This year, we decided to solve some of the problems with the cat room — particularly the issues with the temperature and the high energy bill to keep them warm. Also, we really wanted to make it a more comfortable home for the cats, so they could better enjoy living here. In other words, it was time to turn the old shed into a deluxe cat condo.
Renee is already known as the “house project queen.” Since meeting her, I’ve helped with numerous home improvement projects (and I plan to write posts about more of them as well). But I think in some ways this particular project was the largest we’ve done since I met her. We did it over the weekends, and it pretty much took up every weekend in the month of September except Labor day (when we went backpacking), plus the first weekend of October. Not to mention the work that Renee did by herself on her days off when I was at my normal job.
Weekend Number 1: Sept 10-11
The project started innocently enough. We went to Home Resource to see if we could find an inexpensive door to install. Our plan was to frame out the opening of the shed and install a normal door. But we wanted to be sure and include plenty of glass, so that the cats would get lots of natural light.
The shed also has a back room that serves as a greenhouse; last spring we started various seeds back there for the garden. The door between the cats’ room and the greenhouse was a heavy piece of wood on sliding rails that always got stuck. So we also wanted to find a way to fix that and make it easier to get in and out of that part of the room.
At home resource, we came across a sliding glass patio door and this gave us a great idea. Instead of framing out the shed opening, we could install a sliding patio door! This would give them a real door, while at the same time still letting in as much light as they had before, AND it would look much nicer than the pieced-together wall we had originally planned. The opening was already about the same size as a standard patio door, so we wouldn’t have to frame anything.
Unfortunately we made the mistake of running over to Home Depot to price new patio doors first. When we came back to Home Resource, the sliding glass door was already sold. Note to self: when you find the perfect item at Home Resource, either just buy it right away or at least put down a small deposit and have them hold it. NEVER just walk away!
It was still a productive weekend. We put a new closet-type sliding door between the cats’ room and the greenhouse and replaced one of the windows in the shed with one we found at home resource.
Later in that week, Renee picked up some nice tile from Home Resource (only spent about $10!) and tiled the countertop in their room. It made a HUGE difference! She also dug around and found some leftover paint and started painting some of the walls, which also helped lighten up the room.
Weekend Number 2: Sept 17-18
The second project weekend was mostly about cleaning up. We had old plastic roofing panels that we had never finished installing the previous year. We pulled those out to return to Home Depot. We also bought a new sliding glass door since we missed out on the great Home Resource find. Just a note: sliding glass patio doors are HEAVY!
We also cleared out all the bales of straw, cleaned and organized, and did some more painting. The material for some of the walls had been damaged and stained due to water leaking in, and it was also pretty much just rough wood. It soaked up a lot of paint and took multiple coats to really cover.
I think the area in which we planned to install the sliding door had once been used for some sort of old pocket door. It was just hollow space. So we took apart the walls and installed real insulation. This was a messy, unpleasant job but it was satisfying to see the finished walls and know that they cats would be warmer this winter! I also got to spend lots of time fighting to unjam and reload the staple gun. That part was not especially fun.
Finally, it was time to work on the door. We wanted to install a 2×6 across the threshold for the new sliding door to rest on. This meant we needed to fasten the wood directly to the solid concrete floor. We used a Ramset tool for this. This is a powder fastening tool. To use it, you load a special nail, then load a special .22 caliber bullet. The tool acts like a gun, using the power of the bullet to drive the nail.
We ended up installing the 2×6 twice. The first time we were both essentially practicing with the Ramset since neither of us had ever used one before. I have also never fired a gun before, so the kickback was a bit of a surprise. We discovered after installing the wood that some of the nails had bent and were not holding it securely, so we pried them out and did it a second time.
The second time we did a much better job driving the nails straight into the wood and concrete. That wood is NOT going to budge anymore.
At last it was time to fit the door into place. I should mention that earlier in the summer, we installed a new back door on the house and it was a painful, difficult process that nearly caused a divorce. I had sworn I would never install another exterior door, but here we were, doing the same thing. So I was a bit nervous about this process.
We positioned the heavy patio door in place (moving heavy objects is NOT my strong suit), pushed it up, and…discovered that the opening was a hair too short. Despite all the measuring we did before purchasing the door. The door would have to wait until Renee could cut out the header and move it up a bit.
We cleaned up the huge mess in the room so that the cats could be a bit more comfortable in the meantime.
Finished Up the Door During the Week
During the week, Renee worked out there on some smaller projects after work. She fixed up some of the wiring and installed nice new light fixtures (also from Home Resource).
Finishing installing the door was actually somewhat anti-climatic after all my angst over it. On Thursday (Renee’s day off), she cut out the header and moved it up to accommodate the new door. When I finished my real work for the day, I helped out. Once again, we hefted the door into place, set the bottom on our 2×6 and pushed the top up into place. This time it fit perfectly.
We had a little trouble adjusting things with shims. We over did it the first time and the door became “off” enough that it would not slide smoothly. So, we pulled all the shims out and started over. The second time it worked, so once we were satisfied that everything was nice and level, we drove screws in all around the door. And it was finally in place.
We celebrated with homemade pepperoni, mushroom, and green chile pizza.
Weekend Number 3: Sept 24-25
The third weekend was for the big job: installing the new roof.
We had special ordered this Ondura roofing product from Lowe’s. Late in the week we got the call that it was in, so Renee picked it up and stacked in the shed area. It is a corrugated product, made out of asphalt. It looks and feels considerably more durable than the old plastic and fiberglass panels that had been up there before. We got mostly brown panels as well as a few of their translucent skylight panels so that both the greenhouse and the cats could have some natural light.
We wanted to do it right this time. I really don’t want to have to install this roof ever again. It had better last.
Our friend Toony came over to help, which was huge (Thanks, Toony!).
We started with replacing the rafter at the far end of the roof. The old one was rotted and nasty.
Then, we pulled down all the old panels and installed OSB (Oriented Strand Board) sheathing. Just this alone made a huge difference; we could finally walk around on the roof without having to balance on the rafters!
I somehow ended up with the job of pulling the old nails and screws out of the old panels and stacking them up neatly as Renee and Toony pulled them off and tossed them off the roof. At one point, I looked up and saw our neighbor Ron from two houses down. He came down the alley carrying a hammer, safety glasses, and a pair of gloves and said “put me to work.”
Do we have the coolest neighbor or what? This is the same neighbor that would run his snowblower down the sidewalk for our entire block last winter. He would also take a short detour with it to clear our driveway. Really just an amazing guy. He and Renee occasionally get to chatting and exchanging war stories (literal war stories — Vietnam for him and Iraq and Afghanistan for her).
He helped out all the rest of that day and all day Sunday too.
We finished up Saturday by getting all the sheathing up and ready for the new roof.
Sunday was a very, very long day. We cut openings in some of the OSB panels for skylights. It was a little creepy walking around on the roof once it had gaping holes in it.
Ron worked on installing fascia board along the eaves. He also painted it for us and installed the new drip edge.
We rolled out sheets of tar paper across the OSB and stapled it down. For this job, we used a stapler that is shaped sort of like a hammer, and you smack it into the material to inject the staples. I somehow managed to take over this job. I found it entertain to walk down the length of the roof, whacking it over and over with my staple gun. (it was also around this point when we were too busy to take any more pictures…so no more pictures.)
Finally it was time to start installing the actual roofing panels. The panels were pretty easy to move around and position on the roof, but nailing them in place was very time consuming. For the nine skylight panels, we had to pre-drill holes in the panels first, then drive in 4-inch roofing nails. For the regular panels, at least we didn’t need to pre-drill, so it went a little bit faster.
It was getting dark by the time we finished.
The next day I felt like I had been beat up, or taken part in a really hard workout. My whole body was sore!
Weekend Number 4: Oct 1-2
Finally the project was winding down, but not quite done yet. We weren’t able to find another good, correctly-sized window at Home Resource, so we just bought a brand new one from Lowes. We are getting to be pros and installing windows — way easier and quicker than doors.
Once the window was in, Renee added brick moulding trim all around it and painted it with our green accent color. This completely dresses up the outside of the shed.
Now that we had a real roof on the shed, we could add insulation in the ceiling as well. This winter, the heat won’t all be escaping through the roof! Installing insulation in the ceiling was more difficult than installing it in the wall since the pieces had a tendency to flop around and land on our heads. I definitely recommend safety glasses during this task to keep that crap out of your eyes!
Also, our rolls of insulation were not really wide enough for the areas we were filling in. Renee originally bought them with something else in mind, but we really wanted to use as much existing materials for this job as we could. So we made it work.
For the first couple sections, we installed the wider section of insulation, then cut a narrower piece, stapled it in place, and taped the two sections together. However, this was rather difficult and involved a lot of reaching over our heads and fighting with the insulation. Finally we came up with the idea to do the cutting and taping on the floor first, then fit the full piece into place. This worked out MUCH better and faster. Pretty soon the whole roof was nearly done.
We ran out of insulation before we could do the last, smaller sections right around the skylights. We also still need to add sheetrock to cover up the panels. Eventually I would also like to install some nice double-paned glass over the skylight panels to help insulate a bit more.
We also did more painting. The old wood walls just soaked up the paint and required several coats to fully cover. But the end result was great — no more dark, reddish stained walls, but a nice bright interior instead!
Finally after all the insulation, painting, and cleanup, we rolled out a nice blue indoor/outdoor carpet we bought from Home Depot. This is the finishing touch that really made it feel like a room, and no longer a “shed.” No more ugly concrete for the cats to walk on — now they have wall-to-wall carpeting!
But What Do the Cats Think?
Like most homeowners living in their home during a big remodel, the cats did not really enjoy the construction process at all. There was just too much noise, dust and clutter! After the first couple weekends, they did get somewhat used to it. Xena would just hunker down in her crate and ignore all the activity. Pippin would go out to the patio and hang out with the dogs or sleep in his favorite chair in the shade.
But once the remodel was complete, the cats decided it was worth all the trouble and inconvenience.
Pippin likes to lay on a little mat in front of the new window. He can actually see out now, and it is no longer drafty.
When we go out to visit the cats each morning, Xena now comes right out of her crate and asks for pets. She likes walking and rolling around on the nice clean, soft carpeting.
We picked up a pet door designed for sliding glass doors for about five dollars at Home Resource (a great find as these run about $150 new!). We still need to replace the flap, but in the meantime, Renee designed a temporary flap to hold in some of the heat. Pippin has gotten practice going through the door. I don’t know if Xena will try going in and out, but hopefully she will give it a try if we have any nice warm days before winter sets in.
It feels like we really finished this just in time. Late last week it started getting pretty chilly at night, so we setup the heater in their room. It is nice walking in there now and feeling no outside chill.
It is obvious every time we go out there that the cats are much happier now. They no longer live in a shed, or in a straw-filled barn. They live in their own private condo, and they love it!
There were more pictures than I could fit into this post; if you want to see them all, visit my Great Cat Remodel photo set at Flickr.