Brightening the Basement: Wall Removal

I got lucky with the Minnipin house because it came with a finished basement. The spare bedroom is nice for overnight guests, though it’s not space I need to use everyday. And it’s convenient that the house’s second tiny bathroom is down there.

I did need to use the rest of the basement as my home office, for storage, and for cat convenience. And it would be ideal to have a family room feeling space in the basement, not just boxed off bedrooms and a bathroom. This house is big enough, but the footprint is not huge. So, making use of basement was important.

Unfortunately, as I got acclimated to living here, I found myself more and more reluctant to go into the basement. Part of it was the uninviting stairwell, which I’ve been working on (details here). Yet it was also what you experienced when you got down the stairs as well.

Dark looking, the vestibule that greeted you when you came down the stairs felt dank, even if it wasn't.
Dark looking, the vestibule that greeted you when you came down the stairs felt dank, even if it wasn’t. Zero windows didn’t help.

Adding a window to the vestibule was cost prohibitive in the basement because it required cutting through concrete, making a well, etc.

Sacrificing a bedroom to create a family room/study started to make sense. There would still be my guest bedroom and the bathroom. A family room could also handle overflow guests, on the rare occasion when I have so many that the bedrooms can’t cope.

I decided to remove the wall of the bedroom closest to the busier street outside. That way the guest bedroom would offer more quiet and privacy for guests. Also, this was the bedroom with the smallest closet, so the least appealing to actually occupy.

After some basic research online, I decided that my expertise was just not up to doing this all myself. So I went to my realtor-recommended handyman service, the Pros of Idaho. A quote of around $500 would cover wall removal, patching the ceiling and sorting out the electricity.

“We” got started fast:

A last look at the vestibule pre-wall removal.
A last look at the vestibule pre-wall removal.

2014-04-22 13.00.30

The bedroom that would no longer be.
The bedroom that would no longer be.
Wall down!
Wall down!

And it went fast. Now when you came down the stairs, you’d walk into a long, big room illuminated with natural light.

Next the Pros sorted out the wiring so that the light switch that turned on the old vestibule light would also now turn on the old bedroom’s overhead light. I also hired them to patch the carpet where the wall was gone, something I’d planned to do myself originally. This cost an additional $150 and let’s face it, with a better result than I’d have got myself.

Wall removal done! Onto turning it into an inviting, useful space starting with built-in storage.

 

 

 

 

DIY Sliding Barn Door Hardware aka Rewards of Thrifting with a Wish List and Open Mind

One nice thing about this 1947 cottage is the garage has two entrances, one of which was a cool looking — and working — sliding barn door. But the other door? A beat up old steel door that couldn’t actually close — and, because it was steel, couldn’t be trimmed to properly close. It also didn’t take paint too well.

This is the cool existing slider, which I'd already painted
This is the cool existing slider, which I’d already painted
This is the untrimmable steel door, scraped the concrete, rusting on the inside, not paint friendly and wouldn't close all the way
This is the untrimmable steel door, scraped the concrete, rusting on the inside, not paint friendly and wouldn’t close all the way

Because the back of the house faces the detached garage, I look at those two doors ALL the time. I tried sprucing up the view with outdoor furnishings and the like but since the bad door had to be propped open, you basically could always see inside the garage. Just not pretty.

One day I decided to poke around in the garage rafters in a hunt for some free lumber (I dwell in hope). Many cobwebs and displaced spiders later I discovered a door that matched my existing slider! Eureka! This beauty had obviously once possessed the exact hardware the existing door has but the old kit was nowhere to be found. And so the plot hatched: restore the dual sliders.

Old door pulled down from the rafters
Old door pulled down from the rafters

In my naivete, I assumed that sliding door hardware would be slightly more pricey than regular door mounting hardware. Oops.

Reality set in: sliding door kits that would allow me to remount the old door and sorta match the current one were not cheap. The stuff  from various vendors was pretty. Yet everything I could find was totally out of my $50 allocated for this project, around $150-$350 for a quality outdoor slider kit.

Next step: read a bunch of DIY posts. There were many where folks bought full kits and installed those.  These were fun to see yet mostly for inside sliders and out of my want-not-need budget.

Mostly the posts were about building custom or refreshing vintage doors. Great ideas but already I had the door. I needed to get that bad boy up without spending more than $50. Also, this project required outdoor quality hardware whereas a lot of the pretty hardware kits were for inside use. The most useful two posts from searching on “DIY barn door hardware” were:

Instructables‘ sliding barn door with skateboard wheels. So impressive! And materials that could be used outside. However, I decided skateboard wheels would not look well with my 1947 cottage look. Yet it got me thinking about what other wheely type items might work — and I added “some kind of barn door wheel/pulley” to my thrifting wish list.

Addicted 2 Decorating had a GREAT parts list and picture to go with it, which got me looking at plumbing materials and brought the project in around an impressive $60. For my outdoor use though, bottom-mount wheels weren’t going to work on my bumpy, often cluttered surface. I needed a top hanging solution. But I would totally use their plans inside.

Design the Life You Want to Live uses pretty custom made wood wheels, which they also sell. More than I wanted to spend with this project but if I were doing an inside project, would be worth considering.

Fast forward five months, which means about 60+ yard and estate sales visited with my dream finds list hovering in the back of my mind. And then, at this one estate sale in the garden tools pile, I looked over and saw:

Two pulleys from a North End home, circa 1915. Owners said they were used to hoist a wheel chair up and down stairs!
Two pulleys from a North End home, circa 1915. Owners said they were used to hoist a wheel chair up stairs!
$10 each! And I had to think twice about it!
$10 each! And I had to think twice about it!

For $20, my wheel problem might be solved. With the rustic look, I thought they’d go okay with the cottage exterior, even though my two doors would not be matchy matchy. And I loved that they came from an old local home.

Next it was time to assemble the the rest of the hanging kit. Top of the list would be to find some kind of plate I could add to the door that could handle the fat hooks and be tough enough.

For once I did what you’re always supposed to do and rummaged around my nearby ReStore for something that might work. In the framing hardware area, I stumbled on two long, sturdy metal slats(?) with big holes punched in them. They’re used for something in construction – another customer in the checkout line said they’d be priced at $45 each new. So big, they were definitely overkill for my project but I couldn’t beat the price: $5 for two. And I just loved that feeling of thrifty re-purposing.

What are these?  I dunno. The guy at the store said they cost $40 new. ReStore charged me $5.
What are these? I dunno. A guy at the store said they cost $45 new. ReStore charged me $5. Most important, they passed the fat hook/matching hole test.

Next, it was time to paint the new old door using leftover accent paint from my DIY house painting job.

 

Home Depot isn't paying me but I gotta say, I love the coverage oin this Behr Marquee stuff.
Home Depot isn’t paying me but I gotta say, I love the coverage on this Behr Marquee stuff.

And once that was done, it was time to measure the door, the opening and the wall space I had to work with. Next I went to see the knowledgeable guys at the nearby True Value.  I had the shopping list from Addicted 2 Decorating and walked out of there with:

  • Two galvanized iron floor flanges (1/2″),
Floor flanges
Floor flanges

 

Two four-inch nipples (1/2″)

4" nipples

 

Two elbows (1/2″)

One 8′ conduit pipe (1/2″), custom cut and threaded (I learned that means they put the little grooves in the ends).

Elbows and conduit
Elbows and conduit

Now it was time to measure, measure and remeasure. It turned out I made the pipe too long so I had to trek back to the store and get it cut and re-threaded. This added another $1.30 to the project, a super bargain.  (Yes, I was ready to buy a whole new conduit pipe. I am that ignorant.) Then, I had to make sure that the rail mounting height would be high enough to handle my pulleys, the door hardware and the door itself.

Next I mounted the pipe/rail, which was the trickiest part of the project after all the measuring. Here’s why: 1) I wanted to do the whole thing all by myself. Having a second person would have made it easier since there was a lot of weight to balance during the install but this adventure is mostly about doing stuff on my own. So I used my painting ladder to prop up the rail wherever I needed a second pair of hands. 2) The guys at the store told me to expect the rail to bow a little. If my pulleys/wheels were normal weight, it would not be a problem but the vintage pulleys were really heavy — about 20-30lbs each. So no matter how level I managed to make it, it wouldn’t look perfect. (The guys at the store nixed my brilliant idea of strengthening the conduit by inserting some rebar: said it wouldn’t help with the sag.) Still, I told myself, one step at a time and all that.

First flange in and nipple screwed in.
First flange in and nipple screwed in. Why is a straight little piece of pipe called a nipple?
First elbow added
First elbow added
What the elbow looks like from the outside
What the elbow looks like from the outside
Now the conduit screwed into the first elbow
Now the conduit screwed into the first elbow
And now the tricky part: threading the pulleys on and propping it all up while I installed the second flange.
And now the tricky part: threading the pulleys on and propping it all up with the ladder while I installed the second flange.
Two pulleys threaded
Two pulleys threaded

After that, I screwed in the second elbow. Next, I installed the second flange.  While I’d marked it off at 7′, I had to be prepared to adjust the length slightly because the elbows, nipples and conduit screwed in altogether ended up with a slightly different length. Once elbow #2 was in, I could tell where the second flange should go. Last, I screwed the second nipple into the flange and elbow at the same time. I wasn’t really sure how or if that would work but somehow it did.

Now it was time to test the mystery door hanger part on the pulleys. As you can see, once there’s weight on the hook, it flips the pulley so it rides on top of the conduit.

Testing they mystery part that will be used to hang the doors
Testing they mystery part that will be used to hang the doors

After that, I propped the door up under the pulleys to make sure the measurements still worked and the door would hang level.

Door propped up under the pulleys.
Door propped up on scrap lumber under the pulleys.

I attached the door in place. This is probably not the best way to do it however, I was working solo and it was all getting very, very heavy. I just didn’t trust my back to hold up to trying to raise up and hang the door on the hooks the door once the hanging hardware was mounted. Guess this is another spot where a second pair of hands could have helped. Still, according to my level, that door got installed level. Still, you’ll see from the conduit sag that it’s not perfectly level. Most important: finally it was in!

Door installed!
Door installed!

I was pretty excited and relieved at this point. I took a big step back and . . .

Two sliding doors, sadly not charmingly mismatched
Two sliding doors, sadly not charmingly mismatched

It did not look fabulous. The functionality, yes, it worked. But my cool vintage pulleys seemed lost next to the too shiny silver hanging slats. I’m not a fan of painting hardware but in this case . . . my friend Kate agreed. I thought about just scuffing the slats to take out the shine but they’d still be vast. Time to whip out the spray paint.

Done!
Done!
Not matchy matchy sliders but okay for now
Not matchy matchy sliders but okay for now

So that’s it!

I love it! It hides the ugly stuff inside the garage, opens easily, stays where ever I put it and is fun to look at.  Also in this last photo, I’ve added a door pull (for convenience, looks) and a stay roller on the bottom (for stability, to keep the bottom of the door against the garage).

Looking back/better next time:

The main three things I did right were:

  1. rummage in the rafters to find a free door
  2. look for online advice
  3. stayed open to alternatives for conventional sliding door wheels

If I had the scratch — and someday I might — the one thing I’d do differently is talk to a metal fabricator (or blacksmith?) about getting a sturdy replacement for the conduit, which does sag under the weight of the heavy pulleys. Maybe over time it will bother me that the two doors don’t have matching hardware and I’ll redo the whole thing with a pre-made kit. But right now I’m really happy with it. I got the functionality I want and the whole thing was really pretty fun.

I did overspend against the $50 budget. Percentage-wise, by a lot, 22%. In dollars, less than $15.

Project costs summary:

  • Door: $0, found in garage rafters
  • Paint: $0, leftover from house painting
  • Wood screws for hardware mounting: $0, leftover
  • Two vintage roller/pulleys: $20, ($10 each), estate sale
  • Two 4″ nipples: $3.18, ($1.59 each), True Value Hardware
  • Two elbows: $1.98, ($0.99 each), True Value Hardware
  • Two floor flanges: $4.98     ($2.49 each), True Value Hardware
  • 1/2″ conduit plumbing pipe cut to 8′ length: $13.75
  • Re-cut and re-thread pipe to 7′ length: $1.30
  • Two re-purposed door hanging hardware metal things: $5 ($2.50 each), ReStore/Habitat for Humanity
  • Stay roller, $7.99, Mintcraft through Amazon
  • 6.5″ door pull, $6.17, National Hardware through Amazon
  • Black spray paint, $0, leftover from another project

Total project cash outlay: $64.35

So, I went $14.35 over my project goal — more than 22%, urg. With better measuring I could have saved $1.30. Also, I could have skipped the door pull ($6.17) –or gotten a smaller one– and not bothered with a stay roller ($7.99). All of that would have brought the project in at $48.89. Yet still, in real dollars, that $64 is not a lot.

Would you ever try this project this way? I get that my vintage pulleys at $10 each were a real find but a quick search on eBay for pulley shows that they are out there and available (I’ve seen several that could be used the same way listed at $9.99).

One note: if you’re thinking of sliders outside, know generally these aren’t going to be tight fitting the way a normal door would be. That works for me because I wanted doors that would hide the garage mess and block things blowing in when closed. But in the high desert, dry climate here, air tight isn’t a necessity. For locking, you can add a simple latch and use a lock as shown on my pre-existing slider.

A basic latch like this can be secured with a simple combination or key lock. Not as convenient as an ordinary door key but it works in this setting.
A basic latch like this can be secured with a simple combination or key lock. Not as convenient as an ordinary door key but it works in this setting.

Feedback? What would you have done differently? Have you done a DIY barn door? Outside or in? Regrets or gloats? I’d love to hear it all.

Thanks for reading!