Monday, December 29, 2008

Hot Water

We're looking forward to having the solar thermal system hooked up in January. First, the panel is taking up most of my garage. Second, we've been running out of hot water in the master shower and could use the extra capacity. I'm thinking it's going to be a late January installation.

Oak Stairs

I've been working on and off around the house (mostly off), trying to finish (it never ends does it?). I've spent a couple of days sanding the treads and risers that will be going into my staircase. My father-in-law loaned me an orbital sander for the job (definitely a must have to make the work go faster).

This past weekend, I spent most of a day staining the wood. It looks amazing. The next step is to coat the treads and risers with a protective layer (three actually) of polyurethane. Each coat takes about 8 hours to dry and I'll have to be careful to avoid getting dust on the finish, so I anticipate this is going to take a couple days to finish before I can start cutting and fitting.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Things To Do Differently

If I had to do this over again, I would definitely add radiant heat to the Master Bathroom floor. The tile gets really cold.

I would also mount the control panel for the steam shower inside the steam shower. Mainly because that's where it was designed to go; it has a temperature sensor on it that tells the unit when to shut off, but since it's mounted outside the shower, that feature doesn't work. I'll talk to Gallick about moving it, but if they don't, I'll probably move it at a later date myself.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gallick Corporation

So, Gallick is officially done with their contract work on the house. We have a 1 year warranty plus work on the solar heating left, so we'll still see them around. They finished 2 weeks earlier than the contract deadline, so we owed them a small bonus. I'm happy with their work and would recommend them to my neighbors. ABL has issues with Charlie, but she would gladly deal with John again. In the grand scheme of things ABL's issues are minor and not related to the quality of the final product.

We had watched a lot of Holmes On Homes, so we were prepared for the worst. Charlie is definitely a fair and honest builder. As far as costs go, Charlie was reasonable, I did have a little sticker shock when I received the bills for the solar thermal system. That would be my fault though, I didn't get an estimate before he started, so I was pretty much stuck paying whatever he charged. My budget for his portion of that work was $3000, but he's charged me $4600 so far and there's probably another $1400 worth of work left. I evaluate that in the larger context of the contract work which was over 100 grand, so to me, 1 thousand or 2 thousand over is just a percent or 2 in the grand scheme of things.

Plumbing Problems

So, I got a call from one of my neighbors. They were having the same issue that we had with the plumbing. They live at 12603, we are 12607, and we heard that 12611 has had plumbing problems. 12605 and 12609 have so far been spared the plumbing issues. My guess is that at the time, the builder was running two crews and they were leapfrogging down the street. We got the inexperienced crew.


My Father-In-Law just finished up the closets and just in time, my bedroom has become the dumping ground for all the things that could possibly come out of a dryer. Speaking of which, our dryer isn't drying anymore. The spouse is dropping major hints that I need to get it replaced. It's rapidly moving up my list of things to do...Anything to put off the working on the stairs.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Window Trim

To save a little money on this job (around $1000), I had the builder pull the window trim out of his contract and I did it myself. It's actually not that hard when you have a compound miter saw (on loan from my Brother-In-Law). It took some trial and error, but wood is cheap. I did buy myself a present to help...A Skil Router...
This thing is sweeeet. I should have gotten a router table to go with it, but c'est la vie.

For the long window in the bathroom, I made the center a little thicker than the ends (in a nice gentle arc) so it would act as a shelf for candles or shampoo bottles. It's a nice little touch that I wouldn't have had if I let the builder do it.

I'll have to go back and sink the nails in all the trim, when I find my tool. Then I'll have to apply caulk or spackle to the holes.

Flooring Final

So, I had the contractor send somebody over to finish the flooring that the plumber flooded. My In-Laws have stopped by a couple of times, my mother-in-law watchs the kids while my father-in-law handles some of the tasks on my list. I was able to lay the Pergo flooring on my ground floor area in a little over two days by myself, which included ripping up half of it to reposition the plastic underlayment. (Note: The directions call for overlapping the plastic by 8" on either side, which means a 2.5' wide roll of plastic actually only covers 14" - Yes, it means you have to buy nearly 3 times more plastic)

I have one more Pergo floor to install and then I'll have someone come in and put down carpet in three rooms. I still have to install trim around the flooring in some areas. I also will be replacing the carpeted contractor stairs with Oak hardwood stairs and I'll be adding a nice railing (the old railing was an iron POS that was probably leftover from some exterior job the original builder had lying around).

The floors look awesome.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Great Flood

We left the house for a couple hours yesterday. The plumbers were finishing up their work. When we returned, I gave a tour of the new addition to one of our friends. During the tour, I noticed that the floor in the walk-in-closet was under a thin layer of water...I soaked it up with a towel and more water started draining out of the Pergo. Now, you're not supposed to wet mop Pergo, so I'm guessing leaving it soaking in a layer of water is bad.

I immediately called my contractor, who called the plumber, who showed up bright and early this morning to locate the leak. The plumber investigated for quite some time and finally called the guys that had been working on the job. They admitted that while they were working, they had removed a cap from a pipe in the bathroom vanity and somehow the water got turned on. They had cleaned up the flood in the bathroom, so that by the time we got home, there was no water in there, leaving an inexplicable mess in the walk-in-closet.

The plumber offered to pay for more Pergo, if I had to pull it up, which later the contractor confirmed was the best course of action. The stuff is meant to go down, but not to come back up. I eventually had to take out 4 rows of Pergo to get rid of all the soaked boards and most of them got severely chipped while I was removing them. It's going to take me hours to replace them. There are three complicated cuts in the last row, approximately 2 easy cuts, and then the T-Moulding for the doorways needs to be trimmed to fit and that can be complicated.

Argh. I was so ready to move on to other parts of the house.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


My father-in-law came down again on Thursday to help me finish up. He worked on the baseboard trim, while I finished the flooring. Then I put a first coat of primer on all the doors.

What's left? The windows need trim (I'm waiting for inspiration). The downstairs flooring (I'm waiting for Lowes to get a new shipment of Pergo). The shower doors (Charlie is waiting for the glass place to create them). The sinks for both bathrooms (Charlie ordered them Friday). The stairs need to be covered in wood (I need to find a supplier). There's lots of little stuff that'll take awhile to finish up. But we should be able to start moving stuff today.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Final Inspection

The final inspection was last Friday. The inspector walked around a bit with Charlie. The inspector wanted to fail it for several things, (siding - I'm getting estimates, Shower doors - on order, bathroom sinks - on order) but Charlie talked him into passing almost everything, but noting the items that were incomplete. So for instance, we passed HVAC with no restrictions, but failed plumbing because the sinks aren't in yet.


ABL's brother James and his GF Miss Patty came over to help us apply color to the walls. After they left, ABL and I did a bit more painting by ourselves. Then my parents and my Aunt and Uncle showed up to knock out the rest of the painting.
Here's RJ painting.

My dad and I started laying down a Pergo Laminate floor (Summerview Oak from the Casual Living collection). The Pergo comes with an underlayment already glued to the bottom and snaps in to place without glue. The floor is floating, meaning it isn't attached to the walls or the subfloor. It just lays there like a wooden rug. The Pergo was $52.24 a box, each box covers 17.6 square feet. My initial purchase was 24 boxes and represented everything Lowes had on the shelf (I was able to fit 24 boxes in my Cav, but it wasn't pretty). I went back a second time and picked up another 10 boxes, and I put 24 boxes on order (ABL wants a lot of the downstairs covered in wood).

Here you can see my dad, holding TG, and RJ has his back turned to the camera. The room is about half (or a third) covered by the laminate and this represents about a half days work by the two of us. I was able to finish the rest of the room by myself on Sunday. The transitions at the doors can be very frustrating.

My father-in-law came down on Monday and Tuesday to help me out. He and I were able to put down laminate in the hallway and the spare bedroom. It looks amazing. He's coming over today to help with the baseboard molding. Charlie's crew cut all the molding. In some cases it was nailed up already and I had to pull it off to put down the floor; in other cases, I had asked them to just cut it to length and I'd nail it up later. Once the molding is up, we can start moving furniture this weekend.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Friends And Family

Thanks to our friends and family members, this project is rapidly drawing to a close. This past Saturday we had a "Painting Party". Charlie's guys did an excellent job preparing the walls, so we had a great canvas to work with. Morrow, Zinger & his wife Steph, and TerryO put primer to wall, while the Czenanski's took our two oldest off of our hands for the day. TGL (our 7 month old) was tag teamed all day, in the morning by Princess Christine and in the afternoon by TerryO's wife Angie.



Mrs. Zinger:


We started out with two 5 gallon buckets of VALSPAR primer (good stuff) from Lowes, but we ran out and I had to run to Home Depot for more Primer. I got the Glidden Drywall Primer and it was lousy. Take a look at this picture.

Looks like a monochromatic Rothko, doesn't it? Anyhoo...The Valspar had good coverage and the walls are definitely a uniform white color, so I won't be using this Glidden ever again.

I applied the a white latex ceiling paint to most of the new construction, I ran out on Tuesday and picked up another gallon today. My brother-in-law, James showed up with Miss Pattie to help put the paint on the walls of the bathrooms and the laundry room.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


It took a couple days for the crew to tape the seams and apply the joint compound, but the results are amazing.


We had a small hiccup with the sheetrock installers. Charlie subbed that out and the first crew that came in spent the whole day working on our TV room. When John got in and saw how little progress they had made, he fired them. The next crew that came in worked very fast.

For future reference, in Virginia, you need 5/8" sheetrock on the walls and ceilings between the garage and living spaces, but you can go down to 1/2" for exterior walls.

Here's a look at our Steam Shower before the glass is installed.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Not As Green As I Thought

I came home from the hospital to find the insulation has been finished (mostly).

This image shows both old pink fiberglass insulation and the new spray foam insulation. The foam expands to many times its original size. When the insulation expands past the 2x4s, they have to shave it back so they can put sheetrock over it. Here you can see how much waste was generated when they went back and trimmed the insulation to fit the 2x4 cavities.

That dumpster is nearly half full with insulation. What good is a green product if it sends that much waste to a landfill? I gotta believe that they can chop that up and spray it in another wall.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Inspections and Insulation

This week, the building inspector will come in and check the work. If he gives it the ok, then the insulation will go in. We'll be using Spray Foam Insulation (installed by NOVA Spray Foam Insulation LLC. The spray foam is a soy based product so it's a renewable resource. The spray foam has the same R-Value as the pink fiberglass it'll be replacing, but it will provide the following benefits:
  1. Spray Foam doesn't let air pass through it. Fiberglass insulation is essentially like a giant furnace filter, so it lets air pass right through it, taking unconditioned air with it.
  2. The Spray foam will cut down on the noise from the airplanes overhead and the school next door.
  3. As an expanding product, they can spray it in to cracks and it will fill the gap that might be too small or awkward to get fiberglass into.
  4. It will add some structural rigidity to the house.
  5. Spray Foam is also non-toxic.

The spray foam will cost a ton more than fiberglass, but it should pay for itself in lower heating and cooling costs.

After the insulation goes in, then the drywall will start going up.

Electrical Rough In

The subs have been in and out of here feverishly working to get their work done. The electrical contractor spent Thursday and Friday of last week pulling cable and installing electrical outlets, lights, fans, etc.

Plumbing Rough In

The plumbing Rough In is done. We went with Pex (plastic pipe) in a manifold system.

The Pex pipe has some significant benefits over traditional copper.

  1. Most significantly, as a plastic, it will expand more than copper providing some freeze protection.
  2. Since it's flexible, it can be snaked through walls easier than copper. It also needs less bends, meaning less work for the plumber soldering connections.
  3. Finally, it shouldn't rust or corrode like our existing copper pipes have.

You can see the manifold in the picture. It works just like your electrical panel. Water lines are run from each faucet, toilet, tub, etc directly to the manifold. They are color coded too, obviously red for hot and blue for cold. The manifold has little switches that allow individual water lines to be turned off, so that water to that particular faucet can be turned off without turning off the water to the whole house. Traditionally and in this house in particular, the water runs from the utility room (where it enters the house) to the downstairs bathroom, then to the kitchen, then to the other bathrooms. The master bath was at the end of the line, meaning it took forever for the hot water to get up there. With this new manifold system, the water travels a shorter distance to get there, so we should theoretically have faster hot water.

The two white pipes are larger diameter to bring hot and cold water to the shower in the master bath. Our Master bath has a shower head and a wand and both will receive full flow now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I had to get to work immediately tearing down the upstairs Bathroom. So I enlisted a little help (emphasis on little):

Look at the 'Fro on my little man, RJ:

Not to be outdone, my other little helper, Q, broke out her pink work gloves:

I was able to gut the kids bathroom before I quit for the day. Q was not ready to quit and kept asking what she could do and letting me know that if the builders needed anything she was ready to go.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I was away in NJ for a funeral for a few days and Gallick's crew finished the framing of the new structure. They couldn't frame the interior because I hadn't done the demolition yet. The Mechanical Contractor was putting in the HVAC when we returned from NJ. The windows aren't up yet, but the openings are there.

The HVAC closet without sheetrock. Ductwork on the ceiling.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Walls Are Going Up

The crew from Gallick has worked quickly and put up the floor and some of the walls. This is the end of the first week of work. I am loving the service door you can see they cut in on the side of the garage.

Standing under it, the overhang looks a bit excessive, but that just means I'll have a few square feet of less snow to shovel in the winter and a bit of cover from the rain. According to Charlie, they'll be punching through into the existing structure this coming week.

I'm not quite sure what we're going to do for showers when that happens; perhaps we can take up Ultra Run Bike Vegan's challenge and see how long we can wear our clothes without changing them...

The fit and finish of the rough carpentry is pretty amazing. I can't wait to see what they do with the stuff that won't be hidden behind the walls.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Early demolition pictures.

Notice the garage door track hanging in mid air.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Started Yesterday!

Tha Gallick Corporation had a worker out yesterday ripping the roof off of the garage. The garage is currently covered in a big blue tarp.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Toto Aquia II Toilets

We got our new toilets in. They are the Toto Aquia II.

These are dual flush, meaning you can use either 0.9 or 1.6 gallons per flush. A normal toilet (including the three we currently have) uses roughly 31.5 gallons a day. The Toto should use 12.3 gallons per day, that could be a savings of 7000 gallons a year per toilet. That's almost a swimming pool's worth of water savings between the two of them per year.

And oh yeah, they look cool.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Permit In The Wondow

We finished negotiating the contract a couple weeks back. I had my attorney review the contract; the contractor and I went back and forth over some language, but we just signed the contract and handed over $35,000 to get the job started.

This morning, I met with the Project Manager John for a pre-construction meeting. He gave me contact information, asked me to keep the kids out of the construction area, security, access, etc. After that, we put the permit up in the window.

It should be done in approximately 15 weeks. Whoppeee!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Getting Closer

I met with Charlie to discuss the quote. He was pushing hard to keep the subs on his part of the contract, dropping the markup/margin on those items. We left some things off of the project on my end, so the price right now is $102k. I'm thinking that's close, but...I'll be thinking this over carefully.

I've done the research on solar hot water and it looks like we can get the parts for $2000, I'm waiting on a cost to install from Charlie. While I was checking that out, I found a 3KW PV system for $17,000. I think that would cover about half my yearly energy needs. While it would probably take 30 years to pay off, the interesting thing is that the last time I priced these systems out, they were a couple thousand dollars more expensive.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Final Quote

We got the final quote in for the addition: $148,000. Way out of our price range. I tried negotiating with him, but my skills are rusty. So, I ended up pulling things off the project list, leaving him with just the structural work (basically building the shell). I would hire the sub-contrators. He went back to his office and he's reworking the numbers.

I figure with an MBA and previous management experience, I should be able to ride herd on a few subs. He just called me on the phone with a price of $125,000 for most of the job, so maybe I'll be able to afford to put carpet down on the floors after construction is complete.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

HOA Approval

I got approval from my HOA to perform the addition last night. It was much less painful than I thought it would be. Since I'm maintaining the color scheme, they didn't have any issues with it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Plumber & Electrician visit

John, the guy who would be on-site on a daily basis stopped by on Friday to show the Electrician and Plumber around so they could estimate the job. I really like this guy, he makes me feel comfortable that my house is in good hands.

The Electrician was all business. The plumber was a bit more jovial, waving to my kids in the window and the like.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


So, I haven't been getting the plans I wanted from Charlie Gallick. The layout kept getting tweaked when it went to drafting and the new roof line went 6 feet above the existing. So, we asked them to lower the roof line and their solution wasn't aesthetically pleasing, so I asked Charlie to come over to discuss it. He blew some contractorese up my you know what about why the roof line was so low (which I didn't appreciate). I may not have known anything about building when I started this, but I learn fast. I have an engineering degree, so given enough time, I could spec out the beams for the project (yes, that's freshman year Statics). It would obviously be cheaper and faster to have someone who does it every day do it.

Then he said it would cost me an extra $15,000 and an extra week to do it my way, citing custom framing versus slapping up trusses. Basically, this tells me that he really doesn't want to do it. When I asked about spray foam insulation, his reaction was "it'll raise the insulation cost 30%". Fiberglass insulation is really really cheap, So I'm not surprised the price will go up. My guess is the extra insulation will pay for itself within 4 years.

I'm just not sure I'm going to get what I want. Maybe it's time to think about doing it myself?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Home Inspection Today

We had the Home Inspection today, the closing for the new mortgage is tentatively scheduled for March 24th. My dad shot down my Plan C, so I went back to the drawing board for plan D...

This design keeps the Master Bedroom REALLY large, but makes the walk in closet an odd shape. It minimizes hall space in the Master Bath and has a funky jog in the hallway to reach the Master Bedroom. The Laundry room has just the right amount of space and the full bath upstairs has plenty of room. The dashed line is where I would shift the laundry room out a bit further and shrink Bedroom #2 a little bit. Bedroom #2 becomes 11' x 12' - Bedroom #3 stays 11' x 9' - Bedroom #4 stays 10' x 9' - Bedroom #5 becomes 12.5' x 9'

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


I just received the potential plans from The Gallick Corporation. There are three different versions of the front elevation and two different floor plans for the second floor. Here's Plan A.

And Plan B...

Plan B was closest to my original idea, but I now see that it's rubbish. For one, it puts the laundry room in a rather large room, and the bathroom in a very small room. So, I think we'll be flipping that. My father put together a plan to have the Master Bedroom in the back of the house, very much like Plan A. His idea also included a set of stairs to the attic level, and a loft area up there. With two dormers on the front, centered over the garage doors, there would be plenty of upstairs space for offices or a lounge area. I think the loft would also be visually appealing. So, here is plan C...

I'm just a bit concerned that the width of the Master Bedroom is so thin in the center, so there will be more tweaking.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Shopping Euphoria

The bad thing about doing a remodel is that, now that I'm looking, I see more and more stuff I want.
  1. Sauna - Check
  2. Steam Shower - Check
  3. LED accent lights - Check
  4. Urinal - Check
  5. Living Roof - check
  6. Xeriscaping - check
  7. High R-Insulation throughout the house - Check

And the list continues to grow...

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I met with contractors and explained the work, I got back quotes ranging from $125k to $270k. I checked the Internet on both contractors I was considering using and one came back squeaky clean, The Gallick Corporation. I checked the BBB and Google, but couldn't find any complaints about them. They've been in business since 1989, so I thought I would find somebody who had something bad to say about them, but couldn't. Their bid was reasonable, so we signed a contract for the design phase.

Their designer was out here today measuring up the place to start the drafting phase. They say it'll take roughly three months to get the job started (permits, approvals, material selection, etc.) and then the construction will start. It should take about 3 months for the construction to get done.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Save The Planet

With the prospect of remodeling the whole house, I started looking into reducing our carbon footprint. Actually, we've been working on that for the past couple of years by buying CFLs and replacing old appliances with high efficiency versions.

This time though, I started thinking about the biggie, Solar Power. Photovoltaics (PV) are notoriously expensive with payback periods of 30 years or more. Generally not worth it unless you're going to be in the house for a long time, but considering we've been here 10 years and will probably be here another 10 or 20, I've been giving it serious consideration. I started buying issues of HOME POWER to keep track of current technology. I've been intrigued by solar domestic water heating. Like PV, you have panels on the roof, but they circulate a fluid through them. The sun heats up the fluid and that gets transferred to your Hot Water Heater. The best part, a system costing $2000 (excluding installation costs) can deliver 90% of your domestic hot water. The electricity to run our hot water heater costs around $500 per year, so after just 4 years, the hot water would be free. The system could also be used to power a radiant floor which would offset heating costs in the winter, again paying for itself in just a few short years. We're also going to install Solar Tube Lights to provide daylight in closets and bathrooms.

Our goal with the remodel is to reduce our electrical usage by two thirds. If we can meet this goal, then a PV system that meets our remaining energy needs could be within our price range.

Minor Repair

ABL and I have done basic maintenance to keep the house standing. I recently replaced all the 1979 faucets in the house because I was tired of trying to fix the originals. I started painting the outside this fall. The house was in dire need of paint. ETC.

A couple of months ago, we noticed that the water was running through the meter, but there were no faucets/showers/toilets running or leaking. My house is on a concrete slab and the water pipes go from our laundry room down under the slab, across the house, and then come up through the slab near the bathrooms and kitchen. I called in a plumber and got a quote over $1000 to locate the leak. The repair could take two routes. 1) They rip up the concrete, repair the pipe, and then put everything back the way it was. Mondo expensive. 2) They could run new plumbing through the ceiling to the bathrooms and kitchen. Less expensive, but the walls and ceilings would have to be opened up.

Besides the plumbing, the HVAC system is pretty old. I believe the unit inside the house is original, and the unit outside the house is about 14 years old. From what I've seen on the Internet, that's about the lifespan of a system. Our unit is running nearly constantly in cold weather and it's not really keeping the house warm.

To complete this perfect storm of major repairs and the need for more space, interest rates have come down significantly. So, as interest rates have come down, I've been interested in shortening the lifespan of our mortgage. We could refinance to a 15 year loan (which cuts 5 years off our loan) AND pull out roughly $40,000 WITHOUT changing our payments. We'll probably need significantly more than $40k, but it's a start.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


My house was built in 1979. The second owners, a couple with two small children did some cosmetic work to the house before we purchased it in 1998. Mostly, they replaced the original carpet, repainted, and installed new cabinet doors. Our first surprise as newlywed homeowners was a massive termite invasion, which should have been caught by the termite inspector. We even had the termite inspector come back out as our fence was rapidly disappearing and they still claimed there were no termites. When a tree broke apart in the front yard, we figured the termite inspector was lying and went directly to an exterminator.

We used a national exterminator, and the salesperson was very professional, he had many years of experience. The person who came to do the work however was another story. He tried to shake me down mid-job for cash. Later, as he was drilling holes in the garage, and riding the drill hard, the drill exploded sending hydraulic fluid or oil all over the walls...Not a fun experience for a new first time home owner.

Much later, I realized that our home inspector was also most likely a fraud. I put the blame on our realtor Debbie Breau, she was doing what she had to to sell the house. The termite inspector and home inspector she recommended deliberately hid major defects from us. We had asked Debbie to be our Buyers Agent and told her we didn't want to see any homes where she was the seller's agent. While she was not initially the sellers agent on this house, the home was being sold through her agency, Linda Sonnhalter Weichert Realtors. After she showed us the house and we decided to make an offer, she magically also became the seller's agent. At that point we knew were screwed (but we didn't know how screwed), but we wanted the house.

That was 10 years ago.