Wednesday, October 31, 2007


    In honor of fall, Halloween, Home Depot, Xango, pumpkins, Rocky's pedestrian flags, Brighton High School, hunting apparel, cantaloupes, road construction cones, my little brother's Datsun 240Z, candy corn, and pollution sunsets, we painted our living room bright orange.

    The orange isthmus:

    The orange comet (from Kersten, "whoops"):

    We've got two coats of paint on it, but it might take a third because we can see a few uneven spots. Bright colors often take more than two coats for full coverage, anyway.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    This little light of mine

    It's been interesting to pull things off the wall in this condo and see what's underneath. I found two layers of wallpaper under the light fixture in the office — one was green stripes and the other was brown with cream leaves.

    Other than being interesting, it's been plain fun to rip off ugly light fixtures from ugly walls. We happily said goodbye to this bathroom beauty:

    Monday, October 29, 2007


    I've sheetrocked as much of the laundry space and pantry as I can do before I need a plumber to return my phone calls and pull a drain line up from the carport below our kitchen for our future washer. Mudding is a lot harder than you might think it is. Here's what it looks like:

    It takes about three days because you have to let the first coat of mud dry, then sand, then reapply the mud, then sand, then reapply the mud and sand again before it's ready to paint.

    Sunday, October 28, 2007

    Wallpaper: update

    It looks like my mad skills in removing wallpaper paid off — we won't need to hide any sins on the bedroom wall with another coat of the stuff. It's taking to paint just fine.

    So, even though I still love twenty2, we're not going to have need of their lovely product.

    Instead, we're planning on using the same green color that was in our old living room (scroll down on the link to get to it).

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Ode to Duchamp

    I'm thinking of sending this piece to the SFMOMA:

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Reason No. 39458...

    ...why you need to keep an eye on me:

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Vanilla never looked so good

    Our first coat of primer:


    I'm so proud!

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007


    It seems that we're hitting about one major diversion a week — seasons of Felicidades, Arcade Fire, and a long weekend trip to Colorado with its fragile tundra. (This is where the blog takes a break from the depressing problem of a level floor to gloat about some fun.)

    We have some good friends in Denver who were persuaded to join us in Vail for a few days. It was deserted and lovely with color. The only problem was that Vail seems to revolve exclusively around the ski resort, which is closed for summer and not yet open for winter. Our tentative plans to rent mountain bikes was foiled by the lack of open outfitters and weird looks when we asked locals (i.e. construction workers) what to do for kicks.

    Having tapped out Vail's potential in a 20-minute walk around the town Thursday, we took a drive to Aspen and over Independence Pass on Friday. We'd like to pretend that we timed our Aspen drive-through with the 10-year anniversary of John Denver's death. His ghost was visiting the Gucci boutique in town.

    We drove from Aspen over Independence Pass, a crazy two-lane road that dabbles in scariness with high drop offs, one-lane stretches, and steep switchbacks. The top of the pass at 12,095 feet made it difficult to walk more than about five steps without taking a break (home of the fragile tundra). The views were spectacular, though.

    We also got to know the loveliest stretch of interstate in all the west — I-70's Glenwood Canyon. We hiked a straight vertical trail to a hanging lake with some friends. Also beautiful.

    Tai promises me that we're done dinking around with silly things such as vacations. It's hard work now until the end. Stay tuned.

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Nature's subfloor

    We happily spent last weekend negotiating this:

    It's like floor problems, in a way, I suppose. More pictures soon (plus some honest-to-goodness remodeling action).

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Can you say gazillion?

    I'm learning painfully that there are a million little things you have to do before accomplishing one of the big things. For instance, if the big thing is to lay down level subfloor, this is the list:

    1. Rip up first layer of sub-floor
    2. Rip up second layer of sub-floor
    3. Cut the sub-floor layers into manageable sizes
    4. Use a razor blade and prybar to pull any remaining tidbits of subfloor off the floor joists
    5. Pull up any nails
    6. Use a sawzall to trim the edges of the subfloor up against the base of the walls
    7. Remove debris that collected in the insulation between floor joists
    8. Buy a ton of 2"x6" boards and screws at Lowe's
    9. Set up a string level across the floor joists
    10. Drop the 2"x6" boards between the joists and nail in
    11. De-jam the jammed nail gun
    12. Check the level of the joists
    13. Measure for and cut the cross-braces (made of 2"x4" boards)
    14. Pound the cross-braces into place and nail in with a nail gun
    15. Mark lines on the walls showing where the joists run on the floor
    16. Place the first layer of sub-floor on top of the joists to see how it fits
    17. Trim the first layer of sub-floor to fit the space
    18. Chalk lines on the sub-floor board to see where the joists run underneath (to make for a sturdy screwing process)
    19. Screw down the first layer of sub-floor (Repeat 16-19 for the four boards of sub-floor)
    20. Seal gaps in the floor with polyurethane insulating foam sealant
    21. Mix and pour self-leveling concrete to level the tricky spots of the floor; let dry 12 hours
    22. Lay out the hardibacker board (cement fiberboard and second layer of sub-floor) to see how it fits
    23. Lay down tarp under area you'll use to trim the backerboard to avoid cancer
    24. Trim the backer board to fit
    25. Screw down the backer board (the kitchen floor took nearly 600 screws total)


    Monday, October 8, 2007

    Selling point

    Strangest thing they left behind:

    We're totally keeping it.

    Saturday, October 6, 2007

    Known carcinogens

    Even with all this work on the floor, there were two sections that weren't exactly level. They were spots of the floor where it wasn't practical to repeat the processes we've used on the rest of the floor. One of these was the length of the wet wall in the kitchen, about one foot deep by eight feet long. Another was a little patch in the middle of the floor where the crooked joists didn't line up for enough sub-floor support.

    The solution was a batch of self-leveling concrete. This was the warning label:

    Having a level floor *might* just be worth the exposure to these known or probable human carcinogens...

    Friday, October 5, 2007

    Level footed

    The lack of posting this week hasn't been due to a lack of work — it's been a week of tedium, frustration, dedication, and eventual reward. (I'm trying to write this with Tai's attitude, seeing as how remodeling is not in my Top, oh, 5,000 favorite activities.)

    Tai and his father attacked a lot of the floor last Saturday, but that day's work didn't even begin to accomplish what we needed. If we were working on this project full-time, we would have finished it days ago, but since we're evening and weekend warriors the tasks have been spread out and necessarily sharing time with trips to Lowe's, work, sleep, eating, and episodes of "The Office" and "30 Rock." By the end of Saturday, even though Tai and his father put in a good 10-hour day, we still had a joist-and-fiberglass "floor."

    On Monday, we finished leveling and cross-bracing the joists to make sure that we had a sturdy foundation for all that slate tile we're planning. While most of the joists were too low, in the middle of the floor bordering a steel beam two joists were riding about half-an-inch too high. Tai used a bit of the muscle that his sister/trainer helped him develop to plane away the top of the joists on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. He also finished cross-bracing everything Wednesday, setting the stage for one awesome party Thursday night.

    Thursday night we screwed all night. Screwed and screwed and unscrewed and rescrewed the crooked screws. We got four of the five sub-floor sheets down and SCREWED IN TIGHT. I cannot communicate how gratifying it was to step on a floor that didn't give, dip, squeak, mush or compress under my foot.

    I also cannot communicate how poorly I handle a power drill. Have you ever been lucky enough to have the "help" of a younger relative with a project — that special niece/nephew/child/grandchild who just really wants to help but has no idea what to do and ends up getting in the way and actually creating more work for you? I am that person, only with a more colorful vocabulary.

    Tai's rock-star father and his rock-star nail gun came by for more help on Friday. The two of them finished the fifth panel of sub-floor, which was in a tricky corner of the kitchen where we hope to add a washer/dryer unit and additional pantry space. They also framed out the walls necessary for those accoutrement.

    The rest of the weekend will require additional fiddling with the framing, dropping a ceiling panel above our future washer/dryer's home corner, and installing hardi-backer (a cement fiberboard subfloor layer) on top of the current subfloor layer. The hardi-backer will form a water-resistant, level layer for the kitchen tile.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007

    Hidden Treasure

    So, one of the surprises I discovered when we took possession of the condo was a kitchen floor that was not level AT ALL. It was like a roller coaster. Perhaps I should have noticed this prior to purchasing, but I didn't. Because we are going to do tile in the kitchen, it is important that we have a solid and level subfloor so that the tiles won't pop off the floor.


    When I pulled up the parquet flooring it became pretty apparent that at some point, the hot water heater had blown and leaked all over the kitchen. Underneath the parquet floor were two layers of subfloor, both of which were fairly water damaged and very spongy to walk on. So two problems with the kitchen floor, not level and spongy and squeaky to walk on.

    Now, how to fix it. This project has taken a bit of time and a lot of effort for the past few days. We determined that the subfloor needed to come out so that we could determine why the floor was not level. Turns out that the joists were all sitting at a different height, probably due to the building settling over time. So, we now knew that we needed to level out the floor joists. But wait, we're not there yet. Pulling up the layers of sub floor was a BIG job.

    My dad came over on Saturday to help us out, and we would have been dead without his help. I spent most of Friday pulling up the top layer of subfloor and cutting it to a size that we could get out of the condo. Then on Saturday we started ripping up the bottom layer. This was significantly harder because unlike the first layer, the bottom layer of subfloor had all the walls built on top of it. First we set the skill saw to cut just barely deeper than the subfloor thickness and cut around the perimeter of the kitchen. Then, using a big crowbar and a lot of brute force we pulled up the floor boards. Rusted nails can make this job a lot harder.

    (Rock star father)

    Once we had pulled up the floor boards, and demolished part of a wall in order to make room for a future washer-dryer, we had to use a reciprocal saw or sawzall, to cut the floor right up against the wall, since we couldn't get as close as needed with the skill saw.

    Now we can move on to leveling the joists out. After consulting with a builder, we came up with a method that will provide a level and secure floor. First we had to pull strings across the exposed joists to determine what level was.

    Then we got to work leveling the joists. We are not yet done with this part of the job. We went until about 9:00 PM on Saturday evening and after the nail gun jammed for the umpteenth time, we determined it was time to quit while were ahead. Before we left though, we laid a piece of the OSB subfloor we bought down on the joists we had leveled out to see if it worked. It was a huge relief to see the bubble on the level sit very nicely in the middle, indicating a level floor.

    Now, all I have to do is finish leveling the rest of the joists, and cross brace them and then screw the new subfloor down, and then we will be ready to really get at the rest of the remodeling, with a sturdy and strong floor in the kitchen.

    Monday, October 1, 2007


    It's gone, but it put up a fight. The internet was a great help in the removal process, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. After a few www searches, I found this handy site and dove right in.

    First step: hot water. Lots and lots of hot water. This first step also might involve going to Settebello with your friends and their cute baby and then roping the friends into helping you light the pilot light on your hot-water heater.

    Our hot water heater came with a healthy warning:

    Even though this particular pilot-lighting adventure ended in disappointment (too dark to turn on the gas to the apartment, thus stymied again), we did get Ellie high on pine sol. Ellie's parents can always blame any future drug habits on this early experience with huffing cleaning fluid!

    A day later, Tai got the pilot light flickering without blowing up, and it was time to stop talking and start doing. The internet suggested that I forget the idea of an electric steamer and instead go with a solution of very hot water and vinegar or fabric softener. I "selected" fabric softener for my removing solution instead of vinegar because Lowe's didn't carry vinegar. In retrospect, I'm really, really glad it worked out that way because I spent the weekend smelling my mountain fresh breeze arms instead of wanting to throw up.

    Kharmic note: don't install wallpaper. Seriously. It couldn't be any more of a pain in the neck to remove, so do the universe a favor and avoid putting it in so that some poor schmuck doesn't have to take it out.

    The process is really wet. I had a toddler moment and stuck a wet rag into that light socket on the right — not as fun as you'd think. Also, taking out wallpaper takes a lot of patience. The first strip was only about eight inches wide, and I approached it thinking that I'd wet down the wall a couple of times, then just peel that sucker off. I ended up spending more time on those eight inches of wallpaper than on the last three sheets I took off.

    By the time I took that photo, I had hit a bit of a system:

    1. Wet down the wall with a paint roller and the hottest water your faucet will provide, mixed about 1:3 with fabric softener.
    2. Wet it down again.
    3. Wet down the strip next to it, just for kicks.
    4. Take some pictures, pick at your fingernails, contemplate how much work you have left to do. (15 minutes)
    5. Pull up the bottom corner of the strip and try to loosen the bottom edge. Use a flat scraper if necessary, but if you've done 1-4 correctly, it should be optional.
    6. Pull very slowly. No, slower.

    Anytime I got too excited and started pulling too quickly, the wallpaper backing tore and left strips on the wall. That meant another wet down with the paint roller and another few minutes of watching the neighbors back into their parking spot outside the window. Seriously not fun.

    When I got to the far end of the wall, I killed the power to the room so as to avoid another toddler moment. What's even more fun than stripping wallpaper? Stripping it in the dark.

    The worst part is that we may have to put up new paper, just to cover the damage to the wall from the glue. We'll get some primer on it soon and see if it's possible to paint.