As soon as I stopped recording my last renovation mistakes podcast, I thought of like a bazillion more. So here are even more things I would do differently if we did it all again!
About the Episode:
Once you start thinking about mistakes, you start seeing them everywhere. Now, I love this house and we have never made any catastrophic mistakes in our renovation… But there are definitely more things I could add to the list of “don’t do it like THAT again!”
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- Why I would shriek like a vampire in the daylight whenever we flipped the wrong light switch (which was every freaking time til we fixed it)
- How we almost lost our minds trying to put up trim in one piece (and why we will NEVER try to do that again!)
- The thankless attempt to keep the floors warmer and how much it sadly failed
And so much more!
Follow me on Instagram @FarmhouseVernacular!
Hello and welcome to The Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that goes on in our turn of the century vernacular farmhouse. I’m your host, Paige. And today let’s talk about some more renovation mistakes. We have already done an episode on this topic. We’ll make sure it’s linked in the show notes, but as soon as I finished recording that episode, I immediately looked around and found a ton more mistakes that I wish I had mentioned.
So we’re going to do a second episode. Now, as a full disclaimer of this. I don’t really consider these mistakes as much as just things that I would do a little bit differently if we were doing the renovation again. Most of these things are either fixable or completely functional as they are, but I just wish we had done them a little bit differently. And if I was doing the project again, I would do them over just a little differently.
Let’s start off in the master bathroom. Now this room was a bit of a challenge. So, originally the area where the master bathroom and the mudroom laundry room are was not part of the original house. There was a wooden porch off of that side of the house that was about half the depth, and that was it. At some point, we think probably around 1970 or 1980, they extended that porch and made a full concrete room off the back of it. If you’ve been following for a while, you know that I really like to make things as original as possible.
I don’t really want to deviate. I don’t really want to change things. I don’t really want to take away from the historical narrative of the house. I’m trying my very best, even though we’re building essentially new, we have new walls and new trim and new everything, even though it’s new, I’m doing my best to make it look like it could have been here the whole time.
However, there are some things that we chose not to do that with. And this particular concrete porch was one of them. Because it provided the perfect place for a first floor bathroom and for a laundry room. If we didn’t put that there, there’s really no other good place on the first floor that we could have had those things without chopping up an existing room, which we didn’t want to do. Plus, considering it’s concrete, that just makes it better for wet areas like laundry or a bathroom.
So we decided to keep it. And part of this included taking down the walls and rebuilding new walls. And we talked about that in the last renovation mistakes, how we got the doors a little bit not where they should be, but this one is specific to the bathroom. So that whole porch is a grand total of about 10 by 13 feet, the whole concrete area.
And we split that into two rooms of about equal size. So that means our bathroom is somewhere around 10 by six, give or take a little bit. That’s not a very big room. And the bathroom actually has two doors in it because we wanted to make the first floor of the house a configuration. We wanted to be able to use that bathroom as a first floor bathroom without passing through the bedroom, so there was a door to the mud room that you can get to from the study and the kitchen.
So when we did that, that basically eliminated about four feet of usable space in that bathroom, which means the final area, the final footprint that we can use for an actual bathroom with sink and toilet and shower, is about six feet by six feet. That is very small. That is not big at all.
And, of course, this is the master bathroom so we want it to be fairly nice, but clearly with a six by six area, we are not anywhere near a grand sprawling, double vanity shower, clawfoot tub situation. We really, really, really had to economize on the size. So as I was playing with different layouts, and as I was looking at different things, I saw that pretty much the only layout that would work would be a corner shower.
But the problem with corner showers is that because that floor is so small, that floor space is so limited, putting a curb in for a corner shower was just going to visually interrupt the whole feel. It was going to make the whole thing feel very cramped and feel very chopped up, if you have this tiny room and then there’s a visual obstruction of shower pan.
I had found a vintage peg leg sink that was really beautiful and helped keep the floor feeling very open and airy. And so I didn’t want to disturb that with a shower pan. So what we decided to do is something called a curbless walk in shower. Now these are very common from what I can tell in Europe. They’re not so much common here in America, as far as I can tell, just because they’re a little bit more complex to put in, and we just don’t have the space limitations that Europe typically does. But in this project, we did have the space limitations. So a curbless walk-in shower is basically where the outside of the shower is level with the tile in the bathroom floor. And then there’s a drain in the middle and the floor slopes down to meet that drain.
So any water that gets in that shower pan area is going to funnel directly into that drain. So it gives you this twofold effect of having a practical shower of a very useful shower that actually functions like a shower because of the sloped floor. But when the shower curtain is open, you don’t see any distinction between the floor and the shower.
So it gives a much more open area feel to the whole bathroom because you don’t have that harsh line. For the record, I love this. I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s beautiful. I still think this bathroom turned out absolutely stunning. The one difference that I would change, and the one thing that I would consider a renovation mistake, is the size that we made that slope area.
So if you happen to want to do this for yourself, the tutorials that you’re looking for are called screeding a shower pan. And that is basically the process of putting in that angled floor in such a way that you can get the proper slope and the water will funnel to the drain. Now, because this was the first time we had done this, we had no idea really how big to make this shower pan. So we just made the cut out the same size as the shower. I mean, that seems completely reasonable. This is where the shower curtain’s going to hang. That’s how big the slope should be. If I were to do it again, I would make that shower pan about 6 to 12 inches bigger than the actual shower enclosure.
People ask us a lot whether or not the bathroom gets wet. And it does. I can’t make that anything that it’s not. The room will sometimes get wet depending on how long the shower is, depending honestly how hot it is, whether or not the curtain kind of blows around and it splashes. And so we do end up with some water on the floor.
And typically, at the end of a shower, I’ll just drop my towel down and kind of swipe it around on the floor with my foot and then throw it in the washing machine. But I didn’t know how subtle the slope of the shower drain was going to look after it was all tiled with the penny tile that we used. And after seeing how just kind of faint and not even noticeable it is, now I would have definitely made that shower pan bigger.
So if you are interested in doing a curbless walk-in shower, and you have the space, make your sloped area bigger than your actual shower so that any splashes will run down into it. The next one is a little bit simpler, but we did it in the master bedroom, and it was kind of a silly mistake and has since been corrected. But it was one that we really should have seen coming. So, in the master bedroom, we have two light sources. We have an overhead light, and then we have multiple switched outlets with lamps plugged into them. So if you flip the switch, the lamps come on in the outlets, and it’s kind of nice atmospheric mood lighting.
The problem is, that whether you know it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to place those switches. The right way and the intuitive way, is that the switch closest to the door is the one that controls the biggest light source. So the first switch closest to your hand as soon as you walk in should be the one that controls the overhead light.
And any switches after that control secondary lights. This is probably not even something that you’ve ever thought about. We certainly had never thought about it because we thought, oh, we’re just going to put the light switch that we anticipate using the most, which would be the secondary light switch, first.
So how we had it originally, was that the light switch closest to your hand when you walked in controlled the switched outlets, which controlled the lamps, and then the next switch in controlled the overhead light. We lived with this for two years. And every single night, without fail, we would flip the wrong switch.
We would think we were flipping the right one and then it would turn out to be the wrong one. And so it would be almost time for bed, and we’re sleepy, and all of a sudden the overhead light comes on and it’s way too bright. And so, “no, turn it off, do the other one.” It was a nightmare. And I don’t know what it was, but we never, ever got used to having the light switches in the wrong position.
So, eventually, we fixed it. We switched the light switches and now it works how it’s supposed to. But in every other room since then, we have made sure that the switch closest to the door is the one that controls the biggest overhead light source. And then the next switch after that controls any secondary light sources. And since then, we haven’t had any trouble knowing which light to flip on because it’s just much more intuitive and everything matches. But if you’re setting up light switches, the first switch is the one that controls the overhead. The next renovation mistake, fortunately, we only really made this in one room and then we learned better, but it has to do with insulation.
So this house was the first thing that we had ever renovated. It was the first thing that we had ever really gotten our feet and hands into and made a mess with. And so, we didn’t really know what we were doing. When we think of insulation, we think of pink fiberglass, because that’s just what you insulate with. Right? Well, years ago, I think I asked on Instagram about insulation, and I had droves of people tell me about this product called Rock wool. This is not sponsored.
They don’t know I exist, but their product is fantastic. So fiberglass insulation is spun fiberglass. It needs to be puffed up and full of air in order to work properly. If it gets wet, it’s kind of a mess and useless and needs to be replaced. There’s just a lot of different ways that the fiberglass can go wrong.
Rock wool is a mineral wool insulation. This is basically a spun rock and it has so many kind of Easter egg properties, that even though it costs about double what fiberglass insulation costs, it is worth every single penny in our minds. And here’s why. So, firstly, part of what’s left in the rock wool after the manufacturing process includes some of the oils that come from spinning the mineral wool.
And those oils make the rock wool water repellent. It’s not even just water resistant. If you hold a chunk of rock wool insulation under the faucet, it will not get wet. It’s absolutely amazing. And we really liked this because although we’re doing our best to waterproof this house and to fix any leaks, it’s 120 year old house. We’re probably going to miss some stuff.
Some water’s probably going to get behind the siding and it’s not going to be great. And we thought it was better to use a product that would naturally repel water instead of one that attracted it. But I realize I’m getting ahead of myself here. So we used fiberglass insulation in the halls. Because those were the first rooms that we did. That was all we knew how to do. And we had it and we put it up.
And it’s fine. The halls are fine. But once we learned about rock wool, we were pretty much converted. So other than the water issue, another thing about it is that while fiberglass has to be puffed up and full of air in order to work properly, rock wool can pretty much just be packed as densely into a stud cavity as you can possibly manage. And it will still give you a good R value.
So with that, it is much, much easier to work with. It’s kind of the texture of like cotton batting, but a little bit firmer. And so, you can cut it with a bread knife. It’s really easy to cut it a little bit oversized and just shove it into the stud cavity and it just stays there. It’s a truly amazing product. So, on top of the water, on top of the rigidness, it is also mold resistant. Because water resistant means mold resistant. And then for one of my personal quirks is that, I’m terrified of fire. I won’t have any of my candles burning or anything like that, but Rock wool burns at a higher temperature than fiberglass. And if you know anything about historic house framing, they typically have balloon framing, which means that the studs run from the foundation all the way up to the attic.
And they don’t do this anymore, because that creates a cavity that a fire can just race through the entire house very, very easily. Modern framing has fire stops in between, or they use platform framing so that the fire doesn’t have a way to travel as easily as it does in these old houses. Obviously, we’re not going to reframe the entire house. So having this kind of fire resistant insulation in the walls just gives me a little bit more peace of mind. It’s not going to stop a fire, but it might slow it down.
So, I said that it costs about double what fiberglass does. And for reference, for insulating, one of the rooms on the first floor which usually involves the ceiling, it costs us about $600-ish to insulate that fully. And we’ve been very, very happy with it. It provides very good sound deadening. So our house is fairly quiet being out in the country, but it’s even quieter now that we have the rock wall and it does give you better R value for a given stud cavity size.
So, for fiberglass insulation, two by four walls typically have, I think R-13, which is just a measure of how well the material insulates. And for the same stud cavity, I think, Rock wool has R-15. So a higher R value is more insulation, just generally is a better product overall. So I know it’s not sexy, I know it’s not beautiful and pretty and fun, but if you are renovating and you have to put an insulation and you have the money to splurge a little bit, I can’t think of a better way to do it than with Rock wool. The fourth mistake that we made also has to do with insulation, and it has to do with the floor in our hallway. So this house sits on a crawl space. And I use the term crawl space very generously because you can’t actually crawl anywhere in this crawl space.
In the area with the most access, I think, the studs and floor joists sit about 12 inches off the dirt. In the areas with the least access, it’s three or four inches off the dirt. So there is no room to move in this crawl space at all. And because of that, the typical treatment for crawlspaces, which is encapsulation is kind of off the table.
Encapsulation is basically where you seal up the crawl space and you climate control it much like you would a mini basement. And as far as I can tell, that’s best practice of the day to deal with crawl spaces. Well, ours is not going to do that. I don’t even know of a contractor that could fit in our crawl space, let alone who would want to do all of that work.
So, we were trying to figure out how to basically heat our crawl space or keep our crawl space warmer. And we did so much research. We investigated spray foam, which I hate, but I was like, maybe that would be something. We investigated insulating. We investigated encapsulation. And the really annoying thing was, whenever I would come across a forum of contractors or something, and ask them, “How do you deal with a crawl space that’s too small to encapsulate?”
Pretty much the universal response was either, “don’t buy that house,” or “you were an idiot for buying that house,” or “that’s just impossible, you can’t do it,” or “pay a bunch of high school kids to dig out the crawl space over the summer with five gallon buckets” or just nothing helpful. Basically, there’s no way to deal with this kind of crawl space.
And we’re not going to knock the house down because we don’t do that here, but it really did pose a problem of how the heck are we supposed to make our floors warmer? So what we decided to try, is to put a radiant insulation barrier across the bottom of the studs and then pack the stud cavity with insulation. And by our calculations, this would treat the floor like an exterior your wall and would give us an R value of about 20. So, not great, but better than nothing. This was a horrible project. This was awful. This took us two solid weekends to do an 8 by 16 area of the floor. It was filthy. It was cramped. It was so messy. It was covered in spiders.
If I can find a picture of the gear that we suited up in to go down into that crawl space, I will make sure it’s in the show notes because it was by far one of the weirdest adventures that we’ve had in this house. And so we did it. We got it insulated based on our plan, and we were proud of ourselves, and we got out and we closed the crawl space back up, and it did nothing.
The floor in the hallway is still freezing cold in the winter. It did not help at all. It didn’t make a difference. And I would not recommend it. We haven’t done it to any of the floors since then, because the effort is just not worth it for absolutely no improvement.
So that, of course, begs the question, “Paige, what do you guys do about your cold floors in the winter?” Well, truthfully, we wear shoes in the house all the time. I know this is a very big controversial hot take on the internet, of some people wear shoes and some people don’t in the house, this is a rural property. We have a lot of farm animals.
We have a lot of projects that take us outside the house. And quite frankly, we just don’t have the time to be continually lacing and unlacing our boots as we go in and out of the house. We just don’t. I vacuum a couple times a week. I mop maybe once a month. And otherwise, I just assume that if there’s dirt in the house and it hasn’t killed me, it’s probably good for me.
So running around barefoot on the cold floors is not really an issue just because we are almost never barefoot. But my other strategy has been to get very good wool rugs. And I don’t know if I’ve talked about them on the podcast before, if not, I’ll have to do an episode on them. But I have sourced big, thick, heavy wool rugs for all of the rooms in the house and have also put thick rug pads underneath them. Now, obviously this only helps the areas where there are rug pads and rugs. It doesn’t help the pass through areas, but it’s good enough, quite frankly. And it really isn’t that big of a deal in the winter.
I mean, yes, the floors are going to be cold. You’re certainly not going to take your shoes off and feel these nice, toasty, warm wooden floors. But it’s just something that is such a big headache and problem to deal with properly that we are just going to deal with the cold floors and call it good. But the mistake was that we tried to insulate it and it just failed miserably after a lot of money and a lot of effort. So we won’t do that again.
Now, the hall, as I mentioned was the first room that we did. And this room we learned quite a lot. This was the first room that we put up crown molding. We had never put up crown molding before, and we’ve gotten much better at it. And now we’re done putting up crown molding, because there’s no crown molding upstairs.
But the very first piece of crown molding that we put up, it was actually a four part molding. And we put it up on the long wall in the downstairs hall. Now, we learned molding from a website called Joy of Molding. It’s a fantastic resource. So much good information. Amazing tutorials and instructions on how to recreate historic looking molding with things from your local hardware store.
So we followed that blog in terms of putting things together and putting the pieces together. We decided that we were smarter than the blog when it came to the precise steps that you put those pieces together. So the right way to put the crown molding up, is you put up each individual piece, making sure that it’s level, making sure that it looks good, and you just nail everything together up on the walls in sequence.
What we thought would be a better idea was to build the whole 16 foot long piece of crown molding first, which consisted of four different pieces, and then put it up on the wall. And let me tell you, the amount of rage and profanity and anger that came out of that experience was truly legendary. That pretty much solidified our hatred of doing crown molding in our minds. Because it was terrible.
It was heavy, and it was wiggly, and it was floppy, and it was over our heads, and it was not the right length. And we kept having to take it down and put it back up, and it was absolutely awful. So in all future rooms, we did it the right way and we put the crown molding up piece by piece. There is also a YouTube video to how we did the molding in the dining room, which is pretty much how we did the molding in the entire house.
So I’ll make sure that that’s in the show notes too, so that you can go watch that if you want to see how we did this molding. But if you’re doing your own molding, do not put it all up at once. Put up the individual pieces, follow the tutorials at Joy of Molding, and you will have a much happier time than we did with that first piece of molding.
So let’s see, we have two more mistakes. So one is very, very small. We talked about the mudroom cabinet last time, where the countertop is just a little bit too thick. And something else that I forgot about until I was doing laundry after I recorded that episode was that, we have just plain plastic laundry baskets. I really like them because they’re square and they’re very durable, but they are literally a quarter of an inch too tall to fit on the counter underneath the upper cabinet.
You can plan, and you can plot, and you can think through as many things as you possibly can when you’re renovating a house or when you’re doing a project. And as far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re always going to get something like this. Always going to get something that’s just a little bit off, just a little bit wrong, mess it up just a little bit. And in this case, my laundry baskets don’t fit on my counter. Could I get new laundry baskets? Yes. But I really like these and it’s just kind of a minor inconvenience whenever I’m doing laundry.
Now, the last thing I want to talk about, I don’t really consider this a renovation mistake, but people tend to go, ooh, whenever they see it, or they see that we’ve done it in the renovation, and that is, patching these floors. So the floors in this house are a pretty cheap, low grade Douglas fir. And you know that they’re fir because pine tends to pull very yellow, even old pine and hard pine, but Douglas fir tends to pull very, very orange.
It was not a super high grade wood. Usually it was used as a subfloor underneath a carpet or something like that. So they’re not super nice floors. And I know that. But they’re my wood floors and I love them. And in each room that we’ve done, we have done our best to restore them and patch the areas that are very damaged.
But, traditional wisdom, these floors have to be patched a little bit differently than modern wood floors. So modern wood floors, typically, there is a plywood subfloor that is laid over the floor joists, and then the wood flooring is nailed to that plywood subfloor. So, you can do all sorts of designs. You can do herringbone, you can do parquet, you can do all sorts of things with your floorboards because there’s a subfloor underneath.
You have that structure that you can nail into. These floorboards sit directly on top of our floor joists. There is no subfloor. This is it. If you pull up one of these floors, you look directly into the crawl space. There’s nothing in between. So that means that each of these floored boards is nailed into each of the floor joists, which is about a two foot span. Okay?
Now, when you are repairing modern wood floors, you can do what’s called feathering, which is basically where you don’t cut a harsh line in the floor and put new flooring in. You kind of stagger the joints so that nothing appears to jump out, so that you don’t notice it’s a patch. Because you have this board ends here, and then the next board ends eight inches away. And then the one after that ends eight inches after that, and you feather in the joints, you don’t notice, “Hey, here’s a huge big patch.”
Well, because of the way that these floors are installed, the only place that you can feather in these joints is right on top of a floor joist. And if you were to feather in repairing these floors, you would have to basically cut away so much good flooring in order to get to the next floor joist that you’d be way wasting a lot of perfectly good wood.
So when we patch in floors here, we don’t worry about feathering it in. We cut a straight line right down the floor joist, we lay new or reclaimed wood up against that joint. And when it’s done, it looks like there is a harsh line in the floor where we made that patch. People tend to get a little bit up in arms over this because it’s very apparent that it’s a patch. It’s very apparent that something was done there, that there was damage, but I really don’t worry about it, honestly. This house has been through a lot.
This house has had a lot of damage done to it. And in my mind, sacrificing historic materials and old parts of the house just for the sake of an aesthetic doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make sense to me to cut up perfectly good wood and put back perfectly good wood just so that the joints are a little bit staggered.
And on top of that, most of these rooms don’t have any joints in them. They’re continuous planks of wood from one end of the room to the other. So even feathering it in, you’re going to know there’s a patch there because it doesn’t look like the rest of the room. So, I don’t really consider this a renovation mistake. I wanted to touch on that just because I know some people get a little weirded out when they see how we’re repairing floors, but our goal is to conserve as much of the original material as possible.
And we do that by not feathering in our floor patches. All right. So that was some more renovation mistakes that we’ve made. I’m sure as soon as I’m done with this episode, I will think of more in the future. So, definitely stay tuned, subscribe to the podcast, and see if we have any more mistakes or blunders to share about the renovation in future. Thank you so much for hanging out with me. I really appreciate it. And I will see you next time. Bye.