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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Ways To Remove Plaster Walls

As you may already know, an older home tends to need a bit more TLC than others. They’re great for those who love to DIY and want to truly make their house unique to them. Some homeowners choose to take on remodels themselves. If this sounds familar, you’ll likely need to take down a wall or two to truly transform a room.

Plaster walls were commonly used in homes built before 1950, before drywall was introduced. These walls were made to last, so it’s no surprise that if you’re looking to remove a plaster wall, it can be a tedious and messy process. To help, here are a few tips.

1. Prep The Area

Before you begin removing plaster walls, you’ll need to do some prep work so your project can be completed successfully. Removing plaster walls can create a lot of dust and a lot of mess, so you’ll want to tarp off any doorways and flooring you want protected. Seal off any air ducts and vents to protect the rest of the home from the dust. Remove any furniture from the room, as you’ll need plenty of space to work as well. You’ll also need to remove any outlet plates and fixtures on the wall. Put these parts aside.

It’s also helpful to have a garbage can available in the room, so you can quickly dispose of any plaster you want removed.

2. Safety First

As mentioned, removing plaster walls is a messy job. A dusk mask will come in handy for this project to protect you from breathing in anything harmful. Don’t forget protective eyewear and gloves as well. We also recommend this as a DIY project for those who have experience with a few home improvement projects. If you are new to DIY, you may want to contact a pro who can help remove plaster walls.

It’s important to make sure the room is safe to work in. Turn off any electricity and water that’s going to the room. Locate any wiring or plumbing lines to prevent them from getting damaged in the process. You’ll also need to be sure that the wall you’re removing does not hurt the structural integrity of the home.

3. Rent A Dumpster

When removing plaster walls, you’ll need a place to properly dispose of the material. This may be difficult to throw out in your local garbage pick-up. A dumpster can make easy work of disposal as you work through this project. The average cost to rent a dumpster is $395, with most homeowners spending between $316 and $395. These costs can vary depending on how long you’ll be renting and the size of the dumpster.

4. Save The Molding

If you intend on replacing your plaster wall with drywall, it’s a good idea to save the wood moldings. This is a process that must be done very carefully so you do not damage or crack them. If you’re working with a pro, they will know the best ways to save your molding for future use.

5. Slow & Steady

When you’re ready to remove your plaster, it’s important not to start striking the wall aimlessly. Strategically begin tapping a top corner of the wall with a hammer until a hole has formed where you can see the lath. Once you have this hole, use a prybar to carefully pull off the plaster, working downward. Do not expect this to be a quick process. The more careful attention you pay to what you’re working on, the easier the work will be.

6. Remove The Lath Strips

After the plaster is removed, you’ll need to remove the lath strips. A prybar works well here. Be aware that these won’t break off into large chunks, so it can be tedious work. Lath strips will also have nails in them that can pose a safety hazard. Plaster and lath is a technique often found in old homes, so some of the nails you find may be rusty. Wear gloves and proper safety gear when removing nails from your wall.

7. Clean The Room Thoroughly When You’re Done

Removing plaster walls is a big job with a big mess. The dust created from this project will be very fine, giving it more opportunity to get into the air. When throwing the wall debris away, be sure to gently place it in a trash bin, as to not allow more dust to get over the room. You’ll likely need to dust, sweep and mop the room multiple times after the project is completed.

8. Contact A Pro

Removing plaster walls is a big job that if not done correctly, can have serious consequences to your remodeling project. If you’re not confident you have the tools or instructions necessary to complete this project safely and successfully, contact a pro who can help.

Design Ideas That Will Increase Your Property Value

When it comes to selling your home, everyone knows about the importance of curb appeal. But according to real-estate experts, small updates can be made inside that are less costly and time-consuming than an exterior overhaul but will still increase your odds of fetching a good selling price. We turned to Jennifer Titus, a real-estate agent withCompass who works in the competitive Boston market, for her tips. Some changes take five minutes, some are weekend projects, but all of Titus’s ideas are likely to deliver a high return on your investment by wooing buyers and increasing your property value.

Make a big first impression
There’s no better way for a guest to be greeted than with a statement-making decorative chandelier, says Titus. “It’s eye candy, but it also brightens up a space that tends to be underlit and underdecorated.

Kick the bathroom vanity to the curb
A great way to refresh a home is to switch out boxy (and often timeworn) vanities with sleek cast-iron white pedestal sinks, says Titus. “The bathroom will feel bigger, fresher, and more modern.”

Refresh kitchen cabinets
“One of the highest returns on value for a small money investment in a home is to paint kitchen cabinets that are either aesthetically dated or have excessive wear and tear,” says Titus. Although she recommends having a pro do it (an amateur paint job can make them look worse), she estimates that painting is still 10 to 20 percent the cost of buying brand-new cabinets.

Swap hardware everywhere
“It can be costly to keep up with design trends, but one solid investment for modernizing a home is to replace hardware,” says Titus. “It’s like a simple T-shirt and jeans looking fabulous because they’ve been paired with fashion-forward shoes.” Swap out doorknobs, handles, and knobs on built-ins and shutter latches; polished nickel or bronze are both on-trend and in demand now, she says.

Paint, paint, and paint
Repainting your home is the best way to freshen up an interior. Play it safe with your color choices, though. “A neutral paint can reflect light and make a room appear larger,” Titus says. “But the wrong color palette can define and weigh down an entire space.”

Ways to turn Unused Space Into the Rooms You

More Space, Same Footprint

Adding over and under your home are both smart ways to increase living space, but there are other creative ways to eke out extra square footage without drastically changing the footprint of your home. Look up, down, and all around, and you may find you have more room for rooms than you think—in the attic, the basement, the garage, or even an underused outbuilding. This Old House has gathered its favorite basement and attic bonus rooms, as well as shed and garage conversions, three-season porches, and more, to help you get inspired to find that hidden space in your home.

From Attic to Suite Retreat

Sometimes in the search for more living space there’s no place to look but up. When Alan Koch bought this 1933 cottage in Portland, Oregon, he knew he’d be finishing the 600-square-foot attic sooner rather than later. And since he worked at home, Alan hankered for a light, bright office where he could spread out. By tapping the upstairs, he figured he could carve out just such a space, as well as a comfortable master suite, reserving downstairs bedrooms for guests and TV viewing.

After expanding the attic space by 100 square feet with a gabled dormer, Alan’s airy aerie is now complete, and makes the most of every square inch with smart space-saving details—like the closet pocket door that keeps the passage-way free and clear.

See more of this airy and uplifting space in An Attic Becomes A Suite Retreat Upstairs.

The Cold-to-Comfy Basement

Sometimes the extra room you’ve always wanted is right under your feet. Elizabeth Willett, was looking to fulfill several needs in her family’s 1927 Tudor-style house when she saw untapped potential in its walk-out basement. “It already had a fireplace and a tiny bath, but it had never really been properly finished,” she says. While the ceiling was low, it wasn’t too low, and moisture—that bane of basement remodels—wasn’t a problem.

Soon Elizabeth and her husband, Chris, were picturing the equivalent of an 830-square-foot addition, minus the new footprint, with a whole host of amenities. They created a family retreat and entertainment space at the bottom of the stairs. Guests can hang a left to check out the wine cellar or plop down on a sofa facing the stone fireplace and a TV. Davis even managed to fit in a full bath, a laundry area, a food pantry, and a home-office space. The rustic-looking family room is now a gathering spot for their daughter and her friends.

A Rustic, Wicker-Filled Porch Living Room

With its prime location overlooking the yard, a porch offers the perfect place for serious relaxation in mild-to-warm weather. To emphasize this idea in his own New York home, interior designer Tom Fallon transformed his porch into a full-fledged room. He anchored the furniture—vintage wicker and rattan united by a coat of hunter-green paint—with a natural rug, and hung mirrors and a watercolor from the shingles. Cushions in navy, white, and citrus yellow add color, while trim with a pale celery hue draws attention to the 1875 Carpenter Gothic’s louvered shutters and distinctive arched windows. “The look is classic, even a bit quiet, which contrasts with the house’s exuberant architecture,” Fallon says.

Find everything you need to recreate this look at your house with Create a Rustic, Wicker-Filled Porch.

Smart Homework Station

Four kids-and their backpacks-were cluttering up the kitchen after school. So these homeowners created a secluded and studious atmosphere for schoolwork. The upper cabinets hold school and art supplies, while also hiding basement ductwork.

An Attic Turned Ultimate Kids’ Bedroom Suite

Ask kids and they’ll tell you the ideal place to sleep is in a tree house or on a sailboat, like Max in Where the Wild Things Are. Architect Darren Helgesen incorporated that spirit in this attic redo at a century-old house in East Hampton, New York, where he used warm finishes and smart details to turn the dark, sloped-ceilinged space into a shipshape two-bedroom suite. Homeowners Bill and Cory Laverack had already renovated the rest of the house.

“It was always their favorite place,” says Cory, recalling how the couple’s four kids would hide out upstairs with friends every chance they got. “And now it’s the ultimate sleepover space.” Snug built-ins with below-bed storage, roof windows, pine flooring, and lots of glossy beadboard opened up the attic and made it more functional.

From Outbuilding to Backyard Hangout

The Boughtons in Brooklyn, Mississippi, inherited a sad, lonely shed when they moved into their home. But while planning the side garden, they saw that this little 12-by-12-foot outbuilding had potential as a focal point. They added a porch with a reverse gable roof, then they installed salvaged cottage windows and topped it off with a split cedar shake roof. Now, everyone wants to spend the night in their little backyard gem!

From Blah Basement to Magical Movie Theater

When Cathy and Bob Cerone decided to expand their 1912 Wilmette, Illinois, home with an addition to ¬accommodate visits from their four adult children, their ¬design-build team saw potential in the damp basement. By building it out and finishing it, they could gain space for a media and game room big enough for family get-togethers.

Builders dug a foundation and basement for the addition, then took down part of the wall between the old and new below-grade spaces. The new basement level added 915 square feet of living area and solved the moisture problem with perimeter drains and sump pumps. The space holds a projection screen TV and pool table under a 9-foot ceiling. “When those ¬Chicago Bears are on—holy cow—the whole family’s here,” Cathy says.

Smart Solution for a Small-Space Home

A small house remodel can be as exacting as a jigsaw puzzle. That’s what Matthew and Darci Haney found while renovating the three-room upstairs space in their Carlton, Oregon, cottage. They installed new windows that actually meet the fire code. Built-in furniture, cabinets, and open shelves—together with a new bath—make use of every bit of available space.

From Garage to Comfy Rec Room

It’s a familiar phenomenon: The remodel plan you begin with isn’t exactly the one you end up with. For one Southern California family, a garage renovation evolved from a casual playroom for their two young kids to a well-appointed media room geared just as much to grown-ups. “When we started, we wanted a place for the kids to play their Wii Sports, which takes a lot of room,” says the homeowner, and the seldom-used outbuilding near the pool offered a solution.

Overhead doors were replaced with carriage-style units and a wall was built—both easily removable to allow for two cars should the family want to return the room to a garage someday. They put in a ceiling, finished the walls with insulation and wallboard, built an insulated subfloor, and added custom built-ins, a beverage fridge, and wiring for media equipment.

Bug-Free Backyard Solitude

Over the winter months, Karl Jungbluth in Boone, Iowa, designed this 12-by-6-foot screened-in room to use standard lengths of lumber with very little waste. The flooring inside is standard lengths of low-maintenance composite decking. “Since we planned to stain it green and barn red, I used pressure-treated lumber, along with a metal roof and composite decking,” Carl says.

Adding on Above the Garage

“We love our house’s location, but it was tight on space,” says Geoff Allen of the 1925 seaside Cape Cod in Barrington, Rhode Island, that he shares with wife Michelle Forcier and their young daughter. Though the 1,600-square-foot, two-bedroom house, the site of the latest TOH TV project, was built as a seasonal residence, the family plans to live there year-round. Topping the couple’s wish list was an extra bedroom and bath upstairs. Given the house’s small lot and strict local zoning laws, Brewster sketched an addition in the only spot it could go: above the attached, unheated garage.

From Attic to Bedroom, with Help from the Web

The small 1950s ranch suited its new owners, except for one thing. They wanted a master suite. But how to get it when the first floor was jammed with the kitchen, living and dining rooms, the home’s sole bathroom, and two tiny bedrooms, one soon to be a nursery? Adding on wasn’t an option. So Claudia and Felipe Menanteau from Piscataway, New Jersey, looked up-to the attic.

A half-wall now encloses the staircase to open up the space and allow sunshine from the new skylights to flood the room. Built-ins keep the space clean and functional. Skylights lend the illusion of height when raising the roof wasn’t an option.

From Unused Space to a Home Office Full of Smart Storage

Married neuroscientists Vivek Unni and Tamily Weissman-Unni, owners of an 1870s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, started out with a new baby and a simple goal. “We needed a first-floor bathroom with a changing table,” says Tamily. But they were also saddled with a dark front entry next to a front room that served as an ad hoc mudroom, and a “treacherous” narrow staircase. So they asked their general contractor to rethink the entire space. Now, a desk niche makes use of a corner with natural light, augmented by recessed ceiling fixtures. Fold-back window shutters, pale flooring, and clear sight lines make the light-filled room feel much larger than it is.

A Charming Outdoor Living Room

Garden walls really help a patio or deck feel like a room, whether they’re made out of greenery, stone, or, more unexpectedly, the old church windows used here. Hung from rails set atop corner posts, they enclose a 16-by-16-foot deck, giving it the elegant air of a glass-lined conservatory. Homeowner Susanne Hudson, a garden designer, snagged the five 11-foot-tall finds for $90 each at a flea market years ago and recently put them to use to define her Douglasville, Georgia, deck like enormous white pickets on a fence.

For the furnishings, painted metal porch gliders and spring chairs from the 1940s had the laid-back look Hudson wanted; the iron candle stand and armillary sundial achieved the right rusted finish in short order. “Green, brown, and white, the natural colors of patina in a garden, are a built-in color scheme,” she says. “Blue hydrangeas and rose pillows brighten it up.”

From Raw Basement to Family Room

In the quest for extra square footage, a dry, unfinished basement is a holy grail. For the cost of some finish work and mechanicals upgrades, you can get a whole new room, sometimes two or three.

For years Karen Berkemeyer used her below-grade space as a laundry room. But the desire for what her home lacked–an informal space for family lounging and TV viewing–caused her to take a second look. “We never had one space where we could all gather and watch a movie,” says Berkemeyer.

So the basement was transformed into just that, and during the process upgrades were made to the laundry room and storage closet, and a full bath was added, allowing the space to double as a guest suite.

A Bright Attic Suite On a Budget

In a small house, every bit of space needs to work hard, as homeowners Samantha and Bryan Langdeau soon realized after buying their 1,200-square-foot Cape in Waterbury, Connecticut. Wanting to reserve the two bedrooms on the first floor for guests, they set their sights on the second-floor finished attic for their master suite.

Working nights and weekends for about two months while sleeping in a guest bedroom downstairs, the couple gutted much of the space, tore out closet walls, and added insulation throughout.

An Unfinished Basement Gets a Masculine Makeover

Even the most die-hard family guy needs some alone time. Take Kirker Butler: The Los Angeles-based writer longed for a quiet retreat where he could craft his TV scripts while still being close to his wife and young daughter. “I wanted some bells and whistles, too,” admits Kirker, who hoped a big flat-screen TV, a leather recliner, and shelves for his sports memorabilia and collectibles would make the room just as much man cave as office.

Lofty Attic Office Redo

When the lease on Beth Krauklis’s office expired last year (she runs her own branding agency in Orlando, Florida), she cast an eye up to the attic apartment in her Queen Anne house. At 700 square feet, it could be a seven-person ¬office, she figured, but “I wanted it to feel open, like a loft, with lots of light,” says Beth. Her husband, John, who was already planning to replace the roof and siding, took up the challenge.

John gutted the apartment, cut holes for three new windows, stripped the plaster off the walls, and finished the ¬exposed lath inside with a dark stain and polyurethane. He ¬refinished the heart-pine floors and gave the exposed rafters five coats of white paint. Then, to complete the loft look, John hung an AC duct nearly the length of the attic, track lighting, and a vintage wooden airplane propeller.

Ways Make Your Shower Safer

You’re in the shower, doing your best imitation of a Top-40 pop star. Suddenly that warm, relaxing shower turns too hot to handle, causing you to jump back to avoid the scorching water. The cause? Someone in the house has flushed a toilet. If the situation sounds familiar, then you need to install a pressure-balance valve in your shower. These pressure-balancing devices prevent “shower shock” by automatically adjusting for temperature fluctuations whenever water?cold or hot?is diverted from the tub or shower, such as when someone starts up a load of laundry or flushes a toilet. Even in an instance when the water pressure drops drastically, a pressure-balance valve ensures that the water temperature doesn’t change by more than 3° F. Antiscald devices have been required in hospitals and nursing homes for decades. Now, 31 states have enacted, or will do so soon, legislation requiring pressure-balance valves in all residential remodeling and new-construction projects. Antiscald devices are a wise investment. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year some 200,000 Americans suffer injuries caused by sudden changes in water temperature while they’re bathing. Everyone is in danger of getting scalded or falling as they try to escape the hot water, but young children, the elderly and the physically challenged suffer the most injuries.

Until recently, single-handle pressure-balance valves were the only models available; these are fine when replacing a single-handle inner valve or for a full-scale remodel, but they’re not very well suited to changing over an existing two-handle faucet. To hide the empty handle holes, you have to install an enormous trim plate, which isn’t particularly attractive. For that reason, we chose the Delta Monitor II (about $260), the first two-handle pressure-balance valve. But, unlike a standard two-handle faucet, which has separate hot- and cold-water handles, the right handle of the Monitor II controls water temperature and the left handle controls water volume. It features a polished-chrome-and-brass finish, and includes a matching tub spout and showerhead. For our project, we removed a two-handle, 8-in. centerspread faucet through a hole we cut in the back side of the shower wall. We also enlarged the existing handle holes in the acrylic tub surround with a sabre saw to accommodate the Monitor II. If the walls of your shower are covered with ceramic tile, enlarge the holes using either a rotary tool with a 1/8-in.-dia. carbide bit or a sabre saw with an abrasive-grit blade.


Start by removing the existing faucet handles, escutcheons, showerhead and tub spout. Look for a hex-head set screw on the underside of the tub spout. Loosen it with a hex-key wrench and pull the spout straight out. If there is no screw, the spout is threaded on. Cover it with a cloth and twist it off counterclockwise with a pipe wrench (photo 1), or insert a wood plunger handle in the spout itself and turn it counterclockwise. Next, cut an opening in the back side of the plumbing wall with a drywall saw (photo 2); gently pry out the piece and save it. Go from stud to stud (about 141/2 in. wide) and from 6 in. above the faucet handles to 8 in. below the tub spout. Keep in mind that a larger wall opening makes it easier and safer to solder; what’s more, it’s no more difficult to repair than a smaller opening. Shut off the water to the tub and shower and cut out the old faucet with a hacksaw or miniature tube cutter (photo 3). Next, move around to the tub side of the wall to enlarge the two handle holes (photo 4) for the Monitor II valves. Cut the right-hand hole to 3 1/2 in. dia. and the left-hand hole to 21/4 in. dia., making sure the enlarged holes measure 8 in. from center to center. Threaded inlet and outlet ports on the Monitor II accept 1/2-in. male adapters, which have to be soldered, or sweated, onto copper pipe. But to keep from scorching the neoprene and nylon cartridges inside the valve, solder the adapters onto short pipe lengths, called stubs. Allow the fittings to cool completely and then thread the adapters into the ports. Make all the stubs at least 8 in. long, except the one for the tub spout. It must be cut exactly to length: Set the valve assembly into the wall openings and measure down to the hole for the spout.

Steps 5-8

To establish the exact horizontal length of the supply pipes that protrude from the wall, look at the markings on the black plastic spacers covering the faucet stems. The outer mark should align with the surface of the finished shower wall. Using these marks, cut a length of pipe long enough to leave the threads of a male adapter protruding 3/8 in. from the wall. Solder this assembly together with a male adapter on each end. Wrap the threads of the adapters with Teflon tape and tighten them onto the valve with an adjustable wrench (photo 5). Set the faucet, fitted with pipe stubs, into the wall with the spacers extending through the wall openings. Match the water-supply pipes with the pipe stubs and mark each cut with a pencil. Remove the faucet, and cut the pipes and stubs to fit. Sand each pipe end with emery cloth, then set the faucet back in place. Brush flux onto the pipe ends and solder the connections with couplings and 45- and 90-degree elbows (photo 6). Warning: The flame from the torch can scorch and even set fire to combustible surfaces. You should protect the work area with a double thickness of sheet metal or a flame-shield fabric, which is available at plumbing-supply shops. After soldering the joints, check the marks on the plastic spacers. Reposition the valve assembly, if necessary, then slip a 1 X 2 support block behind the valve pipes (if one isn’t already in place) and screw it to the stud at each end. Secure the pipes to the 1 X 2 with copper straps fastened with 1 1/2-in. screws. Finally, turn the water on and check for leaks. To trim out the faucet, begin by removing the black plastic spacers from the control stems. Then thread the tub spout onto its male adapter. Mount the volume trim flange and handle onto the left-hand control stem and connect the temperature trim flange and handle onto the right-hand stem. Now test the valve by turning on the water to its highest temperature setting. If the water feels too hot, turn it off, remove the handle and locate the nylon rotational limit stop on the stem. It’s marked with two arrows. Rotate the stop several notches, as shown in the manufacturer’s instructions, and replace the handle. Retest the system and readjust the limit stop if necessary. To repair the access hole cut in the wall, screw 1 X 2s between the wall studs, then screw the piece of drywall you removed earlier back in place. Conceal the patch with paper tape and three or four coats of joint compound (photo 7). Finally, on the shower side, apply a thin bead of silicone caulk around both trim plates and the tub spout (photo 8). Allow the silicone to cure overnight before using the tub or shower. You can now shower comfortably knowing that the only shock you might experience is when you actually sing on key.