Monday, January 31, 2011

Basement Boogie: Yippee?

These are the faces of two people who finally finished the wiring and who hope to pass inspection tomorrow. Excited, terrified, hungry for sandwiches, covered in dust and bug carcasses, crazy-eyed.

Cheers to that!
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Basement Boogie: Bright side, dark side

We've been "on the final day of wiring" for nearly a week (but today, we really mean it. No one is sleeping until the basement is wired). It seems like such an easy job - run the Romex cable through our pre-drilled stud holes from box to box and hook the circuits up to the breaker. And, honestly - it is pretty easy. If you get it right.
Cerro Wire 147-1663-G 250-Foot 3-Conductor 12-AWG NMB Romex Cable
Romex nicks easily, so you have to be careful when you're cutting it. Hubs has taken to gently scoring the outer cable and then tugging that off to expose the wires underneath. That seems to be working pretty well.

You also have to plan ahead incredibly well, which typically, Hubs and I are great at doing. One misstep when feeding the Romex through studs and around other obstacles means you've got to pull it out and start over again.

It's a very one-step-forward-two-steps-back process. Add to that the fact that we have run out of Romex twice (both times 20 minutes after the hardware stores closed) and we're starting to loathe all things 'lectric.

So, it's a lot of work and it's tedious and frustrating, but Hubs made a good point yesterday. It's not worth $4,000 (ish). That's what an electrician would have cost (ish). Instead, we spent maybe $400 (ish) on materials and probably nearly 40 (ish) hours huffing and puffing, but we're not only picking up a new skill and bringing the basement to code, we're saving FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS. Around here, that's a boatload of cash. It's 100 batches of homebrew; a floor, couch and TV; new windows for the basement and our drafty bedroom, 400 skeins of classy yarn, or 26 wear-your-nice-pants dinners at a swanky local restaurant.

Verdict: This. Is. Worth. It.

Please remind me of this if we manage to be wrong again and I have to spend tomorrow night wiring, too.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Talkin' shop

I don't know if you're interested in marketing and making the world a better place, but I am.

And I wrote a little bit about that over here today.

Because around here, if it's not basement talk, it's American Heart Month talk. OK, maybe some cat talk. But only during breaks.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Basement Boogie: Behind schedule

Wednesdays are usually our nose-to-the-grindstone night. We work all night and get some dinner delivered and make serious in-roads into this basement rebuilding project.

Last night was supposed to be the night we finished (ok, and started) wiring so that the electrical inspector could come by today and the building inspector could come tomorrow and we'd be drywalling this weekend.

We were thwarted:

  • We had forgot single gang outlet boxes, so I ran to Ace.
  • I got the wrong kind of box, so Hubs made a mad dash to Ace before they closed. (Des Moines, if you open a 24 hour hardware store, I promise to be a loyal customer.)
  • Niles, the new cat who has eaten raw pork, a tube of cat laxatives, salmon skin, wasabi and other trash (we aren't bad cat parents, we're just still learning how to cat-proof EVERYTHING. This guy is worse than a goat.), got into a bowl of leftover Christmas candy we had on the kitchen counter. Which included three mini chocolates. Which we knew was poisonous to dogs and quickly confirmed via Google that the same could apply to cats.

    Hubs returned to the basement while I called the local 24-hour vet, who promptly laughed at me and referred me to the ASPCA poison hotline since she had no experience with cats eating chocolate. The vet on that line said she'd never dealt with cats eating chocolate either. Niles is a true pioneer in his field.

    And don't worry, he's going to be fine. We're watching his eating and (ahem) de-eating habits for the next few days, but both vets said that the small amount of chocolate he consumed would likely just cause some tummy troubles for a day or two and nothing serious.
  • When I got back to the basement, we discovered that the Romex cables we had cut nicked the actual wire and left it exposed (hello, fire risk!). So, we needed to re-wire about half of the work we had managed to get done. 
  • It was 11:30, Fraiser was on and we were tired.

We stopped.

This puts us a few days behind schedule, but we still have plenty we can do this weekend, including build shelves for a recess that has no electrical behind it, frame out the pantry we're creating in the storage room, shop for curtains, order floors, put railings on the stairs and NOT schedule a radon fan installation. Because our current level is perfectly safe! $1,500 - I'm so glad we aren't going our separate ways.

Thanks for reading this Negative Nancy post. To reward you for your loyalty - I'd like to treat you to this wobbly and motion-sickness inducing video tour of the basement (taken sometime last week, before framing).

Basement "during" tour

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Basement Boogie: Ups and downs

One minor design change we're making in the basement that we hope has a big impact is The Changing of the Stairs.

Sounds official, right?

The "old" stairs were closed in with a cement wall on one side and a high drywalled (um) wall on the other. They were dark and made the room feel dark and dreary. 

So, we ripped them down.

OK, maybe not the whole stairs. We ripped down the railing. Because we learned with the deck that stairs are a real pain in the rump to install. So, we're going to recover these and open up the railing.

Here is what we framed up this week:

Our goal is something more open and bright. Like this:

Tonight, we're going to wrap up framing and electrical so we can get inspected before the weekend!

Please tell me your plans are more social and less mole-y than ours.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend in review

My weekend was a rip-roaring good time. The basement is really coming together.

These work pants I've sported since 2004, however, are doing quite the opposite.
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Saturday, January 22, 2011

New address!

No, we have not abandoned all hope of ever finishing the basement and reclaiming our non-dust-covered lives and put the old homestead up for sale.

I got a shiny new URL for this little old blog!

Now, instead of typing in my cryptic address, you can just hop to and enjoy all the rambling you can handle.

You like it?

Friday, January 21, 2011

A new seven Ps

Ah, the seven "p"s: Prior proper planning prevents p*ss poor performance. An adage that has steered me through numerous potentially rocky situations and calmed my nerves when faced with the unknown. What would I do if the microphones don't work at an event? If I loose my shoes at a bowling alley? If the priest forgets to show up at my wedding? If the media throws a big, nasty hardball question into a warm and fuzzy interview? The answer is always the same - Seven P that shizzle! The seven Ps have saved my rump time and time again.

But, there is a new seven Ps in town: Prior proper purchasing prevents p*ss poor pouring.


We, who have no bar built and lack even a finished basement, bought a dual-tap kegerator. 

Logic went as follows: 
  • We need to know how big the kegerator is so we can build the bar snug around it. (see the seven Ps at work?)
  • might not have it if we wait until we're at the point construction-wise wherein we really need the kegerator. (yep, I said and meant "need." Do you know how grumpy homebrewers get without proper beer equipment?)
  • My sad attempts at Craigslist stalking and Twitter pleas did not lead to a used kegerator.
  • It has two taps! Two homebrews at once!
  • Shiny!
  • New!
  • Bigger!
  • Better!
  • Best!
Makes perfect sense.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Basement Boogie: Star studded

After the insulation comes framing. We did the top section first because on exterior walls, you just have to hang a bob plumb down and voila - the bottoms are that much easier to secure. Interior walls are easy peasy because you just attach the studs and plates (plates are horizontal and studs are vertical. Thank you, basement remodeling book from the library that we have been renewing since December.) right to the wall.

The issue we had was that one wall ran parallel to our joists (you know, the beams that keep the first floor from becoming the basement and the attic from becoming the first floor?) and we kinda needed something to attach the studs to.

Enter: faux studs (fuds? Notsomuch.).
We cut 2x4s to fit in between the sill and the joist.
And wedged them in good and tight. A few screws and we were set to begin the fun that is framing.
 From here, we were able to make good progress on the top part of the frames.
While Hubs took the lead on securing the plates, I appointed myself lead measurer and (wo)manned the saw.
Now, we've got a top plate around the exterior walls and are starting to lay bottoms and studs (blushing, but maintaining mature demeanor).
My least favorite part about the bottom plate and interior studs is that we have to use a nail gun that fires using .22 caliber shots. So, it's like, literally a nail GUN, which I did not realize until Hubs started using it, the cats hid under the bed and I felt compelled to hover behind him with my cell ready to dial 9-1-1. 

I have been assured many times that this device cannot slip out of his hands and send a .22 powered steel nail into his skull or the skull of his lovely wife. That it would fire right into the wall as soon as his grip slipped anyway.


I don't trust this sneaky death machine.

Aside from that, framing is keeping me happy as a pig in mud. We're hoping to get it wrapped up this weekend!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Basement Boogie: Thinkin' pink

Sunday was a real whiz-bang day for the mole-people of this blog. Hubs spent the day playing with the Rotozip the house generously gave him for Christmas (thereby upstaging the totally awesome polos I gave him. Because the house looooves to make me look cheap. (Have I crossed that crazy line yet? I feel like this is getting really close to hoarding cats and talking only through the magical art of  puppetry.)) and sealing up the sump pump so we can finally pass a radon test. (My pals at the American Lung Association tell me this month is National Radon Action Month, so if you live in a high-risk area, it's a great time to get your house checked out.)

Meanwhile, I was left to my own devices and a stack of 24 sheets of Foamular insulation.

I cut them to size (they all had to be taken down about a foot to accommodate for our short ceiling) and punched out places for weird bump-outs and windows.

Then, I slapped some caulk on the back and smooshed the panel on the wall before taping them together with my new favorite thing - Tyvek tape. It looks wimpy, but is quite sticktastic (word coinage!).

Now, with the exterior walls wrapped in insulation, you can really feel the difference. Going below ground in a t-shirt in January was not a thing in our "old" basement. Now, it's totally comfortable - maybe just three to five degrees cooler than upstairs. Imagine how amazingly toasty it will be once we put in two baseboard heaters.

Oh. To be lounging in my basement in a t-shirt, shorts and no slippers. In February. What a dream!

Also, in case you haven't heard the great news: my BFF Reba is coming back to Iowa this summer. This can only mean one thing; I have to start plotting t-shirts and dips for Preba II.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Basement Boogie: Major Accomplishment

On August 6, 2010, our basement was Very Wet. By August 8, all wet carpet had been removed and the drywall followed the next week. On October 11, the basement was professionally water-proofed with a French drain system. And on January 15, 2011, a mile stone was reached by two pioneering DIY-enthusiasts. Yes, friends, the vapor barrier around the perimeter of the house was completed that fateful day. And so the walls of the basement became Very Dry.

A long journey, but very much worth it.

Here's how it all went down.

We used a 6 Mil plastic sheet (anything 4 Mil or thicker is good enough for a vapor barrier, but you know how we like to get all kinds of extra fancy around here), a bazillion (OK, 13) tubes of caulk and a staple gun to secure the sheet to the sills around the exterior walls.

Our first step was to vacuum up the cobwebs and other nastiness 
 Then, Hubs stapled along the top and I followed with caulk.
Once the top caulk was dry, we cut the bottoms to size and caulked them into the flange of the French Drain.

 Lovely! Dry!

Of course, no home improvement project would be complete without a little graffiti.

So, with the basement dry - we were ready for the next step: making it warm. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Basement Boogie: Eating My Words

You guys? Did I say that demo was done?

Why didn't anyone smack my hands away from the keyboard before I typed that?

For it seems that just as we were making headway with the vapor barrier (which you'll see more of soon, you lucky ducks), we discovered a snag. An electrical snag. If you are familiar with home improvement snag-age or have ever seen Holmes on Homes, you probably expected this. Unlike me.

Said snag may require the demo of the ceiling in the front room of the basement. Being the little optimist I am, I acknowledge the yuckiness of this potential side-track (more dust, more demo, another freaking Bagster (bringing the total for this mess to four! Ay yi yi.)) and choose instead to celebrate the possibilities:

  • We can dump the old DIY-in-a-bad-way lighting and put in lights that, oh, I don't know....match.
  • Snag will be improved.
  • I'm willing to bet that drywalling a ceiling will lead to some buffness in the shoulder region.
So, who knows - the ceiling may go, it may stay, but either way I'm now itching to change out the lights. Thank you, Bigger, Better, Best mindset. 

Who else has a snag tale to tell?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Basement Boogie: Dusty Trail

Because of our fancy new R-4 insulation, the walls will be thicker than they used to be. This meant we had to rip down the perimeter of the ceiling to make room for 4 more inches of insulation, drywall and studs.

We measured 4 inches from the wall and chalked a cut line. Then, Hubs went around with a circular saw and I followed with the prybar.

We did have to work carefully around a bulkhead and the whole house got dusty from all that drywall cutting, but otherwise, it wasn't too bad.

We did generate another Bagster-worth of debris, but we can finally say that demo is done. For real this time.

With all the quality basement time we logged this weekend, we were brainstorming new layouts to make the space even more functional. Among the changes: a new laundry configuration and the ditching of the awkward bed we used to have sitting under the window next to the stairs. Instead, we think a sleeper sofa will do just fine and create a nice reading area to complement the new built-ins on the opposite wall. (We're shooting for something half as magnificent as Sara's women cave built-ins.)

During this whole remimagining-of-the-space time, we also cooked up ways to turn our galley kitchen (flanked by stairs and an exterior wall) into an open plan, the addition of three bedrooms and a bath to our unfinished walk-up attic, and potential gut jobs of the entire north half of the house to create a first-floor master and powder room. It was bigger, better, best-ing at it's best. Stay tuned, these projects just might all become real!

Next up? Vapor barriers and a custom sump-pump cover to prevent radon from sneaking its way inside. If all goes well, we might even be framing this weekend!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Basement Boogie: Tons O Fun

Saturday, Hubs and I were up with the sun to grab some donuts and coffee before picking up our U-Haul and beginning the days adventures.

We started at Home Depot, where we grabbed a few small items like masks and nails and new utility knives as well as 65 sheets of drywall and 120 2x4x8s. Which. Is a ton of materials. Literally.

Luckily, the fine employees of HD loaded everything into our truck, so our backs were spared for the time being. We used tons of gift cards, given to us by our basement sponsors (aka our generous family members who showered us with HD gift cards at Christmas), so our wallet wasn't even smarting too bad.

Then, the plan was to head to Menard's for insulation and trim. Sadly, the insulation at Menard's was soaking wet, to the point where it had a puddle beneath it and one of us may have been shocked by this blatant mistreatment of materials, declaring that she would NOT be taking home WET insulaTION and RUINING a brand new, totally DRY basement quite loudly. Luckily, the one of us who had a break down has a supportive spouse who quietly agreed, put the insulation back and steered her toward the trim, effectively ending the public ranting.

Anyway, we aren't going back to Menard's anytime soon. (mutter mutter who leaves insulation in water mutter mutter) (Side story: Once Hubs got a can of trail mix at Menard's that said some of the ingredients were imported from "Chili." We don't buy snacks at Menard's anymore, either).

We got our trim and headed back to Home Depot for the insulation, where it was stored in a very dry location.

Then, it was unloading time. The insulation was a breeze to take to the basement and the 2x4s weren't bad, but oh! Why didn't I know how heavy drywall was? Luckily, Hubs was well aware and bought two of these handy handles to help out.

Stanley 93-301 14-Inch Yellow Panel Carry Handle
Even still, moving 2,000 pounds of anything isn't fun, so by the time we got it all downstairs, I was wiped out and left unable to make a normal face. 

Did I mention it was 10 degrees out? Because it was.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back to the future

Two years to the day before we vowed to love each other forever, this happened.

I give myself points for being realistic and also planning ahead as well as problem solving. Minus points for stuttering in a Facebook post.

You win some, you lose some.

*For the record, I believe my soup-making record (much like my birthday meal record) was one success.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Basement Boogie: Demo-licious

Yep. 2006 never really ended in this little noggin.

While I was up in the gym, just a-workin' on my fitness, Hubs was gettin' all kinds of demo-licious in the basement.

Two major demo projects needed doin':

1. Ripping out the old base studs so we can replace them with treated ones (so that in the off-chance that our dry little haven ever sees another drop of water, at least the studs won't rot) and ...
I think I told you this would be thrilling, right?

2. Breaking down the home-made bar left by previous owners. Sure, it was a decent bar and a fun surprise for us when we first moved in, but it was a little frat-house for our highly discerning and upscale tastes.

And after.

Bonus: Though it was never hooked up to pipes in this house, it was once. And now we have a cute tiny red sink to post on Craigslist. Unless one of you want it? With new fixtures, it could be adorable.

Tomorrow, we have a U-Haul reserved for an early-morning run to the donut shop and two hardware stores. It's not supposed to snow and we figured we'd take advantage of the dry weather to bring in insulation. And, as long as we're having to rent a truck (like 4x8 insulation is going to fit in a VW Rabbit), let's get all the studs, the trim and drywall.

Why the heck not?

P.S. Happy birthday to my mom, who fearlessly purchased a six-pack of adult footie pajamas (with hoods! and thumb holes! and they matched!), thereby creating the most hysterical Christmas in recent memory. Have a most excellent birthday, Mom!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My own Throwdown: Alton vs. P-Dubs

First, a very happy birthday to the man who actually ate (and claims to have enjoyed) the Hollandaise sauce I made this morning, only after I woke him up with a smoke alarm. Happy birthday, Hubs and thank you for stopping the smoke alarm. You are the wind beneath my wings. And I mean that.

I believe you can see where this story, a recap of my grandiose plans to make a simple egg dish, is heading.

It all started yesterday, when I made a quick lunch time run to a small grocery store to grab what I needed: eggs, butter, English muffins and spinach. Much to my dismay, there were no English muffins to be had. So, I got my geek on and pulled up Alton Brown's English muffin recipe on my phone. The recipe didn't seem that difficult, but it did call for powdered milk, which said tiny grocery store also did not have.

Off I dashed to a bigger store, where I purchased the last remaining box of powdered milk. It weighed four pounds and seemed to have been packaged in the mid to late 80s.

Regardless, I was determined to make amazing English muffins.

Which I did.

Point: Alton

There is a learning curve, though. Less batter in the ring leads to fluffier, airy muffins, FYI.

So, with the muffins made, I went to bed for a brief rest before my early morning wake up call to prepare an amazing birthday breakfast for Hubs.

I used the Pioneer Woman eggs Benedict recipe. Now, I must saw that PW has never, ever steered me wrong before. Between her and Alton, I assumed my plan was foolproof. Not. So. Fast.

Her recipe asked me to poach and egg. "Just swirl the water and crack in an egg!" she wrote. Like it was nothing.

Four eggs, two pots of boiling water and one slightly scalded appendage later, I did indeed have poached eggs. But I'm not sure it was really worth it.

Meanwhile, I was supposed to be melting butter and preparing the Hollandaise (which! In case you aren't aware is just egg yolks and butter). An unfortunate series of events led to black, burning butter, a smoke alarm fiasco and a last-minute realization that I'd forgotten lemons - apparently a key ingredient.

And so, my Hollandaise was a watery mess of yolks, properly melted butter and bottled lime juice. It was way too rich for me and not at all the magical sauce I'd imagined when I learned that I'd be combining butter and egg yolks.

Negative point: Pioneer Woman

(Note: There exist no photos of the breakfast-making portion of this event due to the fact that I was frazzled, barely awake and burning everything that could be burned)

Hubs, however, rated the dish a 5 (on a scale of 1-10 of all foods, not just foods I've made) and is either a better liar than I thought, has a cold, rendering his taste buds useless or is way more enthusiastic about butter than I realized.

Winner: Alton, who has never given me directions that caused my smoke alarm to go off before 7:00 a.m.

Oh well. Tonight we're celebrating at Baru 66, a proper French restaurant, where I'm sure everything will be delightful and I can finally get this yolk-y taste out of my mouth.


Where are your favorite restaurant eggs Benedict? I'm sure they are lovely when made by wide-awake pros.
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