Name: Aaron and Emily Choi
Type of Project: Full remodel, including the kitchen and two bathrooms
Location: La Jolla, California
Type of building: Condo; 1300 square feet
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Construction has officially begun! In this first week, we probably did three full days of work on site, and the rest of the time has been spent on plotting, scheming and problem solving. The first thing we did was poke holes in the drywall to verify that the walls we want to remove are indeed non-bearing. So far so good. Then on Tuesday, we brought over a few workers from Aaron's farm to start the demo process. For the most part it was pretty simple: everything must go. The whole demo took about two days and three workers on each day.
We knew it was going to get ugly when we got to the kitchen, but did not expect to find as much mold as we found under the cabinets. It wasn't enough to just demo the cabinets — we decided to rip out the drywall along with it so we won't have to worry about any residue.
The rest of the house was pretty straightforward, but where we ran into problems was when we started to demo the non-bearing walls. They were in fact non-bearing, but one of them turned out to be a plumbing wall that was complicated to reroute. We also found a structural post that was supporting a structural beam which was holding up a portion of the second story and roof. This just goes to show, you can never really know what's behind those walls until demo day.
As a structural engineer, I knew immediately this was not an easy fix, mainly due to the fact that in order to restructure the stairwell, we would have to remove the beam that is holding up the second story and roof, which means shoring is involved. Not to mention, the only location where we can put in a new structural beam would result in shortening the stairs by 6 inches. In other words, we'd have to rebuild a third of the stairs. We hadn't planned on that extra work and expense, but more importantly, we weren't sure that putting money into a stairwell would be wise. We have a limited budget, and I want to make sure that money is spent on things that have the biggest visual impact.
Luckily, one of Aaron's managers at the farm said he thinks that together with his licensed contractor friend, they can do all the structural work in one day. I was skeptical, to say the least. "Is he really licensed?" "How are they going to do it in one day?" "Do they know we have to shore up the ceiling?" "This is either going to be a disaster or a miracle."
In the end, between my structural calculations and their supersonic work speed, we shored up the ceiling, restructured the stairwell, and rebuilt a third of the stairs in one day for $300 plus the cost of material. It was a spectacular day. In the end it was worth it, because above the stairwell is a clerestory window, and after opening up the stairwell, all of the sudden natural light began to pour into the center of the house. We felt very grateful for Aaron's manager pulling the string that he did, or else we probably wouldn't have been able to afford opening up the stairwell.
Estimated time for project: 8 weeks
Time remaining: 7 weeks
Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us tomorrow for installment #5 of Emily and Aaron's condo renovation.
(Images and diary text: Emily and Aaron Choi)