Getting to Final

With every job on a renovation there is a surprise. Even the simplest task can present unimagined complexity. We are in the final stages of completing the renovation on our basement. Honestly, this ending cannot come soon enough.

For months we have had the doorknobs sitting in their boxes, awaiting installation. There are two bedroom doors and one bathroom door, so three doorknobs in all. The doors came prehung in their own frames, so we assumed installing the doorknobs would be a quick job.

The door handles went in easily enough, everything fit and worked fine. The faceplates, however, were not to be so easy. First, the faceplate hardware and the pre-cut faceplate on the door frame did not match. Okay, that is to be expected, we can modify the door frame. But then we realized the door trim was set too close to the edge of the door frame and the lip of the faceplate was not going to seat properly into the door frame.

Matt was doing the install, and he just sat there, puzzling over what to do. It was enough of a head scratcher to delay the doorknob install overnight. Next day, he called Wallace and consulted on the problem. Between the two of them, they came up with an elegant solution, to use the router to carve away a section of the trim so the faceplate would sit properly. The following day Matt performed the router operation and informed me that the routed sections would need to be painted. The next day I pulled out the oil-based wood primer paint and got the first coat onto these little sections of bare wood. Today I will apply the coat of high gloss trim paint. Tomorrow Matt should be able to screw on the face plates and the door knobs will be installed.

Let’s look at the timeline differential. The first estimate for the job was approximately 15 minutes per doorknob for a total job time of 45 minutes. The reality was more like 10 minutes to install each door knob. At least 1 hour or problem solving. Another 1 hour for routing out these little sections (including set up and clean up). Another 1/2 hour for oil-based wood sealer (including set up and clean up). Another 1/2 hour for high gloss trim paint (I think one coat should suffice in this case). Another 15 minutes to screw on the face plates. Remember, each of these steps has an overnight in between them – so tack on 5 days for all these small jobs to be accomplished. And that is how we started to install the doorknobs on Sunday and finished the job on Thursday (tomorrow).

In the meantime, as long as I had the oil-based wood sealer out, I touched up all the bare wood for the closet trim and door trim repair (from getting the washer/dryer tucked into its nook). So today I am ready to paint the trim with its first coat of gloss white as well as coat the closet edges with gloss white.

We have the last cabinet on the operating table, the first long strips of cladding were glued on overnight. This evening we will glue on the shelf cladding pieces and then I will have two full cabinets to sand and seal before we glue the units together and install them in the closets.

I have borrowed by step-brother’s oscillating floor sander and I am very excited to do a final sanding of the floors and finishing coats of Pentraguard.

When I look back at our pictures from earlier stages in the renovation, I can remember very well the feeling of, “Yay! We have gotten this far!” Little did I know how much further we had to go. And yet, I got that oil-based wood sealer paint on the trim so the faceplates can be screwed down and the door knobs finally installed and I say to myself, “Yay! We have gotten this far!”

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Custom Cabinetry #renovations

We did not set out to become custom cabinet makers at the beginning of this renovation. We had assumed we would simply purchase any needed dressers and shelves from a well-known purveyor of cheap, but nice looking furniture from Sweden. But, as we got deeper into the renovation, a value started to emerge that became a guiding principle of our efforts. This value is rooted in our commitment to the environment, sustainability, connectivity, and the priceless dents and scratches that accumulate as a testament to living. With cheap furniture, it looks great in the catalogue and on the showroom floor. It even looks pretty good once it is all assembled, as long as you haven’t inadvertently chipped a corner or set a scratch. However, once that surface is marred, the entire piece of furniture looks shabby. After all our efforts to create a comfortable, cozy, clean living space, we just couldn’t bring in pieces of furniture that were going to look like junk within minutes or months of assembly.

At first, we hadn’t fully formed these thoughts. The fact was we had a space that was between a post and a wall. We wanted to fill that space with a handy set of shelves that could serve as a wireless router centre and a charging station for mobile devices. We tried to find something pre-made that we could just slot into the opening, but there was nothing we could fit, or modify, that would look half decent and serve the purpose we had in mind. We decided we would have to build something ourselves.

Had we ever build custom cabinetry before? Well, no. Did we know what we were doing? A little. We measured, cut, glued, finished, and installed our first piece of oak plywood cabinet. It looked fantastic! Wow, we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we used this same method and materials for the linen closet unit? We can hang it at the same elevation as the charging station so the shelf heights match. Yes, let’s do it. These cabinets are going to be much tougher than anything we can buy, and with each ding and dent they will acquire a patina of history, the history of our family, our friends, our tenants, living in our space over time. The furniture does not become shabby with age, it acquires a history of life, which in turn, imbues it with a life of its own.

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We went ahead and built our second unit, a set of shelves custom fit into an alcove for linens: towels, bedsheets, pillowcases, wash clothes, etc. With this unit I made a discovery: we could hang the shelf unit from the wall, leaving the floor beneath it open and easy for cleaning. Ease of cleaning, that is a value that guides my design and installation every step of the renovation. With this unit we ran into difficulties because I didn’t understand the material relationships between raw plywood, PL glue, and Pentraguard (the sealant I was adapting for finishing furniture as well as concrete floors). Not only that, in my efforts to clean up my material missteps with the sander, I made my own gouges and scrapes on the plywood. With this unit I realized I had beginners luck with charging station and now I was actually learning how to put these cabinets together.

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Undaunted, we decided to build a third unit for the bathroom, to make a nice set of shelves beside the toilet. Instead of having a toilet paper roll and a magazine rack, we put in a small set of shelves to hold extra toilet paper, washcloths, hand towels and reading material. Suspended on the wall, it will be easy to clean the floor, and there will always be extra rolls of toilet paper easily accessible from the throne. This unit went together much better, I was improving my assembly process – sand, pentraguard, glue, repeat. And my planing skills – angle away from the plywood when planing down the cladding, watch the flow of the grain, plane with the grain, not against it. And my sanding skills – just once over, no more, with each layer.

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By now we had three matching built in cabinets and they were very pleasing to our eyes and our aesthetic sensibilities. Well, we needed a broom closet and access panels. So we used the same materials and methods for those pieces. The built-in cabinetry was taking on a presence in the suite, a set piece made up of the composite of these various pieces, they were all different shapes and sizes, but they all matched in tone, style, and installation.

Well, that brings us to today. We are now building two closet organizers that will be installed, suspended in the bedroom closets. They will also be made of oak plywood clad with solid oak trim. They are our most ambitious projects yet, both in scale and complexity. But we persevere and today we are trimming the shelves a saw curf to make sure everything is going to fit together properly.

We are happy we didn’t sink our dwindling resources into furniture destined for a landfill. Instead we sank our time and energies into transforming materials into timeless pieces of furniture that will tell the story of the life in our suite as surely as our photographs and videos. I feel good about what I have attempted and learned. If you had asked me at the beginning if I could build a cabinet, I would have said, “No.” Now, I can definitely say, “Yes.” And it is definitely worth it. There is another part to this that I only just thought of: I built these, we built these, and if we can build these, who knows what else we can accomplish?

Let's not forget the sweet little oak base for the washer/dryer unit.

Let’s not forget the sweet little oak base for the washer/dryer unit.

The suite is up on Craigslist

http://vancouver.en.craigslist.ca/van/apa/3966849516.html

We are still building the closet cabinets and there is trim to paint and install, and the floor will get a final buffing, but we hope to have it ready for move in as of August 15. The yard will still need landscaping so we are offering a discount until November 1. This suite has to be seen to be believed. There really isn’t anything like it available in Vancouver these days. We love it, we hope we can find tenants who will love it, too.

 

Don’t look too far ahead

This is what Matt tell each other every day. Focus on the task at hand. Do not look too far ahead and flood your system with adrenaline and panic. Focus on the task at hand. Today my tasks are two-fold – continue prepping oak plywood by gluing cladding on the edges, and get out the trim paint and start painting trim. We have decided our most cost-effective and aesthetically satisfying way to furnish the bedrooms is to build in cupboards in the closets to serve as closet-organizers / dressers. This led us to realize we didn’t want to put doors on the cupboards. Instead, we are leaving the cupboards open and trimming the face of the cupboard opening. Hence, the trim paint. I am getting much better at managing clamps, glue, pieces of plywood, and bits of oak cladding.

We are using the same treatment to cover the various access openings in the walls. I am making up panel covers of oak plywood clad in oak. They will attach to the walls using rare-earth magnets from Lee Valley.

We have developed our own secret finishing technique for the oak plywood cabinets. It is tough, easy to maintain, and it does not coat the wood in a plastic sleeve. Once the sealant is applied the wood grain is still visible and textured. We will see how they stand the test of time!

These are the inside jobs. Once the cabinetry is done and the trim painted I will be ready to re-finish the floors and we will be able to move furniture in and get the suite listed for short stay rentals.

Pray for us that we can get rental incoming flowing in before every single credit card is exhausted.

In the meantime, Matt is working outside landscaping the designs for paving stones at the entrance to the suite and the utility room on the west side of the house. Luckily he has been working for a landscaper this last year and picked up a lot of knowledge about how to accomplish this job. Also luckily, Mike, his boss, is a great guy and is helping us out with design, and installation logics. And he lent us his truck to haul crush and dust. Thanks, Mike!

There will a boardwalk off the sidewalk to a back gate into the dog yard.

There will a boardwalk off the sidewalk to a back gate into the dog yard.

The board walk will meet a back gate and transition to a paving stone landing.

The board walk will meet a back gate and transition to a paving stone landing.

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The entryway will be a combination of paving stones and ties making up a retaining wall and steps into the utility room.

Neck and Neck

With each passing day we draw closer to the end of our credit resources and closer to realizing our vision of creating a beautiful living space that we can rent for short stay accommodation. Every morning I wake up and immediately calculate what day of the month it is and how much time we have before the next mortgage payment has to be ready for withdrawal. At the same time, I organize my tasks, thinking through job priorities and logistics.

I have started installing the Ikea drawers and cupboard doors. It is an exciting stage, to see the final pieces coming together for the bathroom and kitchen cabinets. Yesterday we glued the last pieces of cladding onto the kitchen island. I installed the Ikea drawers on the island. There is still fine tuning the drawer fronts by making adjustments to the tilt and angle of the drawer fronts so they all fit flat.

The bathroom cabinets are installed. I am ready to paint trim and caulk the bathroom counter. I am debating whether it is a good idea to put an extra layer of epoxy to coat the floor around the toilet. I’m not sure what to do about that. I know how much of a beating the floor around the toilet takes. But the epoxy will give a different texture and surface to the floor, from the rest of the floor. On second thought, I don’t think it is necessary. The floor sealant we are using is industrial strength, it is made for public institutional floors. Surely it is tough enough to handle a little pee splash.

Today I will install the last of the Ikea cupboards in the kitchen and get them all levelled and uniformly flat. I will also empty the suite of all the remaining construction materials and tools. It is time to vacate the premises so we can install the last cupboards, paint the trim, install the door knobs, and re-finish the floors.

There is no time now for second guessing or losing energy over the state of our finances. We may end up crawling over the finish line, but we are going to make it! Onward!

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A super tough day

A super tough day

The electrical inspector came today. Ugh. I do not do well with inspections. They are too much like writing exams. And I hate writing exams. I hate the feeling that someone has authority over me, that I am an object in their dominion and they have the power to decide my fate.

You have to understand, the inspector was a nice enough person, very thorough, and not to be swayed from his mission to ensure the electrical permit was fulfilled to the letter.

However, it was the day after another super tough day, and when he said there was a problem with our ad hoc electrical arrangements for the upstairs, a zone we were not prepared to have inspected, I pretty much had a melt down.

Very luckily, Matt had his wits about him and was able to gather the needed information from the electrical inspector and communicate deficiencies to our electrician. The electrician will be back on Monday. Later that day, the electrician told me this inspector had been giving him a hard time, and they were yet to get a Vancouver wiring job passed on first inspection. *sigh*

All this drama played out after I got home from my month end banking, an errand comprised of drawing money off my credit card to pay our mortgage and make a payment on our account with the contractor. Not the best feeling in the world.

Both Matt and I have been struck, over and over again, at how difficult the renovation process is, and how needlessly stressful it is. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we worked to prepare for the renovation, to select our contractor, to plan the construction, to work out the design.

But, by far, the role the City plays in the renovation is one that is very difficult to predict or plan, and it is the City that can send costs over threshold, with no consideration for the position it puts the hardworking, conscientious homeowner.

The fact is that old houses need to be fixed up or they will be torn down. Renovating an old house is a perilous journey, not for the faint of heart. Homeowners that are ignorant of the critical elements of the renovation will find their costs skyrocketing with little to show for it.

We do not want to lose this house because we decided to repair it. We are proud of the work we have done on this house. But, wow. Sometimes the only way to cope is to cry, complain, and storm off in a huff. When that time comes, try not to attack the people that are there to help you. Realize it is a system that is difficult for the most seasoned veterans to navigate. As newby homeowners and neophyte renovators, that is the best advice I have.

Focus on immediate tasks #renovations

The plumbers and electricians have come and gone. The electrical inspector is coming tomorrow. We have one small tasks to complete before the electrical inspector arrives in the morning. Yesterday during my sweep up I noticed a small leak behind the toilet, so the plumber has to come back to fix that before we call for an inspection.

Meanwhile, Matt is pushing ahead on cladding the cabinetry and I am painting trim and finishing the cabinets (sanding and sealing).

We can see a light at the end of the tunnel, even as we scramble and claw our way to completion.

With every sweep up, I shift more tools and materials out of the suite, and open up more floor space. It might not look like much, but it is progress.

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