Roughing It

Now that the wall framing was up, it was time to start installing everything that goes inside the framing. That means electrical and plumbing lines, and in my case, data cables and fire sprinkler piping. In this entry, I’ll briefly address the rough electrical, plumbing, and data lines, as I will have a separate entry on the sprinkler system (because it’s unique and cool).

Rough service work begins with locating where you want to put stuff. For plumbing, that’s usually spelled out in the plans, e.g., where you want the sink, shower, and toilet, so that part is pretty easy, and the relevant dimensions of where the plumbing fixtures connect are standardized. However, there are some nuances that must be considered, and since I’m doing an entirely custom installation, I decided to get all of my fixtures up front. That way (a) I could look at the installation instructions and actually do measurements if I needed to, and (b) the fixtures all matched. It cost  quite a bit up front, but at least that expense is taken care of (!). So, I went ahead and marked where I wanted the toilet, sink, and shower drains and water supplies to go. Now, I had to learn plumbing.

Supplies 1

All fixtures and parts for the bathrooms, plus the toilet and sink for the MBR bathroom.

Supplies 2

The rest of the parts for the bathrooms. I also bought all of the tile at once to make sure I had it from the same run. Lots of stuff to warehouse!

As a chemical engineer and as an engineer on a nuclear sub, I figured I could deal with the technical aspects of a residential plumbing job. I had to review the relevant codes to make sure I was in compliance, but then I figured, how hard can this be? I was about to find out….

I decided to start with the toilet drain because it was the largest pipe and I found out I would have to be doing some tricky routing through the joists, which I had previously tripled to shore up the master bedroom floor structure. These extra thick joists turned out be be troublesome because the pipe had to be angled to get the slope correct and the hole saw that I was using was only slightly larger than the OD of the pipe. I eventually hammered it in but getting that last joint together was a bitch! I hope it doesn’t leak.

Toilet Drain

Toilet drain piping. See the tripled joists surrounding the pipe? I had to drill big holes through those and ram the piping in!

The next challenge was putting together the water supply system for the showers. I decided to ramp up the quality of the showers by installing a “smart” shower system that uses an electronic control in the shower to remotely control the mixing valve. I went with copper pipe because that’s what the house had to begin with, and I sure got some good experience in sweating the pipes together (turns out that it’s not that hard). The best advice that I got was to use MAPP gas instead of propane. The higher temperature of the flame makes the solder flow much better. Nevertheless, It’s a complex setup and I ended up gouging one of the press-fit O-rings when I inserted the pipe into the mixing valve, so it caused a bit of a mess when I turned on the water to pressure test.

Shower Mixing Valves Annotated

Diagram of the remote shower mixing valves. These are located in the garage directly below the bathrooms. The hot and cold water supplies connect to the mixing valves and the remote controller sets the temperature and volume through the controller signal lines. The water then goes directly to the shower head(s).

Remote Shower Control

Remote shower controller. This is all electronic and has a memory for 4 different settings (his/hers/morning/after workout/whatever).

 

I also found some cool water supply valves that were recessed into the wall and had a very clean look. They are called “stop pull boxes” and are made by a company called “LSP”. If you’re interested, here is their website: LSP Pull Stop Box

And some pictures:

Recessed Water Supply Valve 1

Recessed water supply valve. The valve is the brass fitting in the middle. If you look closely, you can see the ball valve itself (the silver thing in the middle). This is really slick because it’s behind the drywall and the valve is operated by a pushrod attached to the threaded rod on the left-hand side. Looks very clean after installation which I thought was important for a pedestal sink.

Recessed Water Supply 2

Recessed valve installed. The eustachon will cover the hole OK. The brand is “LSP” and the device is called a “pull stop box”.

Going on to rough in the electrical, the plans are important, but I decided I wanted to do some Human Factor Engineering to get the exact location of the switches and lighting fixtures. I imagined myself doing everyday tasks like going to the bathroom, going to the shower, getting dressed, getting ready for bed, etc., and that helped me locate switches so that (a) they would be easy and intuitive to reach for and (b) I could operate the lights from different locations to minimize going back and forth when I wanted to turn something on or off. I also put in extra wall receptacle boxes, especially near where the bed and home office would be. Receptacle and switch boxes are pretty easy to install, so with that done, I was ready to start running wires.

Rough Electrical Bedroom

Example of the customization that one can do if you’re doing this yourself. I added the data and power boxes for the flat screen TV at the last minute (at no cost to the customer).

Running the wires for the rough electrical is something that’s not typically in the plans, which only show the locations of the receptacles, switches, and fixtures. I guess I could have done a schematic diagram, but I figured I would only be doing this once, and as long as I was disciplined in labeling each wire, I would be OK. To run the wires, I did have to plan out where I would be bringing in power from the electrical panel, and then how that power would be distributed throughout the room. The bedroom has two circuits: one for the sink in the bathroom, which needs to be a dedicated GFCI circuit per code, and one for the receptacles and lights. The “current” electrical codes (pardon the pun) require that receptacles in living spaces (bedrooms, living rooms, dens, dining rooms) be AFCI protected, so I needed to take that into account as well. The dedicated GFCI circuit was pretty easy (one wire from the panel to the receptacle), but the other wiring was more involved. The first thing that I did was to bring in power to a receptacle box, and then distribute power to the other receptacle boxes from there. The lighting circuits then tapped off the receptacle boxes.

One thing to keep in mind is the number of wires you have running in and out of each box, and the number of “devices” (switches, receptacles, both of which are referred to as “yolks” in the trade). There is a limit based on the heat load, and there’s a fancy calculation in the NEC, which it turns out, is not trivial. Here is a link to an good explanation. To make things a little easier, I just always get the biggest box possible for the number of devices I want (switches/receptacles) and have not run into any problems.

Electrical Switches and Receptacles

Good example of tailoring the electrical controls beyond the minimum. I can control both lights outside the garage (front and side) and the garage work lights from this location. The front garage door light can also be controlled from the master bedroom and the front door because it is a security and safety feature. I’ve also installed smart switches, where necessary, to allow control automatically under given conditions (e.g., coming home at night, opening the garage door, fire alarm or smoke detector goes off to illuminate egress routes). The receptacles with built-in USB chargers are a must, pretty much in every room.

Routing the wire takes a little planning. The main idea is to drill as few holes as possible, which typically results in running the wires in the ceiling. The other “trick” is to unroll the wire so that it’s flat. If you just pull the wire from the roll, then it will come out twisted and be difficult to staple neatly to the framing. Unrolling it before you pull the wire takes some effort: you have to pick up this heavy roll and heave it ’round several times. But it pays off with a neat and professional installation.

After the wiring was installed, I needed to energize some circuits so we could continue to live normally (if you call living in a house during a remodel “normal” — I guess it’s the “new normal” for us). Despite my supreme confidence in my ability to install some relatively simple electrical work, I flipped on one of the breakers and there was a loud “pop” (“arcing and sparking” in the trade).

Electrical Boo Boo 2

I thought I smelled something funny. Better find out what happened here!

Turns out that I tightened down the cable clamp too tightly and the clamp cut through the insulation and caused a short.

Electrical Boo Boo 1

Forensic analysis showed that I had tightened down the strain relief so much that it cut through the insulation and caused a short. More is not necessarily better!

I felt pretty bad and embarrassed about that, but later, after doing some additional reading in my electrical “how to” books, I found that these sort of things occasionally happen even for the pros. I guess that’s one way to get experience! At any rate, I had to pull the entire cable and replace it because you’re not allowed to splice or patch an electrical cable. All interconnections must be in electrical boxes that have an opening through the drywall to prevent an electrical short from causing a fire behind the drywall.

Lastly is the data cabling. For my project, I’m running a minimum of 2 cat6e ethernet cables and one RG-6 cable per room, but the the master bedroom and home office, I ran quite a few more. I started with standard electrical boxes, but found that low voltage boxes are easier to work with, so from now on, I’m using those. Because these cables are circular in cross section, there’s no need to be too fussy with the unrolling. However, the installation should still be neat. I found some nice cable organizers that allowed me to create nice data cable runs, which was important as the cabling multiplied as I approached the wiring closet.

Data Lines Annotated

Data cables running through the attic. With a minimum of 2 Ethernet and one coax cable per room, that added up pretty quickly. I put a lot of these in the master bedroom because I wanted the cables for a flat screen TV and a home office.

Wiring Closet

Wiring closet replaces the furnace, which was relocated to the attic. All data cabling from the upstairs is run and neatly bundled (on the right). The loose stuff is the cabling from the living room and garage, which needs to be bundled later when I run the rest of the downstairs cabling.

Finally, I had to install draft stops. The inspector pointed this out to me, so that was something I was unaware of, but once I figured it out, it was pretty easy. Basically, wherever you have a penetration through the sole or top plates of your framing, you need to seal the openings. The best way is to use polyurethane foam that comes in a can. You can get a one-use can with an applicator, but I found that hard to control, so I ponied up for a pro applicator, Worked much better, and I figured I’d be using it for other things.

Draft Stop

Draft stop for the data lines coming into the wiring closet. I also had to accommodate the gas line going up to the furnace, which is now in the attic.

So with the rough work done, it was time to put in one of the true infrastructure “upgrades” that I planned for this remodel: a residential fire sprinkler system. Stay tuned…..

 

Framing The Interior Walls

Now that the exterior part of the addition was complete, it was time to start work on the interior. The plans (that I designed and produced) had an “en-suite”, meaning an adjoining bathroom and other facilities. As a matter of fact, the design reflected my predilection for the “process” of getting ready for the day: do your business, brush your teeth and shave, shower, and then dress. Well, that’s my order. My wife’s order is not the same, so that meant that if we had a scheduling conflict, one could be in private for the “business end”, and the other could take care of the rest. But I digress….

At any rate, I had to construct the framework which meant erecting a wall, and then putting in false ceilings and compartments to define the elements of the space. I had to make the wall that separated the en-suite from the rest of the bedroom, and a couple of smaller walls that separated the toilet area from the shower and dressing areas. These two smaller walls also had to accommodate pocket doors. The framing for these walls was pretty standard (except for the pocket doors — more on that later), but I had to do some detail work to make sure that I had all the correct structural components figured out.

Interior wall construction is similar to exterior wall construction but if it’s a non-load bearing wall, you don’t have the same requirements, meaning that you don’t have to use structural grade lumber, and don’t have to have a bunch of connectors. However, because lumber and drywall are produced to standard dimensions, the rules on top plates, sole plates, and stud spacing generally apply. Other than applying exterior sheathing, the techniques for construction are exactly the same.

Step One: Measure and Mark. The best starting point for wall construction is to lay out the wall on the floor. Professional carpenters do this for all the walls at once because it both speeds the construction process, and  but more importantly, it ensures accuracy and minimizes mistakes because you can see if everything fits together when you transfer all of the plan dimensions to full scale all at once. Not that there were any mistakes in the plans, mind you….(!)

(A) Locate the interior wall from a convenient reference. I used the existing exterior wall and the interior wall end that I had to marry up with.

Tools required for layout. If you’re doing this solo, then you need a handful of finishing nails and a hammer to hold the end of your chalk line (which I have in my belt, but neglected to photograph).

Plan for the wall. I drew this custom from my model. Typically you’ll just have a plan (overhead) view and have to figure out all of the vertical stuff, and I could have probably just done a quick hand drawing, but I’m also the designer, draftsman, and engineer, so I can do it how I want.

Location of sole plate from exterior wall framing.

(B) Check for square. Never assume that any previous work is perfect. Anything you build will have

errors that slowly build up and must be corrected for at each step.

Check marks to make sure they’re square before you snap the chalk lines. This is 63 3/4″ from the exterior wall.

Measure a convenient distance along the exterior wall.

Calculate the hypotenuse of the triangle using the good old Pythagorean Theorem which you learned in middle school (you did, right?).

The moment of truth. Dead on.

Once square is confirmed, locate the other end of the wall out from the reference (exterior wall). Wall baseline measurements in place with nails for holding the chalk line. Marks are also made at the other end of the wall (not shown here).

(C) Snap baselines for the sole plate.

Wall baselines snapped.

(D) Mark the openings and intersecting walls. I needed to mark the entrance to the bathroom and the two intersecting walls that defined the toilet area. I ended up changing where the toilet walls were located to match where the drain was, and also decided to change the door swing to make it more ergonomic. Once you lay things out in full scale, you will find you will need to adjust. The plans are never (exactly) right!

The red marks indicate changing the location of the partition walls to match where the rough plumbing for the toilet came in.

 

I decided to change the door swing to better accommodate ergonomics for entry and exit from the bathroom.

Step Two: Make a kit. Once the lines for the sole plates are marked out with the door openings and intersecting walls, it’s time to start marking out lumber and cutting. The key to framing any wall is to carefully mark out where all of the studs/jacks/cripples will be on the sole plate, and then transfer those marks directly to the top plate. This ensures that the ends of each stud/jack/cripple will be vertically aligned, making the wall relatively easy to square up and put in place.

(A) Cut the plates to size.

16′ lumber ready for marking. I will only use two pieces for the wall plates (sole and top) and the third will be a header for the false ceiling inside the wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Measuring out the length of the sole plate.

I put the measurement on the lumber so I won’t forget!

(B) Transfer the marks from the floor layout to the sole plate.

Sole plate on baselines, ready for marking.

Marking where the header of the toilet enclosure wall will go. The marks are transferred directly from the layout on the floor.

(C) Transfer the marks to the top plate.

Sole plate and top plate clamped up for marking. You want to mark both at the same time for accuracy and efficiency.

Marking cripple studs on top plate. These will be transferred to the door header when framing up.

If you want a 16 oc spacing, you have to offset the first one from the end by 3/4″.

(D) Make a cut list. This is done by methodically going through each mark on your top and bottom plates and figuring out how many studs (vertical pieces of lumber) you need and of what kind. There are four kinds of studs:  Common (or just “studs”), Cripple, Jack, and King. Common studs are what you’ll have the most of. They are the height of the finished wall MINUS the thickness of the sole and top plates. For an interior wall with just one of each, that’s wall height -3″. With a double top plate, it’s wall height – 4-1/2″. In my case, the wall was going to meet the undersides of the trusses, which were angled to form the cathedral ceiling. So I had to use a plumb bob to find where the inside edge of the wall would touch the truss and measure from there.

Plumb bob lining up the edge of the wall to the truss. It’s actually pointing to the wrong line in this picture, (the correct line is the one on the lower right) but you get the idea.

Marking the bottom of the truss.

Mark on bottom of truss directly above the inner edge of the wall (i.e., the face of the wall towards the bathroom). Finish nail is in place to snap a chalk line.

Chalk line snapped on bottom of trusses to align the wall when it’s raised.

Back to the types of studs. Cripple studs are short studs that connect the tops/bottoms of wall openings to the sole or top plates. So, you’ll have a few of these wherever you have a door or window. In this case, I had a door and needed to place cripple studs between the door header and the top plate. Jack and King studs are what form the sides of the wall openings (windows/doors). The jack stud provides vertical support for the header while the king stud sits right next to the jack stud and provides stability to the header. The king stud is the same length as the other “common” studs but has a different name due to its function and location within the framing.

Door framing showing relationships between framing members. The cripple studs go above the header (where the hammer is). Note that the bottom of the door has the sole plate going right across. This will remain until after the wall is lifted and secured in place to make the wall assembly stiffer and easier to lift. It’s a simple matter to cut this out with a handsaw after the wall is up.

Once all of the various studs have been counted (and double counted), I put them into a table called a “cut list” to make sure that I didn’t leave anything out and that I had all of my measurements correct. I also put in the materials for the headers and the 4×4 header supports for the two smaller walls for the toilet area. Take some time to double check your work here because if you make a mistake and cut all your studs 4″ too short, you’ll have a lot of extra firewood and an unexpected trip to Home Depot.

Cut list. Makes it easy to get an assembly line going and helps keep track of where all of your parts are.

Cutting station. I couldn’t get my fancy (and too heavy) miter saw stand up here, so I improvised. Worked great!

All studs, cripples, jack studs, plates and headers stacked and ready to roll!

Step Three: Assemble the kit. This should be the easy part, right? Just separate your top and bottom plates, scatter your studs and arrange your headers and start banging away!

Kit components aligned on the floor, ready for assembly.

Well, not so fast. There are a few subtleties that bear mention when putting this thing together. First and foremost, you need to plan for a logical assembly sequence so that you avoid having to nail components awkwardly, or worse, have to disassemble a part because you couldn’t get to it. For this wall, I made several sub-assemblies so that I could accurately nail them together without interference from adjoining components. These sub-assemblies included the header, jack and king studs for the door, and header supports for the two walls separating the toilet area.

King and jack studs for door are pre-assembled. It’s a lot easier to face nail these two together when sitting flat then it is to try to bang it together when on its side and you have a floor and other studs to deal with.

Door framing subassembly with header, king, and jack studs. Also a partial assembly for the toilet wall header support (the one with the 4×4). I only nailed one king stud so that I could easily slide the header onto the support once the wall was up. I would then be able to nail the second king stud in place on the other side. This is a good example of thinking several steps ahead to avoid unpleasant problems in the future.

A good place to start is at one of the corners. I started with the sole plate.

Sole plate complete.

The other issue that you have to deal with are imperfections, both with your materials for the wall and the surrounding structures where the wall will go. Wood is rarely perfect. Some lumber can be badly warped. In some cases, you can take the worst pieces and use those for cutoffs, like cripple studs, where the warp won’t matter as much. Also, you can use warped lumber for the inner studs, where it doesn’t matter very much. Save your straightest pieces for the ends and the door framing, where that alignment matters most. You can also use leverage and beaters (sledgehammers) to “persuade” recalcitrant pieces of lumber into place.

Because of variations in the height of the floor (long story) I needed to put shims underneath some of the studs so they would be aligned with the plates.

Using a “cheater bar” to untwist lumber for nailing. I attached a 2×4 to the inside of the stud and then pulled like hell while I nailed the end to the top plate. I then removed the cheater bar.

Securing the top plate.

Wall complete and ready to raise!

Step 4: Raise the wall. Now it was finally time to raise the wall. Because it was inside the structure, I couldn’t use the wall jacks that I used for the exterior walls because the lumber used for the jacks would not fit under the ceiling. So I had to do this the “old fashioned” way with some helpers. The interior wall framing is lighter because it has no sheathing, and is also “flexible” meaning that I did not bother to perfectly square it up before I raised it. This is because it was going to fit between the floor below, lower truss chords above, and abut against an adjacent wall. So long as I had marks on the floor for the sole plate and marks on the truss chords for the top plate, and these two were plumb to each other, I could be reasonably certain that the wall would be plumb and in alignment with the rest of the framing.

Wall raised and in place.

Because the main wall intersected the slope of the cathedral ceiling, I had to make a few accommodations. Specifically I had to install blocking on the top plate between the trusses to lock in the top of the wall. See the following picture of the false ceiling.

Step 5: Finish the interior details: Lastly, I had to construct a false ceiling on the other side of the wall and add a couple of partitions. Since I wanted the toilet to be separate and isolated when necessary, I had to put in walls that accommodated pocket doors. Pocket doors require an entirely different framing system. There are many types of systems that use basic materials to do the framing, but from a DIY standpoint, I found it more expedient to just buy a kit. The instructions were pretty straightforward, and as long as you’re accurate with the measurements, it’s largely foolproof.

False ceiling assembly detail showing the header and the false ceiling cross members.

Hangers for pocket doors installed. The headers for the doors will rest on these and when the door kits are installed, these will form the walls for the toilet area.

Pocket door headers installed.

Pocket Door Kit Instructions. This is the easiest solution.

Pocket door installed. I couldn’t find a picture of the framework (!)

The last thing I did was to cut out that piece of sole plate that was interfering with the door. If you recall, I constructed the wall with a continuous sole plate to help hold it together when the wall was raised. Now that the wall framework was finished, it was time to clean up that little detail.

Door opening with sole plate in place. I’m going to take care of that presently.

Sole plate is now cut for the door opening.

Now that the interior framing is in place, it’s time to proceed to the next step: rough plumbing, electrical, and data lines.

By The Numbers — Installing My House Numbers

Now that the garage door was up, I was in the mood to finish off the outside, and one of the last pieces of finish work was putting up the house numbers. Our house had been “numberless” for over a year, and it was high time to give it back some dignity.

As always, I decided to put some thought into this project because I felt that your house numbers are the first thing a person will look for when visiting. So if they’re placed so they’re difficult to read, or if they are installed crooked, or if they aren’t in balance, they really can detract from the curbside appearance. On the other hand, if they are tasteful and good looking, they really can be a very nice architectural detail instead of just being some “requirement”.

I initially did some online shopping with the big box stores (Home Depot and Lowe’s) and they had the standard ho-hum selections, so I started poking around and found some really classy numbers from a mom-and-pop outfit in Phoenix, AZ. They are called Modern House Numbers (http://www.modernhousenumbers.com) and I thought that they had not only very elegant designs, but also a quite superior product. Their numbers are made of solid CNC aluminum, are powder coated in appropriate colors, and they have a very interesting mounting system that uses little posts to offset the numbers from the wall surface, giving the numbers a 3D appearance. Yes, they cost some money, but hey, this is my house and my remodel. Plus I felt that the house needed something special after being numberless for a year.

Mounting these numbers wasn’t particularly difficult, but I did have to pay attention to a few things. The instructions were OK, but I created a video which really breaks down the process in detail. It also has some tips about performing the individual tasks such as dealing with epoxy and drilling holes in stucco. You’ll find the video on my YouTube channel and right here:

The critical steps in mounting these kind of house numbers are as follows:

Locate them properly. Although Modern House Numbers provides you with a template, you still have to put it in the right place so it is easily seen from the street and is consonant with the architecture of the house. No need to get obsessed with the placement, but consider a number of options and choose what looks “right” to you. If you don’t have a template, then my recommendation is to put your numbers on a sheet of paper in the orientation that you want and MAKE a template. All you have to do is mark where the screws go. Eyeballing the alignment and spacing while standing on a ladder is just faking it and will result in a hack job.

Placing the template is the first crucial step.

Drill the holes. For these numbers, you’ll need to drill a certain depth because of the posts that offset the numbers from the mounting surface. If you’re just using numbers that are directly screwed to the wall, then just mark the locations according to your template and either drill pilot holes (for wood) or holes appropriate for your mounting surface. If mounting in stucco, then try to use screws designed for stucco. You may have to paint the heads to match the numbers. The other option for masonry walls (e.g., stucco or brick) is to use masonry anchors. These require a little more work, but you still have to locate the holes correctly so the numbers will be in alignment.

Drilling the mounting holes using the template.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dry fitting the numbers is very important. You don’t want to find out you didn’t drill deep enough with epoxy running all over the place!

Apply the epoxy. Disregard this step if you’re mounting the numbers directly to the wall. Epoxy is a miracle glue. It sticks to almost everything, is gap filling (meaning that if your hole is too big, it will fill in the gaps), and is waterproof. People who make high-end wooden boats use this stuff throughout, and it is amazing what can be accomplished with a fiberglass reinforced epoxy topcoat. The fiberglass disappears and you can see the beauty of the wood underneath and still have an incredibly strong and abrasion resistant surface. You can also see all the imperfections, which is why these creations are truly artisan. But I digress… The important thing to remember about epoxy is that the advantages can become disadvantages. Remember how it sticks to everything? Well, that’s EVERYTHING. So, if you don’t wear nitrile gloves, you will be scraping dried epoxy off your fingers for 2 weeks. (I know this from personal experience.) If you get it on something you don’t want it to get on, then it will be almost impossible to remove. You need to seriously think about how you will handle the goop so it doesn’t drip where you don’t want it, and protect the surrounding area from the drips that inevitably do happen.

Putting the epoxy on the posts. Not too much time to waste as I only have 5 minutes to get all the numbers mounted!

The other thing worth mentioning about epoxy is working time. Your have several choices, ranging from short (5 min), to long (hours). For a job like this, you probably want a short working time because if you do the preparation and pre-fitting correctly ahead of time, you shouldn’t need a lot of time to do the final assembly. For this project, I used 5 minute epoxy and did the installation in two steps: mounting the posts to the numbers, and then mounting the number-post assemblies to the wall. The video shows the details.

The final step is to set the epoxy-laden pins into the holes in the stucco to set the number.

House numbers all done. Looks good!

The finished product looks really nice. As always, there were a few boo-boos, but remember the craftsman’s axiom: The difference between an experienced and inexperienced craftsman is the experience one has in hiding mistakes.

A New Garage Door

I had been thinking that installing the garage door would be one of the last things on my list because I didn’t want to have to put drywall in and around all of the various hangers and fixtures that are a necessary part of the installation. However, putting in the door now would help finish off the exterior, and let’s face it, the old garage door was looking especially sad in the context of all of the other new work. Another reason was that the door was a swing-out slab, and when it was open, the bottom stuck out and was a head-strike hazard because of the way I changed my sidewalk. So, it was really time for it to go.

One last look at the old garage door. It lasted a long time, but it needed a reboot.

One of the main reasons that I wanted to replace the old garage door is that it sticks out when opened and you can hit your head if you’re not careful. I discovered this the hard way…

See?

I discussed this possibility with one of my co-workers (who also happens to help me when I need an extra pair of hands), and he told me that garage door installation was pretty straightforward. He had done several, but also cautioned that you needed two people to put the sections in place. Plus, he said he would help me out when the time came. I was sold.

Putting in a new garage door and opener is well within the capability of the DIY’er who has a reasonable amount of experience. Having said that, you really need to respect the loads and forces that will be involved. That means that you need to do your homework and read the installation instructions and watch a few YouTube videos on how to do the installation. It’s also important to understand how the entire contraption works, which parts do what, and why you are assembling them in a certain way and sequence.

Back to the job at hand. I got online and found a few places that deliver made-to-order garage door “kits”. It turns out that you can get these same garage doors from dealers and installers as well as big box stores (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco). Two of the popular manufactures are Clopay and Amarr. I chose Amarr because I liked the available styles and options. There was a 3-4 week lead time for delivery, so I placed the order and began scheming and plotting the installation. This included downloading and careful study of the installation instructions.

Read the instructions! Note that I’ve highlighted the specific sections that were applicable to my installation.

The day came for delivery and I took the entire day off because my plan was to do as much preparation work as I could before my helper came the next day. I started by cleaning up the garage (seems as that’s a constant task), and then installing some additional framing around the door opening (or “jamb”). This framing is important because you’ll be attaching the tracks and the torsion spring to it, so it needs to be very solid and securely fastened to the rest of the framing. I also took the time to furr out some of the door header and pre-install sheetrock so I wouldn’t have work around the garage door parts later.

First thing is to clean up the garage so I’ll have an area to work in.

Here is the new framing for the jamb. This framing needs to be sturdy because it will be taking a lot of force from the door tracks and springs.

This is the torsion pad. It needs to be securely fastened to the header. I used 4-1/2″ Simpson structural wood screws (SDS). They are easier than lag bolts because to install because you don’t have to pre-drill a pilot hole. Plus they’re stronger.

I put the sheetrock up behind where the torsion rod and spring would go to make finishing the garage easier later.

My delivery truck. This truck had about 8 other doors kits for delivery to other homes. I guess I was in good company today.

The garage door parts all delivered. The door sections are on the right and there is a big cardboard box on the lower left stuffed full of hardware.

Next was the assembly of the hardware onto the individual door panels. Each panel is 16′ long by 21″ high. They’re pretty unwieldy, but one can move them around if you get in the middle and move slowly. These were much easier to handle than 20′ 2×12’s that I had to tug about when I was fixing my bedroom joists. The time I spent in reviewing the instructions paid off here because I was able to quickly recognize which part was what and where it went. That’s important when you’re staring at a box of about 300 parts and you need to sort them out.

It turns out that installation instructions are sometimes only so good. In this case, I had to install “struts” which are basically longitudinal reinforcements on each door panel. It was not clear from the instructions how to line up all of the holes, and, indeed, it seemed that several holes were not lining up at all. After about 30 minutes of head scratching and going to the computer to get a magnified view of the plans (thanks to PDF), I was able to figure out how it all went together and that I simply needed to drill some holes where they “should” have been. Bottom line is that sometimes you need to be a little smarter than the instructions.

Door panels with hardware installed. They are stacked in in order so we can just flip them up and put them on top of one another.

The next day, my helper came and we pulled down the old door, reconfigured the side jambs for the new door, and then commenced installation. We got the panels in place, and then I spent the entire next day putting up the tracks, installing the torsion spring and lifting mechanism, and installing the opener.

Here is my colleague from work who is a very reliable helper. I couldn’t have done this project without him.

Track hanger installed. I needed to do some adjustments later when I pulled up the door.

This is the torsion spring. The winder is in the middle. It’s a really nice setup because you just chuck in a 3/8″ socket to your electric drill and go to town. Winding the springs was essentially effortless.

I won’t go through all of the details because there are many videos and how-to’s which show the process much better than I was able to document. However, I do have a few suggestions:

Take advantage of the fact that the hardware is designed to be adjustable. You will likely have to accommodate some degree of error in your door opening and floor in order to get the door plumb and square. The door can also operate with a certain amount of tolerance, so things don’t have to be super exact. But you want to do a good job, yes? So get things as close as you can. I had to tweak things several times after the installation was complete as I noticed that this or that didn’t align just right. Every time I made an adjustment, the door operated that much smoother.

Use SDS screws in place of lag bolts if that hardware is not provided with the door. Examples include attachment of the spring pad and the rear track support hangers. SDS screws don’t require pre-drilling and are actually stronger.

Cut the top of the diagonal back hanger support at an angle so it fits flush against the drywall.

Cut the end of your track hanger brace so it lies flat on the bottom of the ceiling.

Track hanger brace installed. See how the top of the angle lies flat against the sheetrock? Believe me, you won’t be able to get the holes to line up if you don’t cut off that little piece.

The door was misaligned a bit when I first operated it. I didn’t notice at first and ended up damaging the door seal on the right side. NBD, that’s something that’s easy to replace.

Take the time to do a neat and professional installation. This includes running the wires for the opener neatly, and hidden if you can. I mounted my opener button to an electrical box and ran all the wires where the would be hidden by sheetrock (eventually). These details caused me to run our of bell wire and bell wire staples (the opener didn’t come with enough material), but the effort was worth it. Don’t forget the safety stickers!

Door operating switch. I mounted this to an electrical box so the installation is clean after the sheetrock is in place.

When I do a job, I want others to think that a professional did it. Installing the safety stickers is something that the pros do (or should do).

I always sign my work. It’s a nice personal touch.

My opener is really slick (Liftmaster 8500). If you have a garage door with a torsion spring, this is the opener you want. Every door on the delivery truck had a corresponding Liftmaster 8500, so that’s what the pros are using.

The opener mechanism is very compact and operates the door through the torsion bar. This design eliminates the bulky motor and bar in the middle of the garage ceiling. If you get a new garage door installed by a pro. it will likely come with one of these.

The opener comes with an electric door lock. The bolt sticks through the track and prevents the roller from moving past it.

Pay attention to how you install the light beam transmitter and receiver. Make sure you place the receiver on the opposite side of where the sun shines. If you install the receiver on the side which receives direct sunlight, as mine does in the late afternoon, then the sun will blind the receiver and the door won’t work. The receiver is the device that has what looks like a big glass eyeball. I thought it was the other way around until I installed it incorrectly and realized my mistake.

This is the sender for the “light” beam that is a part of the door’s safety mechanism. It emits infrared light so you don’t see it. The amber LED shows that it’s on. This is located on the side of the door that gets sun in the late afternoon.

This is the light beam receiver. It has a green LED and if it is lit, that means that the light beam circuit is working properly and that the door will operate (or if it doesn’t, then that’s not the problem). I found that the light beam is usually the cause of a door operating problem.

Here is a video that summarizes how I did the installation:

A DIY Take On Garage Door Installation

The house exterior is almost done! The inside is another story……

Lookin’ good! I’m getting lots of compliments from my neighbors.

The General Part 4: HVAC and Painting

It’s been awhile since I’ve put in an entry, and there’s really no excuse other than the holidays, a vacation, and not making enough time for it. So, the next few entries will be to catch up a bit and get back into the flow of regular blogging.

Since the last entry, I’ve completed all of the contracting work, and if you look at my bank account, you can tell. Going into this project, I knew that the contract work would be the largest overall expense, especially when you’re talking about new windows, a new roof, re-stucco, exterior paint, and a brand new HVAC system. The HVAC system cost quite a bit, but believe it or not, less than the stucco. Be that as it may, these are simply jobs that a DIY’er cannot accomplish. Either they require a crew, as is the case of the HVAC system or most anything that has to do with stucco or concrete, or is just too tedious and inefficient to do by yourself, such as roofing and exterior painting. Plus, I had enough experience dealing with heights, so that was enough of that.

The HVAC installation was fairly smooth. Once I settled on a contractor and a date, they came in, took all of the old stuff out, installed the mechanicals in the attic, and then ran all of the ducting. There are plusses and minuses to putting the HVAC mechanicals in the attic, but for me, the plus of getting the mechanicals out of the garage and simplifying the ductwork outweighed the noise factor (the system is super quiet to begin with) and the minor loss of efficiency by having the mechanicals in a hot attic. I think the fact that I have a cool roof and excellent attic ventilation will significantly reduce that concern.

Here are some pictures:

The new HVAC system involved a lot of ductwork. I ended up with a 3 zone system. Upstairs, downstairs, and MBR. Yes, my MBR is going to be the ultimate retreat and I wanted everything to be the best.

More demolition to make way for the HVAC system. The fun never stops!

HVAC folks working in the attic to put the system in place. The attic is a tough place to work in, so I’m glad they’re doing this instead of me.

The lead installer getting the mechanicals in order. They had to build a support framework in order to place the furnace, air handler, and cooler. Fortunately, the manufacturer (Carrier) makes these units so they can be installed horizontally, which works great in an attic configuration.

One of the HVAC installers, proudly standing by my new condenser. Having A/C put in was a major objective of my remodeling project.

The leftovers of the chimney of the old furnace. Ideally, I would have installed the HVAC system before I had the roof finished, and this would have precluded this extra “stack” but that’s not the way things worked out. Maybe I'[ll get this removed when I do solar (in some future lifetime).

One thing that I had to take care of by myself was to hook in the condensate drain into the house drainage system. Not too big of a deal, but the installer talked me into it, and I didn’t say no. Perhaps it was better because I know I did it right.

SOME of the HVAC system was DIY. In particular, I needed to construct ventilation ducts for my MBATH fan. Since I will have to do that for the other bathrooms, the laundry room, and the kitchen, I decided to invest some time in educating myself in the proper techniques and investing in a few tools to make the job turn our pro.

This shows a special crimper that is used to make a cut-off in ducting into a fitting that can be properly inserted into the next ductwork section.

Here is the MBATH vent going out.

 

Lastly, the painters came along and finished all of the trim work and exposed woodwork. This really made the place look nice and everything started to look finished from the outside. I got (and still am getting) a lot of positive comments from my neighbors.

Here are some pictures:

Painter working detail on my trellis. This was very difficult work and he took two days doing it. The results were magnificent!

One of the painters working the detail of the gable vent. Notice how he is up high on a ladder. Better him than me!

I decided to paint a light color underneath the patio cover. This is reminiscent of how porch covers are painted in the South. Bringing in these Southern elements no only pleases Stella, but also lightens up an otherwise dark space. Those Southerners certainly know their onions!

My side yard painted nicely. I had left this unfinished and it really was beginning to look shabby. I knew I needed to paint it, and I’m glad I finally had it done.

The paint match with the stucco is perfect! See how the otherwise gray electric panel now simply melts into the rest of the structure? Same with the gas line. Professional painters are masters at color matching, which is another reason that hiring a professional painter is well worth the expense.

Wonderful picture of the project after painting. This is really looking nice!

In fact, I got a letter from the my homeowners association asking when my storage container was going to be moved. Unfortunately, I had to explain that while the outside of the house looked great, the inside was a total disaster and I had at least another year of work before I was finished.

Since the time the contractor work was complete, I finished off some plumbing and electrical work for the Master Bedroom and got an inspection. I was going to write up some of the details of the electrical and plumbing, but decided to wait until I did another round of it as I have several other rooms to renovate.

More to follow soon!!

The General Part 3: How To Evaluate A Bid and Award a Contract

One of the skills that a general contractor needs to have is to properly evaluate a bid. Besides getting a fair price, there are many other considerations that make the difference between a great job and a not-so-great job, and its helpful to have some knowledge about the bid and award process to make a good choice. Fortunately, I have extensive experience in the bid and award process from my day job as a Government contractor. And, because Government contracts typically involve tens of millions of dollars and up, the stakes are understandably much higher. Therefore the methods used to bid and make an award decision under these circumstances are pretty involved and detailed. Having said that, these methods for solicitation, evaluation, and award of large contracts can be suitably scaled down when you’re talking about a few thousand dollars. So, here are some pithy axioms of the bid and award process that I feel are distilled down to the essence so that you can make a good decision. It may be “only” a few thousand dollars, but hey, that’s a lot of money when it’s mine!

All the bids are in. Time to get to work!

All the bids are in. Time to get to work!

First: Assumptions. We start the process with the facts that (a) you’re ready and committed to get the job done and (b) you have the necessary funding to start now. It’s just not fair to take people’s time and have them out for a “free” estimate when you’re not ready to commit.

Second: Become knowledgeable about what you really want and have an idea of work that is going to involved. You don’t have to be an expert, but the better prepared you are explain what you want to the bidders, the better bids you’re going to get. (Government equivalent: Request For Proposal (RFP) or Request For Information (RFI)). For my painting bid, I’ve done some painting before, so I knew that you have to mask and prime before you paint, and that different substrates (metal, wood, previously painted) would need a different primer. I also went around the house to make specific note of what I wanted painted and what color scheme I wanted.

Third: Choose your bidders and schedule appointments. You want to first figure out who is most likely going to provide the best product and service. Nowadays, the Internet has an amazing amount of resources for you to pre-qualify your bidders. Angie’s List, Yelp, and Home Advisor are some examples of these services. Personally, I use Angie’s list because I can read through the reviews and do a little bit of analysis on how the individual contractors perform on an ongoing basis. The things that I look at are the number of ratings and the distribution of the ratings. If there is one rating that is low, I don’t necessarily take a lot of stock in it because there are people who are perpetually dissatisfied, no matter what. But, if there is a trend of dissatisfied customers, then I typically steer clear. (Government equivalent: Market research). For the painting job, I found three contractors with good ratings on Angie’s list, and I had recommendations from a couple of other subcontractors for a total of five.

A search for painters on Angie's list. I look at the rating and also the number of ratings that they have because more ratings means that you're getting a representative sample of their work. I also go to the company websites to check them out as well. They usually have pictures of their work.

A search for painters on Angie’s list. I look at the rating and also the number of ratings that they have because more ratings means that you’re getting a representative sample of their work. I also go to the company websites to check them out as well. They usually have pictures of their work.

Angie's list gives a really good breakdown of the ratings. I especially like the statistics which show, graphically, the level of customer satisfaction. I never consider bad ratings if they are statistically insignificant (as shown in this example) because you can't please everybody.

Angie’s list gives a really good breakdown of the ratings. I especially like the statistics which show, graphically, the level of customer satisfaction. I never consider bad ratings if they are statistically insignificant (as shown in this example) because you can’t please everybody.

Fourth: Always get multiple bids and be open to options. This has several advantages. (1) You get a chance to see what the job will cost and you’ll get a range for comparison (Government equivalent: price realism). (2) You get a chance to meet with the bidders and, if you apply your knowledge of what you want done (first step), you can engage the bidders and learn more about the options. While you may have something definite in mind, these folks are professionals who have been doing this and know the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches. If you keep your ears and mind open, you will learn a lot. You will also get more information to help you make a better informed award decision.

Fifth: Get the bids and do the evaluation. When doing the evaluation, you need some sort of strategy and ways of comparing apples to apples. (Government equivalent: Evaluation strategy/plan).  Be aware that price is not always the determining factor. Yes. price does have a lot to do with it, but you have to take into account the quality of the product and service, and have some confidence that the contractor is going to perform as expected. So besides price, here’s what I consider: (1) Timeliness. Was the bidder on time and did the bidder respect my time? If not, then maybe the bidder has time management issues and you can expect delays in your project. (2) Did the bidder listen to me? Did the bid come back with what we talked about, or was I being upsold into something? If the bidder did not listen carefully, then the job may not be completed to your expectations. (3) Did the bidder actively engage with me and provide helpful suggestions and recommendations, or was the bidder just taking notes and going to do what I said I wanted, even if what I wanted was not optimum? I certainly do not want a rubber stamp on my ideas and I want my contractors to provide value with their experience. (4) Was the bid in writing and was it accurate and complete? If the bid is meticulous and well written, that is a good sign of attention to detail and the quality of the work and the customer service you can expect. (5) Are you comparing apples to apples? Did the bids address different things, and how do you normalize them? You don’t want to pay a premium for something you don’t think is important, but you don’t want to waste money on a job that will fall short of your needs and expectations. For my painting example, I had to subtract the cost the bid of installing a garage side door from another competing bid. When I decided to replace the door myself, I had to add back in the cost of the door replacement materials to the both the first and second bidders.

This can get complicated, so it can be helpful to develop a table that lists the price options, features and benefits, and drawbacks and risks so that you can see the entire picture. I prefer a spreadsheet, but realistically a notepad and a pencil will do just fine (although I like the way the spreadsheet adds up things without mistakes).

 

Worksheet for comparing bids. Pricing can be tricky so the best way is to compare features and benefits against drawbacks to get the complete picture.

Worksheet for comparing bids. Pricing can be tricky so the best way is to compare features and benefits against drawbacks to get the complete picture.

Bottom line is that you need to understand what you’re getting for your money and have a way of comparing the options to what’s important to you. Once again, price may NOT be the most important factor!

Sixth: Award the contract. Once you make a decision, immediately contact each of the bidders to let them know their situation. I personally like e-mail, but any medium is good, so long as it’s timely. You need to respect the time of the bidders, especially those who did not win, because they have to keep moving on to generate other business, and they spent their valuable time with you, so they deserve to know. The winner, of course, will be happy, but now you both have to start working together to get the job scheduled and completed. No time like the present!

The General Part Two: Roofing.

Now that the stucco was complete, the roofers were next, but they were coming first thing the next week. The stucco folks had to remove the scaffolding, and we had it planned for a Saturday, but the scaffold guys were behind on another project and they had to delay. They promised they would come out on Monday to finish. Sure enough, when Monday rolled around, I had roofing guys having to work around the scaffolding guys to strip the roof. As the general contractor, I had to get this deconflicted in a hurry, so told the scaffolding folks to push the scaffolding back so the waste truck could park and then everybody was happy. The scaffolding guys came by the next day, removed the scaffolding from the front, clearing the way for the roof loader to load the shingles, and then they went about taking everything else down while the roofers worked on top. My experience in managing construction and maintenance in a shipyard on a submarine paid off in this case. (Actually, it was quite simple in comparison.)

Stripping the roof. These guys have this special truck which allows them to throw the junk directly from the top of the roof, making it much easier to clean up later. That process did not, however, work for the back of the house and the workers had to lug around a bunch of old roofing material around the yet-to-be-taken-down scaffolding by hand.

Stripping the roof. These guys have this special truck which allows them to throw the junk directly from the top of the roof, making it much easier to clean up later. That process did not, however, work for the back of the house and the workers had to lug around a bunch of old roofing material around the yet-to-be-taken-down scaffolding by hand.

After the old roofing material is torn off, the next thing that the roofers do is to waterproof with the roofing underlayment. Although not usually a problem here in Southern California, the reason that this is carefully coordinated is because if the home is left without at least a minimum amount of waterproofing after the roof is stripped, than any amount of precipitation will likely cause significant water damage. So the contractor usually plans on stripping the roof and waterproofing the same day in order to minimize his liability in case of rain.

After the old roofing material is torn off, the next thing that the roofers do is to waterproof with the roofing underlayment. Although not usually a problem here in Southern California, the reason that this is carefully coordinated is because if the home is left without at least a minimum amount of waterproofing after the roof is stripped, than any amount of precipitation will likely cause significant water damage. So the contractor usually plans on stripping the roof and waterproofing the same day in order to minimize his liability in case of rain.

Loading the roof. The shingles come in packages of 33 square feet each (1/3 of a

Loading the roof. The shingles come in packages of 33 square feet each (1/3 of a “square”, which in the roofing business translates to 100 sq. ft.). This portable conveyor belt is indispensable in getting these heavy hogs on top of the roof.

Roofing was proceeding apace, and the roofers had to replace some of the fascia boards. I was looking around and then thought about the back of the roof, which had no fascia board (none of the houses in the neighborhood to — a bunch of cheapskate builders!). The roofing company owner came around to look at the job and then explained to me that the wholesaler had run short of the shingles we were using, and they were going to have to stop the work until the following week. We then started discussing the missing fascia, and we agreed it was a good idea to put new fascia on. So, I was back in the carpentry business, with a deadline of Monday to get some new fascia boards up. Fortunately, I enlisted the help of my work crew (my generous co-workers), and we had it up in good fashion. I also took the opportunity to rip off the old patio cover roof and put up a proper deck with 5/8″ T1-11 siding facing upside down to make a nice pattern on the “ceiling”. I had to do this job anyway, but I figured it may as well be now so that the painter can come in, finish the exterior trim/fascia/vents, and then my roofing guy can come back and put in a proper low-slope roof and gutters.

The first shingles are up!

The first shingles are up!

Shingles are going up. The color of the roof was much lighter than I expected, but the color matched very well with the new stucco color. Having said that, we're going to have to reconsider the color scheme for the trim painting.

Shingles are going up. The color of the roof was much lighter than I expected, but the color matched very well with the new stucco color. Having said that, we’re going to have to reconsider the color scheme for the trim painting. This is where work essentially stopped because the workers ran out of shingles.

My own roofing project. I had to rip off the whole sheathing and roof assembly because it was all rotten.

My own roofing project. I had to rip off the whole sheathing and roof assembly because it was all rotten.

The detritus of my own roofing project. I'll get rid of it eventually....

The detritus of my own roofing project. I’ll get rid of it eventually….

The boss has a look. See how hard I'm working?

The boss has a look. See how hard I’m working?

My roofing contractor recommended that I use T1-11 siding for my patio roof sheathing. The idea is that you put it on upside down, and it instantly makes a nice overhead pattern for a minimal extra cost. Looks WAY better than CDX plywood! Truly a great recommendation.

My roofing contractor recommended that I use T1-11 siding for my patio roof sheathing. The idea is that you put it on upside down, and it instantly makes a nice overhead pattern for a minimal extra cost. Looks WAY better than CDX plywood! Truly a great recommendation.

The roofers came back but again they had a supplier delay. This time it was the ridge caps. So, a 4 day job ended up taking 2 weeks. Quite honestly, I’m not the least bit bothered by that, especially since the delays gave me some time to respond to emergent work (back fascia boards) and replace the roof on my patio cover, which I knew I need to do. All’s well that ends well!

House with new roof -- well, almost. The supplier did not order the ridge caps so we had to wait another week to finish the job. This stuff happens all the time, so you need to know how to accommodate if you're the general contractor.

House with new roof — well, almost. The supplier did not order the ridge caps so we had to wait another week to finish the job. This stuff happens all the time, so you need to know how to accommodate if you’re the general contractor.

New roof with ridge caps. Really looks nice and we're getting a lot of compliments.

New roof with ridge caps. Really looks nice and we’re getting a lot of compliments.

The back of the house looks nice. This shows the improved roof vents, as well as the new fascia on the main roof and my new patio roof structure. The patio roof will be covered with a special

The back of the house looks nice. This shows the improved roof vents, as well as the new fascia on the main roof and my new patio roof structure. The patio roof will be covered with a special “low slope” roofing system after the trim and fascia boards are painted.

The next thing I have to do is to schedule the painters, get the roofers back for the patio roof and gutters, and get the HVAC replacement done. I’d like to get it done in the month of December, and I think that so long as the painters finish on time, I should be good from a schedule standpoint. We’ll see….