (thus making the room less cave-like), I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it will need to be raised up a bit in order for it to be made level.  First, here’s a description of the different components of a framed a floor:


My plan is to use 2″x6″ pressure treated wood to build out the framed sub-floor. I’ll install a header joist on top of the “curb” (aka foundation) and attach it to the wall.  Since I will be using pressure treated lumber, I think I can get away with not installing a ‘sill plate.”  If you have any expertise in this area please feel free to chime in.  Adding the sill plate would raise the floor up another inch & a half, which I’d like to avoid.

From there I’ll frame out the floor.  There is about a 4″ difference in floor height from one side of the floor to the other.  I’ll have to put in a few wedges and 2×4’s to level things out, but I think I can do it.


Looks easy enough.  Considering I’ve never framed anything before, I suspect I’ll learn a lot in the process of building this floor.  I find solace in knowing that the worst that can happen is that it won’t be level or that the floor will feel squishy.  Either way, it’s still an improvement over what the floor is currently like.

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!

Whether it is the musty smell of 100-year-old wood and dust, or the rustic Douglas-fir beams, the more time that I spend in the completely gutted In Law unit, the more I feel like the “urban barn” look will work well in this space.  One thing, in particular, I have really been enjoying are the exposed wood beams in the ceiling.  Unfortunately, only a portion of the ceiling has the original old-growth Douglas-fir joists, but they are really beautiful.  So beautiful, in fact, that I’ve been thinking that we might keep them exposed.  Here’s a picture for you…


I have a meeting tonight with the electrician, which should clarify how we can approach lighting the room.  Once this is figured out we will know if we will need to cover the ceiling in drywall.  If it is possible to get the lighting that I would like while keeping the beautiful wooden ceiling that would be ideal.

To give you a sense of what I’m thinking of, here are a few ideas I’ve found that show what a space can look like with exposed joists & beams.






In addition to the ceiling beams, we have the large wooden columns in the middle of the room.  After consulting with the structural engineer, it sounds like we can potentially remove one of the two columns.  Whether we keep them both, or only have one column in the room, I’m looking forward to sanding it down and sealing it to expose the natural beauty of the wood.


I thought I’d provide a quick update on where things currently stand with “My First Renovation Project” (as it will forever be known).  My schedule lately has been

  • Go to work
  • Run home at lunch to meet a contractor/plumber/structural engineer/(insert professional something here)
  • Run back to work and finish my actual paying job
  • Run home from work and demolish something
  • Run to woodworking class and build furniture
  • Run home from woodworking class
  • Relax.  

Phew…makes me tired just thinking about it.  Now, you might be thinking “why does Beth need to meet a professional when she’s doing a DIY project?”  That’s an excellent question blog reader.  The reason is two-fold.

First, I have never done this before and have acquired an awesome crew of people supporting me through this process.  Second, because I know my limits and some of the work that needs to be done is beyond my expertise.

One of the great things about this whole project, though, is that all of my professionals are fully supportive of my ambitious DIY goal, and are willing to teach me what I need to know and step in when the scope calls for it.  Take today (over lunch) for example.  After looking over a few items in the In Law, my contractor told me she’d be happy to lend me her jack hammer to rip up some concrete.  In some places in the world friends or neighbors might borrow sugar.  In my world. we lend each other jack hammers!  Luckily, I am currently in need of a jack hammer, so this was perfect timing.

That leads us to the update.

Last weekend I was able to rip out the gimp closet!  Not only is this good news because it means that we are no longer obligated to house a gimp, it also means we have a nice and large (feeling) room.  Check it out.





As for what’s next…well, this weekend I will be focusing on two things.  First, opening up the former deck (current ceiling) to find out what secrets are underneath.  Hopefully I will find some pretty ceiling joists holding up the mud room above.


I also plan on taking a jack hammer to the bathroom floor to open up the concrete around the drains.  Then the plumber can come in and see about putting in a vent.  If I can do that demolition, That will save me quite a bit of money.


As usual, I have my work cut out for me.  Overall, this project hasn’t been going nearly as quickly as my ambitious schedule predicted.  With that said, I’m happy with the current pace.  I’m learning something almost every day, and it’s pretty thrilling trying to figure things out.

That’s it for now!


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.



When working in such a small space, something that always seems to get in the way are doors.  It may sound strange, but doors opening & closing can make a small room feel like it’s constantly shifting in size depending on the door’s position.  It’s like the room is breathing…or like you’re Alice in Wonderland, without eating or drinking anything.  

In our old home, which was only 450 square feet, doors became a bit of a problem.  The french doors to the back yard conflicted with the bathroom door, so neither could be open at the same time.  Inevitably, there would be times when we would need to navigate the labyrinth of doors just to get to the bathroom.  Sometimes urgency requires access to the bathroom to be swift & obstacle free.

In the In Law unit, there will be four doors.

  1. The closet
  2. The bathroom
  3. The door to the yard
  4. The entry door

That’s a lot of doors for such a small space.  When it comes to the closet, I’m not a fan of accordion (or bi-fold) doors.  Maybe it’s just me, but they always seem to get stuck, or making a screeching sound when I open them.  While a pocket door might be an option, plumbing & wiring in the wall may make it impossible to install without a lot of reconfiguration.  The solution I’m considering is to install a sliding barn door.  (I know…back to that barn talk again).  I think that from an aesthetic standpoint, sliding barn doors look really cool and could fit into our rustic space quite well.  There are also a ton of options for doors and hardware.

Check out some of these ideas.






Here is a picture of where the closet is located in the room.  This door would be one of the first things  a person will see when entering the space, making it that much more important that it sets the tone for the design.


The original In Law unit had, what one might call, a ‘kitchenette.”  I’m not sure if a sink, an exposed gas line and a few electrical plugs count as a kitchenette, but for the sake of argument, let’s call it a kitchenette.



The question that is currently at hand is whether or not the new In Law should have a kitchenette.  The space is not particularly large, so adding a small kitchen will “eat into” (pun intended) the overall living space.  On the other hand, having a small kitchen would allow our visitors, or even future renters, to live a little more independently.  They would no longer need to walk outside, up the deck stairs, and into the back door of the main house to heat up some water for tea.

With this in mind, here are a few kitchenette ideas I’ve found.


As you can see, if we go the route of kitchenette, it would essentially be a sink, a microwave and a small refrigerator.

kitchen 4

One thing I love about the following option is the window.  Unfortunately, attempting to move the plumbing to accommodate a kitchenette on an outward facing wall might be a bigger expense then we had planned on making.


Let’s say we decide that we do want one of these sleek kitchenettes.  Then the question then becomes, where do we put it?



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.


I found this picture online and was thinking it might be a nice addition to the In Law.


I was wondering what to put in the space between the (current) two windows, which will eventually be one window and a sliding glass door.  Now I’m thinking that it might be the perfect space for a built in bookcase.  What do you think?