Posted by John on March 27th, 2014
In the past week or so, we started hanging drywall in our home office. It’s not a terribly quick process and it’s been consuming a few hours a night. Consequently, our post frequency has been low lately. Whenever we’re knee deep in home improvement projects, that sort of thing is going to happen. Today, I want to share with you some general DIY advice for hanging drywall or sheetrock (if you call it that too). This weekend we’re going to be applying the first coats of joint compound and my goal is to put together a video tutorial for that process.
In other news, in last week’s newsletter, I asked our readers to tell me what set of woodworking plans they’d like to see next. The response was unanimous. Everyone wants the router table plans. Look for those next week.
Tips for Hanging Drywall
1. Proper Framing. The most important part of a quality drywall job, in my opinion. The drywall gets secured to the framing lumber on the wall. If that framing is incomplete, poorly done or didn’t take the drywall into account, then the drywall is not going to be done well either. Everywhere you have a seam in the drywall, which is everywhere one piece meets another, there should be a 2x piece behind it. When we designed our coffered ceiling, I intentionally took the drywall into consideration and it wasn’t an afterthought. This may mean adding more boards than is required by framing code.
2. Use the Right Drywall Thickness. Drywall sheets come in 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″ and 5/8″ thick. 5/8″ thick is typically used for ceilings and is required for fire protection in certain spaces. Our garage, for example, should have 5/8″ thick drywall throughout, but most of our interior walls probably just use the 1/2″. The thinnest drywall, the 1/4″ sheets are mainly used on curved walls since it’s not as rigid as the thicker material. The 3/8″ sheets can also be used in place of the 1/2″ sheets in some situations. You’ll want to double check with the builder’s code before you tackle a larger job to verify what thickness you should use. Since we’re covering over coffered ceiling framing that actually sits beneath a finished ceiling, we’re just using 1/2″ thick drywall.
3. Drywall Screws. Use the right drywall screw length. I mainly use the 1-1/4″ long coarse drywall screws, which don’t go all the way through a 1-1/2″ thick 2×4. Anything longer than that and I’d need to be aware of what’s on the other side of the 2×4, since the screw can go through the board and make contact with anything on the other side. Also, make sure to protect any electrical work with the appropriate cover plates so you don’t accidentally drive a screw through a wire. That would be bad.
4. Drywall Driver. This is my biggest pet peeve with drywall installation. There is a special bit that you can buy for your drill that is specifically designed for installing screws into drywall. It dimples the drywall board and sets the depth of the screw to just the right amount. I pull the hair out of my head when I see people on TV (typically, Renovation Realities, go figure) using a regular Phillips head bit. These drywall bits are majorly inexpensive. I got 4 for $5 at Home Depot. Don’t work without them.
5. Use Chalk Lines. My chalk line tool is easily becoming my favorite tool on this office project. So let’s say I need a 5″ wide piece of drywall at some length. I measure down 5″ from the edge of each side and then snap a chalk line down the entire length of the sheet from one end to the other so the 5″ mark is visible. Then I just trace the line with my box cutter and I know I have a nice accurate piece.
6. Use a Rasp. The best way to get clean pieces of cut drywall is to use a hand held tool called a rasp. The rasp is basically a cheese grater that you use to clean up the cut edge of a freshly cut piece of drywall. It removes any high spots, smoothes out the cut and must be done before you throw the drywall sheet onto the wall. It will help keep your drywall seams much tighter.
7. Protect your Floors. When you cut and rasp drywall, it gets all over everything in the space. I protected our new hardwood office floor with some rosin paper I had left over from the floor install. I prefer this over plastic as it doesn’t move around and is much more durable. You can also use general construction paper since it’s cheaper. Don’t skip this step though unless you’re working right over the subfloor.
So that’s all I got for hanging drywall. I still need to add my corner beads all over this ceiling and I’ll be starting my mudding process this weekend. Good times.
Do you have anything to add to this list? Have you every hanged drywall before? What is the hardest part for you?
Posted in DIY Projects,Drywall. Tagged in ,drywall, tips
Posted by John on March 13th, 2014
Just this morning, my local township electrical inspector stopped by and reviewed the electrical work I had performed for our home office improvement project. He gave us a passing grade, which means I officially have approval to cover the framing with drywall and finish the room. He pointed out a couple changes I need to make before he returns, so I do need to take care of those issues. This is probably the third or fourth time he’s been out to our house for an inspection so I’ve learned to prepare for the things he likes to see.
9 Tips for Passing an Electrical Inspection
If you are considering attempting your own electrical work on your next project, I implore you to apply for electrical permits from your local government.
Applying to do my own work was a simple process. In this case, all I did was fill out a couple of simple forms where I stated my name, address, the scope of the work being performed (adding 4 recessed lights) and the estimated cost of the work related to the permit. After about two weeks, the township called me and let me know my permit was approved and ready for pickup. I paid a $61 fee to the township and got started on the rough-in work. Once I complete the rough-in work, I schedule the inspector and he pays me a visit.
The most anxiety inducing part of this process is the rough-in inspection, but if you follow these general guidelines, you’ll be much more likely to pass the first time.
1. Ask the Inspector First. When you schedule the inspector, try to actually have a conversation with him or her about what they expect to see and what pitfalls you can avoid. All inspectors should be looking for the same checks, but some have additional requirements or pet-peeves that can fail you. Checking with them first is a great way to establish a name to a face and get a sense of their general requirements.
2. Don’t Add Any Devices. During the rough-in inspection, there can’t be any devices on the circuits you are adding. No outlets, no lights, no switches, nada, nunca. If you are adding an outlet to an existing circuit, then the NEW outlet should also not be installed either. The rest of the outlets on that circuit that were originally there are probably fine, but if you disturbed the wiring in any outlet, it shouldn’t have a device for the inspection.
3. Tie Your Grounds Together. In each outlet or electrical box location, the ground wires should be tied together. This is something my inspector noted today. Don’t tie anything else together though. The hot and neutral leads should remain separate.
4. Fire Block. Any holes or penetrations from one floor to the next or from one wiring passage to the next needs to be blocked so as to prevent a fire using the hole as a breathing hole or chimney. Typically, you can use fire block expanding foam (which is bright orange in color) or regular fiberglass insulation to fill or plug these kind of holes.
5. Plug Holes in Boxes. This one was new to me and I’ll have to fix it. The electrical box I used have these bendable tabs where the cable enters. Well one of these tabs snapped off. The inspector told me I need to plug it. I’ll probably use insulation and jam it in the hole here.
6. Use Correct Breaker. Another correction I’ll have to make is the circuit breaker I installed. The breaker in this application needs to be an 15 amp Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) and I had installed a regular 15 amp breaker. The AFCI’s prevent arcs and are required on all circuits that feed living spaces (I think). You can buy AFCI’s in any hardware store and they are several times more expensive than regular breakers.
7. Don’t Power the Circuit. Although the wires for the new circuit can be tied into the new breaker, the breaker needs to remain off or unpowered. It shouldn’t be powered up until all the devices are installed.
8. Cover the Wires with Wire Nuts. All the wire ends need to have wire nuts on them even if they don’t have any exposed conductor. Same goes for the ground wires.
9. Secure Cables with Staples. Cable runs need to be secured to framing every so many feet with cable staples.
That’s pretty much all I have for the rough-in inspection. If you have any others, please leave them in the comments. If you’ve never done your own electrical work, then I suggest you work with someone more experienced before you attempt it yourself. Be safe and good luck.
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Have any inspection horror stories? I’d love to hear those too, so leave them in the comments section.
Posted in DIY Projects,Electrical. Tagged in ,electrical, inspection, tips
Posted by John on September 19th, 2012
Instead of bringing you a post on some of our latest outside work as I’d planned, I’m forced to goto Option B and discuss something else. I was hoping to come home from work and snap some quality photos of our mums, and the finished front door paint. However, due to some pretty nasty weather, those pictures will have to wait for now. So, onto Option B, What I’ve Learned About Flower Beds.
Full disclosure: Lisa and I still do not consider ourselves to be green thumbs. I think I can say with some level of confidence that when we moved into our current home, we had sort of a blackish gray thumb. Let’s call it a charcoal thumb. We killed plants. It happens. They just tended to die on us. We’ve since improved our game through many lessons learned. Our garden isn’t perfect, but I think we’ve learned enough to dispense some garden advice.
What I’ve Learned About Flower Beds
1. Curved lines are more attractive than straight. This one is a biggie. If you’re just starting to make flower beds, try to add some curves. Professional landscapers rarely lay down straight flower beds. Some straight sections you may not be able to get away from, but when possible go round or go home. If you already have straight beds, it’s easy to add some curvature. Just shape a garden hose to the profile you like and mark the outline with spray paint or a shovel.
2. Use landscape fabric to keep weeds out. Unless you love spending your free time yanking weeds every week, I’d pop for the fabric. It’s not hard to incorporate it if you already have beds. It’s also perforated enough to allow water to run through it. They tend to come in varying levels of quality identified by their life expectancy. I’d go with a good 15 year roll or better.
3. Add a drip irrigation system if you don’t already have a sprinkler system for your lawn. These systems consist of a roll of flexible tube that gets run in the flower bed. You punch holes in it or add nozzles and you connect the hose to a battery powered control valve/timer that sits on your outside faucet. It’s very inexpensive and supremely DIY. The hose can sit under the landscape fabric or over it, so if you already have an established bed, you can add this and throw some extra mulch over the hose to hide it. It’s a great way to keep your plants alive without having to water them everyday by hand. After all, these plants can get pretty expensive.
4. Add depth by planting flowers or shrubs with varying height. In my opinion, this is the hardest part of having a sweet looking flower bed. Staging the plants appropriately so they all show off their natural beauty yet getting the height and depth right to maximize the wow factor. If you stick with plants that all have roughly the same height, you could be losing out on some visual interest and curb appeal. We need to add a lot more depth in our garden. Right now it’s too one dimensional. This mailbox photo is from Lisa’s Outside To-Do List. We’re hoping to get to that mailbox project done in the spring.
I’m hoping to get some much needed outdoor work done before it starts to get too cold. This weather is perfect for garden work.
What are your tips or suggestions? Are you planning on any Fall garden upgrades?
Posted in Fall,Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,flower beds, flowers, garden, lessons, plants, tips
Posted by John on July 19th, 2012
Thinking about building a new home? It can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life, but it can also cause a lot of stress and aggravation. Here are 5 tips for new home builders that we’ve learned from the build of our new home in 2010.
Before you Build
1. Did you know you can use a realtor even with a new construction builder? Yep. As a buyer, you’re entitled to use a realtor regardless of the type of property you’re buying. Before we decided to build our current house, we were concentrating our home searches on local builder’s websites and it never occurred to us to enlist the help of a realtor. We were mainly looking at new developments in our free time and thought it was a little liberating to deal directly with the builder. However, more than one of our neighbors used realtors during their build and they had a positive experience. Using a realtor to deal with a builder can be advantageous if the build process becomes problematic. They can help negotiate prices and options on your behalf, which can end up saving you big money, which brings us to our next piece of advice..
2. You can haggle with the builder over the home price and upgrade options. We didn’t really know this was an option when we built. We treated it like it was going to Walmart and picking items off the shelf, it costs what it costs. However, had we known better we may have tried to negotiate a few additional options. All in all, we got what we wanted and we were very happy with the price. Some of the features we would have liked but didn’t pop for, we’re adding ourselves at our own pace. The important take away from this tip is don’t treat the process any different than buying a pre-built home. You can make an offer lower than the stated value of the home and the options. It doesn’t mean the builder will take them, but you may get a few additional options thrown in. The state of home sales and local demand are likely to be key factors in how likely a builder is to adjust their price for a sale.
3. Take a serious look at the other homes in the development and pay particular attention to their features. If your home will be one of the later homes added, you can get a feel for how many homes have brick, stone, siding and their colors. The current neighborhood inventory may be likely to affect your home’s features. A lot of builders won’t let you build a home that is identical to the home next to it in order to preserve some individuality. If the builder doesn’t stop that sort of thing, then be aware that someone may be able to build next to you with the same exact features as your house. This all may play into your decision on which lot to pick and what elevations are available. Plus there may be options you weren’t aware of like bigger basement windows or egresses.
During the Build
4. Our builder had us come through the house before they insulated and dry walled it to pick security system locations and to perform a general inspection. The project manager advised us to take a lot of pictures so we know what’s behind the walls. Why would we want to know that? In case we want to know where wires, pipes and gas lines are run. It’s not crucial, but it certainly helps during some home improvement projects or repairs.
For example, if the upstairs heating or A/C doesn’t seem to be working properly, we know what the distribution system looks like….
Or what if we want to hang a flat screen TV on the wall and we’re not sure where the studs are (plus our stud finder isn’t working)…
5. Addition by subtraction. While you will undoubtedly need to pay extra for added features, it may not cost you anything to remove something from your plans if you really don’t want it. Case in point: Those huge builder grade mirrors in the bathrooms that everyone ends up ripping out when the renovate the bathroom. Even if you get an upgraded bathroom package, they usually still come with those huge mirrors. If you’re a fan of them, good for you. I’ve seen a lot of people dress them up with window trim and they’re totally okay with them. If you’re not, you can ask your builder to just leave them out. There’s nothing in the international builder’s code that requires gigantic mirrors in the bathroom for an occupancy cert. Your builder will probably be open to doing slightly less work, especially if you ask nicely for it. We were able to swing this no-mirror move in both our master and our hall bathroom. Right after we moved in, we popped by Ikea and installed these Kolja mirrors. They’re cheap, but they’re more attractive and a lot easier to remove than the giant Hubble telescope like space mirrors they were going to put in.
Any new construction advice to add? What would you do differently?
Posted in DIY Projects,Life. Tagged in ,building, kolja, mirrors, New construction, tidal, tips
Posted by John on January 11th, 2012
Lisa and I are still basking in the awesomeness that is our new hardwood floors. They’re so shiny and clean that I almost don’t want to walk on them… almost. Lots of sliding in socks going on around here. On Monday morning, I took a brake from basking and sliding and I started installing the shoe molding, aka the quarter rounds. Bruce makes a matching shoe molding, so we just picked up a couple boxes of those when we ordered our floors. Now, I’ve already done a post on molding installation, but I thought this post would make a nice little tutorial on how to make your molding installations faster. Having trouble figuring out which angle your wall is at? Read this tutorial.
Obviously, speed isn’t the name of the game when it comes to home projects. Quality and safety are number one. However, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few tricks now and then to reduce your work time AND get a more accurate result with fewer errors. Our family room is around 400 square feet or so and I managed to install all the shoe molding in under 30 minutes using this trick.
First thing’s first. You generally don’t need to use a tape measure to make accurate measurements. I just use the piece of molding I’m going to install and I mark that piece. In the photo above, you can see that I’ve already got a section of shoe molding installed to the left. I cut the end of that piece at a 45 degree angle (the pieces are only 6′ long so I need a few of them in a row to cover the wall). My next piece will start with a matching 45 degree angle. In this example, I need to determine how long this last piece will be in order for it to meet the end of the wall.
To get that measurement, there’s two ways.
1. Use a measuring tape and try to get the distance from the end of the last shoe molding to the corner of the wall. The only problem with that method is that it’s more prone to errors because you’re resting your tape measure on a piece of molding that’s been cut to an angle. So which part of the slice do you measure?
2. Use the molding itself. I cut the next piece of molding to match the one already installed and I lay it on the floor like I’m going to install it. That way the 45 degree cuts lap together nicely. Then I mark the piece where it meets the corner with a pen or a pencil.
For outside corners like the one above, I can even mark the backside of the molding by running my pen along the baseboard molding, creating a perfect line on the back that marks the edge of the wall exactly.
For inside corners, I usually make my cut for the inside angle ahead of time on the molding and jam the molding into the inside corner of the wall first and try to mark the other side of the piece. This method essentially makes all your inside corners into outside corners. You’re just working in the other direction. Get it? If this verbiage is confusing, let me know and I’ll add some additional pictures to clarify. Maybe I’ll make another video to show how to do this throughout an entire room.
The speed of this method is best realized by allowing the molding to lay past whatever you’re measuring it against. For the examples above, this is done against an outside corner, but it could easily be against another piece of molding.
Hope that helps. If employed properly, you could really move through a molding job. I started using this a while back when I kept mis-measuring my cuts with a tape measure. I’d be off by about 1/8″ and it was driving me nuts!!
Have any additional tips for making molding fly besides throwing it?
Posted by John on January 6th, 2012
I want to try something a little different here so bare with me. I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of hiring a contractor to do something that I can do on my own. It’s just not in my nature. I’ll make exceptions to that rule, like when I’m too afraid of heights to paint our 2 story vestibule or like when the scope of the work is above my time and capacity (like building a home myself). Other than that, if I can do it, I want to do it. That’s why they call us DIYers right? So when I DO hire someone, in addition to getting the work done, I’d like to learn something from the experience. That’s why I’m starting this post category, to share what I’ve learned from an experience after the fact, whether it be from a contractor or from a job that I’ve completed myself.
The first time I had the idea to learn something from a contractor I was in a bind. Way back in 2004, I had just bought my first home and some guys were hanging drywall (I didn’t really know how to do much DIY back then). My father was over and we were doing some other small project. All of a sudden, we had water pouring into our living room. We had no idea where is was coming from. It was raining at the time, but not heavy enough to account for the amount of water building up in the house. I immediately turned off the water supply and we discovered that one of the drywall hangers had punctured a copper pipe with a drywall screw. To make matters worse, it’s 6pm and the next day I was going to Japan for two weeks and I had a roommate that needed that water while I was gone for obvious reasons. No problem. My father and I would repair it. We went to the local hardware store and got some couplings, some flux, sandpaper. We got this. After four hours of trying, we failed. This little pipe kept leaking. At 10pm we made the decision to call an emergency plumber. At around 1am this guy stopped by and knocked this repair out in 5 minutes flat. For $250! Knowing this would not be a cheap fix (relative to the size of the work), I asked the plumber to show me exactly how to do this and he explained to me what I was doing wrong. I felt much better about the expense of the repair knowing that I basically got a plumbing lesson out of it.
When I hired the painter for my vestibule, I genuinely didn’t think I would get much of a lesson out of it. But I did learn a couple things.
1. Taping. This guy didn’t tape a thing. He free-handed everything. I did a comparison to his work in the vestibule to mine in the living room. Despite the fact that I tape my trim, his cutting-in was cleaner. Let me show you what I’m talking about.
I taped and painted the molding around this banister. You can clearly see that I had bleed thru from the paint. That occurs where the tape doesn’t create a solid seal. I have this problem in several areas throughout the room. It’s not a big deal, but it does require some touching-up.
What was his secret? He used a quality brush and he has a LOT of practice. According to him, he uses a Wooster brush. For the rest of our painting, I picked up a Purdy brush, so we’ll see if I can improve on my earlier work. I’ll try working without
a net tape.
2. The roller. He used a serious roller. They looked like mops. I’ve always used disposable rollers and haven’t had any issues. I like the idea that you can take them off and throw them out when you’re done with them. But my rolling occasionally makes areas with varying shine to them, almost like I missed a spot. And that’s with two coats. His work was even with a consistent appearance. He told me he uses Colossus rollers by Purdy.
So that’s my lesson’s learned from hiring a pro painter. I hope you get something out of this, I sure did.
Have you ever learned some tips from hiring a pro? Did it make it easier to justify paying for it?