Thursday, December 21, 2006

Basement Finishing Project - Building Permits

So, because I am a responsible law-abiding citizen who wants to pay all his taxes, I obtained the proper building permits before I began work on my basement. Armed with my blueprints and pictures created with Plan3d, I took a morning off work and made the 20 minute drive down to the Prince William County Development Services building. I had already determined that because I was putting in a "kitchenette" (consisting of a sink and a refrigerator) I would need to sign an affidavit promising to never try to advertise my house as a duplex, or as having separate living quarters in the basement, nor would I ever try to rent the basement out as a separate unit, nor would I ever attempt to prepare a meal in the basement unless it was going to be consumed by someone who normally sleeps on the first or second floor... etc.

Anyway, when I got through the line at the Zoning desk, the guy looked at my plans and asked for my house location survey plat. I didn't have it. I had looked at it that morning while gathering up my paperwork, but I hadn't brought it. D'oh! Then he said, "Hmmm, what kind of sink are you putting in?"

Me: "I dunno, probably a medium-sized, double-basin stainless steel kitchen sink."

Zoning Guy: "You know, if it was only a small wet bar sink, then this would not be considered a kitchen, and you wouldn't need Zoning approval for your plans."

Me: "Yeah, like I said, it's just gonna be a small, single-basin, stainless steel wet bar sink."

Zoning Guy: "Okay, you're fine. Just go get in line at the Plan Review desk."



Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Basement Finishing Project - Design Plans

When we bought our home, the sales office was located in the model home which had a finished basement. I didn't like the layout of the bathroom and other rooms in the basement of the model, but I had to work around the general layout of the plumbing rough-ins for placement of my bathroom and wetbar. You can see how the model was laid out (sans wetbar) by looking at the floorplan here. One difference is that we have the optional Areaway, but it is on the right side of our house as you view this floorplan, not the left side.

I looked at some cheap software for designing floorplans at Best Buy and decided not to get it. I searched online and found Plan3D. It's actually pretty sweet! You can drag and drop all kinds of objects and resize them to layout your room/house/whatever. Furniture, electronics, appliances, people, pets, etc. You can apply different colors and textures to surfaces. Then you can do a 3D walkthrough of the space to see how it looks, opening and closing doors and other things along the way.

You have to be connected to the internet while you use the software, because all these extra "things" in the "catalog" are on their server, which keeps the executable running on your PC fairly small and therefore quick to download. (It also enables them to make it a subscription-based service. If your subscription expires, you can no longer save any files you create or modify with the software.) If you email the company and ask for something to be added, they will make it for you. When I was working on my plans, I wanted a Bowflex, which they didn't have in the catalog. I emailed them and sent them a link to a picture of a Bowflex, and Voila! I never heard back. Not a peep. Not even a confirmation that they had received my request.

Then a couple months later I fired up the software again, and much to my delight, a Bowflex had been added under Exercise Equipment! So I have no idea how long it actually takes them to fulfill requests, but apparently they do take them. They just don't communicate to you about it. At some point I plan to send them a picture of me cleaning the cats' litterbox or running on the treadmill or something so I can add it to my basement plans.

Here you can see the way I laid out my basement design. As we only have one welled window - for reasons unknown to me... I think the builder should have put a couple in on the driveway side - I decided to jog the bathroom wall around the edge of the furnace air return ducts to make sure the window's natural light would go into the bathroom instead of the furnace room. (Yes we will put up curtains.) I used the toilet drain right in the same place the builder put it, but the toilet is facing the other way. My bathroom sink is tied into the main drain on that side of the house. The sink drain that was roughed in by the toilet is inside the wall behind the wetbar sink, which it serves. The tub/shower drain rough-in was in the wrong spot for my corner shower, so it would have to be moved. (That story will be told later.)


Monday, December 18, 2006

Basement Finishing Project - Introduction

Well you may or may not know that I am finishing my basement. It's a project I started back in late May. I really didn't expect it to take this long. Neither did my wife, or else she may not have let me do it.

I am going to do a series of blog postings outlining this project from start to finish. It may take a while, but I'll start at the beginning and hopefully soon I can catch up to the present. Unfortunately, many of the pictures I took along the way are AWOL on a 256MB SD card that I am having trouble locating. If it ever turns up I will get the pics online and add some to the appropriate entries.

In The Beginning...
When we moved into the house, the poured concrete basement walls were fully covered (top-to-bottom) with fiberglass blanket insulation and a layer of foil paper over top of that (Fig. 1).

After researching basement insulation systems, I determined that I would replace the existing insulation with a half-inch of rigid foam insulation directly against the concrete exterior walls. I used foil-faced polyisocyanurate on the top-half of the wall (which can dry to the outside,) and extruded polystyrene (Styrofoam blueboard) on the bottom half (Fig. 2). The blueboard is supposed to be vapor-permeable, which allows the lower half of the wall to dry to the inside (assuming I do not use Kraft-faced insulation or any other type of vapor barrier in the wall construction.)

I decided to use a metal stud wall inside of that. Benefits of metal studs are: they are all perfectly straight, they do not burn, and they do not support the growth of mold and mildew. I would place unfaced fiberglass batts in between the metal studs. This would give me an overall R-value of about 16 for my basement walls. (Unfaced fiberglass batts for 3-1/2 inch thick stud walls have are rated R-13. Half-inch thick foil-faced polyisocyanurate is R3.3. Half-inch thick Styrofoam blueboard is rated R-3. Nothing in my basement is rated NC-17.)

I had considered installing an insulated subfloor by laying down a vapor barrier, then 2x4 sleepers and putting some kind of rigid foam insulation between them. However, this would have made that first step up the stairs really short and probably require me to raise all the stairs to get it to code. Also, the door that leads outside would have to be raised to clear such a subfloor, or I would have to have a step-down area by the door which would have been a major tripping hazard.

My dad suggested I look up something called System Platon (Fig. 3). Genius*! This stuff is made of 24mil dimpled polyethylene, which creates an impermeable moisture barrier, yet leaves a small airspace to allow the concrete floor to dry out if it becomes wet. You can lay down tongue-and-groove OSB right on top of it, giving you a dry subfloor that is not as cold as the concrete beneath it and costs less than 1.5 inches of headroom! My basement door still opens (and still has enough clearance for whatever finished flooring I choose, probably a wood laminate,) and the bottom stair step is not noticeably different in height than the rest of the steps.

In the next installment, I will discuss how I created my basement plans and obtained my building permits. Don't you just love cliffhanger endings?

* Yes, this refers to my dad and the inventor of System Platon.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

My Celebrity Look-alikes

I apparently also "look" like some other celebrities, but they were people I'd never heard of, or people I don't want to look like.

It told me not to smile so I didn't.

If I use a picture of me dressed up like Clark Kent for Halloween, then I look like these people:

I was kinda hoping that one would pick up Bono. But Kate Bosworth!? Must be my cheekbones.

UPDATE: We did one of Ann's pictures and she also matched Chester Bennington (from Linkin Park)! Too weird...


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

You have to write in cursive to go to grad school

Did you know that? I was shocked. I pretty much abandoned cursive after high school. I found I could write as fast and probably much more legibly if I just printed. The only thing I write in cursive is my signature, which - if you've seen it - proves the legibility part of my reasoning.

So I went to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test last night in Fairfax, and when I showed up they gave me a clipboard with a carbon copy form on it. It asked me to "Write, DO NOT PRINT, the following statement in the space provided."

The statement was something about me really being me, or agreeing not to cheat, or something. I don't actually know what it said. I was so flustered that I had to write in cursive for the first time in over a decade, it took all my concentration to focus on each word and try to remember how to form letters like "k" and "b" and to get the right number of humps on "n" and "m." I couldn't figure out how to do a capital "I," so I printed the first one. The others ended up looking like lowercase f's. I think it took me 5 minutes to copy three sentences. Who knew checking in would be the hardest part of the test?

So what's the logic here? Does success in grad school have something to do with knowing how to write in cursive? Or do they just think people who print an oath are more likely to break it than people who write it in longhand?


Monday, December 04, 2006

"Ready or not, here I come!"

It looks like the days of "just the two of us" are numbered. Can't wait for next summer!

Can you believe my sisters already have 6 children and I have never changed any of their diapers? The key is to never be left alone with them without a mom or grandma nearby - or at least returning soon. "What? I didn't smell anything..."

Ann says I will not be able to get away with that when it is my own child.

The picture here is from November 22, at 11 weeks. See the rest of the picture set on Ann's Flickr page: Ultrasound

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