My Construction Diary

Part 4: Weeks 28 - 76

Michael Edelman

Photo Credits:
Tom Ciemiega
Michael Edelman
Gary Zirulnik

The Story So Far:

The upstairs is done, with one major exception- the shower wall- and some smaller ones. But I'm in the process of moving everything up there and starting to work on the first floor.

Gary's off for a week finishing up some elevator jobs and will then be in California for a week,  so it's all mine for now. Here's  the big to-do list:


  • Glass wall in shower
  • Seal tile grout
  • Ceiling fans
  • Install phone and data jacks & wire to box
  • Install curtain rods
  • Buy shades/blinds
  • Move furniture
  • Laundry shelves

  • Buy and install washer/dryer


  • Kitchen drywall
  • New kitchen counter
  • New kitchen shelves (site built)
  • Clear area
  • Scrape loose paint
  • Repair plaster cracks
  • Trim out windows
  • Paint
  • Sand and refinish floors

  • Built back porch

    Week  28:

    Installed the curtains and bath hardware.  Moved all my suits and coats and some instruments upstairs. Retrieved some boxes and shelving components from storage. The dumpster was supposed to be picked up Monday but they didn't get around to it until Thursday.

    Week 29:

    Built an upstairs stereo/TV rack out of Intermetro modules, finished wiring the data and phone cables upstairs and tied it into the panel. Started smoothing out the kitchen walls. The masons finished the shower glass block wall and it looks great.  Sealed the grout in the bath, and moved bed upstairs. Still have some rearranging to do.  Friday Gary and I carried the couch upstairs. It'll probably come down to the guest room later.

    The plan of attack for downstairs is to start with the library/guest room and kitchen, and work from there. Still haven't decided on the kitchen counter top. I'm leaning towards thin composite surface- about half the cost of Corian.

    Week 30:

    I'm living upstairs now and clearing the first floor.

    We took a break here while I concentrated on network wiring, some trim details and general cleanup, and Gary finished up some other jobs. We'll begin again on the Porch and downstairs finish work when the weather warms up again.
    In the intervening weeks I came up with some specs for the new kitchen counter and finished the trim on the upstairs hidden closet. I also had a cable modem service installed by AT&T/@Home, and bought a Linksys cable/DSL router to handle data distribution. This amazing little box serves as a firewall and router, does DHCP, IP masquerading forwarding and basically anything you need to run a home or office network off a single Internet connection, and all at a price now under $130. It's easy for a novice to configure, too.

    That's the power panel on the left, of course. To the right of it is the phone/data wiring box with the cover removed. Note the plastic conduit above carrying 8 Cat-5 cables from the second floor.

    On the shelf below, left to right, we see the cable modem, the Linksys switch and a power strip. To the right of the juntion box is a cheap 4-port 10baseT hub that will be used for the NeXT computers.


    I had to open the trench back up to bury the new data/TV cable, which was pretty easy. I poured in 300 lbs of sand to provide drainage and then covered the cable with scraps of wood to make it easier to dig out without nicking a cable if the need should ever arise.

    Week 34

    Arnie and crew installed the gutters and the gutter guards (Waterfall Gutter Guard) They work as advertised, and swallowed up a record-breaking thunderstorm two days later with no problem.   At about $3/foot installed, they seem a good value. Second stage financing has been approved and we're ready to begin serious work downstairs.

    We're waiting on bids for the kitchen counter, which will be one-piece stainless steel with a tile backsplash- that's my job. There will also be a replaceable butcher block piece for cutting and food prep.

    Week 40

    Checks arrived for the equity account so I can start buying supplies and paying workers. In the meantime I've cleared the downstairs area, Gary found another counter fabricator with a better price and I put up all the screens. Not a lot, really.

    One Year

    Okay, we didn't do a lot during the summer; Gary had commitments on other jobs (we thought we'd be done last January!) and I wanted to wait a bit for financial reasons. Nonetheless we've accomplished a bit in bits and pieces.

    Week 63

    The electrical work is just about done. Gary managed to run the last lines in the basement, and I finished the outdoor lights and outlet. Still have those fans upstairs- we may have to install new boxes, as the ones I bought aren't ideal for the fans. Ideally we would have used boxes that allow us to run screws through the box into a 2x4 behind it.

    The kitchen counter and sink finally arrived and looks super. The butcher block piece has been cut to fit. Of course, I still have finalized the cabinet designs, but that can wait another week or two.

    The indoor window trim is done in the living room, dining room and bedrooms. The kitchen will be done after the cabinets are up, and we'll do something in the bathroom after we finish painting and patching. The bathroom vent fan is going in next week- the hose has already been run and the power is there.

    There's still a bit of painting to do. Some of the first floor trim needs a final coat before winter. We need a screen door for the side porch living room entrance. And of course, there's the back porch. Gary and I assured each other we'd freeze the design this weekend. There are still two issues- footings (I want concrete piers) and how to tie the roof to the house and waterproof it. I'm concerned about water getting in between and causing rot.

    The upstairs shower turns out to work very well without a curtain. That's a big plus.

    The shortage of pictures may have to do with the fact that two cameras are missing- the little Leica auto 35 that took 90% of the pics on this web site, and my Nikonos. And a friend of mine still hasn't returned the Polaroid he borrowed last fall....

    Week 68

    I bought a new digital camera, so more pics soon... promise.

    The back porch is almost finished- just some roofing and a few bits of trim.

    Electrical work is 100% except for labeling the breaker box- my last task- and then we can get final electrical inspection.

    The railings are built and temporarily mounted; they have only to be taken down, sanded and finished and remounted.

    Week 72

    Gary and I put up the kitchen tile backsplash in a day. Neither one of us had ever done tile, but Gary had "watched a lot of tilers...". This wasn't part of the official project; Gary did it as a friend helping me and all he got paid was lunch at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant (Thang Long on John R, North of 11 Mile Road.)

    Here's what it looks like pre-grout and pre-trim:
    Here we see the new butcher block countertop where the stairway and side entrance used to be. 
    And here we see the rest of the counter.

    We started with white thinset and then bought a box of gray, so it looks a bit uneven. Once the grout goes in it will look nice and even.  There are 4 art tiles in the field that I bought from Andy Sharkey Gallery in Royal Oak- same place I bought the art tiles for the upstairs bathroom. Doesn't that commercial quality stainless sink and counter look great? We had it made up by a firm that does custom work for restaurants and labs at a cost of about $1100. Cheaper than Corian. I'm contemplating adding some paint to that wall to blend in better with the wood and tile. The white is a bit glaring.

    The stair railing are up and look great- pictures soon. Hallway's been painted. Bathroom, too, in two shades of yellow. All that's left to paint is the rear entry room.

    What's left:

    1. Basement stairs: Sand and finish

    2. All downstairs wooden floors: Sand or screen and refinish.

    3. Phone/data wiring: Replace temporary 1-pair coming in with 4-pair. Run wire to kitchen, spare bedroom and possibly hallway. Run data/phone wire in basement.

    4. Upstairs "hidden closet": Make door (no rush).

    5. Machines for upstairs laundry: Later.

    6. Back porch: Finish flashing in roof and install diagonal braces. The braces are done, and like the flashing,  just waiting for warmer weather to be installed.

    7. Bathroom: Make a mirror to replace the old medicine cabinet, regrout the tub and clean up. The mirror will be made of the same casing that frames the window.

    8. Kitchen: Clean up and patch the floor. There's a little corner where I have to splice in a piece of vinyl flooring.

    Week 73: A New Year!

    We spent January 2nd milling and installing wooden birch trim above the kitchen tile, grouting half the tile (wide gaps take a *lot* of grout!) and putting another coat of Waterlox on the stair railings. I bought some more grout (Versa-Tile Antique White sanded floor grout) and  finished up that weekend.

    And here it is with the birch trim and the grout in:
    Looking to the left we see the new addition, with the butcher block counter top covered with rosin paper to keep the grout off it. The upper shelf full of building materials and tools. In the center is my new stainless steel pot rack. Got that at Ace Hardware in Ann Arbor, on Stadium, South of Liberty. It was a display model and had a few scratches, and they marked it down almost 50%. Nice people.

    And looking to the right, the rest of the East wall. On the opposite wall is the range and the refrigerator. It's a small kitchen, but I've managed to easily feed a down people at sit-down dinners. Did an 8-course Chinese banquet once with two woks, a steamer and a lot of prep work beforehand. 

    The grout is still wet on this side so it appears a bit darker than it does in the dry state. Once it was dry I saturated all the grout with silicone grout sealer until it shed water. The old garbage disposer switch- that's it right over the sink- had rusted from water getting in, so I put a foam pad behind the switch plate (the type used to insulate against air infiltration) and added a bead of grout-colored sanded caulk to seal it. The switchplate and outlet cover plates are all stainless steel, which further reduces corrosion problems.

    I also gave the stair railings a good burnishing with synthetic steel wool and added a coat of  wax for good measure.

    Week 74

    Saturday night I pulled the data and phone wire to the library/guest bedroom. I mean, you have to have a full 100baseT data connection when visitors stay overnight, right?  That takes care of the last data connection. I may run another phone line to the rear entry area, as I plan on using it for a dining area. It would also be handy to be able to answer the phone while standing there with muddy boots..

    The single biggest ticket item remaining is refinishing the entire downstairs floor, so I wondered if I couldn't do it myself. I'd save money, and I'd be able to do it in stages, so I could shift furniture around. The spare bedroom and dining room were clear, so I decided to start there and then do the living room next, the hallway and finally the back room and basement stairs.
    I rented a vibrating-type floor sander from Home Depot ($30/day) and sanded and finished the downstairs bedroom and dining room. As you can see here in the dining room, it went fairly well. I started with a 30 grit in this room as there was a lot of wear and staining near the kitchen entrance. I didn't try to get out all the gouges and marks, as it would have required removing a lot of wood, and besides, I like the floor to show its age and some character. For the same reason I didn't do much filling- not that this room needed that much. 

    I didn't use any stain, as the varnish and the natural color of the wood provided more than enough tone. The varnish is Parks oil-modified floor varnish in the matte finish. As shown the floor has had two coats. 

    While a drum-type sander works faster, in small rooms the vibrating sander is much easier to use- particularly for a beginner- and you can use the same tool for sanding, screening and polishing out. Rather than rent a floor edger for working along the edge,  I used my heavy-duty Bosch random-orbit sander with 60 grit disks. Next weekend I'll rent the sander again, screen the floor, add a third and final coat, and polish it out after it dries.

    Last step: finish and install shoe molding. I can buy and pre-finish the molding one evening this week and then install it after the third coat of varnish goes on. I saved the old molding from the bedroom so I'll just clean it, pull the nails and reinstall it. Then the following week it's on to the living room. If I start Friday evening I may be able to do three coats by Sunday.

    Week 75

    Monday the County inspectors came by and gave me my final mechanical, electrical and building inspections. A major milestone! To celebrate Gary and I went out for a Lebanese lunch and I presented him with a Japanese marking line, or Sumitsubo, to mark the occasion. The Sumitsubo is the Japanese equivalent of the Western chalkline, and it used in the same manner. The difference is that the Sumitsubo leaves a much finer line... In use, the bowl is filled with wool fibers that hold ink. A line is drawn through the ink to coat it. A wooden peg with a sharp pin holds one end of the line to the wood being marked. After snapping the line, a crank attached to the wheel is used to reel in the line.

    Tuesday evening I began running shoe molding and did about half the guest bedroom. Wednesday I finished the bedroom, and got most of the dining room done before running out of wood. Next step is to move the dining room furniture back in, clear the living room and get started there.

    Week 76

    Didn't do much over the weekend, but I did finish the dining room trim and move the furniture back it. It'll look better when I hang some pictures, but it looks pretty good:

    Back to part 3                                       On to part 5

    Coming eventually- resources for builders!