Remodeling a Kid's Closet - Final Reveal

Our daughter's closet remodel is finally, finally done. It took way longer than it should have, but eh,, right? Plus, this wasn't just a dab-of-paint type project; I ripped into and through walls. Sawdust flew, drywall crumbled, and the light of day burst into this little room.

Before - Wasted Space

The closet was a huge mess. Although, it was a walk-in, it was small, and simply didn't offer a good use of of space. The doorway is offset, preventing storage on both walls.

There was just one shelf on the left, with a clothes-hanger lip, essentially a six-foot closet rod with heaps of kid junk piled on top. A battered play kitchen sat against the back wall, too heaped with books and toys to offer a play space, much less decent storage of any kind. 

To cap off the challenge, her room was technically not a legal bedroom. Our DIY Predecessors had put an addition on the house, essentially burying the bedroom in the interior of the house, without an egress window, or second means of escape, in the event of a fire.

The Battle Plan

I boiled the project down into a three point scope:

  1. Add a window to the exterior wall, for natural light and an emergency exit
  2. Trim the window, remove the shelf, repair and repaint the walls
  3. Create and expand storage to make it usable beyond the elementary school years

Following is a quick chronological tour of the action as it went down. I'll share links to the original posts, in all their detailed glory, at the end of this post.

Please forgive the odd-angled photography; it's damn near impossible to frame good shots inside a 4x6 closet.

Demolition Party

We emptied the closet of Legos, army men, fast food happy meal toys, books, stuffed animals, loose change, and even a secret stash of fruit roll ups. There were some happy discoveries along the way, long lost toys and treasures.

I ordered the minimum size window to meet the egress requirements and laid out a rough opening with painter's tape. It was going to be a real trick to install shelving and a closet rod with the window effectively taking up the entire back wall. Eh,.. I'd figure that out later.

Gracie decorated what would be the opening with sharpies and more tape.

She was going to be a part of this project as much as possible. She was on hand to build a temporary clothing rack and load all her clothes so they could hang out in the dining room for a couple weeks several months.

We tore the self / hanger combo out together. The wall was pretty torn up, with nearly 40 years of paint and caulk build up and damage from who knows how many families moving in and out.


Luckily, for this project, we have a wood sided home. I hope to stucco it at some point, but for now, it just took a bit of saw-work to slice the exterior siding open. I later took a whole sheet off, in order to get at the framing from the outside.

Studs had to be cut out and reinforcing framing had to be put into place to form the rough opening. Man, I just

love using a framing nailer. There was even a little plumbing that had to be redone for the exterior spigot and the swimming pool's auto-fill device.

The wall cavity got fresh insulation before being sealed up again behind a new sheet of siding.

I punched through the drywall, trimming it flush with the new, rough opening.

I waterproofed the opening and slipped the brand new window into place. Exterior trim would come later.




Interior Trim and Walls

Back indoors, I wrapped the interior of the window opening with select pine, to hide the framing, insulating foam, and waterproofing membrane.

I trimmed the window with various sizes of select pine, creating an easy, nice-looking Craftsman style look. There were no miter cuts, just 90 degree butt joints. It's an experiment to see if we like it, before we replicate it elsewhere in the house.

My helper returned to repair the walls. She absolutely loved it; she absolutely made a mess. It was great. 

I deployed my high tech, dust-extraction system in an attempt to keep drywall dust from getting everywhere in the house during sanding.  

(Note: High-tech, dust-extraction = blowing a cheap fan out an open window)

Since this was a small wall area, I didn't deploy the big texture blaster I'd used on the family room remodel . I just used the canned stuff and sprayed the wall.

As sort of a project within a project, I decided to slice into the large, blank wall and create a recessed shelving unit. Why cover the wall with posters when some extra storage space could be stolen from the inner recesses of an interior partition wall?

I peeled a large section of drywall off, revealing the sweet, secret space hidden within.

It was not load bearing, but it was a big cavity. After I removed a couple studs, the opening got re-framed with 2x4's to keep the wall nice and stable.

Gracie and I built the shelf carcass in the garage with 1x4's pocket holes and bead board.

I pocket screwed a couple horizontal shelves in place and attached a face frame to give the piece a built-in look and give it just a little more depth.

This was a fun, little bonus addition to the closet that will grow over time, starting with Minecraft, Pokemon, and Shopkins toys.  In the future, she will likely end up filling it with nail polish, perfume, or whatever our future teenage Gracie wants to load them up them with.

The finishing touches

Gracie chose blue walls. Don't even try to tell her blue is not a girl color. She'll probably bounce you off the sidewalk and tell you that, "YOU are a girl's color." Blue it would be then, with crisp, white trim.

Years ago, we had to have someone come to the house to measure and custom order cellular window shades. Now, thanks to the miracles of modern science and engineering, an average Joe can simply walk in from the street and snag them off the shelf at their local home center. No more Winnie the Pooh bed sheet for a window shade.

With the new window, slightly in the way, I couldn't use any form of end-to-end shelving. I went with a clean, white, wire shelving / organizing system, suspended from a horizontal support, screwed into the wall framing.

The system is adjustable, able to resize and adapt, with Gracie's growing need. We loaded it with plenty of shelves to hold her stuff. Some are far above her reach, for seldom used items.

Clothing hanger rods, were also included, with clips to hold them beneath a shelf.


The Final Reveal

The finished closet is chock-full of grade-school age, mighty, girl-of-action stuff. It's got natural light, with an egress window for safety, and a bit of fun style.

It's gone from from a boring, faded cave, heaped with debris dating back to toddlerhood to a colorful space with contrasting trim and shelving. The room looks and acts completely different.

Books don't do well vertically on wire shelving.

It's got plenty of storage and organization room now. We've pulled items into the closet, like the dirty clothes hamper, freeing up even more play space in her room. 

Is it still technically a "shoe rack" with 75% slippers?

I even had enough leftover shelving pieces to build this little rack over the doorway, for stuff we rarely use.

Honestly, I hope she forgets about that God-awful "Easy bake" oven.

With free space opened up in her bedroom, naturally we find Gracie spending more time playing and reading in her closet. 

The curator in her element.

A glutton for punishment?

If you want to read the how I did it detail, step-by-step, as well as some of the decision making points in this project, check out the sub posts that tell the entire tale. Pour yourself a beverage, sit back with some munchies, and treat yourself to the whole story:

  1. Closet Remodel and Emergency Escape
  2. Adding a Window: Framing Fun and Foolishness
  3. Adding a Window: Sliding on Some Siding
  4. Adding a Window: The Install
  5.  Super Easy DIY Craftsman Style Window Trim
  6. DIY Built-in-the-Wall Shelving - Reclaim hidden storage space in your home
  7. Installing a Closet Organizer - Easy DIY Project

I'd love to hear what you think of this one in the comments below. Thanks for reading! 

Michigan Trip DIY Blitz

Part of my recent trip to Michigan to spend time with my parents resulted in a mini-blitz of small projects around their home. I absolutely loved the opportunity to help my folks and work on the house I grew up in. This isn't much of a step-by-step, how-to post, since I didn't shoot nearly enough pictures, but you might pick up some nuggets along the way.

As an old cottage, the home is a Frankenstein blend of decades and decades of expansions, renovations, and repairs done well before my parents bought the place in the mid 1970's. Like my own home, it's still full of surprises.

It was a challenge to use someone else's tools. I enjoyed the game of figuring out what to use from my Dad's collection, and where he stored it. He had everything I needed and if I asked, he' d send me to the right location, but I really enjoyed poking around in his workshop and using different tools than I am accustomed to. It was fun.

The mighty Craftsman 7.2 volt drill

This particular species surfaced just after the extinction of the dinosaurs. (Craftsman-icus Seven-point two volt-us)

I started the blitz with a florescent, four-tube light in the kitchen. My brother had already been by and replaced the lamps, but it still wasn't working. It turned out ballast needed to be replaced.

The wiring conditions were scary.Through the small metal mounting strip for a globe style fixture poked the hot and neutral wires, with no insulation.

The original wiring was so old that the insulation had simply disintegrated, leaving those two wires within a quarter inch of each other. In electrical terms, I call that "not good."

Knob and tube wiring madness

"Not good"

After my Dad and I grabbed a new ballast and a few supplies he didn't have in stock at the home center, I pulled the whole fixture down to clean up the wiring. I trimmed it back a little and wrapped the remaining insulation with electrical tape to prevent further decline before adding brand-new wire to extend it safely into the fixture.

Oh yeah, remember friends, before you play with electricity, be sure to visit...

Rather than unnecessarily work overhead, I replaced the ballast while the fixture was still on the ground. Yes, my folks do cook on that stove. I'd learned to fry potatoes and make omelettes on that ancient, gas powered beast as a teen.

1800's Detroit Jewel Stove

The old Detroit Jewel

I zapped the fixture back up onto the ceiling with fresh toggle bolts and wired it in again.

Next, I replaced the broken hanger wire on a mirror / coat rack that my little nephew had pulled down. He'd yanked on an apron a couple nights earlier and narrowly missed being cracked on the head. Luckily the mirror didn't break.

That was a super easy fix. Hung and done.

The light switches in the basement stairwell were next. My mom wanted them replaced with fresh white switches.

Unfortunately, the local handyman had cut the opening too big to mount the switches properly. The ears wouldn't reach the edge of the drywall for support.

I used these neat little outlet spacers. They slip behind the mounting yoke of a plug or switch so they can be supported properly against the box.

Ideal Outlet Spacers

You just cut off what you need and fold them, accordion style, snapping them together like Legos. They slip right around the 6/32 mounting screw.

Ideal Outlet Spacers

Decent wiring here at least.

With the switches in and working, I moved down the stairwell to replace a dark brown receptacle, halfway down. It was old school, with no grounding prong. If there was no grounding wire in the box, I'd have to install a GFCI to be legal. You cannot simply install a standard three prong outlet where there's nothing to attache that third prong to. 

It was the same messed up wiring I'd found in the kitchen. It was a mess. The conductors were entering from opposite sides of the box and they were seriously worn out. There was no grounding wire either. I think it's old knob and tube wiring

Rather than replacing the receptacle I removed it. I cleaned up the wiring, taped it up good with fresh wire nuts and sealed the box with a single-gang blank cover. With an outlet at the top and the bottom of the stairs, there's no point in having on halfway, plus an extension cord from there is just a trip hazard.

Continuing down to the basement, I worked on a wall where the paint keeps peeling off. Apparently there had been some sort of water softener discharge issue years ago that had leeched salty water against the outside wall and eventually caused the paint to peel. Subsequent paintings were unsuccessful.  

I took a wire brush to it and cleaned off everything I could, tasting saltiness in the dust, There was a slight sparkle in the block and grout, probably salt, not a good sign for success.

The wall had been sealed / primed at some point. It didn't stick though. Rather than repeat the same thing, we decided to experiment with a flexible rubber coating. I've seen similar stuff on TV turn a screen door into a watertight boat, surely it would stick to this salty wall,.. right?

I put the stuff on initially in a thin coat and let it dry. After that, I blasted it on fairly thick. It ran a little bit, but nothing too noticeable for a basement wall,

Arrr,... take that ye' salty wall.

                           - AZ Pirate Guy

The fumes were staggering in that enclosed space, so I had to open up some windows and set up a box fan to exhaust that foulness outside. I closed the upstairs doors to keep the nastiness away from my Dad's lungs.  

It looked great!

The next morning, it was already peeling slightly. This one is a fail.

The last big project was a falling run of duct work, in the basement ceiling. I think the run had been stretched out a bit, back when they'd had the kitchen remodeled about  20 years ago. It finally started to drop in recent years.

My brother Jim and I pushed it back together and wired it up again. We wrapped the loose joints with foil faced tape and ran a few new screws into place. 

On one end it was actually hanging from a wire twisted around a drain pipe. We lifted it up with a fresh new piece of hanger wire, screwed into the framing. 

The ole drain-pipe hanging trick eh?

It was fun working alongside Jim and his legendary sideburns again.

There were plenty of other little things that got tackled before the trip was over. A tripped breaker that knocked out a kitchen receptacle got reset, the water softener was reloaded with salt, and the snow blower was put away, just a handful of little things 3,000 miles of continental United States normally prevents me from helping my parents with. 

Jim and I ran into town to pick up some supplies for one last project...

Tube-steak heaven.

That's right, honest to God, authentic, Detroit-style coney dogs. 





That's how it's done.

Loose ends - The Art of Incomplete

My mind is racing, planning the next big project; I'm positively drooling to get started. But, I simply must tie up a bunch of loose ends first. Not to brag, but I'm a fully-ordained Level Eight Grand Master of Getting Nearly Done. I get close to finish and immediately leap headlong into the next project. I figure 95% done is my sweet spot. My sweet, patient wife has the uncanny super power of noticing my talent and bringing it to my attention. 

Here's a quick tour of some of the loose ends now haunting me (just in time for Halloween), in no particular order. I'm not proud.

No plates: You've probably noticed my sweet, stainless-steel Wiremold 4000 power strip on my work bench in previous posts. It's my custom, Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor, over-engineered power strip, complete with individually switched receptacles with green and red indicator lights, partial GFCI protection, velcro mounted stereo speakers, a master kill switch, and a fake shurikin. Slick eh? But I never installed four cover plates,... in over four years.

Sweet over engineered power strip
Yes. That's an old throwing star back there. I don't know why.
The master electrician: The Great Family Room Remodel was a smashing success over a year ago. It looks absolutely great. Ridiculously great,...until you look behind the couch...

Proof that Frog Tape does have long term holding power.
... behind the corner table...

... and on the other side of the wall, in the office, hidden behind the printer.

I even crossed the wires so we have to turn on the
exterior lights to make the office light come on. Not fixed.
More and more Doors: I still have to finish the interior door replacement project, ... started 8 months ago. Ugghhh.... It's so stinkin' booooooring and repetitive at this point. Plane, prime, paint, paint, mortise, install hinges, hang, swear, adjust, drill, and install hardware. Repeat. Repeat again.

Full disclosure, the power tool part is actually fun. 
The Incredible Slow build: The master bedroom door is primed, ready for paint. You see that nifty painting stand / door holding bench under the blanket? That's another master-level, incomplete project. It's the famed hallway organizer project, as seen in most of my workshop photos. It's stalled, two and a half years in the making.

I wish I could start over on this one, but I've put too much cash into it.
No Fence Bench: I'd like to also point your attention to  the "Economical but Beefy Miter Saw Bench" in the background of the photo above. Still no fence after 9 months,... but it works fine,... honest.

Bunch O Chunks: Of course, I have many more garbage days worth of smuggling dried cactus chunks out in the weekly trash bin. I'm only a few weeks in, but I'm being realistic; I'll still be dealing with it after Christmas.

Chunk Chuck-er
Leaky "Leaks A Lot" McLeakerton: I've been patching the leaking dip irrigation system for 10 months now. I simply have to redo the whole back yard and I know it. It hits us in the water bill and we've lost a priceless cactus.

Looooooooser. Enough. I'm embarrassed. As soon as I finish this post and spel chek it, I'm going right out to the garage and

The Great Debate: Hiring a Pro vs DIY (Replacing Swimming Pool Equipment Edition)

My whole concept is Do IT Yourself . I write this blog hoping to empower others to do the same by sharing my experiences, triumphs and challenges. Truly, I believe homeowners can do nearly anything themselves with the right tools, materials, and knowledge. I enjoy doing it myself, have saved tons of money, and  have a lot of experience being dissatisfied with the results from people I've hired in the past. I guess I expect absolute perfection for my hard earned money.

However, there are times were the time spent muddling through a project is just not worth possible savings, fun, bragging rights, or the experience gained. Sometimes there are expensive, specialized tools required, that I'd never use again. A mistake I make can cost me, where the mistake a contractor makes, should have to be corrected on their dime. There may be product warranties to consider as well. True craftsmen, can get results even the most gifted DIY'er can hardly hope to obtain. 

So, can I follow instructions, tear out and replace all this mess? Yes, I think so. It's mostly a PVC pipe and glue project. Can I get it done in a few hours and be confident? No. It would probably take me all weekend and infinite trips to the hardware store to do it. 

So, today it happens. I had already cleaned out the dirt around the horror-show above and repaired some of the electrical last weekend (check it out here). We have an experienced professional from one of our local pool stores coming with brand spanking new equipment. 

Here's the scope: 
  1. A new cartridge filter to replace the aging DE filter (the big R2-D2 looking thing) so back-washing and dealing with that messy white powder is a thing of the past. Old leaky here has been a maintenance nightmare. It would need hundreds of dollars in replacement parts if we wanted to save it. A cartridge filter will reduce my maintenance time greatly.
  2. Replace the pool pump. The existing motor is doing fine, since the it was replaced a year ago (home warranty!!!) but, we expect to save about $700 annually in power consumption by upgrading to a modern, variable speed pump. Plus, the unit is tired and has air and water leaks. 
  3. Adding a salt water cell. This is actually exciting. We are going to nearly eliminate our chemical dependency (and cost!!!!) by converting salt water to chlorine. Everyone I talk to who's made this conversion has loved it.
This is coming to us at a heart-stopping cost of nearly $4,000. No, we cannot afford it. But, we also cannot afford to let this beast nickle and dime us to death, while we spawn water creatures in it's foul depths. We are still in swim season here and cannot take advantage of it.  I've spent untold hours and about $1,000 this year alone in chemicals and parts trying to keep this priceless awesomeness... 

No swamp.
...fom reverting again to Dagobah, in the blink of an eye.

The total cost of this renovation includes about $380 in labor (and that's on special this month). Still steep, but I think it's worth it. I don't think I need to surrender my DIY Guy credentials on this one. 

Hire or DIY? The great debate. I nearly always choose DIY. I've hired out for roofing and plan to hire out for window replacement (if we can ever afford it after this pool debacle). I only do so much electrical myself because I have been trained, but suggest most people bring in a pro for anything major. How about you; what's on your hire vs. DIY list?

Homework: There's a neat article Marcie Geffner wrote last year for, titled Remodeling Yeilds Rewards, Vexations where she compares my successful family room remodel experience to cautionary advice from the authors of Home Improvement For Dummies. I do their cautionary, contrasting point of view vs. my gung-ho, I-can-do-anything approach. Doing research, I found their website, which provides lots of info on DIY vs. hire. It's a very good site. I just get a vibe that it's pushing the hire direction a bit hard, especially with an apparent choice of advertisers directed towards for hiring contractors. Maybe I'm a bit sensitive because I love the do it yourself approach. Heck, I have ads for tools and materials on my site. - John

UPDATE: I after re-doing some electrical myself and digging up the pavers in advance of the new install, the work is done. The technician arrived early and lugged in a bunch of new parts and pieces.

He installed the equipment in the existing footprint, using a bunch of the existing plumbing. You can see the salt cell standing vertically in the center and its new computer on the wall.

I did the honors and dumped seven huge bags of special swimming pool salt in the pool. They say it was special salt, but I think its the same stuff they put on those big salt pretzels at the mall. Shhhhhh....

When it was wrapped up, we had a completely new mechanical system,.... and some exciting new financing payments. We're really happy we did it. This winter I hope to drain and re-coat the pool, maybe the decking. Who knows, I may even do some cool new landscaping and a screen to hide the equipment. Next summer should be a great swim season!

Before and After: Family Room

I pulled our old, nearly-dead (mostly dead?) computer from the closet this week and managed to extract all our old files from the hard drive. I was pleased to find a few grainy photos of the family room from when we first moved in. I'd described the look of the original "built-in" shelves in the first of the Great Family Room Remodel posts, but didn't know I had the photo's show them.

Late 2005: The prior owner's stuff, as they were departing.
While the photo's quality stinks, reality wasn't much better. My best guess is that this is a time warp back to the 1980's, television, massive audio speakers and all.

These built-in bookcases were created in five sections from 2" x 10 3/4" boards (2 x 12?) and a plywood backing. They were actually fairly well constructed. They were stained dark, with no protective finish. With the thick shelves and dark color, the unit appeared too heavy for the small room. It really gave it a basement cave-like feel. 

We moved into the house and just and lobbed our stuff up there. 

Early 2006: the dusty television years.
It's hard to believe this 6 year old, Alien Bounty Hunter is now a teenager.

We spruced up the shelves in 2006 with molding, bead board panels, and crisp, white paint. I built a custom TV stand soon after. In about 2008, we installed french doors. There the room sat for years, with its horribly, stained, way too low (7' 5") drop ceiling and the ceiling fan finial that hung 3/8" below the peak of my melon-shaped head.

The remodel finally happened. We loaded our beat up old furniture back into the room. Recently, we replaced the old sectional couch and added some accessory tables (IKEA). Finally, a proper reveal with the new ceiling is worth while. Compare the distance from the top of the bookcase to the ceiling; we went from 7' 5" to 8' 1", an 8 inch gain! I can't even hit my head on the ceiling fan when I jump. It only took 7 years!!!

It's a bit busy, but it's our main hangout. 
The kid infestation is still in full bloom.
I used a lightweight foam crown molding to cap off the book cases.
The french doors got capped off with the same dentil molding. We
used Jeld Wen doors with the built in shades from Home Depot.
I actually started the AZ DIY Guy's Projects blog with the remodel. You can see it unfold in seven exciting installments here, starting with my first post ever.  Things did not go entirely smoothly, but it's done. It's the project that was featured in the article (Yahoo finance and Fox Business).

Completely Sidetracked

I got out early to beat the heat. The task was to finish priming the new facia boards and to sand and prime the house where I'd removed the entry lattice / tunnel. Settle in for a long one folks, because when I came to a fork in the road, I did not stay on the direct path.

Initially, I made good time on the facia boards using a 4" roller, planning to fall back and cut in the edges with a brush after I got the affected front of the house sanded and primed. It was just a small strip that needed painting, only 2 to 4 inches wide, but...The lattice wall had attached to the house front atop a big slab of a sill under the front window. This sill /slab / trim could use a good sanding. Just a bit off task, maybe, but it would only take a few minutes. 

To say there was a bit of dried-up, caulk would be an understatement. I started removing clumps of it with a chisel and a utility knife. I think half the wall was constructed from caulk. I now recognize I had really started veering off track at this point.

It was particularly lovely to discover there were three chunks of wood, apparently glued in with caulk, to fill the voids where the sill (bottom) didn't reach the jamb (side). The sill wood was split and rotted. Maybe some more appropriate filler was needed. Still just a little sidetracked.

 The trim slab wasn't even against the house. I gave it a test wiggle. Uh ohhh.

Ohhhh,'s coming right the heck off. Mayday! Mayday! The original plan is in a nose dive!

Some interesting archaeological revelations (while I'm completely ignoring today's plan):
  • This big piece of wood was held on with nails from inside the house, through the exterior T-111 siding material, I guess before drywall went in. Most the nails were very loose. I'm no expert, but this seems stupid.
  • Apparently the house was originally a light, 1979 aqua blue.
  • The house must have been vacant for a significant time in its history. That weedy looking stuff is some sort of grass that must have grown up, behind the trim piece. It appeared to have grown completely behind and around it and stuck out the top. There were traces of the weed sticking through the massive caulk plug under the window. It had been cut flush with the bottom and with the face of the window trim.
  • The original front faucet was roughed in where this trim piece went. I found a hole that I could stick my finger through and feel the plumbing, with couplings and elbows leading to the current location.
  • Some late 70's carpenter had scrawled "3 x 10" here in pencil. The board was 10 feet long, 10" high, and a full 3" thick. Not something you could probably find at your local home center these days.

I know should have been working on the facia, but... I loaded the random orbital random orbit sander with some toothy 60 grit and started sanding. I clipped most of the nails with my lineman pliers and pushed them back in the wall. A few were clipped through the edge of a stud and were at odd angles. I didn't' want to pound them back into the house and cause mystery damage inside the wall, so I broke out the Dremel, loaded a cut-off wheel, and let some sparks fly.

We decided to replace the big slab sill with a 2x10. A quick trip to Home Depot was in order. Gracie accompanied me on my quick trip,... on the first Saturday of the month,... to Home Depot. Are you aware of what happens at Home Depot on the first Saturday of the Month, in the lumber section?

Pandemonium. Pint-sized side-tracking on a colossal scale. That's what. No way I could keep my little girl away from this:

Building a lawn mower pencil holder

Today only savings! See today's instant, online on

Finally, back to the fort, I engaged the big ol' clamp in spreading mode to use it as a jack. This is getting pretty interesting. Wasn't there something else I should be doing?

Forgoing the whole "cram scraps in the hole and caulk it in" approach, I wanted to cut the board to fit. I used a rafter square to transfer the end location of the cut. The critical step here was to utilize a neon pink pencil. Otherwise, obviously, the whole project would have failed. Take it from me, all serious craftsman have a neon pink pencil readily at hand.

A quick scribing of the measurement with a compass by setting it to the gap on the side and transferring it to the mid section.

Then I ripped the length of the mid section with a cordless circular saw and cut the ends with a reciprocating saw. Paintbrush? What paintbrush? DEWALT power tools will always win that battle.

It took a little adjustment with the planer to fit snug. I jacked it up, and shot it in place with the framing nailer, into the studs. I created some vertical trim boards to replace the missing ones below the sill out of recycled pallet wood I had stored in the garage.

At this point, I really committed to my sidetracked approach. I heroically continued to not sand and prime as planned. The heat had worn me down enough. I cleaned up, went inside, and planned my next step. By "planned", I mean I ate a slice of cold pizza and fell asleep on the couch.

Now cooled down, I returned to the battle to meet the morning's first objectives,... in the afternoon. Darn that evil, side-tracking front window project. Only pride kept me out there in the blast furnace of the peak heat of a Phoenix afternoon at the record heat of 111 degrees. I'm so glad I waited.

Finally, back on track, and suffering in the horrors of the afternoon sun, I got it all primed.

Including that dreadful, side-tracking project that tacked hours onto the day.

You ever let a side-tracking project take you down the rabbit hole?

Installing new facia boards,... solo style

After tearing off the front overhang on our house, we need a new facia board. While I'm at it, it's time to fix the sun-beat, peeling, rotten soffit that's along the whole front of the garage. Surely, the HOA will soon ding us on that as well.

I started the day at Home Depot, then Lowes. Both were down to fuuuugly 2x6x16 boards this morning. There were twisted, knotty, and split misfits.  'Depot was nearly picked clean. Hopefully, this is a good sign for our economic recovery; people (besides me) are working on their homes again. I managed to dig through the entire stack and find three serviceable boards at Lowes.

Loading the big 16 footers into a pickup with a 5 foot bed was a challenge. Even shoving them through the sliding rear window left too much hanging out the back, so I opted to go upstairs with it:

Not a surfboard, dudes.
Lugging those big boys onto the truck, I started thinking the idea of a solo soffit install might just be beyond me. Working with a heavy, 16 foot board atop a ladder and trying to nail it in place now seemed more difficult than it had earlier.

I thought I'd make some sort of custom contraption with 2x4 T-braces, but I realized I had cut up my stock of 2x4's building the miter saw bench. After some stubble scratching thought, I came up with a workable method. I put the ladder in the middle of the run and balance the board on it. I lifted the board, held it, and used a one-handed woodworking clamp to secure it in place. Bingo!

The door-end of the board required a compound miter cut due to the angles of the two soffits combining on two planes. I used a piece of scrap to scribe a pencil line, front and back, and then connected the two lines across the bottom of the board.

Scribing the outside angle.
I took the board back down and set up to cut both angles, on B.A.M.S. (big ass miter saw - as coined by Kit over at DIY Diva). This was the first time I'd actually used the saw to cut a compound miter. It paid for itself today, slicing and dicing 2x6's with precision and ease. My homemade, beefy saw bench was priceless when man-handling those massive boards. At one point, it stuck out so far, I had to open the door into the house and stick it inside.

B.A.M.S having lunch.
After clamping the board up again, B.A.N.G. came out to play (big ass nail gun - I claim that one). I shot the board into the rafters and then again through the decking, resetting the clamps as I worked across to keep it tight. I actually hit the framing rafters behind,... most of the time.

Bang - Bang - Bang
Rounding the corner, to move up along the garage, the old facia looked even worse up close.  I don't think the wood was ever primed.

Mr. Hook, it's been lovely, but you'll not hold Christmas lights again.
I had to work my way up slowly, gently prying the shingles up and pulling out the staples that held the metal drip edge. This was precision work, best suited for a small prybar / nail puller.

It also was tedious work. There were a million of those pesky staples to pry out. The sun started getting to me so I broke for lunch, a healthy dose of sunblock, and my sexy hat. Oh yeah, I know the ladies will be drawn to the floppy lid, but too bad, I'm taken. And no, I'm not going to share a source link for this sweet slice of melon shading headgear.

It's a Stubble Sunday, but  you just can't take your eyes
off the ol' chapeau can you? Don't be jealous.
After the 1x2 behind the drip edge popped off easily with a Wonderbar Pry Bar , I tried to pry off the old facia. It wouldn't come off without damaging the decking and framing, because it was nailed both through the top and the face. I pried the decking up a bit and cut nails with some diagonal cutters for a while. Finding that a pain, that still left some nail-nubs behind, I changed tactics. In came the reciprocating saw with a bimetal blade which sliced the nails off flush as I ran it down the seam, a much better approach.

Ye old nail slicer.
A couple hearty whacks with the FUBAR sent it tumbling to the ground with a clatter. I'm really glad I'd moved the cars out of the way. I used it to trace the angles to the new board before taking it in for a visit with B.A.M.S for a quick bit of slice and dice. No compound cuts this time, just nice simple angles.

The clamp trick worked perfectly again. I skadooshed it into place with B.A.N.G and called it good for the day.

A heaping helping of cleanup was in order, again. I'd managed to blast debris in a wide radius around the work site, which is where (inconveniently) we park our vehicles. I hired out some skilled labor to police up all the nails and staples. She drove a hard bargain, but it was cheaper than buying a new tire.

There's still lots of work to do on this project. I still have half the garage face to demo and replace. I need some 1 x 2's, drip edge, primer, and paint.

Tearing it all down! Bones and all.

A new weekend dawns, so does the need for more destruction. Since the

HOA told us to tear down our front overhang, we started immediately . It sat in skeletal, semi-demolished form since last weekend, when I had taken the roof off. Rather than wait for the afternoon heat, I got going in the morning, right after breakfast, while it was cool.

The old bones, and a munchkin.

Out of a concern for breaking the framing parts of the overhang that need to stay, I decided to isolate them by cutting them off close, leaving the lumber weight on the outboard frame. The first thought was to use a circular saw, but the framing was so full of nails, staples, and junk, I figured it would ruin the blade. Instead, I loaded a new Diablo "Demo-Demon" Carbide-Tipped Blade in the Reciprocating Saw.

Locked and loaded

I've used bimetal blades that would cut metal before, but not carbide tipped like this red devil. This bad boy blade chewed through the 2 x 4's  like butter. It ripped through everything so smoothly, I could use the saw one handed while holding the board with the other. The blade tore through lumber with just the weight of the saw. They were all cut in about 5 minutes. The urchins stayed inside, watching cartoons, during this part. I needed to watch my own head and not worry about beaning a kid with a nail encrusted board.

Sliced like butta'

I thought about cutting them again, close to the outer frame, but it only took a quick lift and jerk; they tore out of the clips holding them in a shower of flying splinters and nails. A quick couple cuts to the outer frame took it down as well.


The saw blade was not big enough to cut the support that was still standing. I considered using a chain and the truck or maybe... <gasp> a non-powered, hand saw... to take it down. In a fit of goofiness, I kicked the thing.

I haven't thrown a martial-arts move, of any sort, in over 13 years. But, true to form, when I actually executed a near perfect shuffle sidekick, there was no one around with a camera. When my size 12 Red Wing work boot connected with that beam it sheared off and flew, landing in a cloud of dust. First kick too! BAD-ASS STILL HAS THE MOVES!!!

Of course, the whole street was empty. No witnesses to the unarmed, Chuck Norris style carnage I had visited upon the mighty slab of lumber.

I strutted over to inspect my fallen victim. Ahhh,.... Crap.


The dang thing was simply eviscerated with termite damage. I was even able to reach in a pull a chunk from the hole and crush it to powder, bare-handed. A five year old could have kicked that thing down,... barefoot. Heck, I could have sneezed that thing over. An especially charming realization is that it was the primary support for the entire structure, and I'd been tromping around up there last weekend, like an idiot. I'm lucky I didn't kill myself in a tumbling roof collapse. At least there was no evidence of live termites.

Demo is always so fast. 10 minutes and I was done with the major structure.

Who turned on the lights?

Now onto the detail stuff, I had to be careful not to harm the structure needed to attach the new facia boards. I tried the big demolition jaw on the Stanley Fubar , but it was too much. It gripped  the board well, but when I twisted the tool to pull the board off, I could see and hear that the framing I was trying to save was going to be damaged. Switching to the demo hammer on the Fubar and banging away, while prying left-handed with a Wonderbar Pry Bar  did the trick. Patience paid off. Soon, boards were flying to the ground again.

Stop! Hammer time!

Gracie came out to lay down some carnage as well. She kept her head out of the way this time.

Klein! Hammer time!

Another problem, what to do with a concrete, with a square hole, right where Sweetie wants to plant some flowers? 

...but can you put a round peg in a square hole?

Of course, it was time to bring out SLUF, (Short, fat, ugly "feller").

It’s a full sized sledge, customized with its handle cut off at 17″. It was given to me by a foul-mouthed middle-eastern gentleman with muscled forearms the size of gallon paint cans. He drove electrical grounding rods with it, like they were thumbtacks. Sorry folks, I can't give you a source link for this, you gotta make your own (or find your own foul-mouthed, middle eastern gentleman to make one for you).

S.L.U.F., the not-so-gentle persuader

I pounded the stuffing out of that concrete. Of course, contrary to all the other half-assed construction our predecessors did, they built the heck out of this particular detail. It wasn't just run of the mill Sackrete in the post hole, they'd loaded it with a heavy aggregate mix, full of crushed gravel, and very resistant to a quickly tired knucklehead pounding away on his hands and knees in the sun with a heavy one-handed hammer.

I wore myself out with that stupid, stumpy sledge-hammer.

Sitting there in the hole, resting after all that hammering with concrete shards pinging of my face, I noticed something, that wiped that stupid smirk off my face...


The hole was crawling with what I'm fairly sure are termites. We'll have to have the place treated. Dang it; that's probably not cheap.  No termite tubes, the little beasts were using the support beam as an elevator.

The secret passage.

Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter. Bomb shelter! Underground... God damn monsters.

Burt Gummer, Hard Core Survivalist (Tremors)

The whole area got a good soaking with the hose and a healthy dose of Demon WP  through the pump sprayer

The entire exterior of the house got sprayed as well. I had learned about Demon when we were in Texas. It's a murderer. Hopefully, it will keep their migration down, now that I've taken their source of crunch and munchies away, with a spectacular, un-witnessed side-kick.

It's hot and the demo is done. Next, new facia and drip edge has to be installed to finish this project up.

What do you think? The house look too plain now?


I'm honored to have this story chosen to be featured an Bob Vila's website as part of the "Bob Vila Nation" " of contributors from the blogging community. 

Please check it out and give me a vote by the hammer image.

(UPDATE II: looks like Mr. Vila & Co. canceled this program and deleted all the Blogger created stuff)

A Challenge from the H.O.A.

We received a letter from our homeowners association, a "Friendly Reminder". They just don't like our front entrance.

We've received HOA letters before; we call them "nasty-grams". They've told us we need to trim the palm trees, nip some weeds, fix a board on the gate, and even hit the place with a fresh coat of paint. Each time, we've sheepishly complied. After all, we're supposed to keep up with this stuff. It's just our Strategic Doctrine of "Inside Out", that sometimes gets us in trouble.

The letter we received this week was a mule kick to the head. Uh ohhhhh...

"We noted the overhang on the entrance way to your house was not submitted for ABM approval and is in disrepair. Please remove the overhang in a workmanlike manner. 

ABM will perform a follow-up inspection of the property... compliance by 06/22/2013 "
A few notes my dear reader:

  • This "overhang" is a beast, a huge, crap-tastic beast of drunken, weekend-warrior awfulness. We want it to go, eventually, but it's not foremost on the schedule, neither time wise or financially.
Notice anything stoooooooopid?
  • "State of disrepair"???!!! Nope. It's in a state of jackleg construction. The dang thing was built to look like someone pounded dog excrement with a sledge hammer.

  • I didn't know it was not submitted for approval, because, I didn't build it. We've been here 7 years. I think this "overhang" has been here for 15-20.
  • A goal of 06/22/2013 is pretty much a do-it-now situation. June is not the time to be dilly-dallying around, working on a major, outdoor construction project around here. Why? Because of this:

It's only April 27 and we're going to hit the century mark. June will be worse.

We live in one of the oldest, largest homeowners associations the country. We are in Phoenix, but our area is an urban village, almost completely cut off from the rest of the city. This village, Ahwatukee, is covered by a colossal HOA. Honestly, they do a pretty good job of keeping the place up, but I think this particular requirement is ridiculous.

A quick web search will reveal absolute horror stories from HOA's nationwide and their abuse of power, crushing individual families over unpaid fees, misplaced garbage cans, or an unapproved shed that was 2.75" too tall.

I'm not messing around. It's time to let these two, savage dogs-of-war out of their cage.

Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day... a red day... ere the sun rises!
- King Théoden
<UPDATE> Oh yes,..  splintering does begin. Check out the carnage in the exciting saga: ... and so it begins, demolition day.

Replacing our bathroom exhaust fan

Both of our bathroom exhaust fans are shot. The one in our guest bath was a beast at one time; it sounded like an F-16 afterburner on takeoff and moved air like a pissed-off hurricane. I'm surprised it didn't pull the door off its hinges. Certainly, it blew too much of our costly air conditioning up into the attic. Now it's fried.

A trip to the home center for a replacement found me staring slack-jawed at a huge display of ceiling-suck-age options, ranging from $30 to $200.

Uhhhhh,... I came prepared complete with the info of: about 12" x 12" square. I was certainly not prepared with CFM measurments, Sone ratings or, most importantly, funds up to $199.99. Since the slack-jawed, staring approach didn't seem to resolve much after a few minutes, I did some split-second Matrix style education,... I looked it up on the smartphone.  I find that the deal on CFM ratings is that it's the speed / amount of air the fan moves, in cubic feet per minute. I found a formula and plugged in our measurements:

Cubic Feet = Length: 9 ft. x Width: 5 ft. x Height: 8 ft. = 360

360 cu. ft. ÷ 60 minutes per hour = 6

6 x 8 air changes per hour = min 48 CFM fan needed
I bought a Hampton Bay (#986 755), 50 CFM, 0.5 Sone (Ultra Quiet) for $ 48.97. It turns out the old one was rated for 180 CFM and screamed its furious banshee wail at 5.0 Sones. Folks with bigger bathrooms will need bigger fans, and deeper wallets.
Back at home, I tried to pull the cover and found that this one was held in by rusted screws, not the handy springs I'd seen more recently on our other fan. Up close, this cover is a yellowed, paint spattered mess. I cut the paint and caulk from the edge with a utility knife before I pulled it down.

Next, I geared up for the dreaded attic crawl. Our attic is a filthy, itchy mess of ancient, blown-in insulation horror. It's never fun. I loaded a tool bag with all the tools and material I might need. When I returned from changing into long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a spare t-shirt wrapped around my head and tucked into the back at my neck, I found my tool bag had been substantially supplemented.

Gracie was worried about me going into the attic, without her. She'd helpfully loaded up my tool bag with:
  • (1 ) box of Band-Aids (Angry Birds)
  • (3) tape measures
  • (1) Diet Coke
  • (1) Photo of Kirby (our dog who passed in 2010)
  • (1) Doggy Valentine's card
  • (1) Hand drawn "note" with hearts and "Daddy"
  • (4 ) Pretty rocks
  • (1) Small bag of 1/2" nuts and bolts
  • (7) 3" finishing nails
  • (1) Extra dust mask
Of course, I had to lug the extra stuff up there, just in case.

I traversed the attic, which ended in a miserable, belly-crawl across the rafters. It was 86º degrees outside in Phoenix; in the attic, it was damn hot. In the light of my headlamp, the fan appeared, it was unfastened and completely without a duct. From what I know, venting your moist shower air directly into your attic is commonly referred to as extremely stupid. It's not going to freeze in Phoenix, but it could cause mold issues and who knows what else. I didn't see any evidence of problems, but it was a dark, hot mess, and I wasn't going to loiter.

I could see the target in my high-beams.
I lifted the old fan out of the way. Luckily, there was enough slack in the electrical line to push the unit back to where I could at least crouch to work on it. With the hole open, there was a sudden burst of excited chatter from the bathroom below. I couldn't get close enough to the hole to look down. I held my camera phone over the edge to take a blurry recon shot:

Daddy's helper. Thanks for the Coke sweetie!
With the power off, I opened the wiring compartment and took the wires out of the wire nuts. I slid the existing, three wire cable into the compartment of the new fan and clamped it down, using the connector (NM 3/8-Inch Clamp Type Connector) I had installed earlier, in the comfort of the garage. This particular unit used the push-in style quick connectors for the wiring. Normally, I cut them off and make a tight, twisted joint with my Linesman Pliers and wire nuts, but in the dark, hot attic, I was pleased to go with the plug-and-play approach.

Clamp, plug & play!
I had bought a wall vent ducting kit as well. The 4" flex duct attached to the fan exhaust port with an included zip-tie. I added a quick wrap of the metallic foil tape that I had left over from the ceiling project. I shoved the new fan back over the hole and screwed the supports to the nearby studs.

Duct,..duct,... duct,... GOOSE!
QUICK TIP: Ready to run the duct to the outside, and having pulled the bone-headed move of drilling exterior holes into framing members in the past, I took the time to drive a screw through the wall from the inside, so I could find the location easily from the outside, no measuring!

Finding the screw was easy. I shifted to the right to avoid the groove in our "lovely" T-111 siding and traced the 4" hole using the template supplied with the duct kit. Drilling a larger hole near the side of the line with a Spade Bit allowed for saw blade access.

Grumbling about the lack of a cordless jigsaw in my collection of power tools, I was forced to the disagreeable task of stringing out an extension cord, like a chump. This Black & Decker Jigsaw is actually the first power tool I ever purchased as a homeowner. It was bought for slicing a countertop to fit a new refrigerator in our first house, probably in 1999. I don't use it a ton, but it's held up very well for a lightweight, economical-grade power tool. Here's their current version, the Black & Decker 4.5 Amp Variable Speed Jigsaw

The duct kit came with a exterior vent with a flap door. An included sheet metal, rigid duct tube snaps into the back and is fed through the wall into the attic. I put a my small torpedo level on a straight line to square it up. Four wood screws zapped in quickly with the impact driver.

Back in the attic, I attached the flex duct to the rigid duct tube, again with a zip tie and some foil faced, adhesive tape to seal it up. Per instructions, I kept the flex duct in a gentle curve, without making any tight corners. The attic rat mission is an operational success. This highly classified image shows the target has been taken care of:

Classified: Just between us right?
Returning filthy-clothed to the sweet, air conditioned goodness of inside, I popped the beautiful, new fan cover in place, this time with the easy, snap-in retention springs.

Note a very important detail in this step: no bald spot.
Now that it's all done, I guess I should have tested the fan to make sure this one wasn't a dud. Luckily, it worked just fine. I actually had to strain to hear it. I almost miss the clattering din of the old one.

The exterior vent flap works well. It swings open and closed as needed.

Thar she blows!

This was a medium difficulty project. Anytime attic work is required, it's a bit difficult and unpleasant, but you can do it. Keep your feet on solid framing and watch out for nails and open electrical connections.

It's not an exciting project to have done; we had a fan and we have a fan again. Just an unforeseen, necessary repair, not a desired improvement project. At least it's quiet and looks much better than the dated, ugly one. Plus, we now have exterior venting.

Thoughts? Comments? I'd love to hear from you.
UPDATE!! I'm honored to have this story chosen to be featured an Bob Vila's website as part of the "Bob Vila Nation" of contributors from the blogging community. Please check it out and give me a vote by the hammer image, if you like the story.

Quick Tip: disposable gloves

For "First Aid - Heath Care - Baby Care - Serious DIY"
I've recently started using disposable gloves for messy work. As a family dude, it seems like every time I open a can of paint, I get called back into the house for something. There's always a huge tragedy, like a 5 year old that absolutely must have some cucumbers or a fresh glass of milk, NOW!!!. Other times, it's been a lady trapped in the bathroom when the pocket door falls off the track, a broken glass, or a bunny in the backyard that must be looked at. Perhaps, it's just lunchtime.

I just keep a box in one of my tool cabinets and grab a couple before starting.

Regardless of the reason for my hasty retreat from a project, I normally have wet paint on my hands when I need to pop back in for a minute. It's nice to simply slip off the gloves and pitch them in the trash before leaving the room.

I also use them for other messy work, like working on the car. They're good when you don't want dirt, glue, oil, or paint under your fingernails or all over your hands when you have to go meet with someone or make an emergency run out to the grocery for a can of evaporated milk. It saves huge time, otherwise spent doing the surgeon's scrub down at the laundry sink.
You can find them cheap, at the drugstore or on Amazon here: Ansell Vinyl - Touch Powder Free, Latex Free Disposable Gloves 50 ea

The best laid plans...

Why is it that when you need consecutive weekends dedicated to a big project (like replacing all the doors in your house) that the rest of your house goes haywire? We've been buried with scheduled obligations lately, so the time allotted for serious weekend-warriormanship was already limited. The door project was going really well; I could see then end in sight. I was knocking one door out each weekend, no problem-o.

Then BAM! The washing-machine self destructs. Gotta drop everything and fix it. Tear down and rebuild.

Frickin' frackin' rubble bumbin' mumble mud...
...then, BAM! Just like the front yard, the irrigation system bursts in the back.  Gotta be fixed.

... then, BAM! The Pool Filter gets clogged up, right as the temperature rises. The pool turns into a swampy-green, scale model of the planet Dagobah, without the diminutive Jedi Master.  A total tear-down and rebuild is in order, with a diminutive mud-pie master.

...then, BAM! The awesome Baracuda Zodiac G3 robot pool cleaner-dude finally wears out it's rubber parts. A total tear down and, know the rest. At least I found better pricing on Amazon and saved about $150 vs. our local pool shop. Still, it's not the fun kind of tool I want to be buying parts for.

Baracuda Zodiac G3

... then, BAM! The guest bath exhaust fan gives it's death rattle. Inside, it's an unholy fossilized mess of rusted metal. Carbon-dating analysis puts it's installation in the long bygone era of 1979. I think the only thing holding it together is the rust.

This weekend's recreational activity.
I even managed to fit time in to break my shop's dust-collector while changing the bag. Enough with "BAM!" already. It's killing progress, and tearing an unwelcome, good-sized hole in our checkbook. 
What's next? 

Considering a counter depth refrigerator

Refrigeration Madness
I've just become aware of counter depth refrigerators.  This just might be an excellent design solution for our cave-like, U-shaped kitchen. We've been considering recessing the 'fridge through the wall, to set it flush with the cabinet faces, but that is one big invasive, load-bearing wall mess I'd prefer to stay well clear of if I can help it.

I understand those massive Sub-Zero beasts with cabinet panels are counter depth, but much wider than normal. They're also scientifically classified as "spendy" and thus beyond our humble means.

A casual visit to Lowes turned up four models, a couple side-by-sides and a couple of the awesome French door style, with the freezer drawer below. It seems that they all are about a 23.5-ish sq. ft. size, smaller than our current side-by side. The French door style seems to make more efficient use of space, so maybe it would be a good trade off. Samsung's current line looks pretty good. We'd probably try to buy all the appliances at once, to ensure a matched style, and hopefully get a volume discount.

We're going to flip the 'fridge location to the other side of the room. Either way, a full depth fridge cuts into the entry of the kitchen, physically and visually. It's even worse when I have the door open and am staring slack-jawed into the treasure trove of temptations.

The Cavern of Doom
Anyone have any thoughts or experiences with this class of refrigerator?