Friday, February 29, 2008

The 8 Commandments

During renovations Beancountingqueen and I have been dreaming of greener pastures, a.k.a. a place with a lawn. We peer at house listings longingly, emailing ideas back and forth. During this I have solidified things I want in the next home. I bring to you...

The 8 Commandments of the Future House

The Queen said the above list severely limits our option. I'm ok with this. If the cottage is still around, and has dropped in price quite a bit then we can consider it. If not, my house will be pretty cool by the time it's done. We're also on the lookout for other options, as more and more houses are sitting on the market.

In the meantime there are many things to do to the rowhouse, like some built in bookshelves and the like, so there is plenty of time to experiment. Before my house in in sellable condition is probably 3-4 months of work ahead, so there is plenty of time, but if anybody knows of a chemical I can sprinkle on the cement in the back yard to make it sprout a lawn please let me know. This could hold us over for a while.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Under Cabinet Lights & Crown Molding

I've been busy lately working on the house and haven't taken the camera out much. It was late and the light wasn't good but the 'rents have been asking for pictures, so pictures they get. It bugs me to take pictures with poor light, so I'll have to do a proper house photoshoot when the space is totally complete.

The bathroom is turning out well. It looked even better before I took a circular saw to the wall to cut a channel to run more electrical for some vanity lights, but I won't show you that. :)


And here is where the magic happens. Notice the lovely crown molding. I also decided not to throw a cabinet over the toilet or shelves next to it (yet).


Mom has been asking for a picture that shows the backsplash and the green wall. Throw in the new under cabinet lights and the crown molding and the kitchen is looking very nice...


I had the contractor wire upper and lower cabinet lights, but to save money I said I'd install the lights. For now I am just putting under the cabinet lights, and the jury is still out on uppers. After finishing the hook-up at midnight last night I turned on the lights in the bar and swooned for a while.



The foyer electrical still need to be fixed. All is well except figuring out how to get the ceiling fan on a switch. There are so many wires running through the area that the trouble shooting is taking a bit. The knee wall isn't drywalled yet as hauling materials like drywall and plywood in a maxima doesn't work so well.


Also, the table from Arhaus is on order and will be ours in a couple weeks, but the chairs were out of our price range. The craigslist hunt for chairs is on.

Edisonian Endeavors

As Shane troubleshot the rat's next of electrical wiring in the foyer last night he commented that my methods for home renovation were Edisonian. I gave him a perplexed look as he explained what that meant. Essentially, that my typical way of working around the house is trial and error. He's right.

In Mr. Edison's honor, here are a few inspiring quotes:

    Hell, there are no rules here-- we're trying to accomplish something.

    I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun.

    Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

    Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work.

    I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

    Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

    When I want to discover something, I begin by reading up everything that has been done along that line in the past - that's what all these books in the library are for. I see what has been accomplished at great labor and expense in the past. I gather data of many thousands of experiments as a starting point, and then I make thousands more.

I relate to his first and last quotes the most. Reading renovation material in books and online is necessary and useful, but there comes a time where you have to roll up your sleeves and use more of a trial and error approach.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Scheduling and Laser Beams

I get a strange pleasure each Monday when I update my Microsoft Project schedule. You see, being an engineer I have gotten used to scheduling and budgeting. To do both I use MS project to plan my future tasks, show their individual costs, and their dependencies on each other. Currently I have around 200 tasks, with more added daily to help define the level of detail where someone could actually complete the tasks. For instance, under the kitchen category are the tasks, 'prime', 'paint second coat', and 'paint second coat' which are all tasks that need to be done in series, and painting the trim is dependent on finishing the second coat of wall paint. Sure I don't follow all dependencies 100% and I start a lot of stuff before finishing something else, but the software helps act as a task list helping me to make sure that things don't fall through the cracks. Updating the progress on each task rolls up into the higher level task, so it gives a total percent complete of the whole renovation. While progress is slow, there is indeed progress.

A sample, not my actual schedule

Tasks completed this weekend were installing crown molding in the kitchen and bathroom, purchasing and mounting a towel bar & toilet paper holder in the bathroom, grouting the backsplash, starting the drywall touch ups on the bulging seams in the living room ceiling, and re-running electrical for the foyer. The electrical in the foyer doesn't really work yet and requires major trouble shooting, but at least the wire is run and conduit installed per code. I installed it Friday and then proceeded to avoid it for the rest of the weekend to temporarily avoid the frustration.

I would also like to provide Dadolescent & Momnipotent with the Highlandtown Hovel Baltimore Rowhouse award for outstanding achievement. I haven't figure out what exactly shape or form this award takes, so hopefully someone can provide some ideas. While I was suffering overload on Saturday night at around 6:30, they stayed at the house touching up the crown molding until 9:30, and then cleaning up the house too. I really can't express how much this means to me, and I am so lucky to have you help out with the house.

On other news I now have a plethora of tools. I went out and picked up a ryobi 18V lithium-ion 4 piece combo kit, which includes a drill/driver, circular saw, reciprocating saw & light for $270. I needed to buy tools, and it's lithium-ion-y good pulled me in.

After taking this home, a craigslist ad that I responded to emailed me back. He had a barely used 18V (not lithium-ion) kit including drill/driver, circular saw, rec. saw, jig saw, rotary tool, sander, light, batteries and a bag all for $140. I looked at it, and it's only been used a few times so I bought it. Now I have a conundrum whether to keep my new set, return it and keep the used set in it's entirety, or just sell of the parts of the old set that are redundant. Really, the tools look pretty much the same so I'd really just like the lithium ion batteries. And fyi, the circular saw in the used set comes with a laser. I like laser beams.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mango Dining Furniture

While beancountingqueen (aka, Leigh) and I are still working toward the cottage, we need a kitchen table more suited to the 11' x 9' area in the center of my house between the kitchen and the living room. Since this is a rowhouse and the main floor is all continuous space, we envision this spot being the dining room of the house. The current table in the house is circular, so it doesn't quite fit the space.

While we don't really have much money now, we are smitten with a table from Arhaus.

It's a 65" x 36" mango wood table, which is supposedly eco-friendly, would make a nice dichotomy with my (yet to be installed) Brazilian cherry floors, and is most importantly on sale. :) Since I don't know much about mango wood durability, I'm a bit concerned, but the look and price are decent and it would help define the space, hopefully helping in selling the house. Am I just telling myself these latter sentiments to make myself feel better about this potential purchase?


The table would look pretty nice with the track brass wall strips from cb2 that beancountingqueen ordered me for V-day...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Basement Skylight

Luckily the basement skylight was temporary. While it was operational I was a bit worried about somebody walking in the front door, dropping through the floor wylie e. coyote style.


While exposing brick is already a hot trend, I'm thinking exposed electrical is the next big thing.


Why, hello there Dadolescent.

Please Remove the Rose Colored Glasses

This weekend brought some migrant labor to the Highlandtown Hovel Baltimore Rowhouse: Leigh's parents, Dadolescent and Momnipotent. While Leigh slaved away counting beans at work (she is an accountant), her dad and I tackled the job of replacing the front foyer. Frankly, my house frightened Dadolescent as he uttered, "there is a lot work", upon entering. I guess after living in the house for a while and watching it get better it doesn’t frighten me as much as it used to. After treating him for shock, we looked at the foyer and developed a plan.

Originally when you walked in the house there was a 4'x4' entry area, sunk about 8" from the rest of the floor, with a second door directly in front of the exterior door. Leigh decided that it would be better if the foyer were removed, and replaced with a knee wall where the old door was, and reroute traffic through the center of the house.


The old door opening has now been replaced with a knee wall. With the new layout the couch will no longer be positioned on the house end wall (with or without plastic on it), and can be placed on the wall in front of the cove, forcing you to take an immediate turn when entering the house. This will be a much better layout, as you won't walk directly into the couch when walking into the room. It also allows you to shift the furniture in the room about 3 feet closer to the door, uncluttering the center of the house.


There was also some lovely tile in the foyer, which was carefully and painstakingly removed.


Or maybe not so painstakingly… The tile on the side on the brick wall came off easily, so I saved it and will find a new home for it. The opposite side didn't come off so easily so I smashed into millions of bits with a hammer. I'd say it saddened me to destroy the tile, but it didn't. It felt quite good. This rip out work was done about a week or so prior to rebuilding the floor.

The rip-out and reconstruction of the floor was accomplished on Saturday. Since nothing in the house is level, it was a pain to figure out how we were going to rebuild the front entry way to level things out. In the end we used a 2x8 as a sister joist, a doubled up 2x8 is floating underneath the door, and hung 2x4's between the 2x8's using joist hangers every 8 inches, and screwing subfloor to the 2x4's. I probably should have used 2x6 for the floor, but it's such a small piece that it will be fine. Getting things level was a bitch. It was a good thing that we ripped out the old floor, seeing as some of the supporting 4x4's below were half rotted out.

The knee wall was built up the next day using 2x6's. Even after running a gazillion 3" nails (NAIL GUNS ARE FUN!) to attach the knee wall to the joist below it still has a slight wobble. Again, it was a pain in the butt to get everything level. As Dadolescent and I worked on Saturday, Momnipotent attacked the pesky paper sticking to the front of my glass tile backsplash. At one point in time I found her huddled up in something resembling the fetal position, scraping the tile behind the sink. Normally I would have taken a picture of someone in such a compromising position, so I'm not sure why I didn't take my opportunity to grab a shot. Next time I'll make the camera more accessible when she is helping.

Thank you so much for helping Dadolescent & Momnipotent - it is much appreciated.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Prelim Bathroom Designs w/ Ikea & SketchUp

Here is what I put together the other night using Google SketchUp and Ikea's Kitchen Planner. To kick things off, a view to get an idea of the shape and size of the space. (Made in SketchUp)

sketchup double vanity

The room is 14' long, by 5'10" wide, and has a roughly 9' ceiling. If it were 6" wide it would make things easier, but alas it isn't. The vanity and tub placement is roughly as shown in the picture below. There currently isn't any fancy tile, pretty wood vanity, or round mirror in the place, so the room is just blah. Big, but blah. The door into the room is in the middle foreground of the pic.

I then started looking at different ikea cabinet options to see how a single or double vanity would work in the space, as well as checking out how a small linen closet would look.


ikea - single vanity

ikea - double vanity

Unfortuntely, at the time I made these pics I put in room dimensions of 6' wide, so the things shown don't fit so nicely... Based on these views, I'm not sure the double vanity works for the space, provided I keep the same configuration utilizing a single room. So, that leads me to the next iteration....

How about seperating the toilet/shower space from the vanity?

sketchup two room
(Oops - I put the current placement of the toilet only in the last pic only.)

This way either a single or double vanity would fit the space better as they run along the longest wall of the room, instead of feeling like it was way on the other side of the room on the short wall. Also, by changing the door layout and using two pocket doors it makes traffic flow through the area much better. I'm not sold on whether to use a single or double vanity, but the space now allows a place to put a small bench in the bathroom. If a double vanity were used I'm not sure the bench would fit, but I kind of like the look of it in the room... This layout requires some extra doors and framing, but it would require minimum in the way of plumbing and electrical and keeping me in budget. :)


20 boxes of subway tile, 8 boxes of bullnose and base trim later I am home. I was scheduled to go on business travel today, but since my flight was canceled his am I canceled my trip, stayed at the home office, and cut out of work a bit early to drive to Jersey. Long day, but definitely worth it to get $10 a sq ft tile for less than a $1 a sq ft.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Craigslist Rules

Guess who gets to spend a 6 hour roundtrip drive on Valentine's day to NJ for tile? This guy! I normally wouldn't be so excited, but the opportunity to save over a $1000 gets me all fired up. It's debatable that the bathroom could look better with a more colorful tile, but being able to do all my wall tile, including around the vanity, shower & maybe the walls for $350 (the guy lowered the price) is a pretty sweet deal.

I'll probably just spend this money to upgrade something else, but this will just make the space look that much better.

P.S. Good thing Leigh is away for work on V-Day, or I think she would kill me.

Gray Subway Tile & Design Software

It looks as if I may jump the gun and get the 3x6" gray subway tiles. After looking online for subway tiles I found prices to be at least around $8 a sq ft, and that is before shipping. Leigh looked on craigslist and found someone selling 20 boxes of 3x6" tile for $1.80 a sq ft. Here are some specs,

Sold: 1 Box
Pieces Per: 100 Piece
Avg. Waste Factor: 10
Shipping Weight: 36 lbs.
Coverage: 12.5 S/FT
Length: 6 Inch
Width: 3 Inch
Thickness: 0.313 Inch
Color Family: Gray
Shade: Medium
Surface Type: High Gloss
Design: Rectangle
Composition: Ceramic
Edges: Straight
Wear Rating: N/A
Installation: Thin-Set
Usage: Commercial; Residential

Seeing as this could save me oodles of money (while costing me a drive to NJ) I think it may be worth it. The use of gray will definitely require some accents for color, but the price is right.


I also downloaded Google SketchUp and Ikea's Kitchen Planner.

I measured the upstairs bathroom last night, made a model of the room in SketchUp and started playing with some designs. The program takes some getting used to, but it's not too terribly different from AutoCAD so I'm fumbling my way through it. Once I import some cabinet designs from their library I can really start to model the room right. For now, I am just using 3D blocks to represent the major items (cabinets, shower & toilet).

I wanted to use the Ikea bathroom planner, except for the minor glitch that it doesn't exist. The kitchen planner will work, and I think I may just go with kitchen cabinets in the bathroom since they have a higher counter height. I wish I could see how Ikea's Hollviken sink would look in the space.

Some things I am considering in the design are single vanities, double vanities, various closet organizers, as well as breaking the bathroom into two rooms to seperate the sink from the shower/toilet room. I'll upload pictures of design ideas as they become available.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Upstairs Bathroom Design Inspiration

Now that things are coming to closure downstairs, it's time to start planning out the upstairs renovation. While much of the work upstairs is patching drywall, laying flooring and updating trim, the major design decision is the bathroom.

I was going to rip out my 6x14' bathroom, remove (and relocate) an adjacent walk-in closet, and put in two bathrooms in the now 6x17 space. Plenty of room for two bathrooms. This was the plan before I saw cottage house, so now I am pretty well sold on keeping just the one bathroom upstairs to minimize the renovation time. It will still be a nice big bathroom and will make the renovation much easier due to not re-doing plumbing, electrical or re-framing.

I'll be keeping with the modern, but not too modern, theme of downstairs. I am a big fan of subway tile, and am digging light gray; it has a coolness without being cold.

I was thinking the subway tile would go in the shower as well as above the vanity. I'd also like to work in some glass tile, but I'm not sure I want to compete with the cool, smooth lines of the subway tile. I'll have to shop around for some decent deals on this stuff, as I'm really trying to minimize costs on the bathroom redo. I'd like to continue the tile around the lower portion of the room, but it's a big room, so not sure I want to be tiling for a month.


The subway tile coupled with a hex tile on the floor could look good? I am still looking at other floor options as I'm not completely sold on the hex. Also keeping with the cost cutting, I'll most likely be be getting the vanity, sinks & lighting from Ikea. I think it could match pretty well, and could get me a new bathroom at a great price.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Glass Mosaic Backsplash

The backsplash is now mounted and awaiting grout, and damn it looks good. Since I had never done tile before it was a bit of an adventure.


The tile is glass but isn't clear like most glass tile. The clear stuff looked nice, but at prices from $20-42 a sq ft it was just a bit too pricy. I ended up deciding on the 'art deco' blend from It was face mounted to paper, and was on sale for about $8 a sq ft. Score! After buying the tile, the thinset, grout and tools to install the tile it, the cost for the back splash was about $300.


The tile goes on the backsplash between the upper and lower cabinets, as well as the space between the elevated bar counters.


Lessons learned:

  • After applying thinset to the wall make sure to go over it many, many times with the 3/16 trowel, especially at the edges closest to the next piece of tile. If not, thinset shoots into the seams. Not good.

  • Buy multiple sized trowels. The backsplash is a tight spot, so using a large trowel is efficient on wide open spaces but was a bit tight to get into some areas. This exacerbated the above issue.

  • Use the tungsten carbide cutting wheel on the glass tile before nipping it. If not, about 50% of the glass tiles you are trying to nip will crack in ways you don't want.

  • Apply about 4 applications of water to the paper, and wait about 5 minutes before pulling the paper off the tile. If not, you'll be pulling lots of tile off the wall and resetting them individually.

  • Also, the foyer is now completely ripped out, with the electrical hanging beautifully from my ceiling... Now I need to figure out how to frame out the area and re-route the electrical.

    Wednesday, February 6, 2008

    Kitchen Update

    Since I've been blathering about other houses, financing, and painted kitties it's time for pictures of the kitchen. Let's start out with a shot of the glass breakfast bar cabinets, and the new triple-pendant light fixture. Ooooooooh! Aaaaaaaah!


    A wee bit closer of a view of the kitchen, showing off Leigh't trim taping job and the newly installed handles on the cabinets - much better than the tape we used to open the doors before. My mother (and others) wanted me to get knobs for the uppers. I disagreed. Knobs are for wimps. Also notice the angle moulding atop the cabinets. It's money.


    This is a picture of a normal productive human doing real work, taken by a sub-humanoid not doing real work. And peep the wall color. It is 'Pepper Grass' by Behr, which matches the green in the glass mosaic tile backsplash. The green paint is only on the back wall of the house with the walls on the right side of the kitchen painted 'Sterling', a whitish gray color. We also painted the bathroom Sterling.


    Well, hello there Mr. Vanity!


    Future updates will be cover the glass tile install, foyer, and bathroom progress.

    Kitty McPaintface

    Cat must have thought the ceiling paint was milk.


    I should have checked her tongue too...


    Also, the temporary funding shortfall may now be resolved. ;-) Will know more soon.

    Cottage Finances: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

    With regards to the last post about the yardtacular cottage, I did some digging.

    The Good:

    • 100% financing may still be available. The realtor said that it still an option, though in this quickly changing market I'm not sure it will be available in a few months.

    • There is legislation in the house for the maximum home value for a conventional home to be raised from $417k to $625-730k. Currently jumbo mortgage rates are about 1.4% higher than conventional loans, resulting in about a $400/month payment difference on a $500k loan.

    • My realtor called yesterday to randomly check in. I will take this coincidence to mean that the cottage is my destiny... He also told me that is a buyer's market. Shocking.

    • There is talk of further rate cuts

    The Bad:
    • Leigh's owns a home. As mentioned before, it is a buyer's market.

    • I own a home. As mentioned doubly before, it is a buyer's market.

    • My home is not yet done, so even with wanting cottage, I couldn't sell mine for what it's worth as it is a construction zone.

    • I'm out of money to pay for renovations. I need more to pay for the last round of renovations even if I just wanted to put it up for sale.

    • Once the house is done, houses aren't selling quickly

    • Refinancing now will just cost me extra money, and will delay my timeline as the first floor will have to be immaculate before the appraiser comes in the house.

    • I need money. Short term credit card debt may be an option, if only for a few months. Even if the cottage sells while I have gone into CC debt, I can just refinance the house after renovations, which will give an even higher appraisal value. The money pulled back out of the house would pay the CC debt and could go toward a new house.

    • Someone could buy the cottage while I'm renovating. :(

    The Ugly:
      It's time to double down on sweat equity on the house and limit the spending to what needs to be done. For now, that means trying to get the downstairs done as much as possible. Once the money situation is settled upon, the order of renovations will vary drastically. If I don't refinance, I can move quicker, limiting the risk of the cottage selling and my number of mortgage payments. If I do refi, it means a longer timeline due to waiting for money.

    Sorry for no pictures - hopefully I can post some later tonight. There is an especially cute one of Kitty McPaintface, which is Cat's name when she tries to 'help' us paint.

    Monday, February 4, 2008


    As the renovations proceed I am coming to the realization that regardless of how much work I put into the house, it will never have a yard. Sure there is a concrete patch behind my house, but that in no way constitutes a yard. I used to have a landscape design business during college, so I would love a beautiful piece of land to shape as I please. What I really want is this house...

    Leigh and I went and looked at it, and while it needs a lot of work, it is absolutely incredible. It has a case of knotty pine infestation, but the 1.1 acre lot with a stream wrapping around it is a bit more important to us. The two story stone fireplace and secret passageway to the basement through a bookshelf also add to the charm.

    Finances are being checked to see if it is even in the realm of the possible. Most likely not, but I need to know a definitive answer before I give up on it.