Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Powder Room in Under 1,100 Words, Not Including Footnotes

Well, it’s been a long time. Not because we haven’t been involved in any home improvements[1], but mostly because I’ve been busy (Andi’s Note: lazy) and haven’t had (AN: taken) the time to write a new blog (AN: it’s his turn).  Andi and I are on vacay in Michigan for the Thanksgiving holiday and, at the moment, we’re sitting on Rocco’s couch in The D watching Eat, Pray, Love so I figure I have about 140 minutes to write a blog entry[2].

Where to start… about six weeks ago we began the powder room renovation. And when I say “began” I mean I called a couple of plumbers and scheduled some times for a free estimate. That snowballed into demo of some of the interior walls of the existing closet that is being changed into the powder room[3], demo of the existing disgusting vinyl floor, removal of the existing door and frame for reuse in a different location (we’re moving the door—see the new plans), new framing for a new ceiling[4], and the beginnings of some new wall framing to extend the room about 8” so that we achieve the full 24” of clearance required by the city from the front edge of the toilet to any obstruction directly in front of the toilet (read: sink).[5]

Is this door demo or has there been a nuclear fall-out?
Framing the wall that extends the bathroom 8".
Then we got a knock on our door. It was our neighbors. From upstairs. They heard the pounding and the cutting and the demolition and read the note that we left for all of the tenants in the building outlining our renovation. They wanted in. They are updating their apartment as well and will eventually add a powder room to their unit. They wanted to split the cost of the rough plumbing and extend it to their apartment so that it’s A) cheaper as a package deal and B) less of a disturbance to us at a later date.  We agreed.

So we started the bid process over again. I quickly (AN: not so quickly) revised our floor plan, drew one up for our neighbor’s apartment, and sent the two new plans back to the plumbers for review and update their quote if needed[6]. Then I headed to the San Francisco Department of Building Inspections to get a permit for our plumbing and electrical work where I was told 1) that the licensed plumbing and electrical contractor must pull the permit for the work if I am not a licensed contractor myself, 2) that I need a architectural permit since I am changing the Use of the space from a Closet to a Bathroom, and 3) that I need a stamp and signature from a licensed Architect in the state of California on the drawings since I am moving the door from one wall to another and that wall might be a Structural Wall. That was the biggest kick in the jewels. I am an architect—by effort and trade, not officially by title since I need to pass 9 national registration exams (which I have) and 1 additional statewide exam (which I have not) to become a licensed Architect in the state of California. If I were in Michigan, I would be a delinquent paying member of the AIA. So I can’t even stamp and sign my own drawings. Ugh.

Luckily for me, I know a lot of Architects with a capital ‘A’. I spammed them all with the following email:

“Help! I’m officially not an Architect in the state of California and I can’t stamp and sign my own drawings, as required by the city of San Francisco, for a powder room renovation in my own apartment. Which one of you is willing to risk their professional reputation and registration for my silly little renovation?”

Two people responded. One favorably; one asking, “why in the hell are you not licensed ~?!~” (Don’t ask about the punctuation.) My boss asks me the same question at work every day. I tell him the world has enough Architects.

In all seriousness, thanks to my friend Paul for stepping up and offering to help us out with the permit. He graciously stopped by the apartment, reviewed the plans, observed the construction site, listened to my non-sensical babbling about door framing, and agreed to stamp and sign the drawings for permit with minimal fee.

With Paul’s blessing I felt comfortable continuing with the renovation. Andi and I selected a plumber, Professor Plumb, and scheduled them for their first available slot. Unfortunately that slot is not for two weeks. (It’s amazing that the world does not revolve around my powder room.) In the meantime there is much work to be done before the plumbers arrive: get an architectural permit, rough frame the new door, finish the framing of the alcove ceiling, and frame a new soffit for the toilet alcove. My friend and old roommate Steve offered his muscle for a day and we pounded out items 2 and 3 in the previous sentence while battling power shortages (we had to juggle rechargeable batteries all day because neither of my batteries were fully charged even though they were in the recharging dock for the last 10 days), broken tools (Steve sheered one side of my #2 Phillips head screw driver bit off completely while screwing our boxed header together and we wore down the teeth of the reciprocating saw so badly that we basically burned the studs in half until we trudged down to our Local Hardware Store and bought new blades), and general scratch-our-head-because-we-were-not-really-sure-what-to-do-next-itus (a tough thing to overcome, kind of like writer’s block or ED—we used pizza and alcohol). But the rough opening for the door is framed[7]. And the alcove ceiling too. And a question was raised for our plumbing contractor: do I need to demo the plaster on the entire wall with the wall-hung sink in order to install the plumbing waste and vent pipes or can they install the pipes with minimal demo?

The magnificent door header.

Steve and me and our semi-handy work.
So that’s where we are. Our schedule remains somewhat in tact. The next step is to call the plumber and ask him about the plaster demo. If he requires additional space to install his rough plumbing, I will demo the existing plaster in the wall with the wall-hung sink. Then frame the soffit in the toilet alcove. Then hang the door and frame (after I purchase new/used hinges and re-rout the door and frame for the hinges). Then drywall. Then paint, floor finishes, plumbing and electrical finishes, and finally trim.


[1] We’ve purchased and installed translucent blinds for the windows around the lightwell; we’ve purchased floor tiles for the powder room; we’ve purchased and received the sink, light fixture, and ductless exhaust fan for the powder room; we’ve tendered bids for the electrical work for the powder room, office, and living room as well as a bid for the custom shelving and desk in the office; we’ve purchased, received, and partially installed blinds for the bedrooms and kitchen; we’ve purchased and received the wall mount for our tv; we purchased rug(s) for our living room; and we’ve purchased, picked up, disassembled, moved in, reassembled, and partially painted our new/used dining room table.

[2] I actually didn’t finish this blog during the movie. I got too wrapped up in Julia Robert’s quest for balance.

[3] Interesting discovery while demo-ing the plaster walls—the wall between the closet and the hallway is actually two stud walls with three layers of plaster (finish on exterior side of outer wall, finish on exterior side of inner wall, and finish on interior side of inner wall—if that makes sense). The REALLY interesting find was that the exterior finish on the interior wall actually had a wainscot, which means that the inner wall was the original wall and the outer wall was added at a later date, most likely when the electricity was added to the unit. In addition, I found an old gas line capped and sticking out of the inner wall. I’m guessing this was for a gas lamp back in the olden days.

A sample cut of the inner wall wainscot.
[4] This went poorly until I bought joist hangers from our Local Hardware Store.

Framing the ceiling. I desperately needed joist hangers. You can still see the back of the exterior finish
of the inner wall on the right side of the pic.
[5] Both plumbers donated this little junket of info in their free estimate.

[6] In the process of revising the plan for our powder room I realized that I could not reuse the existing door from the closet because of two reasons. First, I wanted to keep plaster damage to a minimum in the hallway since plaster repair is difficult and expensive to do correctly, especially when the plaster dates to the turn of the 20th century. Therefore I wanted to limit the amount of studs I removed from the outer layer of the powder room wall to one stud (that stud would be interior to the opening of the door frame). Since the existing studs are spaced at approximately 16” on-center, the spacing between the first and third studs is exactly 30 ½”. After adding 2x4 king studs inside the remaining existing studs for the door framing, the rough opening is 27 ½”. As a rule, the rough opening for a door is 2” greater than the width of the door. The existing door is a 28” door. For a 28” door I need a rough opening of 30”. Secondly, the existing door is 8’-2” tall. 8’-2”! That is a tall door (although 9” shorter than the tallest man in the world) and the tallest in our apartment. (For a closet? Really?) When I lowered the ceiling from 9’-6” to 8’-4” (one of the plumbers mentioned that high ceilings in small spaces accentual sound in the space—not desirable in a bathroom, if you know what I mean), I inadvertently made framing an 8’-2” door almost impossible without removing some of the ceiling framing already in place. In addition, and 8’-2” door in a room with an 8’-4” ceiling height would look weird. After much discussion, and convincing, we bought a new/used 24” wide, 6’-7” tall, 4-panel Victorian door from Building REsources for $75 for our powder room door. Rough opening dimension required: 26” x 6’-10”.

[7] Our biggest challenge came from the removal of the existing wall sill and baseboard trim. The sill was nailed to the floor with humungous nails and the baseboard trim was difficult to cut through without damaging the floors. We had to pry the sill off the floor with a pry bar and we used the reciprocating saw to cut the baseboard to the floor. Carefully.