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September 2021
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House Refresh the Kitchen

Recently I refreshed a house.  Owner died, heirs want to sell.  In the current market balancing cash in vs cash out is a delicate act. You want to add value but you can’t afford to overbuild for the market. Once you own a house you can of course go crazy.

Here is the kitchen in this house which is just like every other house in the neighborhood, which at one time was a ‘development’.

In the foreground is the breakfast area with wood posts forming a visual separation between the family room and the galley style kitchen. This is untouched from the day the developer turned over the keys. Back in the day where wallpaper was thought to be a good idea in kitchens. The wallpaper has to go, the popcorn ceiling in the breakfast nook has to go, the cabinets need serious cleaning. The formica counters are showing extreme age.

The first order of business is to eliminate the posts, remove the wallpaper, skimcoat the walls,(required as the builders do not final finish these walls figuring that the wallpaper will cover imperfections) clean and refinish the cabinets, order and install new tops and clean and refinish the floor. The floor was left as it is a one piece sheet vinyl in good condition.

Just these few tasks begin to open up the space. After removing the wallpaper, which was not real hard as I had my daughter do it, and using a spray bottle filled with water she made it go away in short order. We cleaned and refinished the cabinets first, bagged them and then primed and painted. The counters were the last major items installed before doing the floor. Here is the final result.

Here is the kitchen start from the reverse angle.

Here is the finish.

Here is a longer view from the family room.

Popcorn Ceiling Removal

One of the most sworn at design details in housing is the popcorn ceiling. They collect dirt, dust, spiderwebs, and all sorts of crap. You can’t wash them. You can’t dust them. You can paint them if you want to spend an enormous amount of money on paint, and don’t mind a stiff neck.

You can remove them.

Here is a quick look at the procedure.
Take down any lights or fans on the ceiling. Remove the furniture, because you need to bag the entire floor. If you cannot remove the furniture, you will have to move it to cover the floor, move the stuff and cover the rest of the floor, and move it again to keep it out of your way while you are scraping the stuff off. If you are not painting the walls at the same time you will want to poly the walls. A quick look on bagging the walls can be seen here.
Bagging the floor consists of covering it with a layer of poly sheeting to catch the popcorn as it comes down. You can buy it in 10′, 12′ and even wider sizes. .7 to 1 mil. is all the thickness you will need. Buy the widest stuff you will need. It comes in 400′ rolls. Clean up is a lot easier with not having seams on the floor.

First up is moistening the ceiling. This does two important things for you. It softens the popcorn making it easier to remove and the moisture reduces the dust, which is especially important if you are living in the house.

Here my friend Rich from Arrowhead Drywall is using a simple pump up sprayer to spray plain water to moisten the popcorn.

Next is scraping the ceiling.

Rich is using a standard 6” taping knife to scrape the ceiling.

Here is the floor after the popcorn is down.

Here is the ceiling after.

At this point you need to roll up the plastic and dispose of the trash.
You will need to decide how you want to finish the ceiling. Skim coating it for a smooth surface, or a texture effect like a skip trowel, knockdown, or some other effect. You will need to rebag the floor.

Termite Hunting

A recent project has me up close and personal with termites. We are cleaning up this property to sell it. The owner had lived here 30 years or so. Needs paint, carpet and some updating. This house also has subterranean termites. You cannot sell a house that has termites in Arizona. At All. There are really only two areas that will kill a sale in Arizona, Roofing and Termites. Especially if you get a mortgage. Crappy roofing invites damage from above, Termites from below.

It is almost gospel that in Arizona you will have termites. The question is when and what kind. This is one of those parts of ownership/remodeling where you call the professionals.
Here is a bedroom wall photo.

This is a termite infestation that penetrated the wall and was chewing on a wood picture frame.
Here is a photo of termite tubes in a closet.

This is a photo of the pony wall 3/4 of the length of the house away from the bedroom wall termite damage.

This is a closeup of the trim underneath the wood cap. Note the direction of the damage.

Jon from Bills Pest and Termite came by for the inspection. This was probably the most informative 90 minutes I have spent with any contractor in some time. I now know way more about termites than I did a few days ago. He was courteous, knowledgeable, professional and was happy to answer my questions and explain the process as we went along. Bills is highly recommended.

Having completed the exterior inspection we moved indoors.
In the garage the inspection revealed a couple of ‘tubes’. The black vertical squiggly’s between the floor and the bottom of the trim.

Pulling up the carpet in the bedroom beneath the wall damage revealed this tube.

Here is another photo showing the termite freeways on the tackless strips used to hold the carpet in place.

The reason that this is significant is that in re carpeting, most companies will just reuse the original tackless strips rather than replacing them. One of the reasons is that when they are first put down the concrete is soft,(relatively speaking) and has not had 30 or so years of hardening. Nailing anything to fully cured concrete without drilling is extremely hard.

Every bid that you will get on re carpeting will have a line on having to replace tackless over a certain length as an extra, because of the difficulty of putting down new strips. In the photo above you can see where this needs to be done because the termites have destroyed it.

Because of the nature of the infestation, they will be pulling the carpet back, drilling a series of holes through the slab inside the house, introducing the pesticide and then sealing the holes. So if you are not replacing the carpet, note that you will need to probably replace some of these. (this falls into the remodeling ‘surprise’ category as normally most folks would not think about this)

But Wait! Before I leave you I want to take you back to the pony wall.

Here you can see an angled shot of the damage on this trim.

One of the things I learned is that this type of termite only consumes the wood between the growth rings, which is why the damage runs parallel to the grain rather than across it like the dry termite.

Here is how these termites got to the wall.

There is a crack in the slab from the garage to this wall. You can’t see them in this photo but there are termite tubes in that crack.

Next week I will post the procedure, and move on.

Remodeling Tools Notes and Tips: Pliers – Electricians Pliers

Just about every set of pliers I have mentioned previously Slip Joint, Vice Grips, have a ‘wire cutter’ at the base of the jaws. None of them work well.

The last set of pliers to consider for your remodeling toolkit is a pair of electricians/linesman’s pliers. I am going to show mine, My Klien’s. I am not bothering to show any other as it would just make them cry and in this category there is only one.

This is a Klein D200-9NE Linesmans Pliers.
These are the only set of electric pliers you will ever need. This is only my second pair. I had my first pair 15 years until somebody stole them. I have had these 10.

They cut wire, nails, screws and most hardened wire.(not that you will run into hardened wire in the typical house) The plastic handles are NOT an insulator, so make sure the electricity is off when using these around electricity!

Here is a closeup of the business end.

These are so well constructed you need to look close to see the rivet. The gap on the top is by design, and not a defect. In addition to being a superior wire cutter, (note the location of the rivet being closer to the cutting edge giving you more force applied for cutting) The ‘v’ opening on the left works to hold the end of the wire so you can bend it to fit around the screws as you install outlets and switches.

The slot on the bottom of the jaw works well as a wire stripper without nicking the wire. It takes a little practice to get used to, but one of the best electrician’s I ever met did all of his connections with only a set of Kliens and a screwdriver. He could cut, strip, twist and install a outlet or switch faster than you just read this sentence.

The milling on the jaw ends is crosshatched giving you more gripping power than a straight tooth.

They are so well machined that there is no side wobble even after 10 years. If I don’t lose these my kids will fight over them when I die.

Remodeling Tools Notes and Tips Pliers – Vice Grips

In my previous posting on slip joint pliers, I mentioned the versatility of them. One of the drawbacks to them is the ability of applying force to them while you are turning them. In the case of loosening a nut or bolt, you need to get a firm bite on it as you apply sideways pressure to turn it. The typical slip joint pliers is probably responsible for easily 50% of the profanity in remodeling projects, as well as keeping the band aid companies profitable.

For the most part, basic hand tools  have been invented and it is  details and quality which sets various tools apart. Occasionally something new does get invented that does one better. The Vice Grip Pliers is such a tool.

These are two  Vice Grip style pliers. The one on the left is a knock off that is so bad that the only identity mark on it is Taiwan. The one on the right is the real deal. Despite Vice Grip being bought by Irwin (another tool maker) the quality has not been compromised. I mentioned before that ‘branding’ is not necessarily any guarantee of quality. This is one of the few cases where the brand is the real deal.

Here is a detail of the various parts of it.

On the top in this photo is the ‘fixed ‘ handle containing the adjustment knob, spring(not visible) and the fixed jaw.

On the bottom is the movable  handle with quick release lever to release the tool after clamping it on your work, and the movable jaw. You use this by adjusting the jaws around your work and then clamping the handles together. The clamping action allows you to apply more force in turning than you get with ‘standard’ slip joint pliers. Here is a link for more info.

In addition to the positive locking feature, you also get a much broader range of sizes that you can clamp and turn, This 10” set will grip 3/4” galvanized pipe for example, without smashing your hands. (YMMV)

This is one of those cases where a tool can be improved.  You will not save money by buying a knock off. The no name on the left looks sorta close, but on examination you can see that the ends of the jaws do not meet, the teeth are junk, and the manufacturing quality is so poor they needed three rivets to hold the fixed jaw in place.

A vice grip is really the only adjustable pliers you will need in your remodeling kit. Highly recommended.

Remodeling Tools Notes and Tips: Pliers – Slip Joint

The most important thing in remodeling are your tools. For all you folks starting your first project to seasoned serial remodelers, what will set your work apart from the rest is your tools. Good Tools work better. Because they do their jobs well, your jobs will be easier and safer. Good tools last and perform better.

For those of you of a delicate persuasion who are offended by salty language, you should probably go somewhere else as it will be getting salty soon. The theory that some folks hold dear that profanity has no place in discourse and that folks who use it are somehow less intelligent, have limited vocabularies and or live in ‘those’ areas, have never remodeled.

But I am not here to cure Experience Deficit Disorder, I am talking Tools and Remodeling. Both of which require intelligence, specialized vocabularies, shopping in ‘those’ areas, and a desire to increase their knowledge and abilities. Moving on…

There are no magic brands out here or branding fairy dust that make shitty tools work better because they are a ‘brand name’ . Bullshit words like “Professional Grade, Industrial Grade” have become marketing slogans rather than qualitative distinctions in material, construction and fit and finish. Good tools are expensive. Shitty tools are cheap.

No finer examples of Branding Bullshit  can be demonstrated than by talking about the lowly pliers. You have at least one pair in your stuff, maybe two. The reason I have more is I hate giving up any tool. Either as something that I use every day, or as a painful reminder never ever to spend a dime on a particular ‘Brand’ ever again. That I post about it is gravy for you.

This is multi tool that everyone owns. These are what usually come to mind when somebody says, “Hand me a pair of Pliers” (No, I don’t know why pliers are referred to in the plural when in reality you are using a single tool)

These are standard slip joint pliers. On the left is a pair of “Stanley”, center is a “Fuller” right is a “Powermaster” When I was a child, learning carpentry and cabinetry from my grandfather, who was  a master cabinet maker from Sweden, there were Stanley tools all over. Not anymore. Since becoming a conglomorate, outsourcing their manufacturing, and slapping their name on any vaguely home related product, their quality has gone into the toilet. Here is an example of this.

As you can see the teeth are broken the chrome plating has worn and chipped. This plier was produced in Japan. Fuller has been building hand tools around 50 years and are a great  value where available. Also forged in Japan.  The tool on the right is a Powermaster I picked up in a box at a yard sale. Powermaster is a brand for a group of Korean foundry’s cranking out tools. Not a bad tool, but there are better choices.

All of these pliers have serrated jaws on the top for gripping material, The larger teeth are for gripping and twisting, small nuts, bolts and pipes. You can see the slip joint which allows the pliers to grip larger diameter material. The little slots below the larger teeth is allegedly a wire cutter, but trust me, none of them work well.

Things to look for in pliers.

Check that the biting surfaces are even and sharp. Uneven or dull teeth will not grip, will slip and hurt you.

Check that the outside ‘checkering’, knurling, outside surface is consistent in pattern,(not off center, disappearing) If it is not this not indicates how little they care about the outside, it also indicates that the tool is made out of trash material and will fail.

Check that the handles open and close smoothly, and there is no wobble at the slip joint. Here again, it is all about quality.

Check for a comfortable fit. Because unless you lose them they will be with you for a long time.

Removing Painted Popcorn Ceilings 4

If you want to paint in Arizona near the outside, you need to start early. But it is done.

Here is where we started.

Here is a longer shot.

Here is the other side.

And here we are back at the Storage Project Wall.

Here is that start.

Removing Painted Popcorn Ceilings 3

Got a late start on Wednesday, so we got the sanding done, the second coat of speed set done and the dust control mud up.

The seams have been spread out, and the nails and gouges have been filled.

Started early Thursday, did a quick sand and rolled the primer. Love Gripper Primer.

Could not put the finish color as by 9 am the ceiling was too hot. Early start in the morning.

Removing Painted Popcorn Ceilings 2

In our last episode we had bagged the garage, and scraped the popcorn ceiling. So at the end of the day it basically looked like this.

You can see the straight lines that tell the tale of mechanical tools for taping. Tools work fine in the hands of an artisan. They are adjustable so that a really fine line can be set. Not the case here. On of the drawbacks to the homeowner/remodeler is repairing taping done with tools. Because the mud has extra water added to run though the ‘tools’ one of the unfortunate byproducts is the dust from sanding. Taping mud contains adhesives that help it to stick, and when you change the mix by adding water beyond the mfg. recommendations, it doesn’t work as well, and creates much more dust than normal.

The secret to living through sanding is getting someone else to do it:) In this case I enlisted the aid of my daughter, Amanda.

She is no stranger to remodeling having grown up around it, and working construction. Anyhow, after sanding and cleaning up the blizzard of dust, we spotted nails and taped seams with speed set. One of the other unfortunate aspects of using really soupy mud is shrinkage. So at the end of the day it is almost like redoing the taping completely as the paper  gouges, nail holes, and previous mud application was not feathered out.

Tomorrow, a quick sand, another coat of speed set in the morning, touch up, and a finish coat of Dust Control Mud, so that we can prime and paint on Thursday.  Hopefully, as the heat in this room is astonishing, having no insulation over the ceiling, having a cement blockwall with due west exposure, and outside temps over 100.

Removing Painted Popcorn Ceilings

Popcorn Ceilings are really so over. They were another ‘innovation’ by builders to cut the cost of construction. Calling them Acoustic Ceilings was more of a marketing ploy rather than any serious sound deadening benefit.  Vermiculite and some sort of water based paint, they were fast and cheap. Tape, cover coat, and spray. No sanding No priming, just spray thick and move on to the next house.

Builders loved this shit, and real estate agents cried ‘elegance’.  A few years down the road, they turned gray from dust or an ivory yellow depending on how much you smoked.  Spiders loved them for all the anchor points for their webs. Sweeping them to get rid of the webs created more mess and loosened up what was left so you had a light snowfall over time. Painting them is an option, but is expensive. Since there is no primer, what ever paint you used, you would need twice as much, and the only useful color was white.

If you are ‘lucky’ enough to have popcorn that has been painted, removal is not as hard as you might think. Here is a ceiling that fits the bill.

Yes it is a garage ceiling.The ‘Elegance’ is just oozing out. Originally this garage was cinder block and firewall drywall. Behind the ladder is the storage unit I built from the recycled materials left over from the Storage Project.

Since this is an unfinished  garage we will not be covering the floors for the first part. Details on Red Rosin Paper are here.

The first order of business is to bag the walls. Cover them with poly. I am using.7 mil 12′ wide poly and  blue painters tape.

Blue Painters tape does not leave residue like regular masking tape and comes off cleanly. The 12′ length insures that the plastic will reach the floor around cabinets and other things next to the walls. If you bag the room there is a whole lot less cleanup. Bag the entire room.

Here I overlapped the plastic over the doorway into the house. This allows access for stuff in the garage while this project is happening.

Scraping the ceiling works best with a 6 or 8” drywall mud knife at around a 30 degree angle. Push the knife away from you in a steady motion to remove the maximum amount of material as you go. Less sanding later. You can use a wider knife but you will get tired real quick. Take your time as if there are any nail pops your knife will catch on them. Here is a partway shot.

This house was taped using ‘tools’. these are expensive mechanical tools usually reserved for large commercial projects. There are two indicators. One is the same width on the seam and butt joints. The other is the straight lines over the nail holes.

You will have small gouges in the drywall that will be fixed with mud after you clean up the mess.

Next up will be filling the gouges, sanding and taping the joints.