Wet Bar Revisited

My wet bar is mostly done at this point.  There were a few setbacks but nothing that money can’t solve.

The first issue we ran into was that the floor is very, very uneven in that corner of the basement.  On the order of a couple of inches drop over just over 12 feet.   This required a great deal of work to make the floor appear more level.

First, the contractors applied floor leveler.  Floor leveler is a special kind of underlayer that gets put down before actual flooring.  The leveler is put on the floor and flows till level (I’m simplifying but that’s the general idea).

After the floor was leveled, there was still a significant gap between one end of the bar and the other.  The cabinet installers compensated by shimming the cabinets at different levels.  They hid the shims behind the toe kick.  If you look closely at this picture, you can see how much  taller the toe kicks are on the left side of the photo than they are on the right.

These floor leveling problems lead to another problem.  After the cabinets were installed, the tile guys had to do another round of leveling so that they could install our large (24″x24″) tiles.  This meant that the dishwasher slot “lost” an inch of height on the right side, and half an inch on the left side.  This also meant that my KitchenAid dishwasher wouldn’t fit anymore.

The solution here was to buy a new dishwasher.  Standard dishwashers require a 34″ tall opening but thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, there exist ADA compliant dishwashers.  I don’t know the specifics as to why this is more accessible, but ADA compliant dishwashers are not as tall and have more options for adjustability.  Unfortunately, there are fewer options and only one American company makes one, GE sells a rebranded Danby as an ADA dishwasher.

To get a dishwasher that fit, I looked at Bosch, Asko and Miele.  Bosch has very long delivery times, and I didn’t like the way the racks worked in the Asko.  This lead me to get a Miele.  Unfortunately, this also cost me about $250 more.  The Miele only comes in a fully integrated model which means I had to buy a panel separately.  On the plus side, Miele makes nice dishwashers and it’ll still be super quiet which was a must.  I am disappointed that KitchenAid doesn’t make one.

Here’s a picture of the final wet bar:

Wet Bar and Laundry Room

The four most expensive words in remodeling are “While you’re in there”.  It’s extremely tempting to add additional scope to a project.  In theory, doing more now is cheaper than doing more later, the contractors are already there right?  The downside to this is that it can go on forever and is really unhealthy for the budget.

In our case, we were penny wise and pound foolish, in our eagerness to control scope on our project we didn’t let Stefan (our architect) do any design work for the basement.  In our minds, we thought we were only doing a main floor remodel and the basement would be phase 3 (after the second floor).  The reality is, our basement was completely torn to shreds as a result of moving the stairwell.  In one of our walk throughs with our architect we realized we had an opportunity to “fix” our laundry situation.  The real issue we had is that our laundry was the first thing we saw when going into the basement, we effectively walked through our laundry area every time we went to the family room.

We realized that we could move things around and get the laundry out of the main area which opened up the possibility of a wet bar.  We gave Stefan a few days to come up with some drawings and this is what he came up with:

For those of you who aren’t stalking me, here’s what the original plan was.  The washer and dryer would have gone right next to the window.

The new plan gives us a dedicated laundry room which hides the washer/dryer and gives us a utility sink.  It’d be unamerican of me to let an available sink hookup go to waste so we decided to add a wet bar.

A Wet Bar?

A wet bar is a bar with a sink, in our case, it’s more than that.  We’re not big drinkers, but thanks to our wedding we have enough booze to open a bar.  We also like soda and the idea of having it cold and available in the basement is too good to pass up.  Our wet bar will feature plenty of storage for the liquor and associated glasses, a wine fridge, an under counter bar fridge, and a dishwasher.  As per our style, we wanted to contain costs as best as we could but, we still wanted to get nice things where it makes sense.

Cabinets and Countertops

We knew we didn’t want to pay for the cabinet and countertop quality we’re getting for the kitchen.  In addition to being pretty expensive, the kitchen cabinets have too long of a lead time for us.  I also didn’t want to go Ikea because I didn’t like the styles and I really wanted all wood boxes.  This lead us to the Chinese cabinet companies in Sodo.
Why do I call them Chinese cabinet companies?  The signs on the stores are all written in English and Chinese.  We visited three of them: Pius Kitchen and Bath, First Ave Kitchen and Bath, and G.S. Cabinet and Granite.  We ruled out Pius pretty quickly, their cabinet quality wasn’t very good.  I had used First Ave in the past for a rental unit and knew the cabinets were great quality.  Unfortunately, while I was in there I overheard the woman at the counter snap at a customer “You didn’t understand me…” maybe the customer made a mistake, maybe 1st ave did but it left a bad taste in my mouth.  Finally we looked at GS.  GS had the largest quartz and granite collection, they also supply the cabinets to 1st Ave KB.  Unfortunately, they were a little more expensive than 1st Ave but I was able to talk them down to match the price.
GS also struck me as the most professional, they quickly drew up my cabinets in a cad program so we could approve it.  We went with them and scheduled for an install date a few weeks away.  The trick to these cabinets is that they’re all in stock, which means quick turn around.  It also means reduced flexibility, you only get what they have, they can’t customize for you so you run the risk of having a sub optimal layout in your space.  For us, it didn’t matter, we’re doing one wall of cabinetry.  On the plus side, you get all wood boxes and doors and Blum cabinet hardware.  Blum makes some of the best  hardware for cabinets (they also make the Ikea hardware).  All of our cabinets are going to have soft close drawers and doors, no extra cost.  Speaking of cost, we’re paying $2,200 installed for our cabinets.
GS also does countertops, if you go to Home Depot or a larger kitchen shop, you will end up paying for cabinets by the square foot.  Home Depot has a wonderfully complicated formula, you get a per-square foot cost plus a linear foot cost for the edges.  GS doesn’t do it that way, at GS you buy slabs and pay for installation separate.  I ended up paying $1,150 for the counter tops which includes two slabs of “Swiss White” quartz, which looks a lot like Cambria’s “Whitehall”.  By my math, I have 28 square feet of countertop which works out to $41 installed.  The equivalent at Home Depot was $2,172 or $78 a square foot.  I saved almost 50%.


This aspect of the wet bar was just shocking.  Thankfully we already have a “built-in ready” wine fridge so I didn’t have to buy one.  I did however, have to buy an under counter fridge.  If you don’t want to build it in, then you can find one relatively cheaply from Frigidaire.  Lowes has their own version of it that’s $100 less, you should be able to get one for under $450.  Unfortunately, ours needs to be built in.  In addition to adding expense, built-in fridges vent forward instead of out of the back or sides.  Built in under counter beverage centers that get cold enough, as in, below 37F cost more than $1,500 and can go higher than $3,000.
We were between a Marvel and a U-Line.  We ended up going with the U-Line because we liked the shelving layout more.  
We’re also adding a dishwasher, this isn’t a requirement for most people but it should be.  Our wet bar is on a different floor from our kitchen.  In none of my fantasy simulations did I ever think we’d actually wash the glasses by hand.  This means that we’d have to take them upstairs and then bring them down again.  In reality, we would likely pile up dirty glasses in the basement until one of us got frustrated enough to bring them upstairs and wash them, then we’d have a pile of clean glasses upstairs that needed to be moved back down.  Forget it, we’re getting a dishwasher.  We had only two requirements for this dishwasher: quiet, and racking that would let us store a lot of glasses.  Quiet lead us to four different brands: Miele, Bosch, Asko and KitchenAid.  All four brands make great dishwashers but the racks on the Bosch ruled them out for our use case, it’d be awkward to put glasses on the bottom shelf.  Price ruled out Miele and Asko.  We ended up with a KitchenAid KUDE60FXSS.  The KitchenAid has three racks like the Miele do, is only 43 dB (we won’t hear it when it’s running), and cost less than the alternative.  My 8 readers will also recall that I’m a fan of KitchenAid dishwashers, normally because of the grinder which this one doesn’t have.
We bought the appliances the same way we bought the last ones (check out my post on how to buy appliances).  This time, Albert Lee won, we saved a lot and actually did better percentage wise than we did on the kitchen appliances:
I feel sorry for anyone who walks into an appliance store and pays sticker or “sale” price.

Laundry Room

Nothing really fancy going on in here, as per the rest of the remodel, we’re going with LED lighting and we’re reusing our washer/dryer and freezer.  The only notable purchase I made was the utility sink. I originally wanted a traditional utility sink, a plastic tub on four legs.  As I started looking for one, I didn’t like the reviews that talked about cheaply made and flimsy sinks.  This thing is going to hold 20 gallons of water, I want it to be sturdy.  I found a company that sells granite composite laundry sinks, we’re putting granite composite sinks in the wet bar and the kitchen because of their general indestructibility.  We’re going with the Mustee 17F.    

Asbestos Abatement

My home was built in 1956, the basement was remodeled some time during the 60s.  During the basement remodel the ceiling in the basement was textured with  what is generally called popcorn ceiling.  Popcorn ceiling is a spray on texture that gives the ceiling a textured look.  This was done for acoustic and aesthetic reasons.

Image of popcorn ceiling from Wikipedia
It’s generally safe to assume that popcorn ceiling contains asbestos.  Asbestos is a mineral that was popular with construction up until the late 70s when it was banned because it’s a carcinogen.  Cancer sucks, and nobody wants it but asbestos only causes it if it’s inhaled (and probably in significant quantities).  It’s perfectly safe to leave it on the ceiling as long as you don’t disturb it.  Asbestos was banned from residential construction in the late 1970’s but remaining stockpiles were still allowed to be used, which means asbestos can be found in homes as late as the early 80s.
As a side effect of the home sales process in Seattle is that you don’t want to know for sure if you have asbestos in your home unless you plan on doing something about it.
This is silly but worth repeating:
You don’t want to know for sure if you have asbestos in your home unless you plan to do something about it.

This is because of RCW 64.06.020 aka MLS Form 17.
(Before we go on, I should remind you, I’m not a lawyer or a realtor and I have no idea what I’m doing so this isn’t advice and I’m probably wrong).
Form 17 is required disclosure that every home seller must fill out when selling their home.  One question in particular is of interest for the purpose of this discussion:

7.E. Are there any substances, materials, or products in or on the property that may be environmental concerns, such as asbestos, formaldehyde, radon gas, lead-based paint, fuel or chemical storage tanks, or contaminated soil or water?

Your option when filling this out is Yes, No, “I don’t know”.
If you don’t get the ceiling tested, then you don’t know.  So even though my ceiling was sprayed during the prime asbestos years, I didn’t actually know whether or not there was asbestos in the ceiling, but between us, I knew…
Since it wasn’t going to be disturbed, I didn’t do anything with it, I just left it in place for 3 years.
Unfortunately, as part of our kitchen remodel we’re planning on moving the stair case to the basement, so it’s time to get rid of the asbestos.

The first step was to get the ceiling tested, this is easy:

  1. Wear safety glasses and gloves and anything else you need to wear to feel safe.
  2. Using a water spray bottle, thoroughly wet a small section (1 inch x 1 inch square).
  3. Scrape the section off the ceiling and into a plastic ziploc bag.
  4. Place that bag into another ziplog bag.
  5. Take the sample to NVL Labs.
NVL Labs is a converted house on Hwy 99.  When you enter, you’re greeted by a pair of lovely ladies that are far friendlier than you’d think they’d be given that they’re dealing with poisonous materials all day.  They’ll take your sample and your money and you get an e-mail the next day (or sooner if you want to pay for it), telling you if you have asbestos.  The whole process cost me an hour of my time and $35.00.
In my case, my ceiling contained 9% chrysotile asbestos.  These aren’t particles I want swarming through my home killing my wife, my dogs, me…  So it was time to get some quotes. 
I received quotes from three different companies:
  • NW Solid Rock: $5,525.00 to remove 650 square feet of popcorn ceiling
  • American Environmental Construction: $2,425.00 to remove 562 square feet
  • Partners Construction: $2,058 to remove 586 square feet
Obviously the first bid was way off.  They weren’t competitive at the square foot price, and they weren’t even close on the measurements.  All three companies measured the exact same space, and I got three different measurements.  In all cases, they bid for the exact same amount of work.  My ceiling hadn’t been painted which made things cheaper.  An unpainted ceiling in the Seattle area should go for around $3.50-$4.50 a square foot, $3.50 if it’s a simple ceiling, more if there are complexities (stair wells, soffits, etc…).
I went with the lowest bid, this is highly regulated work and all three companies were licensed and certified to do asbestos abatement.  I didn’t see a benefit in paying more than I had to for the exact same work.
Amusingly, you can do this yourself, but there are a lot of rules you have to follow and you can’t pay anyone to help you unless they’re licensed.  The Puget Sound Clean Energy Agency provides instructions, I think they’re a good read and go through great pains to try to convince you to let someone else do it. http://www.pscleanair.org/regulated/asbestos/homeowners/asb-popcorn.pdf
Before the abatement started I had to remove everything from the basement, including the built in shelving that was attached to the walls.  The only things left in the basement were the washer and dryer.  The abatement guys cover the walls and the floor entirely in two layers of plastic.  They then apply water to the ceiling and scrape the popcorn off.  All of the popcorn ceiling, the plastic sheeting and the hazmat suits they wear need to be double bagged in asbestos disposal bags and then taken to an approved disposal site.  They then apply a clear coat sealant to the ceiling to lock in whatever is left.
When they finish, the ceiling is pretty thoroughly scraped, I was impressed.  I could see pencil marks from when the dry wall was originally put up 50 years ago.  Unfortunately, the vent covers didn’t fit anymore and I’m definitely going to have to get the ceiling refinished.  There was also some minor damage to the walls from the duct tape and staples.  Partners had warned me this would happen.  Amazingly, it took them less than a day to do the work!
I’ve included some pictures of the scraped ceiling:
Ceiling duct after abatement, there’s nothing for the vent cover to  attach to.

Closeup of one of my funky 60’s era can lights.  Notice the sheet rock damage.

Wider shot of the basement.
Once the kitchen remodel is done, we’ll be redoing the ceiling in the basement (and hopefully getting rid of the awful wood paneling).  I’m thrilled with the quality of the work that was done and I’m glad to have the asbestos out of my house.