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December 2008
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Home Office Hazard 1


Remodeling Tales – How Many Ceilings?

Some of you are remodeling, renovating, or thinking about it. Some of you get disheartened when you open a wall, remove trim or discover that window will not open, because the (PO aka previous owner whom we all take on faith was an idiot)  needed to get rid of a 1/4lb. of 16 penny nails by driving them into the window and frame.

Be of good cheer, it is not that bad. Worse things have happened. Having spent almost 40 years  remodeling and building things, I have run across weird things.

Case in Point, How many Ceilings?

Years ago back in Minnesota, one of my compatriots in the remodeling game was Doug the Painter. Doug had the most unusual luck in finding clients. Doug only painted. He would call us for anything else.
There was a loose confederation of us. Kenny the chain smoking, marathon running electrician, Gary ‘Sewer Juice’ the drain specialist, Larry, the clumsy roofer,(who managed to fall off a roof at least once every season) and so on.

Doug calls me and says that he needs a quick ceiling done in a kitchen. Fine, I say. I arrive at the house armed with my bucket of tools and a tape measure. Upscale, large, expensive. 10′ high ceilings, plaster columns, crown moldings, and marble floors.  Doug takes me aside and asks me to not to laugh, as the missus is frazzled already as the cabinet installer has the dining room full of cabinets that can’t be installed because of the ceiling.

He introduces me to the client, and as we are walking toward the kitchen assures her that I am the guy to solve her problems, make the installer happy and let Doug paint.

My first view of the kitchen through the doorway is of cartons of high end appliances, tarps, and muttering installers. I make it into the kitchen and look up. I start laughing.

The entire ceiling is covered with straw, barnyard straw, giving it that sort of hoe down ambiance, totally out of character with the rest of the house. But Wait! The best part which reduced me to snot running, gasping, laughter was the complete farm scene that had been glued upside down on the ceiling. That’s right, farm house, chicken coop, barn, barnyard animals, cows, pigs, chickens, pickup truck and tractors. We are talking a Green Acres diorama on this ceiling.  Like 60 animals hanging upside down on this ceiling. (this was not an uncommon ceiling treatment in minnesota in the 70’s. popcorn ceilings were just coming online)

Doug shoots me a look, and says “It Needs To Be Fixed”, and escorts the crumbling client from the room.

I finally stop laughing and look at the problem. Room is around 12×16 feet. Ceiling is just under 7′. I am thinking that I need to scrape the farm and straw off the ceiling, probably install some furring strips and hang and tape a ceiling. With speed set, three days tops.

But wait! Remember the cabinet installer? He needs 7’2” clear because of the 6” toe kicks on the cabinets which were custom built, the two wall mounted ovens, and the 48” range hood for the Vulcan Commercial 8 burner stove.

Okay I am thinking, since the rest of the house has 10′ ceilings, this room does too. Probably ran a false ceiling out of 2×4 or 6’s and attached their drywall. I get out my trusty keyhole saw and about a foot in from the corner begin to cut a small hole to confirm my thought. Saw goes in about an inch and gets stuck. I cut a 4×4 hole and see another ceiling. Ceiling#2 is those old 12” square interlocking ceiling tiles with all those little holes.   I cut my 4×4 hole to about a foot square, and take my utility knife and cut through the tile to discover the tile is on its own set of furring strips every 12” glued to another ceiling.

I scrape the tile out of the way and grab my keyhole saw and make another cut. Saw goes in about an inch and then stops. There is another ceiling! At this point, I am about 7′ 2” up. I am thinking that I can peel the straw ceiling, furring strips, the hole tile, it’s furring strips, and skim coat that ceiling. But the ceiling is beginning to vibrate as I cut. This tells me that something is suspended by something and not firmly attached to something. If it is bouncing this close to the corner I will never be able to hang drywall and sleep at night.

Enough of this crap I am thinking. I drag out my sawsall and start cutting through ceiling #3. I get about 4” and the sawsall sounds like it is hitting metal and the ceiling is starting to really vibrate. I stop to think about this for a moment. Did I hit a piece of metallic conduit? Is there a water or gas line? What the hell is up there?

Doug comes back and wants to know how much its gonna cost and how fast can I do it. I don’t know I tell him, and invite him to examine my excavation so far. Oh Shit! he says. Well open it up and lets see.

I grab my drywall hammer and begin to axe a hole through ceiling #3. The ceiling is booming telling us that it is hollow somewhere up there. I get enough of the drywall out of the way to discover that ceiling#4 is commercial 2×4′ ceiling tiles on a grid system. They screwed the drywall to the grids. Okay I am thinking, the grid is suspended from the original ceiling, and we are almost home free.

I enlarge the first hole to around 2′ square, cut through the ceiling tile and furring strips of ceiling#2, through ceiling #3, and make the hole large enough to get a hole through ceiling#4, to see what is up there. Sure enough, this ceiling is on wires, but the wires are only about 10” deep, screwed into a textured ceiling.  So I am only about 8′ or so up to the top of the wires in the next ceiling. In this ceiling are drop in light fixtures and what turned out to be exhaust fans.

Looking up to ceiling#5 are electric boxes and holes for what must have been the lights, vents and fans that were mounted in that ceiling. I am up to my shoulders in ceilings. Doug, the installer and I are laughing again, when the client comes back into the kitchen.

The installer suddenly found something interesting in the driveway, and I am trying to stop laughing, with my head and shoulders buried in this ceiling. I have to give Doug major props for being able to explain to the client that there is a small setback with the ceilings, without exploding.

Meanwhile I continued my exploration of the ceilings. I cut Ceiling#1 open to about 3′ square, cut the rest open as well, and began to open ceiling#6. This ceiling is plaster and drywall lath.(which went out of style sometime in the 50-60’s) It is mounted on a 2×6” frame that they built around the walls and attached braces to the original ceiling, #7. Yep, the ceiling in the kitchen was 10′ like the rest of the house.

Since it was Friday, I told Doug to let me know what he wanted to do as we were gonna have to rip out all those ceilings to be able have something that we could work with.

Monday morning rolled around and I got to the house around 10. Doug took me aside and explained that he met with the clients husband Friday evening and showed him the ‘ceiling situation’. When the husband got through laughing, which caused the client to run from the room, they determined that it needed to be done right.

So what started as what I thought was going to be a simple 3 day job suddenly expanded into a major project. (For those of you that are laughing, hang on. For those of you recoiling in horror, relax.) This is now a time and materials deal, where remodeling budgets get tossed out the window, and the clients begin looking for the card given to them by the gypsies looking to buy their first born.

Since I am the guy that gets shit done, which is why guys like Doug call me, I swung into action. The first order of business was to order a 40 yard roll off dumpster, and to have Doug tell the clients that they would be parking on the street for a few days.

Next I called Mr. French and Mr. Manson. You bring them in, mark the target and get the hell out of the way. Literally.

These guys look like  jack pine savages who should have been born a century ago. French and Manson are two people who were born with the ‘Demo’ Gene. In their hands, sledge hammers and crowbars are surgical instruments for excising tumors from your house.

Case in point. 14 hours to reduce 6 ceilings into 40 yards of trash without breaking windows, cutting power, water or lights all of which were live.

We framed in a new ceiling with 2×6’s at the correct height, waited a week for the client, the HVAC, and electricians clean up the mess left over from the previous ceilings, to make changes to the plan now that they had a new ceiling to work with, and get ready for drywall.

It only took three days to hang and tape the new ceiling.

So when you think it is dark in your project, trust me, it is darker somewhere else.

Fireplace Freshen Before and After

Since it is getting toward the end of the year and I have no money to buy you all presents, I decided that I would give you ideas.

The Fireplace Freshen Project began with this.Fireplacebegin

Exposed painted brick with a mantle that really had no value other than dust collection as the fireplace had been converted to gas some years ago.

We removed the mantle, fireplace door, brick door surround, reframed the fireplace with steel studs, softened the vertical and horizontal lines with ’round’ corner bead, added two valances for mounting indirect lighting, and recycled the vertical blinds.

Here is the finished project in its holiday trim.

Details on this project are here:

Fireplace Freshen 1 Demo, framing,drywall,taping.

Fireplace Freshen 2 Dust Control Mud, Primer.

Fireplace Freshen 3 Photoshopped look, Radius Corner Bead notes.

Fireplace Freshen 4 Finish Details at windows and Valances.

Fireplace Freshen 5 Valence Details for Vertical Blinds and Lighting.

Fireplace Freshen 6 Final Photos and notes on fireplace doors.

Bon Appetit!

Christmas Ideas – Dewalt Cordless Tools

A cordless drill for all reasons

I don’t recommend tools that I don’t own. That is why the photos I present are of my tools. Every homeowner needs a drill around the house. The best drill for the remodeler and homeowner is the

DEWALT DC920KA 18-Volt 1/2-inch Heavy-Duty XRP Cordless Drill/Driver Kit

This one is mine. Batteries hold a charge for a long time, and when using 3” screws to hold things together, it matters. Having been a corded tool guy for years, and gotten this as part of a set as a present from a client a couple of years ago, most of my plug in tools stay home.

If you buy one cordless drill, this dewalt drill is the one.


It is a regular drill, hammer drill, has 22 clutch settings(so it acts like a screw gun), a three speed transmission, key less chuck, great balance and runs magnificently.
As a hammer drill I only use it for 1/4” anchors(for steel stud track into concrete)handles up to 2” anchors well.Dewaltcordless2

Serious saw action

Next up in the remodelers tool kit for serious demo work is the sawsall aka Reciprocating saw. This is the next step for slashing walls open and doing rough cutting. The yellow tab is the blade lock and release. Uses standard blades, and cuts forever. Dewaltsawall1

Here is why this tool really shines. See those slots? The horizontal one allows you to insert blades sideways to a standard tool. It takes a little getting used to, but there are some places where this is the tool. The vertical slot allows you to install the blade with the teeth either up or down, which when you are cutting sole plates out, let you cut without cutting the joists underneath or destroy the blade cutting through concrete. Dewaltsawall2

The shoe has three 1/2 ” adjustments so you can start with the shoe extended and move it in as you use the tool getting the most out of your blades.  Dewaltsawall3

Like I said earlier I got a kit. All the tools fit well, and with batteries attached, which some tools don’t.


The Circular Saw is not a production tool, due to battery life and not lack of power. Uses standard 7 1/4”’ blades, has a cast  shoe, and depth and angle adjustments.


The strangest thing in this kit was the light. It was only until the first time I needed to work in a dark attic that I saw just how useful it is.

Dewaltlight These are really great tools. It is not just me, but most of the sub contractors I have worked with over the past 2 years use them as well. You can buy them at Amazon and get free shipping.

The batteries recharge in an hour, the chargers stop when the batteries are charged when you are not watching the clock. (plus they are recyclable) You can spend less, but you will cry. You can spend more, but why bother? Dewalt has a couple hundred tools in this system. The only thing they don’t have is someone else to do the work.

Energy, Sustainability and Remodeling

Here are some things I have bookmarked recently.

Clean Technica has a great site. Here are a few recent things.

Mini Nuclear Power Plants For Your Neighborhood In Five Years

Becoming a utility in your neighborhood.

World’s Largest CIGS Thin-Film Solar Array Goes Live

CIGS, or copper indium gallium diselenide thin-film solar cells are not dependent on silicon and instead use highly-available raw materials that are easily integrated into a wide range of applications.
(CIGS is lower in efficency and much lower in cost. Sort of like Betamax vs VHS)

Green by Design is another great site for news on sustainability. Recently:

The Real Cost, The Real Deal

Looking at the monthly costs above the mortgage in home ownership.

FlatPak: Elegant?…Check. Simple?…Check. Green?…Check.

Looking at engineered housing.

Totally Tubular, Man—Bringing Natural Light to Hard-to-Reach Places

Tubular daylighting is a skylight tube that captures light from all angles.

LEDs—You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Good overview of LED Lighting.