Home Renovation

In March 2011, I bought a HUD foreclosure house, sold as is. It was the type of house I love: good bones, structurally sound, but in serious need of modernization and renovation. The house is in northern Virginia, very close to DC and many public transportation routes. For a little history on my house, it was built in 1977 and built rather well, by 1970’s standards. The front door is on the first floor, but the only rooms on the first floor are two bedrooms and a full bath as well as a garage and storage room behind it. This includes the guest room and bathroom that were renovated during Phase 1. The other bedroom is my office. Upstairs are the master bedroom and all the common rooms. The master bedroom and family room each have doors to the patio and backyard. [The house is built into a steep hill, so the front of the first floor is ground floor, but the back of the second floor is ground floor.] Originally there had been a double door size passageway between the stairwell landing/hallway and the living room and another double door size passageway between the living room and the dining room. The original entrances to the kitchen from both the hallway and dining room seem to have been just a door way (about 36 inches). Unfortunately, at some point the former owners of the house decided to turn the three bedroom house into a six bedroom tenement house. The storage room behind the garage, which can only access the rest of the house through the garage was turned into a bedroom. The passageways to the living from the hallway and dining room were walled off, and the living room and dining room were each turned into bedrooms. The living room, dining room, hallway, stairs, and master bedroom all had original hardwood flooring. The kitchen had one type of ceramic tile, and the connected family room had another type of ceramic tile with a really bad transition between the two. This flooring was also close to an inch higher than the connected hardwood. I later found out during renovation, that the height difference was due to the fact that there were two layers of sub flooring underneath the tile in these two rooms. I have no idea why this was, but a few of my nice neighbors still occasionally talk with the original owner of my house who confirmed that the tile was not original to the house. Evidently there was carpet in the kitchen and family room originally. During renovation it was also revealed that the kitchen tile did not extend underneath the kitchen cabinets. They just sat on the second, upper layer of subfloor. Finally the house had single pane windows which did not open and close all that well. The glass in the doors also was single pane, including a huge three piece sliding glass door.

I was determined to restore the house to its former glory but also to modernize it. When I bought the house, the oven/range did not function and were not worth saving. The refrigerator was on its last legs. The kitchen faucet leaked a little, then later leaked beyond repair downward into the cabinet. Thus I didn’t have much of a working kitchen at all. Also, when I bought the house, I knew there was an issue with the HVAC unit. Long story short, I ended buying a whole new HVAC system. There were no smoke detectors in the house. I initially installed one battery powered unit on each floor, but as each room is renovated all bedrooms and halls (and in the future the storage room) had hardwired, interconnected smoke/carbon monoxide detectors installed. [I’m an engineer. I believe in upgrades, especially for safety, and I don’t do anything halfway.] Also some of the outlets would no longer hold a plug. In case you weren’t aware, outlets are not made to last forever. When they get old, the metal that holds the plug in can lose its strength and won’t hold the plug anymore. Replacing these outlets was a nice excuse to replace all the outlets and switches that didn’t have to be replaced due to renovation, with new ones, so I could have all electrical outlets and switches be white. I also wanted to install energy efficient and fully functional windows and doors.

Cosmetic changes are made as the room is renovated. All the door and lighting hardware was brass of one type of finish or another. These are being replaced with satin nickel fixtures. The door knobs are also being replaced as door levers.

While viewing the photos, you can play a fun game of counting how many photos Ferdinand, my basset hound randomly pops up in.

Photos of Renovation Phase 1

Phase 1 consisted of the guest room and downstairs bathroom. Both rooms were gutted. The main reason for the gutting was there was mold in both rooms. The back walls of both rooms are underground, and the side wall of the guest room is about 75% underground. The two exterior walls in the guest room consisted of cinder block with furring strips with only foil for moisture control. Mold was growing on the back wall of the guest room due to this lack of moisture control. Mold was covering the ceiling of the guest bath due to bad ventilation. Thus, the need for the gutting. Along the way, I discovered that the wall in guest room that separated it from the bathroom had two layers of drywall on the bedroom side for unknown (and most likely extremely stupid) reasons. Electric upgrades were made during the renovation including a hardwired smoke detector. A new window was installed in the guest room. All the electrical and plumbing fixtures were replaced. I did much of the work myself including all the destruction, tile work, painting, installing door hardware, and hanging of the bathroom fixtures.

Photos of Renovation Phase 2

Phase 2 was the main phase (and is still ongoing) and included work in the office and entry hallway downstairs and all of the second floor including the master bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, and family room. The main work done in the office included removing drywall and furring strips from the two exterior walls so that stud walls could be built for insulation installation, installation of a new window, and installation of new carpet. Electrical upgrades were also made.

In the master bedroom, one exterior wall was also furring strips on cinder blocks, so the same stud wall with insulation work was done. I initially tore down the drywall on the other exterior wall in this room because I was not sure where the cinder blocks ended and studs began. Only about 20 inches closest to the other exterior wall were cinder blocks, so I decided just to leave that as is and add some hard foam insulation there. Since I had already torn down all the drywall, I decided to replace all the 1970’s era R-7 or 9 insulation with new R-15 insulation. Because I was having so much fun tearing down drywall (seriously, best stress reducer out there), I ultimately tore down all the drywall and old insulation for the rest of the second floor exterior walls and installed new R-15 insulation and patched holes along the way. While removing the drywall, I found termite damage in the master bedroom and a small amount in the family room. After looking at it, an exterminator stated it was really old damage and was not an active infestation. One of my neighbors contacted the original owner who confirmed that the house had been treated decades ago for termites that were caught early. Thus by tearing down the drywall, I was able to confirm there was no active infestation and no other damage.

The wall between the hallway and living room was completely torn down except for a column at either end that was need because the wall was structural. The wall between the living room and dining room was also completely torn down. The doorway between the dining room and kitchen was increased by about a foot to make it more of a passageway. This wall was also structural, so a column was needed at its end also. There are now two small columns in the area where the living room, dining room, hallway, and kitchen intersect. They are about a foot apart, so I had shelves built in between them. Thus these structurally necessary columns now form a see-through floor to ceiling shelving unit.

A new wall was built at the end of the living room, opposite the dining room, that formed the new master bedroom walk in closet and also the new water closet for the master bathroom. The portion for the master bathroom was walled off and was made into dead space. The master bathroom was the only portion of the second floor that was not touched. Its renovation is Phase 3. With this new wall, six feet of the living room was given to the master bedroom, but because the living room is now completely open to the hallway and dining room, the living room doesn’t feel much smaller.

The kitchen was completely gutted. The old flooring in the kitchen and family room was pulled up, as well as the top layer of sub flooring (since there were two sub flooring layers). Hardwood flooring of the same type as the rest of the second floor was installed, and then the old and new hardwood floors were sanded, stained to match, and polyurethaned. Patches also had to be made in the old hardwood flooring were walls removed.

All the windows and doors in the renovated rooms were replaced. The family sliding glass door is now a three panel French door with two operable doors. The window above the kitchen sink was replaced with a garden window. The garden window is taller than the original window because the original window was smaller than the exterior brick opening allowed due to kitchen backsplash and trim. [Below the original window was wood trim to fill the space, so while the new window is about six inches or so longer, the brick exterior was not touched.] The new window is also larger because the new kitchen floor is about an inch lower because the new hardwood flooring, on one layer of sub flooring, is lower than tile on two layers of sub flooring plus concrete backer board. Thus the new kitchen cabinets are lower than the old kitchen cabinets, and the window guys and I had a very fun time taking proper measurements for the new window when the kitchen had not been completely deconstructed when the measurements had to be taken.

The new kitchen is larger than the original one by taking some of the space from the family room. The refrigerator was moved to a new position for visual and traffic flow reasons. The refrigerator was actually replaced last year due to the old one dying. The new kitchen also features an island and a peninsula with an overhang to form an eating area. The new kitchen cabinets have nice amenities like a pull out pantry and a cabinet for trash and recycling, which is a must if you have a dog like mine who likes to forage. The kitchen has all new appliances including a wall oven and separate cooktop. Most of the upper cabinets have window doors, so I can display my Fiestware. The kitchen also features granite countertops which extend into the garden window above the sink. I used glass and stainless steel tiles for the kitchen backsplash. I used green mosaic glass tile for the field tile. I randomly cut out tiles from the mosaic and replaced with stainless steel tiles. I also placed nine handmade glass accent tiles in the backsplash, which I surrounded by the stainless steel tile to help accent them in the field. The green glass accent tiles match the three pendant lights that hang above the island and peninsula.

Photos of Renovation Phase 3

Phase 3 is the master bathroom. The old master closet and the old master bathroom were gutted and combined with the dead space created in Phase 2, to create one large master bathroom. The new bathroom is long and narrow but has all the features I want and need. It features a double vanity with plenty of storage space, a walk in shower with bench, a large whirlpool tub, a separate water closet for the toilet, and a wall cabinet with more storage space. I used the same green marble for the tile through out the bathroom but varied the actual tile size, shape, and finish. I also used recycled green glass tile for accents. The window was replaced, and all the electrical, HVAC, plumbing, shower and tub waterproofing, and insulation was upgraded and brought to code. The bathroom also has radiant heat beneath the flooring.

Photos of Renovation Phase 4

Phase 4 is the half bathroom off of the living room, and it was by far the simplest phase. I removed the old vanity, all the fixtures, and the tile floor. The original tile floor was still present beneath the vanity, and the newer tile floor only went to the outer edge of the vanity, so the entire floor had to be removed. The wall was patched where the old medicine cabinet was, and mud was used on the wall to smooth out the texture from the old wallpaper’s adhesive. I laid a new tile floor. Then a new one piece vanity was installed as well as a new toilet. I also installed new mirror that came with the vanity, a new light fixture, and new electrical fixtures and accessories like glass shelves, towel ring, and toilet paper roll holder. The walls were painted the same blue as the single blue wall of the dining room, and the ceiling is the same blue as the ceiling in all the common rooms of the house.

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