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September 2021
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Gravity Sucks

I am normally pretty good on ladders.

Gravity Sucks. Falling from ladders sucks.

You can’t see the rose thorns in this photo, but they are there. Took two weeks for one to come up far enough to dig it out.

The knot on my shin is about the size of a tangerine.

Of course it had to be on one of the highest points of the house.

Gravity Sucks/

those darn designers 1

I run across a lot of weird things in remodeling. Occasionally something appears that reinforces my long held belief that architects and designers should be required to serve an internship and residency like doctors before they get a license to practice. Like vaulted ceilings. Heating and cooling spaces you cannot possibly use because you are not 10 feet tall.
A lot of other things that gripe me is the lack of thought on maintenance down the road.

A recent paint job brings this home. Here are two bathrooms in the same house.


Never mind the counter material choice, think about having to replace the guts of these toilets. There is enough room to remove the top, but that is about it. You can almost replace the flapper, but if you have to replace the fill valve, you literally have to disconnect the toilet and drag it out from the wall. In addition to the fill valve, you will need a new wax ring, and have to go through the dance to reseal it properly.

those darn designers.

Lightyear Sunken Bath Episode 11 Access Panel Follies

The tub we have installed is a 36” Jacuzzi Espree model. This presented a number of challenges such as planning and sizing the
finish materials to trim out this unit. The walls are going to be covered completely with solid surface material from the top of the tub
deck to the bottom of the soffit. The soffit was built wide enough so that we will have a clean vertical line between the tub and the soffit.

It is designed as a drop in tub for those having bathrooms the size of 2 car garages and want to build platforms to display it. Why the hell you want to have steps to get into a bathtub, whose primary claim to fame is the therapeutic bubbling is beyond me, but hey, it keeps folks employed building displays for them. Now most of my visitors do not have bathrooms that large and in some cases like me, have houses that are barely larger than two car garages.

By now if you are following along, we have mounted it in a more traditional manner, (being surrounded by three walls.)

One of the things that I have learned in doing remodeling is thinking about working on things later. Electric tubs are a poster child for this thinking. Stuff breaks and requires access to repair it.
So for this project we are framing in an access panel. I talked with the solid surface guys and we had decided to put a panel across the whole thing with screws to be able to access the pump and motor down the road. Later that night I was thinking about it. Putting an access panel all the way across would mean that I would have an unfinished base trim detail in this area. So I made the panel surface smaller, providing blocking for the screws for the panel, the gap for the upper trim piece, and enough space at the bottom to be able to run the baseboard in this area. This allows the panel to be removed woithout damaging either the walls or the floors.

This is the front view. The back side is an ugly mess as I had to trim the track to clear the hoses and pipes on the top, and the stand, bracket and plumbing on the bottom.


Here is the left side showing the gap across the top for the reveal piece of solid surface. This also shows the pump housing that sticks out enough so the solid surface guys will have to router out the back side of the panel for clearance. This is one of those details that let you know that the product was designed for ease in manufacturing rather than ease in installation. sigh… another remodeling surprise!


I also provided a space to get into the back of the tub should it be necessary for servicing the jets or lines on the wall side.


Caravan Adventures

The workhorse of my life has developed transmission problems. Downshifting into low when you are driving down the road. At 35 miles an hour it is annoying, but at freeway speeds it is downright scary. Not recommended in a hot climate nor in Phoenix, as the heat buildup will destroy it.

This has severely handicapped me in moving materials and tools. A 10 on the life suckage meter for sure.

It is in the capable hands of my mechanic, who shall remain nameless, as he has enough work, and if I tell you who and where, you will all run over their making it harder for me to get service. Normally I am happy to share my partners in remodeling and construction with you, but you will have to find your own mechanic.

But I am not without resources and friends. I am currently cruising around in a 1986 Ford Tempo. 30K actual miles, as they only used it for cruising around
town at their northern hideaway.

Interesting little car, as it was one of the cars that had an Automatic Seatbelt ‘Feature’. It is every bit as strange as it sounds. Sort of like so many horror
films where the victim would sit in a chair and straps and manacles
would snap into place letting the monster know it was time to go to work. What happens is when you get in the car, and close the door, you turn on the key, and the seat belt runs along a track over the door and tightens itself around you. It does not let you go until the engine is off and you open the door.

But it is a set of wheels, and my adaptability index is high. I am a remodeler.

Remove 2 bolts. 1 bracket, and slide out between the firewall and the crossmember.

That is what it said in the repair manual. My  grand caravan developed electrical problems the other day. Tuesday, I called one of my friends in the auto recycling biz who specializes in Chrysler products. After discussing the problems, we decided that we would try replacing the engine computer. The reason being that the regulator for the alternator is in the computer, not in the alternator or on the firewall, which it has been over time.

So I picked up an used/recycled computer and replaced it. This was a simple operation. I started the van, watched the amp gauge drop and the engine died.  This test told me that the computer was not at fault. So my next move was to replace the alternator.

Now before we get into this, a small bit of history. I haven't always been a remodeler. In the late 80's and early 90's, I worked in auto wrecking yards. From dismantling, to sales, to management, I did just about everything that happens in a wrecking yard. Part of this experience was what made me stop working on my own cars. And for about 15 years I have been able to avoid it.

Times are tough, money is what other folks have, so into the breach I descended.
It started out simple enough, disconnecting the battery, finding the top and bottom alternator bolts and removing them, almost. The bottom bolt would not come all the way out because of a bracket being the way. I had a quick conference with Joe, the local mechanic, and he looked at it and figured out that the bracket needed to come out. He borrowed me a long wrench, the right size but had to split as his wife was in labor and was on the way to the hospital.

I finally got the bracket out of the way using the eyeballs on the tips of my fingers, which were rusty from not being used in years, and still no joy. The alternator was not coming out from the top as the top alternator bolt went through a bracket that also bolted to the engine, contained the power steering fluid reservoir, and extended down the front of the engine block. After looking at this for a while, I sat back and thought deep thoughts about auto engineers, and figured I would check online. Two hours of my life that I will never get back.

Long story short, I went and got a Manual. There I discovered, the alternator comes out the bottom.  "Remove 2 bolts. 1 bracket, and slide out between the firewall and the cross member." This was good news as the alternative of stripping all of the brackets from the front of the engine, is what sent me to the store in the first place. 

To do this you have to raise the vehicle. You have to be able to swing a cat, Figure 18-20'' up. 'They' suggest Jack stands. Like every body has a set of stands, a 5 ton floor jack and a grease pit in their garage.

Now having gotten the vehicle up high enough, and parked on one of the few spots of the old driveway that water pools, I began the process. Now I have already removed the 2 bolts, removed the bracket, and gotten a grip on the alternator. No matter how I turned it, slid it, muttered, held my breath, it was not coming out. After looking at this for a while, I sat back and thought deep thoughts about auto engineers, and discovered the SECRET!

You have to remove the firewall heat shield, unbolt, disconnect and move the exhaust system,(which is a hell of a lot more work than the description would indicate) swing the alternator around, being careful not to get it caught on the spark plug wire, O2 sensor, ground strap, power steering hoses, brake lines, and the cross member. A few items they neglected to mention in the fricking manual. 

Having finally gotten it out, I took it up to the parts store and had it tested. The damn thing is fine! 204K and it still works. The parts guy mentioned that I didn' t seem happy that it passed. 

This means that there is some electrical gremlin in the system that involves a whole lot more work than I am equipt for, temperamentally suited for, or competent to tackle.

Plus I have the wonderful task of reversing all of today's work before I get it towed up to my mechanic. Some days just suck.

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.

Carpet Follies

My son bought his first house, so I went up to give him a hand moving
some of his stuff. While we were moving we took the opportunity to
remove a couple of electric baseboard heaters.

I have seen many weird things in the years I have been remodeling, some good, some bad and the occasionally downright lunatic. This falls into that category.

This is the wall behind one of the baseboard heaters. The red and black shag is the previous carpet. They just ran the carpet up to the heater and stopped. There were 4 screws holding the heater to the wall.  The carpet installers must not own a screwdriver. But then having one's head filled with 'fuzzy side up', probably accounts for it.


Stopped by to see a client and saw this.
“Just checking for color…”she said.
If you like green…

Single Handle Faucets and Countertop Surprises

My grandfather taught me, “If you don’t have the time to do it right, where are you going to get the time to do it over?”

I am a lazy guy. If there is anything I can do to avoid working hard, I will spend lots of time figuring it out. Go ahead and laugh, get it out of your system. I’ll wait. From cleaning to building, anything that will make my life easier, I will be first in line.

One of the things I am a fan of, are Single Handle Faucets. Kitchen, Bathrooms, Showers. Single Handle Faucets have the virtue of 50% less moving parts, half the number of replaceable parts, and need 2/3 less holes for installation. Having one small area to clean around rather than the deckplate that most faucets have including that place in the back next to the backsplash, is less time cleaning and more time for other things.

My current client is on the same page. In doing the previous bathrooms, Master Bath Project, Guest Bath Project we had the ability to control the entire process as we gutted and rebuilt them.

 One of the things to do in a bath project is to select the fixtures first.

A couple of reasons. First, sticker shock. Some of those elegant fixtures, and especially sets sink, tub/shower sets, are expensive. Now that you are over that, look at towel bars, hooks, t.p. holders, grabbars if you are so inclined, and try to match the finish to the fixtures you have sold your children for, remember what the goal is.

The Third Bath Project is a refresh rather than a total gut job. We are keeping the vanity and countertop, keeping the tub and tile, removing the old shower door, and reshelving the closet.

This is the new faucet for the vanity. This is a Price Phister, an elegant faucet in a brushed nickle finish, selected for style and repairability. Why would I think about fixing a new faucet? This is Arizona. We have
hard water, full of minerals, which grind the moving parts into
leaking. Replacement parts are widely available. Having spent a significant amount of time selecting a fixture,
as well as a not inconsiderable sum of money on it, It makes no sense
to buy something that will cost as much to repair as it cost in the
first place. 

A lot of other plumbing fixtures, most notoriously Kohler, do not have
parts that can be picked up at your local hardware or supply store. Having to wait for parts is not at the top of the list of
things you can be doing with your life. And if you use a plumber, he will have to come twice. Once to confirm that it needs repair, and again after ordering the parts, getting them in and rescheduling.

Having been through two bathrooms we were ready. So we just need to remove the old faucet and pop in the new one.


Surprise, Surprise,  Surprise!!!!

I have mentioned how I like surprises before,This is what was under the old faucet.


Not one hole or three holes but TWO holes. The tape measure shows that they drilled the holes on a 4 1/2 inch center, not 4” which has been standard for years.The pin hole is for the stop rod for the drain that they managed to drill off center as well. It puts a crimp into the single hole faucet deal.

There are some things I have had no experience with, fewer every year, but repairing solid surface is one of them. So while I did other things, the client tracked down a company, PRO TOPS, 623-388-0660 who said that they could make this go away. 

Since I like to share, here is the setup.

First, the top goes wall to wall, Actually imbedded into the wall. Secondly the mirror goes wall to wall, up to the ceiling. Around 12 feet. The problem is getting the top out without breaking the mirror, or destroying the top. It can’t be repaired in place.


Mike from PRO TOPS showed up, took a look and called Mark. Mark showed up, and ten minutes later the top was out, and on saw horses ready for repair. Notice that they left the mirror back splash in place, only removing the side splashes. The drywall damage was from the original installers. Remember I said that it was in the wall.

Deck2  A couple of hours later it was back in place. With a single hole.


We had the counter left from the Guest Bath project for material to match. This is at least 10 year old Corian.  Repairing holes requires a lot of routers, sanders and a buffer.

First you use a big V profile bit to enlarge the hole, to receive the plug. Next you make plugs using an even larger bit that cuts a large hole outside, and a matching V profile inside to fit it the hole. Then you use colored adhesive to seal the plug. Sand it down, and buff it out.

It took a couple of hours because Mike is one of those guys who does what needs to be done to get it right. The plugs were a problem producing. When he got two he liked he installed them. When he got through, one of them has a faint white line. Called ‘Bruising’. I mean it was a faint line and you has to look real hard to see it. He re-drilled it out and replaced it. This is the finished product.

HoleYou live in Phoenix or nearby, these are the guys to call.