• Where's the progress?

    Posted by Steve on Thu, 10/12/2006 - 10:56am

    You DIYers know what I'm talking about. A friend comes by to check out your latest completed project and goes "ooh! ahh!" over the paint color and asks where you got your terrific door knobs. You modestly thank him for the compliment. But, deep inside, you feel like Michelangelo after hearing, "Hey, nice paint colors. Where'd you get the cool frame?"

    You shed blood on this room for... what?... three months and that's all he can see? Paint color and door knobs?! Is he blind or just clueless? He doesn't see the five hundred feet of mesh tape you skillfully buried in the wall to fix the broken plaster and the hours you spent scraping and spitting out paint chips? He doesn't appreciate the week you spent getting the squeaks out of the floor or the rerouted heating or the four independent lighting circuits or the door it took two days to get plumb and level or the brazillion trips you made up and down a ladder till your quads burned, the scraped knuckles, the twisted elbow and the bottle of Costco ibuprofen you've swallowed over the past 12 weeks just to dull the pain enough to get some sleep?

    Perhaps that's why we blog. It documents proof that we did more than just roll on some paint and screw on a door knob.

    I'm at that stage of the master bedroom rehab now. I've worked on it for the past five days. Last night I broke out the Canon to take took a "progress shot". Then I compared it with one taken last Saturday. I was crushed. The only thing that looked different is that I had more tools in the room. I know I did something in that room because I've got a blood blister on my thumb, "plaster hair" and a pile of filthy clothes that says I did.


    This is what I remembered doing anyway:
    • spent a day rewiring the room and adding a new circuit. That required bashing and repairing a few holes in the walls,
    • removed, reframed and replaced the loose plaster wall under the anteroom window,
    • wired and installed lighting in the new closet,
    • removed/repaired more loose plaster,
    • rerouted the satellite and phone wiring inside the walls and added new outlet boxes for them in the "media corner",
    • shoved insulation into the walls where I could and sprayed foam insulation in gaps around the window frames,
    • scraped out loose mortar and filled the gaps with mortar caulk.
    • hauled the old double bed down two flights of stairs for garbage night (by myself),
    • scraped the walls and ceiling, gouged out cracks with a painter's five-in-one tool and TSP'd everything in preparation for mesh taping today.

    So, yeah, I did a lot of work! But you'll have to take my word for it. In this case, cameras do lie.

  • Forging ahead...

    Posted by Steve on Wed, 10/18/2006 - 3:00pm

    At last, some visible progress on the master bedroom renovation. For most of last week and the weekend I repaired plaster, which isn't very exciting photography. If you can see something it means you didn't do a very good job of it.

    Four years ago, I replaced a termite-ridden center support beam in the basement with a steel I-beam. As careful as we were, there was enough settling that the upstairs plaster took a minor beating. Because these were stress fractures that went all the way through the brown coat, I had to dig out each crack with an old beer can opener and embed mesh tape over it. There's probably a hundred feet of it buried in these walls. I wonder what plasterers will use when the last of the old fashioned beer can openers disappears into history? It's perfect for this job.

    Last Thursday, Richie Sessa showed up to replace my freestanding steam radiator with a cast iron convector element, relocated under the center window in the bay. This was a job I decided to leave to a pro because it was tricky. I'm glad I did too because I never would have thought of using an element in this application and even if I had I wouldn't have had a clue how to solve the problem he ran into with the air valve. With the pitch on the pipe it wouldn't have fit inside the window enclosure. Richie took off for an hour and came back with a cute li'l button air valve. I'd never seen one before. And it works!

    I was concerned because the element is quite a bit smaller than the radiator it replaced. While I don't know much about heating, I do know that when it comes to steam heat, mass rules. Those heavy honkin' radiators are heavy for a reason. They store heat and release it for a long time so there are no cold periods between boiler cycles. However, Richie assured me that if I built the enclosure to the specs he gave me that it would work better than what I had. I guess we'll see in a couple of months. Anyway, I'll probably start on that cabinetry in a couple of weeks once I settle on a design for the windows.

    In the meantime, I did what Richie told me to do: insulate the brick under the windows with two inches of styrofoam sandwiching an air space and sealed as tightly as possible with my new best friend: insulating spray foam! I love this stuff. The enclosure has to be as tight and confined as possible for the convection to work.

    I also got started framing the bump out against the east wall, behind where the bed will be. This will be faced with red oak paneling... again, another TBD design. I'm leaning towards simple judge's paneling so it doesn't compete too much with the furniture placed in front of it.

    The bump out actually serves two purposes. One is to break up the relatively high (ten foot) ceilings in this room. But mainly it's to give me a soffit to run the thick satellite, telephone and BX cables and to mount some outlets. The wall is plaster over brick so I didn't have a lot of options here without chiseling out brick.

    If you've got a real sharp eye you might see an electrical box on the floor inside that bump out. That was the (1) outlet servicing this room when I moved in... a real nasty one too with crumbling cloth insulation. The box is there only until I dig into the first floor ceiling light box to disconnect it for good.

  • Happy Halloween

    Posted by Steve on Wed, 11/01/2006 - 1:41am

    The neighborhood was a mob scene of power rangers and fairy princesses tonight. Our state senator had the brilliant idea of turning the park down the block into "Haunted Halloween" with a disco, a haunted walk, hay rides, a food court and kiddy amusements as a safer alternative to trick-or-treating. As a result, half the kids in Brooklyn were there. Then they assaulted my neighborhood for their sugar rush. Next year I want a government subsidy on my candy supply.

    Halloween is a kids' thing and since I don't have kids it's not exactly my thing. But I endure it and get to meet a few neighbors in the process.

    I haven't posted anything about the master bedroom renovation in almost two weeks. I haven't been loafing, just too busy to sit down and write anything. The plaster repairs are done. I skimcoated and primed the walls and have begun the wainscotting and preliminary finish carpentry.

    I never noticed how out of level this room was until I reframed this walkthru closet doorway (inside which you can see my extensive wardrobe of plaid from the Norm Abrams Collection). Yikes! My new framing looked so off that I had to check it with three different levels just to make sure that a doorway could really be 1.5 inches out of level.

    The oak plywood is the backer for judge's paneling, which I'll start on next week after I get all the backers up.

    I've also rough framed for the stained glass french windows to eliminate that redundant doorway into the bedroom. I was originally going to make it higher off the floor so I could squeeze a desk or something under it. But I did some testing and found that it would make the hallway too dark. Also, a smaller window looked weird.

    Just to prove that it's not all new work, this is a salvaged street door, found in a dumpster on the next block. It took a gallon of stripper but it will work nicely. Another coat of stripper, bleach and dark stain should make it a reasonable match to the woodwork. The lighting in this shot makes it look darker than it is.

    I also spent probably two days screwing around with the Insteon lighting automation. I dunno. If Insteon is the successor to X10 then it might be its evil offspring. Or at least these wall controllers are. What's infuriating is that it installed without a hitch. But then it started getting cranky. At the moment, the cool blue-backlit controller is just an expensive night light. I have to turn the bedroom lights on from the laptop in my office. I've been too busy to pick up the phone to sit on hold with Smarthome to get to the bottom of it but, hopefully, there's a magic trick I haven't learned about it yet. I just hope it's not a portent of things to come because I've got a large, expensive box of Insteon stuff downstairs waiting to replace all my problematic X10 gear.

    As to the woodworking, I don't know why I bother with drawings. As much as I try to plan my finish carpentry, it always winds up being a jam session. Without fail, as soon as I tack up the first piece of trim the plot changes. So I've decided to play this by ear, as usual, and see how it all comes out.

    That's actually just as well because I found that because of the staircase turns I couldn't get the 4x8 sheets of red oak plywood up two stories by myself without scuffing them. So I had to slice them up, which meant changing the wainscotting design to hide the extra seams. What I settled on was something I liked better than what I was originally going to build so it's all good.

  • My shop is a war zone!

    Posted by Steve on Sat, 11/04/2006 - 7:57pm

    I've completed boxing in the bay windows. I had to deal with these windows downstairs during the living room renovation so I knew this wasn't going to be a cake walk. The original builders pretty much winged the framing so the angles aren't consistent. The trim was essentially supported by a trash can full of shims... some of them three inches thick.

    So here's where I'm at now. As here, I usually use hardwood plywood for box framing like this unless it's going to support the weight of a door. Cost isn't the only consideration, although using red oak plywood here cost about a third what I would have paid for 1-by solid lumber. Another reason is because flat-cut red oak plywood has a color and graining consistency that's hard to find in wide, solid oak planks. Finally, plywood is more stable than hardwood.

    The sills are pre-fab red oak stair treads with a poplar core. They're a lot cheaper than 5/4 stock and they already come with a bullnose. With windows above to let in rain and a steam radiator underneath, I wanted a composite sill for stability.

    Tomorrow I'll tackle the top of these windows and drywall over those large gaps. Looks don't matter because it will be hidden by a crown moulding detail. I don't want to do the casement trim or the window bottoms until the new floors are down.

    Now that I'm into the woodworking, my once organized pile of lumber and plywood is no longer. My shop is a dangerous obstacle course. Freeing up floor space here is driving what I'm doing in the bedroom renovation because I can't get to the cabinetry until I have a place to construct the cabinets.

    Even Jack can't negotiate the shop now. Poor guy. He's got a vet appointment tomorrow for a skin infection which I hope isn't related to the dust and debris here. He's a youngster and hasn't lived here during one of my marathon renovation projects. Fortunately, it's the last one.

    Oh yeah! My Insteon bedroom lighting controller suddenly started working again today! On... off... on... off. I tested it for a full minute just to make sure. It hasn't worked for the past three days then it just fixed itself? So I shut off the lights to take the pooches for a walk, came back, hit the switches.... dead. WTF??

  • Al Bundy, Home Renovation

    Posted by Steve on Mon, 11/13/2006 - 10:09am

    A few days ago, Jeannie from House In Progress referred a woman from a new ABC reality show to me. From the email it sounded like she was looking for folks who had gone way over their heads on a home improvement project and needed 911 from the professionals to bail them out.

    I told her that this was my fourth major construction project in 25 years and that I wasn't (*harumph*) a rookie at this stuff. I politely declined. But the next day I wondered if I wasn't exactly the sort of Al Bundy cartoon character she wanted. After all, I was three weeks behind where I wanted to be on the master bedroom renovation. That's a Bundy point right there: unrealistic expectations.

    Last Friday started with me hunting for 80 feet of crown moulding in the pile of red oak that Dykes Lumber had delivered two months ago. It was missing! At $8/lf, I was pretty pissed about it. I contacted Dykes and reamed the dispatcher, who told me he'd get back to me when he found the receipt. I wish I'd found my own copy before I opened my big mouth. I had forgotten to order it. Three Bundy points for carelessness, confusion and misplaced anger.

    After eating a large breakfast of crow with Dykes, I started answering messages on my blog, including one from CP Day at Day's Shore House. Like me, he's a home automation tyromaniac and was interested in the troubles I was having with the bedroom Insteon lighting controller, or what I had come to call my expensive blue night light. We traded some messages back and forth. Since I was looking for an excuse not to start cleaning up the shop, I decided to investigate this problem instead.

    Through a process of elimination I found the source of the trouble. I have a dedicated powerline LAN for my living room TV which broadcasts to my office computer via a Slingbox. I stopped using the Slingbox last spring when an upgrade trashed its operating system and I got stuck in IVR/email hell with Sling's crack team of tech support autoresponders.

    Their SlingLink powerline LAN generates an incredible amount of RF noise, enough to interfere with wireless Insteon devices on the same circuit. When I unplugged the SlingLink, my Insteon stuff started working again. Huzzah! But another Bundy point for wasting months of electricity on my LAN To Nowhere.

    Despite my screwing around this week, renewing a contract with a client, starting a new project for another one and building a Drupal site for our local dog run, I actually managed to get some work done on the bedroom.

    I probably spent as much time in my calculator as I did building these panels. And I still got it wrong. The leftmost panel is two inches narrower than the others. Since that panel will live behind a door I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. Nevertheless... *ding*... another Bundy point.

    My intent was to dress up each of those panels with 1-1/2" ogee cap mouldings but now I'm not so sure. Most of the room will have a shorter version of this wainscotting and a more elaborate panel might be, you know, a little overwhelming. Like waking up in a court room. Perhaps this simpler Shaker/Prairie School approach would look better. It's all going to be stained a saddle brown. What do you think?

    And this is all the crap I had to move out of the way to take that shot above.

    No matter how large a space I'm working on, it's only a matter of time before the room becomes Super Mario Bros. If I was renovating Grand Central Station I would make it unnavigable within a month. How unnavigable? Well, one of my otherwise well-behaved cats expressed her displeasure with not being able to get to her litter pan by pissing in my brad nailer case last night.