Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gear closet. Done.


Apparently I run a tight ship here at Our Little Family. I may have been accused of imposing impossible deadlines thus far in my basement remodel. In reality, I have no actual deadlines for this project but I couldn't move on with the main part of the project until the gear closet (aka: utility room, litter box room, freezer room, or man cave) was done since the "gear" had taken over the main part of the basement. The project required a bit of Scott's help in the form of six inches of extra height and a few foot-pounds of extra bicep power. Screwing hundreds of 2.5" screws into 2x4s got to be a bit more than I could handle alone but I'm now stronger because of it.

And now it's done! And Scott has a lovely new home for his gear. Ridiculous deadlines or not, I think he's a happy guy now that it's over. And I'm happy because now I can move on to the good stuff.


You already saw the new door on the gear closet. The room has also been outfitted with two new shelving units on 3" casters, pegs for hanging skis, a new electrical outlet (for the freezer which was moved from one side of the room to the other), a new light (because I couldn't see into the freezer once we turned it away from the original light), two new return air vents, and a timer on the crawlspace fan.

A timer on the crawlspace fan? What? Some of you already know that I have superhuman hearing. It's really a great asset when someone is talking behind my back or when my kids are upstairs NOT brushing their teeth. It's not so handy when the sound of the crawlspace fan drives me batty, running 24x7. It's even worse when I'm working in the basement and the fan seems so loud that I can't think straight! So, my handy electrician husband (I don't do electrical work) changed out the fan switch for a timer. Now the fan runs just from midnight to six in the morning. I'm sure the sound of it will be incorporated into my dreams at some point but at least it doesn't drive me nuts all day.

The real showpiece in the new gear closet is not the timer (hard to believe, I know). It's the super-sturdy, super-organized, super-clever shelving system that I designed and built (out of mostly re-used 2x4s) to hold Scott's (er...our) camping, kayaking, backpacking, skiing, and sports gear. Not everyone needs to store five tents of various sizes and purposes, five sleeping bags (Nick, we've got your bag, in case you were wondering where it went), four pairs of skis and boots and snow gear, an inflatable kayak, and coolers out the wazoo. Oh, and about twelve different backpacks. Each with its own specific use. And a crate full of Camelbacks. Yes, my friends. Apparently we are Coloradans through and through.


We needed the shelving unit to hold all this...uh...stuff. But the unit needed to be designed in a way that would allow us access to the Christmas decor (which is stuffed under the stairs behind the shelves). And, some day we'll probably have to get the freezer out of there and replace it. So, I made the shelving units short and shallow enough to fit through the pocket door and I put them on casters to make them easy to move. I added sides and a back to one shelf to keep Scott's basketballs and footballs in place and did the same with the tent/sleeping bag shelf.

I love casters. And rust colored carpet. Okay, maybe not the carpet.

For ski storage, I threw together some shaker-inspired pegs and now our skis hang by their tips between the pegs. Yep, probably bad for the skis but, eh, oh well. We don't invest in expensive ski gear.


A few things that used to be in the gear closet did not make it back in. Like, for instance, my wedding dress. I'm confident we'll find it a new home where it can live on in trunk-show infamy awaiting a second chance at life. A few other things got left out too. A book I wrote in fifth grade now has a home in Brynn's room where she has enjoyed laughing at the "about the author" page. I'm glad she can find humor in the fact that I believed I was headed for a career as a dolphin trainer. Especially since she has been raised to frown on dolphin shows and nearly all other instances of wild animals living in captivity. Oh, the irony. It's not lost on her.

So, without setting any arbitrary deadlines, here's what my next few weeks will look like: clean up garage, remove remaining stuff from main basement area, rip out carpet, rip out padding, find a new home for carpet and padding (not the landfill, thanks to Craigslist), scrape and smooth popcorn ceilings. Yeah, baby.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to install a pocket door

Yes, I believe I've now earned the right to write a "how to" post on pocket door installation. One install and you know it all. Er, maybe not. But here is what I learned, in case you want to tackle one!

1. Buy the proper sized kit from the hardware store, preferably one that was not previously opened. Yes, even if it means you have to ask an associate to bring a ladder over to get an unopened kit off the top shelf.
2. Prepare a great comeback for the associate who asks, "Where is HE?" as you pepper him with questions about pocket door installation. He who? "He...the one who should be doing this project." Oh, no, this is MY project, not HIS. So there.
3. Get your rear view mirror set straight so you can laugh as you drive home with the hatch open on your car and the pocket door kit hanging out the back. It's amusing to see all the cars behind you keep their distance.
4. Those warnings you read on how-to sites about making the rough opening **perfectly** square? They're right. But I found a way around it in case you can't (for the life of you) get a square opening.
5. Take the time to fill up your air compressor and use your nail gun. I forgot how tough it is to use a hammer and nails well!
6. If your opening is impossible to get square, don't follow the directions on the bag of hardware. Use your instincts -- they're probably smarter. And then get creative with trim.
7. Oh, and about those instincts? If your instincts say, "Use screws even though the directions say nails," go with screws. Screws are much easier to remove and re-adjust.

My pocket door kit came from Lowe's and cost me about $70. It included a frame that goes inside the wall to make space for the door, a header with a roller track from which the door will hang, and a door jamb. It also had all of the hardware needed to hang the door from the track (two rollers and two hangers). It did not include the nails needed to put the kit together or to attach it to the studs and floor. I re-used the louvered door that was originally on the other side of our utility room, so I was spared the cost of buying a new door. There will be some elbow-grease involved in refinishing it, though.

First, using the chart on the bag of hardware that comes with your pocket door kit, create your rough opening. This means removing the drywall from at least one side of the opening, plus cutting the hole for the door in the drywall on both sides. For our 30" door, the opening needed to be about 7' tall by 5' wide. The opening should be square.

Since we only have a sub-floor in the area where the door was going, I added a 1x6 to the bottom of the opening to act as a threshold and to make future floor-laying go more smoothly. We'll see how that pans out...

Next, get your pocket door kit and attach the header to the frame and then the jamb to the header. Do it on a large, flat surface in order to get everything as flush as possible. The directions on how to do this or what kind of nails to use were vague to say the least. I used finish nails and they seemed to work okay. I considered using wood screws but thought I would probably split the wood and was too lazy to pre-drill.

Once your kit is put together, put it into the opening and see if it fits. This is when I decided I needed to add a threshold to the floor. The directions on the bag are confusing here. The first thing you're supposed to do is nail (I screwed) the metal plate on the bottom "into the sub-floor," which makes it sound like the door should go directly onto the sub-floor. I think what they mean is to use nails long enough to go through the floor and into the sub-floor. I used screws because I had a feeling I'd need to pull them up and re-position this plate. I am SO glad I followed my instincts on that one.

After you attach the bottom plate to the floor, you're supposed to nail the jamb into the rough opening. Our jamb just wasn't getting plumb (vertically level), even though the rough opening was plumb. After troubleshooting with a carpenter at Lowe's, we decided that the jamb was probably milled badly and was not the same thickness throughout. I could have pulled the whole thing out and taken it apart and returned it for an UNopened kit, but that was a bit more than I could handle. I will tell you my solution in a bit.

I got the jamb in as plumb as possible and then went to attach the other end of the kit (the frame that goes in between the drywall) to the other side of the rough opening. We had a good 1" gap between the frame and the opening, so I filled it with a 1x4 and lots of shims and then put in one 3" screw to hold everything in place temporarily.

This is where I departed from the directions. I just knew I wasn't getting the frame in totally straight -- I could tell it was warping out a bit. So, I followed the directions to attach the hanging hardware to the door and I hung the door inside the unfinished frame. Once I was able to slide the door back and fourth a bit, it was easy to see how to tweak the frame to get it flat and straight in the opening.

Once the frame was screwed in and straight, I closed the door to see how it laid against our slightly un-plumb jamb. With a few adjustments to the hanging hardware (to make the door tilt a bit to match the jamb), the door was hanging parallel to the jamb and opening and closing smoothly. All of these adjustments made the opening in the frame slightly bigger than the door, so I added a couple of trim pieces to the frame to make it all work.

With a little creativity and lot of instinct-following, here is what we've got (unpainted and untrimmed, of course).

Looking down the stairs at the new louvered pocket door.

Yep, it even opens!

View from the other side. The unfinished trim you see in this photo is where I had to add an extra strip of trim to decrease the width of the opening, thus keeping the trailing edge of the door in the pocket when it is fully closed.


Peaking inside...the giant black bookcase that didn't sell on Craigslist has a new home and a new purpose. The rest of the giant black furniture (double desk and two short bookcases) is gone. Thankfully.

Here it is from the inside. You can see the threshold I laid, the frame to the right, the header on top and the jamb to the left.

Clearly, the door needs to be painted and needs some hardware in place of the original doorknob. It also needs to have a cat flap added to the bottom so that Anna can access her litter box. Er, um...boxes. Lucky lady.

That little nook to the right of the bookcase? I'd like to make it ski storage. But that is up to Scott. This is HIS gear closet.

And, my two shelves in HIS gear closet...pickles, anyone? Yep, we do love pickles.

And, in unrelated news, a photo of my sweet, super-smart Brynn giving her "famous American" speech at school yesterday. Each kid had to gather information about his or her famous American, create a doll to represent that person, and show the doll to the class during the speech. Brynn chose Ansel Adams for her famous American. She now knows how to spell Yosemite and understands how art can influence people's attitudes as well as public policy. I'm so proud of her!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My kid is a genius.

Maybe both kids are geniuses (genii?), but Brynn showed it today.

This morning, I was about 2/3 done cutting a hole in the utility room wall. I was cutting out the studs and drywall to make room for a new door. I ran out of time and had to go shower before church and left the job unfinished. As I was drying off from my shower, I heard her downstairs in the hallway saying to her dad, "Oh, I thought the door would be over here."

I wondered what she could mean. Then I realized that she meant she thought the door to the utility room would be at the bottom of the stairs instead of around the corner.

Immediately I felt like a complete dummy. Brilliant! Of course! Why would I break up a wall of storage with a door when I could put the door right at the bottom of the stairs? I've been into a few other houses with our floorplan and all of them had the door in the spot where I had been cutting the hole this morning. It never occurred to me to move it to a completely different location.

So after church, I measured and stared and measured some more. Then I asked Scott what he thought. He thought it was a brilliant idea, too.

Brynn gets the credit for this fabulous design change.

See it here in the plans. Here is the old layout. The current utility room door is near the future toilet. My plan was to move it into the hallway between the tall cabinets. That's where I was cutting today.
Here is the new plan, with a pocket door at the bottom of the stairs. The pocket door will disappear into the wall under the stairs when it is opened, saving lots of valuable space in the utility room and not intruding on the hallway.

Possibly the best part of this new plan is that now I can put a regular closet in on the long wall in the hallway. Not only will that give me more storage and be significantly cheaper than using cabinets (actually, the Ikea Pax wardrobe system was my most recent plan), but I already have six-foot bi-fold doors that I can put on the closet.

Both of our girls' rooms had bi-folds on the closets when we moved in. I changed them out for curtains to help counter the echos and the pinched fingers. I love having curtains in their rooms and can't imagine going back to bi-folds, but I really like bi-folds, too. At least, I love them on closets. I love to be able to open both sides and see everything at a glance.

I'm still considering all my options -- maybe I'll go with curtains? That way the closet opening could be wider and it would soften the space considerably. But, I love the idea of re-using our bi-fold doors. They've been sitting in the attic for about six years, just waiting for a job like this.

In related news, we managed to completely clear out the gear closet (aka: utility room) this weekend and do some necessary electrical work (moving light switches and electrical outlets) before knocking out the wall for the pocket door (one and a half times). In the process, we managed to kill only one circuit breaker, Scott only shocked himself once, and he only stabbed himself in the thumb with a screwdriver once! He bled several times from several different "accidents," but the screwdriver to the thumb was the worst incident. I jigsawed through one live electrical wire (oops) but other than that I came away mostly unscathed, save for really dry skin and more than enough drywall dust up my nose. So, no permanent damage was done. I call that a success.

And the work continues. Tonight may be a late night of pocket door installation for me!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Change of plans

Maybe not so much a change as a slight modification? A new goal?

Yesterday while walking home from dropping the kids off at school, I saw a foreclosure house being gutted. Among the items in the driveway was a sad looking 70's style two-tiered chandelier with a mixture of bulb types and a few hurricane shades. It was dirty and ugly...and free. So it came home with me. If nothing else, I've got a great imagination. I'd love to fix up that old chandelier and repaint it and hang it above the mirror in our new basement bathroom. If we ever get there.

After I picked up the chandelier, I saw this photo in a book I checked out from the library and I also read that light coming from the front or side of us is more pleasing than light coming from above.


See that little hurricane sconce in the middle? I like that. I saw it and thought...hmm, I'd love to find two sconces that work with the free chandelier to go on either side of the non-existent bathroom's non-existent mirror. And, funny enough, I stopped into our Habitat for Humanity ReStore today (my first time there, unbelievably) and found two sconces that match my free chandelier! And guess how much they cost...

Are you ready?

Four smackers each. Yep, a whopping total of $8 for my two sconces and the two-tiered chandelier. Add to that the cost of paint and new light bulbs, plus wiring the non-existent bathroom and I think you'll agree that we've found ourselves (er, I've found myself) a pretty sweet deal on lighting!

And, because I know you're curious, here are the ugly old light fixtures that I'm planning to re-make:


As I was taking my time browsing the ReStore, I found some white subway tile identical to the tile in our kitchen. It's the tile I've been planning to use on all of the bathrooms in our house. Daltile 3x6 tiles in Arctic White with a matte finish. The ReStore was selling them for $1/square foot. That's about half the retail price, so I picked up all they had. I ended up coming home with three boxes of field tiles and one box of edge tiles -- fifty square feet in all.

I also saw some doors that will work in the basement as well as a mirror (I think it came from a hotel because there were about 15 of the same one) with a lovely rope detail on the frame and a nice beveled edge on the mirror. I'm planning to go back and pick up the mirror when I drag Scott down to check out the doors. The mirror is a steal (in my opinion) at $30. Super heavy-duty frame and the perfect size for our non-existent bathroom. I'll just repaint the frame so that it goes with the rest of the room. What can I say? I love cheap.

All of this cheapness and the overwhelming stock at the ReStore got me thinking...how much of this basement project can I do with re-used, re-purposed, recycled materials? And that thought led me to change my goals for this project. I'd like to use re-purposed materials for as much of the project as possible.

I'm sure it won't be one hundred percent re-purposed, but I'm going to start keeping track and visiting the ReStore before making any major construction purchases.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Quote of the Day

Having another snow day here. Somehow the girls found my basal thermometer and are taking their temperatures. Here is what Callie had to say.

Callie: Mom, my temperature is 90.5. I think I have a fever!

Mom: Anything below 100 is fine.

Callie: Well then I guess I have a cold.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A woman with a plan

Look out. I've got a plan. And I'm going to share it with you. Although, to actually SEE my plan, you should probably click on the image below. That will blow it up bigger so you can study it.
When I tackle a project, I've got to have a plan. The bigger the project, the more specific my plan needs to be. Without a plan, I stand around staring at the ceiling, turning in circles. No kidding. I think it's a trait I inherited from my mother because I've seen her do the same thing. I stare at details. I consider alternatives. I plan in my head and then I spin around and do it some more. This tactic usually doesn't get me far. Until I've got a plan in writing, I get very little done.

So, look out. It's in writing now.

Today, our basement looks almost nothing like this plan. Besides the stairs, the furnace, the hot water heater, the windows, and the outside walls, pretty much everything else in this plan is a major change for our little basement.

Our little basement has no bathroom. There isn't even roughed-in plumbing. The door to the utility room is currently where the freezer is in the plan. Right now there is a door at the bottom of the steps, but not one into the main part of the basement.

All of that is about to change.

Er...all of that will change eventually. Just as fast as my hands can work which is, um, not all that fast.

Not only do I have the pretty plans above, I've got plans in my head. I've got plans for my plans. Plans to re-use as many elements as possible. For instance, I'd like to re-use both of the doors in the basement, hopefully by moving them from their current locations to new locations -- one to be used as the bathroom door, one as the door to the main room. I'm hoping to use the bathtub from the girls' bathroom upstairs in the new basement bathroom. There's nothing wrong with the tub and, eventually, the girls' bathroom will have just a shower (because it's a tiny bathroom). But this house needs at least one bathtub, so I'd like to move it downstairs. Reusing as much as possible is both an economic decision and a conscious choice not to discard perfectly good elements. The doors are solid wood. The bathtub is in fine shape. Why buy new ones if I can get away with the old?

I do need to bring in some new elements, like the 24" deep high cabinets in the hallway and built-ins flanking the window and a small media center opposite the bed for TV viewing comfort.

I've also got some particularly nit-picky plans. For instance, the new door to the utility room will have to be placed in the exact right spot to allow for a 24" cabinet on one side and a 30" and 15" on the other. Also, the pocket door going into the new closet will have to be in the exact right spot in order to leave wall space for a bedside table. The bathroom door needs to be exactly opposite the vanity. Because I like it that way. When the bathroom door is open, I'd much rather see a beautiful vanity than a toilet.

Most likely, there is a lot I'm leaving out. I know nothing about design. I know even less about traffic flow and codes and plumbing (although I did learn today about the challenges of putting a toilet in a basement -- it involves pumping waste uphill).

And, although it may look like I've got my mind all made up, I'm uncertain about a lot of things. Like, whether we'll even put a bed down there or if we'll opt for a VERY comfortable fold-out sofa. A sofa would make the room more multi-purpose. More media-centered. Which means we should probably put in speakers. And special lighting. Where ARE the lights going to go and how AM I going to get them there? And what will they look like? And what about the heater vents that straddle places where I need to put walls? And the vents that need to go into the utility room wall to ensure that our finicky tankless water heater has enough oxygen to burn? And what about the cat? How will I put a cat-door into the vented utility room door? We keep her litter box there and the box needs to be accessible for her.

So, yeah, I may have more questions than answers at this point.

But at least I'm making progress. Today the old wallpaper came down and the carpet staples came up. And I made a plan. That's progress.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A fresh start

I'm choosing to think of this as a fresh start. In almost any other room in my house, I probably couldn't manage that thought. But here, in the basement, it's pretty easy to make lemons into lemonade. Or, maybe someone just handed me straight-up lemonade. Or even a bottle of limoncello.

The basement before:

The basement now:

Yeah. A fresh start. We had some cold temps here in Colorado last week. Our cold water faucet in the kitchen stopped working (as usual). We hoped that was the only cold-related issue, but when things started to thaw on Thursday, I heard a suspicious hissing. I thought it was wind blowing at a weird angle through the kitchen vent fan, but when the wind stopped and the hissing continued, I thought again.

Scott headed down to the basement (which is below the kitchen) to see if he could figure anything out. Sure enough, I heard a few sailor-esque words and went down to check it out myself. The wall was soaked, the carpet was SOAKED. We had a busted pipe.

We turned off the water and went to bed. I slept. Scott didn't.

The next morning, we started tearing off the drywall and found that the copper line to our icemaker had busted in two places. The insulation was so wet that I could squeeze water out of it.

Going in to find the leak

The culprit. See the tiny copper line? The nasty looking stuff on the left is wet blown-in insulation. The regular fiberglass insulation is the yellow stuff on the right.

Not one to back down from a DIY challenge, I headed to Lowe's and (with the help of a very knowledgeable employee in the plumbing department) devised a plan. Instead of running a new copper line down through the floor where it might freeze and burst again, I got a ten foot long flexible ice maker line. When I got home, I drilled holes in the backs of our cabinets and ran the line through the cabinets, from the fridge to the sink where it connects to the water source. No leaks! No chance to freeze!

Fishing a wire through the cabinets to lead the new icemaker line back to the water source. I did a little happy dance when the fishing wire made it all the way through.
When my kitchen looks like this, you know we've got a problem.

Once the leak was fixed, I headed down to the basement to rip off the rest of the drywall and tear up the wet carpet and padding. Although mold is rare here (due to our super dry air), I didn't want to take any chances. I have no idea if I went overboard or not, but I know that replacing the insulation and drywall will be relatively cheap. A lot cheaper than dealing with a mold issue later on. Again, not taking any chances.

Getting started.

Darn, so sad to see the wallpaper go.


Making headway.

Done with this phase of demolition! Things are drying very quickly.

Steve's still hanging in there with us!

So, how, you might be wondering, can I view all of this as lemonade instead of lemons? Well...to start with, I had recently cleaned out the basement, so none of our stuff got ruined. Our ski boots were sitting in a big puddle when we found the leak, but that's about it.

Second, (she sheepishly admits) before this happened, Scott was not totally on board with my plan to renovate the basement. Now the basement is torn up anyway, so finishing the job is not such a big deal. I wouldn't say he's enthusiastically supportive, but he is definitely warming up to the idea of me changing this space from a storage area/office to a guest suite. He would still prefer not to know any specifics.

Next steps, finish taking off the wallpaper, scrape the ceilings, modify the placement of electrical outlets, switches, light fixtures, etc. And then...who knows? I'm taking it a few steps at a time, I guess. But at least now I have permission to get started.

Psst...I did it! Check out the reno'd basement here

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Photo booth

In more snow day fun today, we had a little photo booth session in the kitchen. The girls had a blast!