Day 72: Framing, pt. 1

When we started working up plans for this house, we decided to go whole hog and move around walls.  We knew we had to fix some structural issues with the 1st and potentially 2nd floor and that made the decision real easy.  What wasn’t easy was figuring out a new layout for the space.  We went back and forth for some time creating things on paper.  Ultimately what we ended up with was this plan…

We were were starting with two rooms (bathroom and laundry room), a large hallway (sometimes called a mudroom), and two tight, but deep closets (one in the laundry, one in the hall).  From this we were going to cut down the size of the laundry room and hall.  Get rid of the two closets.  Put in a pantry with kitchen access (including a pocket door).  Put in a large coat closet.  Move the bathroom and add a shower.  Put in a new window in the back wall of the house for the new hallway.

2013-12-06 08.31.37All this meant lots of cool framing.  I throw around words like “move”, but really that just means completely demolishing the existing structure, buying new materials, and putting up a new structure.  I think so far there have been exactly two things actually moved (an outlet and a switch that were literally taken off one stud and renailed in the same wall bay, but the next stud over).  Framing is pretty straight-forward usually.  For a non-load bearing wall (essentially just a wall that divides a space) the design is pretty simple.  There’s a bottom and a top 2×4 called “plates” that are nailed to your floor and your ceiling joists.  They’re separated by perpendicular 2x4s running floor to ceiling called “studs”  Standard spacing for studs is 16″ on-center.  “On center” means the distance from the center of board A to the center of board B along the plain you’re nailing into.  So if you were going to make a wall, you’d measure along your top and bottom boards and draw a line every 16″.  Then you’d fit your studs with this line in the center of this line.  Technically, you can frame non-load bearing walls at 24″ OC.  It’s easier and it uses less wood, but sometimes it’s frowned on by inspectors.  Lastly, there needs to be a small horizontal piece of wood in between each stud.  This piece is for fire blocking.  The idea is that in modern wood framing, the builder has to take steps to contain potential fires.  One of these steps is to frame walls in such a way that the vertical spread of the flames is slowed.  You do this by making small cells in the wall that the fire has to burn through before it can spread to the next area.  If you imagine my previous description of how a simple wall is built before fire blocking, you end up with this large bays that are 16-24″ wide (technically 14.5-22.5″) and as tall as your ceiling to floor.  That creates a big vertical space for fire to shoot up as it spreads.  So if you stick a 2×4 cross piece in there, you cut that vertical space down.  Code stipulates that you can’t have bays larger than 48″.  Additionally, if you have to create any gaps or holes (for pipes, wires, ducts, ect), you ought to seal them off with special fire blocking foam after you’ve run the wire or piping.  This isn’t always required by code, but it’s a very good idea.

For our project, I went ahead and framed everything as if I was building load bearing walls.  This meant placing everything 16″ on center and using a double top plate.  Even though it wasn’t necessary and it was more work and more materials, I think it’ll be good for the support and strength of this section of the house.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I haven’t updated the blog in a few weeks.  The seasons has made it extra busy with the house project.  Em took off a few weeks around the holidays and we’ve been working together on the house.  She may even post about some of her projects.  In addition to that, there’s the standard array of holiday parties, family get-togethers, and general goofing off.  We took off the last few days from our project.  Saturday and Sunday we were seeing friends, Monday I played a day-long board game, Christmas eve we cleaned a bit and watched tv, and then Christmas has been seeing friends and stuffing our faces.  We’ll be back to work tomorrow though.

The past few weeks have been really productive.  We had a nice warm day (I think it hit 50 degrees) that let us punch the hole and put in the new window in the back.  Em has been working on HVAC and plumbing while I’ve been working on framing and electrical.  We also bought a water heater and figured out the direction we want to go in the master bedroom.  Things are really coming along.

I hope you’re all having a great holiday!  As it turns out, there’s quite a few people silently following this blog.

Day 57 – Pipes

As part of replacing the floor joists, we had to remove the sub-flooring in what turned out to be about an 8’x10′ plot of the addition.  One of the boons of peeling back the floor is immediate access to the pipes.  We took advantage of the situation to move around our drainage system.  When we got the house, the 1st floor had a kitchen, half bathroom, and laundry room.  This meant a kitchen sink, bathroom sink and toilet, washer hook up and wash basin.  I’ve mentioned in the past that all the copper was pulled out of the house.  This is mostly true.  The copper in the walls is still there (and will save us a lot of headache running pipes to the 2nd floor).  But what is completely intact is the pvc drains.  Our remodel calls for moving the kitchen sink over to make room for a pocket door, moving the bathroom and laundry, and adding a shower.  The good news is this puts us at +1 drains based.  The bad news is none of the new drains are in the same place as the old drains so the pipes have to be reconfigured.

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Pipes, couplers, and fittings…Oh My!

I learned a lot of really neat things about plumbing on this project.  A home DWV (Drain – Waste – Vent) system isn’t just a hole you dump things down.  It’s an intricate, logical system of forces and paths.  One of the books I’ve read had a really nice line that said something to the effect of an apprentice plumber will learn all the functions of the job in their first year, but it’ll be another three years or so until they learn and understand all the codes for the complicated sistuations that can arise with a plumbing system.  This is because your drainage isn’t just made up of downward flowing drain pipes, but also upward flowing vent pipes.  I don’t think I understand the physics well enough to properly explain it, but think of it like this…have you ever poured anything out of a bottle and gotten that “glug glug glug” reaction?  Some of your milk or oil or soda will come out, and then an air bubble will go in.  But if you poor slowly, you’ll get a smooth flowing waterfall.  Likewise, if you punch a hole in the other end of the can, your liquid will rush out without the glugs.  This same process happens in your pipes.  So you have to provide access for air to interact with with your plumbing system.  In addition to the flow of air, you have to provide ventilation for sewer gas (the noxious gases waste products give off) that exists in most any drainage system.  All this amounts to having to figure out not only how you’re going to get your liquids down into the sewer, but also your vents up into the air.

For our remodel, the process first involved identifying and tracking where all the pipes went.  Every fixture needs to be vented.  It’s potentially possible to vent multiple fixtures off the same line and to “wet vent” fixtures, but the design and inner workings of such things are beyond my knowledge.  Luckily, for most home projects, the ideas, designs, and codes are pretty straight forward.  It’s when you’re plumbing a public bathroom, swimming pool, or up and down an apartment building that things get really heady.  Still it took a few days of reading and studying both what was there and what I wanted to be there in order to figure it all out.  It also doesn’t help that not all of our plumbing is up to code.  There’s a certain amount of faith on my part that some of these pipes that disappear into the walls are what they appear to be.  We’ll find out eventually, I suppose.  Moving the kitchen sink was the easiest job.  It just involves cutting some pipes and reattaching them.  The bigger challenge was figuring out how to position everything for the bathroom shower and toilet.  Normally pipes have to drop 1/4″ per linear foot for span.  Importantly, this is a range, not a minimum.  You don’t want your pipes to have a dramatically steeper pitch than that as it can cause the water to flow faster than the solids it might be carrying (causing clogs).  Here’s my solution:  1) The toilet and shower drain into the main stack and I’ll tie the two vent pipes together and then into the pipe that previously vented the old bathroom sink.  The new bathroom sink will grab the plumbing used for the wash basin.  The washer hook ups will need to all be moved over about 3 feet into the new laundry room, which should involve extending that pipe and adding new hook ups.  To make this all work, I do need to get up into the 2nd floor bathroom and tie that bathroom sink directly into the sewer stack that runs behind the toilet there.  I’m kind of hoping this isn’t more complicated than it sounds.

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Toilet hole and associated vent hole

The other cool thing I learned about in this process was working with PVC.  I had it in the back of my mind that it was easy (or at least easier than working with metal), but I didn’t exactly know what I was going to be doing.  Now that I’ve done it, I can confess that it’s both really easy and kind of fun.  The essential thing to know is that you can’t unseal or remove a PVC joint.  Once they’ve been glued together, it’s stuck forever.  But luckily, you can quite easily cut plastic pipe with a hacksaw or sawzall.  Me and my trusty sawzall made short work of the existing pipes.  From there, you cut or file down the rough ends and assemble your new system of pipes, bends, couplers, and t-junctions.  Once you have a correct assembly fitted together “dry”, you start gluing.  PVC glue comes in two parts: a primer (ours is bright purple, but color varies) and a cement.  This two part process chemically bonds the plastic by essentially melting and fusing the two pipes making a water tight seal.  It’s a lot like tinker toys.  After everything is properly glued together, give it some time to cure (on a hot day, it takes a few hours, on a freezing day like when we put it in, who knows?).  Then be sure to properly strap all your pipes so they don’t move or you could rip something loose.

When people think about remodeling bathrooms, there’s always this line between if you need to move fixtures or not.  I now understand what’s at stake in that kind of decision.  But, while it’s not nothing, it’s also not so scary that you should be worried about doing it yourself.  Anything can be done with enough patience and gumption.


In a previous post, I talked about beams.  One special kind of ad-hoc beam is constructed by “sistering” two boards together.  In older homes you might notice sagging floors, or if you were to inspect the floor joists directly, you might see twisting, warping, cracking, or bending.  Essentially what’s happened is over time, the stress of the load the existing joist was baring was greater than the material or construction could stand.  This might be because of poor initial choices (undersized beams or spans that are too great for the material/construction), or mitigating factors over time (moisture or insect damage, for example).  It’s pretty rare that a structure will reach immediate failure.  You tend to read about those kinds of things in the news.  A building collapses, a balcony falls, train tracks twist and derail, etc etc etc.  The more common story is that things will fail slowly.  Small cracks will get bigger over time.  Floors will sag.  Doors and windows will get sticky.  The list goes on and on.  Occasionally you will need to bring in a structural engineer to assess the problem and give you direction on what to do about it.  However, that kind of thing can be expensive (a few hundred dollars at least), and the issue might no be large enough to warrant that kind of action.

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New wood on old for an ad-hoc beam

Which gets us to this idea of sistering.  When you attach a new piece of structural lumber in parallel to an existing piece in the same way as you would construct a beam, you can provide greater rigidity and potentially stem the slow failing of the wood.  The process is very much the same.  You’re going to glue and nail the new board to the old board.  If there’s sagging or warping in the old board, it’s best to do what you can to straighten it out.  This process might mean using a bottle jack to push on the center of the board, to nudge it back into alignment.  Once you’re straight-ish, you can attach the new to old.  If done properly, the new beam will be stronger than the old board.  Not as strong as a beam of the same size, but a single piece, but certainly better than before.  You should do your best to reenforce over the entire span of the old board.  If that isn’t possible, a shorter span may help, but I’d recommend extending at least three feet on either side of the mid point of concern (i.e. the point of sag, crack, etc).  Additionally, you should use the same or larger dimension of lumber.  Adding a 2×4 to a failing 2×10 is about as helpful as spitting in the wind.

For our project, we’ve had to deal with extensive termite damage in the joists under the 1st and 2nd floors.  In some cases, this meant replacing the joist all together.  In others, it was easier to just sister new lumber over the span.  Even damaged wood is still proving some support.  Termites will weaken boards, but it’s rare that they devour it to the point where it completely falls apart.  Often the harder, core wood is still intact.  So it’s actually strong to add to what’s there rather than completely replacing it.  This conclusion isn’t always the case and certainly isn’t a good idea if you have an active termite infestation.  But if, as in our case, there are no bugs, and a lot of the wood is still good, sistering is the way to go.  In all, we added 5 new joists made of laminated veneer lumber (an engineered lumber project stronger than sewn boards), 2 new josits made of regular old grade 2 (structural) lumber, and sistered about 7 more.

Day 54: Emily’s Window

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Old studs come out, new studs go in.

We’re adding a window to the rear of the house.  For some weird reason there are no windows on the back of the house.  Granted there isn’t a whole lot to see back there, but with a little TLC, the yard will turn into a nice green space.  It’s doubly strange because it’s super easy to punch a hole in the gable end of a house.  The gable end is the side of the house where the roof is pitched up (looks like an A).  There is less concern about structural integrity on those two sides because the weight of the roof is pushing down on the perpendicular walls.  If you imagine a simple tent (think like a tarp thrown over a hitched line), either end is open.  Same kind of idea here.  Your house (assuming a standard A-frame roof style) has two ends that don’t need a lot of support.  Anywho, so we’re going to punch a 36×54 window at the end of what will one day be the back hall way.  I think our dream is to put a little bench of some kind under it so you can put on and take off your shoes.  It’ll also add a bit of light to the area which will eventually lose the added light from the other side of the house.

2013-11-25 12.13.12Em was assigned the job of roughing in the window.  When putting in a window, there’s essentially +++ steps.  The first step is to create the rough framing.  This process is very similar to a door.  You need to put in a few new studs, and a header that will distribute the force around the window and down to the foundation.  The big difference is that you’re going to create a sill.  A sill is a board that the window will sit on.  Ideally your opening is just a bit larger than your window, so you can easily fit your window in, but not have to go crazy adding wood filler.  The next step is to cut a hole.  You should do as much as possible inside before breaking the envelope of your house.  This step will vary dramatically based on the construction of your house.  We have a wood frame house with plastic siding, so it’s as simple as cutting the boards with a circular saw, and trimming back the siding with tin snips.  The third step is to weather seal the opening and install the window.  These days, this process is incredibly simple.  There exists in any hardware store weather tape.  It comes in like 4″ or 9″ wide rolls.  You’re going to tape around the opening and up the sill before you install the window.  Then run a bead of silicone, pop your window in, level, and nail it in.

I should confess that as of writing this, we’ve only gotten as far as roughing the opening.  It’s been too cold to install the window.  The weather tape goes down to 25f, but silicone doesn’t like freezing temps.  But none the less, Em did an awesome job roughing in the frame for the window.  Hopefully this weekend will be warm enough to install it.

An important thing we learned about windows…they come in two broad varieties: New Construction and Replacement.  Replacement is just what it sounds like.  If you’re putting in a new window where one doesn’t previously exist, you want new construction.  New construction windows come with a nailing flange (a bit of of the window that creates a lip with predrilled holes for you to nail it into your wood) and that’s going to be really important to installing.

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Em testing out her new window for good fit

Turkey Day = T-6 Months

I haven’t updated in about a week.  This isn’t because things aren’t happening or I don’t have things to post about.  We’ve been spending a lot of time working at the house and there’s some cool things to share.  I just haven’t had the energy and time to sit down at the computer.  We’re about 6 weeks into the project.  I kind of expected things to even out at this point, some kind of routine to develop.  Instead, there’s a weird tempo to the project.  Like a car with oblong wheels.  There are times when things are really going and times when things seem to straining just to get over the next hump.  Our big accomplishment of late is finishing the joist work in the addition.  It felt like I was working on shimming, bracing, and leveling forever.  Now that the area is properly gutted and there’s floor on which to stand (and frame), suddenly 30 different jobs are ready to go and I have my pick of the list.

The end of November means we have 6 months left in our lease.  That means in 6 months, the house needs to be ready to go.  It seems like an enormous amount of time.  Time in this project is a funny thing.  We have a working spreadsheet that we visit every week to update on the timing of various aspects of the project.  This is a really helpful time for our team.  For myself, it forces me to prioritize time and examine things that aren’t going smoothly.  For Em (I’m hazarding here), it helps her stay plugged into what is and isn’t getting done as well as brainstorm around potential obstacles.  This time highlights the complicated nature of timing.  As we move along, any given week has ten or so to-dos that might be as simple as a phone call or an email, or as intricate as planning a plumbing system (you might have noticed that some items last several weeks).  Sometimes one or more of these branch out and become different tasks, then those different branches get their own timing slots.  For example, we knew we needed to replace or reenforce floor joists.  This project led to removing about half of the existing floor in the addition.  We have to replumb the entire house as there was no copper in it when we took it over.  Since the floors were open, it made sense to do some work on the plumbing.  So all of a sudden, we went from “we’ll just pop in some joists” to plumbing time.  All of it has to get done and we have yet to be so gummed up that we didn’t have something to so (there’s always pulling carpet tacks out of the stairs…) but timelines are squishy.

When we started talking about this project, I heard more than once from people who would reference an old Tom Hanks movie called “The Money Pit” about a couple that buy a house and find out that it’s more work, time, and money to fix it up than they were expecting.  This comment would be in the form of some off handed remark or joke about renovation projects always coming in late and going over budget.  I don’t understand why this kind of expectation exists.  Why bother to write a budget or develop timeline if you’re just going to fail to stay true to either?  It’s caused me a deep seated ire over the idea of being late on anything.  I feel like I’m playing into some preconceived notion planted by Mr. Hanks that we were doomed to failure before we even started.  This gut response mixes with our timeline stratification in unexpected ways.  Are we late?  Are we on time?  Are we ahead?  Yeah, pretty much all of those.  Are things different today than they were last week, definitely.  Things get added, things get dropped.  Do I think we’re going to be ready to move in May…yes I do.  It’s only 6 months away after all.