Melanie are doing what many investors would call “house hacking.” We bought a duplex (that use to be a single-family home), rent out the lower unit, and live in the upper unit. One of the things about property ownership is that you get to try your hand at being handy.
(You also get to know the layout of your local hardware store very well.)
I have never been particularly handy, but one thing that my Uncle taught me (when I was 23 and helping me get my condo rent ready) was that you just have to try, because even the handiest of people don’t always know exactly what they’re doing.
So I try.
And I thought it would be amusing to present my attempts at home improvement as an almost complete novice in a segment titled “Mis-Adventures in DIY Home Improvement.”
Often, home improvement blogs are done by experts.
Not this one. And I will tell you all of the problems that I ran into that were either my fault, or something I didn’t ever know could occur. I work for a construction company (never having worked in the field) and so I had a lot of people to lean on and ask for advice; but a lot of my learning came from Youtube.
I should also note that my work is not an indicator of the construction company I work for. I’ve never been trained as a Carpenter and have never done field work.
Now, one of the things about doing this in a rental property is that the remodels haven’t always been done to super high standards by past Owners.
One detail a landlord wouldn’t care about is this water heater in the corner of the kitchen… out in the open.
We decided this was ugly and if we were going to live here for a year or two, we should do something about it. So I built a closet. And in the process greatly built up my meager tool collection.
1st: I spent about 3 weeks with a stud detector, plumb bob, chalk line, framing square, tape measure, level, pencil, and step ladder trying to get all of the future walls plumb and square.
My first issue is that the house is 100 years old, balloon framed, and crooked! Being that I’m not skilled enough to compensate, I decided to just go ahead and do it by the book, plumb, square and level. I messed up the chalk line a bunch of times. I marked up our walls with pencil that was nigh impossible to erase. I even used permanent marker to mark the floor that I thought would be covered by a bottom plate that ended up not being the right spot.
Never the less, I lined it up the best I could and started framing.
2nd: First, I nailed the bottom and top plates. The shorter side has no bottom plate, because a pre-hung door was going to be put there and pretty much take up that whole side.
Because of the location of the ceiling joist, my top plate positions were pretty limited in options. The longer side in the picture was parallel to the ceiling joist and the shorter top plate is screwed (with 3″ square-drive screws) to the other ceiling joist that is above the existing wall.
I had to use the same joist for each top plate, which is why the top plate on the longer part of the closet isn’t the same length the bottom plate.
The bottom plate was screwed in directly through the linoleum to the sub-floor with 2-1/2″ square drive screws (so as not to poke through our tenant’s ceiling!).
3rd: Next was placing the two main studs on the walls. You’ll notice that on one wall the base trim is gone and on the other, the stud fits much more neatly. That’s because I ripped off the trim and shoe mould of the one wall before a carpenter friend of mine recommended that it would be easier to just use a Multi-Master tool to slice a spot in the trim for the stud and drywall. He let me borrow his.
He was very correct as it took me 20 minutes of painstakingly and awkwardly cutting and nailing trim behind that stationary table that the water heater is setting on. When I finished, it still didn’t look good. The multi-master took about 2 minutes and looked great.
The studs (somewhat bowed and arched because Lowes sells crappy lumber and I didn’t know any better) were screwed into the top and bottom plates. Since there was no stud behind the wall where these were placed, no supporting screws were put between the top and bottom plates. This might be a problem if this was a load bearing wall, but it’s just cosmetic.
4th: Next was putting in the corner. I did this by putting two studs together in an “L” shape and screwed them to the top and bottom plates. One regret I have is that I sort of jammed and tapped these stud into place since I cut them about 1/8″ too long, so they were kind of bowed. This is sort of a no-no, but I needed to make progress.
Then I put in a jack stud for the door to fill in that inside corner of the “L.”
Generally, you’re suppose to put studs 16″ on center, but I just opted to put one stud in the wall since it wasn’t structural.
It ended up being way off because I didn’t measure 16″ correctly. I honestly don’t know how that happened.
I toe screwed the studs to the plates. Toe screwing is putting screws/nails/fasteners in at an angle.
5th: Next was the door. It was a cheap, 6 panel, pre-hung door Lowes…and my studs were a little tight. With a bit of finess, I jammed the door (and the jamb) into its’ spot. The door doesn’t shut flush because the jambs aren’t even, but with the bottom and top plated being slightly off (due to my slight mis-chalk-lining), it’s what we were stuck with. I had to carve a sliver of wood to get it to close right. It’s definitely not the best installed door.
But it opens and it closes!
6th: I put cross studs (obscured by the drywall) and the jack stud over the door. Traditionally, there would have been a jack stud on either side of the door for that door header to rest on, but the wall left no space, so I just had to toe screw it right into the king stud. This would be a deifnite no go if this were a load-bearing wall.
7th: Time for drywall! I basically screwed a 4×8 sheet to the cross-studs which I didn’t get a picture of and then just cut along the wall.
One of the problems that I had was that I didn’t saw off enough of the trim with the multi–master to fit drywall, so I had to carve out a notch in the drywall to make it sit right.
I pretty much just cut along the corner stud to make the piece of drywall fit. Then used that for the thin parts next to the door.
8th: Drywall tape and mud: after I finished cutting and fatsening drywall to the rest of the frame, I needed to tape an mud the joints. I had done this once before on my bathroom cabinet project and I used the pre-stuck mesh tape rather than using mud to afix traditional drywall tape to it. Despite my better judgement due to my not-so-great results on that project, I did it again.
It still proved troublesome.
But by the time that I put some mud over it and realized I had made a mistake, I was too far to go back, so I just kept at it. I’d put 1 layer, wait 24 hrs….
Another layer.. wait 24 hrs.
And finally a 3rd layer of mud!
This outside corner proved especially tricky because of the aforementioned tape issue. Despite my best efforts, the mesh part of the tape kept peaking through in parts of that corner.
I was later told by a Carpenter friend that you’re suppose to put a “corner bead” on the corner which avoids that problem. Well, I didn’t know that and it’s too late to go back, since I’d already finish painted it!
9th: Prime and paint. Did this on a Sunday. Managed to erase all of my bad pencil marking on the existing walls by matching the paint very well.
10th: Trim-out: I had run base trim, very much ugly base trim, in the bathroom project before. This time, it would be different….
And after messing this up 3 times and having to buy more base trim than was necessary, I did it! I coped the piece of the base-trim that connected to the existing wall’s trim, and mitered the corners to match with my skil-saw. Not too shabby…
Then came caulk. Lots and lots of caulk around the door trim and the space between the wall and the base trim.
My coping of the meeting of the trim… I’d give it a 6.
The final step was shoe mould which I messed up..ohhh…probably 7 or 8 times because the corner isn’t a perfect 90 degrees. Finally I just cut the base mould at a weird angle, and filled the 1/8″ space at the outside corner with wood putty…
One day, I will install shoe mould well!!!
I painted the trim and voia-la!
Our kitchen looks a tiny bit smaller and the closet wall’s a little off, but now we don’t have a water heater hanging out in the corner in plain sight. We also now have a place to stash our tall trash and recycling cans (which use to just be next to the water heater out in the open)…paper grocery bags… cleaning supplies (brooms, mops, etc.) and I have a sense of accomplishment having done a job in spare time over 6 weeks that would have taken a decent carpenter an afternoon to do!
Kudos to Melanie who put up with 6 weeks of tools, lumber, etc in the kitchen ever so patiently and our tenant who had to deal with my going up and down the stairs 80 times to make cuts on the front porch.
- Stud detector
- Plumb bob
- Chalk line
- Framing square
- Tape measure
- Step ladder
- Skil-saw Circular saw
- Swanson Speed Square
- Black and Decker corded drill and driver that I’ve had for 10 years.
- Utility knife
- Assorted hand screw-drivers
- 2″, 4″, and 8″ Scraper Blades for drywall mud
- Coping saw
- Bosch Multi-Master Tool
- Paint brushes
- 9″ Paint roller
- 3 Spare rags
- Swear jar
- 2x4x10s (11) I actually only would have needed 8, but I messed up a lot…
- 4x8x3/8″ drywall (2 sheets)
- 2-1/2″ and 3″ square-drive screws
- 2-1/4″ Drywall screws
- 1 2’8″ x 6’7″ pre-hung door
- Roll of drywall tape
- Pre-mixed drywall mud
- 10′ beaded base trim (I used 20, but that’s because I messed up so many times!)
- 10′ Shoe mould (I used 2, but that’s also because I messed this up a couple of times)
- 1″ Trim Nails
- 1 tube of general caulk
- .3 gallon primer
- .6 gallons of finish paint
- Old newspaper (during painting and caulking)