Project 11x30 - An Architect's Home and Studio

Year: Ongoing

Project Brief:

Back in June of 2015, I made the decision to purchase a house at the age of 25. As a young and motivated architect, I was at a point in my career where I completed all of the Architecture Registration Examinations (ARE) and fulfilled all of my architect experience for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). All I needed to do to get my official architect license in New York was to fulfill the 3 year full-time employment requirement.

Although I knew that I would soon be a licensed architect, there were so many aspects of architecture that I needed to learn. In particular, I wasn’t proficient at developing building details and I lacked basic building construction knowledge. As embarrassed as I am to admit it, I knew that there was so much more to learn and I was eager to get first-hand experience in construction.

Thus, my journey as a homeowner began and I immediately started my renovation projects. This project will be an ongoing one and will be updated as I continue renovating my house. Since my renovations happen in the summer, I’ll separate this page by years and briefly go over the goal of the renovation, timeline, and approximate budget.

2015

After closing on my house, I had approximately two months left on the lease for my apartment. So, I decided to renovate about 50% of my house and would move in after the renovations were complete. This was done while working my full-time job as an architect at a local firm. In 2015, I was able to renovate all the finishes in the living room, bedroom, stairs, hire an electrician to update my electric panel, move my electric meter to the exterior of the house, and turning the attic into my studio space within two months.

Living Room & Bedroom Renovation

Cost: Approximately $1,500

Once the family moved out of the house, I updated all of the locks on my exterior doors and decided to pull up the carpet at one corner of the living room and bedroom to check the condition of the wood floors. Grabbing onto two areas of the carpet, I pulled the carpet back and revealed the original engineered wood floors. They were in good condition, but the areas where an additional bedroom and closet used to be were infilled with cheap plywood.

As I looked around the living room, I made a mental list of updates that included removing the carpet, sanding the wood floor, staining/sealing the floor, removing/infilling the closet door that leads into the bedroom’s closet, scraping off the popcorn ceiling, changing the ceiling fan, and painting. In the bedroom, I had to pull out a smaller piece of plywood infill, nail new engineered hardwood in its place, and paint the room and trim.

It’s important for me to note that the family who lived in the house prior to my purchase were all smokers and would constantly smoke cigarettes indoors. Therefore, I had to scrub the walls and seal them with a primer before painting.

Here are the before and after photos:

Here are the construction photos:

Attic Renovation

Cost: Approximately $1,400

While renovating the living room and bedroom, I concurrently worked on the existing attic bedroom and extra space adjacent to the staircase. In the existing setup, there was a wall that divided the length of the attic in half with a door to access the bedroom. The bedroom walls were 1/8 inch thick medium density fiberboard with layers of wallpaper underneath the light brown paint. There was a ceiling fan and tile ceiling that was nailed directly to furring strips.

For the attic renovation, I envisioned it to be a large master bedroom or studio space and developed a list of tasks. This list included pulling out the carpet, demolishing the bedroom wall, removing the 1/8” MDF, removing the ceiling tiles, removing the ceiling fan, and building a half-height wall around the stairs in lieu of having a handrail.

Once I pulled the carpet, I saw that the floor boards were in decent condition and decided to stick to my small budget by simply painting the floor boards. In hindsight, the outcome is still great, however, I should think of a way to resolve the nail heads the occasionally come out of the floor boards. I also should’ve left the furring strips on the ceiling so that the drywall would be completely level when installed.

Here are the before and after photos:

Here are the construction photos:

Stair Renovation

Cost: Approximately $100

The last renovation project in 2015 was the carpeted stair leading to the attic. For this project, I envisioned a simple low-cost project that included removal of the existing carpet, painting the handrail and risers white, and painting the stair treads dark brown to match the attic floor.

Here are the before and after photos:

Electric Upgrade

Cost: Undisclosed

Through a good friend of mine, I was referred an electrician who does a great job and follows all of the regulations for electrical work. Due to the relationship that I have with my electrician, I won’t share the cost because it’s unrealistic to expect the same price for your own renovation project.

In terms of the electrical work to be done, I decided to remove the electrical panel with fuses and consolidate the lines with the other modern electrical panels with switches. While updating the electrical panel, he also went from 100 amps to 150 amps, moved the electric meter to the exterior of the house, put a grounding rod into the ground and another at the water line, and made sure that all of my outlets were wired correctly.

2017

At the end of the spring in 2017, I decided to pursue more home renovations to fix small issues that were starting to become a higher priority. Starting with my water heater, it finally gave out and started gushing water out of the top. Luckily, we caught it as soon as it started happening and the basement didn’t flood. I also decided to change all of the old wood windows in the bedroom and kitchen to new vinyl energy efficient windows.

In the basement, the old rusted windows were replaced with glass block windows and the bathroom window was replaced with a larger glass block window. Lastly, it was time to renovate the bathroom to get rid of any mold, stop the leaky tub spout, and replace the corroded galvanized pipes.

Water Heater Replacement

Cost: Approximately $1,200

In March of 2017, I returned home from an event with my girlfriend, Andrea, and as we took a shower, we noticed that the hot water was quickly turning cold. Immediately, I ran down to the basement to check on the water heater and heard water pouring onto the floor. When I got to the boiler, I saw water coming out of the top and pouring down the side of the boiler. Luckily, the boiler is located adjacent to a floor drain, which prevented a potential flood.

So, I shut off the waterline leading to the water heater and made a few phone calls to potential plumbers. After getting a good quote from an acquaintance of my friend, we went out and purchased a water heater from Home Depot. When the plumber arrived, he told us that the water heater we purchased was actually the wrong height. Although we were upset, we immediately returned the water heater and picked up another one.

The plumber and his assistant replaced the old water heater in less than an hour, which was amazing. There are several trades that I’m not confident in doing on my own and anything related to plumbing and gas lines are a few.

Window Replacements & Trim

Cost: Approximately $2,700

After getting the boiler replaced, it was time to replace the remaining old windows in the house. The basement had a total of 5 small windows, the bedroom had 2 double hung windows with a storm window outside, the bathroom had 1 double hung window with some mold growth and a storm window, and the kitchen had 1 remaining double hung window with a storm window.

I decided that if I hired a window installer to replace any window, I would just replace all of the ones listed above at the same time. So, I pulled the trigger and decided to replace all of these windows and have the installer build or replace the exterior aluminum trim around every window. This decision was based on the fact that some windows didn’t have an exterior aluminum trim and the wood sills were beginning to rot.

During the replacement, the window installer had to replace all of the sills for the basement windows, build a new sill for the bathroom window, and replace sills in a majority of the other windows; existing and new. All basement windows were replaced with obscured glass block windows and the bathroom window was replaced with a large obscured glass block window with a built-in ventilation window. I also asked the installer to install the bathroom window so that it would be flush with the bathroom tiles so that I could grout between the glass block window and the new tiles.

Bathroom Renovation

Cost: Approximately $3,000

At the end of the window installation, I was already midway through my bathroom renovation. This was the most important project for my home because the existing tiles were starting to fall off of the wall and water was constantly leaking down to the basement. Rather than putting this project off for another year, Andrea and I decided it was time to gut the bathroom, redo the plumbing lines, and install mold resistant drywall, water and mold resistant backer boards around the tub, and brand new fixtures including a single mixing valve for the shower.

After planning the project, we spent 15 days over the next 3 weeks on this renovation, which you could read about in this post. We were lucky to have found a plumber at a talk that I gave to people interested in purchasing a home through a not-for-profit organization that I went through called the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) for first time home buyers.

Here are the before and after photos:

Here are the construction photos:

Conclusion

Ultimately, purchasing my home and using it as an experimental place to learn more about construction through first-hand experiences has been an essential part of my growth as an architect. Although the projects are small and rather intuitive, I’ve found it to be the best self-learning experience because I’m able to reimagine a space, take it apart, and live in the space that I designed. All these renovation projects have helped me understand some basic principles of construction and finances.

As I continue renovating my home, I’ll add photos and details to this page.