Home Renovation 2023-24

In late 2023 and early 2024, we had some home renovation work done. This did not involve increasing the size of our home via an addition, but it did involve removing a couple of walls, relocating a couple of doors, relocating a window, completely remodeling the kitchen, removing carpet, installing trim, and adding flooring to two spaces. The actual contractor work spanned October 30, 2023 to March 5, 2024.

I am somewhat of a DIY person but this project was far too big for me. Still there was quite a bit that Norma and I did ourselves to save money. This page highlights the work that was done, either by us or others. Note that my mention of companies or products is in no way an endorsement.

The above photo, taken November 11, 2023, appeared on our 2023 Christmas cards. It is our kitchen in the state of demolition. Included are our animals: Daphne, Chester, Rosanne, and Olivia.


BrainstormingOpen accordion icon
Norma was much more interested in getting our home renovated than me. So she did most of the work at the beginning when it came to working with the architects and finding a contractor to oversee the work. Later, I did more of the manual work starting December 2023, especially when I took about three weeks of time off from work.

This was a task we had discussed for several years. There were a lot of challenges in how best to make our 1952 brick rancher more liveable. Norma wanted better use of living space, a nice view of our back yard, and increased warmth in the winter. I was hoping for increased energy efficiency. We both sought a less cramped feel in the stairwell, especially at the bottom; removal of the drop ceiling in the kitchen; and removal of two walls to make the spaces feel more open.

After lots of brainstorming, we sought the help of an architect.
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Working with an architectOpen accordion icon
In 2020, Norma considered a few architects and ended up going with Transforming Architecture, a company that had worked with several of our neighbors. We had numerous meetings with them where they listened to our ideas and made several suggestions. We told them how much money we were willing to spend on our project.

They provided three plans which they reviewed with us. All were above our budget. It took many iterations of back-and-forth over the next couple of years before we finally came to something that we could work with and wanted to present to a contractor. Covid-19 was also a factor. With demand exceeding supply, costs for building material had skyrocketed. So we waited awhile for things to cool down.

The architect services cost about $12,500. We worked with Karen P. and Sara C.

Once we agreed on a plan, we reached out to building contractors for bids in 2023. Some were not interested in our job, possibly because it was too small and there were lots of other, more profitable projects they could choose from. I'm also guessing that the age of our home meant there were various unknowns that some contractors might not want to deal with. We did end up getting quotes that were more than we wanted to spend, so that meant reducing the scope of work.
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Choosing a construction companyOpen accordion icon
While it would have been possible to have various independent contractors do the various tasks needed for the renovation, Transforming Architecture felt it best to have one company oversee the project. Given the scope of our work, this was probably the way to go, at least for the bigger jobs like demolition, electric, and plumbing. These all needed to be coordinated with each other and the county inspector. They would also submit the permit requests.

We interviewed various construction companies and eventually chose Clockwork Builders to be our project manager. Price was a big factor but so was their initial responsiveness and willingness to communicate with us. They really broke down the scope of work and spelled out what would be done. They had several of their own workers that would handle things like demolition while subcontractors would handle electrical, drywall, and some other more specialized tasks.

Work began at the end of October 2023. It was initially scheduled to be completed January 23, 2024.
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HVACOpen accordion icon
Up until now, we spent almost all our time living on the main floor of the house. But with work being done to improve the basement, we figured we'd be spending more time there. So we wanted it to be more comfortable. To accomplish this, I worked with John Van Horne of Arundel Cooling and Heating, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) company. They were the ones that installed my geothermal system.

In 2023, I ran some ideas by John and we came to an agreement where they would tap into our air handler and run two ducts into the boiler room in the basement. We had an air return in the basement but no air flowing to it.

His guys installed two seven-inch oval-shaped supply lines which ran along a space on the east side of the chimney on the main floor. Once in the basement, they stopped work and I finished the job, running the ducts into the basement bedroom on the northeast side and what would become the entertainment room on the south side. I don't know if they would normally let a customer finish the job but I've worked with John for quite awhile and he had a good idea what I was capable of.

I had a chance to learn about ductwork and in the end, I was quite pleased with the work I did. The guys from Arundel Cooling and Heating were impressed too. Brain, a lead technician of Arundel Cooling and Heating, provided plenty of really great advice to make my job easier.
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Duct work in boiler room going to basement bedroom on the northeast side
Northeast side.
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Duct work in boiler room going to what would become the entertainment room on the south side
South side.

One of the air vents in the kitchen would interfere with where the new kitchen cabinets was to be installed so it had to be relocated. But Brian instead closed it off. He felt it wasn't needed and having less air flowing into the kitchen would leave more for the basement.

The total cost for the duct work was $1,150.

In mid-December 2023, they came back for a completely unrelated task. They relocated our Carrier Infinity thermostat which was mounted to a wall that was partially removed. The charge for that was $99.
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BookshelfOpen accordion icon
To hide the duct work on the main floor, I built a bookshelf which I integrated into the wall. For this, I used
  • White shelf standards: White epoxy-coated steel shelf standards can be either surface mounted or recessed. 5/8" wide x 3/16" thick in various lengths. Shelf spacing is 1/2".
  • White shelf supports: Package of 16 Shelf Supports for use with 5/8" White Flush or Surface-Mounted Shelf Standards.

  • I made the bookshelf fit into the space next to the fireplace and integrated the crown moulding. I also cleared out the space below so it could be used for storage. This was all mounted on a wooden base that was part of the original design. I refinished this base, staining it with the same stain used for refinishing the hardwood floor.

    The back of the bookshelf was made of thin plywood rather than drywall to provide structural integrity. The problem with that is that despite my attempts to make it as flat and smooth as drywall, I was never successful, though I came close.
    Me working on the back of the bookshelf

    I did not want to drill any holes into the brick around the fireplace. Hence, the bookshelf is only attached on the bottom and east side.

    There were a few cuts where I needed a table saw to do some rip cuts and dado cuts. My good neighbor, Don, helped me with that.

    For the wooden base, I refinished things with
  • Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner for oil-based stains
  • Minwax Provincial 211: Also see formula
  • Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane in warm satin

  • I primed/painted things with
  • Behr Kitchen, Bath and Trim Stain-Blocking Primer and Sealer
  • Valspar Green Jalapeno (6005-6C) in interior eggshell finish: The back wall of the bookcase.
  • Behr Swiss Coffee in semi-gloss: This uses Ultra Pure White 3050 as a base. This color was used on the bookcase itself.

  • Here I am painting what will become one of the sides of the bookshelf. Notice the dado cuts to help hide the shelf standards.
    Me painting wood used for the bookshelf.  Dado cuts shown

    I was pretty pleased with the results. I felt the bookshelf integrated nicely with the rest of the living room and fit well next to the fireplace. I used screws instead of nails which were much harder to hide. But since things were only secured at the bottom and the east side, I didn't have the option of being able to push the bookcase back against something stationary. So hammering was not an option. I countersunk the screws but since the wood I was working with was not very thick, I could only go so far, which meant screws inserted at an angle appear as small bumps on the trim.
    Finished bookshelf
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    Removal of baseboard heaterOpen accordion icon
    To prepare for the renovation, the baseboard heaters in the kitchen had to be capped off and removed. Laurel Fuel Oil did this for $450.
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    BasementOpen accordion icon
    When our house was built, there was a carport or garage built into the house on the southeast side. This eventually became a living space. It and the space to its west was separated by a load-bearing cinder block wall. This west space connected to a closet under the stairs and the laundry room but the space itself was not very useful. It was more of a space you just passed through to get to the other rooms. We figured that removing the cinder block wall to turn this space and the former carport/garage into one room would really open things up and make the resulting space very inviting.

    An engineer came out to determine what would need to be done to remove this load-bearing wall. The wall was taken out with a temporary frame made of 2x4s put in its place. In the end, a laminated veneer lumber (LVL) engineered beam was installed overhead and the frame was removed. It was a huge improvement.
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    Temporary frame holding up space where cinder block wall once stood
    Temporary support.
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    An LVL beam now supports the space where cinder block wall once stood
    Open space.

    A concrete "speed bump," as I call it, served as the foundation for the cinder block wall. Below, Sheldon put a lot of work into removing this structure, eventually using a jack hammer. Smaller tools just didn't cut it.
    Sheldon removing concrete speed bump

    Upon removing the speed bump, one unknown that surfaced was the fact that the former carport/garage had a sloped floor that did not integrate well with the floor of the space to its west. If these two spaces were to become part of the same room, a solution had to be found. The difference in height was not more than an inch. In the end, we paid an extra $2,446 to have a couple guys come out and apply ten bags of LevelQuik RS (Rapid Setting) Self-Leveling Underlayment to the west space. When they were done, it was difficult to tell the floors did not line up. I was quite pleased with their work.

    Pete of C.T. Smith Electrical Services added recessed lighting to the west space. Previously, this room was always a little dark. Having LED lights was really nice.

    Norma and I discussed having radiant floor heating added to the former carport/garage but this would have been difficult for various reasons:
  • Just having it on one side of the space would have required some extra work to get the two halves of the floor lined up.
  • Our current 200 amp electric box would not have supported the extra amperage needed for a radiant floor. We would have needed an additional power line run to the house to support an another breaker box, a process called a "heavy up."
  • A heavy up would have taken a lot of time and probably an extra $3-4k.
  • If we had the radiant floor put in place and then had the "heavy up" added later, there could be unknowns.

  • Neither Clockwork nor I were much in favor of the radiant floor heating. There were other, cheaper solutions that would be easier to implement. Extending a line from the oil boiler to provide baseboard heating was one option that wouldn't require a heavy up.

    We use the space under the stairs for storage. But the door to this was on the west side. We talked about installing some of the old kitchen cabinets in the basement along the west side. This would block the door. So I reframed this area to close off the door, and put a narrower Masonite 24 in. x 80 in No Panel Flush Hardboard Right-Handed Hollow-Core further east. This cost $148.83.
    Me working on reframing the area under the stairs

    The drywall was replaced (not by me) on the southwest side of the basement, largely because it was covered with what I considered ugly stippling. My guess is that whoever did this had quite a few imperfections in the wall and decided to stipple it rather than smooth things out. Here's the new drywall and the door I installed to the storage area under the stairs.
    New drywall in basement

    I moved a couple of outlets. The one on the west wall was raised to make room for the old cabinets that would then reside below. The one on the north wall got moved to make space for the new door I installed under the stairs.

    Pete added an outlet low at the corner of the former carport/garage, opposite the laundry room. I tapped into this to add an outlet on the south wall opposite the laundry room. This new outlet will be for the television that I plan to mount on an arm that folds flat against the south wall opposite the laundry room.

    For flooring, we purchased Riverside - luxury vinyl plank (LVP) - Papyrus from ProSource for $4.57 per square foot. We worked with a salesperson by the name of Andy.

    Instructions state
    Flooring requires a 6 mil poly film when installing over concrete subfloors.
    We did not have this installed, but after talking to Andy, we learned that this isn't needed on stable concrete floors not prone to moisture issues.

    The flooring was finished on January 31, 2024.

    Here is the paint we used in this space:
  • Behr Drywall Plus Primer and Sealer, No. 73: This was used on the walls and the ceiling on the non-carport/garage side. The carport/garage side was already finished. Now the two sides match.
  • Behr Kitchen, Bath and Trim Stain-Blocking Primer and Sealer: This was used on the trim and the new door under the stairs.
  • Behr Swiss Coffee in semi-gloss: This uses Ultra Pure White 3050 as a base. This was used on the trim and the new door under the stairs.
  • Behr Swiss Coffee in flat: This was used on the ceiling of the carport/garage side.
  • Behr Japanese Maple, interior eggshell: Used on the walls.
  • Ultra Pure White Ceiling Flat Interior Paint: Used on the ceiling on the non-carport/garage side.

  • We ended up installing some of the old kitchen cabinets on the west side of the basement. Since it was old and made of pressboard, I had to reglue some pieces together and use shims to fill gaps to provide greater structural integrity.
    Old kitchen cabinet with clamps, being reglued together
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    StairwellOpen accordion icon
    This area is the bane of Norma's existence. It is too steep. It was adequate when the house was built, but does not adhere to current building standards. I don't mind the steepness but I hate the bottom of the south side because it has such a narrow opening. Trying to carry two arms of groceries from the basement door to the kitchen or move furniture to the rooms on the north side of the basement is extremely difficult due to this narrow confine.

    Don suggested we move the stairs and have it oriented perpendicular to its current configuration. We had our architect draw up a plan for this which would bring it up to code. The problem is that doing so would affect the downstairs bathroom and hallway which means they too would have to be renovated to be built to code. In the end, this became much too expensive so we dropped this idea.

    We had the ugly stippling removed. This meant having the drywall replaced.
    Stairwell with some drywall removed

    In order to remove the cinder block wall in the basement, our builder had to remove the carpet from the bottom landing on the stairs and cut into the lower stairs on the south side. They didn't feel it was their responsibility to fix it so I did it myself. This was not an easy task because it was put together a little wonky. I did my best to make it all fit together the way it should have in the first place without having to disassemble too much. This meant cutting pieces to fit precisely.

    Here is the paint we used in this space:
  • Behr Drywall Plus Primer and Sealer, No. 73: This was used on the walls and the ceiling.
  • Behr Kitchen, Bath and Trim Stain-Blocking Primer and Sealer: This was used on the trim.
  • Behr Swiss Coffee in semi-gloss: This uses Ultra Pure White 3050 as a base. This was used on the trim.
  • Ultra Pure White Ceiling Flat Interior Paint: Used on the ceiling.

  • Painting the stairwell was not easy because it is so difficult to move around on the ladder in such a confined space. This is definitely not a job you want to rush.
    Me on a ladder painting the stairwell

    Fixing up the stairs was a task I set out to do on my own after all the inspections were done. The carpet was old and the space needed some fixing up. We didn't want it to be worked on until after the renovation for fear that the building inspector would point out that it was not built to code.

    My plan is to eventually
  • Remove the existing carpet.
  • Possibly widen the base of the stairs on the south side to match the width of the opening on the north side. Before the new drywall went in, I did some framing to help make this change a little easier should I later remove some drywall to make this widening happen.
  • Build a skirt board.
  • Install new carpet. I mentioned that I don't like carpet. But having a carpet rather than something smooth would be safer. One hybrid solution is L.L. Bean - Everyspace Recycled Waterhog Mat, Stair Treads, Set of Four, Trees.
  • Paint the walls. Not sure what color. Norma has a better taste for color than me.
  • In the space on the north side of the base of the stairs, remove the stippling.
  • Also on the north side of the base of the stairs, relocate the light switch from the east wall to the west.
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    KitchenOpen accordion icon
    Before any work began, we had to empty the kitchen. This was no small task. We used every box and box-shaped item we could find to empty out the cabinets and move things into the garage.
    Items in boxes and coolers in the kitchen, waiting to be moved into the garage

    Next came removal of the existing cabinets. Guys from Clockwork did this. They carried things to the driveway and I stored them in the garage which ended up being packed to the gills.

    Demolition was a big step. This was something I left to the pros. Dominic and some others started by knocking down the load-bearing wall between the kitchen and the living room. Having this wall removed really opened things up and made the house feel bigger.
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    Removing the wall between the kitchen and the living room; looking west
    Removing wall, looking southwest.
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    Removing the wall between the kitchen and the living room; looking east
    Removing wall, looking east.

    Next, they cut out part of the west wall of the kitchen that opens to the deck. This was so they could remove a window and replace it with a sliding glass door that would provide a nicer view of our yard.
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    View from deck of brick cut on wall opposite kitchen
    View from deck of cut brick.
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    Open space between kitchen and deck after wall removed
    Part of wall removed.

    The old door to the deck became a window. We were going to have a dog door put under that but later changed our mind. Even the best ones tend to let a lot of cold air in during the winter.

    Sheldon removed the old flooring. There were several layers with lots of nails. This was a painstaking process.
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    Sheldon using tool to remove old flooring
    Removing old floor.
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    Multiple layers of old flooring near where the stove was plugged in
    Layers of old floor.

    A plumber from O'Neil Plumbing in Ellicott City came out to redo the drain line in the kitchen. He also worked on the section it connnects to in the basement. The new drain line is bigger in diameter so it meets the current code and it also connects to a soil stack vent in the roof.

    About every three or four years, I've rented and used a large electric drain auger to deal with slow water drainage in the basement. Hopefully the improvements the plumber made will prevent me from ever having do that again.

    Quite a bit of electrical work was done by Pete of C.T. Smith Electrical Services and another fellow whose name I don't remember. They removed the fluorescent lighting in the drop down ceiling and replaced it with recessed LED lights. This was a HUGE improvement.

    Several outlets were installed along with other lights or rough-ins for lights. In my opinion, we have more light than we need in the kitchen but it is what Norma wanted.

    Much of the electric and plumbing work required cutting into the drywall which was eventually replaced...but only where absolutely needed. Drywall that was intact remained up.
    Installer with new drywall mixed with old drywall in kitchen

    Much of the existing drywall in the kitchen was in pretty bad shape. Fortunately, most of it would be hidden behind cabinets. For the parts that would not be hidden, I removed old caulk, chipped away paint that was flaking, and went over paint runs with a sharp chisel to try and flatten things out prior to painting.

    Painting the kitchen was not a small task. Norma spent a lot of time on this, cleaning the walls with trisodium phosphate (TSP), putting on multiple layers of primer, and then several coats of paint to hide imperfections and provide a smooth, consistent finish.

    Here is the paint we used in this space:
  • Behr Drywall Plus Primer and Sealer, No. 73: This was used on the ceiling.
  • Behr Kitchen, Bath and Trim Stain-Blocking Primer and Sealer: This was used on the walls and the trim.
  • Behr Swiss Coffee in semi-gloss: This uses Ultra Pure White 3050 as a base. This was used on the trim.
  • Ultra Pure White Ceiling Flat Interior Paint: Used on the ceiling.
  • Valspar Signature Colors Waverly Classics Faded Clay WV37013 in satin finish: Used on the walls.

  • Here's the kitchen with a coat of Valspar Faded Clay, applied by Norma. Notice Chester near the sliding glass door.
    Kitchen with a fresh coat of Valspar Faded Clay paint and Chester (our cat) near the slding glass door that leads to the deck

    In addition to paint, a lot of things had to be purchased to redo the kitchen.
  • 150 Series 31.5-in x 45.5-in x 4.1875-in Jamb Vinyl New Construction White Double Hung Window Full Screen Included: $290.02 at Lowe's
  • 60-in x 80-in Tempered White Vinyl Left-Hand Sliding Patio Door Screen Included: $959.83 at Lowe's. This was a bitch to get home, even with a pickup truck. We had some problems but our good neighbor, Don, came to our rescue on short notice and saved us. A true friend.
  • Kraus 32" undermount single bowl stainless steel 16 gauge sink, model number KHU100-32: $289.95 from Home Depot.
  • Moen Reyes 87932BL pulldown kitchen faucet: $169 at Home Depot.
  • Vadara Sand Weaver quartz countertop from ASSI Fabricators LLC: This cost ~$5,200, which includes installation. We tried not to go "high end" on things but the Sand Weaver design is one that really worked well which we both liked very much. I know a lot of purchases won't increase the value of the home much but this is one that I feel might pay for itself if we decide to sell.
  • For flooring, we purchased Trucor SPC 12x24 Tile with IGT in Slate Copper (floating floor) from ProSource for $5.24 per square foot. We worked with Andy.
  • Ikea kitchen cabinets with Vedhamn oak fronts: This cost ~$11k. We also considered ProSource, Lowe's, Cabinet Discounters, and Home Depot. We worked with Tanya at Home Depot and placed an order for American Woodmark cabinets that cost ~$9,600. Tanya was very helpful. But the more Norma read and heard about American Woodmark, the less she liked it. They also pushed the delivery date out twice. So in the end, we decided cancel our order, pay more, and go with Ikea.

  • When the Ikea kitchen cabinets were delivered, over 130 boxes arrived on a day with so much snow, they canceled work for me. The fellow that carried them in was really strong. In the picture below, Chester is guarding them.
    Ikea boxes stacked in living room and kitchen with Chester, our cat

    Ikea delivers things unassembled. We figured we could save money and put it together ourselves. Our Ikea representative did not recommend this. So we hired Kitchen Renovation to do this laborious task for ~$3k. This sounds like a lot of money but three guys spent eight hours putting about 85% of the stuff together. These were guys that had done this many times and they worked quickly. It wasn't just putting things together. They had to do various cuts to make things fit. I consider myself fairly handy but after seeing the work they did, I am glad I did not take on this endeavor.
    Guys from Kitchen Renovation putting together Ikea kitchen cabinets

    One of the challenges with the Ikea cabinets is that they did not have everything in stock. Norma had to look around to find the different pieces and made several trips to pick things up. They are not good at making things easily available. Because we couldn't get everything, the cabinet installers had to come back later to finish their job. Fortunately, this did not hold back the countertop installers.

    Another issue in working with Ikea was dealing with their billing department. We were supposed to get a refund for stuff that wasn't delivered and it took a lot of effort on our part to ensure we received this. It took a few weeks to get this resolved with Norma frequently reaching out to them. In the end, they gave us a gift card, rather than an actual refund. They claim to have tried to reach out to us but that is just B.S. I'm not criticizing their products, but the way they do business leaves much to be desired.

    A new 220-volt outlet was installed. The old one had three pins while the new had four. This required us to purchase an HDX 6 ft. 6/4 50 Amp 4-Prong Range Power Cord for $38.33 plus tax. I removed the old cord and installed this one. Doing so was quite easy.

    After the first round of cabinet installation, people from ASSI came out to take measurements to install the Vadara Sand Weaver quartz countertop. For an extra charge, they had the quartz backsplash extend to the stool of the window above the kitchen sink. This required me to remove the window apron, an easy task. The reason Norma chose the extension is because with our previous kitchen, the top of the backsplash (a horizontal surface) above the sink was always filthy.

    The picture below shows two large pieces of quartz being joined together using a machine. In the background, you can see a guy fitting the backsplash below the window.
    Machine joining together two large pieces of quartz with guy behind installing backsplash below window

    Next, they installed the sink. Three holes were drilled into the countertop for the faucet, soap dispenser, and filtered water faucet.
    Guy installing sink

    In my opinion, the countertop made a nice transition in color between the oak cabinets and the Faded Clay paint.

    On the peninsula, Norma had the countertop extend 12 inches east and 10 inches north so folks could sit at it on high chairs or stools with their legs underneathe.

    The countertop and cabinet installation was complete on February 1, 2024. After that, I got things cleaned up around the window above the sink. This required some patching and painting. Since Norma would see this almost every day, I wanted it to look especially nice.
    Me cleaning up area around the window above the kitchen sink

    Here's the kitchen being put to good use on February 18, 2024.
    Norma's extended family in the kitchen and part of the living room

    I installed quarter round moulding to conceal the gap between the floor and the cabinets. I used 1.5-inch long, 18-gauge brad nails with a nail gun to attach things to the cabinets when the wall was rigid. We were told that the floor should be free-floating and hence, not be nailed...but nailing into the cabinet walls was fine. Rigidity was not the case when a thin, flexible kickplate hid the space between the floor and the cabinets. When this occurred, I used LocTite PL Max Premium to attach the quarter round to the kickplate. LocTite was also used to attach the threshold to the Trucor SPC tile flooring. In the below pic, I am using whatever I can to ensure the quarter round makes good contact with the kickplate while the LocTite dries.
    Weights pushing quarter round against the kickplate while the LocTite dries
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    Living roomOpen accordion icon
    In order to remove the load-bearing cinder block wall between the living room and the kitchen, about 14 feet of the crown moulding in the living room had to be taken down. I replaced this. The hard part was finding something that matched. It took awhile but I determined that it is not one piece of moulding, but rather a combination of two:
  • WM 946 3/8 in. x 1-3/8 in. x 96 in. Pine Primed Finger-Jointed Stop Moulding
  • RELIABILT 8-ft Pine Primed Crown Moulding

  • Here I am, installing crown moulding, countersinking the nails so they can be hid.
    Me on ladder installing crown moulding

    Here is the paint we used in this space:
  • Behr Drywall Plus Primer and Sealer, No. 73: This was used on the walls and the ceiling.
  • Behr Kitchen, Bath and Trim Stain-Blocking Primer and Sealer: This was used on the trim.
  • Behr Swiss Coffee in semi-gloss: This uses Ultra Pure White 3050 as a base. This was used on the trim and covers for the baseboard heater.
  • Valspar Signature Colors Waverly Classics Faded Clay WV37013 in satin finish: Used on the southmost wall because this is an extension of the kitchen wall.
  • Valspar Green Jalapeno (6005-6C) in interior eggshell finish: Used on all walls except the southmost one.
  • Behr #52 White Satin Interior/Exterior Spray Paint and Primer Aerosol: I used this to refinish our HVAC return grille

  • I took down the blinds and covered the windows with newspaper to give us privacy over the days we painted.
    Windows covered with newspaper with Valspar Green Jalapeno on the wall

    I painted the covers for the baseboard heater. The old paint was cracking and the metal was starting to rust so I chipped away the loose paint and then gave it a good sanding to smooth things out and remove rust. The old paint was very thick so the places where the paint had chipped left shallow depressions. I was able to fill in some of them with DAP Weatherproof Patching Compound.

    There was one connector piece that was pretty mangled and another that was missing. I made two new ones out of aluminum which I attached with self-drilling hex washer sheet metal screws #10 x 5/8".
    One of the aluminum connectors I made

    In the end, the covers for the baseboard heater looked far nicer than they did previously and any imperfections were not noticeable unless observed closely.

    The living room has a hardwood floor that we refinished. That was a big job that deserves its own section.

    I installed quarter round to cover gaps between the hardwood floor and the baseboard moulding. I did not install new baseboard moulding...I just added another coat of paint to the moulding that was already there. It is looking a little banged up. I used 1.5-inch long, 18-gauge brad nails with a nail gun to attach the quarter round which I then countersunk, puttied, sanded, and painted.
    White quarter round covering gap between hardwood floor and baseboard moulding

    On April 3, 2024, Norma installed a couple hanging lights in the kitchen using the rough-in provided by Pete, the electrician. The next day, she installed a hanging light in the living room using another rough-in.
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    OutsideOpen accordion icon
    I mentioned that the door between the kitchen and the deck was turned into a window. This meant the space below the window had to be finished. Using the old brick was not feasible so we had Clockwork Builders finish things with CertainTeed MainStreet vinyl siding in autumn red.
    Vinyl siding below kitchen window, viewed from the deck

    Here is some other work that was done.
  • An electrical outlet was installed.
  • A hole was drilled in the wall between the kitchen and the deck to vent air from the stove area through the microwave to the outside.
  • A pair of Hampton Bay 10.5" Black Outdoor Wall Light Fixtures with Seeded Glass was installed on either side of the sliding glass door. This cost $38.38 for both at Home Depot.

  • Eventually, I plan to paint some of the white around the vinyl siding to make it more closely match the siding and/or the brick. I was told they used paintable silicone caulk so I don't imagine this should be a problem.
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    Smoke detectorOpen accordion icon
    I was shocked to learn that during one of the county inspections, the inspector was allowed to go into spaces where no renovations were taking place and require us to run wiring and install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout house for code compliance. The existing ones were not very old but they failed to be networked together like they are in newer construction. To do this for three bedroom smoke detectors and three combination detectors cost $1,817. I was not pleased.
    Covers of smoke and carbon monoxide alarm manuals

    Ever since then, I have come to dread county inspections for fear that they will enforce something very costly and unnecessary. Typically, modern code compliance is only enforced for new construction or renovation...not for old spaces for which no renovation is taking place. I felt the county was overstepping their limits.

    I am not the least impressed with these smoke alarms. They went off at 0455 on February 18, 2024. We had to remove the offending unit and permanently disable it to make it quiet. After replacing it, another one went off at ~1230 and ~0215 on March 3, 2024 for about 10 seconds. At that point, I disconnected them and put them in the garage. Norma cleaned them with pressurized air and then we reinstalled them for the final inspection. On April 25, 2024, another went off. I removed that one. Then on May 4, 2024, two others went off on different floors.

    On May 9, 2024, someone from C.T. Smith Electrical Services came out and replaced all the smoke alarms with BRK SMIC0105-AC smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and BRK SMI105-AC smoke alarms. I'll let you know if these fare better than the others. If you don't hear me complain, then they are not going off when they shouldn't.
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    InspectionsOpen accordion icon
    We wanted things to be done right and that meant getting the county involved to perform inspections. I would eventually come to regret this when it came to the smoke detectors but in other aspects, I was pleased that there was a professional checking the work being done to ensure it met current standards.

    Numerous inspections took place during various phases of the work. This was perhaps the biggest reason to hire a contractor to oversee the work.

    Once, the inspectors showed up too early, before the contractors arrived. Another time, the electrical contractor didn't show up for the electric inspection and that required rescheduling. Overall, I'm guessing there were about seven inspections.

    The final electrical inspection was done on February 6, 2024.

    The final plumbing inspection was done on February 7, 2024.

    The final building inspection was done on March 5, 2024. After that, I could relax, knowing work with Clockwork Builders was finally done.
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    Hardwood floorOpen accordion icon
    I'm not a fan of carpet. It may feel nice on the feet and hold warmth but I feel like it is never clean unless it is new. Ours was very old. It has had fleas, dog pee, cat vomit, and God knows what else. The plan was to remove and replace it with luxury vinyl plank (LVP). But once it was removed, we found the white oak hardwood floor that came with the original house. It had many spots of gray sticky stuff, possibly used to hold down the carpet. But Norma liked it and both Don and Sara thought it was worth refinishing. So that became one more thing added to my "to do" list.
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    Floor near kitchen opening
    Original hardwood floor.
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    Close-up of hardwood floor

    The floor held hundreds of staples or nails which I removed and filled with Pro Finisher White Oak Matte Full Trowel Wood Filler, given to me by Don. A few of the nails were rectangular in shape which leads me to think they are very old.
    From 1830 to 1890, cabinetmakers used headless, machine-cut nails that are a tapered, rectangular shape.
    - from Columbia Daily Tribune - Hardware helps peg an antique's age

    Under the carpet was a hole cut into the hardwood and then replaced by plywood. I'm guessing it was a vent at one time and then later used for running a coaxial cable from the basement. Don gave me suggestions as to how I could fill in that hole and make it look like it was never there. To do so, I used some of the wood that extended into the kitchen space which was not needed. It took some very precise cutting and a lot of manipulation of the existing boards but eventually, I succeeded.
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    Me cutting out boards near the hole to replace them with others that will hide the hole
    Working on hiding the hole.
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    Finished job.  Where's the hole?
    Finished job.

    I did some tests on scrap samples of flooring using Minwax, Valspar, and Behr stain. The goal was to find something that would match the floor stain in the northwest bedroom on the main floor as close as possible. In the end, the following won:
  • Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner for oil-based stains
  • Minwax Provincial 211: Also see formula.
  • Minwax Water-Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane in warm satin

  • One coat of stain with three coats of polyurethane gave me the result I wanted. This combination also worked well with the wood filler, which held the stain similarly to the original wood. I purchased all this at the Sherman Williams store in Elkridge.

    It was suggested we wait until all the other renovation work was done on the main floor before we refinish the hardwood floor on the main level. This was because the various contractors would be doing a lot of walking and moving things around. We followed this advice.

    After watching some videos on hardwood floor refinishing and talking to some people, I spent a total of around $700 in stain, polyurethane, stain supplies, tools, and tool rental to make this happen.

    I rented a drum sander and an edger from Sunbelt Rentals (formerly ABC) at 8576 Old Dorsey Run Road, Jessup, Maryland 20794. Their staff was helpful but I was disappointed with how their equipment was maintained. Sandpaper attaches via velcro and the velcro side on the sanders was too worn to hold onto the sandpaper for very long. Both the drum sander and the edger had to be returned. Since the Jessup store only had one drum sander, that meant having to make a longer rush hour drive out to Catonsville. One good (or bad) thing about the store is that they are closed on Saturday and Sunday. So I was able to rent things on Friday, return them on Monday, and only get charged for one day's use. I paid a total of $209.85.

    How did the sanding go? It took a very long time. I had heard how aggressive the drum sander is so we approached this very conservatively...too conservatively. It did not take off as much wood as we expected. We ended up using as rough as 20 grit and then worked our way up to 100. I started with the drum sander and then passed that off to Norma while I used the edger. The edger was much more aggressive than the drum sander. I found the sandpaper got clogged up very easily from the old wood finish. So I went through a lot of sandpaper with the edger.
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    Me using drum sander on unsanded floor
    Drum sanding.
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    Me using edger near a wall
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    Norma, Daphne, and drum sander on hardwood floor on first day of sanding
    Almost done.
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    Clogged sandpaper from edger
    Clogged sandpaper.

    With the drum sander, Norma learned that lifting up on the handle will make it sand harder. She got to be pretty good with the drum sander. I never quite got the ergonomics of using the edger. Staying bent over for so long was really hard on my lower back. I also used a Craftsman AC Detail Sander and a Dremel sander for corners and other hard-to-reach places. On the first day of sanding, Norma and I worked around 12 hours. We ended with another round of applying filler to nail or staple holes. Fortunately, there were only about a dozen, rather than hundreds. There were also probably about a dozen that we missed. Tending to every level of minutiae will drive a person insane.

    The next day, we did a final power sanding with 100 grit then a manual sanding with 120 and then 220 grit.

    Once we finished sanding, we cleaned up any sawdust. I used an air compressor to clean the fins on our baseboard heater. After a couple rounds of vacuuming, we wiped the floor with tack cloth.

    After cleanup, we applied pre-stain wood conditioner and then stain. For the latter, we applied all of it and then wiped it off. That meant we had to walk on wet stain. I didn't want to get stain on my shoes or leave fibers from my socks so I worked barefooted. Despite the stain having remained on some areas longer than others, the color was pretty uniform. I attribute this at least somewhat to the oak being hard, old, and not so porous. It turned out a little lighter than the bedroom floor we were trying to match but I felt it was close enough since stained wood tends to darken over time.
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    Me applying pre-stain wood conditioner to help ensure a more consistent finish
    Pre-stain wood conditioner.
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    Me applying stain in bare feet to avoid getting fibers on the floor
    Applying stain.
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    My removing excess stain with a rag
    Wiping off stain.

    On the third day, which was Super Bowl Sunday 2024, we applied three coats of polyurethane. I did the edges with a brush while Norma used the big applicator. We waited 2-3 hours after each coat. Then we sanded lightly with 220 grit sandpaper and vacuumed up any dust. Things dried pretty quickly despite the fact that it was pretty humid outside.
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    Norma applying polyurethane with an applicator at the end of a pole
    Applying polyurethane.
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    Me vacuuming any dust left after sanding between coats
    Me vacuuming.
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    Norma applying another coat of polyurethane
    Another coat of poly.

    We let things air out for 24 hours before walking on the floor. Then we waited another 48 hours before moving things back into the space.

    Normally, I am the obsessive perfectionist when it comes to a project but Norma had me beat on this one. She worked really hard on this. We both did.

    In the end, I was very pleased with the results. There are plenty of imperfections and scratches that were just too deep to get out. But these were minor. In my opinion, they did not detract from the overall beauty of our floor.

    In March 2024, I worked on the floor moulding. I checked the local stores but eventually decided that Randall Manufacturing had the closest to what I needed. They have a very good selection and quality of products. I ordered $178 worth of moulding from them.
  • WL-2740: Used around the brick for the fireplace and at the front door.
  • W-1248: Used to transition to the bathroom floor. Don helped me plane off some of the thickness because 3/4" was too much but 1/2" was not enough. I had to trim off some of the bottom of the bathroom door to ensure it would close once this threshold was installed.
  • W-1568: Used to transition to the thin carpet of my office, which at the time is the bedroom on the northeast side on the main floor.

  • I used the same wood conditioning, staining, and polyurethane treatment on the moulding that I used on the hardwood floor. For pieces that were already finished, I sanded off the surface so I could work with bare wood.

    In the picture below, I am putting a coat of polyurethane on the W-1248 threshold after I stained it.
    Me putting a coat of polyurethane on the W-1248 threshold

    Precision sawing was required to ensure a good fit. Around the fireplace, I had to use a hammer and chisel to remove some mortar to make sure the moulding would lie flat against the floor and the bricks. I attached most of the moulding with 1.25"-long 3d finishing nails but around the fireplace, I used 2.5"-long 8d finishing nails because the solid part of the floor was sometimes deeper down, with the stuff above it being mortar or an open space that I had to level out with shims or other moulding.

    For the northeast bedroom, I didn't want to attach the transition over the carpet and then stain the wood for fear that the stain would get on the carpet. So I stained the wood first and then attached it. Most of the transition required two coats of stain. For the countersunk screws, I planned to apply putty that I pre-mixed with stain to ensure the color of the putty would match the stained wood. In the end, the factory countersinking was not deep enough to allow this. I could have countersunk deeper but the wood wasn't very thick so structural integrity would have been compromised. So in the end, the screws were quite visible. But the stain-mixed putty worked fine for the countersunk nail holes and to fill the gap between corner pieces such as this base moulding I installed around the fireplace.

    I know folks love the look and feel of "real" wood but I still prefer the "new and improved" synthetic stuff for its durability and water resistance. In just a few weeks, a water bottle fell out of Norma's backpack and put a dent in the floor. I don't think that would have happened with the fake wood floor.
    Corner base moulding around fireplace showing putty used to fill gap between pieces
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    Other paintsOpen accordion icon
    I spent some time going through old cans of paint. Many came with the house when we purchased it in 2009. For several, the cans were rusting and leaving debris in the paint. I figured knowing the paint formula was more important than having the paint so here is what I salvaged:
  • Downstairs bathroom
  • Downstairs office. This is used for quite a few other spaces downstairs too.
  • Upstairs bathroom, Behr premium plus
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    Lessons learnedOpen accordion icon
    When it comes to demolition, plumbing, and electrical for a big home renovation, I think it is good to have a single construction company oversee things and work with the county for permits and inspections. They charge quite a bit for doing so but having the peace of mind that someone is managing and coordinating all these tasks is important. Too many things can go wrong.

    But when it comes to installing kitchen cabinets, countertops, flooring, drywall, and painting, I don't know if having a single construction company take their share of the profit is necessary. We did our own painting and eventually worked with some of these contractors outside of Clockwork Builders which saved us money. But if we did things again, I think we would manage some of the other tasks on our own too.

    When it comes to cost, there are often unforeseen circumstances that could make things more expensive than that you initially think, especially for an older home. It is also likely the case that the amount of money a project manager allocates for things like kitchen cabinets and countertops will be at the low end of the spectrum. So I suggest being able to afford to pay 15% more than the quoted cost. Another option is to have things prioritized so that if costs go up, you can eliminate some of the lower priority tasks to save money.

    I learned that I can't hold builders to the same standards I set for myself. They aren't going to have the same attention to detail, especially when it comes to drywall, painting, and caulking. Holding them to "Saki standards" is not realistic. At some point, I just have to say the work is good enough and then move on. This was difficult for me.

    For most things, the work done was typically at least sufficient. But when it came to the drywall, I feel the subcontractor did a poor job. We complained and they came back to address some of the major issues. I took care of the minor ones myself.

    If there's one thing I know about drywall, it's that bright light at the proper angle is necessary to do good work. During their second visit, I offered the use of my shop light. The drywall guy replied, "I do my best work in the dark." Not a good sign.

    Communication is one of the most important things for any project. Often things were good, but there were times when I felt things could have been better. Sometimes we interpreted things one way when Clockwork Builders meant something different. There were also times when there was just disagreement over what was said. In the end, what was written in the contract was all that mattered. So if it is important, make sure it is spelled out in black and white.

    About 20 boards of excess lumber was purchased that could not be taken back because it had been left out in the rain for a few weeks. This wasn't a huge issue and in the whole scheme of things, the cost wasn't significant. But it was a waste.

    I totally understand now why so many people would rather buy a new home than renovate an old one. There are just too many unknowns or things that need to be fixed that racked up extra charges or slowed down the work. Building codes have changed over the years and a lot of old, functioning work needs to be redone to comply with new standards.

    One big suggestion is to not put too much trust in the folks doing the work. I don't have a problem leaving them in our house when nobody else it around...integrity is not an issue. Rather, I know that honest mistakes are sometimes made or work is sometimes done hastily with results that don't just fail to meet my standards, but also that of the average person. So check the work.

    Finish/delivery dates are important. This is especially true if you are doing like Norma and me...living in half the house while the other half is being renovated. You want things to be done as quickly as possible. So if a contractor gives you a date before you sign the contract and then pushes the date out, what's in it for you? In other words, what is the incentive for them to finish the work on time? I know at the government-level, big contracts have clauses so that the contractor makes less money if the delivery date is pushed out. I don't know how often that occurs at the individual homeowner-level. But it is worth asking about.

    In some ways, the ideal time to have the work done is the autumn or spring because if work is going to be done that requires a lot of outside air to come into the house, you don't want your HVAC system working overtime. For example, when we had our old kitchen door turned into a window, there were spaces below the window where cold air was coming in. The builder didn't want to put insulation in until one of the earlier inspections could be done which meant we had winter air coming into the house. Not surprisingly, our energy bill was very high during the months work was done.

    The advantage for me, to have things done at the end of the year is that I could use a lot of end-of-year use-or-lose vacation time to do work and meet with the contractors. That also meant I was not distracted with wanting to go paddleboarding.

    With such big payments, the refund you get from using your credit card will be significant. But some contractors may not give you the option to use a credit card. I don't know if this is standard in the construction business but I do understand that companies must pay a fee and hence profit less when clients pay via credit card. This is something you'll want to clarify before you sign the contract.
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    AfterthoughtsOpen accordion icon
    The $64 question is, "Was it all worth it?" At the beginning, when the two interior walls were knocked down, I would have said yes. Rooms had a much more open feel and I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. But as work progressed and obstacles were encountered, my attitude changed. During much of the time, I felt it would have made more sense just to sell our house and move someplace cheaper. Towards the end, Norma's attitude became better as she saw results. I, however, felt there was still a lot of work to do so I was not so optimistic. Over time, I became more appreciative of the results. But I still don't know if it was worth it.

    As of the final inspection on March 5, 2024, we paid a little over $80k for all the work. That includes things purchased for what we did ourselves. The amount we paid to Clockwork Builders was a little over $60k.
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    A view of the kitchen, after the renovation work was completed
    Finished kitchen renovation