And that’s a wrap

I’ve been waiting a very long time to write these words: The basement is finished.

Construction actually wrapped up on Feb. 8, but I’ve been waiting to post this until I had pictures of the basement complete with furnishings (see below). The rest of the flooring went down as easily as I had hoped. The plumbing was a bit more problematic, but not much. The main issue I had was working out all the leaks in the drain under the bar sink, which ended up having way too many joints and sections. One joint would stubbornly leak — about one small drop every three or four hours. Maddening. I finally replaced the gasket and put a small bead of plumber’s putty on both sides. That took care of that joint, but then two others started with the slow leaks. It took a lot of tightening to finally lock them down.

Once the floor was down, I painted and installed the base trim and quarter-round. That — counterintuitively, at least to me — ended up being more difficult in some ways than the crown moulding, mostly because the quarter-round needed angle cuts at every doorway. And then … that was it. Construction was complete. We still had things to do: Glassware to transfer to the backbar. Sweeping and mopping the floors. Moving office furniture from the makeshift office in the dining room down to the basement. Deciding on furniture for the theater. Deciding how to finish the stairway to the basement, which we’re still pondering.

But the basement itself? Done.

It took just over two years. And it was a learning experience. As I’ve said before, prior to this little adventure, my only real exposure to power tools was a cordless screwdriver. Now, I’m comfortable using a compound miter saw, an impact hammer drill, a nail gun, reciprocating saw and more. Some blood was spilled during the course of the remodel, but there were no major injuries, and all my limbs and digits remain intact. I learned how to use a coping saw to make fairly exact, detailed cuts to trim. And, with the help of my DIY mentor, I’ve learned a lot about problem-solving. Most important, I’ve learned that most problems can be solved, one way or another. When I first started framing, I was nearly paralyzed with fear that something I’d do wrong would spell disaster later down the line. And there were things that caused problems. For instance, my spacing was off on some of the studs, meaning drywall sheets fell short or was too long. That was a hassle, but it could be overcome. I cut a couple of studs too tight and forced them into place, causing them to bow out under the pressure by the time the drywall went up. That, too, could be overcome (you cut the stud at the high point of the bow, then attach a two-foot length of stud to the side with eight screws so the stud is straight).

But nothing was insurmountable. I didn’t screw up anything so badly that there wasn’t some sort of fix. There was no mistake that meant, as I irrationally feared, that I’d have to tear everything down and start over.

I also learned that estimates are for fools. Looking back over these blog entries, probably the most consistently used phrase is: “Such-and-such took much longer than I anticipated.” I started out thinking this would be a six-month project. Often, I told myself I was within a month or so of completion, only to be tangled up in something that took much longer than I anticipated. In the end, it took two years — two very long years.

There were times as the project dragged on that I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew (see ceiling). There were times when, if we’d had the money or won the lottery, I would have gladly paid someone else of finish. But I saw it through, and, I think, the end result was worth the effort.

One last test of endurance

The theater flooring is finished.

The theater flooring is finished.

The bathroom, floored and equipped.

The bathroom, floored and equipped.

The floor is going down. Or I am.

It turns out that laying flooring is very hard work. I guess I figured it would be hard, but I didn’t realize the toll it would take. My knees hurt, my back aches, my carpal tunnel is kicking back in and my hands are a collection of cuts and scrapes.

I figure this is the final test of endurance. And I’m getting there. The theater and bathroom are done. With some help, I got the bathroom plumbing done and will have the wet bar plumbing hooked up by the end of the day, with luck. Once I get the office-side flooring in, all that’s left is the base trim and painting the stairs. After the flooring, that will seem like a piece of cake.

I think the office will go faster. There are no wet bars or entertainment centers to work around. The only oddity will be the angled fireplace, and the way that’s situated, it will be easy to place those planks. Plus, I’ve learned a lot on the way. For the nitty, gritty details of laying flooring, keep reading. Read more of this post

Hurtling towards completion

The ceiling in the office, finally completed.

The ceiling in the office, finally completed.

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The wet bar, fully trimmed.

So, the big news … the ceiling is finally, finally, finally finished. I’ll be honest, it’s not perfect. The shadow lines that vexed me before remain, though there aren’t as many and they’re spread out more. But the tiles are up straight and it looks much better than it did before. And it’s done. Overall, I think it’s a good-looking ceiling, and the theater especially works well with the copper look. But, if I had to do it over again, I’d go with dry wall. My wife, who had to paint 800-plus tiles with four coats of paint, then touch up the finished ceiling, would most definitely agree.

The flooring, a resilient vinyl plank I got for a good price at Lumber Liquidators, is due in today. I’ll let it acclimate for several days, then start the installation next week. In the meantime, I’ve been preparing ceiling trim and beginning to put some up. I finished trimming the wet bar, which turned out really well. I wasn’t sure how to handle the ceiling trim around the wet bar, but decided to stain the crown moulding around the bar, then transition to the white moulding that will go around the rest of the basement with decorative blocks. They look a little funny now, but when the moulding is in place, I think it’s going to look really nice.

A detail of the back bar trim.

A detail of the back bar trim.

The first section of crown moulding in place.

The first section of crown moulding in place.

The only problem was figuring out how to handle the vertical fluted trim where it met these tapered blocks. After consulting Mark, my DIY mentor, I decided to take a coping saw (a very sharp, flexible hack saw that can, theoretically, make curved cuts in wood). I traced the outline of the tapered portion of the block onto the trim and cut it out, then sanded it down, sometimes using a screw driver or other tool behind the sandpaper to help get the right curve in the wood. It took a lot of trial and error, but I think it turned out pretty well. The picture to the left shows the trim on the left-hand side, under the stained decorative corner molding.

I played around with a scrap piece of crown moulding to try to figure out how to cut the corners. I have a compound miter saw borrowed from a friend that’s supposed to make the job easier, but I could not figure out how to get the proper combination of angles on the bevel and the miter to make it work. Finally, I came across some corner pieces that others said made the process much easier. Made to mount  at either inside or outside corners, the moulding simply slides into these pieces, requiring only straight cuts. It gives the corners an elegant dimensional appearance, to boot, and makes placing the crown moulding much easier. I’ll have all the trim painted today and should have it up either later today or tomorrow.

An elegant solution to a tricky trim spot.

An elegant solution to a tricky trim spot.

Another tricky spot.

Another tricky spot.

I consulted Mark again about a couple of areas where I wasn’t sure what to do with the trim. The entryway to the basement at the top of the stairs wasn’t quite flush with the ceiling. I envisioned some sort of transition to a flat piece of trim there, but Mark came up with a better idea: We ran the moulding across the entryway, then ripped a shorter piece of moulding to go on the stair side. Some blocking and a 1×4 set between them gives the entryway a clean, substantial look.

The soffit in the bathroom was also problematic (as it has been from the beginning). The angle of the soffit was going to be very tough to work around. I didn’t have a clue. Mark offered to come over to see what he could do. He came up with a pretty good solution. The crown moulding extends on the wall from the left far enough to cover the gap between the angled soffit wall and the ceiling and then ends in a return. He cut a piece of wood to fill in the back of the return. On the right, he put in a crown return, again, far enough in to cover the gap. But that still left the gap between the two returns. He cut a piece of 1×4 to fit between them. I’ll post a picture once I have that piece painted and put in place. I’d like to say I helped with this portion, but I was pretty useless. I really have trouble with the three-dimensional thinking needed to work with crown moulding.

Anyway, this is an exciting portion of the project, as it hurtles toward completion. Every day seems to bring significant progress, and soon the floor will be in (assuming, as I must to retain my sanity, that it will go better than the ceiling installation). After that, the base trim goes in, along with the bath fixtures and the wet bar sink hook-up. And then, it will be time for a party.

Overdue basement update

A stone fireplace.

The stone fireplace.

The wine rack, installed. We'll add more wine later.

The wine rack, installed. We’ll add more wine later.

It’s been a long time since I posted an update. Thankfully, it’s not because work hasn’t been getting done.

When last we talked, I was refocusing my attention from the $*#&$ ceiling to more constructive pursuits. I’ve been engaged in those ever since. The wet bar is done. The back bar is done except for the trim. The stone work around the fireplace is complete. The doors are hung. And I put together a built-in entertainment center under the projection screen.

I think I’ve about run out of ways to avoid getting back to the ceiling.

The side board and nailers installed.

The side board and nailers installed.

The vertical boards are all in, along with the stone inset.

The vertical boards are all in, along with the stone inset.

This has been an interesting phase of the project. The back bar and entertainment center required precision cuts, along with staining and sealing. I settled on a nice, rich cherry stain. For both, I used a construction technique I saw on Man Cave back when we still had cable. I built a base and attached it to the wall and leveled it. Then I put the bottom shelf on top of the base. I ripped down some 2x4s to the appropriate width and screwed them into the wall to use as nailers. Then I attached finished boards on either side, sandwiching them around the nailers, including identical nailers attached to the front of the finished boards.

The entertainment center, trimmed out.

The entertainment center, trimmed out.

I didn’t get real expensive wood, and I kind of like the rough look of the pine, which goes well with my rough cuts. The back bar includes a stone inset and a wine rack. Constructing the wine rack was harder than it should have been because I still need work on getting things square, but it fit great in the end. I went with edge-glued panels for the entertainment center because it came in the greater width I needed. That paint-grade wood looked even rougher, and really soaked up the stain. But, on both projects, I’m very pleased with the outcome.

The wet bar, with the stone work and countertops installed.

The wet bar, with the stone work and countertops installed.

The same goes for the fireplace and wet bar. The Ply Gem stone veneer was easy to work with and looks great. These features are really going to make both rooms, I think. There will be some quirks. The wine rack isn’t quite level, and I got the front lattice reversed, so it doesn’t line up quite right with the rear lattice, meaning the bottles will tip a little bit to the left when they’re in the rack. I’ll chalk that up to character.

So, what’s next? I’m going to paint the door trim and get it put up, then, I guess, I’ll tackle the ceiling again. Once the ceiling is finally in correctly, it’s time for the flooring. I’m leaning toward Trafficmaster Allure, a nice-looking laminate designed to be water resistant. Then the trim. After that, we’ll clean the place up, decide how to furnish it and call it done (except for figuring out how to finish the stairs down to the basement). I’m hoping to be done by Christmas, New Year’s at the latest. Of course, that depends on the ceiling. I’ve underestimated that before, so I’m making no firm commitments this time. I just know I’m really, really ready to be done.

 

Progress and setbacks on the basement

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I wrote an update for the blog. I’ve been working on the basement a lot, but, I don’t have as much to show for it as I’d like. Oh, there’s been some progress I’ve mentioned on Facebook, but not here. Like finishing the wet bar framing and installing the kegerator. The countertop for the wet bar has been ordered.

Tiles, out of whack.

Tiles, out of whack.

But, unfortunately, I have a few days ahead of me of undoing work already accomplished. Yes … I did it again. I don’t quite know how I managed it, but, after getting the ceiling tiles up properly in the theater room, I somehow managed to let them get out of whack in the hallway. By the time I was almost done with the office ceiling, I realized, once again, that the result wasn’t acceptable. I tried to tell myself, like last time, that no one but me would notice. Then my wife came down to check the progress and said, “Whoah, those don’t line up.” Unlike last time, I could have completed the room without running into any unsurmountable problems. But when I looked at the ceiling, I realized I didn’t want to live with that look for the next 30 years (give or take). So, I’ll take them down. The entire room, plus a good portion of the hallway, getting back to the one twisted tile that I think started it all.

Cutting stone.

Cutting stone.

But before I get to that, I decided to do some constructive work. I bought a tile saw and started laying out and cutting the stone for the fireplace. The stone veneer, Ply Gem True Stack, had been delivered a few days earlier, about 1,000 pounds worth. The tile saw, a cheap 4.2-Amp 7-Inch Wet Tile Saw made by Skil, is quite the mess maker. The saw blade spins through a water bath to keep it cool. The water mixes with the concrete shavings and sprays out. There’s a shroud to direct the water back down, but I have to remove that when I’m making lengthwise cuts to the stone. Without the shroud, the water sprays straight up. After cleaning mud spots off some ceiling tiles (ones that WON’T be coming down), I vowed to do the rest of the wet saw work outside.

The stone goes up.

The stone goes up.

I cut and laid out the stone up to the top of the fireplace, then decided I better go ahead and put what I had up to make sure my measurements weren’t off before I cut everything else. That was a good idea. I was a little bit off on both sides of the fireplace — a little short on the left side and a little long on the right. I recut the pieces without too much waste. Once I get above the fireplace, it will be smooth sailing. I won’t be able to finish the whole thing before I take down and replace the tiles, because the plan is to butt the stone right about against the ceiling, but I’ll get it most the way up. That’ll get some stone off the floor and out of the way, and give me some much-needed sense of progress.

The frame, put together.

The frame, put together.

I did get one other major project done, and I’m pretty psyched about it: The projector screen is built and installed. That turned into an all-day project. Actually, a multi-day project. Mark, my DIY mentor, helped me cut the poplar boards for the framing one day, then I spent the entire next day wrapping them in black velvet, putting them together using biscuit joints and brackets, then stapling the screen material on the back. I used an acoustically transparent screen material from Seymour AV, and followed their very handy and complete directions for a DIY frame.

Our first movie on the big screen: The Godfather. It was spectacular.

Our first movie on the big screen: The Godfather. It was spectacular.

It’s a nice-looking frame, if I do say so myself. My wife and I got the projector hooked up and decided to go ahead and have our inaugural movie, even though the room’s far from complete. We dragged a couple ratty chairs over from the other side of the basement, put a small table between them, dimmed the lights and put on The Godfather Blu-Ray (after pouring a couple of frosty mugs of Blue Moon from the kegerator, of course). The picture was awesome. The sound was fabulous. Even on a concrete floor with power tools and assorted other messes around us, it was better than a movie theater.

So, yeah, I’m disappointed about the tile. The ceiling has been a major, major pain and I cannot wait to have it finally finished. But, in the meantime, some good things have been coming together. And while I continue to work on taking tiles down and putting them back up correctly, we’ll be able to watch a movie anytime we feel like it.

Back on the straight and narrow

The framing for the wet bar.

The framing for the wet bar.

So, after determining that I had gotten them inexorably screwed up, we decided to take all the tiles I had put up back down and start over. Shannon took most of them down while I worked on other things, like getting the framing done for the wet bar. Then my friend and mentor came over to get me off on the right foot. We snapped a couple of straight lines across the room and got the first three rows of tile squared up. About halfway across, we hit the first snag: The furring strips (you know, the ones I put up twice) were out of alignment, and the way things were going, we were going to run out of furring strip to staple the tiles to by the time we made it across the room. Luckily, the furring strips are in two pieces across the room, so we were able to make adjustments without too much issue.

I felt a little better about my own mistakes once my friend got going, though. As careful as he was, he was still seeing variations in how the tiles came together. He managed to even things out, and taught me some tricks for getting the tiles in tight, like fitting a scrap piece into the edge and tapping on that to move the tile into position without damaging it. I don’t know if it’s true, but I could at least tell myself that if he hadn’t had my example of how not to do it, he could have made the same mistake.

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Now that’s a straight line of tiles.

The jagged edge.

The jagged edge.

Getting it right is s a slow process. He and I worked three hours and got maybe six rows of tiles up. Working the entire next weekend, I only managed to get about two-thirds of the theater room done. But, slow as it is, at least it’s going up right. Check out the photo to the right. See that edge? Compare that to the photo on the left, which is what was happening before. So, I’m pleased. Despite the despair at the decision, I know it was the right one. This will be a ceiling to be proud of. There won’t be mistakes I think only I’ll notice. And, more important, I’ll be able to get all 800 square feet up without running into major issues.

I wish I had gotten it right the first time, and I’ll be very glad when the ceiling is behind me, or over me. But I’m very happy to be getting it right this time. I knew this would be a learning experience. The ceiling has, I think, been the most painful lesson so far.

My long dark night of the soul

The theater ceiling

The theater ceiling

I have been working on the basement ceiling for going on two months now. I’ve encountered more than my share of missteps and delays. But I had also made some real progress.  It’s been harder than I thought it’d be. There were times putting up the furring strips when it felt more physically demanding even than the drywall. And I had nagging doubts about the fact that the tiles had somehow gotten out of kilter. They weren’t lining up exactly as they should.  Click on the picture at the left to see what I mean. Look at the ridge along the far right side. That should line up evenly, instead of jumping to the left and right. I told myself it didn’t matter. Minor imperfections would simply give the ceiling character. No one would notice but me.

The jagged edge.

The jagged edge.

But I’ve come to the realization that it will matter, and that the errors magnified across the 800-square-feet or so of basement ceiling will reach the point where things simply will not work. Because of the way the tiles are affixed to the furring strips, I needed to run a line of border tiles from the hallway down to the end of the office room. I realized that when I brought the next row back, the jagged edge of the hallway tile, which you can see in the picture on the right, will cause insurmountable problems. The only solution, I fear, is to start over.

Some people believe that every story ever told is a variation of The Hero’s Journey, a concept popularized by Joseph Campbell and used to terrific effect by George Lucas in the original Star Wars.

And even something as mundane as a basement remodeling project can fit in those parameters. I started out in the ordinary world, where I knew nothing about construction or remodeling. My experience with power tools didn’t extend beyond an electric screwdriver. But my wife and I bought this house, and it had this magnificent unfinished basement that I believed we could transform. Only we didn’t have the money to pay someone to do it. Could I do it myself? Would I let myself be pulled into that adventure? A DIY friend told me I could. Another mentor came along to help. And I undertook the journey.

I encountered tests — tests of endurance, strength, intellect. I made incredible progress, I thought. I didn’t have a light saber, but I did have a nail gun. My wife and friends were amazed at how it was coming together, and so was I. Even my original DIY friend admitted he didn’t think I’d make it so far.

Now this. The realization that I need to pull down about 400 ceiling tiles, trying not to damage them, and start all over.

This is the part of the hero’s journey they call THE ORDEAL. This is where the hero faces a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and hits bottom. The hero maybe even appears to die. All seems lost. This is the part where Frodo and Sam are floundering in Mordor, the ring becoming an unbearable burden to Frodo, one he now doubts he can bear all the way to Mount Doom. This is when Sam gives that great, stirring speech:

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

When Frodo asked Sam what they were holding onto, he says: “That there’s some good in this world and it’s worth fighting for.”

Me? I’m holding on to the vision of this basement, finished. Sitting with my family and enjoying a movie on a 110″ screen with a cold beer from the wet bar in my hand. Of having an office that isn’t jammed into a small dining room but actually has space for book shelves and musical instruments, maybe even an electronic drum set so friends can come over and jam. There is some good in this world, and it is worth fighting for.

So I’ll pick myself up from this disappointment. Start taking tiles down, then put them back up right. This darkness will pass, and a new day will come.

But maybe I’ll do this first: Build the wet bar, and plug in the kegorator.

A ceiling over our heads

The bathroom ceiling.

The bathroom ceiling.

The theater ceiling

The theater ceiling

It’s been awhile since I’ve written an update. The ceiling is progressing, up in both the theater room and the bathroom. I have to extend furring strips across the hallway and put them up in the office, then I can put the tiles up.

My wife’s paint job on the tiles is great. The tiles really look good, I think, especially after she touched them up after they were hung. The tiles are more difficult to work with than I thought. As I mentioned before, they’re extremely delicate. But it’s also hard for some reason to get them lined up exactly right, and small discrepancies are magnified as the rows build on each other. I doubt anyone is going to study the ceiling closely enough to notice unless I call their attention to the variations. I’m going to train myself NOT to do that. Getting the cutouts right for lights, outlets and vents was also challenging. I had to remember to cut the openings wide enough to allow room to maneuver the tongues of the cut tile into the grooves of the adjacent tiles. And with the vents, the cuts were so wide that the keeping the tile in one piece took a lot of doing.

This gives you an idea of how big the screen will be.

This gives you an idea of how big the screen will be.

I got the last two speakers installed and the projector mounted. Of course I needed to test everything out. The sound with all seven speakers and the subwoofer is incredible. The picture, even projected on a green wall instead of a screen, looks great. And it’s going to be big enough to make the 50″ Sony upstairs feel tiny (it has less than a quarter of the screen area as the projection screen will have).

The ceiling’s taking a lot longer than I anticipated, which is par for the course. I’m really hoping to have the basement finished by my birthday on Sept. 2. We’ll see. Still left to do after the ceiling is done: The wet bar build; the tiling the bar area, the bathroom and in front of the outside door; building the projection screen; the stone work around the fireplace and the wet bar; the flooring (leaning toward bamboo) and putting in the doors and trim.

I may need to start working nights as well as weekends.

I’m an Idiot, Part Deux

There’s just nothing  quite like the slowly dawning realization that you’re most likely going to have to redo more than a day’s worth of labor.

But that was my weekend.

First, a little catching up. When last we talked, I was absurdly proud of myself for getting the lights all working. Well, not absurdly proud, but compared to my previous run-in with wiring, it was a good day. After that, I took the old light fixtures down, then put insulation in the ceiling.

That was most definitely my least favorite job so far. Insulation is itchy stuff, so you need to wear long sleeves. And the fibers get loose when you’re working with it, so you need to wear eye protection and a dust mask. This was before the real hot weather rolled in, but I was still a sweaty mess. And every time I exhaled, my breath seemed to go straight into the eye protection, fogging it up. So I was a sweaty mess who could barely see what I was doing. And there’s no skill involved. I wasn’t learning anything. I was just doing something I needed to do, and being miserable.

Once the insulation was up, though, I could start thinking about the ceiling. First, I needed to put up furring strips perpendicular to the ceiling joists. I figured out how many I’d probably need, then ordered them, along with the lumber for the half-wall for the wet-bar. Unfortunately, I ordered 1×2 instead of the 1x3s I intended to order. It wasn’t a big deal, it just meant I’d have to be very precise with my placement. I asked one of my DIY mentors for advice about how to square the tiles appropriately. He suggested putting up three furring strips, with the center one across the exact center of the room. Then measure the center along the other axis and snap a chalk line along to mark that on the furring strip. With another line marking the center of the long wall would give me a + sign that would show me where to place the first tile.

Considering the issue with the narrow furring strips, he suggested going ahead and putting up tiles on the first three strips, then adding furring strips as I went, to make sure my spacing never got to far off.

I put up the first furring strip, then did the next one 12 inches on-center from that. I held up a tile to check the measurement, and I realized that, while the actual tile area was 12-inches wide, the facing that you staple the tile to the furring strip with added another 1/2-inch to the dimensions of the tile. In order to get the tiles to fall on center, I’d need to put the furring strips at 12-1/2 inches on-center. I congratulated myself for checking. I was able to pull the second strip down with just a bit of muscle and then reattach it to the floor joists with the brad nailer I was using.

I got the three strips up and, with excitement, started hanging tile. But I soon discovered that the Armstrong tiles we have won’t work with that method. The way they’re stapled to the furring strip on that facing area, you have to start in a corner, or there’s no way to attach the tile then lock it with the next one. So I took down the tiles I had started to hang and figured I would put furring strips up to one end of the room and start in that corner. That way, if my spacing got off, it wouldn’t be that huge of a disaster.

The tiles, painted. We're using a chocolate base coat topped with copper.

The tiles, painted. We’re using a chocolate base coat topped with copper.

I cut a piece of furring strip to the exact length to go between appropriately spaced furring strips to use as a spacer. My wife was painting ceiling tiles, so I wanted to figure out a way to put up the light furring strips myself. I’d hold the furring strip and the spacer in one hand and the brad nailer in the other. I’d get up on the step stool and lift the furring strip into place, then hold it there with the edge of the nailer while I put the spacer in position and then hold the furring strip and spacer with one hand and  fire the brad nailer into the furring strip at the center joist with the other hand. Once the strip was secured, I’d go to either end, get the spacing right, nail it, then move on to the joists in between.

It was easy enough, and the strips were falling exactly where they needed to be, but my shoulders were starting to ache. The brad nailer is much lighter than the heavy framing gun, but holding it up above my head was taking its toll. By the end of the weekend, which started with cleaning up, creating a work space for painting the tiles and painting a few to get us started, I had six furring strips up. I’d had to relocate three can lights a bit so they weren’t in the way of the furring strips. The outlet box for the projector and the HDMI plugs also had to be relocated slightly.

The next weekend came around. Shannon worked on painting, so I concentrated on the furring strips. By the time I got to the end of the room, it was all I could do to lift the nailer. With half the strips up for the theater room, I pulled out the instructions that came with the tile to see how to square properly from the corner. As I was trying to figure out that method, which essentially involves drawing half an isosceles triangle on the furring strips to determine a 90-degree angle, I happened to glance up at the furring strip portion of the instructions. I noted, with a dawning sense of horror, that it called for spacing the furring strips 12-inches on-center. Twelve inches, not 12-1/2.

You know in the show Friends when Phoebe would realize she’d made a horrible mistake and would draw out, “Ooooh, no.”

That was me. I took a tile and held it up to the furring strips. I noticed that the facing for the staples was actually a 12-inch square with the tile portion also a 12-inch square, just offset by 1/2 an inch. It quickly became clear that the furring strips wouldn’t work — couldn’t work — at that spacing. I went in to where Shannon was painting and said, “I think I’m gonna cry.”

To my credit, I only dropped a couple of F-bombs. Then, dutifully, I began pulling down the furring strip next to the center strip. I cut another piece of furring strip that would give me 12-inch on-center spacing. Naturally, I had to, once more, move two of the can lights. And the outlet box with the projector power and HDMI. That one was a pain. I turned off the power to the outlet, unscrewed the outlet and the HDMI plate, then unscrewed the outlet box, which is held in place by two screws. I relocated, double-checked the spacing, then reconnected everything and screwed in the outlet and the HDMI plate. Then I realized the outlet box was crooked and offset from the joist it was attached to. I went through the process again, got it set flush and got everything hooked back up and screwed back in. Then I double-checked the spacing. Somehow, the box had shifted, and it was now about a quarter-of-an-inch into the path of the next furring strip.

That’s when I decided to stop for the day.

Today seemed better. I properly relocated the outlet box, got the strips up, and got the edges that weren’t adequately supported by joists well secured.

But, again, my measurements appeared to have been a tiny bit off. The room is 26′ 1/2″ wide. The center, then was 13′ 1/4″ from the wall. I double-checked that several times when placing the first furring strip. That should have meant a perfect 13 tiles with the requisite quarter-inch gap at the wall. When I first put up the final furring strip that went flush against the wall, I thought I was golden. It was just a little short. The spacing piece I had wouldn’t fit. But after it was up, I checked it with a tile, and the gap seemed too wide. I measured. Instead of 12-inches on center, the final strip was 13 inches on-center. Not until I was writing this up, did I remember that the spacer indicated a narrower gap. So I double-checked and, sure enough, at the corner, the spacer was about half-an-inch too long to fit between. But at the other side of the room, it was about half-an-inch too short.

My walls aren’t square Not even close.

I’ll figure out the best way to deal with that another time. Right now, I think I need a beer or three.

Let there be light

The lights are on.

The lights are on.

Saturday, I felt like an idiot. As I write this Sunday, I’m feeling relatively brilliant. I got the rest of the outlets put in, then prepared to switch power over to the new lights.

The current incandescent lighting is controlled by two three-way switches, one out at the bottom of the stairs and one by the door to the outside. The new lights would be on two circuits, already wired with the appropriate wires put in the outlet boxes before the last electrical inspection. The office lighting will be controlled from two linked Insteon dimmers, one by the door to the outside, replacing the current switch and one by the hallway near the half bath. The home theater lighting will be controlled by a set of dimmers connected to two three-way light switches, one in the hallway and one at the bottom of the stairs. That way, the three banks of light can be adjusted independently, but all turned off with one switch.

Up till now, I’ve been only working with the wiring I put in. And I mostly knew what I had done. Mostly. When I shut off the fuse and pulled the first switch plate off to make the transition, though, I was baffled. It wasn’t at all what I expected.

This was the two-gang box that contained the three-way switch for the old, incandescent basement lights and the light outside the basement door. I expected to find one wire coming in from the junction box, split to the two switches with a wire going out to the outdoor light and another going to the incandescents — or, perhaps, a three-wire cable going to the other three-way switch. Instead, I found what appeared to be two hot wires coming into the box. There was one wire going out from the inside light switch and one from the outside light switch, but line going to that switch was from a pigtail with three additional wires going out. I didn’t know where those went. There was no red wire, indicating a three-wire cable — which is the only method I was familiar with for wiring a three-way switch.

I contemplated that for a long time. Called one DIY mentor and got his answering machine. Called another and got a hold of him, but didn’t get anything helpful out of him other than a suggestion to “Google it.” Yeah. Thanks, buddy. Finally, I decided I was overthinking it. I didn’t know how or why there were two hot wires, both seemingly on the one fuse, going into the box. But I knew I wanted to leave the outdoor light switch like it was and replace the other switch with an Insteon dimmer that would be paired with another in a switch in the hallway. So I just disconnected the old switch and hooked up the Insteon. At first, nothing happened. Then I tried connecting the pigtailed neutral wires from the Insteon switch with the other group of pigtailed neutrals for the other cables.

And there was light. And it was good.

So I went on to the switch at the bottom of the stairs. I expected this one to be more complicated, because I knew the cable that powered the exhaust fan for the water heater came out of there, along with the three-way switch for the stairway light. When I pulled out the switches, I realized the switch was an older three-way switch. Instead of two brass screws and a ground, this had two brass screws, a black screw and a ground. But there was no red wire. I realized whoever did the original wiring had used a white wire for the traveler between the two switches. This is when I should have realized what would happen next, but I didn’t. I hooked up the old switch to the new wiring and flipped the fuse. The home theater lights came on, after about a three-second delay. I guess it takes that long for the Insteons to activate. That’s kind of a bummer, but not a deal-breaker. Then I flipped the original fuse for the office lights. Nothing.

Hmmm. It took me a minute or two, but then I realized that what I had hooked the dimmer up to wasn’t a hot line from the panel, it was the common line from the three-way switch by the stairs. When I disconnected that, it lost power. So I connected it to the black and neutral pigtails coming off the switch to the outdoor light, flipped the fuse back, and felt very proud of myself when the lights came on. It took a couple of tries to pair the Insteon dimmers properly, but now they both control the office lights.

I have a couple more wiring-related chores: There’s an existing outlet that’s still powered off the original circuit. I need to disconnect that and hook it in to the new outlet circuit for the home theater, and I need to put in the dimmers for the bar-area lighting. But I won’t be installing that lighting until the ceiling’s in, so there’s no rush.

I feel good about figuring out the old wiring, though it probably would have been obvious from the start if I’d had any experience with people using the white wire as a traveler for three-way switches. Still, compared to Saturday, I’m feeling like Einstein.

I’ll be taking a break next weekend, then it’s on to the ceiling. I’ll be taking down the old lighting, installing ceiling insulation and putting up furring strips. Then we’ve got 800 or so ceiling tiles to paint. Let the good times roll!