Greg MacLellan

August 29, 2012

Front Entrance, Part 2

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:40 pm

In my last post, I finished the upstairs electrical work, so next I could put up new vapour barrier. Since the old stuff is kraft paper-faced insulation, I really don’t think it’s a great vapour barrier as it’s not even sealed well. I put in new 6mil barrier, and used acoustic caulk to seal it around the edges. At least in the part I’ve opened up I have not introduced any new leaks. I am not sure if this was really necessary, but I sliced slits in the kraft paper, because I actually don’t want any moisture to be trapped in between. Any moisture needs to be able to dry outwards from the new plastic vapour barrier.


Next thing I tackled was tearing out the old carpet. Here you can see the terrible linoleum peel-and-stick tiles that were once covering the entire first floor, and which I also found in the upstairs bathroom. I measured out the exact placement of the wall and marked it with painters tape, and then just used a knife and my level as a straight-edge to cut out the section. I also had to pull out the old carpet tacks along the edges.

I also cut the underpadding back about 1″ beyond where I cut the carpet, and installed new tack strips. As best as I could manage, I pulled the carpet back and hooked it on. I used a metal threshold strip that had tacks attached for the doorway.

In the above picture, you can also see the framing for the new wall ready to go in. I didn’t end up taking many pictures of this unfortunately, but I installed it by using several #10 3.5″ screws into the floor below. I added an extra piece of 2×10 blocking between the joists underneath near the end, and screwed into that as well to give it even greater support. Because it’s positioned in between two studs, to secure it to the existing exterior wall I used 6 large zinc self-tapping wall anchors which combined should have a sheer strength rating of around 500 lbs. In retrospect, if I was doing this again I would have just opened up even more of the drywall and installed a piece of 2×4 between two studs to give it something solid to connect to, but even as is I’m fairly certain this isn’t going to move easily.

The subfloor is 1/2″ plywood with another 1/4″ layer on top, with the old linoleum tiles stuck to that. I ripped the 1/4″ plywood out, and then put down a couple new sheets of 5/8″ OSB to bring up the floor to the height I wanted.

Next up was drywall. This was pretty straight-forward. A couple sheets for the new half-wall, and a 2×7.5′ piece for the exterior wall. Since I cut to the edge of the stud, I had a decent nailing surface. I did have to adjust it a bit, as the old chunk I cut out of the wall was not perfectly straight, but using a drywall rasp made this very easy.

I also put in a new electrical outlet on the inside of of the wall, and replaced the the speaker and network/coax connections I previously had in that corner.

I was originally going to just have the box near the top of the doorway as a junction box (it’s where I have the transition from the 12/3 aluminum from the foyer light to the 14/3 copper going to the switch and outside light), but instead decided to make it an outlet, so I could plug in our wireless doorbell.

Everything sat this way for about a week, before I was finally motivated to get the first coat of mud on, marking my least favourite part of these jobs.

We didn’t have enough paint left and had to get some more mixed, but just to make things fun the base and color we used are no longer available. We got one color-matched, but ended up having to paint the entire front wall because the color was not 100% perfect and you could see the difference. It’s not noticeable compared to the other walls though.

I used the same vinyl plank tiles I have in the upstairs bathroom to finish this floor. I was a bit concerned about the height compared to the trim, so I used some foam underlay I had left over from laminate I installed in the basement. The foam actually works very well, and the floor as a very subtle ‘squishy’ feel to it that is quite comfortable to walk on, especially barefoot.

This stuff goes down very quickly, and I had it done in under two hours. In the meantime, my wife was outside painting the trim, and as soon as the floor was done I installed all the trim. Finally, installed the new closet doors, which are mirrored versions of the same doors I installed in the bedrooms last year.

I also used some trim to cap off the top of the half-wall and provide a bit of ledge. The top piece is a piece of pre-primed MDF, and for the finished end I used a couple coats of spray paint primer and sanded it with fine-grit sand paper to get it smooth, and used my belt sander to round off the corners. There’s another piece of trim around the bottom to finish it off.

August 26, 2012

New House!

Filed under: General — groogs @ 11:56 pm

While I was in the process of updating the front entrance, my wife and I started talking about if it made sense to do another job we had been thinking of – tearing down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and putting in some new cabinets and a breakfast bar. My reasoning was if I was doing this at the same time, it would be enough work at once that I could justify bringing in a pro to finish the drywall for me (yes, I hate it that much). This started us into another conversation about how much more work and money we wanted to put into this house, and how much longer we’d stay. When we bought the house, we had originally figured it would be about 5 years, and now it’s been 4, and we were feeling this might be a good time to move.

We started looking around to see what was on the market, going to a couple open houses, and even looking at building a new house. We had our real estate agent take us out and show us a few houses, and actually saw one that we really liked. We decided to make a conditional offer on it.. and it was accepted! This was great – although as part of the conditions we had 2 weeks to sell our house, and our front entrance was still a construction zone. When our agents came over on that Friday, I had a plastic sheet up around the front as I had only just put on the first coat of mud and was getting ready to sand.

Luckily this was a long weekend, so we went into high-gear, and by Monday night I managed to finish the entrance, as well as we got the rest of the house in a respectable state and ready to be photographed and have people walking through. The next day, we had multiple offers competing, and accepted one that night. We had the deal finalized less than 48 hours after putting the house on the market, and so huge thanks to our agents Della and Dave Cook for that!

So while I’m happy to have the entrance done, we’ve only had a bit over a month to enjoy it — we’re actually moving in a couple days from now. There are already a few things I want to do on the new place, and the basement is unfinished a blank slate, so expect more posts in the next few months!

Old House

For now, we’ve put a lot of work into this house and it’s sad to say goodbye, but also exciting to start fresh. Hopefully the new owners will enjoy this house as much as we have.

August 10, 2012

Front Entrance, Part 1

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:40 am

One thing that has always been awkward about our house is the front entrance. It is about 7′ long by 3.5′ wide with a wall that means even two people trying to get coats/shoes on are in each other’s way. My plan is to knock the wall down and put a half-wall about 3.5′ over to act as a separator but keep the space open.

Nearly 4 years ago (yikes), I tore out the carpet in the entrance, but then we couldn’t really decide exactly what to do, other projects got in the way, and so for the last 4 years we’ve lived with just a runner on top of the subfloor and no closet doors.

Not exactly the most welcoming view when you first come in. This picture illustrates how tight the space is though. In the living room, we basically use the space behind the couch as the overflow for the front entrance — this is where we put stuff down, and try not to step on the carpet with wet shoes (which is very difficult when you have someone behind you trying to get inside out of the rain/snow). (Note: not present in this photo is a cabinet we had in the corner and a small table that sat behind the couch).

The new wall is going to go roughly where the back of the couch is, and the couch will actually barely move at all. Nothing like knocking a big hole in the wall to get committed..

As soon as I had the wall down, it was clear how much nicer this was going to be. When you first walk in the house, it’s spacious and you can actually see the whole living room and dining room right away.

Next, I had to reroute all the electrical. There is a line from the ceiling that is the incoming power as well as switched power to the overhead light, a line to the light outside the front door, and a line to the rest of the plugs in the living room which includes a switched outlet. There were, accordingly, 3 switches in the wall — overhead light, front entrance, and living room lights (via switched outlet). I should also mention that all the original wiring is aluminum, and being a 35 year old house, there are many shared circuits, and this is no exception — this circuit is connected to one of the bedrooms plus another outlet in the master bedroom. I decided that I’d take advantage of the situation to run a new circuit for the living room. I’m going to put two switches beside the front door: for the front porch light and the overhead foyer light, and I’ll put the switch for the living room outlet on the wall connected to the closet (which is between the stairs and the foyer).

Step one is opening the wall. Because there is a vapour barrier behind exterior walls (well, kraft paper in my case) I did not want to cut it. I also do not have a tool for this, as I actually try to avoid doing drywall work as much as I can. I bought one of the rotozip bits, and put it in my Dremel, and then taped a piece of scrap wood to the side to use as a depth gauge to give me 1/2″. This was actually really effective and I had the wall opened pretty quickly, and there is only one spot I broke the kraft paper, which will be easy to repair with acoustic caulk later.

The studs are 24″ O.C. so I cut over top of the middle of the stud so that I’d have something to secure the new drywall to when I was done.

Getting the wire from the ceiling light into the new wall proved to be a fairly big pain. On the door-side of the wall, there is a ceiling joist over top, which that part of the drywall is attached to. On the room side however, a nailing edge was added which was nailed into the top plate from above. A wrecking bar, hammer, and saw eventually got it out, and then I used a cut-off wheel to cut off the nails sticking down.

Next, I pushed the wire up between the joist and nailing edge, and sat it up on top of the joist. I drilled a hole on an angle from the wall cavity up to where the old wall used to be, and started trying to fish the wire down. Cutting more of the wall open or finding someone with small hands probably would have made this go much faster, but I got it through.. eventually.

I also ran the wire that goes to the receptacles down into the basement. Since I did spray foam, this meant drilling down would go into the foam. I carefully measured and drilled a hole down into the foam, making sure it wasn’t lined up with a joist below. I then took a coat hanger and made it into a “J” shape, with the bottom cut at an angle so it was somewhat sharp. I pushed this down and out through the foam in order to exactly locate my hole, and then from in the basement used a spade bit to widen the area around it so I could push the wire through. I’ll hook this in later, and foam the in around the hole.


Because the wire from the ceiling light was short (and I didn’t want to go into the attic to rewire this), I added a junction box high up on the wall. I ran a new copper 14/3 wire from that to the switch box – this carries the power from the panel, and the red wire is switched to control the foyer light. The outside front light also comes into this box. Many people are afraid of aluminum wiring, but really you just need to follow the correct procedures, which I’ve learned from living in this house: make sure all the fixtures and wire nuts being connected are rated CO/ALR (#63 wire nuts), and of course ensure everything is coated in anti-oxidant goop (“Noalox” is one brand name). Since this is an exterior wall, I’m using gasketed exterior boxes that are air-sealed and made of PVC. The drywall compresses the vapour barrier onto the gasket, and there is also a foam gasket you poke the wires through that keeps them sealed up.

In the next post, there’s a lot to do but I’ll finish everything up.

August 7, 2012

Upstairs Bathroom Refresh, Part 2

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:00 pm

In Part 1, I removed everything in the bathroom. Once the drywall patches were dried up, the first thing I did was paint.

Next up was flooring. I chose to go with Allure vinyl plank flooring, which is relatively inexpensive but looks nice and has a nice textured feel to it. This is a floating floor, each piece is 1×3′ (three “tiles”) and has opposing adhesive lips on opposite sides that stick to each other. You can pull them apart and restick them a couple times for several minutes after you first put them together, but they eventually harden up quite a bit and form a very solid (and waterproof) seal.

The floor is easy to cut with a knife (score and snap), and I used a pair of tin snips to cut around the vent and toilet flange. This was my first time using this product, and it took a little over two hours to complete on my own.

I unfortunately didn’t take too many pictures of installing the vanity, but what I went with was some stock cabinets with two 12″ drawer units and a 24″ sink base. Because the drawers would otherwise hit the trim around the door and not open all the way, I had to trim it out. I used a piece of 1×3″ with a piece of black veneer edging for finish. Because (of course) the walls are not true, I also used a belt sander to take nearly 1/4″ off down to the bottom so my vanity is plumb with no gaps.

There was a 1 1/4″ chrome trap from the old sink, which I did not want to re-use.

There was no play at all in the pipe coming out of the wall, and I didn’t want to cut any more drywall open, so I had a bit of a tough time figuring out how to connect to this until I realized a 1 1/2″ female hub adapter would work, and results in no change in the inside diameter. It screws onto where the white compression fitting is in the above picture.

After that it was no problem to connect the rest of the drain using 1 1/4″ ABs. I have since heard the traps that have a union at one end are easier to clean if needed than the ones with just a drain in the bottom, but in this case you could disconnect the sink tail piece and unscrew the whole drain from the hub fitting on the wall, if needed.

I re-used the old cultured marble counter-top, putting it in place using silicone caulk underneath on the cabinets and around the edges against the wall. I also put in a new faucet that my wife picked out which I think also really helped update the look.

The new vanity is 35″ to the top of the counter, which for me as a 6′ tall person, is so amazingly better than the 32″ or whatever it was before. After putting up the new mirror, the transition is complete, and both my wife and I are very pleased with the way it turned out. Not too bad for a long weekend’s work (protip: minimizing the time you have your wife’s main bathroom torn apart for is one of the keys to a happy marriage).


August 2, 2012

Upstairs Bathroom Refresh, Part 1

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:27 pm

When we bought the house, the two most recent updates the previous owners had done were the kitchen and bathroom. We’ve touched every other part of the rest of the house — from painting every square inch (except kitchen and bath) to the complete reno of the basement. The bathroom had a new toilet, tub and surround, faucet, cultured marble counter-top/sink, and presumably vinyl floor. The tub surround is a very simple, just some Solid Surface around the outside, but it’s actually nice. However, the vanity was terrible, the floor was not really our taste, and it needed some paint. Up to this point really the only work I’ve done on the bathroom is not very visual: adding a new electrical circuit and plugs, and adding an exhaust vent.

It’s quite an old vanity, and built reasonably well with solid wood, but the style was really dated, and the drawers were tiny — probably 7″ wide — which meant my stuff was confined to one small top drawer while my wife used the rest to not-quite-fit all of her stuff.

I think this bathroom has actually undergone a couple of renos in its lifetime. Underneath is the original linoleum stick-down tile that was at one point covering the entire first floor. From previous experience one of my wrecking bars was able to slide underneath and make quick work getting rid of them.

It’s interesting to see that at one point there was a wall-mounted sink in here, which seems like a terrible waste of space (the vanity in its place was 48″ wide).

You can also see the old chrome drain pipes were still in use. Some of the old plumbing fixtures really make me wonder though, like the toilet shut-off that requires a flat-head screwdriver to operate. (Panicking wife frantically trying to figure out how to turn off the water would be somewhat funny to watch were it not for the toilet water is spilling onto the floor.) A while ago I added a retro-fit shut-off 1/4 turn valve which just screws onto where the supply line would normally go, and of course that came in handy to disconnect the toilet.

I pulled the rest of the floor out, patched up the holes in the drywall (several more are not pictured) and cleaned up the mess, and now I have a blank canvas to work with.

Update: Part 2 here

August 1, 2012

New Bathroom Vent

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 1:05 am

One of the things the upstairs bathroom is lacking is an exhaust vent. Vents are important to keep the humidity from getting too high, and are especially great compared to opening a window while you’re running your heating or air conditioning.

You can see the old slider window here, which is the only one left in the house. I’ve sealed it with silicone caulking on one side, and weather stripping on the other, and we pretty much leave it shut. In the ceiling above is where I’ll be locating the new vent.

I started by adding the vent outside. This is pretty straight-forward: cut a hole, and install and seal the vent. I used a generous amount of silicone caulking to seal it in and screwed it into place.

Because the house is a side-split, next to the bathroom are the stairs going to the basement, and above that is a void with attic access, which starts around 4′ up the wall. This is why the vent is located next to the window – rather than go through the roof, because I had access to the wall it was easier to run the pipe here. As a bonus, this hole is partially protected by the roof. I used insulated 4″ vent pipe to connect up to the exhaust fan itself.

After cutting a hole in the ceiling, I mounted the fan, connected the vent pipe, and sealed around the unit with vapour barrier. I had a tough time finding if this was the correct way to seal it, but it makes the most sense to me and it seems to be effective so far.

Last step was running the power. I had previously replaced an old receptacle with a fan timer switch, so I just had to run power down from that to the fan. I had to cut a new access hole, and then used a 54″ long flexible bit to drill up into the attic space, and fish the wire through. You can see the punch-out in the top of the junction box where I ran the wire into.

The timer is a great way to run exhaust fans, as you can easily turn it on for 5/10/15/30 minutes (the basement powder room has one with 2/5/10/15 minute options), which is enough time to have a shower and let it exhaust out afterwards, without having to think about it.

I used a nice fairly quiet Broan model, same as I used in the basement. This one is actually a bit louder (though still not bad), and I’m assuming it’s because I have a longer run with a couple curves, while the basement is short and almost perfectly straight, despite the fact the basement is only a 3″ line while this one is 4″.

It looks nice and has been working well for the past year, not much I can complain about.