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.

A Lawnmower Home

28 03 2012

So I took some time away from the basement for a day to work out in the garage. Other than the workbench we built, there isn’t much for shelf space. I corrected that problem.

My garage has a two stall door, and then it is indented about two feet for a second, one stall sized garage door. This creates the perfect little nook for which to put a shelf. Enter the handiless homeowner!

The design sort of took form as I went. When I built the soffit in the basement, I used wooden I-beam joists, and I had two left over. I had used one of these joists to make a bench for mudding, and I figured turning it into a shelf was a proper way to allow it to forever make its mark as a part of the house.

I took these two joists and cut them each to 5 foot lengths. I then screwed them together and then fastened them to the exterior wall of the garage to act as the vertical support for the shelf. I needed room to store the lawn mower underneath, so I put in two shelves starting about two feet above the ground.

Now I really had no design plan, and I assumed I was going to have to buy some plywood for the shelf top. It just so happened that I had two squarish pieces of plywood leftover from the workbench that fit my two shelf sizes almost perfectly! It’s as if I planned it that way! So it turns out that I have indeed learned a thing or two in the last year or two of working on my house. I built a shelf from scratch that is probably stronger than anything I could buy in a store, and it was essentially free. Go me!

My Lawnmower has a little home now

I built this with no plan in mind, other than "hey, a little cabinet would be fun to build."

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.

Basement Full Of Thanks

24 11 2011

It was one year ago this coming weekend that I embarked on an adventure that has consumed my spare time on a fairly regular basis.  It started with a big load of foam insulation board that I had to adhere to the cement wall.  Then we framed the entire room.  I hired the electrical, some of the plumbing, ran electrical wire for heating, hung drywall, started mudding, and so on.  There is still a lot to do, but I would not have gotten this far without some help from  a whole gamut of sources.  I’ve had people provide physical labor, advice, external resources, blog input, and support.  I’d like to thank those people and sources now.

Melissa, Erik, Kathleen, Google, Christopher, This Old House, Rex, Sara, You Tube, Nancy, David, Lisa, Diersen Electric, The Neenah Public Library, Black and Decker, Bosch, Krueger True Value, God, Menards, Jon, Lowes, Home Depot, Ford Windstar, Jeremy, Miller Brewery.

For some visual, here are some long awaited pictures of my progress.  I am almost completely finished hanging drywall.  The unavoidable task of mudding is all that seems to separate me from painting!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Playing with Mud

19 10 2011

I have been documenting my progress with hanging drywall in the basement, and I continue to work towards the finish.  I have completely finished the bedroom (both interior, exterior, and closet).  I have finished the hallway and the exterior of the utility room.  And a while ago, my dad and I finished more than half of the ceiling in the living room area.  I have now begun to move into the bulk of the living room portion, where I will be until the drywall is completed.  I’ve cleaned the area out to remove any obstacles that might get in my way, and looking out into the room, it still seems like I have a long way to go.  But quoting Wisconsin’s motto: FORWARD!

Now everyone knows that mudding goes hand in hand with drywalling.  I have quickly learned that it is very much an art form.  No amount of reading about it or YouTube watching can prepare one for the actual task of mastering the delicate task of spreading slop along a taped seem. In fact, it is so mentally draining, on top of the fact that it is difficult to do correctly, that we are strongly considering hiring out this portion of the project once the drywall is all hung.

I tried my hand at mudding, and getting the corners just right was a very tedious process.  Aside from that, the contorting and the positions you must put your body into surprisingly make it quite physically draining as well—worse than my experiences with painting.  I would give up quickly more because I couldn’t handle the prolonged mental anguish from seeing each pass of the knife come out not quite right.  Maybe I was trying to be too perfect, but that too is not easy to let go of.  Knowing that any blemish left in the mud will show up when painted lent me to relinquish this role in lieu of a more formidable mudder, my wife.

Melissa gave it her best shot, and it turns out she was much better at it than me.  She was much more capable of being precise than I was.  She seemed to be able to handle the mental aspect of being tedious and meticulous and such.  She could get through more seems than I was able to get through in shorter time periods and it seemed as though she was discovering life-long-hidden talent that no one had ever seen.  However, she too succumbed to the physical demand of looking up with your hands over your head for prolonged periods of time and, still having not moved out of the bedroom, couldn’t stand the idea of having to still finish up in there only to move out into the seemingly endless field of drywall seems that existed in the hallway and living room.

All that being said, we are looking into other options.  We gave it one heck of a good try, but there is a price on sanity, and I think it might be about the same price that professional mudders charge for their services.

Labor we did

30 09 2011

I get a little lax at times when it comes to documenting my work.  Mainly I think it is because I feel more like working than writing, or that I don’t want to take the time to take some pictures and put them up on the computer.  So, I figured in lieu of pictures, I would just write and worry about putting photos up when I get around to it.  After all, the people need information, right?

So Labor Day weekend my parents came down with the purpose of helping me with the basement.  I had gotten a start on the drywall, but it was certainly a long, tough job for one person to do alone.  My dad and I spent parts of 3 days working in the basement finishing the drywall in the bedroom, and continued on into the rest of the basement.  The drywall lift mentioned in my last post has again proven invaluable.  It almost feels like cheating.

One part of the job that had become increasingly frustrating was cutting out the holes for electrical boxes and recessed lights.  I was spending about 15 minutes or so per fixture in measuring, lining up, cutting and adjusting to make sure the opening was in the right place and the drywall would fit into place.  Considering I have 20 or so lights in the ceiling and at least that many outlet and light switch boxes, we are talking about 10 hours of work.  I decided this was just too much, so I did some research and eventually bought a rotozip spiral saw.  This little tool allows me to put a drywall sheet up, fasten it in place, and then cut out the opening for the light or electrical box with the drywall in place.  With some practice, this cuts my time down from about 15 minutes to about 30 seconds for fixture.  And, as a bonus, it makes the openings much cleaner.  Yet another specialty tool that has made the job a whole lot easier.

In addition to putting up more sheets, we actually got started on the mudding and taping process.  Melissa and my mom actually lent their hands  here, where Melissa started taping and mudding the seems in the bedroom, while my mom worked on mudding over the screw heads.  All-in-all, we all had our hand in the mix that weekend.

Making Drywall Easier

10 08 2011

The drywall phase has begun.  I have finished framing, plumbing, electrical, and insulation, and now the basement is slowly going to start to take on the appearance of a real living space.  That being said, I’m sure this is going to be a long process.

I got my first load of drywall earlier this week, getting 24 sheets to get me started.  I’m estimating around 80 sheets to cover both my walls and my ceilings, so I’ll have a few more Menards runs before I’m all done.  I’ve also estimate approximately 3200 screws needed for the entire job, so we’re talking about something big here.

Like a lot of my work in the basement, I have had to do a lot of reading and research into what it takes to hang drywall.  And as a side note, it’s interesting to note that drywall is not installed, it is hung.  I saw one how-to video where they referred to what they were doing as “rocking”, since drywall is also called sheet rock.  Anyway, I am drywalling the ceiling, and drywall is too heavy for someone like me to hoist it up by myself to get it into place.  I looked into renting a lift, but decided to take my chances on eBay.  I ended up getting a drywall lift on eBay for just a little more than hardware stores would rent one to me for a week.  So far, it has been worth every penny and then some.  I have put up 4 sheets so far, and this tool great.

Giving me a lift

This helps me hang drywall on the ceiling by myself

The lift has a tripod base (three wheels) so I can move it around even when the drywall sheet is cranked up to the ceiling.  It might be my favorite tool so far.

The Shower Continues

2 08 2011

That sneak peak from yesterday is going to get a little bit clearer.  Here’s a little history of this project:

The basement was stubbed in for a bathroom when we moved in.  However, a few nuances were left in our hands.  The layout was essentially identical to the upstairs guest bathroom which has a bathtub in it.  We did not want to put a bathtub in the basement, but the drain for the shower was way out of alignment for any type of shower unit we felt like going with.  So, when we had a plumber come out and do some rough-ins for the bathroom and a couple of other sinks, we had them move the drain for the shower (and the toilet, which was also slightly off).  They left the shower drain boxed in so that when we got a shower unit we could dig the drain out again and move it accordingly.  That turned out to be more of a project than I thought.  I had to dig about 10 gallons worth of rocks, cement, and dirt (luckily it was already jackhammered out, so I just had to dig).  After getting it all dug out, I had to cut the pipe and replace the trap assembly so that it would align with the shower pan that I bought.

The next step was to fill in the hole with cement and build a wall to create the shower alcove.  That’s what I did today.  I dusted off my masonry hat and troweled in some cement, using a trusty 2×4 to make sure the newly poured concrete was level (I did the same thing with the toilet stub, which was already in the proper place).  So I filled in the hole (which will take 5 days to cure, according to the package), and I built the wall.  Now I just have to wait for the cement to cure and I can continue on actually getting the shower unit in place.

Cement poured and smoothed, wall built and in place

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