Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Follow Up to Glass Lust

The same day I wrote the post about stained glass transoms, we met with Steve from Wholly Terra. He talked our ear off for a while, but after the conversation was done we commissioned a transom be built for us. The Queen and I decided that it would be a joint Festivus present to each other.

Steve will make a custom design for us very similar to the design below. It won't have numbers on it, but will have the small circles and lines below the circles. It is single pane glass. We looked at getting double or triple pane glass, but Steve concinced us otherwise. Most likely it will be made in mid to late February. We are excited to have a piece of art that the Queen and I, as well as our neighbors, can enjoy.


If you curious, the cost is around $500, which includes installation. In my opinion, not too bad.

Contractor Woes

Sometimes relationships come to a breaking point. There comes a time that you cannot see eye to eye, and either you accept the issue or you find someone else. This is true in relationships with contractors too, and we are leaning toward the latter behavior.

The kitchen contractor did a great job and was very understanding about us living in the house at the time of renovation. He was a very nice guy that I shared a lot of interests with. However, he had a tendency to not estimate add-ons in advance. When I got the final bid it had exorbatent prices for the add-ons, and some things which I considered in scope, he considered out of scope. I got pissed, paid the final bill and bid him adieu. He gave us an estimate for finishing off the rest of the house, which again was extremely high. Needless to say, he did not win this job.

For the upstairs bathroom we had someone else come in to help. He did a good job, though everything took much longer than expected. He was great with trading scope and was nice to work along with. However, in the past week he agreed to work and the day of or the day prior has continually come up with reasons not to work. Of a potential 40 hours to work, he worked 10. I don't like someone commiting to something and then backing out. We need things done. We are having someone else to possibly help finish things up, so hopefully they work out better. If they do, we'll get to part ways with our current guy.

For better news, we are now proud parents of a beautiful yellow boy. I name him Dewey.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Darkest Before Dawn

I've never paid much attention to the New Year's day. To me the new year starts earlier; for me it starts today, on winter solstice. While some may see this time of year as the beginning of winter, or the darkest day of the year, but I know from this day forward each day will be a bit brighter. Happy solstice.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My House is Worth What

Watching the show My House is Worth What makes me chuckle. At the time it was filmed a $1 into your house got you $3 back due to over-inflated appreciation.

These days most people would be happy not to have lost money, let alone make money. Oh how I long for the glory days.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Difference Between an Issue and a Problem

At work a lot of things don't go as planned. As things don't go as planned it means you have an issue or a problem. An issue is something that takes more time to fix, but is really just an annoyance because you know a solution as soon as you find the issue. A problem is when you uncover a potential issue, and you don't know how to fix it.

Yesterday I had an issue. The stairs are missing 4 balusters, and I need more balusters to reinforce the railing at the top of the stairs. The balusters in landing are spaced about every 12". They should be about every 4.5". I took one of the balusters to HD and of course, they don't match. Instead of buying around 25 balusters, it looks like I'll be buying 50-60 of them. This was an issue because I knew the solution. I just didn't like it because it costs more, and takes more time. Today was different.

Today I found a problem. As we were demo'ing the back bedroom we removed the drywall, plaster, lath, and trim from the back wall. Below the window we noticed the wood didn't look right. After poking around a bit I came to the conclusion we had termites. Not good. I'm not sure if they are still there, but I'll research this tonight. The termites ate some of the framing supporting the window. This explains why the upper sash of the window was broken... I wish the termites stopped at this. They didn't. They have eaten the main transverse support that is supporting the 5' overhang off the back of the house. This is a real problem. I have a few ideas of how to fix this, but it all involves more work than I expected.

Hopefully I can come up with a solution we can fix from the inside. The outside of the house is covered in formstone. If we have to rip this off the job will become very difficult, and a much bigger endeavor than I want to deal with.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Glass Lust

Most rowhomes in Baltimore have a transoms above the front door and the front window. While some transoms have been bricked over most houses still have these transoms. They look great on the façade, and they allow much needed light into the house. When your house is only 13' wide by 45' long with windows only on the 13' sides, you need all the light you can get. In the past I discussed wanting a new transom over the door, but it's not on the high priority list. It's a wish list item - not a need item.


After looking at Steve and Marisa's custom designed glasswork from the local artist Wholly Terra, and Jenny's new stained glass transoms I'm lusting over a stained glass transoms. My house has transoms over both the front door and window (see above) but for budget reasons I'm only dreaming about replacing the transom over the front door. Here is an example of the type of transom I like from another local Baltimore artist, Terraza Stained Glass.

I love the modern design, and the estimate on their site shows a cost of around $300 for this transom. Since my transom is arched, it would probably be more. It's not in the budget for now, but it's something to dream about.

P.S. I emailed Steve at Wholly Terra and it turns out he did my favorite stained glass window in Baltimore. Check it out below. I want! Steve said his prices even include installation, so that would be one less thing to worry about.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Silver Lining to the Downturn

There are positives to the economic mess. With the government announcing that it intended to drive mortgage rates down by buying up to a half-trillion dollars' worth of mortgage-backed securities, rates have been dropping. My mother, who works for a major mortgage company said it would be a good idea to check on refinancing. I called up the broker, then mom worked some magic, and as of tomorrow morning my rate will be locked at 5% for 60 days. We knew we wanted to refinance out of my 80/20 interest only loan, but we were hoping to wait until the house was more complete. With rates dropping and the ability to get a 60 day lock, we figured it was time to pull the trigger.

After we get back from vacation it will be a challenge to finish up the house before the appraisal. We figure we have about 45 days from tomorrow to fix things. We are going with an FHA loan, which will allow us to cash out up to 95% of the value of the home. To make sure we have the best opportunity to get money back we want the highest appraisal possible. There is discussion about rates going to 4.5%, but figured we didn't want to get greedy. Hopefully we made the right choice, but time will tell if we could have saved even more.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Heading to the SW

On the heels of a four day weekend the Queen and I are looking forward to our upcoming six day weekend, starting this Friday. We are heading to Arizona for a wedding with a brief stop in Sedona before continuing on to Santa Fe. The Queen is in a wedding at the Arizona Biltmore, the site of McCain's wedding and concession speech. I'm sure it will be a good time. We took a trip earlier this year to Zion National Park in Utah, so I suppose it's a SW kind of year for us. It will give me a chance to dust off the camera (literally) and play with my photography toys a bit.

Since I promised not to write too much for my next post, here are some more pictures I've taken in and around the city.

This man is a reenactor at Fort McHenry. The defense of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. IMG_1271

Loch Raven is North of the city in Baltimore County. It is beautiful in the fall.
loch background

Rawlings Conservatory is in a sketchy area of town, but it's a beautiful place to visit. During daylight. _MG_6729

I like this picture, and I'm not sure why. It just seems comfortable. It was taken at a friend's house. _MG_6979

Here is the Queen looking radiant while stepping into the light. _MG_7024

Gotta love the creativity of whoever thought up this sign. Must have been a marketing major. :-) IMG_0894

Based upon my last post you'd thind we'd be bunkering down and not spending any money. We've been planning on this trip for a long time, so there is no escaping it, and frankly we need it. It will be nice to rid ourselves of renovation dust, galavant at the Biltmore and gallop across the desert.

Our Response to the Economic Downturn

In response to my post last week about how the economic downturn has affected you, here is how the economy has affected us.

1. We have a 100% financed house on an interest only loan. On the surface, this makes us a pretty high risk, at least from the current lender's perspective. I either had money for a down payment or for renovations. I chose to save on the down payment and monthly payments and put the money into renovations instead. A lot of people did this. I knew the housing market was souring, but I didn’t plan on making money on the house. I've only planned on learning how to renovate a home and hopefully be able to get out what I've put into it. Thus far, the money used for renovations has come from our bank accounts without the use of any loans. The debt we are currently carrying is some credit card debt, but no loans from other sources.

2. I had enough money for the kitchen renovation, but was planning on refinancing after this was complete and pulling out equity in order to fund the rest of the renovations. The economy fallout had begun, so I am not sure I would have been able to pull out the amount of money I needed. While I had put a lot of money into the house, refinancing has a lot of fees associated with it and the banks were no longer offering 100% financing. While I had effectively put a 20% down payment back into the house with the kitchen and downstairs bathroom renovation, the banks were moving toward 90% loan to value ratios and with refi fees I feared I wouldn't get back enough money to complete the renovation. I decided to finish the upstairs and refinance when the house was mostly done. The timeframe I made this decision was about the time the blog began, early this year. I am not sure this was the best decision to proceed on without refinancing, and it has caused a considerable amount of stress on us, but it's the path we have chosen.

3. The houses on both sides of me are both in trouble. One is in foreclosure, and the other one was in foreclosure (though I am not sure what state it is now). They are both rehabbed, though both not done particularly well. I am not certain what effect this has on me yet. It can't be good. The renovations I have made vastly exceed the quality of work in these other houses, but I am acutely aware that I could be overbuilding for the market. I am hoping that by doing a lot of work ourselves we will get most of the money out that we've put into it, but since we've paid cash out of hand for renovations thus far we are already invested. This means if we do move, we may not make much money but at least we most likely won't need to come to the closing table with a large check in hand.

4. The Queen's name is not currently on the mortgage. I've been waiting to refinance to do this, but renovations always take longer than expected (especially for such a large project like ours). I can't refinance until the house is almost done, as we want to be SURE that we have at least 20% of the home value into the home to avoid PMI and looking like we are high risk lenders.

5. What brought home the credit crisis to me was when I applied for a loan for the foundation work in the basement. Since the Queen's name isn't on the mortgage, I had to be the one to take out the loan. The loan was only for $2k. I was shocked when I was denied. My credit score is good (greater than 750), but I suppose the credit card debt coupled with a 100% financed interest only ARM made me too much of a risk for the loan. Also, without her being on the mortgage, from a credit perspective they don't see her as officially contributing to the mortgage thereby making it look like I am really in a bind. We found the money for the foundation work, but we would have liked to have a bit more cash on hand to continue with other work.

6. We seriously consider what renovations will really provide a return on investment. This pattern of thought has led us to do much of the work ourselves. Another example of potential cost/scope cutting is for us to reconsider digging out the basement to increase the height. It currently is about 6.5' of height, below the minimum 7' height for a habitable space. While we'd like to dig it out, a preliminary estimate (which is probably high) quoted us $45 a square foot to dig the space out. We'd only like about half of the space dug out, but this would still cost around $13k just for the dig. Add framing, electrical and moving things like plumbing and gas lines and the price only goes up. Now we're looking at just making the basement into a nice space without digging out. While it may not be perfect, it could work for a man cave. Other places that we talked about to save money on is the backyard. While I'd love something I planned out previously, it may just be overbuilding.

Going forward money will always be on the mind. While we'd love to make the house perfect, there is a point where it just has to be good enough. Finding that happy medium is the difficult part. Hopefully the money issues will work out OK in the coming months, but we are still proceeding on to finish what we’ve started. We have accepted that we are taking on short term debt, but feel that we are most of the way there and need to finish the main and second floor completely from a livability and a refinance perspective.

The next post I write will have pictures. Lots of pictures, because looking at all these words is boring me to tears.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tying Up Loose Ends

Between bouts of eating turkey over the holiday we got some work done on the house. Luckily, this weekend was more productive than the last one. The main things accomplished were finishing up shelves for the new linen closet in the bathroom and staining the stair edging.

The teak floors have been sitting in the dining room since July. With all the other dirty work they haven't been a priority, but with the dirtier work is nearing an end we're focusing on the floors again. We didn't purchase stair nosing when we bought the wood, and par for the course, the wood in the stain we purchased has been discontinued. Similar pre-finished woods were running $9-13 a linear foot, we have 60 linear feet, and the finishes didn't match our wood anyways. I don't like paying astronimical prices for items that don't even match, so we decided to buy some $4 a linear foot unfinished maple and stain it ourselves. This weekend has been an interesting experiment of trying various wood stains on the nosing we bought. So far we are pleased with the match, but there are still 3 coats of polyurethane to put on the wood.

The wood shelves went into the linen closet ok. I had some leftover plywood laying around, so I used that for the shelves. On the front edge I used the finish nailer to add a piece of trim to give a cleaner and more durable edge. The shelves were then primed and painted, and are looking ab fab in the closet.

Other things accomplished this weekend were getting the foundation issue fixed, eating turkey, building some shelves for the basement, repairing the upstairs sink, sitting in front of a fire drinking irish whiskey, and going to the dump to rid ourselves of building supplies. Not too shabby.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Does it Mean to Me?

With the economy falling flat on it's face due to the mortgage meltdown, what does this mean to you and your renovation projects? I'm curious to hear how the wall street issue hits home for you, if at all, and how you are dealing with it.

I'll post a response later about how it has affected yours truly.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cool Rowhouse Info

I was cruising around for rowhouse info and found a great resource on rowhomes, the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual, which was just published this year.

The manual has a lot of great information and renovation guidance for rowhomes. With such a small space there are a lot of constraints on your design, with this manual offering a lot of solutions for the common rowhouse issues (like being so long and skinny). If you are looking to renovate a rowhouse this is definitely worth the time to read. It has info ranging from general roof pitch numbers, rooftop deck info, window anatomy definitions, general kitchen appliance dimensions, stair dimensions, to recommendations for adding a small bathroom.

It would be better if it was from Baltimore, as it has some information on building codes, but beggars can't be choosers. :-)


On an unrelated note, I was looking at an old entry of pictures I've taken of Baltimore. It makes me sad that I'll be selling some camera lenses due to renovations, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Non-Productive Weekend

After spending all Sunday toiling on projects, I feel like I got nothing accomplished.

I worked on insulating the front door. You see, when I replaced the front door this summer it took many passes with the power planer to make it fit. Seeing as nothing is level in the house, and I didn't want to cut up the beautiful trim around the door, we chose to use a wood door and trim it to fit. Apparently I went a little crazy with the planer on the bottom, and opened up a sizeable gap under the door. I also used a very thin threshold, which resulted in water running off the door and into the house. Not good. Fixing this was a monumental task that involved a new threshold, more power planing, a hacksaw, and a multitude of other tools and the better part of a day.

The door no longer has a screaming gale coming through it 24/7, but I must admit the door takes a bit of an effort to shut with all the sealer around it. There are a few more small gaps to fill in better, but it got cold so I headed inside for the day.

I then worked on installing shelves in the linen closet in the bathroom. The shelves are trapeziodal in space, and again the walls are not plumb or square. Also, I have no idea what some of the drywall is attached to, because in my flurry of drilling I couldn't find a stud in some areas. Each shelf and support is custom cut, anchored and attached, creating way too much work for such a minor project.

Also, the new tub's plumbing was leaking and the coldwater line to one of the vanity sinks is busted. Of course fixing these isn't straight forward either. Overall this weekend was a frustrating experience, and unfortunately each of the tasks I started weren't completed.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Taking a Jackhammer to the Basement Floor

Last week we had an issue in the basement. The water is gone, but we decided to get this issue fixed ASAP. Now that the bathroom is done, we can focus on the second bedroom. The issue with working on this bedroom is that it is filled with stuff. The logical place to put this stuff is in the basement, so this means making sure the basement is safe for storage. This is where B-Dry comes in.

They came and gave us a quote on Saturday, and while the costs were lower than what we were expecting, some things they were offering just didn't make sense. I wanted a Honda of a foundation job. Something not too expensive and reliable. Their original offer was for a Cadillac. For instance, they originally said they'd have to replace my 3 month old sump pump in order to guarantee their work. They kept calling back with better and better offers, and finally we settled on a price about 40% lower than their original quote. They'll be here next Wednesday. I'll be glad to have this issue over with, and to be honest I'll sleep better because of it.

After this is done all we have to worry about is finishing the second bedroom, laying the teak floors through the whole house, eventually finishing the basement, replacing the HVAC system, insulating the attic, and 10,000 other miscellaneous things. Good thing my parents are coming over Christmas to help out. If only they knew what they're getting themselves into. :-)

Gratuitous Wally shot!


We are quite proud of our furbaby. He's in advanced obedience class, where we get to gush at how incredibly smart and well behaved he is. He'd be even better if he didn't eat remote controls, but I guess he can't be perfect.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Upstairs Bathroom Lessons Learned

After each major project I want to write a Lessons Learned post about the mistakes (and a few successes) made along the way, and how we dealt with them. You can take a look at my past half-assed attempts by clicking on the posts tagged lessons leared.

  • Make sure you have enough tile, especially trim pieces - We purchased the wall tile back in February. There was 2-3 times as much tile as we needed, and there is a ton of cove molding and base molding. But there wasn't enough bullnose molding. We found this out while the contractor was tiling. I called Daltile asking where I could find some bullnose and they told me the tile in the exact color I was looking for, Ice Grey #1276, was discontinued. Not good. Instead of finding near matching tiles, we decided to just not use bullnose in a few areas, like in the niches and on one small edge above the linen closet door.

    Also, deciding to tile the front of the tub and the niches with slate meant we were two floor tiles short. Luckly Home Depot was able to get the tile for us quickly. Moral of the story, make sure you have enough trim and buy plenty of extra tile (or plan better) and be wary of buying a specialty color/type of tile, as purchasing additional tile may be tricky. In the end, all is well as we spent about $600 on all the tile in the room, which is pretty cheap considering how it all came out.

  • Make sure you account for all door swings when laying out new closets/walls - The decision to add a linen closet was a late addition. We talked it over with the contractor, and I made it clear that we didn't need a large closet, just something that would take an 18" pre-hung door and would fit in the space without being obtrusive. I had thought he had taken into account the fact that the door swinging into the room would be able to swing a full 90 degrees and fit in the blank space to the right of the linen closet. He didn't take this into account, so the door is 2-1/4" too long and hits the linen closet when opening, creating a small dead space in the room. Eventually I'd like to switch this to a 26" door, but with tile laid and the door already in it was a bit late to ask for this change.

  • Make sure you get the matching diverter for your shower - I thought maybe we could use the old diverter for the tub. Wrong!

  • If using a floating vanity, make sure the plumbing rough-in is at the correct dimensions - While the floating vanity looks great, it has a lot of structure to make sure it is well connected to the wall, thus leaving a small area for pipes to enter/exit the vanity. Originally the plumbing was roughed in haphazardly, which had the supply and drain lines below the vanity. A floating vanity with plumbing hangining below is not hot. This is a change we had to pay extra to get fixed.

  • Find a contractor you trust - When it comes to contractors (and people in general), I trust my gut. We had about 6 folks come through the bathroom for estimates. We ended up going with the person who said they were willing to work with me, and really seemed to understand that the design may evolve as time progressed. He also wrote into the quote that additional work that was out of scope would cost extra at a flat hourly rate, and that if I did some of the work that he would take money off the quote. I worked along side him for a considerable amount, so many potential increases in scope were offset by work I did to help him out. This style of work probably isn't for most folks, but it was perfect for us as it helped get us the design we wanted at a cost we could afford.

    We also did the quote as labor only, as we had already purchased the materials. If you are using high end materials, realize it might be better to pick out yourself and price separately as it is just too hard for a contractor to bid the job.

  • If you are purchasing a fan/light, do NOT get the flourescent version - The flourscent version uses a 42 watt, 4 pin bulb (GX24q-4 base), which is hard to find. You can't just plug a normal bulb in the light as the ballast is integrated into the light. We want to replace the light for two reasons (a) the color temperature is too cold and (b) the bulb is very dim when turned on and takes a long time to come to full brightness

    The color temperature is easy to fix. I did some research and found our bulb is a 3500K bulb, which is a cool-bluish white. Not appealing in the bathroom, as it casts a ghostly bluish pallor to the sking. We want a 2700K bulb, which is a tungsten balanced bulb that puts off the warm and cozy orangish glow we are used to.

    The issue of being dim when it starts up is more complicated. Looking up the light I found it's spec sheet. After skimming through a lot of gobbly'd'gook I finally found evidence of what I was looking for on page 6. This page shows a graph of lumen output as a function of time. At start up, this bulb only puts out 20% power, and take 2-3 minutes to come up to full power! If you are just going in to use the bathroom quickly, this is far too long to wait. Since the bulb is 4 pin, it requires an electric ballast be installed in the light for it to work. Now I don't know if the poor light output at start-up us due to the light, or to the ballast. With lights running at around $10 a pop plus shipping I am not excited about ordering new bulbs only to find out they take just as long to get bright. I wish I would have just gone with a normal incandescent fixture and fit it with a CFL. :-(

  • If installing tile, make sure your floor is stable enough to support it - Tile is very stiff and does not bend. While the tile is stiff, the grout in between it is not nearly as stiff. If you do not support your subfloor enough, then your grout lines will crack creating ways for water to seep into your floor. If your floor is really bad, you can even have the tiles crack. Not good.

    I read up on prepping subfloors in Tile Your World, and even looked at John Bridge's Tile Forum. I suggest checking both resources before tiling a floor. He recommends a floor that has deflections less than 1/320 for ceramic tile and 1/720 for natural stone. My floor is slate, so I knew it had to be stiff.

    After demo'ing the room I stepped in spots and could feel the floor deflecting below my feet. While the Deflect-O-Later said I was ok for tile, the deflections I felt told me otherwise. I had just planned to add a layer of subfloor over top of my floor, but after feeling this we decided to rip out the old subfloor and sister the joists and add cross bracing to stiffen up the area. Also, we laid new subfloor and 1/2" hardiebacker cement board on top. I am very glad we took this step, because if not it could have been a very expensive thing to fix down the road, as the entire room would have to be ripped up.

  • If I think of more things in the future, I'll just add to this post.

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Master Bath Reveal

    I've been pretty mum lately about the bathroom renovation. This doesn't mean work hasn't been accomplished, rather I figured I'd hold off on showing pictures until it was done. As of 10:30 tonight, it's pretty well done.

    Not too long ago, the bathroom looked like this.




    The bathroom stayed like this for months and months while other things got worked on. A lot has been accomplished. Just not in the bathroom. :-) Around Mid-October we decided we could use a bit of help on the bathroom, seeing as it is the only full bath in the house, and brought in a contractor to help things along. After all these months we kept things in the spirit of our design board, though there have been a few changes along the way.

    Design Board

    upstairs bathroom

    Now it looks a wee bit better. Walking in from the hallway.


    Peeking at the double vanity to the left.


    Here is a look at the double vanity with the subway tile, restoration hardware lights, floating vanity and vessel sinks.


    Turning around 180 degrees, is the separate room with the toilet and tub. We ran slate tile up the front of the tub, and used slate inside the niches. We used a different shower curtain from the one in the design board as the pattern just didn't work in the space.


    Even the toilet looks good, and so far I'm pretty impressed with it's performance. :-)


    This weekend was full of 12 hour days caulking (thanks Momnipotent!), painting (the color is Behr Breaker), installing vanity lights, sealing grout, mounting fixtures and tons of other miscellaneous stuff. But it's all worth it. We stand in the bathroom now and are still surprised that this is our house. But it is, even if we have to pinch ourselves every so often to remind us we aren't dreaming.


    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Questionable Foundations

    You know it's not good when the contractor calls from your house to tell you that you have a 1/2" of water in the basement. The call didn't improve after he found a spot in the foundation where the water was entering. With the final bill coming due soon on the bathroom renovation, this is not a good time for this.

    Does anybody local know of a good basement/foundation person? Any help would be appreciated, the sooner the better.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    Dog Shower?

    Wally is ready for the tub to be done too.


    And the Queen is entirely too excited in this picture.


    Upstairs Bathroom Layout

    Looking back, I don't think I ever fully walked through the design process involved with the upstairs bathroom. It is a large space, roughly 6' by 14', but was awkwardly laid out. In the update I've tried to use the space better, seeing as this is the only full bathroom in the house. I'll walk through this process a bit to help lay out the changes.


    Creating Two Rooms. In today's mode of thinking people are opening spaces up to create the illusion of space. In this bathroom, I felt it was too big and awkwardly put together and making two smaller spaces would suit the room better. Also, since the home has only one full bathroom I thought it would be better to separate the shower/toilet area from the vanity area for privacy, and allow one person get ready in the room without steaming up the mirrors.

    Another reason for creating the two rooms, and moving the door, was to create better flow through the area. Personally, I just think the space flows better now.

    Creating two rooms does have me concerned about a couple of things; lighting, and making sure the spaces don't feel cramped. The shower area has a skylights as does the outside hall, but getting adequate light (especially natural) into the vanity area will be difficult. The bathroom is in the middle of the home, so choking off the natural light to the vanity area isn't ideal, but in the future I'd like to replace the door between the vanity/shower area with a frosted glass door to allow more light in the vanity area. Also, I am thinking of adding two small recessed lights in the vanity area to supplement the lights mounted over the vanity. To alleviate the issue of being cramped I am using floating furniture. The vanity and the make-up station will both be floating. Hopefully this will work to help the space feel more open and airy.

    Adding a pocket door. While it wasn't my first choice to use a pocket door for the bathroom, there wasn't a good place for the door to swing. The pocket door addresses this issue, and there is still a full door into the bathroom to allow a more secure entrance to this area.

    Adding a double vanity. With the Queen moving in we knew we wanted more space for us to both get ready, and there is plenty of space for the double vanity. It was pretty much a no-brainer decision to add it. Also, by sticking to the original plumbing locations (tub/toilet/vanity) the only new plumbing modifications needed in the room were for the new tub and for the second sink. No major changes in shifting drain lines around, which was a relief.

    Adding a make-up station. Not sure if this is the correct name for it, but it's what I call the area. I thought it would be good to have an area for the Queen to get ready, and by using the second sink and this make-up area she has her own area of the bathroom, while also staying out of the traffic lane into the shower area. This make-up area will be a floating drawer with a thin glass top, and an outlet has been added at an appropriate height for a hair dryer or make up light.

    Adding a linen closet. The odd shape in the corner where the linen closet is was previously unusable space, so we figured we may as well make use of it. An 18" helped us not to intrude on the other door's swing, and also kept the closet from being to obtrusive in the spaece. The closet will be a great place to store towels and bathroom clutter, while not taking up usable space.

    Adding shower niches. The two shower niches will be a nice place to store all the products in the shower. The Queen has a plethora of stuff in the tub area, so the niches will be a great way to avoid clutter on the edge of the tub.

    Overall I'm pleased with the design. I think splitting the space into two rooms will functionally maximize the space, making it the best use of space for our single full bath house. I'll be glad to have the bathroom done in a couple of weeks.

    P.S. Based upon comments from the last post I decided to go with the dual flush Toto Aquia. Hopefully it lives up to expecations. :-)

    Monday, November 3, 2008

    Oh Crap

    Why does every home improvement project result in bouts of excessive research? Must be a side effect of being an engineer. Today's dilemma is the toilet, and after reading many reviews all over the internet I am a bit overwhelmed.

    Some background... For the downstairs toilet I wanted a toilet that was a bright white, had an elongated bowl, and had a minimum of depth from the wall since the space was small. Simple enough. Now that it's in, I'm not all too thrilled with it's performance. You see, it has a tendency to clog. Not pleasant. I guess the Queen just puts too much down it's lil ol' gullet. :-)

    For the upstairs bathroom I am being a bit more picky. I want bright white, modern looking, elongated, preferably a taller height, would be nice to have a dual flush, hopefully stays clean long, and I want performance, performance and more performance. This thing should be rush excrement down the drain at the speed of a bullet train. And I want it cheap. I must be asking too much, because the ones with the specs I'm looking for are running $400-500 including shipping. For a toilet. After skimming through reviews there is universal praise for Toto toilets, so I'm leaning toward this brand.

    Meet the Toto Ultramax (MS854114SG).


  • Looks good and modern

  • Stays clean longer due to the sanagloss glazing

  • Excellent performance for flushing

  • Comes with a soft-close seat ($40 value)

  • One piece. Not sure why this matters, but it seems as if people like this?

  • Cons:
  • Isn't dual flush

  • Over $500 after shipping. Yowza!

  • Meet the Toto Drake (CST744SG).

  • Looks good

  • Stays clean longer due to the sanagloss glazing

  • Industry leading flush performance!

  • About $300 after shipping.

  • Cons:
  • Isn't dual flush

  • Not as modern looking as ultramax

  • Needs a soft-close seat ($40 value)

  • Meet the Toto Aquia (CST414M).

  • Looks great - nice and modern, without a skirt

  • Is dual flush. I also like the dual flush buttons on top of the tank - they just look swanky.

  • About $320 after shipping.

  • Cons:
  • Ok performance, but smaller trap and doesn't have G-max system

  • No sanagloss glazing, so more cleaning. :-(

  • Needs a soft-close seat ($40 value)

  • Now how was this post for exciting? On a scale from 1-10 I'd say it's an 11. Anybody have any recommendations or thoughts? What are the most important issues on a toilet for you? Maybe I'll look at other brands other than Toto, seeing as this seems like a lot of cash for a crapper.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Butterflies in my Stomach

    Tomorrow the contractor begins work on the bathroom, and I've got a feeling like the first day before school. You know, that gitty expectant feeling full of hope and without a thought about the challenges ahead. That kind of feeling. We'll see how I feel about this whole experience at the end of the job, but it will be good to have a finished bathroom in a couple of weeks.

    I'll be working with the contractor tomorrow to jack up the roof where one of the main joists was cut through, sistering this joist, getting all of the building materials, and maybe we'll even get to the framing and laying subfloor. Speaking of the subfloor, I was hoping to just lay another layer of subfloor over the existing 5/8" floor, but there is a lot of movement in this floor. I'm thinking about removing the current subfloor and sistering the joists before laying new subfloor. I don't want to put slate down only to have the tile crack as this would be entirely uncool.

    And now time for a dirty little secret... We made a big deal about which tile we were going to use in the upstairs bathroom shower floor, and the Queen even emailed Apartment Therapy and we got a shoutout on their site. After all of the waffling we decided to go with a tub. Yeah, we're that anti-climactic. There is only one full bathroom in the house, and while we like a standing shower, we thought about resale and the extra costs associated with the fully tiled shower. It sucks being practical and maybe one day we'll regret it, but the Kohler Archer tub is on order so there's no looking back now. I do think it's looks like a pretty snazzy tub though, and with a 20% off Home Depot coupon it was a good deal.

    I bought the tub without a apron to it it, as I plan to use the gray subway tile on the front edge of the tub. I think the tub will still look good, and not doing the shower allowed us to add a linen closet, separate the bathroom into two rooms, and add a couple of niches in the tub area all for the original installation price.

    And It All Came Crashing Down

    Remember that pretty mirror hanging over the newly painted fireplace?

    renovations 016

    Getting woken up at 1 am to a crashing sound is a bit startling. Next time I'll use a heavy duty fastener. :-)

    renovations 022

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Most productive weekend evar!

    How did we go from this?

    renovations 002

    renovations 005

    To this, in a weekend?

    renovations 015

    renovations 019

    renovations 009

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    renovations 013

    A lot of hard work by the Queen and her bro is what got it done.

    The Queen and I had a three day weekend so we worked hard to get the drywall issues fixed. The drywall is laid over plaster. It was not attached to the plaster or the joists well and the mudding job was extremely poor. This took a lot of fixing to make things look ok. Sunday the Queen's bro came over to help us paint the place. It was a long day that ended at 10 pm, with the closets fully installed and the painting done.

    Next up in the bedroom is some drywall fixing, laying subfloor and the teak. Things like doors and trim are luxuries we may not have time for in the near future, seeing as the contractor starts work on the bathroom this week. For part of the bathroom work I'll be working with the contractor, so we haven't completely let go of our DIY roots, but with a single full bathroom we need to work quickly to get a shower back online quickly.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Hello AT

    Howdy folks from Apartment Therapy. If you are looking for some of the better blog entries I recommend checking out the kitchen and the hungarian bookshelves.

    For the regular blog readers head over to AT and take the survey posted over at AT about the tile choices.

    Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    Wally the Handyman

    Wally has been hard at work renovating the house.

    oct 08 057

    He's grown a wee bit since we got him in August. He was a cute and cuddly 32 pounds and is now topping 50. We figure he's got at least another 50 to go. He's a goofy dog that is super smart, loves all dogs, people, kids and most of all loves us.

    He's done a great job at taking a hodgepodge of doors and irregular surfaces on the bedroom wall, covering in the door to the closet from the hallway, and adding a doorway from the bedroom to the closet. He may not have an opposable thumb, but he's pretty good at drywalling.


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    Since this was taken he mounted a closet system and clothes are hanging in the space. The Queen is pleased, but now wants her closet complete ASAP.

    Bathroom Floor Tile Decision

    After meeting with umpteen contractors for the bathroom we think we're about ready to select one. We have most of the materials so we asked them to bid the job as labor only. Once we give the ok, the contractor would start in two weeks. So two weeks until start, and while we told him we have all the materials, we weren't exactly correct...

    The original plan was to just refinish the tub. After looking at the condition of the tub and thinking about what we wanted weare going with a 60"x30" tiled shower instead. I had purchased the vermont slate for the bathroom floor, but since we were going to re-use the tub I didn't purchase enough for the shower floor. Oops. We'd heard that slate isn't great in showers anyway, so now we are on the hunt for tile that will look good on the shower floor that will go with our other tile.

    12" x 12" Vermont Slate purchased the floors

    3" x 6" Daltile Ice Grey tiles purchased for the shower walls and vanity backsplash

    We are at a loss of which of the below will look best on the shower floor, so we'd love to hear your opinions on what you think would look best.

    1. Marble Hex - After drooling at Anna's bathroom on Door Sixteen marble hex tile caught my eye. While I like it on it's own, I'm not sure how well it will go with the slate. Also, it is a bit of an odd transition the size of the hex to the slate, and the colors going from so dark to so light.

    2. Pebble Stones - I think the pebbles could mix in well with the slate, but I am worried that it could look a little bit cheesy. Also, it will feel a bit odd on your feet. What do you think?

    3. Black tile - I am thinking some 2"x2" porcelain or 2"x1" black marble tile to match in well with the slate, and continue the sleek black floor look through the shower. While I really like the black, the Queen isn't sold. So am I crazy in thinking this will match, or is the Queen right? Also, I think a couple of black tiled niches in the shower could look good.

    2"x2" Black Marble

    1"x2" Black Marble

    What do you think will work best? Any ideas on things that would look better?

    Monday, October 6, 2008

    Top 10 Signs that Renovations Aren't Complete

    10. Your lunch sack is a plastic bag from Home Depot
    9. You worry about falling through the kitchen ceiling every morning when going into the tub
    8. Contractors come to your house more often than your friends
    7. You go to the dog park and someone points out that the dog has paint on him
    6. Plastic drop cloths are considered a home decor
    5. Sundays are spent mudding & taping instead of watching football.
    4. The upstairs foyer table is actually a piece of OSB. With a mitre saw on it.
    3. Fixing the main roof truss that is 100% cut through is on the same 'to do list' along with purchasing 1/2" screws for the closet.
    2. You get certified letters for the weeds & junk in your back yard.
    1. Two words - drywall boogers

    Thursday, October 2, 2008

    The Perfect Desk

    We have been on the look out for the perfect desk. Of course we've been checking craigslist and ebay for mid century modern desks, but for some reason they aren't wowing us. I was perusing Design*Sponge and came across an article on learning from college students' dorm rooms. After clicking a link for loft bed (don't ask why I clicked this) I came across this.

    The desk idea is perfect. Now we are on the hunt to see if we can make something like this work. We're having a tough time finding file cabinets that are both (a) cute and (b) the correct dimensions to be used as a desk. You can find the right height or depth, but finding both is proving to be treacherous.

    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Continuing the Closet Saga

    Work continued this weekend on the closets. All of the drywall is up and the first coat of mud is complete on the new closet. While the new closet is very small at only 33" wide by 61" long, it is filled with seams so the Queen kept quite busy. It will make an awkward closet by the time we are done, but small spaces call for creative solutions. For now the plan is to install the Antonius closet system on the 33" wall (back of the closet) with clothes bars,

    and float one or two Billy Bookshelf units on the 61" wall. It will be very tight, but we'll work with the space we have. In the end this will be my closet, and the Queen will get the second much larger closet.

    This weekend I focused my attention on completing the wiring in the closets and running electrical for the bathroom. The plumbing rough in is done, and once electrical rough on the wall is done on we can mount the vanity.

    Also, we are starting to get bids on having someone finishing the bathroom upstairs. I'm not pleased about having someone else do the job, but work has been crazy lately, leaving us with little time for renovations. We've been plugging away at things but at this pace the house will be done in 2015. Hopefully the bids come in low, as we have done a fair amount of the work already and are willing to help out more as work continues. I'd really like to find someone who is willing to work with us on this in order to contain costs. With the housing market the way it is it just isn't wise to go overboard with home spending.