Draft of LA Times blog post

Edit 10 Dec 2007: I composed this while away on vacation and it was published in the LA Times blog, Pardon Our Dust, in early December. I kept it stored as a draft while awaiting the final version on the LA Times site, who had promised that their crack editors would work over my scribblings.


Sometimes, perhaps often, progress slows to a crawl when you are doing your own remodeling. This is particularly true if your family also has to live in the house while it is being remodeled. Advantages of living in your remodel are cost savings, ample time to consider your mistakes (hopefully while in a planning stage), and seeing how changes will affect how you live in real time. I struggle with slow progress on the remodeling front since it's a part time gig for me and my paying job has been fairly demanding in the past year.

My current home remodeling focus is my kitchen, the first step into home remodeling on the path of a renovation / remodel that includes everything from the property line in. My landscaping and hardscaping changes are well underway are proceeding in parallel with the house remodeling activities. I'm pretty happy with progress on that front (it's also a DIY effort).

In the summer of 2006 I was inspired to start actively planning a kitchen remodel on my mostly-original 1954 single family home of about 1100 square feet located in Hawthorne. The house had been a rental before I purchased it, and maintenance and upkeep had been quite basic as a result. On the plus side, I didn't have to worry about ripping out a 1970's avocado green kitchen. On the negative side, I have a very basic starting point: For example, range ventilation is currently through a hole in the ceiling!

The kitchen is a central point of focus for my family not only because I enjoy cooking a lot but also because we do most of our homework and other projects at the kitchen table, currently planted in the middle of the small and inefficient 1954 kitchen. With the tight space, it's a good thing that everyone is friendly when we have family over. Knowing I could gain the most from a kitchen remodel, I started there.

Kitchen Design Goals: Fit in the existing house footprint, use existing waste lines (they are in my slab, therefore difficult for me to move), improve efficiency, more counter space, more cupboard space, modern appointments (like a range hood and drawers on full extension slides, for instance), room for more than one cook to work at once (counter space plus an extra sink), ability to handle dinner for two to sixteen, better traffic flow, and better access the outdoors.

Starting with my kitchen design goals*, I used Ikea Kitchen Planner, a free design tool from Ikea.com, to sketch out many new designs for kitchen. One of the things that I'm glad I did was to include adjoining spaces in my design (Ikea Planner is not ideally set up to do that, but with my floor plan it wasn't too hard to add). This extra design effort allowed me to visualize several configurations that liberated nearby areas to varying degrees and led me to the conclusion that I needed a corridor style kitchen, completely open on one end to the living room and with doors at the opposite end to the back garden. At the time of my first design efforts, the interior end of the kitchen ended in a wall and short interior hallway while the exterior ended in a pair of double hung windows. A door on a third wall exited to the outside, with impressive views of the nearby garage.

My new design eliminates the interior (load bearing) wall and hallway and the replaces the double hung windows with French doors opening onto a patio and backyard garden. The exit on the third wall is eliminated too. With this floor plan, use of space is far more efficient than before: An interior hallway in this particular location made no sense, particularly when space is at such a premium. Removal of the interior wall completely allows natural traffic patterns to develop and takes away some constraints on where I put both kitchen and living room furniture - the dining room table can go partly in the kitchen and partly in the living room now, becoming an even more multi-use table. I can add leaves to the table when I have guests and expand it into the living room, ensuring everyone has enough elbow room. Changing the windows to French doors allowed me to take wall space from the location of the old side exit which was necessary for counters and cupboards.

[Insert kitchen plan pictures here - before and after]

* I'm engaging in the common amateur fiction of claiming that I started with my design goals. In actual fact, I started by playing with different floor plan configurations while keeping my constraints loosely in mind: DIY where possible, cost, staying within the existing floor plan, etc. The actual list of design goals grew out of that process, but wasn't even codified in writing until this blog post was written. There's nothing wrong with that - an organic process is a learning process and internalized design goals are design goals nonetheless. Professional designers will probably start with design goals because they charge by the hour and wandering through all possibilities is a costly endeavor. However, when you DIY, you have the luxury to believe that the time you spend on the project is free.

[End blog 1]

[Start blog 2]

In a chain of events that I've jokingly referred to as cascading home repairs, you start out with one task in mind and then discover that you have to do a second major task in order to complete your goal. However, in order to complete the 2nd major task, you discover that you have to do a third, and so forth. In that way, a simple kitchen remodel becomes a string of cascaded chores, each dependent upon the previous one. My home renovation friends all smile knowingly, since they know exactly what I'm talking about: That when you say "kitchen remodel" you actually mean the long chain of activites that will eventually lead to new cabinets and counters.

The list of significant cascaded home remodeling tasks that I have to complete before I can even begin on the kitchen part of the remodel is given below:

Replace double hung windows with French doors to allow access to kitchen - DONE
Upgrade electrical panel to allow for modern kitchen requirements
Route gas line to new range location
Re-wire kitchen from new panel, at least enough to preserve functionality during construction
Disable gas and electrical in interior load bearing wall
Demolish load bearing wall, replace with engineered beam (Glulam likely)

The French doors were the work of a weekend to install with the help of a buddy who had done the task before, but the planning for that one task, including getting materials on site took the better part of two weeks. I used salvaged doors from the Habitat for Humanity Store, so the cost was low - for four doors I paid something like $300. I'll use the other matched set of doors on a bedroom, but that's a story for another day. The end result of the window replacement was dramatically better light in the kitchen than the windows, plus gracious and convenient outdoor access, giving me hope that my planning would pay off.

About a year ago I had jumped the gun a bit and solicited bids from local electricians to upgrade my panel. The electrical panel currently has a grand total of four circuits, two 20A circuits and two 15A circuits, with no room for expansion.

[Insert picture of current electrical panel]

My life being what it is, I wasn't able to act on the bids right away. That turned out to be a stroke of good luck, since I had a change of heart about where I wanted to locate the new panel. My brother, veteran of his own remodel, advised that I should locate it on the side of the house so that if I ever wanted to extend the back of the house I wouldn't have to again relocate the panel. Additionally, he reminded me that it would be out of sight from the backyard, an aesthetic advantage when you're talking about a (large) 200A panel. I thought he was dead on and called Southern California Edison to approve the new meter location. My next call was to Gene from 1-Stop Electrical. He had given me a reasonable price before, so I invited him back over on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to give me an estimate for the new panel upgrade.

I had a short list of the things I wanted him to bid separately which I presented and we discussed when I met him at the property. What follows is the list that we agreed that he'd bid to, since through our discussion he was able to augment and improved my original list.

200 A electrical panel, mounted in the south wall of the garage.
150A sub panel for garage located next to main panel. Circuit breakers on inside!
Minimum two ground rods (my city requires only one). Maintain separation per NEC or better.
Deactivate old electrical panel so that I can remove it (this is pending my legwork to show that existing circuits can be accessed from the attic)
Upgrade to larger gauge pole-to-house wiring (Edison has agreed to do this at my request, not part of bid.)
Garage exterior outlet: 120V, 20A, single gang, in-wall mount. GFCI breaker. Mounted in east side of garage near south corner.
Garage interior outlet: 120V, 20A, four gang, GFCI. 48" mounting height on south wall.
Garage interior conduit and outlet for 220V connection. Installed but not wired, since I want this only for future expansion purposes. 48" mounting height on south wall.

I told him I'd handle the stucco work, having learned on the job around the French doors. The one gotcha in all this is that Gene states that the ground rods will be left exposed above ground about 10-12" and as close to the foundation as possible. Unfortunately, if placed in my narrow side yard I'm concerned that they will be a trip hazard and will constrict the passage too much - it's only slightly wider than 3' and my garbage cans barely make it through as it is. The slab foundation sticks out a few inches past the exterior wall. There may be a way around this if ask him to drill holes in the garage floor and he makes his ground attachments inside and against a wall. I can then hide the attach points with the cabinetry I plan to put there. I'll have to ask him if this is possible.

[End blog 2]

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