Same guy- new name - new website!

You will be automatically redirected to the new address. If that does not occur, visit
and update your bookmarks. Thanks! -Peter

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Subway Tile Ready for Grout

After another day of laying the tile surround for my bathroom project in Inglewood I'm finally ready to grout.

I started today by removing the straight edge supports from the second row that I tiled yesterday. This supported the tile and kept them level until the morter could set up.

This is a second story bath and I had the wet saw set up outside on the back porch. It was a hike everytime I needed a cut. Before mixing the thinset this morning, I went ahead and cut all the tiles that I could.

First, I went around the top edge of the tub and dry-laid those pieces. While the tub is nearly perfectly level, there is some difference in the width of the tiles from front to back. I actually marked all these pieces and numbered them so I'd know where they went. This way, I could make one trip down to the saw and do them all a once. It worked great.

The sides of the surround alternated between a full piece and a half piece (3") of tile. Knowing this, I went ahead and cut all these 3" pieces beforehand as well.

Mostly, today was more of the same as yesterday. However, when laying the first row I got the spacing right and then stuck a piece of tape on it to hold it there. You can see this in the picture as well as my numbers telling me which tile is next.

I was hoping to start the floor, but I'm not quite there yet!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Subway Tile Surround Day 1

I'm getting to some fun stuff now at my bathroom renovation in Inglewood. After lots of preparations I started installing the subway tile for the shower surround.

It always amazes me how long this takes! You just can't rush things or it will look rushed when you're finished.

The most important part of this, of course, is your layout. You want all of your grout lines to line up vertically and horizontally. To do this, I started on the back wall of the surround and drew a level, vertical line in the center.

With my center line in place, I dry laid out a few tiles to see how the end pieces would fit. It turned out that my smallest pieces would be around 1 1/2" so this worked well.

In addition to the center line, which would represent one grout line, I offset another vertical line by 3". This would be the edge of the other rows of tile. Now I have the starting point to keep all my vertical grout lines straight.

To keep the horizontal lines right, I started by attaching a straight edge where I wanted the second row of tiles to begin. I made sure that this straight edge was completely level all the way around. I like to use this because it gives my first row of tiles a solid place to rest and I know it will be straight. Tomorrow, I'll remove the straight edge and install the bottom row of tile along the edge of the tub.

I also made a couple level horizontal lines that serve as reference points as I go. They weren't necessarily grout lines, but would give me a hint if things started to get out of whack.

Before I started laying the tile I covered the tub with plastic to contain (most) of my mess. For this installation I'm using 3" x 6" white subway tile with 1/8" grout lines. I mixed some thinset and went to work and didn't quite finish today.
I love the look of subway tile. Tomorrow I'll finish this up and hopefully get to the floor...


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Prepping for Tile Surround

My bathroom project is taking shape. I got the drywall sanded and even did some painting today. Tomorrow I'm planning to tile, so I also did some prepwork for that.

Tile needs a very solid surface to support it to keep it from moving and forming cracks in the grout. For a bath surround, some type of cement board is recommended because it's much more resistant to water and mold. For this surround I used 1/2" Hardipanel from James Hardie.

Before installing the cement board, make sure your framing is as level and straight as possible. Then, install a moisture barrier of 4 mil plastic. I just stapled it to the studs, making sure that it went over the lip of the tub and that the corners were not bunched up.

Now, time for the Hardipanels. These commonly come in 3' x 5' sheets. I planned my tile surround to extend 5' high so I used the sheets vertically. This worked well because the ceiling in this bath is lower. You can use two sheets horizontally if you do a 6' high surround.

I cut the sheets by scoring and snapping them. They are much more difficult to score than drywall, so pick up a carbide-tipped scoring knife made especially for cement board. Don't use power tools on it if possible because you'll soon have a dust cloud of harmful silica.

Of course, wear your respirator for this. (Not your flimsy dust mask. Get the good one for this project!)

The cement board was attached with special 1 1/4" corrosion-resistant screws designed (or at least marketed) for this purpose. I covered the joints with 2" mesh tape that will get sealed with thin-set tomorrow.

Those are the basics. Soon we'll be tiling!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Installing A Bathroom Exhaust Fan

Whenever I'm renovating a bath, I recommend installing a bathroom exhaust fan if there isn't one already. It's a fairly simple installation, depending on where you can vent the fan to.

The fan itself will range from $12, for the most basic unit, up to $160 or so for one that's quiet with a light. In addition to the fan, you'll need a venting kit to actually get the humid air outside. The roof venting kit is around $20 and the wall venting kit is closer to $15.

For the Inglewood bathroom I've been working on, the roof above was a very flat rubber roof. It was in great condition and I wanted to avoid punching any holes in it that might develop into a leak later. For this reason, we decided to mount the fan on the outside wall. This proved to be much easier. Here's the process:

1. Decide where you want the vent (roof or wall), and cut the hole. (Always think this through first!) Usually a jig saw or reciprocal saw will do the trick, depending how much access you have to the space. The fan kit includes a template so you can make sure the hole is the right size.

2. Next, trim the sheet metal that will be the tube that will attach to the flexible duct and the outside vent. For my installation, I only needed a few inches. This is similar to a dryer vent installation.
3. The sheet metal tube will 'snap' onto the exterior vent. With this in place you can slide it through the hole from the outside and the screw the vent to the exterior wall. It's a good idea to caulk around this with some silicone caulk to avoid any water entry at this point.

4. Attach the flexible duct to the vent with the plastic cinch clamps that are included in the kit. These will make sure the flexible duct is tight.

5. Depending on how accessible it is, you can hang the fan first, but I did it after the vent was installed so I could get to everything. Make sure to hang the box so that it will end up flush with the drywall. They usually have fold over tabs that are the right depth for 1/2" drywall. The fan itself will come out of the box, giving you access to the wiring panel. After making the electrical connections you can put the fan back in place.

6. That's it! After drywalling and paint you can put the fan cover in place and try it out!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Purple is the New Green

The bathroom I've been renovating finally got drywall today. The homeowner had asked me about using the green drywall, also called greenboard. It's for use in wet areas because it's more mold resistant. However, when I walked into my favorite Home Depot, I noticed that the greenboard had become purpleboard!

So, I used purple.

After some quick searching online, I've noticed there is some debate about whether it's actually any better than the standard drywall. Some contractors joke about it saying that it will crumble just like any other drywall and "Who cares if it's mold resistant if you have to rip it out when it's wet anyway!?".

Some other posts I read did say that it was stronger than typical drywall and even had a layer of fiberglass in it. I'm not sure about that. In working with it today, everything about it resembled the ordinary stuff, except that the paper was purple and it was harder to see my blue chalk line on it!

The debate goes on. For me, I doubt it would hurt and for just a couple bucks more a sheet, it's probably worth the expense, especially if you like purple...


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tub Installation Success!

I was able to install the tub today at the bathroom renovation I'm doing in Inglewood. I was a little surprised at how smoothly it went. I guess it helps that I've done it a few times. Here are a couple tips to installing a tub right, the first time:

1. Go buy the tub before you even think about framing. Each tub is a little different and you want to make sure your rough-in measurements are right. For example, this particular tub is around 31.5 inches wide, however, the drain is located only 14.5 inches from the wall because it has a wide lip on the front. This is very important to know because the drain, faucet and shower head are all centered on 14.5 inches from the wall so that they will line up with the center of the tub.

2. Double check those measurements. The tub came with instructions, which are helpful and worthy of reading, but I like to measure the tub for myself. For a perfect fit, you have to make sure the opening is right. Our tub was 60" long. I made the opening 60 1/16" so that I'd have room to slide it in. You also want to make sure that you have a stud along the edge of the tub where the drywall will meet the tub surround, whether it will be tile or acrylic or whatever.
3. Your framing must be level and square! This is basic to any framing, but super-important for installing a tub. Do what you have to before hand to get that rough opening as good as possible or it won't fit right, which means your surround won't fit right and other problems will haunt you as well.

4. Make sure you have access to the drain if at all possible. I was able to squeeze into a downstairs bathroom closet and access my tub drain from underneath. Once the tub was in place, I attached the P-Trap with compression fittings. Don't forget the plumber's putty under the lip of the drain in the tub!

5. Try to test your drains before moving on. I like to test things if I can to see if there are any drips or other problems that I can address while I'm in the mood and the pipes are fairly accessible.

6. When attaching am acryllic tub to the studs make sure you follow those directions and drill the holes before you nail. Otherwise you are likely to crack the tub. I used galvanized roofing nails because of their large flat heads and resistance to moisture and they worked great.

Tomorrow, I finally get to do some drywall on this project and cover up that nasty rock wool insulation...


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

P-Trap Ramblings

After mentioning the P-Trap in my last entry I started wondering, "What does the 'P' stand for, anyway??"

I figured that a quick Google search would yield the answer but I was left disappointed. After some deeper searching, I still cannot figure it out.

The closest explanation that I found was this page at "" that has a nice history of the toilet, for those of you that are interested... On it, they talk about how the trap keeps out "putrification" odors. This word isn't used much anymore, but it's related to 'putrid', a.k.a. really terrible smells.

At least this makes sense, given that the function of a P-trap is to always have a little water in it so that sewer gases from the drain lines don't get into your home. It's a nice feature that you'd really miss if it wasn't there.

If you know the answer to this, please let me know so I can get some sleep!

If you read this post you must be bored, really curious, or related to me...



Ready for a Tub!

With the room cleared out from yesterday, it was time to start putting things back together to install a new tub with shower were the old shower stall was. I decided to start with the plumbing today because I wanted to have it out of the way.

You can see where the galvanized supply lines ended at the old shower. I made the transition to PEX with some Shark-Bite connectors and had to cross the lines to keep the hot on the left side. I got everything hooked up and was thankful to not even have one drippy connection! That's a good day, right!?

The drain from the old shower stall had to be moved as well. This didn't prove to be too difficult. The last plumbers had completely removed the floor joist so I had plenty of room to work with.

I'm a little concerned about the floor being strong enough for a tub full of water with this joist missing, so I'll add some extra bracing tomorrow before I set the tub in place. It will also get two layers of 3/4" plywood to build it up to match the rest of the subfloor.

I made the drain transition from 2" galvanized to 2" PVC with a rubber sleve. I used a p-trap that has a compression joint in the center. This type of joint screws together with a big nut, rather than being joined with cement. This will make it easier to install from underneath, and also allow it to be removed, should it get clogged someday.

I'm soooo ready to do drywall, but alas the tub is next!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Demolition Day for Bathroom Remodel

Today, I started a new project that should be a lot of fun. It's a complete bathroom remodel at an older home in Inglewood. It's an upstairs bath that hasn't been used much, but soon it will be transformed and completely new. Here are the before pictures:

I started by carefully removing trim that may get reused. Then, I removed the 1x2 framing that was at one time a small closet for an adjacent room and some bathroom shelves.

The old shower stall had to be dismantled. Once I got the screws out it basically just folded up and I carried it out. I removed all that I could before messing with plumbing. Once the debris was all bagged up I turned off the water in the house so I could disconnect fixtures and install some new valves so that I could turn the water back on for the homeowners.

Most of the previous plumbing in the house was galvanized so I was able to just take pieces apart and remove them with a pipe wrench. For now, I was able to install some temporary caps that will keep the water at bay until I can plumb the shower fixtures tomorrow.

By the end of the day I had a clean slate to work with. With that out of the way, I'll get to more fun stuff like framing and rough-in electrical work. By the time it's done, this bathroom will feature a full size bath with shower and white subway tile, hex tile floors, stained wainscoating and some built-in storage behind the door.
It will be worth the climb upstairs...


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Drywall Scaffold Comes in Handy

I spent some lengthy hours finishing drywall over the past week and was really glad to have a tool called a drywall scaffold on hand. My dad actually bought me one when I was doing the East Nashville Bungalow project and it got tons of use.

The drywall scaffold is great because you can reach a much greater area without coming down (your knees will thank you!). It's very sturdy, yet it folds up into something that would fit into a closet and out of the way.
The rails are great for clipping a work light to, or holding your drywall tape. In addition, it's makes a great work bench sometimes as well as a place to stack rows of painted trim while they dry.

Most of all it's great for whenever you've got much drywall work to do. You can buy one for around $100, and I'd say it's very worth it. Even better if you can find someone else to buy it for you!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Painting Cabinets with an Airless Paint Sprayer

We're adding another kitchen to our home for our apartment conversion project. Kitchen cabinets can be pricey, but for our purposes we just needed the most simple and basic (and inexpensive) cabinets I could find

After a little digging, I had a friend tell me about some decent cabinets that they had purchased from Southeastern Salvage. The cabinets were made out of plywood with oak fronts and came unfinished in many standard sizes. This was perfect for our purposes and kept us within our budget.

I've given them a coat of dark brown paint and they look great. To paint them, I borrowed an airless paint sprayer. (Airless just means that it uses electric power rather than compressed air.) The sprayer was the Wagner Wide Shot Pro 2400.

I started by painted some vanity drawers and had no problems. I cleaned the gun and took a break to get the kitchen cabinets ready. Later, as I started painting the cabinet doors, the sprayer started 'spitting' large globs of paint. This was not cool! I cleaned it several times, and replaced the 'atomizer' in the nozzle and it still wouldn't work.

That was yesterday, this morning I finally got it to work. Here's the secret:

1. Thin the paint. I had been advised that this paint wouldn't need to be thinned, but they were incorrect. For the Behr latex paint I was using, I added around 6 ounces of water and 6 ounces of Flo-trol to a nearly full gallon of paint. You may want to start by adding less and increase the amount as needed to get an even spray.

2. Watch how you hold the sprayer. My biggest problems came when I was painting cabinet doors that were laying flat on some saw horses. When I pointed the spray gun down toward them, it was sucking air instead of getting the paint from the reservoir. It's really best to just aim the gun straight ahead and position the item to be painted so that this will work.

3. Clean the gun really well after each use. To clean the paint sprayer, you have to take the pieces apart and clean them individually. After taking the nozzle off, don't forget that the next piece comes off as well to reveal the piston inside. All of this should be cleaned up so that no paint can dry and become a nuisance for you. After you've done that, run some clean water through the gun to make sure the nozzles and all the parts are free

For jobs like painting cabinets, fences, louvered doors and more, you might consider trying out a paint sprayer. This Wagner model has some good and bad reviews online, but it worked great for me, once I got it setup right and thinned my paint. It takes a few minutes to clean and can have some hassles, but it will greatly cut down on how long it takes to paint these tricky items.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Patching A Small Hole in Drywall

I'm working through my 3rd bucket of joint compound at our apartment conversion and ready to be painting! Today I noticed that I had a small hole to patch where I had added an outlet and thought I'd walk you through how I make a small drywall repair.

First, I find a scrap of wood, or make one, that will cover the hole plus a couple inches. The wood will support the drywall patch. This is important. If you just put some mesh tape over a hole like this and mud it until it's covered, you'll soon have cracks again, because it needs support.

To get the wood in place, drill a drywall screw partway into the middle of it. This screw will give you a 'handle' so you can hold the wood while you screw the drywall to the ends. (Otherwise, you'll drop it into the wall cavity!)

After a couple of screws are holding the wood in place, you can remove the center screw and insert a peice of drywall cut to match the hole.

Then, you just tape and mud the joint like any others. For larger holes you'll need more wood to support it fully.

TIP: Don't apply too much pressure when screwing the drywall down. If you do, you're likely to bust through the drywall and make things worse.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Adding a Simple Recessed Light

Whenever I'm doing a renovation I like to consider adding more outlets and more lights. It's so much easier when the walls are open and you can run wiring, but you don't always have that luxury. Recessed lights, one of my favorite fixtures, can actually be quite simple to install, even if the ceiling isn't opened up. For our current project, I wanted to add a couple recessed lights to the kitchen.

I like to use a 5" recessed fixture. They sell one at Home Depot for under $10 and that includes the trim, can, and everything you need to install it. Plus, it will work with an ordinary 60-watt bulb. They're very compact and can be installed in a drywall ceiling without tearing out extra drywall that will need to be patched.

Sometimes the hardest part is deciding where to put them. It's always good to try for symmetrical placement centered along doorways or windows, etc. Aside from that, you want to figure out where the ceiling joists are and try to center the light between them.

With that decided, mark the locations. The manufacturer provides a template to trace around so that you can cut a hole that is the exact size needed. Try not to make it any larger than the paper template. I usually start the hole with a spade bit and then finish it with a jig saw. Try not to cut very deep to stay away from any hidden wires or pipes. (Think before you cut... :)

One way or another you'll need to get a wire through the ceiling and to the hole. This is simple if you have an attic. In our case, we were only two joists from a larger hole so we bought a long drill bit with an extension that made it around 20" long. We drilled the hole and were able to fish the wire to where the lights would be.

All the wiring happens in a small box on top of the light can. First, punch out the metal tab and put in a 3/8" Romex connector. (This is a metal clamp that will keep the wire from moving from it's position.) The wire goes through this connector then you can tighten it down.

The connections are just like any basic light fixture. The wires all fit in the small metal box which is screwed down and attached to the top.

Now, you can put the metal "feet" on the can that will slide out once it's in the ceiling and press against the drywall. Small metal tabs attach the the front lip of the can. These will keep the edge flush with the drywall and form a "sandwhich" with the feet making it stay in place. The trim is attached by hooking the springs in the can.

Add a bulb and you're done. It's cheap and easy and very effective when you want to add some light to a room.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Finding House Parts in Nashville

When renovating our 1920’s Bungalow in East Nashville over the past few years, I had to discover places other then Home Depot and Lowe's to buy house parts that looked like they belonged in a home this old. You can buy the paint and caulk at these stores, but where do you go when you need an old wood door, or a fireplace mantle?

Here are some suggestions:

Habitat For Humanity Home Store, 1001 8th Ave South
Habitat runs two stores that are only blocks from each other. Both stores have new/used items that were donated to be sold so they can raise money to build more Habitat Homes. This store, on South 8th has home/office furnishings like filing cabinets, light fixtures, textiles, mirrors and more.

Habitat For Humanity Home Store, 908 Division Street
This store is packed with hundreds of old doors, windows and all kinds of building materials. You can also find kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, paint, flooring and more. The best stuff goes quickly, so you might need to come back often to see what you can find. They post some of their items online so click here to see what I’m talking about.

Hailey’s Salvage & Building Material, 1224 Dickerson Pike
Tons of building materials salvaged from demolitions and renovations. Find clawfoot tubs, vintage sinks, ornate mantles and fireplace surrounds. Might be a great source for items for your rental property. Free tip: Bring the pickup when you go.

Preservation Station, 1809 8th Ave South
After you buy doors at the Habitat Home Store, this is the place to go to buy your antique hinges and doorknobs. They also carry a variety of old doors and light fixtures. This is not a discount store. They carry architectural antiques, which means they are pricey and rare. When you’re looking for that perfect chandelier for your 1905 Victorian home, this is the place to start. They also buy items if you have any antique house parts to get rid of.

Okay, that’s my list. Be careful, though. It’s very easy to find something at these stores that you love, but you don’t really have a place for. You may end up renovating your home just to have a place to put it…


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cover the Ugly Ducts with Soffits

There are times when exposed ductwork can be really cool- other times it's really not. Ours was the latter case.

Our home had survived 40+ years with out central air conditioning, but this changed after we bought it a couple years ago. It was a bit tricky to add a new HVAC system to our 60's split-level because there weren't many hidden places to run the new ducts. Instead, it had to go along the ceiling, waiting for me to deal with later.

So, with our current apartment conversion it is time to build soffitts to cover all the ducts and make it look as pretty as possible. Here's a picture showing the ducts and framing we've done in the bathroom:
You can also see in the picture where we made the closet a little deeper to accomodate the stacked washer/dryer (more on that here).

NOTE: There are a couple different kinds of soffitts. Often this term describes the underside of an eave, or the roof overhang- you may have heard of a soffitt vent which is installed in an eave soffitt to help air flow in the attic. In our case, the soffitt is a framed box that will hide ductwork. They are quite common especially in finished basements where plumbing or ducts are unsightly.
For most of our soffitts we just ripped 2x4s in half and made a grid to fit as snugly as possible without collapsing any of the ducts. Then we pulled out the ol' studfinder and made sure to nail the new framing into the wall studs, otherwise it will not hold and the drywall seams will crack (or worse!).

I like to add some insulation before the drywall because sometimes the ducts can be a little noisy. That will go quickly and I should get the drywall hung tomorrow.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Plumbing to Add A Washer & Dryer

For our apartment conversion project we wanted to add a stacked washer/dryer inside the master bath closet. In addition to making the closet a little deeper, we also needed to do all the plumbing.

I'm not a plumber. With that said, I've done a lot of plumbing. Your system may be quite different, but many parts will be the same. Let's go through the main steps to adding the laundry connections.

1. Install the connection box. This plastic box sells for around $20 and it has the hot/cold valves where you connect the washing machine. The center knock-out is where we'll connect the 2" drain pipe. It's supposed to be installed higher than the washing machine, not less than around 34" high. Mine ended up around 38" off the floor.

2. For our situation, the washer dryer would be adjacent to the shower, so I wanted to make my hot/cold water supply connections there. To save time, I like to use PEX tubing with Shark-Bite fittings. It's super-easy to work with and can be used with both PEX and copper pipes, making the transitions with one fitting.
You can see in the picture where I added a "T" fitting to add a branch water line to the washer/dryer. I was also installing new shower hardware so this was the time to do that as well.

Typically, you'll be joining your supply lines to existing pipes somewhere under the house. You might consider adding some valves when you do this. Valves are always quite handy, especially in older homes where there are none to be found!

PEX is flexible, so I could bend it around and easily make the connections to the underside of the washer/dryer box which required a Shark-Bite fitting from 1/2" PEX to 1/2" pipe thread.

TIP: Take out a Sharpie-type marker and label your PEX "hot" or "cold" with arrows so that you (and others) will know what's going through each pipe. It may be extremely helpful later.

3. The drain may be trickier to install depending on where you have to connect to. If you're unsure, always call a plumber because this isn't something you want to guess about or you'll have a pond to deal with. Thankfully, my connections were just behind the block wall where the washer/dryer were located so I didn't have far to go. Usually, your drain pipe will just go straight down and join with a P-trap that is just under the floor before going on to connect with the system.

Laundry drains are supposed to be 2" PVC to handle the amount of water that will be used. You also have to include a P-Trap in your design to keep the sewer gases out of your home. The picture shows my connections and you can also see my PEX supply lines.

The original drains were all cast iron. These can be a pain to deal with, but it can be done. First, make sure you go get the appropriate saw blade for your reciprocal saw to cut cast iron. With that in hand, you can make clean cuts through the heavy pipe and make your connections using some sort of rubber sleeve. You can see mine in the picture. I actually made two cuts to fit the flexible "T" in place. It was a little messy, but actually went pretty quick.

Well, those are the basics to get you started or maybe show you that it's more than you should try on your own... :)


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Camera Phone is Handy When Wiring

This week I was reinstalling a ceiling fan for a client after repairing some drywall. When I took the fan down I noticed that there were several electrical connections and I didn't want to forget how to hook it up.

Then I remembered that I was armed with a camera phone.

For years, I never really used my phone to take pictures, but lately I've discovered how handy it is to always have a camera around. I took a quick picture of the wires before disconnecting them and stored it in my phone for later. When it was time to remount it I could reference that photo to remember how it was done.

Thankfully, it worked the first time.


Check Out the IKEA Kitchen Designer.

We're adding a kitchen as part of our apartment conversion project. We're not going high-end with the finishes, but I did want a way to visualize how the kitchen would look when we're finished and figure out what size of cabinets we need to buy. The IKEA Home Planner application is great for this.

To use their planning software you have to first download it from their website here. Once you have it on your computer, you can start a new design by inputting the dimensions of the room. Then, you can start filling the room with nearly any of IKEA's kitchen products.

Of course, the drawback is that it will only use items that are sold by IKEA, but I was able to use stock sizes to put together a quick rendering of what our kitchen will look like. After you've selected the items in the 2D "Furnish" view which gives you an overhead look at the room, you can hit "3D View" to see the image of how your kitchen will look.

The photo above is about what it will look like when we're finished. Pretty simple, right? -And, it's all free.


BTW- I just noticed that they also have planning software for other rooms, which means all of your free time just disappeared...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Making an Easy Notch When Framing

The other day when I was framing the wall for a client's back hall (see this post), I used this quick trick to make a notch in the 2x6.

First, if possible, hold your piece in place so you can mark how wide the notch needs to be. Otherwise, you can measure as well.

Don't get out the jig saw to cut the notch out. That takes too long! Go to the chop saw and cut the edge of the board to the right depth. Usually, it doesn't have to be terribly accurate, as long as it fits.

After you've made these cuts, pull out your hammer and whack it! With a couple good hits, the notch should just break off along the grain and you're done. Once you've done it a couple times, you can do it very quickly- way faster than making a notch with a jig saw.

This only works if you are cutting across the grain so that the notch will split off. Also, don't try this with something that has to look pretty. It works with framing because it will be covered. It wouldn't work so well with door casing, for example... :)


Monday, April 6, 2009

Apartment Conversion Has Begun

Today was the day to begin a new project. We're converting part of our house into a one bedroom apartment. It will be a fun project for me because it includes so many different aspects from framing to tile and I get to work at home where my kids love to swing a hammer once in awhile, too!

After finishing our East Nashville renovation about a year ago, we ended up in a 60's split-level -ranch home in the Gra-Mar area of Inglewood. We loved the acre lot and our kids do too. However, most of the home was stuck in the 60's when we got it. That was fine because it gives me a project to work on and it's different than the old house renovation I had just finished (even though my heart is still in an old house somewhere...).

The downstairs portion of the house is just a little more than 500 square feet and already had the basic layout for an apartment without any drastic changes. The project will mainly involve adding a kitchen in the den against that wall in the above picture and enlarging the bedroom closet to accommodate a washer & dryer combo unit.

We started this morning with demolition. To have enough room for a stove and still have counter space, we decided to remove the stairs leading the upstairs part of the house and make the apartment a completely separate living area. This is fine, because we'll also gain some space upstairs by doing this.

We were careful to take the stairs apart in an orderly fashion and label all the pieces, just in case somebody (like me) wants to put them back down the road. We stacked all the pieces under the remaining stairs to be stored safe and sound. They'll thank me for that, I'm sure.

In the pictures you can see the progress we made today. That big hole in the block wall was where the return duct was for the HVAC system. We'll be moving that to the closet where it won't be in the way of the kitchen cabinets.

The goal is to finish in two weeks, or at least get very close to finished and welcome some lucky person(s) into their brand new apartment!


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Drywall Lift Makes Ceilings a Cinch!

Hanging ceiling drywall used to be a real pain. Even with a helper, it can be difficult to hold the panels in place and fasten them using the ol' noggin or some homemade 2x4 "T-braces". Let me tell you a simpler way. It's called a drywall panel lift.

I forget where I first saw one of these, but several years ago I rented one from Home Depot to do some ceiling drywall and was amazed. It made the job go so much faster- not to mention, easier to accurately position the drywall in the right place. With the old fashioned way, it took a lot of adjustments to get those t-braces in just the right spot.

The panel lift is actually fairly simple to operate. Once you have it assembled just cut your piece and lay it on top. Crank up the stand and position it where you want it. Once it's in place, tighten it a little more and the fasten it with screws.

I can do ceiling drywall by myself now and it goes quickly. All for under $30 for a 4 hour rental, just a little more for 24 hours. That's money well spent when you think of all the headaches that you'll save.

(pun intended- hope you got it... :)


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hide the Ugly Electrical Panel Part 2

It's taken a few days to mud the drywall, but today I got to finish up the project I started the other day where I was building a wall to hide some ugly electrical panels. After a couple days of intense roof repairs at another project, it was nice to be working with wood and nail guns again!

After sanding and clean up, I started laying baseboard. Old homes like this Inglewood house from the 1920's often just have simple wide boards as a base. The existing ones were 7" tall so I had to buy a 1x8 and rip it to the right width to match.

It was a little tricky to match the old baseboard and make the corners fit right even though the corners weren't all exactly 90 degrees. This is not an unusual issue, especially in older homes. The main thing is that the corner seam is tight with no gap if possible. To make the happen it's usually best to glue the corner with wood glue and nail it together with some brads before actually nailing it to the wall.

To give the homeowners access to the electrical panels I built a couple cabinet doors to cover the large hole. With doors the key is level and square. If your jambs are right, then the doors are much easier to fit. Since I built this wall from scratch I had to consider the doors from the beginning so that the opening that was left after adding door jambs and stops still provided adequate space to get to the electrical panel.

Most of the trim was ripped to 3 1/8" to match the casing around the back door. I know it's not standard, but it matches. (You could say it's custom, I suppose...)

The doors were made from 1/2" higher-grade plywood that I built up with some pieces that I ripped so that the door ended up being around 3/4" thick. I needed them to be this thick so that I'd have a solid place to mount the hinges.

In the end, it all worked together beautifully. I got everything caulked and ready for the homeowners to paint. They were thrilled with the new wall and glad to have a finished back hallway.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Asphalt Roll Roofing for Your Flat Roof

It took all day and several trips to Home Depot, but I finished my flat roof project today. Melinda, from Illinois, asked a question about the best ways to approach a flat roof after I advised against using shingles for this purpose in yesterday's post. The answer is usually based on your budget...

This might be a good time to mention that I'm NOT a roofer. However, I sometimes do roof repairs. I'm hardly an expert on this subject. I found several places online that describe the four main types of flat roofing. The most economical and easy to install is the asphalt roll roofing. Because it was cheap and easy, this was the type of roofing I installed today.

After removing the shingles that had 'doomed this roof to leakiness', I ended up replacing all of the plywood sheathing across the bottom edge. It was all completely rotted and soft. With nearly 4 new sheets of 5/8" sheathing in place, I was ready to clean off the remaining nails and put down 15 lb underlayment. So far, this is the same as a typical shingle roof.

Now, instead of laying shingles, we use asphalt rolled roofing. Each roll covers around 100 square feet, or 1 square (in roofing lingo) and are heavy.

The installation is quite simple. First, I like to unroll a piece and cut it to the right length. Then, I get it in place and nail it along the top edge where the next piece will overlap by around 2-3 inches. The manufacturer suggests that your nails be 9" apart. Once I know it won't move on me, I gently lift up the bottom edge and spread about a 2" line of roofing mastic.

The roofing mastic I was using was Henry's 202. It's actually made for roll roofing so it should do the trick. I spread it with a cheap (disposable) paint brush. Watch out, because this stuff is extra sticky!

That's about it. When you get to the top you want to make sure to get the last roll roofing tucked all the way under the lowest course of shingles. Then nail the shingles like normal to hold the roll roofing there.

They say that this type of roll roofing should last 10 years. Even still, you'll want to keep an eye on any flat roof. They are notorious for good reason.


I still say I'm NOT a roofer! :)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Don't Shingle a Flat Roof

If you have a section of your home that is relatively flat, it needs special care and won't be protected with the usual 3-tab roofing shingles. Today, I was sent to repair a roof with this exact problem.

It is nearly flat and was covered with felt paper and then 2 layers of asphalt shingles. Even through all of these shingles, water was making its way through and beginning to damage the interior.

At this particular house, the shingles had started to form little valleys where water would be trapped. You can see them in the picture below. Instead of running down the roof, water was seeping into the shingles.

The homeowner was hoping to just fix the corner where the leak was happening. I started to peel off layers of shingles in this area and found lots of moisture beneath. The plywood sheathing was completely saturated with water, with the worst areas completely rotted.

After some discussion we decided to go ahead and re-roof the entire flat part which is over an addition of this East Nashville house. Without re-roofing, these problems are likely to continue to plague this section of the house.

Read about the exciting finish to this project here.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hide the Ugly Electrical Panel Part 1

Today I started a job in Inglewood for a couple who have an incredible older Bungalow from the 1920's. It's a style that I love with all the goodies.

They have just renovated their kitchen with all sorts of upgrades, but still had a short hall by the back door that needed some help. This was where the electrical panels were located, but they didn't look very nice and certainly didn't match the rest of the home. My job was to build a wall to cover it all up and install some large doors so the panels can be accessed whenever needed.

I started by framing the ends of the wall and making sure they were level. Thankfully, the new wall was right under a ceiling joist so I secured the top plate to that with no trouble.

With the main wall studs in I went to work making the opening for the doors that I'll install. When finished it will be around 3' wide by 4' tall. I framed the opening with 2x4s making sure it was also level, which will be helpful to make sure the doors fit correctly when I get to that.

Next, I built a soffit for the ductwork that ran up to the second floor and hung the drywall. It was less than 16" wide so I could just place studs on either side and drywall over it.

With the drywall up and the first coat of joint compound finished, it's already 100% better. Just wait until I get those doors on!