Tool Hack- Demo Hammer Spade to Tile Remover

I’m not going to beat around the bush: having access to metal working tools is a major advantage for any home improvement project. I bought this demo hammer from Harbor Freight on sale after weighing the rental costs from the local big box store. It was an excellent purchase, and saved me a ton of money and running around time. The only thing I needed was a wide blade for tile removal. I looked into buying one, and they are in the $300 range. This is a professional contracting unit, but I needed it for one job. Out to the shop!

Continue reading “Tool Hack- Demo Hammer Spade to Tile Remover”

House Hacking: Closet Remodel

It was time to tackle this larger project (actually ten projects) and we hit the ground running! This closet was always on the back burner for an upgrade, but the urgency never seemed to mount enough to break ground. Moving a few storage bins uncovered a disturbing flaw that was about to become a catastrophic failure- we had severely overloaded the hardware, and a good portion of the shelving and mounts were pulling away from the wall.

Part 1- Empty The Closet

You can see the bow easily here- this is fairly normal on bare bones closets.
This was the “oh $h&*” moment! Why is light coming from behind the shelf in the closet? If this isn’t a cause for concern, we don’t know what is!
This pocket folder is 5/8″ thick including the outside of the clip, and it is fitting in the separation of the furniture to the wall. Not a good sign at all.
To further elaborate on the seriousness of the issue, this level shows the ugly truth. Time to start anew with a system that can give us more hanging and shelf space, and weight capacity.
Where do you start? First things first, we needed a plan to relocate all of our clothing during the project. This wasn’t exactly seamless, but was made easier with the help of some temporary racking.
We opted to purchase four of these racks from Amazon, due in large part to the attractive pricing. We will be spending enough on this project as it is, and saving money on a temporary solution helps overall. We didn’t observe the 30 lb weight capacity though…

Here is a 3 hour time lapse condensed into 14 seconds. We set up shop in our exercise room, which had ample space and could be sequestered from the cats. If you have pets, you know full well the issues of hair and the like. This was a chore to organize our wardrobes, shoes, and other items to be somewhat accessible during the 2-3 weeks of downtime.

Part 2- Demolition

Halfway through the demolition process, you can see the cross section of the furniture pulling away from the wall. This was the state of the closet, not demo related at all. It reinforced the fact that this was an urgent situation, seeing a few brads were barely holding on to the drywall.

The closet demolition is complete! A quick walk through after all of the clean up, we now have a blank slate after removing everything but the vacuum. Our first project to tackle: cedar lining the entire closet.

Part 3- Cedar Lining

There are only two brands of cedar lining available in our area, and this was our first haul cleaning out big box #1. We would end up purchasing 24 boxes, and returning 8 full boxes of culls. You’ll see why as we continue…

It was time to load in materials and equipment, our miter saw fit nicely inside. We needed two air hoses to reach our compressor in the garage for the brad nailer. Our newer compressor is too large and heavy to move upstairs, and this was a simple solution. Let the fun begin!

We started in the narrow segment first, to get the hang of the process. We leveled the bottom row with shims as we nailed the cedar in, since the bottom isn’t exactly square with the floor. Since the planks aren’t perfectly dimensioned, we leveled each row as we went, trying to keep everything as true as possible. It is a little extra work, but well worth it for the finished product.

This wall gave us enough room to finish it off flush with the ceiling, it felt good to be making some progress. The smell was intoxicating, loved the aroma!

Wall number one is complete! You can see some color swatches and test paint going up, decisions still needed to be made on that front.

Damaged and warped planks were very common with this product :/ This is an extreme example, but we pried and fit many less deformed boards to use as much material as possible. You might be thinking about the color variation- it varied immensely between lots. Months later, as it has dried out completely, it has blended in nicely.

We have one corner to meet, and mitered all boards on a 45 degree angle. The downside is a piece of furniture will hide almost this entire joint and it’s hard work.

As we neared the finishing stages of these two walls, we noticed that we would not have enough room to fit a finishing plank. After thinking about a number of solutions, it was back to the garage to work on something decent.

We ripped some cedar planks down nearly an inch, and rounded one edge with a 1/8″ round over bit to soften the look.

Wall two finished off, looking good! You can’t even see the edge standing on the floor, it turned out just like we wanted.

Part 4- Structured Wiring Cabinet

This project was intended to add a 42″ cabinet in the next stud bay over from our existing one. Neither bay offered a full depth for the cabinet, so we tackled the task of removing the existing one and installing the larger one in it’s place. Let’s get started!

Cabinet removed, and hole enlarged. You will notice all of the patch work from our exploratory holes. This part sucked, since it added a ton of extra work and texturing that we didn’t budget time for.

Cabinet test fit and wiring pulled through, getting closer to a finished product.

Masked off for texturing, we finally found a good match to our existing knock down that looks decent. We covered nearly the whole wall to blend it in, the extra work payed off.

We stuffed this with all sorts of electronics, and mounted an external monitor to easily access the DVR feed for our surveillance system. It turned out pretty neat despite the fact that we needed to mount the monitor on an adjustable mount to be able to open the cabinet door.

Part 5- Wall Safe

This was a last minute add on, and was as simple as finding the stud bay and cutting the appropriate sized hole. This model is designed to fit precisely in between 16″ on center studs, and is secured by lag bolts on both sides. While it is a locking safe, the directions state that it isn’t suitable for valuables or firearms. Must be a cover your ass liability thing. That said, there isn’t much interior room since the locking mechanism fills nearly 50% of the interior. It is great for small items and keeping a little cash out of sight when needed.

Part 6- Paint

We decided on a very light gray paint, which isn’t the color on the wall from earlier in the thread. Nothing fancy here, we masked off the edges of the cedar and rolled a few coats of paint before the flooring went in. We have halogen lighting, and the color plays well with the cedar, flooring, and furniture.

Part 7- Attic Ladder

While we are kicking up dust, we added an easier way to access the attic space. A pull down ladder was the perfect cure for this, and nests nicely out of the way. This kind of ladder did not require any more drywall cutting. It isn’t as heavy duty as a more traditional pull door type, but will work well in our application.

Installed, looking into the attic. This will help the one or two times a year we need to get up here.

Part 8- Flooring

We opted for a floating engineered product for the floor. We bought and obtained a half dozen samples to see what would work best. We ended up with our second choice based on product availability- we were planing to re-floor our entire upstairs and wanted all of the flooring to match. Underlayment was laid out for sound dampening; this product has a vapor barrier built in, even though it isn’t needed on a second story. We taped it together to prevent movement while laying the flooring.

As a flooring newb, we used shims on the walls for expansion. You have a little wiggle room with baseboards, so don’t get too wound up in accuracy of the cut edges.

We didn’t want to nail our T molding finish strips, so we used construction adhesive instead. Cure time was 24 hours under a plate, that weight set has come in handy!

Part 9- Furniture

Our initial measurements and calculations left us in a pickle- how would we increase our hanging storage and shelf space? We would have to add two tier closet rods, and add furniture to accomplish both goals. We wanted something with utility and a classic look without breaking the bank. While that isn’t exactly possible, we did find a compromise. The version above comes as a wall hanging kit, but freestanding bases were also available. We had to opt for the bases, since our desired layout would not allow us to hit two studs on any of the three closet organizers. Add those to the budget πŸ˜›

A tenuous trip to another big box was made to pick up four items on a pallet. This stuff adds up, it was nearly 1000lbs as loaded. Getting these upstairs was a two person task.

Our first task was to assemble the stack-able corner unit. It went together easily, and was bolted to the walls since it would have three closet rods attached to it. We did not complete any baseboards or molding at this time, to allow the furniture to be as close to the walls as possible.

These are well built pieces of furniture, and it showed in the assembly time. We had one full 8 hour day just putting these together. Once built, we played with the placement a bit to maximize our hanging space. This run would have one two tier section on the right, and one single tier section on the left for long items.

Two of the three units are mounted flush with an adjacent wall to maximize our continuous hanging space. The directions weren’t exactly direct on how to mount the rods, multiple clothing items were used and measurements made, before we commit to anchoring them in their final configuration.

On the other side of the closet, we can see the shelving coming together. We only managed to add one foot of linear hanging space. While we didn’t gain much there, we did gain nearly forty feet of shelf space! We used the same closet rod measurements on this side to keep things simple.

That’s a wrap! Check out the completed project before we move to the final step, moving back in. We altered some of the shelving to convert them to shoe organizers, which is what you see in the thumbnail above.

Step 10- Moving Back In

We made it to the other side, despite setbacks with time and budget. How much time and budget you ask? We tried to realistically figure 3 weeks and $1500 before breaking ground. We added 100% to each to get this project to completion. The attic ladder and wall safe only tacked on $214 combined. All in all, we are very happy with the finished product. Maybe we can finish the last details on the baseboards before 2017 is up!
Have a story to share? Text (760) 814-1850 or email to let us know how it went!

House Hacking: Barn Door

Barn doors have been elevated to almost pallet wood status for home projects, albeit a bit more useful! (Stop using potentially toxic pallets BTW.) One of the primary selling points of our home is the combined master bedroom and bath suite. Up until our first child, having no barrier between the two has never been an issue. Now that family is helping out around the house, the ability to close off the bath gives us some flexibility with our master bedroom.

Most newer homes don’t have a segregated bath in the master in our area, and trying to pencil out a door that would fit in our space constraints narrowed our options immensely; example above. Once we came to the realization that a barn door would fit our needs appropriately, it was time to start figuring out the details.

As with many other projects here in House Hacking, we searched Amazon for hardware. Based on our doorway dimensions, the common six foot rail just wasn’t long enough. Enter the six and a half foot kit!Β Β The extra 3 inches on each side gives us overlap with the door completely closed, as well as exposing the entire doorway when opened. This was in our wish list for six months before we finally decided to bite off the project…

Our doorway measures 95″ tall and 34.75″ wide on the inside. How much to overlap? That is a great question, and one we had no idea how to answer. After a few searches and articles, This Old House has the most detailed DIY we liked. We decided to mimic their 3″ of total doorway overlap (which is a little overkill on our height, see below) for privacy. We also wanted a rustic look without too much labor and fuss. What to do? Having experience with tongue and groove boards from past office projects, this material seemed like a shoe in. We decided to edge glue the boards together to create the “base” of the door. One bottle of glue and some elbow grease yielded a neat start to this project.

While seeking a rustic look, we also wanted a traditional feel to the door itself. We patterned the frame with the same 1/3 dimensions that are used in the rest of the doors in our home. Some 1″x6″ plain pine board was used with pocket screws for assembly. We did not want to plain or join these boards to keep it on the rough side.

This door is going to be hanging from the top edge, and easily weighs 80lbs. This is well within the working range of the hardware, but we also needed to make sure the door has a health load bearing anchor point. We used a circular saw to lop off an even top, and used biscuits in each vertical board and the header of the fascia frame. This was measured and cut before the frame was completed to ease fitment.

Once all of the base sanding was completed, it was time to attach the frame to the base. We decided on heavy duty construction adhesive to accomplish this task to eliminate any visual hardware or nails. Some clamps and weights help during the cure time. You’ll notice that the frame is smaller than the base, and we did that on purpose πŸ™‚

A flush cut router bit made quick work of the soft pine. We were also able to place the frame with the knots we wanted, while excluding some dented parts of the boards.

Fast forward a few steps: we have filled all of the gaps and edges with filler, and routed the internal edge with a door profile router bit. We also used a 1/8″ round over on all exterior edges. The door is perfect! Now to measure the door hardware and drill some large holes in our header board. This is a critical point to set up the height, as we found out later. We were very happy we didn’t alter the measurements in the directions- we did read them πŸ˜‰

We wanted to stain this project, but with the glued and filled boards and edges, the stain wouldn’t be even. We used a solid primer on the entire door to get a good base for our paint color.

Our last operation on the door was to notch the bottom for the door guide. An edge guide and bit from a previous project worked perfectly.

What color do you paint a large door? With a leftover pine board on hand, we primed it for some paint samples. Paint chips are difficult to get a good idea on, especially with a semi gloss or egg shell finish. Our local big box mixes samples for $4ish each. Add some cheap chip brushes and we are ready to see some life sized samples over our wood floor, furniture and daylight.

Once the hardware was hung, it was time to fit the bottom door guide. We mis-measured the rail height, and needed to raise the guide 3/4″. Things happen.

Door hung and finished! View from the bedroom.

View from the bath closed.
Have a story to share? Text (760) 814-1850 or email

House Hacks- Wifi Light Switch

This Sunday brings a super quick project- a wifi controlled smart light switch!

This was a really straight forward install and setup. Simply remove the old switch, patch in the new one and start the setup!

We decided on the switch versus plug since it can still operate as a manual switch; the plug cannot. We would buy a dozen of these, but they do not work on three way switch circuits just yet. Another caveat is 2.4Ghz wifi support only. Good thing we opted for a dual radio hot spot.

The app download and setup is very straight forward. You can opt to have local control only if you don’t want to set up an account, which is a nice feature. It has scenes and schedules available to program too.

House Hacking: Garage Vent Fans, Thermostat Controlled

This project was brought about through an effort to reduce overall HVAC use during the summer; and the fact that no off the shelf product was available at the time of writing. Summer is in full swing here in San Diego, and with temps in the upper 80’s, the garage is a hot place to be with two vehicles parked inside at the end of the day. This in of itself isn’t bad; it becomes an issue when you have living space above said garage with two hot vehicles radiating heat into the walls and ceiling, thus adding to the heat mass that the A/C must work to cool off.
TL;DR- we take $125 in supplies and make something.
The above product is what we were looking for, but with a thermostat instead of a humidistat. We don’t have humidity here πŸ˜‰ The cost at the time we first came across the product was $149 a piece, we need two. (It is listed at $119 as of 7/29/16.) This is on the pricey side for a product that doesn’t meet our needs out of the box. What to do?
A few sessions of searching later, this thermostat controller was consistently popping up on the list of items folks purchased. For $17, how could one go wrong? We found the brain of this project, now to plan out the rest of the needed items. This controller runs on 120v AC, so we will be looking for these types of parts versus 12v DC.
We installed this brand of fan to vent our server closet in our office here at 1850 Realty. Well, a couple of them with a thermostat that runs on USB power at 5v. This 120v model is rated at 110 cubic feet per minute of airflow, and is about the right diameter to work with the vent openings we have in our garage. We added four of these to our cart.
We needed something to house our thermostat and outlets, and found this handy dandy box. This with a few more sundries and our project was ready to begin.
One of our two vents- not much airflow with the louvers and pest screen. These measure 14 inches by 4.5 inches. We couldn’t find any registers readily available, so we will fabricate from square one.
Fast forward to a time when our supplies have arrived and a trip to the hardware store has been done as well. We procure some appropriate gauge sheet metal, and begin scoring lines for our vent plates to trim in the metal brake. A metal score tool etches like butter in this mild steel. We opt to have one inch overlap in all directions, for an overall size of 16×6.5 inches.
We line up our first of three cuts, this is an “easy” project so far!
After all of our cuts are made, I notice some blotches appearing here and there. Sheet metal is fu&%ing sharp, one of my fingers was cut and I didn’t even feel it. After cleaning up this mess, it is time to continue.
The next step was to measure our mounting points for the registers to the wall. Some work with a combination square found points on a diagonal from all four corners for a professional looking product. After drilling these, it is time to center our fans and get ready to cut the vents for them.

Our fans measure 4 11/16 inches in diameter, so we need to cut a radius to match this. Luckily we have a radius jig for the plasma cutter! We measure everything multiple times, and cut once. Our video above shows just how fast and easy it can be.
Both plates have been cut out, next up is to place the fans and mark our mounting points.
This was one of the most tedious parts of the project- centering and squaring all four fans. Holes punched and drilled.
A few coats of lightly textured off white spray paint wrap up this phase of fabrication.
Back to the electrical side. We have an accessory cord, some outlets and a switch to bypass the thermostat if you want to use the fans to vent during a garage project. We couldn’t find a timer at our local store, and realize that would be a great way to run the system and have it turn off automatically. We will likely add this feature in at a later date. After a little jigsaw fitting, we decide on a configuration.
We mark all of our cuts, and drill access holes to use our pneumatic reciprocating saw to make easy work of the plastic.
We have succeeded in making one hell of a mess. Using a saw like this charges the plastic, and it sticks via static to everything :/
This just might work! We fit and install our outlets, switch and wiring.
It isn’t pretty at all. Leveling to install in line with our existing electrical fixtures.
Fans have been installed to both vents. We slipped cutting one hole, and you can see the error here. Our paint ran a bit as well. It gives this project some character from the start πŸ™‚
We measured our electrical plugs for the fans, but were off 2 inches trying to line up our control box. We moved it up 5 inches to compensate. This is real life, not some fake Pinterest post.
Electrical is finished- the small wire stick up is the temperature sensor. We set the thermostat to cool to 80F, which should have it running for a few hours on a hot day. Testing will be done in a follow up post to see how we are actually doing.
We are up and running. We thought about having both vents pull air out of the garage, but we are sealed fairly well. We are using the bottom vent to push air in, and the top to pull air out. We will measure our power use- accounting for the load added here versus the run time reduction in our HVAC. Stay tuned for a follow up!
Have a story to share? Text (760) 814-1850 or email

House Hacking: Dishwasher Repair

Things are usually going smooth around the house; until some more maintenance stacks up. This project revolves around the dishwasher, after the soap door gets stuck from buildup related to soap with bleach.
After a good deal of scrubbing, the soap muck just won’t budge. The gasket has hardened which prevents the soap door from opening on the wash cycle. Hmm, it looks like the gasket is replaceable, time for some investigation online.
Step one- identify the make and model number of your appliance, usually just inside the door.
Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.33.29 AM
We land on the first result in the SERPs on Google, and find some good information! Let’s head to the “Door and Latch Parts” to see what we can find.
Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.34.39 AM
It looks like the part we are looking for is sold as an assembly- go figure! What a bummer, the price seems a little too high for just a gasket, especially form a vendor that adds shipping on top. Let’s go to Amazon and try there.
Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.35.33 AM
We copied and paste the part number, no dice! Let’s scale back, and try just the model of the dishwasher.
Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.40.24 AM
After some more searching and poking, we find a soap dispenser. Amazon has a feature to verify your model number- looks like this one will work!
Fast forward a week or so, after debating to replace and upgrade the washer or simply repair it. New part in hand, time to get to work.
There are just 8 screws holding the fascia on the front of the washer. We use our drill with Torx bit to remove them quickly.
The fascia removed, our part is under the black insulator.
The old unit, looks to be in great shape πŸ˜›
After removing the 1/4″ screws holding the dispenser in, we pry open on the retainer clips and remove the unit. You can see the muck that has collected around the gasket surface, time to clean that up and install the new part.
A little work with some paper towels, and we are ready to drop the new part in!
New part in, door assembled and dry aid added. One more project completed around the homestead!
Have a story to share? Text (760) 814-1850 or email

House Hacking- Termites!

We ran across an active termite infestation, and thought a short video of them in action would shed some light on their activities. They can move pretty quick, just one reason why negotiating for termite clearance is one thing we strive for.

House Hacking: Ceiling Fan Repair

Photo May 21, 2 18 28 PM
Our Casablanca Bel Air Halo fan stopped working a month ago. The cool weather helped delay tackling the repair that helps moderate temperatures in this room. Where to start? Take down the fan of course!
Photo May 21, 2 19 12 PM
Dust, dust and more dust. Apparently no one cleans the top of the fan :p Always an optimist, we hoped that a good dusting was all this unit needed to put back in service. If you recall this post Project Gone Awry, you will know the pain that was endured to get this fan in the first place. One thing left out of the last post: after the motor was warrantied, a persistent electrical smell lasted for a few months while the fan was in operation. This is our fourth Casablanca Fan, and we experienced a little break in odor but never more than an hour or two. We find out the cause of the smell and the failure point of the fan…
Photo May 21, 2 38 46 PM
This ribbon wire had been touching a large resistor and had a very slow short and burn through. Searching for parts is tough for this brand, they keep a tight grip on their authorized vendors. We found this site, tracked down a part number and emailed to find the cost of a replacement. $110 without shipping and handling. That is a lot to stomach, so a search was on to fix the ribbon for less.
Photo Jun 01, 11 25 48 AM
We really love Amazon. A quick query turned up this conductive epoxy, so we could affix a new wire as a bridge without burning the ribbon with a soldier iron. Two pairs of Vice GripsΒ lightly held the new wire in place for the long 24 hour cure time of the epoxy.
Photo Jun 02, 9 36 50 AM
Ready to go back together! A piece of electrical tape was used to cover the ribbon and prevent any further contact issues inside the fan assembly.
Photo Jun 17, 8 21 44 AM
We left the fan resting on the blade assembly, which in turn tweaked the rubber flywheel πŸ™ A few days with some wooden shims to pry it in the opposite direction fixed the issue. We are back in business, with an operational fan for under $10 and a week of down time.
Have a story to share? Text (760) 814-1850 or email