Same guy- new name - new website!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Baseboard Puzzle

Trim is usually a highlight of a project, mainly because I'm finally doing something that people will see and enjoy, as opposed to framing which is important but hidden in the walls.

The room that used to be an old garage is becoming a nice office or bedroom, looking nothing like its former self. One of the main details of the room was the small ledge that was created by the cement block wall that runs around the lower portion of room. This was an opportunity to reuse a few of the old 1x8 boards that were covering the garage walls when I started.

Most of the baseboard was straight-forward, but I did have to spend some time running baseboard up each side of the steps. (See this post about building the steps.)
On the right side, I even had to go around the corner at the bottom. If you're working a puzzle like this, my advice is to dry fit several pieces and then tack them together with brads and glue before installing them on the wall. If your steps are square, then you should be able to get tight joints. The steps will later be finished off with carpet.

It took a couple days to get all the trim done and prepped for paint, but now I'm ready for the paint brush. Stay tuned for some color...


Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Finished Tile Vanity Countertop

Many moons ago, I wrote a couple posts about how to tile a countertop. Check these out to see how I did it:

Anyway, I wanted to wait until the bathroom was finished to post a finished picture, but about forgot to follow through! Now you can see the finished picture of the tile vanity top that I was working on.

This was a fairly basic installation using glazed white 4" square tile. Not very exciting but it matched the other tile in the bathroom shower.

I caulked all around it with silicone white caulk and sealed the grout as well. This countertop is ready for business!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Drywall Technique for Finishing Those Pesky Corners

I'm in the drywall phase at my garage conversion project. I'll admit that finishing drywall isn't one of my favorite parts of the job, however, it is satisfying to see the finished product and knowing that the quality of my work will be enjoyed for years to come.

I've covered my process for 'mudding' drywall in this post. I covered the basics of how to mud three times and then sand just once. Let's get a little more specific on how to mud the inside corners to get a sharp line without lots of sanding.

On the first layer of mud, the idea is just to embed the tape. It doesn't take a lot of mud. As I've mentioned before, one important thing to remember is to "make the edges disappear" by keeping it thin on the edges.

The second layer of mud I call the "build-up" layer because you'll use the most mud and it's when the joints get a thicker layer on them. Here's how I handle the corners:

1. Using a larger 10" knife, apply a liberal amount of mud down both sides of the corner.

2. Use a corner knife to run down the corner and get a sharp line. You might need to go over it a couple times so that the mud isn't too thick. This knife will leave lines of mud along the edges, don't worry about this yet.

3. Next, take the 10" flat knife again and smooth out the mud to nothing from the line left by the corner knife outward. It's tricky to describe this in words so hopefully the pictures will help. It's also hard to take good pictures of drywall mud!

4. When you've done it right, you'll have a slight ridge where the edge of the corner knife was. By "slight" I mean barely noticable. On the third coat of mud, you'll fill on both sides of the ridge to end up with a nice corner.

5. Let it dry well before applying the third coat, which I call the "thin coat" because it's just a thin layer of mud over everything to fill any small holes or lines that remain.

It often takes more than 24 hours for the second coat to dry. Make sure you wait on it or you'll mess up your beautiful corners and be a frustrated drywall finisher...


Remember to check out this post, for even more detail on how I finish drywall.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Final Touches for the Kitchen Tile

As I mentioned before, this was a quick tile job because I had to get it done before the homeowners got back from their short vacation. I made it by my deadline and all were happy...

I grouted the floor on Saturday with a sanded grout color called cinnamon. When it was wet it had a deep red tint to it but darkened to more of a reddish brown as it dried. The homeowners picked it out and it matches the red hues in this ceramic tile very well and looks great with the red accents in their kitchen and dining room.

My job today was to just install the transition trim in the doorways as well as shoe moulding around the walls. This was fairly straight-forward except for a couple tricky angles under a small cabinet.

I was pleased with the results, and thankfully, so were my clients... :)


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Layout for the Kitchen Tile

After getting all the Hardibacker down (this post), I spent some time laying out a plan. The tile that I was using was 13 1/8" square and we would use 1/4" grout lines. This means that each tile plus one grout line takes up 13 3/8" or 13.375".

Using this dimension I measured the walls of the room to see how best to lay the tile. I was hoping to start with a full piece at the doorway and end up with around a half a piece at the opposite wall. This plan worked well and I could tell by dividing the length or width of the room by 13.375.

I wanted to end with a full piece at the doorway, however, these would be the last pieces that I install so I don't tile myself into a corner. I would have to start somewhere in the kitchen and work my way into the dining room.

To figure out a good starting point I considered how many full pieces it would take to reach the kitchen. I did the math and 8 full pieces would end at 107" from the doorway that I wanted to end at (8 x 13.375"). I made my horizontal guideline a 107" and parallel to the dining room wall. (Thankfully, the walls in this home were nearly perfectly parallel and square which helps my layout a lot!)

I found the position of my vertical guideline in much the same way, figuring out where the tiles would line up if I wanted the edge pieces under the kitchen cabinets to be large and the ones along the walls to be at least half a piece of tile. I used a framing square to get started and then snapped a chalk-line. I like to go over the chalk-lines with a Sharpie marker so they're a little more permanent. Otherwise the lines might fade from me walking on them, etc.

With all of that work done, it was time to start with the real work! As you can see in the picture above I started tiling in the kitchen doorway and did the entire kitchen first. Then I worked down one side of the dining room and then the other.

No matter how much planning I do, I'm always amazed when it comes out perfectly. When I got to my last pieces at the door, they were in the perfect spot and I didn't even have to cut them! (I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but... :)

BTW, the owner had bought the tile for me ahead of time and I ended up with only ONE extra piece! Talk about feeling the pressure to not crack a piece or cut one incorrectly!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Replacing the Kitchen Laminate with Tile

I'm taking a short break from my garage conversion project (these posts) to help some folks with their kitchen floor while they are out of town on a brief vacation. They were ready to replace the laminate floating floor that (sort of) looked like tile, with the real thing.

The first step was to remove the shoe moulding and take up the old flooring. These floating floors are not attached to the subfloor, they are just 'snapped' together. The main thing is to find the last piece that was installed and start un-snapping it from there. It worked well for me to tilt the entire row upward to free it from the adjacent row and then tilt each individual piece up to un-lock the joints.

With the old flooring out of the way I cleaned everything up and installed 1/2" Hardibacker through the kitchen/dining room over a layer of thinset. This will give us a solid surface to act as a foundation for the 13" ceramic tile. If you're doing very much, you'll be glad to have a roofing nailer on hand to put all those nails in. Galvanized roofing nails are acceptable for securing the Hardibacker, as well as special Hardibacker screws.

I was able to cut most pieces with the score-and-snap technique similar to drywall except you need a special scoring tool with a carbide tip. Your utility knife will not work for this and may drive you to insanity if you try it.

For notches and odd cuts, I like using a carbide tip (like you use for cutting tile) in my jigsaw. Make sure you do it outside because it does create a lot of toxic dust that you don't want to breathe. For this unusual piece (below) I snapped the long angle off and then used the jigsaw to cut out the notch for the doorjamb.

The clock is counting down. I have to be completely finished by Monday at 2:00...
No problem, right? :)


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Adding Insulation and Drywall

The old garage/utility room is finally starting to look like finished living space. After passing our rough-in inspections it was time to insulate and drywall the place.

The insulation was fairly straight-forward. The walls are 2x4 studs so normal R13 fiberglass rolls worked well for this. The bottom 16" of the walls, however, are concrete block. For this, I used 1/2" rigid foam insulation and basically glued it to the wall. They actually make an adhesive caulk specifically for this purpose. Oddly enough, it's called "foamboard adhesive" and it's a lovely teal blue...

The drywall phase was when the room really took shape. A drywall panel lift (see this post) was again invaluable as I installed the ceiling drywall. Two of the pieces were nearly a full twelve feet and I could install it by myself with this amazing tool that costs only around $45 to rent for the day.

The block wall at the bottom sticks out around 3-4" from the wall above. This small 'ledge' will later receive a piece of 3/4" thick trim where the owners can put knick-knacks or set their coffee cups...
(I always have coffee on the brain :)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Easy Faucet Repair

Drippy faucets can feel like they are just part of life, right? Actually, the repair for them is often quite simple, if you know how to take one apart. Let's look at a simple single-stem faucet that would no longer shut off all the way.

Here are the steps I took to repair this common fixture from Delta Faucet:

1. Turn of the water. Hopefully, there are valves underneath the sink. If not, you may need to find the main shut-off. Either way, don't forget to turn it off.

2. Use a flat-head screwdriver to carefully pop the cover off the center of the handle. A screw will be revealed that is holding the handle onto the stem. Remove the screw and the handle.

3. Now get some wide mouth pliers and unscrew the casing around the stem. You may want to use a cloth of some kind to prevent scratches from your pliers. Once it's loose you can remove it with your fingers.

4. Inside you'll find a ball that is attached to the stem as well as a gasket. In my case today, the gasket was worn enough that it no longer applied enough pressure to make the valve close all the way. Take these out and look for problems.

5. Replace the parts. There's an entire department at most home stores dedicated to faucet repair. To be safe, take the parts from your faucet to the store with you to make sure you get the correct replacement parts.

6. Put it all back together in reverse order.

7. Turn the water back on and test.

This process works with many different types of plumbing fixtures. Just make a note of how they come apart so you can get them back together.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ready for Inspections

It's been a busy couple of days at my garage-becomes-living-space project. We've had a flurry of activity in preparation for the rough-in inspections. These are the inspections that take place before the insulation and drywall are installed. At this project, we'll have both a building and electrical inspection.

John Dorn handled the electrical work for me. He installed outlets all the way around the room as well as a outdoor light and outlet at the back door and lights in the two closets. We also relocated the room light in the center of the room and wired it for a ceiling fan. John was great to work with. If you need an electrician, check out his website at

I also had Wayne Taylor from W E S Heating and Cooling add a couple air vents and a return vent so that our room will be heated and cooled.

While they were both working, I was replacing the door into the kitchen and finishing up any framing that needed to be done. Once I had all the structural parts framed for the walls, I had to think about the drywall installation and make sure there were nailers in all the right places to secure drywall. Thinking this through now saves me much frustration later when I'm ready to hang drywall.

I also took the time to attach furring strips all around the room to the block wall that extends up the first 16". For this I used 3/4" plywood because it's less likely to split than a board would be. I attached them using my Ramset gun and 1 1/2" fasteners. This took a slightly less powerful 'load' than what I used to install the fasteners in the solid cement floor.

I'm ready for insulation... just need that inspection first...


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Add Some Simple Steps

After leveling the floor with a new cement slab (this post) and framing the wall to enclose the laundry area (this post), it's time to build some stairs to get into the room. Long before we can start building, we have quite a few things to consider to get our stairs right.

I won't cover every single aspect of stair building. Frankly, I still have a lot to learn myself. Let's go through some of my thinking for this particular project:

Have a Landing or Not?
Building codes require a landing at the top and bottom of each stairway. It has to be underneath the side that the door opens. In our case, if the door opened into the room, we would need a 36" deep landing, making our steps reach nearly 6 feet into our room. Instead, we planned to install a new door that would swing into the kitchen. In this way, the kitchen floor acts our 'landing', so we wouldn't need another one inside the new room.

The next thing to figure out is height of the risers and the depth of each step.

For this I measured the total rise of the stairs, or the distance from the cement floor at the bottom to the finished floor at the top. In my case that was 27 1/2". Codes say that the maximum rise for a step can be 7 3/4" This means that we'll need four steps of 6.875" each or 6 7/8". (27.5" total rise divided by 4 steps)

There are lots of opinions out there on how to figure out tread size. One rule of thumb that I've read says that two risers + one tread = 24 or 25 inches. Another formula I saw says that the tread + riser should equal 17 to 18" and a tread x riser should equal 70 to 75". Digesting all of this, I decided to make my treads 10 1/2" deep.

So, if you're hanging with me, it's time to layout our stringers on a 2x12 using these two dimensions. You can see in the picture how mine looked before I cut it. Use a framing square to make the marks and double check to make sure you are as exact as possible in your measurements.

Cut out the stringers. Then, cut the thickness of one tread off of the bottom of the stringers. This way, once you add the treads, the height will be the right distance from the floor.

Check the stringers in place with a level and make sure everything looks right before you nail them in place. For my project, I first attached a plate to the floor that would go across the bottom of the stringers to secure them to the floor. I made a notch at the bottom where the plate goes.

After securing the stringers, I had to frame around a valve on a gas pipe that would need to have an access hatch added as I finish the stairs out.

We're almost there now...
My stairs are a little wider than the typical 36" so I added some extra cross pieces to support the treads that would be 3/4" plywood. Starting at the bottom, I added 3/4" boards as risers, ripped to 6 7/8" wide. Then I added the treads cut 11 1/4" wide, overlapping the riser on the step below. After adding the next riser, the tread will be 10 1/2" just as planned.

These are just the basics. For a better understanding of stair building, I'd recommend a great book on framing called Ultimate Guide To House Framing by John D. Wagner. The book has an entire chapter devoted to stair building and goes into quite a bit of detail that may be helpful if you'd like more info.

Schools over. Time for recess... :)


Monday, October 5, 2009

Building a Wall of Doors

To enclose our utility area and create a separate closet for our new room that used to be a garage I needed to build a wall. Much of the wall would be doors to access the closets. Framing is an exciting phase of the project because it seems to go so fast compared to other parts of the project. Before we get ahead of ourselves let's think this through.

In the end of the closet is the service panel with all the circuit breakers for the entire house. By codes, this needs at least 30" of clearance to the sides and 36" in front of it. I also need to make sure that the washer/dryer fit in the closet with wiggle room. I decided to make the interior of the closet 34" deep to satisfy these criteria.

Next, I needed to place the doors. I wanted a normal 30" 6-panel door on the end to access the service panel and a small mud sink. Next, I planned for a 60" opening with bi-fold doors that would hide the laundry appliances. The interior of the laundry/sink/service panel closet will be open inside with no dividers. Because of all the wiring and plumbing in that area I'm not changing this wall. Just enclosing the area.

Beside the laundry will be a small closet to add storage to this room enabling the room to function as a bedroom if someone wanted use it for that. With doors so close together I also had to think ahead about how the trim would be installed. I'll be using 2 1/4" casing and I didn't want the trim from adjacent doors to get in the way of each other.

Once I had the wall designed on paper, I started by laying it out on the floor using chalk lines to show where the floor plates will go. I marked the doorway rough openings, leaving room for doorjambs, which add approx. 2" to the width of a door. For these 30" doors I'm making the rough opening 32". This allows for 1 1/2" of door jambs (2 pieces at 3/4" each) and then 1/2" of space to shim and make sure I can get it level.

The bottom plates will be treated 2x4 as required by codes because they are resting on the cement slab. I spread a little liquid nails underneath and then secured the bottom plates to the cement using a Ramset. This is a 'powder actuated' tool that literally shoots the nail through the lumber into the concrete using small caliber loads. I have the most basic single-use model that is triggered by me hitting the top with a hammer. If you have to use it a lot, they make various models up to the .27 caliber semi-automatic. (Check them out here.)

Anyway, the Ramset is a great alternative to some type of masonry nail or even using Tapcon screws with a hammer drill. I was using 2 1/2" fasteners that were meant for use in treated lumber.

You might note that the header above each door is only a flat 2x4. Since this is a NON-loadbearing wall, this is all that's needed. Of course, if it was supporting a load above it, we'd need something more substantial.

Things are starting to take shape. Next, let's build some steps to get into the room.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Adapting and Trimming the Windows

One huge difference between an old garage and a living space is windows. It was time to install the windows, but making salvaged windows fit the style of a house can be tricky. For this project, we were flexible on size because I gutted the inside and could frame the opening to any size necessary. The bigger task was to make these windows look like the belonged to this house.

The double window I found for the front was in decent shape, but still required some repairs. First, I had to build a new window sill to go across the bottom. The window unit will actually sit on this. The sill piece is notched at an angle so that it tilts a little downward to help water run off. It's not glamorous, but I made the sill out of a spare 2x4. The thickness is the perfect size to match our other windows.

With the sill in place, I then nailed a safety board across the window hole so the window would not fall out the other side when I set it up there. No, it's never happened to me. I just try to work slow enough that I think about these things... :)

I had to remake the trim that goes around the perimeter of the window and holds the top sash in place. I used some 3/4" stock that I ripped to 1 3/8" wide. The window unit had notches where this trim had once been so I knew exactly where to put it and what size it needed to be.

Next, I made the trim for the top with the drip cap just like the back door (yesterday's post) and then installed the side casing. The center opening needed another 3/4" board ripped to the right width to cover the cavity that conceals the window's counter weights. Each window has 1 working counter weight. They should have 2, but I suppose it amazing they still have half of them intact.

On the side of the old garage was an old window that was rotted and in bad shape. I found this Jeld-wen unit at Hailey's. It cranks out and fit the rough opening without me having to make many adjustments. It's the most modern and energy efficient window in the house!

I still need to replace some siding and caulk everything, but I'm anxious to start framing. Let's build a wall next...