Storage Room Workbench & Coat Rack

Finally I had the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and build something for the house. Work and life have been beyond crazy, but I was able to carve out a Saturday and Sunday to work on a couple storage and workspace solutions for the basement storage room.

The first unit is a workbench for the wife. She’s a paper artist and sometimes needs to spray glue large pieces of card stock so there is a spray booth in the middle of the workbench. No more spraying on the floor. To the right is a baker’s rack style set of shelves. And to the left of the booth is a small work bench with pegboard backdrop. I purposefully left space to the left of the unit to access existing storage shelves, and possibly tuck away loose and bulky storage room items.

The other unit I made is a coat rack. In winter we have a ton of boots and coats, but once summer comes we have no place to put them. This two level unit will hold a ton of winter gear. There is also a shelf and under shelf space for winter boots and unused shoes.

It was a very satisfying project to work on. It’s my therapy, meditation or whatever you want to call it. Challenging enough that it takes some planning, but mindless enough to be satisfying. And no one tells me what to do. I can do it my way. Which anyone who’d reached middle age can tell you, is a rewarding situation.

The storage room looks great now. We’re more organized and have some useful work space. We also took the opportunity to move the cat’s litter boxes to an open area in the room instead of in front of the storage room door. It’s all a wonderful monkey to get off of my back, and allows us to focus on the fun, “living” part of life instead of the “ugh, we still need to do that” part of life.

Overall cost was about $117 for lumber, and $40 for screws and misc hardware. It took me about four to six hours to cut, assemble and install everything. The 2×4’s are definitely overkill – but trees grow back, and it’s easy to find lumber in this size at a reasonable price. Plus it’s straight; 2×3’s or 2×2’s tend to be crooked. The units are screwed into the ceiling above when possible. The Superior Walls are difficult if not impossible to fasten into. At the bottom I placed plastic shims to level everything and I will add metal brackets to tie the units into the cement floor so they don’t fall over.

Eventually we will add lighting to the storage room. I’m thinking three overhead linear LED work lights, and then maybe task light bars over the bench work spaces.

Let me know what you think, and what you’re working on, in the comments section. Here are some pics, ask questions in the comments too…

-Chris

House Design Tips

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a critique for fourth year architecture students at our local university – Kent State. Seeing the student’s project work, talking with them, faculty and with fellow reviewers was inspiring to me as a designer and a homeowner. The university houses their architecture program in a brand new building that recently opened with the start of the school year. I had seen photos of it in the newspaper, and had driven by it during construction. It was impressive and rewarding to see the building completed and in person. The scale of the building is a bit juxtapose in my mind. The exterior looks grand in its simplicity – conceptually it reads larger but physically my first impression was that it was smaller than I anticipated. Like 7/8th scale. Inside its wide open, which makes it almost seem smaller and large at the same time. Ultimately there is a lot of “unexpected” since the design transcends decades of traditional big university building design thinking – or at least the buildings I’ve had experience with.

So let’s talk about today’s topic. At the end of the crit the evaluators had an opportunity to mention their take aways and advice. This got me thinking on the drive home, what advice would I give as a homeowner who lives in a house that follows many of the tenants the students are learning about – space planning, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability…and also as a homeowner (I was drafted to bring that perspective to the afternoon’s festivities).

ksu-arch-building-2016

The new Kent State Architecture building as you approach from the northwest.

ksu-arch-building-interior

Open studios foster collaboration across experiences and disciplines.

Without further ado here are seven of my off the cuff tips for anyone building, buying, remodeling or designing a home, based on our experience living in our current home for four and one half years.

  1. Rainwater collection is by far the smartest thing we did. This includes the gorgeous steel roof on the house. While pricey (~$20K+ for the roof and $13K+ for the rainwater collection system including cistern) it’s without a doubt the way to go in my opinion for your entire water household water supply. It provides independence from questionable city water supplies. The only maintenance cost is changing filters ($30-$50 each) every few months, and keeping the chlorine tank filled (a gallon of bleach a few times a year). Combined with an on site wastewater treatment solution ($300/year maintenance), it’s off the grid living that allows you to be a responsible steward for how water comes and goes from your property.

    wsfts-schematic

    Rainwater harvesting schematic shows how we collect rainwater for ALL of our water needs.

  2. Central living space – kitchen, dining and family rooms – is the way to go for today’s modern family. These three “rooms” are clustered together in our house and we spend 75% of our family time there I suspect. Preparing meals, eating dinner, watching television – our family of four is always in this space. The only downside is it looks like a tornado hit it with all the dishes, toys, papers, etc. but hopefully as the kids get older we’ll be able to reign in the clutter. And they are not huge spaces individually but as a whole we get a high performance livable space without the complexity of the typical new home floor plan. I only wish the family room space was about 2′ longer, maybe a square bay window. Arranging furniture in that space is a minor challenge. As for quiet time, there are other rooms to get away, so there is balance – opportunities to be in the middle of the action in this central space or not elsewhere.

    central-space

    This is where we spend all of our time essentially – kitchen, family room and dining room. Design these three spaces small and combine them for an effective everyday living space. Bonus points for the adjacent screen porch.

  3. Office space doesn’t have to be a dedicated room or even much more than a strategically placed built in. My office, I work from home 24/7, is literally a 5′ x 9′ space that is technically a hallway between the front hall and my art studio. We recently built a 15’x15′ space in the basement for my new office but laziness has kept me from moving down there just yet. I don’t mind my small office that I have now. I have a handy pocket door that I can close if I’m on a call. The rest of the house is “far away” so the kids are usually making noise somewhere else and early do I have to yell “shut up” during the course of any given day. There is built in storage and aplenty and even a place for our fish tank. When designing a house you can carve an office into virtually any space. And more and more people are working from home either part of the week or all the time. Get creative with office space.

    office

    Office space can be carved out of a hallway; they don’t require a lot of space.

  4. Pocket doors are a fantastic way to partition spaces. When we had our house designed there were several small spaces along the main north-south corridor. All the spaces (laundry, bathrooms, office) have their doors open 95% of the time.If we would have put traditional doors we be walking around open doors all the time and losing wall space. Pocket doors afford us a lot more flexibility in staging the house for when guests come over, need privacy , sequester cats or just don’t want to look at clutter. My tip though is get hollow pocket doors. The solid ones we have are just too damn heavy and difficult to use. Also note that the door needs space inside the adjacent wall to live when they’re open. You won’t be able to hang towel bars in those spaces as well because of the reduced depth behind the drywall.

    hallway-pocket-doord

    Pocket doors save space and provide more options for partitioning spaces than a traditional door.

  5. Kitchens can be small and don’t have to be traditional. We stole our kitchen design from a picture I saw in a magazine. It basically looks like three pieces of furniture instead of a traditional stock cabinet design you see in every house ever. And because the kitchen is part of that shared space with the dining room and living room, our kitchen is small (8’x13′) but doesn’t act small. Two chefs can work the room without bumping into each other. There’s a deep integrated pantry space (with pocket door) keeping supplies at hand without taking up much space. The island is big enough to serve off of and stand around, and that’s about it. Exposed overhead beams and a painted ceiling define the space and add interest without a lot of cost. Lastly there’s an alignment with the dining room table that really amps up the repetition and flexibility of horizontal surfaces.

    clean-kitchen-for-once

    Three piece kitchen looks more like an assemblage of furniture than a kitchen.

  6. Open kitchen cabinets add an eclectic touch while making life easier. A minute a day spent opening and closing kitchen cabinets? Six hours a year? Four years of living here and I’ve saved a day of my life not spent opening cabinets, right? We never got door installed on our cabinets due to circumstances, and frankly I’m kinda sold on not having them. It doesn’t look too cluttered. If you’re Martha Stewart you can go crazy with really nice dishes and keep everything organized. If you’re us you have a collection of random cups and glasses and it all seems to work anyway. Go for it, live a little and simplify your life while standing apart from every other cookie cutter home experience out there.

    open-kitchen-cabinets

    Open cabinets make getting, and putting away dishes a breeze and add an eclectic feel to the kitchen.

  7. USB wall chargers are a fun little add on. Replace an outlet in the office or kitchen with one of these USB outlets and you no longer have to hunt for adaptors to charge your electronic devices. Eventually everything will probably wireless charging or whatnot but in the meantime you can go old school by installing a couple of these in your house.

    usb-charging-outlet

    A USB charging station allows you to plug devices directly into the wall socket without hunting around for adaptors.

 

Some other personal thoughts that I won’t go into detail this time around but keep them in mind – low maintenance is great, low cost / simplicity to keep construction costs down, character in finishes and details, a screen porch / outdoor spaces, circular staircases are your friend, and 4″ diameter ceiling lights as opposed to old school 6″ ones.

There you have it, some quick tips for your home or your client’s home to make it more useable, flexible and enjoyable.

What are your home design tips? Share in the comments below, I really want to hear them.

 

-Chris

Basement Update – Drywall

The basement has drywall! Happiness.

Once completed this will be our first finished basement as a family. In fact, the wife’s never really ever lived in a house with a finished basement. So getting the drywall installed is a big step towards that goal.

The space actually doesn’t look all that different, or at least not as different as I expected. It does look good though. You can get a feel for the large rooms down there. And as you look at the photos you can see how we left the sheet rock up about 8″ to mitigate against any potential future basement flooding. We’ll cover that gap with replaceable plywood baseboards that can be removed in event of water pooling in the basement as a result of sump pump issues.

I didn’t install the drywall myself, rather we contracted that out. It took about a week for one person to hang, tape, mud and sand. It installed with no problem onto our Superior Walls foundation, and the metal stud partitions I raised.

To a certain extent, installing sheet rock on the foundation walls, along with caulked baseboards, should insulate the basement even more, and make for a tighter envelop on our home. Maybe once the basement is complete, and I do a few other things (all LED light bulbs for example), I will have the house re-evaluated for energy efficiency and see if we’ve improved our HERS score.

Take a look at the photos and captions for more on the drywall.

Next up will be painting all the walls. We’re going to do this next because with the floor being bare cement, we won’t have to worry about paint spills. We can get at least a coat or two on the walls, then touch up later if necessary.

Speaking of the floors, we have tile on order from Lowe’s. We went with a distressed wood look porcelain tile, which is very trendy right now. The 6″ x 36″ tile is called ‘Sequoia Ballpark Tile’, and it is $2.99 a sq. ft. which is a bit pricey. In our search we did come across tiles that are upwards of $10 a sq. ft., so everything is relative. We like the look and will save some cash by installing it ourselves. We’ll cover all 948 square feet of the basement with the tile. This will give us a nice looking floor that will be impervious to any flooding or moisture in the basement. The distressed look, with brown, white and grey tones should be timeless aesthetically, and congruent with the style of the rest of our home.

It’s very exciting to well on our way to finally having a finished basement space for work and play. This will accomplish a major house goal for us. One that has been around for over fifteen years really.

Basement Update

Tonight a quick update on the basement project. We actually have not done much since I last wrote about the electrical in June. Everything passed inspection so far – electrical, framing, insulation. Next up is drywall.

I decided that I would just hire a drywall contractor to do the basement drywall. My time is better spent working, and a contractor is going to do a better job than me anyway.

Because the house is done, there’s no way to get really long 12′ sheets of drywall into the basement so we’re using 4’x8′ sheets. We’re using USB Ultralight weight 1/2″ sheets. 58 regular white ones, and 8 green mold resistant green ones for our 900′ square foot basement. Cost was around $700 for materials and truck rental.

Our ceilings in the basement are 9′, but we’ll lose some height with the drop ceiling. To make up the rest of the difference between the ceiling height and the 8′ tall sheets, we’re going to install 10″ tall baseboard trim.

We are worried about flooding in the basement, if the sump pump ever failed during a storm. We were originally going to install cement board on the lower foot so that if the basement flooded, we wouldn’t have to rip out the drywall. Well our drywall contractor came up with a better idea. We’ll paint the baseboard all around, front and back, to create a water-resistant seal. The baseboard will then cover up the bottom 8″ below the where the drywall ends. We’ll fir it out a 1/2″ so the baseboard overlaps the drywall. Then if it ever gets wet down there we can simply unscrew the baseboard and throw it out if it’s ruined, or remove it before it gets too wet. I need to talk to my trim carpenter to see if using MDF or hardwood is preferred for the baseboard.

Detail of how I'll finish the basement walls

Detail of how I’ll finish the basement walls

It should be a pretty neat trick. And the tall baseboard will fit in with the contemporary feel of the rest of the house.

I went to Home Depot and picked up the drywall material. I was able to rent their truck and get it unloaded in an hour.

Next week we start installing drywall so I’ll share more updates then.

My rental truck with all our drywall loaded and ready to go home.

My rental truck with all our drywall loaded and ready to go home.

Trailer Happenings

No, we haven’t bought a trailer. We’re holding true to our game plan. But I continue to learn more and more about trailers, their prices and the best places to hunt for them. The last week has found me on eBay, which is turning out to be a good hunting spot. The site seems to get a steady stream of trailers, especially on Saturday and Sunday.

Other good sites include Tin Can Tourists, which has a decent classified section, that features a few new trailers every week or so. For Airstreams, the best site is Airstream Classifieds. 

The problem with Airstreams are two-fold. One, they are way too expensive. There was a damaged one on eBay that was a steal at $12,000 which, given the means, I would have rolled the dice on. Otherwise though you’re spending $10K minimum for anything in our 16′ range. The longer ones are actually less expensive. Which leads us to the second problem with Airstreams, they weigh too much. We could only pull a 16′ with our RAV4, and even so it’d have to be a vintage one. The newer ones are outfitted like Cadillacs with all sorts of heavy furniture and gear. This doesn’t keep me from looking, but you know how it goes. Wishful thinking.

Here are just of few of this week’s crop of new and used trailers I’ve been spying.

 

 

Basement Project – Insulation

In the past basement insulation was often overlooked. Typically basement walls were cinder blocks and that was it. Now there are so many options from a construction standpoint, you really need to do your homework to see what suits your home building situation. Layer on top of that all the options there are for insulating your basement, and you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Insulating your basement goes a long way to reducing your energy bills, and increasing the comfort of the occupants living inside the home. Even if your basement is a storage catch-all, or a place to sequester unruly family members, there is great value in making your basement warm through the use of insulation.

The main advantage basements have, compared to the rest of the house, is it’s surrounded by soil. And the deeper you go, the more the temperature of the soil levels off around 50-60 degrees. Even at 4′, the temperature starts to hold its own verses air temperature above.

Here is a cross-section of our basement, provided by the wonderful peeps at Ferut Architecture:

Basement wall section courtesy of Ferut Architects. copyright 2014

Basement wall section courtesy of Ferut Architects. copyright 2014

So, taking a look at the diagram, you can see our awesome Superior walls make up our foundation. They’re awesome because they are prefabricated cement and include R-15 of rigid insulation right from the factory. Check out  this post to see how they were installed. It was amazing.

The plan was to add 3″ of sprayed 2 pound insulation to the inside of the Superior walls; adding R-20 to our R-15 walls for a phenomenal R-35 insulation rating to our basement walls. Also note we already have R-20 (4″ of rigid) under the cement floor. The basement would be warm snuggly nest once we were done.

Basement before insulation.

Basement before insulation.

Well turns out due to cost restraints we needed to dial it back a bit. What we did was in all of the areas that were getting drywalled, we had our friends at R-Tek Insulation in sunny Barberton, Ohio, spray 1.5 inches of insulation on just the top 4′ of the 10′ walls. This gives that area an added R-10 of insulation, for a total of R-25. This is better than most foundations, and worlds apart from traditional uninsulated cinder block walls.

The spray foam provides an air tight and presumably water tight, or at least water-resistant seal on the walls. Once the drywall is on, our basement should prove to be more air tight. The combination of air tightness and increased insulation should lower our HERS rating from its current level at 41. I’m not sure if I’ll get the house tested again. Maybe down the road after I do a few other things (to be determined).

By the way, spray insulation must be covered with sheet rock (drywall) as I do think there are fire concerns with the material when it’s simply exposed. We limited our spray only to those areas where there would be drywall. The storage rooms did not get any additional insulation at this time.

For reference on a scale from 0-150 the average home has a HERS rating of 130. New homes have to have a 100 rating. A zero energy house (which we hope to be someday) is 0. Our house is about 59% more efficient than your typical new house.

The cost for our additional insulation was $2,000. To do the entire top to bottom at R-20 would have likely been $8,000 or more.

Basement after insulation.

Basement after insulation.

The white colored spray foam expands as it dries. It also creates a air tight, water tight barrier.

The white colored spray foam expands as it dries. It also creates a air tight, water tight barrier.

The top 4' are insulated with 1.5" of 2lb. spray insulation (R-10).

The top 4′ are insulated with 1.5″ of 2lb. spray insulation (R-10).

Another option instead of spray insulation would be adding more polystyrene rigid insulation. Check out the Superior website here, for more information. You simply cut and install the rigid, bonding it to the existing rigid in the walls using liquid nails or other non-foam attacking adhesive. In fact this is what I will do for the storage rooms where we won’t have drywall. Because the spray insulation needs to be covered, per code, putting rigid in the storage rooms is my only option really. So strangely enough we will likely get a full R-20 floor to ceiling in the storage rooms because I just have to pay for material. It’s a super simple DIY job that I can do myself – free labor! Actually in hind sight, I should have likely done this everywhere from the get go, but I already had the insulation guys lined up. No worries, I like the spray insulation. And down the road if we really want to I’m sure we can go back in to the exterior walls and spray more (would have to replace drywall though).

One other note, I don’t think you ever want spray paper based insulation in your basement. With all the potential natural moisture issues, like the potential for flooding, in a basement, paper based insulation (like we have upstairs) is a bad idea.

There you have it. Now onto finishing framing and building some storage shelves.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments below.

Basement Planning and Pricing

Before we jump into all the “fun” work I’ve been doing in the basement for the last six weeks, let’s do a post to go over our game plan.

Budget is the biggest driver for the project. We have zero money frankly, but as I said in the last post: we feel strongly that we need the space to be useful, otherwise what’s the point. Before the project the basement was full, no exaggeration, of “stuff”. Furniture, half filled boxes, years worth of stuff that had just been moved from house to house. For example, in our old house we had a library filled with books. There’s nothing like that in the new house, so there are just box after box of books. My wife collects board games and we’ve never once had a place to store and display her very extensive collection. I have every car magazine from 1986 to the early 2000’s. Yes, those can be recycled but I’d like to go through them first. Point is we have more crap than most of you combined.

The basement has to stop being a big catch-all.

Okay, back to design and our plans. Here are the main project areas. I’ll go over them in detail in subsequent posts.

Exterior Walls

When we built the house, you may recall we used Superior Walls for our foundation. The basement walls are prefabricated out of cement and steel, and stand nine feet tall (9′). The walls feature metal stud facings so we can apply drywall directly to the face of them. No need to fir out the walls which saves a lot of time and money. I just need to frame in a few of the corners with drywall nailers. Note, we would also have to frame in for any shelf or cabinet supports ahead of time. Superior walls cannot support a vertical load so don’t go screwing in cabinets into the studs. More info, and to see nailer diagrams, click here.

Insulation

The foundation walls are insulated to R12.5 from that factory with blue rigid insulation. When we installed them I speculated that we would insulate them with another R-20 worth of insulation, which I think is the maximum if we fill the rest of each cavity with sprayed insulation. Well to keep costs down we did two things 1) only insulated the top 4′ of the exterior walls and 2) went to a depth of 1.5″ (R-10). Why? The top half of the wall has the most exposure to outside temperature changes. Once you get beyond 4-5 feet the earth’s temperature is pretty stagnate, something like a constant 50 degrees or something (I’ll let you look it up). By the way, cost to insulate the top 4′ with 1.5″ of 2 lb. spray insulation (R-10): $2,164. Three inches (R-20) would have been $4,040.

Floors

The floors in the basement are cement (over 4″ of rigid foam insulation by the way). Our basement is prone to flooding if the sump pump ever fails, so that drives many of the design decisions we’ve made in regards to our basement project. Long term our plan would be to cover the entire 950 sq. ft. of living space with ceramic or porcelain tile. Short term though we’ll leave it cement. I’ll rent a floor cleaner from Home Depot and clean the cement myself. Not sure if I’ll seal it at this point. I’ll decide when the time comes. We could stain the floor like we did in my studio. That is always an option, in lieu of putting tile down. For now though regular concrete will suffice everywhere, though the bathroom will likely get tile right out of the gate. Cost should just be a few hundred dollars for cleaning and any tile.

Ceiling

There is some debate whether to put in a drywall ceiling or suspended ceiling. Drywall is cleaner and more finished. Suspended ceilings give you access to HVAC, water and electrical. If you think about it, the other floors of the house are covered in drywall with no utility access. So I think drywall is a fine choice. The problem with our ceiling is there are a lot of pipes, ducts and other obstacles that I don’t want to, or can’t, soffit around. We’ll be putting a drop ceiling in all the living areas except the bathroom. Armstrong has a wide selection of ceiling tiles and a lot of inspiration shots on their website. I got a quote for installing a generic Armstrong system: $3,500. I’ll do it myself. Hopefully the material cost will be closer to $1,000-$2,000. We may hold off and do this next year if we can’t afford it.

The yellow areas will likely be drop ceiling.

The yellow areas will likely be drop ceiling.

Interior Wall Framing

Because of the potential for water flooding should the sump pump fail, I was hesitant to use wood framing. If the basement flooded there’s potential for mold to grow in water-logged studs and walls. Regardless always put down pressure treated sole plates, but I didn’t feel like using treated studs. I was curious about metal framing so that’s what I went with. I still used wood for soffits, blocking and ceiling areas. Look for my thoughts on metal framing in a future post. Cost wise we got an estimate for $1,791 to have someone else do the framing. I did it myself, learned a new skill and spent about $750 on materials to partition the basement. By the way, this includes material for desperately needed storage shelves in the storage room.

Electrical

I don’t do electrical so we’ll have to hire a pro. We’re doing the bare minimum. With the drop ceiling and good access from the storage room we can add-on later. For now it’s all switches, outlets, and ceiling cans. I’d like to swing for 4″ cans but may just default to 6″ to save money. Would like to populate them all with LED bulbs though. Cost estimate for electrical parts and labor is at $4,000. Yikes!

Walls

We’ll drywall everything. I may put 12″ of cement board at the bottom of every wall because of the aforementioned water damage potential. Or not. Estimate we got was $3,757. Doing it myself will hopefully save some money. But I don’t have the patience or craftsmanship (or desire) to mud it all so I may have to source that.

$4K electric, $2K insulation, $1K framing, $3K drywall = $10K, then do the ceiling next year or down the road maybe. We’ll see. I just hand over receipts and the wife keeps track and cuts checks.

Stay tuned for future posts on each step of the way. As of this writing I’m wrapping up framing and the insulation is done.

-Chris