How to Remodel a Kitchen

So, last week I renovated one of my rental properties. This included replacing an old kitchen from 1995 with a new one. Here’s an overview of the process.

1. Take a picture of and measure the old kitchen cabinets

I just drew the measurements in Photoshop. Note that the picture below is what the cabinets looked like in 2008. The remodel was done in 2021 and the cabinets were is much worse condition then.

2. Design and order new cabinets

Cabinet Prices

Cabinet prices can vary widely. Home Depot, for example, is expensive. HD Supply has cheap cabinets but they look cheap. IKEA’s cabinets are mid-priced but you have assemble them. Chinese stores have cheap cabinets that look expensive. They also come pre-assembled. But, you have to inspect each cabinet before installing them because their quality control isn’t very good.

Cabinet or Drawers

There are base cabinets that sit on the floor and wall cabinets that are on the wall. Wall cabinets are always just cabinets with a swing out door. They are more expensive if the door has a glass window in it. Base cabinets can be regular cabinets or have drawers. If they are just cabinets, then you’d have a hard time reaching for items in the back of them. If they are drawers, then you can just slide out the drawers to access anything in them. Since drawers require more material and come with sliding mechanisms, they are more expensive then drawers.

Types of Cabinets

2D / 3D Design

I ended up just buying the cabinets from a Chinese store (warehouse) called Uni Tile & Marble.

I ended up choosing solid gray color cabinets. This is because the house is a rental house and tenants somehow ruin the surface of the cabinets, I can later just easily repaint the cabinets. This is what the cabinets look like in the showroom.

Countertops

For the countertop, the one on display was off white with a random gray design.

It contrasted well with the gray cabinets and looked exotic but it was also more expensive than other countertops on offer. I decided to go with a cheaper countertop ($300 per 8 foot slab) but my tenant offered to pay the difference for the more expensive countertop so I ended up getting the more expensive one.

Quarts countertops are super heavy and require special handling and are not easy to cut. I ended up paying the store to transport and install the countertops. If you’re looking for a cheaper DIY option, you can just buy cheap laminate countertops at the Home Depot and use a simple jigsaw to cut out the sink hole.

Sinks

For the sink, I prefer the large single basin type. Even though they’re available at Chinese stores, Chinese stores then to have outdated return policies with unreasonable restocking fees (25%) so for these types of items, I buy them at the Home Depot or Lowes.

Faucet

For the faucet, I definitely prefer the type in the picture below. It makes it easier to spray and clean the entire sink or whatever else you are washing / cleaning.

3. Pick Up New Cabinets

I could have had the cabinets delivered for a ridiculous $200 fee but since I need to dispose of the old cabinets, I decided to rent a 10′ U-Haul box truck to both pick up the new cabinets and transport the old cabinets to the dump.

A 10′ box truck was big enough to lay all cabinets on the truck bed.

The house were the cabinets will be installed.

4. Demolish Old Cabinets

The old cabinets were original to the house from 1995. They were definitely low quality cabinets. They were just screwed into the wall. Some sections were large so I used a Milwaukee Monster sawzall to cut cabinets in half.

5. Dispose of Old Cabinets

Since we had the truck for 24 hours, we loaded the old cabinets and other construction debris in it

and took it to the dump where I paid $138 to dump it all.

6. Prepare Wall

After removing the kitchen cabinets, the walls needed to be patched up and painted.

First, we enlarged some of the holes in the wall by cutting with an oscillating tool. The holes were shaped like rectangles where vertical edges would be along the center of studs. This would allow us to screw drywall nails through them into the studs. Cutting drywall was easy using a small, cordless reciprocating saw.

We then patched crevices with spackling paste.

After waiting for the spackling paste to dry, I then used an orbital sander to smoothen the wall surface.

I then sprayed wall texture to try to match the texture of the existing wall. This didn’t work well as the material was often clogging up. Next time, just use an air compressor with an actual texture sprayer gun.

I then painted the ceiling Swiss Coffee.

And painted the walls Roman Plaster.

I then touched up the corners where the two colors met. Semigloss paint was used to make cleaning easier.

7. Mark Walls

After the paint dried, we marked where all the studs in the wall were using a stud finder and then marked level (horizontal) and plumb (vertical) points using a laser level.

Then, we connected the points and drew outlines for where the cabinets would go. Note that the distance between the countertop to the bottom of the wall cabinets should be 18 inches.

8. Install Cabinets

We then installed the wall cabinets first. To facilitate this, we screwed a 2×4 to the wall so we could sit the cabinets on it while we screw the cabinets into the wall. If a cabinet didn’t span 2 studs, we’d use drywall anchors.

If walls or floor are not level or flat, use shims.

9. Install Cabinet Handles

To facilitate installing the cabinet handles perfectly, we bought a plastic template / jig. It did not work for drawers, though, so for drawers, we made our own jig.

10. Install Microwave

Since the microwave goes above the range, we installed that next. This required cutting holes in the cabinet above it for bolts and the vent.

11. Install Plywood on Base Cabinets

We then cut plywood and screwed it to the base cabinets.

12. Install Sink

We then cut a hole in the plywood for the sink using a mini circular saw for the straight sides and a jig saw for the corners. Then we installed the faucet, soap dispenser, dishwasher air gap, and garbage disposer to the sink and then installed the sink. This was done before installing the countertop because the countertop would not be ready for another 2 weeks.

I just got a top mount sink that includes the faucet holes rather than an undermount sink. This simplified installation.

13. Install Crown Molding

We then installed the crown molding. This was very tricky for a couple of reasons.

  • depending on the shape of the top of your wall cabinets and the shape of your crown molding, there may not be enough surface area to shoot finish nails into or there may not be enough clearance to shoot nails from above
  • cutting miter angles can be tricky and holding the crown molding down on the miter saw the same way isn’t easy.

Cutting the crown molding

Fortunately for this project, we only needed 45 degree cuts. But, we messed up a few times at first and wasted some expensive molding. Here are some tips to cut crown molding easily and correctly each time.

Label the surface of the miter saw “TOP” to remind yourself that the top of the crown molding should be facing down and the bottom of the molding flat against the fence.

Find a way to secure 2 pieces of wood to the sides of the miter saw.

Place your crown molding against the fence and then screw a piece of plywood or wood board to the two pieces of wood on each side of the miter saw. This allow you to put the crown molding on the saw at the same angle every time ensuring perfect cuts.

Installing the crown molding

For our particular case, we decided to secure the crown molding to thin plywood using small screws. We then lifted it and let it sit on top of the wall cabinets – no further screwing or nailing necessary.

14. Install Baseboard and Trim Molding

We then cut the baseboard and trim molding to length and shot them into the cabinets using a finish nailer powered by an air compressor. The baseboard and molding were necessary to hide gaps between the cabinets and the floor and walls.

15. Install The Countertop

For the countertops, I decided to go with quartz instead of marble. Since it’s very heavy and tricky to cut and to smoothen the edges, I decided to just pay someone to install the countertops.

First, one of the 8 foot slabs was cut to go on each side of the range. I believe this was done using a diamond blade.

A thin strip of the excess material was cut to make a finished end. The strip was secured using a special epoxy glue.

The strip was then clamped down and the epoxy left to cure for a while.

The installer intentionally cut the slab and the thin strip to be longer than the final length so that after the strip was secured he could cut and trim the end where you see all the glue oozing out.

This resulted in a very clean joint. He then smoothened the end.

This is how the joint ended up looking (with some dust that would eventually be wiped off).

For the sink side, a hole was cut out.

To create rounded corners, the installer cut a bunch of lines at each corner.

And then using a flathead screwdriver, broke off the thin pieces.

And then used an angle grinder to grind away rough edges to create a smooth rounded corner.

They then glued the quartz countertop to the plywood.

And this is the end result.

Note that we also

  • replaced the flourescent tube light box with flat LED lights
  • painted the walls BEHR Roman Plaster (semigloss)
  • replaced the old style kitchen outlets and switches with new Decora ones including adding a dimmer for the very bright LED lights
  • replaced the linoleum sheet / vinyl tile flooring with LifeProof Dusk Cherry luxury vinyl planks.

Tools

This project was big enough that I ended up bringing most of my tools to the worksite.

How to Fix Broken Electrical Outlets / Switches

If you have an electrical outlet or switch that isn’t working, here are some steps for debugging and fixing the issue. First of all, it’s important to understand the flow of electricity within a typical home.

Electrical Components and Electricity Flow

  1. Electricity comes through a cable from your local utility to your house
  2. That cable enters a circuit breaker panel on a wall
  3. The circuit breaker panel contains many circuit breakers.
  4. Each circuit breaker has electrical wiring to different parts of the house (kitchen, bedrooms, living room, bathroom, garage, etc). For example, below is a picture of electrical wiring from one circuit breaker in the panel going to 4 outlets. The wiring (or circuit) forms a loop. Electricity flows
    1. from the panel
    2. through the circuit breaker
    3. through the black (hot) wire
    4. through each outlet
    5. through the white (neutral / return) wire
    6. through each outlet
    7. and back to the circuit breaker panel

The bare copper or green wire (ground) goes from each outlet to the circuit breaker panel and then to a rod stuck in the ground.

  1. Each circuit delivers 120 V (volts) of electricity or 240 V depending on the use. Most circuits carry 120 V but electric ranges, electric water heaters and electric clothes dryers carry 240 V since they require more power to function.
  2. Each circuit breaker is rated for a specific number of amperes (amps). Usually 20 A for circuits that require more power, e.g. kitchens, and 15 A for circuits that don’t require much power, e.g. bedrooms.
  3. Circuits that require more power (e.g. 20 Amps vs 15 Amps) use thicker electrical wiring. The smaller the gauge number, the thicker the wire.
    1. 12 gauge Romex is rated for 20 Amps and is commonly yellow jacketed.
    • 14 gauge Romex is still used in some applications and is rated for 15 Amps and is grey jacketed.
    • 10 gauge Romex has an orange jacket and is used for water heaters or clothes driers.
  1. The power (P) available to any particular circuit is determined by the voltage (V) running through it and the amps (A) the circuit breaker and the wiring support. The formula for power is P = VxI. So, if a circuit has 120 V and is rated for 15 A, then it supports a maximum power of 120 x 15 = 1800 Watts.
  2. Each device (toaster, laptop, lamp, refrigerator, TV, etc) plugged into an outlet or is in a circuit draws power. The device will indicate how many amps it draws or power (in watts) is consumes to work. For example, below is a label on the back of a toaster oven. It requires 120V AC (alternating current, as opposed to DC, direct current) and it consumes up to 1200 W of power.

This toaster, which consumes up to 1200 W, can be used on a 15 A circuit because a 15 A circuit supports up to 1800 W of power. However, if two of these toasters were plugged in to the came 15 A circuit, then they’d both consume up to 1200 + 1200 = 2400 W which exceeds the power rating of the circuit. This would cause the circuit breaker associated with the circuit to trip and disconnect power to the circuit. Without the circuit breaker, the 15 A rated wiring would begin to melt due to the heat buildup and possibly catch on fire. If the circuit breaker turns off, you can toggle it back on.

In the picture above, the first outlet is a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet. It behaves like a circuit breaker. If the total power drawn through the outlet exceeds its rating, e.g. 15 A or 20 A, then the outlet would disconnect itself from the circuit thereby rendering the entire circuit without power because it is the first device in the circuit. If a GFCI outlet turns off, you can push a button on it to reset it.

Debugging Electrical Outlets / Switches

Now that we understand basic home electricity, we can make a list of things to check for debugging a non-working outlet or switch or entire circuit.

Outlet not working

Check all circuit breakers in the circuit breaker panel. If any are off, turn them on.

If the outlet is a GFCI outlet, it may have been turned off. Push the RESET button on it to turn it on.

Check neighboring outlets to see if they are working or not as they may be on the same circuit as the outlet that isn’t working. If the neighboring outlets are not working, see if any are GFCI outlets. If any are, then push the RESET button to turn them on. A GFCI outlet that is off will cause downstream devices (outlets, switches, etc) to also be off.

Using a voltage tester tool, test for the presence of voltage at each component (outlet, switch, circuit breaker). Some voltage testers will beep and/or show a red color when it detects voltage.

Try to determine which components (outlets, switches) are on a circuit and in what order.

Plug an outlet tester into the outlet to check whether the wires were installed correctly. For example, the outlet may have an open neutral meaning the white wire may be disconnected. Even if the black (hot) wire is connected, if the white (neutral) wire is disconnected, then the outlet, and all downstream outlets, won’t work. Using an outlet tester is the easiest way to test continuity in wires.

If an open neutral exists, open the outlet and verify the white wire is installed correctly. If the outlet tester still reports an open neutral, then the white wire may be loose or disconnected on the other end, e.g. at the circuit breaker. If the white wire is connected at the circuit breaker, then it could be disconnected somewhere in between both end points, which could happen if a rat chewed on the wire. In that case, new wiring needs to be added.

If the outlet tester reports an open ground (ground wire not connected), then the outlet will still work but it’s not safe to use.

Use the outlet tester on ALL outlets in a circuit. A disconnect in one outlet can cause all downstream outlets to not work.

In order for an outlet to work, electricity must flow from the black wire into the outlet and out from the white wire thereby creating a loop. The outlet tester is one way to check for continuity. Another is by using a multimeter. A multimeter can also be used to trace wires through walls to see to find each end point.

If an outlet sort of works, e.g. a light connected to it is dim or flickers, it could be because there are too many devices drawing too much power to it or the voltage in the circuit is too low, e.g. 85 V instead of 120 V. To determine the actual voltage on the line, you can use a multimeter.

Tips for Installing Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

So, I was going to replace the old bamboo flooring in the living room and vinyl tiles on top of linoleum sheet flooring in the dining and kitchen areas of my rental with tile but since I hate dealing with mortar and cutting tile, I asked some contractors to do it. Apparently they all want thousands of dollars so I decided to instead install luxury vinyl planks which are easy enough to do myself (or with a helper). I decided to go with this particular brand and color:

Lifeproof Dusk Cherry 8.7 in. W x 47.6 in. L Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

It’s exclusive to the Home Depot and it looks pretty nice. It costs $2.99 per square foot but it comes with the underlayment pre-attached which greatly simplifies installation.

These planks are waterproof and float on the subfloor. No glue or mortar is necessary. The planks click and lock into each other.

Following are some tips I came up with after following the instructions and realizing the instructions could be better.

Subfloor preparation

Removing linoleum sheet / vinyl tile and adhesive

Don’t try to do this by hand. Spend a little bit of money ($85) and rent a power floor scraper. You’ll save a ton of time and energy.

Notice how the top part of the blade sits underneath the black curved deflector. This was problematic because vinyl tiles that were getting stuck where those two parts meet making it difficult to move forward.

To fix this, I unscrewed the bolts and put the scraper blade above the deflector.

This tool is loud and heavy and can’t reach into tight spaces. For tight spaces, I bought a pneumatic floor scraper from Harbor Freight.

This tool requires a compressor that preferably has a large tank. I have a small 2.5 gallon compressor and this tool would work very well at high pressure for about 30 seconds before losing strength. I’d have to stop for another 20 seconds for the compressor tank to fill up before proceeding again with high pressure. To address this, you can buy or rent a large air compressor.

Removing tile flooring and mortar

If you have a lot of tile to remove, you can rent a demolition hammer with the following scraper / breaker attachments.

Installing click-lock vinyl plank flooring

Cutting planks

The instructions say to use a utility knife to score planks on both sides and snapping them into two pieces. Though that works without producing any vinyl dust, doing this a lot can get tiring very quickly and is error prone. Instead, just buy a flooring saw like the SKIL 4-3/8-in 7-Amp Sliding Corded Miter Saw.

It’s lightweight and can do rip and cross cuts.

For clean cuts, place the plank face side down and underlayment side up.

If you need to cut irregular shapes or cuts that are difficult with a flooring saw, just use an angle grinder if the cuts don’t need to be perfect since they’ll be hidden underneath baseboard. I temporarily took off the blade guard so I could see where I was cutting.

Spacers

You’re supposed to leave a 1/4 inch gap between the wall and the planks. At first I used the spacers that came with a flooring kit from Harbor Freight.

Though this kit is cheap, the spacers and the tapping block are no good. The red spacers keep falling out of place and the tapping block is made of rubber which helps protect the vinyl planks from damage but it makes it difficult to tap the planks together. Instead, by the following tapping block and spacers. Or, just buy the kit which comes with 2 other tools.

Pro Flooring Installation Kit for Vinyl, Laminate and Hardwood Flooring

The hammer doubles has a hard side for hitting the tapping black and a soft (mallet) side for hitting vinyl plank seams. Since I did not have this kit, I used a separate hammer and mallet.

Installation Steps

  1. First Row
    Starting at one end, place a spacer against the wall and lay planks down to lay the first row. Overlay the short end of the planks and tap them together using a mallet.
  2. Second and Even Number Rows
    Cut a plank in half or at least 8 inches from one end to stagger the placement of planks. Make sure that no plank pieces are less than 8 inches long, if possible.
  3. Install plank by wall
    Place a spacer by the wall, place a plank such that the long edge overlaps the long edge of the existing plank in the first row at a 45 degree angle.

Then, lay the plank down and tap down on the two long edges using a mallet.

  1. Install next planks
    The subsequent planks will have two edges that need to be snapped into place – a long edge and a short edge. Again, position the plank at an angle to get the long edge into the groove of the neighboring plank’s long edge. Then, slide the plank towards the short edge of the neighboring plank’s short edge. Lay the plank down and hit the short edge using a mallet.

Then, using a hammer, hit the tapping block so there’s no gap between the long edges of the plank.

Keep doing this until you get to the last plank in that row.

  1. Install last plank in row
    For the last plank in the row, you’ll likely need to cut the plank. Then, install the plank. If you notice any short edges of the planks in that row have a gap, you can close the gap by using the following method. Notice I put the tapping block underneath the metal pull bar which worked better than if you don’t use the tapping block.

Repeat above steps for each row till you’re done.

Measuring Water Usage in a Multifamily Building

If you own a multifamily investment property which you are renting out to 2 or more tenants, you’ll probably be disappointed to find out that there’s only one water meter (provided by the city) to the entire building located underground under the sidewalk. Following are some scenarios on how water pipes reach each unit and how to possibly measure each unit’s water usage.

Separate cold water pipes

Even though there’s only one water meter under the sidewalk, it’s possible that the downstream water pipe after the meter branches into multiple pipes, one for each unit, thereby creating multiple cold water networks If this is the case, then you’re in luck and you can install a water meter, e.g. Badger Model 25 or Neptune T-10 at each branching water pipe.

Shared cold water pipes, separate hot water pipes

If the cold water pipes from the city’s water meter go to all units in a shared manner, then it would be very difficult to measure water usage by unit. However, if each unit has its own hot water pipes that are not shared with other units, which would be the case if each unit has its own hot water heater, then you can measure hot water usage by installing a water meter at the cold water inlet to or the hot water outlet from the water heater.

Billing each unit for water

Usually there will be one water bill for a multifamily property. Since there are multiple tenants, you’d need to fairly split the bill among them based on each unit’s water usage.

Based on headcount

If both hot and cold water are shared among all units, then one common method is to bill each unit proportionally based on headcount (number of occupants). If one unit has twice as many people living in it as another, then that unit would pay twice as much for water. Of course, headcount can change over time so this would need to be updated whenever there is a change.

Based on hot water usage

If cold water is shared but hot water is separate, then you can split the water bill proportionally based on hot water usage. This would be more accurate that going based on headcount.

Water meters

Following are some popular water meters for residential use.

Badger Model 25

This meter has plastic threads and costs about $100.

Buy online – RC Worst

Buy online – QC Supply

Neptune T-10

This meter has metal threads and costs about $100.

Buy online

Smart Water Meters

The water meters above are manual read meters. To measure water usage remotely and see usage over time, you can buy a smart water meter. One of the best ones is Flume 2.

Flume 2 Smart Home Water Monitor

This smart water meter does not require plumbing as it is just attached or strapped around a compatible water meter. It costs $200.

Buy online

The Flume water monitor just straps onto an inline water meter. It reads the magnetic field generated by your water meter, which the company says can detect any water usage all the way down to one one-hundredth of a gallon — i.e. a slowly dripping faucet.

Quickly Create Photo Slideshow Video

This tutorial uses Corel VideoStudio Pro.

1. Add photos to project

Sort the photos as desired, usually by date, so they appear in chronological order.

2. Select and drag photos to video track

All photos will be added to the video track

3. Change duration of each photo

If the duration of each photo is too short or long, select all photos, right click and click on “Change Photo Duration …”. This will change the duration for each and all photos.

4. Add a transition effect

Choose a transition (a simple “crossfade” is the best”), right click and click on “Apply current effect to video track”.

This will result in the transition being applied to all photos.

5. Add Pan and Zoom effect

Select all photos, right click and click on “Auto Pan & Zoom”.

6. Drag audio file to music track

You can find some background music from Sound Cloud.

7. Add intro slide

Click “Instant Project” icon, click on “Beginning”, choose a template, right click and click on “Add at the beginning”.

8. Edit intro slide

Since the intro slide is a template, you will see placeholder content.

Drag a photo to the placeholder clip and hold “Ctrl” to replace the clip. This will cause the photo to be formatted to fit the template.

Double-click the text clip to edit the text of the intro template.

9. Add end slide

This process is the same as for adding the intro slide but click on “Add at the end” instead.

10. Add text to some photos

Click “Title” and then pick a title template. The one with a semi-transparent background is good. Drag it to the Title track where you want the text to appear.

11. Change text and background color

This title template animates the text.

Convert it to a simple fade in and out by clicking on the “Attribute” tab in the Options Panel for the title, click on “Attribute” tab, click on “Animation”, and disable animation by unchecking the “Apply” checkbox.

The background of the text is too light so let’s darken that semi-transparent bar. Double-click on the title clip and in the Options Panel, click the “Edit” tab, and click on the black color in the Text Backdrop context menu as shown in the screenshot below.

Double-click on the title clip again and edit the text.

12. Add more text

Copy and paste the text clip to other photo clips and edit the text.

13. Render video

Click the “Share” tab, choose a setting, and click “Start” button.

How to Make a Quality Video Presentation With Slides and Someone Talking

In this article I explain how to create a video presentation like what you see below. Features of this video include:

  • custom background (still image or video)
  • the presenter on one side
  • presentation slides on one side
  • clear audio

Equipment

Following is the equipment I used to make this type of video.

Video Editing Software

Corel VideoStudio Ultimate – $80

Presentation software

Google Slides (online) – Free

Wireless Presenter Pen

This is used to change slides wirelessly.

Generic Pen – $11

Green Screen

I bought a 7’x10′ green screen. I got just the fabric because I semi-permanently attached it to my garage ceiling since I don’t plan on using anywhere else.

Generic green screen – $21

Learn how I set up my green screen

If you want a green screen that comes with a stand, there are many options online (Amazon, etc) but they are more expensive.

Lighting

Lighting is key to getting good chroma key results and a good video overall. In particular, you want to eliminate shadows as much as possible.

Generic Softbox Photography Lighting Kit – $67

Background Image or Video

You can replace the green background with a still image or a video. One stock photo and video site is ShutterStock.

Video Camera

I just use my smartphone (Google Pixel 3 XL) to take videos.

Microphone

In order to get clear audio, you need a microphone. You can get one with a 3.5 mm jack or a USB C jack, depending on your recording device.

USB C Lavalier Mic 10 feet long – $15

iBower Lavalier Microphone (IBO-MIC100) – $26

If your phone has a USB-C jack instead of a 3.5mm jack, you’ll need an adapter and an extension cable. I’m using the Apple – USB-C to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter – White ($9) and a 16′ long TRRS 4 pole 3.5 mm male to female audio extension cable ($9)

Important: the audio cables MUST be 4 poled TRRS cables / adapters, not 3 pole TRS cables / adapters. The extra pole is for the microphone.

Video Recording App

I use Cinema FV-5 to record video from my phone because it supports an external mic on my Pixel 3 XL.

Cinema FV-5 ($2.50)

An alternative to this app is Open Camera (free).

Tripod

A tripod is necessary to hold your smartphone at the correct height to take videos.

AmazonBasics Tripod – $18

Tripod Mount Adapter for Smart Phones

This mount will allow you to hold your smartphone to the tripod.

Generic Tripod Mount Adapter for Smartphones – $10

Laptop

I use a Lenovo with 16 GB of RAM and an SSD both specs of which are necessary for video editing performance. I got mine on sale from Costco.

Laptop Stand

I’m using a sheet music stand as a laptop stand.

GLEAM Sheet Music Stand Metal with Carrying Bag – $28

Workflow

The overall workflow is as follows:

  1. Create presentations slides and export them as images
  2. Record video
    1. Stand in front of the green screen with softbox lights on
    2. Clip lavalier mic to shirt and connect it to smartphone on tripod (if necessary, using USB extension cables and an adapter).
    3. Place laptop on laptop stand outside the camera field of view
    4. In video recording app, ensure audio source is set to “external mic”.
    5. Press record and speak while reading and changing slides remotely using the wireless presenter pen
  3. Create final presentation video

Google Slides Tips

Export all slides as images

Creating slides in Google Slides is very similar to how you create them in other presentation apps like MS Powerpoint. In Google Slides, however, if you want to export all slides as images, you need an add-on. I use Slides Toolbox by Digital Thoughts. Once you’ve added that add-on, you can open it

and choose to export all slides as JPG or PNG images.

Set a background with transparency

Notice how in my final rendered video, the background video shows through the slides.

That was accomplished by setting the transparency of the background in Google Slides to around 70% opaque (30% transparent). If you want a semi-transparent background, then you must export the slides as PNG images rather than JPG images.

Test Slides

Download a sample presentation with semi-transparent background in ODP (OpenDocument Presentation) format which you can import into Google Slides.

You can also download the test slides in PNG format for importing into VideoStudio.

Video Recording Tips

  • Position the lavalier mic such that you don’t hear the sound of you breathing.
  • Stand far from the camera to record more of yourself. You can always crop the video later.
  • If you have a fast computer with plenty of SSD space, record your video in 4K for ultra hi definition (UHD) resolution. Otherwise, record at 1080p hi definition (HD).
  • Using the softbox lights, and other lights, if necessary, eliminate as many shadows as possible. For example, the picture below shows dark shadows which will be difficult to remove when you’re editing the video.
  • In the Cinema FV-5 video recording app, set audio source to “external mic”. When you push the cable into your phone, the wired microphone icon near the top-right corner appears in the app. This tells me the audio source will come from the external mic.

Video Editing Tips

NewBlueFX Chroma Key Filter

Use the NewBlueFX Chroma Key filter in VideoStudio to key out the green background. Read my blog post titled NewBlueFX Chroma Key to Easily Remove Green Screen in Video for step-by-step instructions.

Organize assets

Put all assets in a single folder. Below is a screenshot of my video assets which includes

  • 1 background video of the earth rotating
  • 5 semi-transparent presentation slides
  • 1 video of my giving a presentation in front of a green screen

For the background video, I picked a video that could be looped seamlessly.

Smart Proxy

Make sure to enable Smart Proxy in VideoStudio to improve video editing performance. For more information, read my blog post titled Improve Performance When Working with Large Videos in Corel VideoStudio.

Export

When you export the video, you will have many settings and export presets to choose from. For each preset, you can see the estimated output file size. There’s no point in choosing a high quality output if the source video is low quality. In Windows Explorer, right click on the foreground video and click Properties > Details to see the video specs. The screenshot below shows that my foreground video taken on my phone was 1920×1080 with a bit rate of 22254 kbps (~22 Mbps) and a frame rate of 30 frames per second (fps).

For this, I chose the following spec which gave an estimated output file size of 252 MB for a 13 minute video.

Workflow

In VideoStudio, my workflow is

  1. Create a new project
  2. Add all assets (videos, slides, etc) to the project
  3. Verify SmartProxy is enabled
  4. Add an overlay track so that I have 2 overlay tracks
  5. Drag the background video to the Video track
  6. Drag the slides to the Overlay 1 track in order
  7. Drag the foreground video with the green screen to the Overlay 2 track
  8. Crop the foreground video as necessary
  9. Using NewBlue FX Chroma Key filter, remove the green background so that it’s transparent
  10. Copy and paste the background video multiple times to span the duration of the foreground video
  11. In the Preview panel, drag the foreground video to the left
  12. In the Preview panel, drag the slides to the right and line them up using the grid that appears
  13. Preview the composite video and make changes, as necessary
  14. Export the video

How to Take Pictures to Get the Right Shot

Most people take pictures by just manually taking a shot when they are ready. Since many things could go wrong with taking just a single shot, e.g. the subject blinks or yawns, a car drives by, etc, then some people will take multiple shots manually – maybe 2 or 3. However, this still doesn’t necessary offer the best shot because the subject may not like how they look in a particular stance or the lighting may not be at their particular angle. Also, photos of people just looking straight at the camera or posing often look boring, as opposed to photos that appear to be taken randomly or without the subject knowing.

Snapshot from Video

To resolve this, you could take a 4K video from your mobile phone, open the video in a video play like VLC, scrub through the video and when you are on a frame you like, take a snapshot (not a screenshot).

Pros:

  • many frames to choose from (usually 30 frames per second)

Cons:

  • large file size
  • must open video and scrub through and pic from you like
  • videos are generally more compressed than images

Series of Still Images Taken Automatically

To get around the cons of the video approach, you can take a series of still images and just pic the ones you like. This is sometimes called “burst” mode. Ideally, you would be able to

  • set a delay timer (if you will put the camera down and be in the picture yourself)
  • set how many pictures to take, e.g. a max of 5 or 10 pictures or unlimited if you want to stop taking pictures when you push a button
  • an time interval between which photos will be taken, e.g. take a picture every 0.5 seconds, 1 second, 5 seconds, etc.

One app that meets these requirements is Open Camera. It’s free and looks well made. In the screenshot below. I enabled Face detection so that if the subject moves, like when you’re taking a video, the subjects face should always be in focus. I set Repeat to 10x to take a maximum of 10 pictures and I set Repeat mode interval to 1s so a picture will be taken automatically every 1 second.

In this example, I’d end up with 10 pictures. I could then just pick the best one and delete the rest.

Comparison

To compare the picture quality of this method verses taking stills from a video, consider the following photos.

From video
From a series of still images

If we zoom in to 100% and focus on a small section, you’ll notice there are more artifacts and blurriness in the still taken from the video, not to mention the contrast and color looks much better in the still shot.

From video
From a series of still images

If I enlarge the images, the artifacts in the video snapshot become much more apparent.

From video
From a series of still images

If you set the Repeat to Unlimited and Repeat mode interval to No delay, the app will take as many pictures as it can until you push the stop button. For comparison, a 10 second 4K video consumed 61 MB whereas 10 seconds of unlimited, no delay pictures produced 23 images totaling 45 MB.

The next time you want to take a picture, you may want to try Open Camera and take a series of many pictures as your subject walks around or behaves naturally.

How to Install 4 Posts Square and Plumb (e.g. for a pergola)

This weekend I built the frame of a pergola. The posts are 6x6x10 Redwood posts and they’re heavy. We had the posts go 15″ in the ground but before pouring cement, we wanted to make sure the posts were level and plumb.

To hold the posts in place while we measured, we filled buckets with dirt and temporarily secured each posts to them using either screws or clamps.

Once the posts were held in place, we installed the headers on top. This would hold the posts in place and, theoretically, help ensure the posts are plumb.

We then measured for level and plumb using straight levels and post levels.

We also measured the distance between posts to ensure corresponding sides were the same length. We could have also measure the two diagonal distances but we didn’t. We measured using a laser measure and a tape measure. Unfortunately, these can give inaccurate readings if, for example, the laser or tape measure isn’t perfectly level when taking measurements.

Despite measuring using levels and checking distances, we still found some posts were not lined up perfectly with other posts.

To make measurements easier, stick a nail near the top and bottom of each post at the same vertical position.

Then, hook the end of your tape measure to the nail head and pull to measure the distance to the corresponding nail on other posts.

Another, albeit extreme, way to ensure all posts are plumb and positioned perfectly is to use scrap 2x4s to temporarily secure all sides at the top and bottom. If you don’t have any 2x4s, you can use 2x3s. They are cheap at the Home Depot. If your 2x4s are not long enough, you can join / splice them together using metal plates or scrap plywood.

Again, you can temporarily secure the 2x4s to the posts with either screws or clamps. By securing these 2x4s around the top and bottom of the posts, and ensuring they are level, there’s no way the posts could end up being offset from each other or not plumb.

Make a rectangular hole in cement with clean edges

I wanted to build a pergola in my backyard. The patio is a cement slab. I could fasten post bases to it for the posts but I felt that that wasn’t as safe as having the posts sit 1.5′ in the ground. The control lines of the cement slab are just bricks with mortar. I figured I could just remove 3 bricks and dig to 1.5′ for each post hole. The concern was to not crack neighboring bricks and cement. Here’s how I managed to make rectangular holes with clean edges.

Drill

First, I drilled into a brick until I reached the dirt. This gave me an idea of how deep the slab was.

It wasn’t too deep.

Cut

I then used a cordless angle grinder with a diamond blade to score the perimeter of my desired hole. This was especially important so as to not crack the brick next to the hole.

You could also use a circular saw with a diamond blade.

Demolish

I used a jack hammer to demolish the bricks.

I have the XtremepowerUS 2200Watt Heavy Duty Electric Demolition Jack Hammer Concrete Breaker which I got on Amazon.

It easily broke up the bricks into nice big chucks.

Below the brick was a layer of cement.

I broke that up, too, with the jackhammer.

The next layer was dirt.

I dug into the dirt using the Bosch Bulldog Extreme jack hammer and a heavy duty drill with an auger drill bit.

Result: nice clean hole. I’ll have to put back two bricks for each hole but that’s easy.