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.    

Working with an Architect Part I

Not a lot of progress to report on at the house so I thought I’d share the first blog in a series on my experiences working with an architect.

Why an Architect?

We knew this would be a big remodel, we wanted to remove a wall and open up the kitchen to the living room.  We also knew we wanted to lay the ground work for a future second floor.  Our floor plan felt challenging to us, we knew there was a specific wall we wanted to take out, but we couldn’t see how we could fix the layout given the other constraints the house shape pushed on us.

Finding an Architect.

There are a lot of architects in Seattle (Google says 2500), in my case finding the architect was easy.  I work at a company with an active homeowners list and I asked for recommendations.  I also visited the PNA Home Design & Remodel Fair.  The fair had several architects manning booths and gave a great opportunity to spend a few minutes chatting with individual architects.  It sort of felt like speed dating for architects.   Based on the recommendations from my work place and the trip to the PNA Home Fair, I narrowed it down to two: Stefan at CAST Architecture and Cristoph at Kruger Architecture.  Both architects are members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), they both had compelling portfolios and were both dog owners that understood the priority dog ownership had in our thoughts.  I still think both would have done well for us but we ended up choosing Stefan for a couple of reasons: 
  1. We sat and interviewed a client of his that works at the company I do, and it made us confident in his process.
  2. We thought that CAST would be more “aggressive” in his design.  What I mean by that was, we thought Stefan would do a better job of pushing our design past our concerns over budget.  Specifically, we didn’t want our budget concerns delivering “good” when for a bit more, we could get “great”.  I suppose this is the polite way to say we thought Stefan would blow past our budget but that we thought we could control costs ourselves.
  3. Stefan lives nearby, while we hadn’t spoken too much before this started, he’d always been friendly and we liked the idea that he’d have to look at his work for a while.  It turns out we also save some money because we don’t have to pay for travel time when it comes to site visits.

The first meeting.

The first meeting is where you get the dog and pony show from the architect, in each of these, we got a look at the work of each architect as well as hold their perspective on their process and how they operate.  One of the things we liked about Stefan was the very honest and up front discussion about costs and how billing worked.  Architects work by the hour and pass on all expenses, like a lawyer or other professional.  It was good to hear up front about how costs work, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask about this either.

Ok, we picked one, now what?

After the selection process,  we went back and forth a few e-mails to clarify scope.  Once we were satisfied, we signed a contract.  Thankfully, the contracts are all standard and provided by AIA.  They’re clearly worded and spell out every cost you’ll incur with your new best friend.  Once we signed the contract and paid a retainer fee we then scheduled a program meeting.  This was one of the most fun meetings we had with our architect.  It’s a two hour session where he asked us guiding questions to get a feel for what we liked, what we didn’t, and get a general idea of our aesthetic.  
We also scheduled a time for Stefan and an associate to come to the house and take detailed measurements.  This was expensive ($1700 or so) but critical, it’s also nice because we now have very clear “as-built” blueprints to the house.
After the program meeting, and armed with the detailed measurements, Stefan presented us with a collection of sketches:
New stairwell location, same front door location.

This one moved the stairs but kept the front door in the original location.

Scheme 3 was the only one that didn’t move the stairs, but did change the orientation. 
This was our favorite!
Right off the bat, Stefan didn’t constrain himself like we did, it never occurred to us that we could move our stair case.  He also figured out how to give us all of the things we wanted, a nice size island, a garage, a real entryway.  We didn’t actually end up doing the garage in this round, but we’ll get to it eventually.
Once we settled on a sketch, Stefan got more specific about dimensions and we started refining the  plans.  Over a couple of months and many revisions, we eventually ended up with our final layout:
Not bad eh?

What else happened?

In a future post, I’ll talk about other things Stefan has helped us with so far, picking fixtures, selecting a contractor, managing the project, etc… (that’s why this is Part 1).  I’ll also give a cost break down when this is all done.

Water 101: Know how to shut off the water main.

In a previous post, I mentioned that my water line broke and we had trouble getting it turned off.

Knowing how to turn your water off is a basic home ownership skill that everyone should have.  Here are the basics.

Ideally, every home has two water main turnoffs, one inside the house and one on the outside of the house.  The valve on the inside of the house may or may not exist, it really depends on how old the house is.  Here’s an example of what it might look like:

I chose this picture because it shows two types of valves, a quarter turn valve (the one the arrow is pointing at) and a regular valve (on the spigot).  You could see either of these types in your home.
Even if you don’t have an indoor water shutoff valve, you definitely have one on the outside of the house.  Walk around the edge of your property and look for a cast iron box like this one:
CWM stands for “City Water Meter”

This metal plate is the hatch on your water valve.  If you lift the cover off you’ll find a shutoff valve as well as a dial.  This is the dial the city reads every month or two to determine usage.  If you can’t find your meter call: 206-684-5800 and they’ll help you locate it.

Underneath the metal cover, you’ll see the water meter and an access valve, if you have a modern valve, it’ll look like this:

This is the “modern” style valve.  Turning it is easy, use a crescent wrench or vice grip and rotate so that the two holes line up, that puts it in the “off” position.  This meter is currently in the “on” position.
But what if you have the old style?  If you don’t have this kind of valve, then your valve requires a special tool, a water valve key.  Unfortunately, keys come in a bunch of different styles, I *think* the old style Seattle one is the pentagon style key.  Be warned though, the old valves are easy to break, when the city came to turn off the water on mine, they broke it twice trying to turn it off.  A better option is to call city utilities at 206-684-5800 and see if you can talk them into switching you to the new style.  Otherwise, when you do need it off, you’ll have to call the city emergency number: 206-386-1800.  They use the term “emergency” real loosely, in my case, it took them a few hours to get to my house and this was in the middle of the day.

How and Why I moved my gas meter.

In preparation for our remodel, I had to upgrade and move my gas meter.  This is the story of how and why we did it.

Why did you move your gas meter?

My current gas meter is in the way of what will be my new front door.  Obviously, it’d be an imposition on guests to make them step over the meter when coming in the house but it’s also not to code.  Code requires 3 feet of clearance from any passive air intake and 10 feet from any mechanical air intake.  There are a lot of other placement rules too, PSE puts them all in a handy guide.

Why did you upgrade your gas meter?

My house originally had the model A250 gas meter.  The A250 is rated up to 300,000 BTU/hr.  A BTU or British Thermal Unit equates to the amount of energy required to heat one pound of water from 39 to 40 degrees Celsius.  In order to calculate the BTU used, you add all of the load of all of the appliances in your home that use gas.  If it’s a load that’s always on like a furnace or water heater, you use the full amount, if it’s a transient load like an oven or fireplace, then you take 75% of the load.
Here’s the breakdown for my house:

Even with the 25% deduction, I’m still over the 300k BTU limit.  My new meter is the A450 which is good for up to 540k BTU.  This is sounds like a lot more, but a tankless water heater is a 200k BTU load which means my total gas usage will eventually be 491,250 BTU/hr.  This means I have 40k left if I ever want to add a space heater to my deck.

How do you move your meter?

First thing you do is call Puget Sound Energy at 1-888-321-7779.  They will tell verify your load calculations and also check to see if the line coming to your home can handle the new load.  I got lucky, my house has a steel pipe going to it that’s worth up to 1,000,000 BTU/hr.  New homes get a plastic pipe that caps out at 400k BTU.
PSE will assign you a project number and then you’ll be contacted by Infrasource, PSE’s exclusive contractor for doing the line move.  Infrasource will come to your home, do a site survey and work with you to find a new location for the meter.  They’ll call you with an estimate.  PSE subsidizes the cost of the move if you’re upgrading service.  Once you agree on the price, they’ll mail you a contract.  You send it back signed and they’ll schedule the move.
PSE will only handle the work on the outside of the house.  Work done on the inside needs to be done by a licensed contractor.  This work can be done by plumbers, or HVAC companies.  As usual, get multiple bids.  In my case, I got two: one for $2,345 and one for $900.  I went with the $900 and was happy I did.  The contractor you choose will need to pull a permit and you’ll have to ge tthe work inspected before PSE will let you connect the new meter.  
The easiest way to do this is to have the interior contractor do all of the work on the inside of the house without taking your gas offline.  They can get the work inspected, and then have them come back when PSE does the outside work.  If you show the Infrasource crew your signed permit, they’ll connect the new meter to the pipe.  Once all of the work is done, PSE will send a technician to relight your appliances.

How does Infrasource actually move the meter?

Infrasource digs two holes in your hard, one where the existing line is and one where the meter is going to be.  They then use a tool called a “mole” to bore a tunnel between those two points.  They then run a new plastic pipe between the two locations.  When they’re done, all you’re left with is a white cap in your yard where they moved the gas line.

How did it go for you?

My job ran into a few snags.  First off, they accidentally cut my water line.  The ground in my yard was really hard so they used a pneumatic spade to break up the dirt.  In the process, they did a number on my water line.  The yellow pipe in the picture is the original gas line, the mangled copper line below it is what’s left of my water line, that copper line should be straight and round.
As soon as they broke the line, they tried to turn off my water.  Unfortunately, my house had an old style water shutoff so we had to call the water emergency line for the city and have them come out and turn the water off.  The woman from the city water department was awesome, not only did she turn my water off, she replaced the valve with the modern one and helped the gas company fix my leak.  You can see the patched line and the new gas line in this picture:
When it was all said and done, I had my new meter installed and you couldn’t even tell any work had been done.

AOE: Water damage and backwater valves

A few years ago my rental home experienced what I like to call an “adverse ownership event”.  In my book, an AOE is the kind of thing that makes you wish you were a renter and not a homeowner.  While I love home ownersihp, there are the occasional incidents that make me wish I could just call a land lord and say “this is your problem”.

My AOE was a sewer line flood of my basement rental unit.  My renter was home and out of nowhere, the sewer line started backing up into his unit.  He called me and I had to get to work dealing with it.  Luckily, he noticed a Roto Rooter truck at the neighbors house, my neighbors had cleared their sewer line and it had jammed further down and blocked my line.  This was luck for me because it meant I could show my insurance company that someone else was responsible which means they’d pay for the damage (more on this in a later post).  The reason my neighbors could affect me like this is because we are on a shared side sewer.  The side sewer is the sewer line that connects your home to the city main line.  It is the homeowners responsibility to maintain the side sewer, in a shared side sewer situation, multiple homes use the same side sewer line.
When the sewer line backed up I ran to the house and got the Roto Rooter guys to clear the blockage all the way down to the sewer main so that the sewer line to my house would start to drain again.  Next up I had to call a water damage company, you’ve seen the commercials on TV, these are the companies that claim to make things like it never happened.  When dealing with sewage, anything the waste water touches has to be removed, all of the dry wall, wood paneling, carpet, etc…
The water damage people removed the carpet, the bottom 6 inches of the wood paneling, and the drywall.  Unfortunately they couldn’t remove the floor tiles because they contained asbestos.  I had a specialist company come out to remove that (thankfully insurance paid!).
The basement unit was extremely old, at least 30-40 years so I used this as an opportunity to redo the basement unit and modernize the kitchen and bathroom.  My main concern at this point was, how do I keep this from happening again?

The answer to this question is pretty straight forward, I have basically two options, I can redo the sewer to my house so that I’m not sharing it with anyone else which would be way too expensive for me to justify, or, I could install a backwater valve.
A backwater valve is a one way valve that lets sewage go out, but prevents it from coming back into the house.  It’s an extremely simple device and not expensive, mine is a $200 valve I bought at backwater-valves.com.  The valve has a plastic gate in it which floats, if water flows back in then it will automatically raise the gate and keep water from going back into the house.  Once this happens, the only danger we have is that someone in the house will run water and fill the pipe.  To prevent this from happening, we attached an alarm to the backwater valve so that we know when the valve has stopped.
When the alarm goes off, the tenants call me and I call someone to clear out the sewer line.  Easy and I sleep much better at night knowing this won’t happen again.
Installing a backwater valve can be tricky, you need to  install it between the point where your house sewage drains and where the  shared line starts.  This usually means digging down fairly deep to install it, in my case, it meant my contractor renting a jackhammer and installing it in my basement.

I’m a paint snob

I’ll admit it, I’m a paint snob.  I don’t like using cheap paint and I have favorite brands.  I enjoy painting, it’s easy mindless work that I find rewarding.  Adding color to a room through paint is one of the easiest ways to drastically change the way a room looks and feels.  It’s also one of the few remodeling tasks I really don’t mind doing myself.

I hate working with cheap paint, it smells bad, it’s runny and you end up working twice as hard to get the same look.  I believe in using nice paint, I think it lasts longer and more importantly it goes on easier.  Nicer paint is thicker and adheres to the wall better.  When painting a friends house we tried a bucket of Costco paint (once upon a time Costco in Tukwilla sold paint).  It was terrible, it would actually run down the walls and we’d have to quickly roll out the drips.

My favorite paint is Devine Color.  The paint is thick, doesn’t smell and comes in a great set of colors.  It’s also a Zero-VOC paint.  The downside: it’s expensive, last time I bought some it was $54 a gallon.  They’re also the only company I know of that charges for the color samples.  That’s right, they charge $35 for the sample kit, but instead of getting printed samples, you get actual samples of dried paint arranged in color palettes that all match.

When it comes to ceilings, I’m a big fan of Benjamin Moore Muresco Ceiling White.  It sounds silly but it makes a difference.  The BM Ceiling White is a very flat white that makes the room look bigger and gives the room a nice character.  The Ceiling White is a Low VOC paint at less than 50 grams per liter (the max to be “Low VOC” is 250 g/L).

VOC or Volatile Organic Compounds are a family of chemicals that give off fumes which can lead to unpleasant things.  I’m not an expert, nor do I pretend to be but you can learn more here: http://greenliving.about.com/od/greenathome/a/voc_paint.htm

The walls of my house are mostly Divine Sand with Divine Green Tea as an accent. The bedrooms are a mix of Divine Buffalo and Divine Siamese.  I don’t like white walls so I don’t have any.

I’m a firm believer in a coat of primer and two coats of top coat.  Ceilings, walls, trim, doesn’t matter.  Everything gets a coat of primer and two coats of paint.  Primer is something I don’t care a whole lot about, I generally use one of the nicer grades at the big box stores.  Primer is an undercoat that ensures the top coat (the color) adheres well to the wall.  Primer also helps hide the color that’s already on the wall.

I’ll talk about how I paint in a later post.  The way I see it, I’m saving so much money by doing the painting myself that I’ll happily spend more on supplies if it makes my life easier or the project go faster.

My home is my castle

A few years ago my house was broken into, thankfully nothing was taken but the would be thieves left the door open.  We’re sure we didn’t leave it open as it’s a door we never used and our neighbors noticed an unfamiliar car in our driveway.

We think Harley, our, thirty-five pound labradoodle scared them off.  He’s normally locked in the basement, and if you can’t see him, his bark can be ferocious.


My wife got home before me and called the police.  They came quickly (under 5 minutes) and swept the house to make sure there wasn’t anyone inside.  When they opened the door to the basement, our ferociously barking guard dog ran the other way, deeper into the basement.  I rescued him from the backyard after he escaped through the dog door.

Make the home harder than the one next to it.

As you can imagine this really upset us and so we looked into what we can do to secure our home.  There’s an old joke: “How do you out run a bear?” A: You don’t, you just have to outrun the guy next to you.  This was our strategy to home safety, we decided to make our house harder to get into than the ones next to us.

 The first thing I did was replace the rear door and the side door (the one that was used to break in) with modern doors that opened outward.

The reason to make the door open outward is because it’s almost impossible to kick a door in if it opens out.  If you are going to make a door open out make sure you use armored pins in the hinges.  With the door opening out, the hinges are now on the outside of the house.  A traditional pin can be pulled out of the door without opening the door.  An armored pin is protected from removal when the door is closed.

We also replaced all of the screws connecting the door frame to the house with 3″ (or longer) screws that connected the door frame to the studs in the walls next to the door.  In standard construction, the door is connected to the door frame, and the door frame is attached to the house.  If you’re not careful, the door frame won’t be tightly connected to the studs, if that’s the case then a bad guy with a crowbar can pry the door frame away from the house.

This cost us about $2,500.  Two custom wooden doors plus labor to install them.

Second thing I did was put the front porch light on an astronomical timer.  These are marevelous devices that take your latitude and longitude into account and calculate sundown and sunrise every day.  I programmed mine to turn on 20 minutes before sunset and turn off 20 minutes after sunrise.  This switch combined with an energy efficient bulb means my front and side door are well illuminated at night.

Here’s the switch I have: Honeywell Econoswitch.  Under $40, easy to justify.

Third thing I did was make sure all street visible windows are covered with blinds.  Price here varies, but a temporary shade is as little as $10.00.

Fourthly, we put some lights on timers so that the house looks occupied.  I like this one because it allows you to set a random jitter.  This will prevent the light from turning on and turning off at the exact same time every night.

Fifthly, I added a motion sensing light to the back yard, it’s a three bulb 300 watt beast that makes the entire back yard glow if the motion sensor is triggered.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the dogs.  Our dogs may be small and adorable, but if you can’t see them, they sound fierce.  I don’t know that security is the best reason to get a dog, but it is a nice benefit to having one (or two).

What else are we thinking about doing?
We’re looking at doing two more things, I want to add two more motion sensor lights, one to each side of the house as the sides are a little darker than I’d like.

We’re also going to investigate adding security film to our windows, the film is amazing in video, and should keep a bad guy from breaking a window to get in.

The video is really amazing and speaks for itself:

A burglar won’t want to do that for very long, it’s a very loud and very distinctive sound.

What about an alarm?
We briefly thought about an alarm but decided against it for a few reasons:

  1. The police officer who responded said that the average burglar is in a home for about 8 minutes.  I doubt the response time from alarm going off to police on site will be under 8 minutes.
  2. There isn’t a good solution for false alarms, and with two dogs, false alarms could be a real problem.  In Seattle, you pay $115 per false alarm.
  3. They’re expensive, and reactionary.  If the alarm has gone off, the bad guy is already inside.  
  4. I don’t actually believe they prevent burglaries, no data on this, I just don’t buy it.

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.  

In Wall Speakers

I spent yesterday helping a friend of mine install a pair of in wall speakers.  It was surprisingly easy, particularly because we didn’t have to cross any studs.  The installation was simple, speaker up high connected to a jack down low.  The lower jacks aren’t close to each other but everything down low is hidden by a buffet table.  The stereo is hidden in the buffet.

Installing the speakers is exactly like installing an old work box, only much larger.  An “old work box” is an electrical box that is designed to be added to a wall after the walls are up.  The old work box attaches to the wall with a couple of clamps that compress the box to the drywall.    Basically, you cut a hole the size of the box, slide the box in and then tighten the tabs against the wall.  The first 40 seconds of this video do a good job explaining how they work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egHkOIr4RNE

In my friend’s case, the speakers have 6 tabs, and it’s a larger hole.
Installation was easy:

  1. Used a stud finder to mark the studs, you can’t install the speakers if there’s a stud in the way.
  2. We used a pattern that came with the speakers to mark the where the speaker holes should go.
  3. We cut the holes.  Cutting them was easy, we drilled a hole in each corner and used a drywall saw to cut the square out.
For the first speaker we got really lucky.  Behind the sheet rock we cut were two separate power cables that weren’t attached to the stud.  Luckily we didn’t cut those wires.  We also ran into some knob and tube that was attached to the studs, this was surprising to us!  We’ve done quite a bit of electrical work to this house, changing outlets, adding a light, and this was the first time we ran into any knob and tube.

Once we had the hole for the speaker, we cut a hole for the speaker bindings. Speaker wire isn’t high voltage wire so you don’t actually need a work box to put it in.  This let us get away with a much easier to work with low voltage bracket.  The speaker bindings look like a normal face plate except they have a pair of speaker bindings in them. These bindings plug into a face plate blank.  Finally we just had to fish the speaker wire through the wall.  Make sure you use in-wall rated speaker wire!
The whole project took about half a day, including a trip to Home Depot to pick up the supplies.  
The before picture.

Speaker bindings, we probably should have taken the picture before putting the furniture back.