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Housing Costs in Southern California Are High. Doing Home Improvement Projects on Your Own Can Save Big Money.

Check out our review of the Home Depot book, Home Improvement 1-2-3 for more home improvement information.

When we purchased our house we made the list below for the contractors:
Highest
New Roof with rain gutters
Electrical Wiring
5 New Windows in front room and front bedroom
repair stucco and paint exterior of house
High
New Doors throughout
Insulate master bedroom roof
New Locks
New Front Door
Make sure all windows can be locked
New Bathroom Cabinets/Sinks/Mirrors/Lights
New tile in master bathroom and kitchen
Move back yard gate up past side door of house
New lighting throughout including addition of extra lights in dining room
New flooring in master bedroom(right now it is carpet on top of cement)
New fans
Interior Paint
cabinets in laundry room
rip out drawers and shelves in closets for new closet doors
repair master bedroom closet and add lighting
secure oven
check gas ignitor for stove
new wheel for master bedroom sliding glass door

The contractors did a great job with the list. We decided it was in our best interest to have them substitute some projects not on the list for certain things on the list. For example, we decided not to insulate the master bedroom roof. There were several reasons for this. One reason is that it would cover the craftsmanship of the beams in place. Whoever put the beams up did an excellent job of staining them and making them look extremely professional. Another reason we decided against insulating the roof in the master bedroom is that living in Southern California near the coast, the weather is fairly consistent and we do not get wide temperature fluctuations. Another item on the list was rain gutters. The contractors added thick overhaning trim to help protect the house walls and the foundations. We felt that the trim was sufficient and rain gutters were not needed. Our list had 5 new windows but we actually had more than 5. We had slot windows in the front bathroom and the corner of the dining room. In addition to the 5 front windows, these 3 windows were replaced as well bringing the total of replacement windows to 8. We did not move the front gate up past the side door. There were several reasons for this. The contractor's time was a premium. We wanted to concentrate on making the most efficient use of their time. The gate, it was decided, was something that I could move later on. After building the front yard fence, I gained a lot of confidence and decided that moving up the gate was something I could tackle at a later date. Home Improvement projects on our house are listed below. Some of these projects like replacing the hose bib were done entirely by me. Other projects like replacing the windows were done entirely by the contractors. Other projects like adding support to the garage roof were a combined effort with me and the contractors.

Fence
Some of the windows in our house are fairly close to the sidewalk. In addition, our son likes to play in the front yard. These factors prompted me to build a ranch style fence in the front yard. After doing some research and talking to the Home Depot employees, I decided to use 4x4x10 redwoods for the posts(I then cut them to 4x4.5) (the termites and other insects do not like redwood as much as other types of lumber). The first 2 feet of each post were treated with wood preservative as the first 18 inches of each post went underground. The remaining portions of the posts were not treated because they were being covered with paint. The hardest part of the project was digging the post holes. I purchased the correct tool but had a tough time in some parts where the dirt was hard almost like clay. Near the end I learned a valuable lesson, soaking the dirt with water makes the digging much easier. At first I was hesitant to pour water over the holes(I thought it would get too messy and spread mud everywhere). I learned that the mess from the mud is well worth it. Another factor that kept me from using water early was the speed of the digs. I wanted to go slowly so that if I hit a pipe or other sensitive object I could stop before inflicting damage. Before digging the holes, I esablished straight lines with stakes and string. The holes where about 7 and 1/2 feet apart. The wood rails I bought were 8 feet long and it was quicker for me to saw off what I didn't need than to measure exactly 8 feet. Once the holes got to about 19 or 20 inches I filled the bottoms with gravel so that they were exactly 18 inches deep each. I had both high and low stakes with strings to make sure everything was lined up. I was so tired from digging near the end that my brother had to come over and help me dig holes for the last five or six posts.

Once the holes were ready everything else was easy. I placed the posts in the holes and then poured concrete mix into each hole. After pouring the concrete about half way down each hole, I made sure each post was level by checking it against the string. I also checked it with the hand level to make sure everything was correct. I then proceeded to pour the remaining concrete in each hole. Note that I poured the concrete straight out of the bag. In other words, I did not mix the concrete with water in a wheel barrel or a mixer; I simply opened each concrete bag and poured it in. Once I double checked each post to make sure they were level, I poured water over the top of each hole to make the concrete cure faster.

The concrete set quickly and I was able to nail the rails onto the posts within 24 hours. Even though nailing the posts was easy, using a nail gun made a huge difference. The gun was so fast that I accidentally shot 2 or 3 nails in the same spot the first time I used it. Willie and I then cut off the top of each post at an angle so that the rain water would flow off the top. After cutting off the top of each post, I sanded the top of each post to make sure it was smooth after the cuts.

Painting the fence with white exteriror oil based paint was fairly easy. There was a bit of a problem when the gardner for our next door neighbor started blowing leaves on the wet paint.

Garage Roof Support
When we purchased our house there was an issue with the garage structure. The roof sagged visibly in the center. The problem was so big that there was a post holding up the roof in the center when we purchased the house. We decided there had to be a better way of supporting the roof than a post in the center. We feared it would be a disaster if a car hit the post of if there was a large earthquake. After doing a lot of research, Richard was able to draw up blueprints for a better solution. He worked with the engineer to make sure everything was structurally sound. The new solution was to use laminated vaneer lumber. We purchased an 18 foot lvl beam that weighed 300 pounds. We also got supporting 4x4s and 4x6s and simpson supports

The next phase of the project involved putting the huge beam in place and removing the center post. We started early on Saturday morning(I think it was about 6 or 7am). I worked with Felix, Richard and Willard to get everything situated. We put the 4x6 supports in the side walls and secured them with Simpson supports. Willard cut a hold in the garage so that we could slide the beam in through our neighbor's yard. Felix started putting temporary 4x4s in place to support the roof when we took the original center post out. Later Joel and Henry arrived along with our neighbor Darren. Henry, Felix, Me, Darren, Willard and Joel then walked the beam through Darren's yard and put one end through the hole. At that point Henry and I(mostly Henry) were able to pound the beam into position using the sledge hammer. The garage is now much more stable. Our steps in the blueprints were listed as follows:
Procedure
1. Place temporary shoring under rafters.
2. Install new 4x4 post at ridge of room addition.
3. Remove existing 1x ties.
4. Install new "Simpson" LFTA connectors.
5. Install new 4x6 header and 4x4 posts at window.
6. Install new 4x6 post at each end of garage.
7. Install new LVL and fasten per details.
8. Install blocking at ridge per details.
9. Remove temporary shoring.

Paint Interior
Our house has about one dozen interior panel doors. Each door has 6 indented panels where the paint does not stay easily. I wiped off each door with tack cloth to make sure everything was clean. When painting each door I made sure to paint the corners of each panel when the brush had the most paint(immediately after dipping in the bucket). Once the indented panels were done the rest of the door was fairly easy. I put masking tape on the door knobs and hinges. Before removing the masking table I cut the edges with a razor to make sure the paint did not peel off. Painters Tape would have been a nice substitute for the masking tape/razor but it is more expensive. I also painted base boards inside the house. Again, masking tape was used to cover the carpet/hardwood. Another interior painting project involved the back room of our house. There were over 20 nails pulled out of the walls and I covered the bigger holes with wood glue. The room is quite large(about 350 square feet) so it took awhile to paint. I used the roller first painting everywhere I could fit it. The touch up was done with a brush in corners and other spots too small for the roller.

Hose Bib Leak
Our old hose bib had become stripped such that it could not be turned off all the way. As a result there was dripping leak 24 hours a day. Fortunately, I was able to fix it wihin 24 hours of the start of the leak. I purchased a new bib at Home Depot along with a tool for turning off the water at the meter. Some homes do not have a main for shutting off the water. Others have a main in plain view. Our neighbor's house has a main right near the front of the house which is much more efficient for turning the water on and off than using the valve a the meter. Our house does not have a main in plain view so I turned the water off at the meter. Once the water was off I was able to take off the old hose bin and install the new hose bib. The new hose bib held up once the water was turned back on and the leak was fixed.

Water Line Open Diagram:
House
Sidewalk
L
Street

Water Line Closed Diagram:
House
Sidewalk
|
Street

Hardwood Floors
One of the best things for improving the appearance of a room is restoring the hardwood flooring. Staining the floor is relatively easy compared to sanding. Selecting the appropriate grade of sandpaper is tricky. If the grade is too fine then one can sand for a great deal of time with virtually no result. For example, I started with grade 80 in the Dining Room. I sanded in the same area of the room for 10 minutes straight. After turning the sander off I was unable to see where I had sanded and where I had not. We gradually went to more and more coarse grades until settling on grade 20. We used the square sanders which worked nicely. We were able to see marks on the floor where someone else had probably used a round sander. Sanding the Dining Room Floor was definitely the most time consuming part of the process. Once the sanding was complete the finish was applied fairly easily and the floor looked much better.

Windows
One of the first things we did when purchasing our new home was to buy new windows. We placed a special order for the windows before our escrow closed. This is because the windows we needed were not standard size and the Home Depot Special Order Department told us it would take some time to get the windows in. The windows we bought are very nice but it would have been much cheaper for us to get something in stock off the shelf. Our contractors were very good at putting the new windows in place. They were able to get everything done quickly. We had quite a bit of water damage from the old windows. The house was built in 1949 and the old windows looked like the originals. The main problem with the old windows was that they had vents on the top. These vents allowed water to damage the wall and the windows over the years. One lesson we learned is that a 30x30 window does not mean 30 inches by 30 inches. It actually means 3 feet by 3 feet. It is kind of the same thing as a 2x4 piece of wood. I always carry a tape measure with me now when shopping for the home so that I know the exact dimensions of everything being bought without having to rely on the labels. One thing we learned is that it is often cheaper to buy a slightly smaller window size of the shelf and then just frame it in.

Electrical
When we first visited our house there were wires all over the place. There were wires coming out of exteriror walls. The home inspector pointed this out. He said that whenever he visits a house and there are wires sticking out all over the place, it makes him suspicious about the wiring. Fortunately the contractors had the tools and equipment to find the dead lines and get things straightened out. They even found that the old grounding was inadequate(it relied on cutoff pipes).

Roof
We knew from the insection reports and other signs that a new roof was needed when we purchased our house. There were many tarps and temporary fixes up on the roof. The contractors did not have the proper equipment to hot mop the flat portion of the roof over the master bedroom so we hired our neighbor who is a roofer. His crew removed the old roof section and did a good job with the hot mop on our flat portion. I went to Home Depot with our contractors to buy asphalt shingles for the main portion of roof. Hauling the shingles up onto the roof was no picnic. Each container weighed 80 pounds and it was not easy carrying them up the ladder.

Exterior Paint
I've painted houses before but never stucco. Fortunately our contractor Willard had experience in this area. He made the adjustment by using the thickest roller sold at Home Depot. He did a nice job painting the entire house in a short amount of time. It was obvious that our house had been painted recently when we bought it but we wanted to go with a new color. There were other factors that made it necessary for us to paint, like all the work done when the new windows and the new front door were installed.

New Tile Floors
My wife went with Felix to Home Depot to pick out the new tiles for the kitchem and the master bathroom. I went with Felix to get the underlayment to go over the old tiles in the kitchen and over the old floor in the bathroom. After putting down the underlayment, Felix was ready to layout the tiles. After watching Felix lay out the tiles, I now have a better understanding of the process. He used little + separators and made sure everything was lined up and level. After the grout dried, I applied grout sealer in both the kitchen and the bathroom.

Computer Wiring
When we first purchased our house, I borrowed my friend's wireless router to see if it would meet our needs. I didn't get the range I wanted with the wireless router so I decided to put wire in place from our front room to our back room behind the garage. I used 10mb CAT3 cable. Prior to putting the long cable in place I did a 4 foot test cable to make sure I was crimping everything properly. With the bumpy part of the RJ-45 connector facing down, I used the following sequence:
1. White/Orange
2. Orange
3. White/Green
4. Blue
5. White/Blue
6. Green
7. White/Brown
8. Brown
I then took out my old cable between the computer and the modem and tried using the new 4 foot cable. Everything worked fine so I knew I was able to put the long cable in place. Fortunately our contractors gave me a conduit underground in the back yard to put the cable from the house to the garage. I hooked it up and everything works well. The crimping tool I borrowed worked beautifully and I had just enough RJ-45 ends to get the job done(I purchased a container of 5 from Radio Shack; 2 were used in the test cable and 2 in the real cable). The only drawback I have is that the cable was CAT 3 and not CAT 5. This means if I get a wireless router for the front of the house, the machines will only be able to communicate at 10 megs instead of 100.

New Door Hinges
When we first purchased our house the door hinges did not stand out. This was because the house needed paint and cleaning in many areas. There were all sorts of different doors in place and there were bigger issues than hinges. Once we got the rest of the house in order, the hinges became more and more noticable. My wife made all the doors consistent by getting the same 6 panel doors with silver door knobs. All the doors looked good as I painted them uniformly in white. I was careful not to paint any of the door hardware(knobs, stops, hinges etc). The problem we were left with was the old, rusty hinges. Here is how I replaced them on each door:
1. Remove bottom hinge.
2. Take bottom hinge and one screw to hardware store and purchase replacements for door(make sure new screws are the same size as the old one or bigger).
3. Install new bottom hinge.
4. Remove top hinge and install new top hinge.
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