The Big Flush

30 11 2012

The exhilaration I felt after finally carpeting the basement and finishing some of the last odds and ends are finally coming to an end.  It’s been over 2 years since I started the basement, and I’m finally wrapping up the final projects that will make the basement officially “done”.  The last project on this list was finishing the bathroom.  Back in July we set a goal to have the bathroom finished by October so that I didn’t have to spend my time working on it while also adjusting to the adventure of fatherhood.

Long story short…

We are finished with the bathroom! (the birth of my son, Connor, on October 19 is the reason I have not gotten to writing anything until now.  Who would have thought that such a little guy would require so much time?)

Short story long…

The bathroom has a long, complicated history.  In July of 2011, I had to dig out the shower drain in order to align the drain with the shower tray.  Starting in about May of 2012, I started drywalling the interior walls and ceiling.  Preceding from there, I tiled the floors in July.  Then in August I finally got around to installing a shower stall that I had bought over a year earlier.  With the help of a carpenter friend, I was able to do the plumbing myself, which saved me well over $300 that it would have cost for a plumber.  Speeding forward, I finished mudding the walls (mudding is still no fun, but at least I had a lot less to do this time).  By the end of August we had paint on the wall and functional toilet.

Installing a toilet is yet another project that is a lot easier than I would have imagined.  The drain pipe was already in place, and the water pipes were installed.  I put the stop valves in place and the last thing that I needed to do was actually install the toilet.  After much deliberation and a lot of research, I one night decided just to go down and tackle the project head on.  There really was almost nothing to it.  The hardest part (which really isn’t that hard) is making sure you get the bowl lined up in such a way that it is square to the wall.  Other than that, I just had to put the wax ring in place, fix the bowl to the flange, and secure the tank in place.  After hooking up the water, I had a brief ceremonial moment before performing the inaugural flush, to much jubilation.  (As a side note, the toilet brand is called “the Diplomat”, which I’m not sure if that label refers to the toilet or the user, but that’s for a different discussion)  Happy flushing!

After that I installed a vanity, 2 mirrors (one was too small, so I had to remove it and install a bigger one, hence 2 mirrors), and a linen cabinet.  The vanity was white and so was the linen cabinet.  However, the linen cabinet was a slightly different shade of white.  Luckily the white paint I used for the trim and the doors was virtually an exact match to the vanity, so I painted the white linen cabinet white (or white-er, I guess) to match.

White vanity, white linen cabinet, white toilet, white trim

White vanity, white linen cabinet, white toilet, white trim

Adding a bit of color to our bathroom.

Adding a bit of color to our bathroom.

I finished everything up in the bathroom with just a couple weeks to spare until the due date our first child.  The bathroom project was in a way a triumph of everything I had done in the basement as a whole.  Not only did I put to use a lot of the skills I learned doing the whole basement (like drywall, mudding, tile, and trim), I acquired a few new skills as well (like plumbing).  On top of this, for the bathroom we actually sat down and mapped out everything that we needed to complete it before hand (including all the parts, labor needs, and resources), and I came up with an estimated budget to go along with it.  Unlike the rest of the basement where I never planned more than one step in advance, the bathroom had a very specific road map that I laid out for myself.  Thanks to this, I was able to keep impeccable records, and actually spent significantly less than what I even had planned on spending along with finishing almost to the day of the deadline I had set for myself several months earlier!  I now have a model with which all future projects can be managed.  Of course, I have no more major projects to undertake so it probably will never be used, but alas, I have a model!


Catching up

12 07 2012

As the summer heats up, a number of things start happening at my house.  The grass starts growing, then gets mowed, then grows some more, then the horrendous lack of rain turns it brown, then it gets watered, then it grows out of control but still brownish, then it rains finally, and the cycle continues.  As the temperature outside rises, the desire to be outside and have fun in the relatively short Wisconsin summers increases; but at the same time, the extreme heat prompts a rise in the desire to be in my wonderfully cool, sub-arctic feeling, cool glass of lemonade feel on a hot day climate controlled basement, where even with the air conditioning not running all that often it is probably a steady 68-70 degrees on even the hottest of days.  This certainly makes it easier to stay motivated when there are projects to complete; and even the Wisconsin summers can, at times, be too hot to handle.  It also tends to make my writing more infrequent.

With the basement basically finished and livable, Melissa and I assessed where we stood on the final areas in the basement that have not to be given the Matson Stamp o’ Completion.  The Bar area was still not finalized, and the bathroom was barely even started.  For those not in the know, we are expecting our first child in October, and since it might be a while until he can grow into his tool belt and handle a power tool, we decided that we needed to set some goals for where we want to be once this little handiless-in-waiting graces us with his presence.

We decided that the bar needs to be completely finished with the cabinet and countertop in place, the plumbing finished, and a little learning-experience adventure/mishap with the bartop epoxy corrected.  We also made a plan for the bathroom.  At the very least, by the time the little player to be named later joins our family, the bathroom must have a toilet.

Finishing The Bar

I had a little adventure with the bartop epoxy.  The solution is a mixture of a resin and a hardener.  The two are mixed together and then poured on the surface.  I must not have mixed them together the best, because after about 4 days, there were still some spots that were pretty tacky.  I read up on it and found out that if the epoxy is still tacky after that many days, I probably didn’t mix it good enough and it will never get any better than that.  Perfect.  Who needs coasters when your glass will simply adhere itself to the counter?  I’ll just make a bunch of glasses permanent fixtures on the bar and we’ll just get a bunch of straws!  I chiseled out the effected area and poured a new mixture.  This time, I went all MacGyver on it and fashioned a coat hanger into a fancy mixin’ device and stuck it in my drill.  This made mixing it much more efficient and I think much more thorough.  This final application not only came out much much much smoother, but it completely hid any and all of the chiseled areas that I thought for sure were going to be visible forever.

We also finished up the cabinet and counter.  With the help of a friend of mine, we got the cabinet in place, cut the counter top to length and depth, and installed the sink.  I have since assembled the drain which involved a lot of YouTube-ing and some advice from my friendly neighborhood TrueValue.  The last thing I need to do to put the stamp of approval on the bar is to install the faucet.

I also want to point out that I built the shelf above the microwave.

The ultimate sports bar, or at least it’s mine

The Bathroom

I had started drywalling the bathroom when we decided that I had about 3 months to get it into a working state.  The had been something along the lines of drywall, install shower, drywall rest of shower area, mud, paint, floor, finish rest plumbing (including toilet).  Since our object was altered to make the most important aspect getting a toilet working, I changed the plan to: stop drywall, get flooring in, do all the plumbing at once, (including installing the shower, install the toilet flange), then finish drywall, mud, paint, install toilet.  The reason the shower is important is because a) it actually makes up one of the bathroom walls, and b) I can’t finish the drywall until the shower is in, and I’d rather do all the taping, mudding, and painting at one time.

After learning how to install tile floor in the bar, the bathroom seemed quite easy.  It really only took me a couple of days.  I laid out all the tile that needed to be cut and had pretty exact measurements for it.  I used my dad’s wet saw tile cutter, and I even bought an angle grinder to cut a hole in the tile where the toilet flange will go.  About tile, on an effort to results ratio, it is about the easiest of all the projects I’ve done for the results.  In other words, other than the thought and planning that goes into making sure to maximize the full tile usage, limit the number of tiles needed to be cut, and making sure to cut tiles to the correct size–oh, and making sure the whole thing is square (details)–the actual process is extremely simple and difficult to mess up, even down to the slotted trowel that makes 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch rows of mortar so there is no guessing how deep or even to spread the mortar.  The next step is installing the shower, and the work continues.

Adventures in Epoxy

18 06 2012

Having finished up the hardwood flooring that was to make up the bartop, I applied a coat of polyurethane in preparation for the bartop epoxy that would create a crystal clear sealant/protectant and bring the top to life.  This was the last step before I embarked on a process that would essentially be irreversible, and quite possibly disastrous if done improperly.  The days leading up to my eventual embarkation were ones of slight anxiety and a little lack of sleep.

I had to figure out how much of this stuff I needed.  The product I went with was EnviroTex Lite, and I was able to find it at Menards.  The dimensions of the bartop are about 91 inches by 28 inches, or 17.5 square feet.  According to the product website, this would require about 2.25 gallons of the epoxy (you can look up the product at Menards; it’s not exactly cheap) to be poured onto the hardwood flooring that was trimmed in with a 3/16 in bordering lip.  Piece of cake, right?

I had Melissa help me.  The plan was to mix two of the one gallon kits in separate 5 quart ice cream buckets, and then pour them on.  I did my best to tape up any area underneath the trim that I thought could potentially be a place of leakage.  So Melissa and I poured the resin and hardener into our ice cream buckets, stirred for two minutes, and then poured the mixture as evenly as we could onto the surface (I then quickly mixed up the additional quart and poured it on as well).  It did it’s thing and found level, filling out all the way to the edge of the top without any human interaction.  Then the fun began.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Unique Counter

24 05 2012

I gave a sneak peak of what the bar top was going to look like a few weeks ago.  Instead of a boring old kitchen counter top, I went with a design of hardwood flooring.  Now that this phase is done, it looks really good.  It wasn’t without adventure, however.  I bought a bundle of unfinished hardwood flooring in a quantity of about 20 square feet, which should have been plenty considering the dimensions of about 7.5 feet by 2.75 feet.  All told, the area of the bartop is about 18 square feet.  I should have had plenty of flooring, right?  Well, not really.  Here’s why.

The design was a series of diagonal zigzags.  So every place the flooring met the edge of the bar resulted in a triangular piece of waste.  The implications of this didn’t make itself apparent until I started getting close finish.  At one point, when I had only 2 long pieces of unused wood left, I calculated that I had about 330 square inches left to fill in on the bar top.  I then calculated that I had only about 310 square inches of  uncut wood left.  I was able to use some of the triangular scraps to fill in places and do it in such a way that it looks natural.  Not it only did I end up with enough, but the result of this particular area looked much better than if I hadn’t used the scraps.

With that said, the next step is applying a couple coats of polyurethane on the sides and applying the bar top epoxy to seal in the hardwood floor top.  Until then, cheers!

What a look

The angles give the top quite the character

Bar Top Preparation

1 05 2012

Through the process of planning and dreaming up the bar, I found that the design is really only limited by your imagination.  So when it came to figuring out what to do for a counter top, I was pleased to find out that expense wise, there were lots of options to choose from.  I initially thought that regular old kitchen counter tops were going to be the easiest, and cheapest.  It turns out that while this might be a simple solution, the look can leave much to be desired.  When learning that something like using hardwood flooring was not really any more expensive than laminate counters, we decided to go that route.

You can see pictures from the previous post, but the bar has a dark finish to it.  So I figured I’d contrast the dark with a brighter stain for the top.  I bought unfinished oak hardwood flooring from Menards, and stained it with Minwax Natural wood finish.  We are going to assemble the “flooring” in a sort of zigzag fashion to give the top some character.

Once the top is assembled and in place, we’ll seal it up with an epoxy designed for table tops.  This will finish off the top with the equivalent of about 50 coats of polyurethane and will make a nearly indestructible finish.  The trim around the edge of the top will allow for the hard wood flooring and then a 3/16 inch layer of the epoxy.  (Here is a YouTube video of what this will entail).

The hardwood flooring that will become my bartop. Sanded, stained, and sitting in my garage.

Raising the Bar: Part 2

29 04 2012

With our basement officially finished, I continue on some of the other basement projects that help make the space that much more enjoyable.  Case in point…the bar!  We framed out the bar before putting in the carpet, and now that the carpet is in, it’s time to move on.

The bar is going to have stained oak plywood sides and an oak hardwood floor top.  With a help from Jon, a friend of mine who is doing most of the thinking on this project, we got the sides cut, stained, and in place.  An interesting point I learned that “shop rags” that they sell at Menards are nothing more than t-shirts cut into pieces.  So I took a bunch of t-shirts that I just happened to set aside just recently to go to Goodwill and made a small truckload of shop rags.  Which was good because staining requires a lot of rags.

So on to the bar.  Melissa and I had gone back and forth on color.  We had painted the walls a fairly neutral color, and we picked out a fairly neutral carpet color.  We initially were looking at stain colors that were somewhat neutral as well.  After thinking about it, I decided that eventually we needed to do something bold in the basement.  So we went with a pretty dark stain color called Dark Walnut.  I am very happy with how the color turned out, much more satisfied than if I did another fairly neutral color.

Also, while I came up with the overall concept of design as far as how big I wanted it, Melissa had an idea for sprucing up the sides.  She thought of framing the sides with a series of picture frames.  After putting it all up, it looks darn good.  I have some touch ups to do still, but all in all, it’s looking pretty good.

The next step will be the bar top.  The top is going be hardwood flooring, stained a more natural color to contrast the dark sides and trim.  Then, we’ll use a bar top epoxy to create a thick, glass-like film to completely seal the hardwood flooring and create a nearly impenetrable surface.  That’s my next process.


The top is trimmed with a lip to account for the hardwood flooring and a 3/16 inch layer of epoxy

You can see the picture frame trim that gives the face some character

We laid the tile behind the bar. There will eventually be a counter top over the fridge as well as a regular cabinet with a sink to the right. The shelves seen here will be stained the same as the rest of the bar.

With a little creativity, anything awesome can be made more awesome!

We’ve already had our first successful basement party, making use of the bar in a state slightly earlier than the pictures above.  And because I can, I watch Brewer games from my bar, just because I can!

It concludes…

10 04 2012

596 days.  1 year, 7 months, and 18 days.  85 weeks.  14,304 hours, 858, 240 minutes.  more than 300 2x4s Over 90 sheetes of drywall.  Over 3000 screws, nails, and other fasteners.  Nearly 500 pounds of mud.  Paint, trim bruises, blood, sweat, tears.


I did some digging and found that I drew up the first plans for the basement on August 23rd, 2010.  I posted the first blog post about buying the foam board insulation on November 1, 2010.  In that time span, the Packers won the Super Bowl, the Brewers won their division for the first time in my lifetime, and we found out that we are having a baby.  Since that time, I’ve spent countless hours in the basement.  From framing, to drywall, to mudding, to painting, to putting up trim; all the while researching everything as I went, experiencing fits of rage, moments of satisfaction, feelings of frustration, joy, accomplishment, and every emotion in between.  I have learned things I never knew how to do before.  I learned that I am capable of things i never thought possible.  And I learned that of all my shortcomings, laziness is not one of them (this is probably the most surprising thing of all!).  For those that are unfamiliar with me or this blog, it isn’t called the Handiless Homeowner just because it sounds cool.  I really am or was almost completely un-handy.  Read the article titled Handiless Defined for a little background of my story.  Not to toot my own horn (although that’s pretty much the entire purpose for this blog), but building a basement is no small accomplishment for me!

Through all this process, we have finally reached what I can call a conclusion of sorts.  Our basement is now carpeted!  It is a liveable space now (shh, don’t tell the city of Neenah)!  It is no longer a construction zone.  It went from a room that required you to take your shoes off when you went upstairs to having to take your shoes off when you go downstairs.  It went from a cold concrete floor that darkened the entire room to a warm, welcoming room that makes you want to do carpet-angels.

There’s obviously more work to be done.  The bar will be finished soon, and the bathroom hasn’t been touched in a long time.  But over 18 months of toil has finally achieved an end that finally makes everything I’ve been doing seem worth while.

Here’s a view of the progress in the basement, from the bare-bones beginning to the completed product.

View of the Bar area

View of the Bedroom

View of the Ping Pong room

Raising the Bar

5 04 2012

The basement is nearing a conclusion of sorts.  We have ordered the carpeting and are simply waiting to schedule the installation.  The trim work along the baseboards and doors is finished, and the doors are all hung.  With a few odds and ends here and there we will soon be ready for when the carpeting is installed, and the entire demeanor of the basement changes from “work space” to “living space”.  I am giddy with excitement at the prospect of seeing over 18 months worth of work finally show something of a conclusion.

One of those last odds and ends is putting in a bar.  I have always wanted to put in a bar in the basement.  Something to sit at and play games, serve food on, or just sit and pretend that my basement has a pub feel to it.  Last night, a friend of Melissa’s and mine, Jon, came over and lent his carpentry expertise to my idea.  After we were done, we had the skeleton framework constructed of what will eventually become probably my favorite part of the basement.

Way back prior to putting in the drywall, I had plumbers rough in water pipes for a sink back by the bar area.  I even took the liberty of running TV cable up high in the bar area, in the event that I really want to enhance the sports bar feel and put a TV up behind the bar.  I’m really stretching my visionary prowess here!

The design we are going with will sort of be U-shaped, with the high countertop in front, and the other two sides being normal counter height, with room for a small fridge underneath one counter and cabinets under the other.  The high counter will extend just over six feet long, with the entire bar area taking up about a 6’x6′ footprint.  We are planning to tile the floor behind the bar.

As far as the construction went, it was nice (and strange) having someone do all the thinking for me.  Jon has built bars before, so for me it was simply a matter of “how far to you want this to extend” or “do you want the shelves to be adjustable” or something along that nature.  Some of the piecemeal things I’ve put together so far wouldn’t have held much muster to “this should look good when you are finished” had I applied those principals to the bar.  So it was quite nice to have an expert at the helms for a change.

Within a week, we’ll probably have carpeting installed and the feel of the room will change completely.  But for now, there’s this.

We framed out the bar. If you think it looks good now, just wait.

Light at the end…

13 03 2012

This has happened before.  The same thing happened to Lewis and Clark.  Even the most compelling journals have the occassional, if not unexplainable hiatus, leaving the readers wondering what possibly happened during that gap.  The silence of the pen (or in this case, the keyboard) can make one long for information, without which any number of scenarios get tortured and the mind’s contrived worst case becomes the likely.

Well fear not, my loyal readers!  I come bearing good news.  The last three months of silence have not been the result of termites destroying my progress.  Nor has it been caused by massive amounts of snow breaking through our egress windows and flooding out our basement (check the weather lately, it apparently doesn’t snow in Wisconsin anymore).  The silence, as it has been in the past, is the result of progress!

When I last put words to screen, I told about a minor victory we had achieved, in being able to paint the bedroom after finishing off the mudding.  Since then, the progress has exploded.

Finishing up in the bedroom, I moved on to mudding the rest of the basement walls.  I felt like I was moving fairly quickly at this, and I felt like I was doing a better job than I did in the bedroom.  Afterall, I had all that practice in me now.  Once finished with mudding the seems, I added my signature wall texture.  With not having to mud the ceiling, the process of mudding and texturing the walls actually seemed rather doable.

Then we painted!  We primed both the walls and the ceiling and painted the ceiling white.  We then spent about 24+ hours over the course of a Friday-Sunday painting the walls a soft tan color.  In a matter of three days, the basement went from construction zone to “hey, this looks like a room now.”

Next came doors and trim.  I bought doors and trim and painted all the floor trim and door casing.  My dad came over for a weekend and we he helped me get started with putting on the floor triming, hanging doors, framing on of the egress windows, and framing in the doors.  I then finished all the triming and door framing the following weekend.  In all we had 5 doors to hang, and 5 doors are now hanging.  I have since painted all but 2 doors and installed door knobs.

The tedious work was touching up the trim.  I painted the trim white, and the finishing nailer left holes every place it put a nail that needed to be filled in with spackle.

So with all this work, we are left with a few more tasks: building the bar that I want to put in the living area, and picking out carpet, along with a few odds and ends.  We inch ever closer to the end, and clearly the end is closer in sight.

Progress with the mud

18 12 2011

I came to the conclusion that mudding the entire basement myself was going to be simply too much work to take on.  It wasn’t so much the physical labor, but the mental anguish that left me feeling drained after an hour or so of mudding.  We had started in the bedroom and sort of learned as we went.  After Melissa and I both decided we had had enough, we called a professional.

We ended up hiring someone to plaster the ceiling of the entire basement except for the bedroom, furnace room, and bathroom (which we aren’t working on at all right now).  In one day, one guy did more and made it look better than Melissa, me, and my dad could accomplish over the course of a few months.  We were extremely pleased with how it turned out, but more importantly, my motivation suddenly went through the roof.  I was completely rejuvenated to get back to the task of mudding and finishing the basement.

My parents had come down for a weekend and we worked on finishing up the bedroom.  And because I don’t trust my own ability to mud good enough not to notice it once painted, I put my own artistic flair on the walls.

I used a 12 inch mudding knife and used short strokes to make subtle impressions on the wall

My custom texturing turned out a lot better than I had expected.  To be honest, other than watching some YouTube videos about it, I was completely shooting from the hip.  We were able to prime and paint the room, and it looks pretty good.  Melissa did most of the painting, with me filling in here and there.

The colors look great, and the texture came out better than I expected

The picture doesn’t show the texturing very well, but here’s another look that gives a little bit of an idea of how it looks up close:

The texture covers up all of my mistakes, and generally solves all of life's problems.

Every day we get closer to the end goal, which is actually being able to use the basement.  My motivation remains high and I working with that end in sight.

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