Buy, Fix & Sell: Part 4 of 5 - How to Buy, Fix-Up & Sell Your Home

Fireplace :: Framing :: Sheetrock

Finished Family Room in Split-Level House
Finished LL Family Room. © Elizabeth Weintraub

My fourth house was located on a pond. More of a man-made swamp, actually, but I called it a pond because it sounded more glamorous. It was 25 miles from downtown, a custom split-level about eight years new, located just off a main drag in Eden Prairie, MN.

It was fairly inexpensive to buy, about $110,000, because the lower level was unfinished. I bought it with the intention of giving it my full attention, meaning I was going to finish it off myself by turning the unused space into a family room, a hallway, two extra bedrooms, a full bath and a sun room.

I had plenty of power tools and nine months scratched off the calendar. From 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night (and sometimes later), I worked in my basement. It was heaven.

Framing Dividing Walls, Doorways, Closets and Ductwork

First, I picked up several framing books from the library and hung out in the lumber section at home improvement centers, talking to anybody who looked like they had some experience. Framing wasn't as difficult as I had imagined, but it did involve math. Studs had to be spaced 16-inches on center; entryways required jack studs in addition to king studs; corners were a bit tricky, but it was straightforward. Here are things I learned:

  • Constructing a rectangle is easier to keep plumb. You can always cut away the portion of the sill where the door goes after it's in place.
  • No existing walls are square. You might need to pound the top of the framing into place or use shims to make it level and plumb.
  • Attaching framing to cement walls or floors requires a power hammer that uses powder-activated bullets to drive specially formulated nails into the wood and cement.
  • A carpenter's square is invaluable. So is revisiting the Pythagorean Theory from those high school geometry classes I skipped out on that said A-squared + B-squared = C-squared.
  • If the door knobs seem too high after hanging the door, the door is upside down.

Hanging Drywall (Sheetrock) & Mudding/Sanding

At the time I sheetrocked the lower level, I weighed less than 100 pounds and stood about five-feet tall. If I had it to do over, I probably would not have hoisted those drywall sheets up on the wall myself. It's too much weight for my back to have supported. Drywall sheets are 4 x 8 and one-half inch thick. Here are some tricks that I still use today:

  • Drive nails or screws 4-feet down from the ceiling. Then lift one corner of the drywall on a chair. Lift the second corner. Then heave-ho the section up snug against the wall to rest on the supports as you screw it into position.
  • Best buy is a drywall gun. It will save you hours.
  • Buy a T-Square. Trace cutting lines in pencil first, followed by drywall knife.
  • Kick the back of the drywall with your knee to break the score. Then slice the paper backing with your retractable utility knife.
  • Mudding requires at least 3 coats, remixing before applying to smooth bubbles. Use a mud pan.
  • Apply each coat in thin layers, let thoroughly dry and sand lightly.
  • If you can see imperfections in the mud, you will see them when you paint.

    Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC

    I made dinner for a friend who installs HVAC systems, and he helped me figure out how to cut a hole into my furnace. I don't know if I would have heard the nerve to do that myself. He also ordered the venting materials from his supplier, but I put it together. Here are more tips:

    • You need cold-air returns. I ran them the full length of the lower level and boxed them in.
    • Electrical wiring can make your fingers hurt. Use an electrical wire stripper/cutter.
    • Buy a half-inch drill bit to drill holes in the studs for pulling through Romex.
    • You can do almost anything with copper piping, solder, and a soldering gun. A little solder goes a long way, so less is better.
    • If you put plastic pipes into the wall, mark where they are so you won't drill through them. If you find curly pieces of plastic and spot puddles of water on the floor, plug the hole you just drilled with an aerospace glue.

      Fixing the Leaky Upstairs Deck

      Some genius decided to put a deck over my downstairs sunroom. Except he installed deck boards, so when it rained or snowed, the ceiling below the deck accumulated moisture and sagged. Here is how I fixed that problem:

      • Covered exposed deck boards by screwing down new exterior plywood.
      • Over plywood, glued a one-piece base of rubber found at roofing centers. Don't sniff the glue; it's potent.
      • On top of the rubber, I glued indoor/outdoor carpeting. That deck never leaked again.
      • Be sure to step aside while pulling down wet ceilings made of drywall. I found dead turtles, live carpenter ants and an assortment of peculiar objects dragged into the dead space by mice and squirrels. Ick.
      • I installed paneling on the ceiling and walls in the sunroom below, which nicely finished off that space.

      Installing a Fireplace

      This was more work than I anticipated. You can say that about any project, but putting in a fireplace is time intensive. Especially doing the brick in a three-dimensional design.

      • You can direct a vent through the wall and then frame to the ceiling to hide the vent work.
      • Get a permit or you'll be sorry.
      • Use fire-rated products such as Durock or greenboard, depending on your local code.
      • Laying ceramic tile on a concrete floor is difficult if the floor isn't level, and none is level.
      • My city code required an area around the fireplace to be fire proof, not just fire-resistant.
      • The fireplace insert was a bargain compared to the prices of angle pipes and vent piping.

      The Payoff

      About a year after I finished, the city opened an expressway a block away. My road became a thoroughfare. I sold it for a fast $145,000 and bought ​one 1898 Victorian in the city.

      At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.