Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Basement Dwellers.

As some of you know, Chris and I have been slaving away on our latest "big" renovation project: our basement.  The rest of you probably think we've dropped off the face of the planet - Nope, we're still hard at work playing the nesting game.  To be honest, Chris has been the star of the basement show up to this point.  He's run new plumbing, gas lines, new electrical, re-routed duct work, built walls, framed doors - you know, the essentials.  But now that the "essentials" are in place, things are really about to take off.  With that said, it's time for us to share our basement progress with you guys.  So here's what's been going down in the basement for the past couple of months:

Cute, right?

The spiders love it!
  The plan.
Our goal is to section off about a quarter of our basement, creating a cozy semi-finished space to do laundry, play video games, and just hang out in general.  We are calling the space semi-finished because we'll be installing two new walls (with drywall), but keeping the rest cinder block.  We also plan on painting the floor instead of installing tile, carpet, or hardwood.  So why semi-finished?  Because our 60 year old basement was not constructed with the intention of it ever being a finished space, and water does tend to find a way in during monsoon season (which as of late, has been often).  With that said, you can expect the space to be full of character and warm decor to make up for the fact that it's not "fully" finished.  So here's what we've done so far:

Plumbing, gas lines, electrical - Oh my!
Ladies, I bagged me a good one.  My talented husband just happens to know a thing or two about plumbing and electrical, as in he's pretty much a pro.  I keep telling him that he could quit his day job and make a career out of it - we could probably live like Scrooge McDuck and swim around in pools full of money.  But alas, he claims that hobbies become less fun when you do them for a living.  I'll let him have his "fun".  To accommodate a laundry area and new electrical boxes, the hubs ran new plumbing, gas lines, and electrical over to the new space.  To do this, he had to remove the drywall that was hastily installed on the ceiling just prior to us purchasing the home.  Surprise!  We found some mold.  We shopped around, read some reviews, and settled on a spray product that kills the mold and prevents it from coming back.  So we had ourselves a nice fun afternoon of scrubbing mold off of a ceiling.  Good times.  It's been a couple months since we cleaned away the mold, and I'm happy to report that nothing has returned!  Suck it, spores.

New windows.
Most basements give off a creepy vibe, and our windows were definitely contributing their fair share to the stereotype.  The basement windows were original to the house.  Yes, that means that they were laced with many years of grime, cobwebs, and rust.  Not to mention they were in no way sealed, allowing lots of cold air and even water into our sad, little basement.  Since the process involved some masonry work, we hired the same guy who installed our french doors in the kitchen to install some new windows in the new basement space.  For now, we just opted to replace the windows in the space we're renovating, but we plan on eventually replacing all of the windows in the basement down the line.  But that's a separate topic to blog about on another day.

Ignore the tin sheep sign...I'm already aware that I'm weird for owning it.

Framed walls.
What's weird is that we framed-out our new laundry/hangout space the same way the previous owners had done before.  The difference?  Quality.  No, this isn't just us being OCD -- one of the walls was actually constructed out of the plywood boxes that the original kitchen cabinets came in.  We deduced the box-wall origins as a result of the super-sweet 1950s cabinet company label still taped to the plywood.  Though I didn't find the recycled box-wall to be endearing, I did sort of fancy the vintage label.  You can bet I'll find a place for it as wall art somewhere in our house.  Anyway, we demoed the chintzy walls and put up framing for new walls.  "We" as in Chris.

After we tore down the box-walls that surrounded the staircase.  So much room for activities!
New framework with fresh electrical and duct work.

More electrical.
Once the walls were framed, Chris installed the electrical to accommodate new wall sockets and light switches.  Pretty straight forward, but I have to give him credit for the stellar job that he did.  We even had someone describe his wiring work as being similar to that of the inside of an airplane.  You have no idea how much that comment tickled his fancy.  Check out his handy work:

We'll give those CPVC pipes a coat of paint to blend them into the walls better.

We thought the metal conduit looked very clean and industrial, so we're not painting it.

We used metal conduit to contain the electrical on the walls, which you can see here next to the dryer duct.

Duct work.
A space can't be cozy without some heat and AC.  Look, I'm totally okay with not having to put on a coat or shoes to do my laundry in the winter.  And can you imagine how cool the basement will be in the summer??  A perfect haven away from the heat...for Chris and his friends to play Halo.  I'm also thinking it'd be a lovely environment for exercising on a treadmill (maybe).  How ever you look at it, temperature control is a must.  Chris was able to make good use out of an ill-planned hole the previous owner made in the duct work under the stairs by connecting new duct and running it into our newly-framed "room".  Since the air has a short trip from the furnace to the vent, it actually comes out pretty warm.  Coming from a gal who loathes having goosebumps, I'd say I'm pretty dang pleased with this addition.

You can see where Chris dropped down new duct work and ran it into the new wall.
Here's the vent hole on the finished wall.

Dryloked and loaded.
This was one of those tasks that makes the world of difference.  Since we didn't want to install drywall over the exterior cinder block walls, we knew we needed to make them more aesthetically pleasing.  We opted to paint them with a few coats of Drylok, which not only would give them a clean, painted finish, but would also help keep moisture at bay.  The walls had already been lazily painted with a coat of Drylok by the previous owners, but since it was only one coat (and likely zero prep work), mildew was starting to come through.  I did some research and read that oil-based Drylok is pretty much the be-all end-all option; however I also read that the fumes were super strong and dangerous.  February didn't seem like the right time to open windows and we weren't particularly keen on moving out of a fume-filled home for a few days, so we decided to go for Drylok Extreme.  Drylok Extreme is a water-based product, but is supposed to offer extra protection against mildew.  We used a wire-bristle brush to clean the walls and knock away any debris or flakes.  Then we applied two coats of Drylok using a roller and edging brush.  One of us was on roller duty, while the other was on trim detail, and there were many high fives because we're an efficient team and we know it.  Since we were weary of water coming through between the floor and the wall, we painted a 3" strip of Drylok around the perimeter of the room.  I'm not sure if this will do the trick, but we figured it couldn't hurt.  We also decided to paint the exposed plumbing with Drylok, which was a great decision since they now blend right into the wall. 

Before...the dark smudges on the wall would be mildew/mold.
All clean!

Dirty laundry.
Two years ago we purchased a new washer and dryer as part of a promotion when we bought our stove, microwave, and dishwasher.  At the time, it worked out great because we saved a lot of money by purchasing all of the appliances during a promotion ("the more you buy, the more you save" sort of deal).  The part that sucked was that we didn't have a hookup for a washer (which the previous owners had draining into the sump-pump...true story) or gas dryer (the owners left us their 1974 electric dryer, which our home inspector highly advised against using...that's fun).  The benefit out of all of this?  We got to pick where to put the new washer and dryer.  We decided they needed to be at the bottom of the steps, so you didn't have to adventure through the dark, dank basement every time you needed to wash your unmentionables.  So my handy husband ran gas lines and plumbing to where we selected to be the primo laundry locale, and now, after two long years, I can finally do laundry in my own home.  It's the little things...

Don't worry, I'll definitely be taking some GooGone to that sticker.  It really bothers me.

Drywall install.
Again, this was a job for my handy hubby.  He and his dad patiently cut and hung new drywall on the ceiling, which is more difficult than you would expect since they needed to cut angles/holes/etc to accommodate duct work and lighting boxes.  As for the walls, we recycled the green board (green board = drywall that is intended to be used in damp spaces so it doesn't mold) that the previous homeowners had installed just prior to us purchasing the home.  Basically they just tossed it up there to look "nice", but Chris needed to take it all down to run electrical and plumbing (and then we found that mold).  Instead of tossing it, we opted to reuse the pieces that were still in decent condition for the new walls that we framed out.  Reduce, reuse, recycle, right?
A hole cut for recessed lighting.

Measure a million times, then cut once.

This portion of drywall was cut to fit around some ceiling duct work.

Ughhhhh drywall taping, spackling, and sanding.
If you have ever sanded drywall, then you surely know our pain.  We dabbled in the unholy realm of drywall installation when we renovated the kitchen last summer.  It sucks.  Why?  Try it and get back to me.  Anyway, once drywall is securely screwed into place, there is a plethora of holes and seams that you have to tape and fill with drywall compound.  That part isn't the worst, though the recycled portions of drywall had twice as many holes to fill since they had been used before.  To fill the holes and joints, we used premixed drywall compound and applied it with a joint knife in light, even coats over every screw hole on the walls and ceiling.  For the seams where two pieces of drywall met, we applied some drywall tape then applied the joint compound over top of the tape.  Drywall tape is available in paper form, which is the old-school version that most professionals use, as well as in a mesh form.  The mesh form is pretty straight forward - peel and stick.  For the paper tape, we applied a thin coat of joint compound over each gap, applied the tape over that, then applied another thin layer of compound over the tape.  Once we had the first layer of joint compound on the walls and ceilings it was time to sand and repeat the process.  Sand and repeat.  Sand and repeat.  We hate drywall.  Sand and repeat.  We wore masks and eye protection for this process, as the drywall dust is very fine and easy to breathe in.  For the few minutes that I had my mask off (to adjust my hair), I inhaled enough dust to produce a day's worth of white boogers.  Not cute - wear a mask, people.  After a few coats of joint compound and many tedious hours of sanding, we joyfully vacuumed up all the dust (so much dust) and wiped down the walls and ceilings with a damp rag.  This gave us a nice clean surface for our primer to adhere to.

Lots of spots = lots of joint compound.

Ugh my neck hurts just looking at this photo.

You can see the seams and spots where the joint compound was applied and drying.
We applied one coat of Kilz primer to everything that we intended to paint in the basement - walls, ceiling, staircase, balusters, ceiling beam, baseboards, you name it.  For some of the grimier surfaces like the stairs and ceiling beam, I lightly sanded the surface before applying the primer so that it had a better chance to adhere.  Once everything had a coat of primer, we stepped back and marveled in how much cleaner the space looked.  Now for the fun stuff - paint!

Seeing white.
Knowing me, you'd probably expect I'd slather the walls in some sort of exotic and exciting hue.  Trust me, I expect the same thing out of myself.  BOOM, WILDCARD - I chose white.  Two of the four walls in our semi-finished basement space are cinder block, which we painted with a few coats of white Drylok, so it would only make sense for the other two walls of the space to match.  If you're wondering why I didn't paint over the Drylok, I have read that painting over Drylok is typically frowned upon since it can compromise its effectiveness, so I didn't want to dabble.  With that said, Drylok does come in a couple of different shades, but I didn't take a fancy to anything other than white.  Besides, I'm sort of feeling a crisp 'n clean vintage industrial vibe for the space anyway, so white works.  So we applied two coats of Behr ultra-pure white paint in eggshell finish to the new walls and ceiling.  So fresh 'n so clean (clean).

The beam and post are still just primed - the beam will be painted a happy teal, and the post will get a fresh coat of white semi-gloss.

Some staircase TLC.
I'm a massive history nerd and tend to get annoyingly giddy when given the opportunity to salvage a relic from the past (flashback to the corner hutch makeover).  Not only is our basement staircase original to our house (60 years young), but it was built with a surprising amount of attention to detail.  For instance, the balusters were handmade on a lathe, and the steps are oak with finished, rounded edges.  At least in the world of basement stairs, I would consider them well-crafted.  Chris informed me that he originally assumed we'd be replacing the whole staircase, to which I promptly responded with an audible gasp and a bug-eyed glare that screamed "no way, Jose".  So I informed him that the staircase renovation will be my baby.  He thinks I'm weird (who doesn't), but I don't have time for that because I'm on a mission of utmost importance.  And boy, do I ever have plans for this staircase.  Let's just say I went easy with the white wall color, but the staircase is a whole different story.  Just wait until you see the paint job I have lined up for the steps...ahhhh cliffhanger!

Filthy steps, bright shoes.
Sneak peak: here's the staircase with refinished steps and primed 'n ready for paint.

As you can see, we've been busy little worker bees.  So now that I've gotten you caught up on what we've been up to, here's what we've got left to do on our list of basement duties:
- show the staircase some love (I am really excited about sharing this one with you)
- paint the floor
- frame & hang new doors
- install light fixtures (We got us some good ones; I can't wait to share!)
- trim work
- make it cozy

I'll do a better job this time of keeping you posted on our progress, though we are working slower than usual due to an increase in beach rendezvous.  Can you blame us?  If I left out any tidbits of info that you're dying to know, or if you have specific questions regarding our basement renovation project, feel free to drop a comment below!  


  1. I tip my hat off to Chris for having a good amount of knowledge on plumbing and electrical wiring. While it may have taken a while to get everything together, I'm sure making the basement remodel a DIY project saved you a lot of money. Having said that, I'm really intrigued with what you have planned for the stairs. I hope you get to finish soon so we can all have a look at the finished basement.

  2. Thank you, William! We have definitely saved a lot of money on the basement and all of our other house projects by doing things ourselves. And I am very excited to share the upcoming post on the staircase! We just finished applying the last coat of poly on them last night, so painting them is next on the agenda. We're also ready to paint the basement floor, so keep an eye out in the next couple of weeks for a post on that! Thanks for reading and sharing your comment!! - DIY squirrel

  3. Show us the stairs! Show us the stairs! Show us the stairs!

    Hey, I never asked you: Do you like guacamole? ;)


  4. Besides using a wire brush to clean off the wall, did you do any other prep work before applying Drylok Extreme? How has the wall held up?

    1. We just used the wire brush to scrape off debris, cobwebs, etc off of the wall. After we scraped off the walls, I used a damp rag to wipe away any remaining dust or dirt. We didn't want to use any cleaners for fear that the chemicals would prevent the Drylok from properly adhering to the walls. I'm happy to report that the Drylok is holding up great and looks just as fresh as it did the day we painted it!

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  6. Replies
    1. Nope! Since it's an interior space, we didn't find it necessary. We also have some moisture issues going on in the basement, so we wanted to avoid anything that would trap moisture and encourage mold growth.

  7. Judging from all the pictures, it definitely looks like a tough job. And I’m glad that you handled it well, and it's good that all of you enjoyed the experience. Also, it’s a good thing that you saw the mold immediately and removed it from your home. That's one less problem to deal with! I just hope it will never come back.

    Barry @ carsonscleaningandrestoration.com

  8. I'm sure that was a rather compelling year, with all the stuff it left you to work on and make something fine and dandy out of. Most especially in the realm of the electrical wiring, which is always the tough part. I bet you've patched things up there pretty well at this point, and that you have minimized all the potential problems that may arise in the simplest glitches and faults. All the best!

    Kellie Taylor @ Aim Dynamics