Monday, February 28, 2011

Ultra White Ceiling

Painted the ceiling white yesterday.
For bathroom and mudroom, I used Behr flat enamel Ultra White and for the new porch Behr's Ceiling Paint, ultra white.

Rule number one: If the project is big enough to get out the roller - buy a gallon can, nothing smaller.

Rule number two: Paint in day light. No spotlights in the world are as good as day light.

The photo I took could just as well have been of a polar bear in a snow storm, so there is no point posting that...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Brick Work

We had thoughts of tearing down the entire west side brick wall and add insulation and siding, but it didn't fit within the budget. Instead the mason was there for two days fixing the new hole in the wall and the messy edge towards the the new wall. The old window had already been replaced and the framing had been done from the inside.

Nicely done! Even the odd 3D pattern was recreated. The brick guy had never seen that before. It is also quite unusual to have brick on the side of the house and siding front and back. Now, we only need another window installed and some siding.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dry Wall Guys

If you need drywalls installed, don't waist your time doing it yourself. The guys working on our house this week were amazingly fast in covering the walls and ceiling with dry wall. They probably created a lot more dust than I would have done, but got the job done 10 times faster.

To make the holes for electrical fit perfectly, they put up
the drywall first and then cut a hole by going around the
edge of the metal electrical box with a drill. 

VoilĂ ! It almost looks like real rooms!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Insulation

The old opening got a new window a couple of days ago and at that time the builders replaced the old 2x4 header with a 2x6 one. That will be needed if we ever manage to build a second floor on the house.
The old opening (right) got a new header.

The wall has always been very cold to the touch on the inside. Just a couple of inch of old fiberglass doesn't do all that much after all. To improve the comfort level in that room, a 1-1/2 inch layer of foam board was added before covering the entire wall with new drywall.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Today, the house got a very much needed winter comforter. The entire new area of course, but also the entire wall of the crawl space and the rim joist around the basement got some marshmallow fluff. Quite amazing to watch the sprayed on liquid expand!

Monday, February 21, 2011


Getting windows and doors installed in a new wall is a real milestone! All of a sudden, the characters of the house and rooms are revealed.
For reasons of energy efficiency and cost/benefit optimization, Integrity by Marvin was chosen. Since the walls were new, we had no need for customized sizes. Only one of the bedroom windows was a replacement one. However, since the interior wall was ripped apart anyway to replace the header and to reframe for the second window, we found a standard size that worked well.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Heating, Plumbing and Electricity

From a decorative point of view, there might not be so much to write about heating plumbing and electricity. However, since I also care a lot about functionality and convenience, NOW is the time to think about where to put what.
Few things are as annoying as light switches in the wrong place or extension cords stretched across the room.  A heating/cooling system that does not work evenly might turn your otherwise favorite spot into a very uncomfortable one some times during the year.

It helps to have an idea of where you want your furniture to go, but it is important to also think ahead and build in flexility for rearranging. Getting a pet, growing kids, aging adults, handicap arising from sudden accidents or illnesses can all cause the need for rearranging and/or change furniture in a room.

When building small and compact, it can be a challenge to fit all utilities into walls and floors. Both plumber and electrician did a good job to work around the obstacles. The main heating through the crawl space needed to

New heating ducts in the crawl space to feed the new
rooms and to improve heating in the bedrooms above. 

While having the entire wall open, we put in all the plumbing needed to feed an upstairs bathroo. In the photograph below are the water pipes installed and a hole made for the drain pipe. The wall also got an outlet for a central vacuum cleaner installed. Easy to do now and so hard later.

Mudroom wall with water pipes, drain
pipes,  outlet for a central vacuum  cleaner,
electrical outlets and heating vents.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Walls

Although the rest of the house has basement/crawl space, the porch floor was only a cement slab on the ground. On day 2, the remaining studs were replaced by stilts. The cinderblocks at the edge needed to be filled in with cement to be stabilized and to hold the fastener for the wall. Of course, having no walls triggered the snow to fall after several weeks of dry weather!

Day 2, January 11, 2011. Strengthening the edge of the slab.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Porch Demolition

The porch on the north side is behind the door to the right.
The square feet of a little used porch along the north side of our house would make a welcome addition to the daily living space. It is long and narrow and the floor is too low compared to the windows as you can see from the location of the door in the photo. 

The north west corner of the house. The two windows 
to the left make up the short end of the porch.
It was uninsulated and the flimsy screen door did a poor job keeping the wind out. The space has so far only been used for storage which did not add to the ambiance in the adjacent living room. The paneling, the dark carpet, the dark brown screen door and the burgundy paint around the windows absorbed a lot of light. And that when light was already scarce behind the enormous evergreen. The two bedrooms on the other the porch did not get much day light although one of them also had a window on the west gable.

On the positive side, the porch made an excellent auxiliary refrigerator in the winter and the wide pine panels on part of the walls were nice. However, that didn't justify its existence when we are desperate for more living space.

The only window to one of the bedrooms.
View towards the north west corner.

The plans for the new porch include a small bathroom in the far (west) end, a mud room in the middle. For building code reasons, there will be a small porch between the new mud room and the existing living room. The new porch will have big windows and the bedroom will get a french double door to bring in as much light as possible.

A week and a half into January, our builders started tearing the porch down to its bare backbone. The carpet went first. Then the wall and ceiling paneling. Although the attic is not insulated over the porch, the blown in insulation had spilled over and came down as clouds. The lower part of the wall paneling was carefully removed and is now stored in the garage. We hope to reuse that on the mud room walls.

Paint job from the 70's. 

By the end of the day it looked quite cosy. If it wasn't
January in Chicago, we could throw a party!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More Drain Tile

Wow, what a project. Heavy, dusty and messy and one day without hot water. The concrete guy was impressed with the original slab. The underside of it was very smooth and black, so they probably put some kind of tar sheets under to create a vapor barrier.

The blue line is for the old drain tile and the yellow for the new.

Cutting the slab.

Drain tile installed with new gravel on top. Interesting paint job from the 70's.

Gravel and dirt that he and his team dug up were dumped into the crawl space to even out the bottom.   They installed drain tile, connected it to the old one and put gravel and some plastic for vapor barrier on top.

The next day the concrete truck was here.

Now, we are just waiting for the spring snow to melt to test the new drainage system.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Basement Demolition

Only 2/3 of the house is above the basement. The rest is crawl space. The basement walls and floor has flaking paint. That is as close as it comes to being finished. Twenty years ago, the cement slab was torn up around the 3 outer walls to install drain tile and a sump pump. However, on spring days when the snow was melting rapidly and it rained, water came up in the middle of the floor along a tiny crack going the length of the basement.
Sketch of basement. The tiny crack went from the workshop almost all the
way to the east wall, causing 1/2" of standing water about once a year.
When they poured new concrete over the drain tile, they left a 3/4 inch gap between the slab and the wall. The reason for that was to catch potential water leaking in through the cinder block walls. However, the result was that we got humidity problems along the edges of the basement and even boxes up on ventilated shelves got very moldy. From April through September we had to have a dehumidifier running.

Demolition of bathroom (left) and workshop (right).
The crawl space is behind these  rooms.
Early January, we had managed to remove most of our shelves and boxes from the basement and the builders tore out an old disgusting bathroom. The old messy and dark workshop with rusty tools also had to go. How refreshing to see it all go!

Demolition completed and a few rows of cinder blocks
removed to give access to the crawl space behind.
In one day, the floor in front of the crawl space wall was cleared and ready to be cut open for drain tile installation.

The builders also opened up between the basement and the crawl space so we could see what it looked like for the first time in about 30 year. Thankfully, it looked dry and, except for lots of cobweb, reasonably clean.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Baby

The light, the atmosphere, the style, the comfort of good insulation and all the conveniences that were built into our previous house is something I could die for to get back. I designed it from ideas that I had collected over the years on how I wanted a house to function and feel. The hardest part was to settle on a style, but the Stockholm archipelago style from the late 1800's fit well with the airy and bright design. From the exterior, it was hard to believe that it was built 1997 and not 1897, but the interior layout and conveniences clearly stated that this was a modern house.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What We Moved Into

With my family, I moved into a midwestern ranch that has been in the family since it was built in 1949. Out moved my in-laws, two people with very little stuff and in moved my family of five with significantly more stuff. This was our plan:
1. Figure out how to remodel.
2. Move out temporarily.
3. Gut it and enlarge it. Keep the details we liked, replace those we didn't.
4. Move back in to a home well designed for our needs.
Well, the economy tanked and so did our plan. The location is great and the plot is big, so moving to another house was out of the question. And where would we find a house that fit us without remodeling anyway?

The house has only one bathroom (very dated, the tub is original), an ineffective kitchen and laundry area, a back hall of 12 square feet and a slightly damp basement where the floor leaks about once a year. We are one bedroom and one home office short.
On top of that, it has too little insulation and a dysfunctional heating system. The kitchen and dining area on the east side are always too warm while the two bedrooms over the crawl space on the west side are too cold unless you are tucked in under the covers. That cuts down further on play and homework space.
The house is oriented with the long walls facing the street to the south and a huge back yard to the north. However, the windows on the south side are quite small and let very little sunlight in during the winter. The back yard can only bee seen from the living room window, which is big and drafty. The rest of the north facing side has a badly proportioned, enclosed porch (yes, facing north). The kitchen and dining room on the north east corner only gives us a view of the neighbor's yard and house.

This is the most inconvenient house I have ever lived in and something had to be done. New paint on the walls and other minor fixes has made the house feel a bit more like a home, but cosmetics won't fix the rest.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Our wish list...

... is long

At least one more bathroom, preferably two. 
A bigger and infinitely more practical kitchen.
A back hall big enough to handle a family of five and our coats, mittens, bags, shoes, etc. and those things that get piled up to be taken out to the garage or car.
A practical and pleasant laundry area.
Much more light flowing through the house.
One more home office and one larger than the existing one.
Another bedroom.
A closer connection between the back yard and the living space.
Turn part of the basement into living space. 
Energy efficiency and a more pleasant indoor climate, both winter and summer.
Last, but not least, we want to make it feel like OUR house. 

Of course, all of this needs to be done on shoestring budget...