Tag Archives: layout

Adding a touch with tiles

If you read the recent posts about the kitchen backsplash installation, you may have noticed that we left a gap at the stove location. That gap was reserved for something different – a special kind of backsplash tile.


During one of our many excursions hunting for salvaged materials, I came across a handful of beautifully painted Mexican style tiles. At the time I didn’t know where I could use them, but I bought them anyway, certain that there would be just the right place for them.


The backsplash behind the stove has become that place. Another place that tells a story about frugality and the charm that some salvaged materials have to offer.

Why did I wait this long to do the installation? I needed to wait until the range hood was installed. The bottom edge of the hood was the starting point along which I lined up the tiles.

I often observed and admired artful ornaments, such as hand painted plate hung above the stove. In this case, Cathy and I decided that the whole backsplash behind the stove could become artful with these unique tiles.


Related posts:

Setting up kitchen cabinets

Back last summer, we were lucky – very lucky. We found a set of used kitchen cabinets at the ReStore. The cabinets were of quality plywood construction and in excellent shape.


I always had a cheat sheet on me with the desired kitchen layout and cabinet dimensions. Finding a set of used cabinets with the right dimensions can be tricky. Nevertheless, we were lucky that one summer day.

We are now along far enough in the kitchen to dust of the cabinets and bring them down from the second floor where they were stored. With the cheat sheet in hand, we began to install the base cabinets.

The kitchen layout was driven by the location of the range hood and stove. Because of the existing chimney in the kitchen and the location of the window, the range hood and stove location were more or less predetermined. What I mean by this is that the range hood should exhaust a safe distance from the window to prevent cross contamination. That put the range hood south of the existing chimney.

To maximize the amount of counter work space, we came up with the idea of a corner sink. It would give us enough work space on either side of the sink. The logical location of the dishwasher was next to the corner sink, backing up against the utility wall. That left us with the refrigerator at the end – or beginning – of the L-shaped layout.


Because Cathy and I are pretty tall, we decided it would be nice if we could raise the countertop height just a little bit. Not too much, just a notch.

To get us there, Drew and I installed a set of 2 by 4’s flat across the cabinets. They helped us to tie the individual cabinets together, provide a sound structure for the countertop, and raise the countertop height by 1 1/2 inches.

We placed pieces of 3/4 inch plywood on top of the cabinets, to support the countertop. The counter will extend one inch beyond the plywood, so that once installed the plywood edge will be hidden.

Related blog posts:

1st floor bathroom layout

Compared to today’s standards, our 1st floor bathroom is, let’s say, rather compact. It originally measured 6’ 8” by 5’ 10”.

We were keen to keep, if not improve, its functionality, and maybe even arrange the layout in a way that would create the illusion of it being more spacious than it really is.

Early on in the project, we scrapped the original sewer stack and later on replaced it with a new one in a slightly different location. Moving the replacement stack a few feet further to the west allowed us to switch the vanity and toilet around.

This was a welcome improvement as one no longer trips over the toilet while entering the bathroom.

We also were able to add about seven square feet to the bathroom space.

The north wall faced built-in shelves on the dining room side. By removing the shelf space we added 16 inches to the bathroom.

What to do with the good old bathtub?

Why should we install a new bathtub if, in the end, we ‘ll just use it to take showers? Can you remember that last time you actually have taken a bath in a bathtub? I cannot. But then, I am also a tall guy and taking a shower just seems more convenient.

Cathy and I sat on this issue for a while and eventually decided to scrap the tub in favor of a barrier free, walk-in shower.

The factor that made us lean towards scrapping the tub had to do with plumbing foresight. We positioned the shower drain such that it could be converted to a bathtub drain, should we change our minds down the road.

I have to touch on one of my favorite topics – moisture management. Seriously, while deconstructing the interior of our house, we got to see first-hand the damage improper moisture management can cause.

You can read up on our research into moisture management and basic management principles in these two posts:

The bathroom, in building science terms classified as a wet room, should have a floor drain. Yes, we already have the shower drain, but because of its location, it won’t be able to serve all of the bathroom area. Plus, the shower drain may one day be converted to a tub drain.

Adding a second floor drain was relatively easy while rebuilding the entire plumbing system. To see how we made the two floor drains work, go to the post Slippery Slopes.

Another must is to have the bathroom floor waterproofed and tiled. The same principle applies to the walls around the walk in shower. Basically, anything that gets exposed to water or water spray needs the waterproofing and tiles.

We planned on continuing the tile treatment around the bottom half of all the other bathroom walls. But at this point, its really more about aesthetics.

A recent post covered the subject of the bathroom cabinet, which we would like to add to the northwest corner.

We also will need some kind of shower enclosure. One idea was to install on a shower wall, somewhat similar to what we have in the garden unit bathroom.

But this solution would make the bathroom feel really small again – too small for our liking!

If, instead of the rigid shower wall, we would go with a shower curtain, we could borrow from the shower space whenever the shower is not in use.

This simple trick would significantly increase the perceived spaciousness of the bathroom and the ease at which one can move around.

So much for the layout and design ideas. Now it’s implementation time!

Matthew Johnson liked this post

Electrical layout – built-in flexibility

The programming of each room and space drives the electrical layout.

How will we use the room? What big furniture items will go where? What electrical devices are needed and where are they needed?

Although answering these questions was a little more complex than I expected, the decision making process was relatively straightforward – except for two of the bedrooms.

It seemed obvious how each bedroom should be arranged, and we installed outlets, reading lights, and light switches accordingly.

That said, I could not ignore that there were alternative arrangements, which one may prefer in the future. Actually, it just comes down to how many options there are to place the bed.

Should we decide to move the bed around, it would be nice if everything else could move with it. Mainly reading lights and conveniently placed outlets at each side of the bed, one on a kill switch, the other not.

At one point it dawned on me that this could be arranged by installing a couple of additional electrical boxes and a few more feet of conduit.

With this built-in flexibility, we have our reading lights, light switches and outlets handy, no matter whether we decide the put the bed one way or the other.

The electrical boxes for the set of “in case we need them” reading lights can be covered with a plate, but will be available and ready to use if we need to move the bed around.


Electrical layout – load management

Look into any circuit breaker panel, and you may be able to tell how many power gobblers are used. The larger the electrical load requirement for an appliance, the larger the ampere (amp) rating for the circuit breaker or fuse.

Central air conditioners, some furnaces, hot tubs, or heavy duty sump pumps are some of the typical power gobblers, requiring a 30 amp fuse or larger. 60 or 100 amp are not unheard of for central air conditioning units.

The smallest fuse for residential applications is rated 15 amp, which should take care of most typical loads, in particular when Energy Star rated devices and appliances are used. On occasion, a 20 amp circuit may be required, either to accommodate an appliance with a slightly larger load, or a lot of small devices that will all run at the same time.

All of this was discussed in detail with our electrician Percy Harrison, in preparation for the layout of each circuit. Two sets of information were of great help in that decision making process:

Our past history of electrical consumption (fluctuating between 200 to 250 kWh per month).

An account of what appliances and devices with what load go where.

We decided that 15 amp would be more than enough for most circuits, and that includes the mini-split, which comes at a recommended fuse size of only 15 amp. There are three circuits though that we put on a 20 amp fuse, which is the largest load we have.

All GFCI outlets in the kitchen are on a 20 amp circuit, to accommodate kitchen appliance with larger loads, such as a crock pot.

We put the dining room on a 20 amp fuse, again to be able to accommodate items such as a crock pot on Thanksgiving.

And last but not least, we have one outlet right under the circuit breaker panel that is on its own 20 amp fuse. That outlet would serve larger loads such as a floor sander.


Electrical layout – plan view

With the ground rules for the electrical layout in place, I can now begin to scrutinize room by room, looking at how we will use the space, making decisions on the number and locations for switches and outlets, and putting them into a graphic format.

Above is the electrical plan for the 1st floor, which was included in our permit plan set. The layout depicted here satisfies the Chicago building code requirements. It is, however, only partially tailored to how we would use the rooms and doesn’t reflect the depth of energy conservation we would like to add.

I began to walk around the 1st floor equipped with blue masking tape and a pen, marking and labeling where we should place what fixture. It took at least three edits before I felt that I was meeting our objectives. And it got somewhat complex, so much so that I needed to draft a symbol list that I could use to keep track of things.

Along the process, I constantly consulted with Percy Harrison, our electrician, to make sure that the tailored layout was not only feasible, but reasonable and did in fact make sense.

Yes, it got more intricate, but also more user friendly and less energy consuming. Switches are placed along the path, accessible and easy to find [LINK]. We have a whole lot more outlets that shown in the original plan, but with it we have increased user friendliness. We integrated the kill switches and occupancy sensors wherever they would help us to conserve energy.


Electrical layout – ground rules

I have fun with the electrical installation and I am learning a lot in the process. My electrical literacy is on the rise. With that I also feel better equipped to make decisions on electrical layout details.

There are a couple of driving factors that shape layout decisions:

  1. Convenience and safety, and
  2. Energy conservation

Let’s start with the latter.

Convenience and safety

Lights, switches and outlets must be located in convenient and easily accessible locations.

When I step into a dark room, I need immediate access to a light switch — or even better, before I step into a dark room I should have access to a light switch. This is a simple safety issue. Who wants to navigate half blind through a room on the search for a light switch?

Outlets should be located where we may have electrical appliances, stereos, computers, printers,floor lamps, etc. Having the outlets close to the electrical fixtures reduces the power cord jungle and amount of extension cords needed.

The mindful placement of outlets also cuts down on the number of power strips and helps with decluttering things.

Energy conservation…

… is dominating the electrical layout decisions. To make the process easier, we used two distinct categories:

  1. power gobblers, and
  2. small ticket items.

Power gobblers

Let’s first look at the big ticket items, the power gobblers. Do we really need a refrigerator as big as our walk-in closet, or will a simple but energy efficient 18 cubic foot model do the job? Or – do we really need a second fridge?

Other typical power hogs are big screen TVs, electrical space heaters and central air conditioning units. With our thermal envelope, we won’t have a need for a space heater. Air conditioning should not be an issue either, but dehumidification may be. If so, we can pick a simple but highly efficient mini-split unit.

In short, energy conservation starts with eliminating electrical fixtures with large loads.

Small ticket items

Once that is done we can look at the small ticket items, where the conservation is more subtle but begins to matter cumulatively.

A user friendly layout, as described above, is critical. If a light switch is located in a convenient location when exiting the room, it is more likely that the light will be turned off. That said, there are some rooms that are notorious for having the lights on when nobody needs them.Closets, pantries and corridors are good examples.

To assure that the lights get turned off in these locations, we can employ occupancy sensors. You enter a closet or pantry and won’t have to worry about the light at all. It comes on when you enter and turns off shortly after you leave. Occupancy sensors also turn the light control into a hands-free operation, which is particularly useful in corridors, such as from the kitchen to the dining room, where one may have to carry something with both hands.

The use of Energy Star fixtures should be considered, whether we are talking about lights, ceiling fans, or kitchen appliances.But again, the first consideration should be whether the appliance is needed at all, or if a smaller appliance would suffice.

Do I need to add extra lights? Do I really need a TV in every room? How useful is that electric can opener, really? Could I survive without a garbage disposal in the kitchen sink?

The kill switch

Then there is the concept of a “kill switch.” I don’t know if you have noticed, but there are more and more electrical gadgets that you literally cannot turn off. Some may have an on/off button, but even when turned off they still draw a phantom load.

I have come across products for commercial office environments that manage those phantom loads as well as lighting by cutting the power to the devices. I have not yet seen something equivalent for a residential application. No problem. We can take the basic principle and come up with our own, home-made solution.

Because most devices and electrical gadgets are powered through outlets, I thought of a kill switch in every room that, when turned off, cuts power to all the outlets.

Well, it is not quite that simple because some items, such as a radio alarm clock, should possibly remain powered. In these cases I need to make sure there is one dedicated outlet that still has power even with the kill switch turned off.

Would this really work? I checked with my electrician, Percy, to see if this was possible at all and if it was reasonable to install. It turns out that the implementation of a kill switch is much easier that I would have imagined. The only complicating factor is about 10 additional feet of wire per room – that’s it.


Electrical predicament

Oh boy! I am not quite sure where to begin.

I am pretty much illiterate when it comes to electrical issues. I know where my breaker panels are, how to check if one of the fuses is blown, and how to change a light bulb. But that is pretty much it. I don’t have an understanding of the big picture – or how the system works.

Although we had the new electrical system installed in the garden unit, I had very little involvement in that. I answered the occasional questions by the contractor on the location of fixtures, outlets and switches. That was it. There was no learning potential for me, which is also why there is no blog post on the electrical installation in the basement.

It is now time for the 1st floor electrical installation, and I would like to take a different approach. I have two main goals:

  1. To be more involved in the installation and in that process learn about the system and understand how it works.
  2. Rather than making decisions on the spot during the installation process, I would like to think through the details for the electrical layout ahead of time.

This sounds very simple and clear cut. But how can I properly think through the details for the electrical layout without a good understanding of the overall system?

Well, it looks like I am back in the business of learning while I keep walking.


More about space and time

A whole lot of things are happening on the 1st floor and I have difficulties keeping the blog up to date with our construction progress. That said, I began to tell the story of our architectural decisions as they relate to the floor plan, but stopped sort of in the middle – with the half bathroom, the pantry and the bedroom closets.

There is more to tell, and now may be a good time to conclude that story, before too much time passes.

The foyer and old tenant room

If you take a look at the floor plan above, you will notice a door at the end of the foyer leading directly into the 3rd bedroom. The strange thing is that the 3rd bedroom has another door leading into the dining room. A bedroom with two doors?

Eventually, it was explained to us that it was not uncommon in the early 20th century to rent a bedroom to a tenant. The door at the end of the foyer allowed the tenant to come and leave without disrupting the activities in the men’s and women’s parlor (library and living room).

Because we don’t have plans for tenants at this point but thought of turning the 3rd bedroom into a small home office, we decided to remove the door between the foyer and 3rd bedroom. That leaves us with extra space at the end of the foyer that we split into a built-in shelf on the office side and a coat closet on the foyer side.


When we viewed the house for the first time, back in fall of 2008, the 1st floor living room still had a hutch (see also floor plan above). A few months later, the scavengers got into the house and, amongst other things, had removed the hutch.

With no original hutch left, the decision to turn the space between the living room and master bedroom into the ventilation closet was an easy and logical one, considering that we were able to reuse the adjacent chimney for the ventilation exhaust.

We also must have had a hutch once in the dining room, although Cathy is of the opinion that it may have been a Murphy bed.

The question here was whether we should dedicate this former hutch space to the dining room, with a new hutch or built-in shelves, or to the bathroom, giving us a little more space to move around. Because the bathroom is very small, having an additional 16 inches of floor space did sound awfully attractive.

The china cabinet

Last but not least is a minute change, so subtle I almost forgot about it. That’s the storage closet in the corridor between the dining room and kitchen (see also floor plan above).

The northern end of the storage closet had this incredibly awkward triangular shape. With the discovery of the hutch (or Murphy bed) in the dining room, the idea emerged to turn the triangle of the storage closet into a built-in china cabinet on the dining room side.

This turned the formally dead triangle into a useful and hopefully a charming cabinet. It will be interesting to see how we will finish it.

That concludes the changes to the original floor plan of the building. As a summary, you find below a graphic of the original floor plan and a graphic with the changes described above in a previous post.


The new walk-in closet

The new walk-in closet in the master bedroom is one of the few new walls that divert from the original floor plan.

The thing is, I still have to build that wall. That is not much of a problem though. It doesn’t take long to measure the height and length of the wall, assemble the framing and lift it into place.

We have waited this long to build the closet wall for a reason.

Because we are relying on the original floor plan layout of the building [LINK], each room and each closet has a long track record. Not so this new closet.

Don’t get me wrong. We are very confident that we are doing the right thing here. But if I can build in a Plan B at next to no extra effort, I will do so.

The idea of my Plan B is to make is easy to move or remove the closet wall, just in case we decide it wasn’t a good idea after all. Because the closet wall is the last piece of framing lifted into place, it is also the first and easiest one to move or remove.

The only potentially complicating factor will be any electrical services that may serve this wall and how they may or may not complicate moving or removing the wall. I still have to think through that item.

Another item that creates a great level of curiosity is the 18 inch wide access doors on either end. This is definitely a closet for slim people, at least if you like to get into it. We were limited to 18 inches in order to fit a queen size bed in between the doors.

Because it wasn’t difficult to find used 18 inch wide closet doors, I concluded that 18 inches may not be such a big problem. That said, we will know for sure once we begin to use the closet!