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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Drywall Over a Plaster Ceiling

The Inglewood home we're remodeling is full of plaster from around 1940. Earlier plaster walls consisted of coats of plaster applied over wood lath that supported the plaster. In the 1930's something called "rock lath" was developed which was basically a pre-manufactured gypsum board made of plaster between two layers of paper. It's very similar to today's drywall, except that it was generally 16" or 24" by 48".

Throughout our project house, the walls have held up fairly well, though there are often cracks at the points where the old rock lath are joined. We've left most of that, repairing the worst ones.

The living room, has suffered more damage because of the failure of the roof flashing around the chimney. This has been fixed and now we're putting the ceiling back together. Because of the many cracks and previous patches to the living room ceiling, we've decided to drywall over it. Leaving the plaster in place serves two purposes: 1) It's way less mess and work involved & 2) the current ceiling insulation will stay intact.

The ceiling joists are nearly 16" on center. I say nearly, because it's not quite consistent throughout. Our drywall needs to be securely secured so we'll need to first add furring strips that will support the drywall.

To make furring strips I ripped a 2x4 into thirds, around 1 1/8" each. I attached these to the ceiling using screws after marking the ceiling joists so that my screws would actually hit something solid. My furring strips were exactly 16" apart giving me plenty of places to attach the drywall.
Don't forget to adjust any electrical boxes so they are flush with the new finished surface.
Once again, the drywall panel lift was an invaluable tool for helping me raise the nearly 12 foot pieces to the ceiling. It rents for around $30 for 4 hours from Home Depot and is worth every penny.

After three coats of joint compound and a sanding, the living room has a perfectly new ceiling. Although, I'm not sure anyone will appreciate it as much as I do...


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Make Arched Corners for a Doorway

The home that I'm currently working on has quite a few Tudor characteristics throughout, including a couple arched doorways in the kitchen and living room. The homeowners wanted to open up the wall leading into the kitchen with a larger doorway and match the corners to the others. Here's how I did it:

1. Open up wall and reframe the larger opening with new header. Our wall IS load-bearing so I had to build a simple temporary wall on either side of the opening to carry the weight of the ceiling joists while I installed a new header and removed part of the wall. (Opening up a wall? See these posts.)
The opening would be around 5' wide, so a built-up 2x6 header would be called for. Make the header at the height equal to the highest point in your arched doorway.

If you wanted to keep the square corners you could just drywall over this new framing as it is, however, we want to make curved corners. These curves are for cosmetic purposes only, they will not carry any load, but rather just support the drywall.

2. Frame the corners. Depending on how large of a curve, you'll have a few options for this. If it's a larger curve you may want to cut the profile out of a piece of plywood for either side of the wall and then frame in between to hold it together. Mainly, you want to have plenty of places to screw your drywall, especially along the edges where you'll add the cornerbead.

Our curves weren't very large, so I was able to cut the entire profile out of some scrap pieces of 2x6 lumber. I made the first one by tracing the curve onto it from one of the existing doorways. Once one was complete, I used it as the template to make 3 more, giving me enough for both of the corners.

At this stage, remember where you want the finished wall to end up. If you're adding 1/2" drywall, the curves should account for this. I'm actually matching mine up to the old plaster, so I left them 1/2" from the surface of the plaster so I can patch with drywall and just tape and mud all the joints.

The curves can be nailed or screwed into place and you're finished. Be gentle so you don't split them and have to start over. The drywall will come in the next week or so as I begin work on the kitchen. Read it here.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tips for Installing a Pedestal Sink

At my Inglewood Cottage renovation project (these posts), we're trying to put things back together in a way that fits the older character of the home. This means the bathroom has new beadboard wainscoting and cool black-and-white hex tile. Next, of course, is the pedestal sink.

A pedestal sink is a common choice for a smaller bathroom when space is an issue. In this particular bathroom there is a huge toiletry closet behind the door, so there is plenty of storage. This is sometimes a concern when there will be no storage in the bathroom vanity.

The homeowners picked out a beautiful Kohler pedestal sink and it was time for me to install it. The old sinks usually had some metal brackets that first attached to the wall for the sink to rest on. I guess that was too easy... :) Now you have to find a way to attach the sink through the two holes provided. Because of the location of these holes under the sink where there's not usually any elbow room, you have to approach this differently.

Step zero: install the faucet and drain. It will be much easier for you if this is done before you attach it to the wall. You could wait to attach the connectors, but go ahead and get most of it installed.

Then, unless the hole is located right over a stud, you'll want to pick up a couple toggle bolts to attach the sink. I'm going through quite a bit of plaster and drywall, so I bought 4" toggle bolts.

Set the sink up with the pedestal and use a level to get it in the right spot. You want the surface of the sink to be level front-to-back and left-to-right. Once it's there, mark the two holes on the wall.

Next, drill a couple holes sized as recommended for your toggle bolts. My holes were 3/4". When that's done, you can put the toggle bolts through the sink and then insert them into the holes. Make they've sunk deep enough so that the 'wings' spread out against the back of the wall.

Now you need to tighten the toggle bolts. Some pedestal sinks may be designed so that you can actually get a screwdriver in there. However, many are not and you'll go crazy trying to figure out how to do it. Here's the secret: get a right angle screwdriver.

There are many versions of the ol' right angle screwdriver from fancy ratcheting ones, to cheap ones like mine that get the job done. I mainly just use this for installing pedestal sinks, but it's the right tool for the job.

Once it's secure you can hook up the plumbing and go have a nice day...


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Three Headaches to Avoid When Installing a Toilet

Toilets aren't much fun to deal with, however whenever you're renovating a bathroom, you'll probably need to remove and reset the toilet or possibly install a new one. Here are three tips that will save you some frustration when you go to put the toilet in.

1. This is a biggie: Make sure that the toilet flange bolts are at least 12" away from the finished wall. (Sometimes called a 12" rough-in.) This is the minimum amount of clearance that you'll need to fit most standard toilets. The problems often come after you've added something to the wall, such as tile or beadboard wainscoting, that reduces the room you have for your toilet. Take this seriously and think about it ahead of time.

The best fix is to move the flange over if possible. This is what I did for this project, however, if you're dealing with old cast iron pipes in the crawlspace you don't want to hear that. You might be able to install something called an "offset flange" that will buy you an inch or two and may save the day.

If you're stuck with a flange that's simply too close to the wall, you'll have to go shopping for a toilet that will fit. The big home stores usually stock 1 toilet that will fit in a 10" space (measuring from the bolts to the wall.) You could also search the salvage yard for an toilet that will fit. Yep, that would be a used toilet... :)

2. Make sure your connections are right. Especially when you're replacing an old toilet, you may have a connections that aren't compatible with the modern 3/8" compression connectors. You may need an extra adapter fitting to get everything to connect. Also, the height of your new toilet may be different than the old, needing a longer connector than you have on hand to make it work.

3. When you're installing the nuts, don't forget the plastic covers. Install the plastic base before the washer and nut. IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure the plastic base is installed with the correct side up. It will probably say on the top "this side up." This is important for making the cover snap together with the base piece.

You can probably tell that I've dealt with all of the above situations before. If you think ahead in these situations you can save yourself some frustration and perhaps a couple extra trips to Home Depot.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Eye-Catching Hex Tile for the Bathroom

With the tub and surround installed (see this post) it's finally time to do some tile.

This bathroom was desperately needing some charm when we started. Well, it's going to get it, starting with some old-fashioned-looking white hex tile with black squares.

The old vinyl flooring was installed with adhesive over a thin layer of 1/4" plywood. This was all removed to discover a layer of 3/4" oak boards over a 3/4" pine subfloor. Many of the oak boards had water damage around the toilet, so I went ahead and removed all of them and added a layer of 3/4" plywood throughout the bathroom. This will give me a nice solid surface to tile over.

Before tiling, I installed a layer of 1/4" Hardibacker cementboard. I like to use this product because it won't soak up moisture and expand the way that plywood does. This helps to prevent cracks in the tile and grout over time. We want this tile to last a long, long time.

Like other small tiles, this comes on sheets to aid in installation. I love the look of this tile. It's a very classic design, yet quite remarkable nonetheless.

(Side note: Did you ever see one of those geometric calendars that are supposed to contain a hidden picture if you stare at them and let your eyes focus beyond the picture? Well, try it with a floor like this sometime. You might see the black squares 'popping out' of the design and make some interesting figures... ) (I'm okay, really)


Monday, December 14, 2009

Custom Fit for Tub and Surround

Everything seems a little more difficult when you're working on an old house. My current project is a 1940's home full of plaster walls and original trimwork. Nice to look at, but tricky to work with. I guess it's a good thing that I like a challenge...

The bathroom was probably not originally designed to include a shower so the window was never a problem. Now, a shower is a requirement, so the question is, "What to do with the window?" There are a few ways to deal with a window in the shower:

1. Remove it completely. This might be easier with a wood-sided house because you could patch the hole. This home is brick, making this a more expensive and difficult option.

2. Replace with glass blocks. This is also expensive and labor-intensive. It's also tricky if the window hole is not the appropriate size for 8" glass blocks plus mortar lines. It would be a better solution if the surround was going to be tiled. Irregardless of cost, this is probably my favorite solution in most cases.

3. Replace with an all-vinyl window and vinyl trim. Not a great idea, but probably better than wood. In an older home, it would be expensive to get a window that matched the others. You'd still want to get some kind of frosted glass for privacy, and a plastic curtain might still be a good idea to keep water out of the window sill.

4. Leave the old window and put a plastic curtain over it. Quick and easy, right?! (And cheap!) This was the solution that this homeowner decided to go with. It would also work okay with the new acrylic surround, except that I'd have to carefully cut a window out of the surround as you can see in the picture. The trim will come right up to the cut and get caulked with waterproof caulk throughout. When we're finished a small plastic curtain will be installed so that the water will be deflected from the window.


The distance between the original plaster walls was 60". However, the new tub and surround is supposed to attach directly to the studs. After removing the plaster the space for the tub was 60 3/4" wide, making the hole 3/4" too big.

As I told the homeowner, who is a musician, this was a time for some improvisation. :)

The solution that I came up with was to slide the tub to the left. This means that only the right side had a problem. I needed to build it out 3/4" by attaching some scrap 3/4" plywood to the studs. I could now install the tub and surround. This worked great, but it meant that I'd now have to cover the entire wall with a layer of 1/2" drywall to finish out around the surround & tub.

The problems with older homes can normally be solved, but these are the reasons why sometimes it's just easier to gut the place in the beginning and start over... not that I'm suggesting that or anything...


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Buddies at Home Depot

My son Noah is 5 which means he loves working with any kind of tools to build things, especially when he gets to help me on a project.

Last weekend we were painting our house and made a Home Depot run to buy paint. Before we left, Noah had to suit up in his work apron and, of course, his hard hat. The crew at Home Depot enjoyed seeing him and we had to get a picture with the 'snow man' in the tool rental department.

Now you know that we take our work very seriously around our house... :)

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Time For a New Basement Door

The small home that we're renovating has a full unfinished basement with a concrete floor. This has made our under-the-house repairs much easier. However, there's also an exterior door down there. It had completely rotted and been boarded up. Time for a new one.

First, let me mention that many of these older homes are built with downstairs door just like this. The huge problem with this is that water will pool at the bottom of the stairs and eventually damage the door and possibly get into the basement. The very best solution is usually to build some sort of roof covering over the stairs so that it stays dry. For our project, I would just be replacing the door, but using materials that might last a little longer.

I started by ripping out the old door, which was pretty easy considering its condition. The homeowner bought a salvaged 32" exterior door at Hailey's Salvage. My plan was to first build the door frame out of pressure treated 2x8 and then install the unit and trim around the edges to close the gaps as well as possible.

Knowing that water would pool at the bottom of these stairs, I wanted to prevent the door from sitting in the water as much as possible. For this reason, I actually made a threshold out of a treated 2x8 and then put door stop trim all the way around the inside of the jamb, including across the bottom. Not only will this close the air gaps, but hopefully also be another roadblock to any water entry and get the door up off of the floor.

To attach the frame to the masonry walls I first attached some plywood nailers on either side using some long Tapcon screws. I actually had some treated plywood scraps around that worked great because they are less likely to split than using other lumber. This held quite well and once they were installed it was just a matter of installing the door frame, leveling it up and nailing it in like any other door installation.

The entire door frame is made out of pressure treated lumber, ready to battle those elements...


Monday, December 7, 2009

Solder a Simple Copper Connection

The cottage renovation is in full swing. We're starting at the bottom and working our way up. That means that we needed to replace a few pipes in the basement that were old galvanized steel and deteriorated to the point that it was reducing the water pressure.

Mostly, I was using PEX with copper crimp rings and barb fittings, however, there were a couple copper connections needed near the water heater. (You're not supposed to use any plastic pipe, such as PEX or CPVC within 18" of the water heater.) Anyway, I thought I'd share the simple process for a solder joint when working with copper.

To get started you might pick up a basic soldering pack at the hardware store. It might contain a small propane torch, solder, flux, and flux brush.

1. Cleanly cut the copper pipe. It's best to use a pipe cutter meant for this purpose because you'll get a square cut. It's much more difficult with a hacksaw.

2. Clean the pipe. I've got a helpful little tool with steel brushes for both 1/2" and 3/4" pipe. A small piece of sandpaper can also do the job. You want to scrub the pipe until the copper is shiny. Family Handyman, in this article about soldering copper, calls cleaning the pipe "the A-1 key to copper soldering success". Don't skip this step. (By the way, you can even reuse old copper pipes if you clean it properly to make a good connection.)

3. Brush some flux on the areas to be soldered, both the end of the pipe and the inside of the fitting. Flux is a chemical composition that helps clean the copper to prepare it for solder and it also helps in the heat transfer.

4. Heat the fitting with a propane torch. Notice I said to heat the fitting. This is important. Specifically, you want to apply the heat to the female end of the fitting that's receiving the pipe. The flux helps the heat to also heat up the pipe inside. Move the flame back-and-forth across the fitting to heat it evenly.

5. Hold the solder on the joint in a spot opposite the flame. This is the coldest part and you want it to be hot enough to accept the solder. When the fitting is hot enough it will just 'suck' the solder in and you're done. Enough solder should be taken in that it drips out the bottom of the fitting, but there's no need to overdo it. The heat will do the work.
6. Let the pipe cool. It will stay hot for a while. In my case, I later attached some 1/2" PEX to the barb on this fitting using copper rings with a PEX crimp tool... but, that's a lesson for another day...


Friday, December 4, 2009

Flip This 1940's Cottage

I started a new project this week that will consume my time for the next few weeks. One of my favorite clients is a real estate investor who has enlisted me to help him renovate a brick cottage in Inglewood. I thought I'd share some 'before' pics to give you an idea of what we're dealing with.

The main bedrooms and living room are full of beautiful old stained trimwork. Thankfully, the trim, doors and windows have never been painted and they still look great aside from a few careless paint drips. We're hoping that some matching hardwood floors can be resurrected after the carpet is removed as well.

In addition to some upgrades to the plumbing and electrical systems, most of the work that we'll tackle will be cosmetic, which means we get to do some really fun stuff.

The kitchen will be a main focus. The cabinets will stay, but there will be new counters with a tile backsplash and floors as well as a new dishwasher.
The old bathroom is quite small, but will be completely redone with new fixtures, hex tile floors, and beadboard wainscoting. Hopefully, I can add some of the 'old-house character' while including modern conveniences.

The living room is actually in decent shape aside from where there was a leak beside the chimney due to failed roof flashing. The roof repairs are done so we'll soon begin patching the walls and drywalling over the plaster ceiling which is full of cracks.

It seems like quite a bit of work at this point, but it will fly by. Stay tuned to watch the progress!