Category Archives: Demolition

Vintage Door vs. Open Floor-plan

Livingroom glass door
the 30 inch vintage door. gorgeous!
the now 40"+ wall opening where the door once was.
the now 40″+ wall opening where the door once was.

There is a beautiful vintage glass panel door that separated the living room from the rest of the house, which I was actually quite excited to use when I have client meetings, but when we removed the door and the trim we found out exactly why they used 8″ wide trim – the wall opening was much larger than the 30″ door! Jason and I talked it over and decided we’d repurpose the door elsewhere in the house (linen closet? frost the glass and use it on Jason’s office?) so we could widen the opening to help the flow of the house. It made a huge aesthetic difference, and it made it much easier to move furniture in when the time came.

I am a little sad I won’t be able to close off my “office” from the rest of the house and that we won’t have that gorgeous door hanging there any more but it will give me further incentive to get the garage insulated and drywalled so I can have another place to work.

Rose Pink Carpet

Due to our limited budget this winter we won’t be replacing any flooring that we take out during our initial renovations so we made the tough decision to live with concrete flooring downstairs instead of the existing rose pink carpet for two reasons;

a.) since this was Jason’s grandmother’s home for as long as he can remember the more stark visual changes we can make, the more like a new home it will feel for him and the more comfortable he will be, and

b.) because dusty rose is not a color you’ll likely find in our interior design palette. Ever.

office carpet tackstripThe carpet tack-strip was nailed into the concrete slab so we pried that all up as carefully as possible in order to not leave too many pock marks. Since the cottage began as a horse barn and then we think later became a car garage, it was really neat to meet the old garage floor under all that carpet; oil stains, splattered paint and a rough finish texture made for some interesting character.

Though we pulled up all the pink carpet from downstairs we did, however, leave it on the stairs for now. We both agreed that some rose pink on the stairs is better than plywood splinters on bare feet. ;)

Whirlwind Winter and Kitchen Electrical

So the good news is I have been unexpectedly graced with a plethora of photo (and video!?) gigs since the beginning of January, and the one unfortunate effect of such livelihood awesomeness is that I’ve not had as many chances to work at Brake Manor as hoped, and the lack of progress is starting to make me nervous.

Alrighty, so since I’ve been such a slacker at documenting our progress, I’ll start where I left off and in the next few days I’ll work on writing up each task we’ve accomplished so far.

The kitchen floor cement sanding is fiiiinally finished and it looks great. We’re really excited to slap some sealant on it and see it all glossed up and sassy. There are a lot of larger pebbles in some areas of the cement which gives it a neat pattern now that it’s been sanded down.

Next, we brought in a master electrician friend in mid January and at every turn he’d shake his head and slowly say “oh gawd” as he inspected the electrical system, so we knew we had to tackle the worst of that before anything else.

electrical panel diagramIt took me about 4 hours to go through the house and identify all circuits since none of them were labeled beyond generic terms such as “front of the house” and “half of the kitchen”. To start,  I arbitrarily renumbered the breakers just to have a clean starting point. Then I used a little light-up outlet tester and made passes through the house checking each unknown outlet with one breaker turned off at a time, marking them off on my room map as I went.  On those rogue outlets that didn’t seem to match any of the breakers, I plugged in my boombox and blared it loud enough that I could sit in the attic and flip each switch until I found the one that killed the noise.

My little map I made for documenting our work.
My little map I made for documenting our work.

Once we knew which breakers controlled what, the next project was to open up two of the four kitchen walls and pull out all the electrical. The plan was to reinstall it correctly while moving existing outlets to standard heights and locations, and we decided to add a few more while we were at it. It was a royal mess in those walls. Random uses of 14-12 gauge wires; no grounding on the garbage disposal; splice after ghetto splice; nothing stapled down; each outlet was at a different height and one was even embedded into the window trim for some reason… it was so much fun learning the do’s and don’ts of electrical as we pulled the old work from the walls.

20130208 Brake Manor Reno-5_WEB
Left wall: old electrical. Right wall: new electrical. Much better!

As soon as the old kitchen wiring was removed on the South wall Dad gave me a how-to lesson on the first two outlets and then we split up and tackled the rest of the kitchen. Learning life lessons from my dad makes me realize just how lucky I am to have him around and it also makes me feel a little sad that he never had a son he could teach these things to since he’s such a DIYer (unfortunately his only son, Seth, has Down Syndrome). I figure a handy-girl daughter who is eager for any wisdom he’s willing to impart unto her has still got to be better than nothing though.

Jason and Dad posing against their will for my documentation :)
Jason and Dad posing against their will for my documentation :)

Dad and Jason added a 3-way circuit to one of the two kitchen lights since there was no switch by the hallway entry. It took me a while to wrap my brain around the logistics of how to wire up a 3-way but Dad made schematic sketches on the back of some drywall for me and it finally clicked. I can’t help but be amused at what someone will find in our walls down the road on the next remodel adventure; shopping-list notes, circuit drawings, and several mushy J+A=Forever‘s drawn on the backs of the drywall.

Just me, workin' on some electrical.
Just me, workin’ on some electrical.

When we removed the wallpaper in the kitchen we had found phone numbers and ToDo notes on the drywall by where the phone jack was which made me remember how much history this cool little cottage of ours has already seen just since it’s last makeover. We also found pennies, 22-bullets, seeds, toys and newspaper clippings in the walls from whomever did the last renovation so we’re going to be sure to at least add some coins from 2013 in all the walls we’ve worked on too.


How to Remove Thin Set from Concrete Floor

The Last of the Tilehicans. It was actually a little sad tearing out the last one.
The Last of the Tile’hicans.
It was a little sad to remove the last one from it’s place.

I originally thought the task of removing tiles from concrete was a dirty, thankless job but now that I’ve moved onto separating the Thin-Set from the concrete I have a renewed respect for the folks who do this sort of work for a living.

As usual, I Googled for answers on what to do for this next step of my project and I found that using a floor buffer with a $350+ diamond disc is the best way to sand the thin-set from concrete floors – but between renting the buffer machine and buying the diamond disc (you can’t rent, you have to buy those), it would have cost $500-700 which would have negated the money-saving purpose of sanding the concrete floor so we can stain it in the first place. Re-tiling the floor would have cost around the same amount.

This is the diamond cup I used to grind down over 300 sqft of thin-set. Do not try this at home!
This is the 4.5″ diamond cup I used to grind down over 300 sqft of thin-set.
Do not try this at home!

Alternatively, I realized they make diamond discs for the cute little 4.5″ grinder that came free with our SRS roto hammer drill… so the conversation in my head went like this:

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Do you realize how long it would take you to finish 320+ square feet of floor with a 4.5″ diamond disc?”

“So what? We do what we have to in order to save mass amounts of cheese. The mini diamond disc is only $40 and we don’t have to rent a machine for it so we can take as long as we want to finish the job. I don’t see a problem here.”

“Psh, I’m glad it’s you and not me having to do all that grinding.   ….wait!”

“Too late! I bought the mini disc and we’re doin’ this! Game on!”

So the disc was purchased and while Jason finished removing the last of the tile in the laundry and downstairs bath, I started grinding. I tried wet grinding and I tried dry grinding. Both had their perks but I decided wet grinding was too slow and too messy to clean up with the shop vac. Apparently those little vacuum attachments that suck up the dust as you grind are not a big seller so none of the local tool stores carry them. Because of this, I decided to grind a few square feet then vacuum the area as best I could to try to keep the dust to a minimum… haha! What a sweet, ignorant woman-child I was.

This is the dust accumulation from only about 3 hours of grinding.
This is the dust accumulation from only about 3 hours of grinding.

Dust. Dust EVERYWHERE! After grinding about 12 square inches the room would be thick with a fog of dust. It was terrible.

I finally figured out that by leaving all doors and windows open and blasting a work fan on the area I was grinding I could at least keep visibility around 85-90% and I could do more than a foot of grinding between vacuumings.

I am fully aware that this was not the best, nor the safest way to go about the job and I apologize to any neighbors that might have been hit with my could of dust – but after working for 7 hours and seeing only about 30 square feet of progress you get a little crazed and desperate. I worked on this project for over two weeks, making very little progress every day… near the end of the project I was often in tears over how sick of grinding I was.


Lanna bruised knees Lanna dusty Lanna hand

Thank heavens I had the amazing respirator I had, it would have been extremely dangerous had I not worn that level of protection. The dust wound up in every nook and cranny of my ears, nails, between my toes and other odd places. My skin began to break out in rashes all over and became scabbed and rough as if I’d been sandblasted. My hair became dry and brittle and nearly impossible to wash because the trapped dust turned to cement mud as soon as I hopped in the shower. My knees were bruised all over from kneeling for so many hours even though I wore kneepads. My hand joints became so sore and achey that I felt like I was getting a terrible case of arthritis – I am only now, 4 days after finishing the project, starting to not feel such pain in my hands.

The moral of this story is that there are some projects that aren’t worth taking extreme shortcuts on. This was one of them. If you need to grind thin-set from the floor of a small room, say 80-100 sqft., then using a diamond disc on an angle grinder will work beautifully and the project should only take a couple of days and cost you a measly $40 plus a replacement shop vac filter. Otherwise, hire a pro or at least rent the appropriate tools if you can afford them. Other tools you may want to consider when grinding thin-set are:

  • an awesomesauce shop vac and a spare filter
  • a wire scrub brush to loosen up the mud residue if you’re doing wet grinding
  • goggles are better than safety glasses – the dust will really irritate your eyes
  • knee pads
  • good jammin’ tunes so you don’t go mad listening to the grinder screech for hours
  • Full body clothes and gloves. Expose yourself to the dust as little as possible
This is an example of the thin-set I was working with. it was between 1/4" and 1/2" thick in places. The smooth area near the door is how it looked after I worked on it.
This is an example of the thin-set I was working with. it was between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick in places. The smooth area near the door is how it looked after I worked on it.
The floor is finished! The dust clean up took me another 3 hours and 3 clean-outs of the shop vac.
The floor is finished! The dust clean up took me another 3 hours and 3 clean-outs of the shop vac.

How to Remove Tile From Concrete

Welcome to Home Renovation Jeopardy!

Answer: SRS Roto Hammer Drill

Question: How to get those damn tiles off of a concrete floor without breaking my back?

MakitaAfter struggling to find a means of removing the tile in the kitchen I stumbled across a YouTube video demonstrating how well a rotary hammer drill accomplishes this task.  Soon after, I found a deal on a 1″ roto drill and a “free” 4.5″ grinder for only $199 at Home Depot (I swear I’m not trying to promote Home Depot, they’re just the only decent home improvement box store in my area) and once I realized that for the same price of renting a massive tile stripper machine for one day I could play for keeps with a hammer drill and grinder, the drill and grinder won. I mean, hey, I should have plenty of projects in the future to use those on.

As much fun as it is, tile removal is not a pretty job. It’s dusty (for health’s sake, wear your dust masks, people!!), and noisy, and not at all glamourous. Expect to get hit with loads of flying tile shards as you work. But daaamn does it feel good to rip into materials as solid as ceramic tile and concrete like they’re butter under a warm knife! I also love the fact that a hammer drill is just as easy for a weakling like myself to use as it is for a buff man. All you have to do is gently press the drill to the edge of the tile and off it goes! It does all the hard work for you, and in fact, it works better if you put little effort into it at all.

In roughly 8 hours of work time we’ve removed all floor tiles in the house except for the ones in the laundry room and downstairs bath. The only reason we haven’t knocked those out yet is because we need to keep a door or window open so our fan can help manage the dust and the weather simply hasn’t been cooperating this week. Right now, as I type, it’s a balmy 2°f out there. ::shivers::

Tomorrow through Friday should be much warmer, around 45°, and hopefully I can finish all tile removal by the weekend so I can start cleaning up the 1/8″ of cement dust currently resting on EVERYTHING in the kitchen. Yuck.

Coming soon: how to grind Thin Set (the cement-like glue stuff you’ll find under the tiles) off of cement.

You can't see it, but we're giving our fiercest tile battling war-cries under those masks.
You should know we’re giving our fiercest tile battling war-cries under those masks.


Silica Crysta-What Now??

*Huchhh Kshh*Luuuke... I am your contractor.
*Huchhh Kshh*
Luuuke… I am your contractor.

Ever heard of Asbestos? Who hasn’t! We all know it’s super dangerous and shouldn’t be disturbed since the airborne particles cause lung cancer.

Ever heard of Silica Crystalline? No? Neither had I until I was two days into tearing up our tile floors -donning nothing more than a ghetto dust mask- and received a what-the-holy-crap-are-you-doing?! tip from my concerned father. Apparently, airborne Silica Crystalline is in all things cement and ceramic and is just as dangerous as our old friend Asbestos. It just hasn’t gotten the same press. Silica really needs to fire her PR manager and hook up with Asbestos’ agency because they’re really doing a fab job about getting the word out.

If you are planning to do any work with ceramic tiles or concrete grinding check out these informative links before you get started:

Concrete Polishing Magazine (Weird, right? But seriously, it’s a real magazine) 

These are the masks we picked up at Home Depot for under $40 each. We decided they would be useful on all future projects  so we sprang for the heavy duty ones. And believe it or not, these beastly masks are way more comfortable (and easier to breathe in) than those flimsy paper dust masks.

Safe renovating, my friends!

Renovations: Day 6

This past week has been so much fun for me; ripping into walls and smashing tiles, tearing down cabinets and diligently learning -via YouTube videos- how to do each step of all of these projects.  I’ve spent the week alone in Brake Manor (while my sweet hubby works the day job so we can afford to do this…) with the tunes cranked and donning my dust mask and goggles like a rockstar.  Jason was able to come work with me this weekend and the job was even more fun with him at my side. [insert girly swoon here]

As of this morning, here’s where we’re at:

Gas Leak1. the final gas leak has been found and repaired. I eventually gave up and had to call in a pro. It turns out the leak was a lengthwise split in one of the pipes deep in an inaccessible attic-space.  It was an expensive fix but the fact that I didn’t have to swim in loose fiberglass insulation made it totally worth it.

No Wallpaper2. all wallpaper has been removed, sans behind the toilet in the downstairs bath. I’m still a little afraid to remove the toilet yet. I also scraped all the popcorn (non-asbestos popcorn, don’t worry) from the ceiling.

3. the vanity in the bathroom has been removed, walls have been cleaned off and are ready for a skim coat (sans, of course, behind the toilet. I figure I’ll try to do that tonight when Jason can help me lift it).

4. all kitchen wall cabinets and backsplash tiles have been removed, and all lower cupboards except for the one with the sink have been detached so they can be shifted around as we work on the floor.

With Kitchen CabinetsWithout Kitchen Cabinets

5. demo on the kitchen tile is about halfway done. We wanted to leave the cute white tile with charcoal grout but the floor wasn’t tiled under the cabinets (as you can see on the right hand side of the above photos), and we were unable to find the same tile anywhere so we had to do it since we don’t plan on keeping the same cabinet configuration.

I’ve taken today off to catch up on my day-job duties and research options for grinding the Thin-set off of the concrete where the tiles used to be, but hopefully this evening I can head back over to the Manor to kock out a few more floor tiles and move that toilet. The rest of the week is supposed to be a balmy 46-48˚which will make it a little less miserable to run the fresh-air fan with an open door while sanding; but then it’s supposed to drop back into the 20’s and snow on Saturday. Here’s hoping I can manage to finish tearing up the floor and make all the runs to the dump before the snow hits.

…and Let the Renovations Begin!

OMG it's ours!
OMG it’s ours!

Closing went smoothly -Jason’s mom and brother acted as POA’s for Grandma and came to the signing- and for some bizarre reason I was completely zen all morning beforehand. We all smiled and laughed and said our goodbyes after we were finished at closing but the the moment Jason and I got in the car I broke down in a hot mess of tears. The relief and finality of the closing allowed me to let go and start to feel that little-kid excitement about our new place again.

Once my tears were mostly dried we picked up a bottle of Prosecco and stopped at Chipotle for a to-go lunch and had ourselves a picnic in the loft of the new house. The champagne bottle exploded as we opened it -flying cork slamming into the ceiling and all- and we got champagne all over the carpet. At first we both looked at each other with an “oh shit, Grandma’s going to be so mad!”, and then we both smiled and shrugged because we realized it was now our carpet we were ruining. It’s a good thing we are planning to replace it anyhow.

Our Prosecco and Chipotle carpet picnic in the loft
Our Prosecco and Chipotle carpet picnic in the loft

The last week has been overly busy and we’ve only had a few hours at the new house but so far we’ve moved all of grandma’s remaining belongings into the garage so Jason’s mom can take them to storage, torn into the wall behind the dryer to get at that pesky gas leak (or we found a leak, anyway. It may not be the only one up there), now I just need to find a few pipe wrenches to see if we can just tighten the leak away.  We also bought a little steamer and started removing the wallpaper in Jason’s office and the West kitchen wall. It’s such a tedious task but it’ll be so great to have it gone! The back-splash tiles in the kitchen will also be going away so I started slowly chipping at them too. Demolition… feels good, man.

This weekend was a fairly stressful one between shooting a 12 hour frigid December wedding and getting my 4Runner stuck in a snowy mountain ditch (another story for another time…), so it felt really good for both Jason and I to put on our work clothes, turn up the tunes and start working on our house together.  The stress melted away as we worked and all that’s left of the weekend now is our sore muscles and big smiles.

A few backsplash tiles removed.
A few backsplash tiles removed.
Steaming wallpaper on the kitchen wall. It was adhered to raw drywall so it's coming off a little rougher than we'd hoped.
Steaming the kitchen wallpaper off. It was adhered to raw drywall so it’s coming off a little rougher than we’d hoped. I have a feeling we’ll be getting really good at mudding in the near future. ;)


I’m heading back over to the house this morning to continue steaming the wallpaper but I think I might stop by our discount grocery first and pick up a few food items so it feels a bit more like home while I work. I keep brewing coffee every time I go over there in hopes that it will start smelling a little more like home too.

Our cozy cottage blanketed in snow. *swoon*
Our cozy cottage blanketed in snow. *swoon*