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….

The General: Getting Other Trades Involved and How To Be A General Contractor Part One: Stucco.

With the project sufficiently mature, the time has come to involve other trades for work that I was not going to do by myself. I had to get a new roof put on, get the stucco put up, paint the exterior trim, and get a new HVAC system installed. I had planned all along to contract these jobs out because there really are limits to what even a pro can do by themselves (and I’m just a lowly, but enthusiastic, DIY’er). Finally, I could relax a bit and have someone else do the hard work, right? Well, not so fast….

It turns out that when you start to bring other trades in, you have to work as your own general contractor. That means coordinating schedules, materials, inspections and the like. Fortunately for me, I have a lot of experience in coordinating projects, so this one was really not so tough from a management perspective. However, I had to hustle to make sure that I did my part of the job and get truly ready for the next steps. The one thing that you have to understand are the dependencies that the jobs have on one another.

We start with the stucco. I had to coordinate the stucco and the roofing because, on my home, there was some interrelated work. I had to contract with a roofing company and get on their schedule, and they had to come out and do some preliminary roofing work before the stucco contractor could start. The stucco contractor then had to agree that he could finish the work before the roofing folks came in. But it turns out that some other trades were involved, and because I was covering those, I had to get back to work! For example, I had to finish rough electrical work around the living room and porch because they would be inaccessible after the stucco was up. So I had to DO the work, then schedule an inspection to get it signed off, then finish installing the plywood substrate and all of the other electrical penetrations. I also had to install bases for the new exhaust vents (dryer and ventilation fans) before the lath was put on. Even so, I forgot the doorbell and the intercom penetrations. I’ll just have to compensate later.

Getting ready to cover this area with plywood. I had to tear it all apart to get the porch roof beam installed, and as long as it was uncovered, I took the opportunity to fix up the wiring and add new coaxial and ethernet cabling.

Getting ready to cover this area with plywood. I had to tear it all apart to get the porch roof beam installed, and as long as it was uncovered, I took the opportunity to fix up the wiring and add new coaxial and ethernet cabling. I also had to get this inspected and all buttoned up before the stucco lath folks showed up. I had to hustle!

Insulation installed prior to lathing. This is R-19 underneath where the master bedroom floor cantilevers out by about 12 inches.

Insulation installed prior to lathing. This is R-19 underneath where the master bedroom floor cantilevers out by about 12 inches.

Nice lath job around the front door.

I also had to install all of the electrical fixtures (see the little yellow wire) and get a new front security door before the lath started. That’s because there was not enough clearance to remove and replace the old door without damaging the stucco. More unexpected work!

So, I finally got to the point where the lathing could take place, but I had one problem: I needed to remove the old electrical panel, and in order to do that I had to get the electrical service transferred. I worked with my stucco guy and we worked out a plan where I would get the electrical service transferred first thing on a Friday, then rip out the old box and have the lather come in and finish the area around the old electric box. Then the inspector would come later in the day. Unfortunately, the guy who was supposed to come to finish the job didn’t show, and the stucco contractor had to get a substitute who (a) came too late, so the inspection was called off and (b) was not a lath specialist, so he missed a few things. Fortunately, my stucco contractor and I came up with a plan “B” and he had somebody come out the following Monday to make sure everything was right, and then we got the lath inspection completed on Tuesday.

Utility workers pulling new electrical cables through the conduit that I installed almost 2 years ago. These guys are working on live lines, but are extremely careful to only work with one at a time. and they know how to do it safely. I'm way to chicken to ever do this.

Utility workers pulling new electrical cables through the conduit that I installed almost 2 years ago. These guys are working on live lines, but are extremely careful to only work with one at a time. and they know how to do it safely. I’m way to chicken to ever do this.

New meter installed. Actually, it's really just the existing meter taken out of the old panel and installed in the new main panel. Still, it's my nwe electrical work which has been given life!

New meter installed. Actually, it’s really just the existing meter taken out of the old panel and installed in the new main panel. Still, it’s my new electrical work which has been given life!

My old electric meter is now out, but we only have a few hours before the inspector comes to inspect the lath. I'm not feeling good about this...

My old electric meter is now out, but we only have a few hours before the inspector comes to inspect the lath. I’m not feeling good about this…

Temporary electrical hookup. I needed to install a working electrical system so I just ran new wires to the existing wiring and secured it. with tie wraps. It's neat, and it's exposed so I can monitor it, But definitely will need a total replacement. The good news was that everything worked when I turned it on the first time!

Temporary electrical hookup. I needed to install a working electrical system so I just ran new wires to the existing wiring and secured it. with tie wraps. It’s neat, and it’s exposed so I can monitor it, But definitely will need a total replacement. The good news was that everything worked when I turned it on the first time!

This little experience highlights something that I have found important as a project manager: A good project manager knows how to anticipate problems and avoid them, but also knows how to accommodate when unforeseen problems occur. I knew that scheduling a bunch of things to happen in a certain sequence that Friday had inherent risk. The electrical switchover had to go just right and be timely, the stucco guy had to come early enough and finish, and the inspector had to come late enough to give the lather enough time. So, things didn’t work out, but it was worth the try to maintain schedule. The good news was that I was done with all of the work that I was personally responsible for, so now, I’m not in the way. Nothing makes me more productive than the last minute!

The stucco work commences first with the scaffolding. This Sam the scaffold man. His work is solid and so much better than the tower scaffold that I had to endure working on during the construction of the addition.

The stucco work commences first with the scaffolding. This Sam the scaffold man. His work is solid and so much better than the tower scaffold that I had to endure working on during the construction of the addition.

Scaffolding all ready to go to start work!

Scaffolding all ready to go to start work!

Removing some of the old stucco in front. We just had to get rid of all of that

Removing some of the old stucco in front. We just had to get rid of all of that “chunky monkey” look that was popular when these houses were built. It’s not popular anymore.

Lath installed where I will get the new stucco. The rest of the house will be color coated only, but the combined effect will be like getting a brand new stucco finish.

Lath installed where I will get the new stucco. The rest of the house will be color coated only, but the combined effect will be like getting a brand new stucco finish.

The next day, the stucco guys came in and started the “scratch” coat, which is the first part of a 3 part stucco siding. It is designed to cling to the lath and help tie in the rest of the stucco. It is called the “scratch” coat because the finish is “scratched” to provide a good bond for the rest of the stucco. The following day, they came in and did the “brown” coat. This is the coat that gets close to the final depth of the siding, and is finished fairly smooth. Not sure why it’s called a brown coat, but that’s the lingo. Now it was time to wait a few days before the color coat. I had a hard deadline coming up because I needed the stucco guys out so the roofing guys could come in.

Let the stucco begin! First application of the scratch coat has started.

Let the stucco begin! First application of the scratch coat has started.

The mixer man dumping a load to hod around. This stuff is really heavy!

The mixer man dumping a load to hod around. This stuff is really heavy!

 

Brown coat complete. It really looks good, and will even look better once the finish coat is applied over the whole house.

Brown coat complete. It really looks good, and will even look better once the finish coat is applied over the whole house.

The next week, a couple of guys came out to do the scaffolding on the entire house. That was an all day job and it really had to be all over. This is one of the many reasons that stuccoing an entire house is NOT a DIY project! Then, the stucco finishers came out and started putting the color coat on. When they put it on the back, they smoothed out the existing texture and then put an awesome lace texture on. These guys are really artists — well maybe not Michaelangelo, but same idea (and same medium).

Scaffolding on the West side of the house. Scaffold set-up and take-down is a significant part of the cost of the work.

Scaffolding on the West side of the house. Scaffold set-up and take-down is a significant part of the cost of the work.

Scaffolding outside my loft window. I'm glad somebody else is doing this work while dancing on scaffolding!

Scaffolding outside my loft window. I’m glad somebody else is doing this work while dancing on scaffolding!

The man at the mixer mixing the color coat. Apprentices get to do the heavy work of mixing the stuff up and hodding it around to keep the plasterers busy so that they have time to work with the material. This is why I subcontracted this work out. Definitely NOT DIY!

The man at the mixer mixing the color coat. Apprentices get to do the heavy work of mixing the stuff up and hodding it around to keep the plasterers busy so that they have time to work with the material. This is why I subcontracted this work out. Definitely NOT DIY!

Color coat being applied over existing stucco (right under the eaves).

Color coat being applied over existing stucco (right under the eaves).

The master plasterer at work. Michelangelo had nothing on this guy!

The master plasterer at work. Michelangelo had nothing on this guy!

Stucco is a very messy trade. Sort of like sausage making -- you don't want to see the process, but you like the result.

Stucco is a very messy trade. Sort of like sausage making — you don’t want to see the process, but you like the result.

In the end it all worked out. I was very pleased with the result, and my home is becoming the envy of the neighborhood. Next, onto the roof!

beautiful-texture

Close-up of the texture. This is real artisan stuff here. I have a very unique product that looks great!

color-coat-complete

Color coat complete. Looks fabulous! The roofers are coming next week, so the scaffolding still has to be removed. It’s going to be tight with the schedule!

California Sleepin’ — Finishing up the Porch Roof and Getting Ready For Roofing And Stucco

Alas, even though I had been working hard on getting the framing and roofing done, I still had to build the roof system over the porch. This was going to be some more fancy carpentry than what I did in the past because I had to put together a new roof structure and stitch it up to the existing roof structure. I did much of the work during the design phase, so my plans were pretty detailed. But, before I could proceed, I needed to build a proper structure to support the roof and the associated framing.

The first thing that I had to do was to replace the old beam and column which held up the balcony with a new structure. The old one was falling apart, and most of the construction was more of this slipshod crap from the original builder. I try to replace as much of this crappy work as possible without tearing down the whole house! This, however, was a no-brainer, and not very difficult when compared to building the main addition. I started with a bare foundation, then drilled holes and put in new anchor bolts secured with epoxy. I learned the proper way to do it when I did the seismic retrofit in the garage. Next was some simple vertical framing for the column proper. The main thing I had to consider was how to protect the top of the column from weather. I put in two sheets of building paper with some flashing on top, and made sure to have about 3-4 inches of overhang so that the stucco folks could tie it in when they did the lath.

New hold down bolts properly held in with epoxy.

New hold down bolts properly held in with epoxy.

Close up of the porch column with building paper (2 layers) and flashing installed. The stucco people will like me for this.

Close up of the porch column with building paper (2 layers) and flashing installed. The stucco people will like me for this.

I also had to tear into the wall of the house to get to the old beam and remove it. Good thing I did because the wall support for the old beam was totally inadequate. I replaced it with a proper 4×4 and fastened everything together with SDS wood screws. That baby ain’t coming apart!

New in-wall support column for the porch beam. The other one was a crappy little 2x4 that was all bent. Note the SDS screws which secure the beam the the wall structure.

New in-wall support column for the porch beam. The other one was a crappy little 2×4 that was all bent. Note the SDS screws which secure the beam the the wall structure. “SDS” stands for “Strong Drive Screw”, which is a proprietary name for these screws made by Simpson Strong Tie.

New column and beam for the porch roof. The old assembly was falling apart and the support column in the wall behind was just lousy, sloppy construction.

New column and beam for the porch roof. The old assembly was falling apart and the support column in the wall behind was just lousy, sloppy construction.

The next thing to do was to lay out the roof structure. Roof structures are made with either trusses, which I had to use over the master bedroom, or simple framing lumber put together one piece at a time. This is called “stick” framing when you’re doing it for a roof. Before I get too far into how I did this, I think it’s helpful to be familiar with some of the terminology. As with walls, each structural member has a name. The board going across the top is called the “ridge”. This is supported at each end by walls called “gables”, if they are straight up and down, or “hips” if the roof slopes at the ends, as well as the sides. The framing of the roof from the ridge board to the top of the walls is called a “rafter”, and the lumber going from the top of each wall across is called a “joist rafter”. For more complex roofs, you have “hip rafters” which are at the edges of hip roofs, “valley rafters” where a one roof line intersects another forming, well, a valley, and “jack rafters” which are the short rafters going between the hip rafter and the top of the wall, or the valley rafter and the ridge. Here is a picture to help sort things out.

Basic diagram for roof framing. There are all kinds of references and resources on the Internet.

Basic diagram for roof framing. There are all kinds of references and resources on the Internet.

My porch roof was a little different (naturally). The roof is only “half roof” that starts halfway up the second story wall and slopes down over the porch, so the ridge board becomes a “ledger” board. And, instead of intersecting the main roof with a valley, I have to put down lumber on top of the main roof. I came up with this idea by myself during the design phase, but little did know that my situation was not unique. In fact, I found that the proper terminology for this piece of lumber is called a “sleeper”, and because this happens a lot in California (God only knows why), it’s called a “California sleeper” — hence the title of this post.

This shows the structure detail of the porch roof.

This shows the structure detail of the porch roof.

Now that I actually had to start cutting lumber, I was faced with the conundrum of figuring all of those pesky things like lengths, miter angles, and bevel angles. I also knew from past experience that little errors are magnified when you start cutting angles. I did some research on the Internet and I found a REALLY GOOD roof framing website by a master carpenter named Sim Ayers who had a blog entry on EXACTLY what I was trying to accomplish. So I read with enthusiasm and discovered that calculating these lengths and angles directly from trigonometry was pretty tedious. While there are some handy-dandy roof calculators out there, I decided that I already have a “calculator” in with my 3D modeling program. Since I wanted to be as accurate as possible, I used some direct measurements, which are always good when you’re working with existing structures, and then fed them into a simple 3D model and took off the necessary lengths and angles (bevels and miters) from there.

3D model of the porch roof where it joins the main roof. I only took 3 orthogonal measurements (as shown) and constructed the rest of the model from there using the known dimensions of the lumber and the rafter spacing (16

3D model of the porch roof where it joins the main roof. I only took 3 orthogonal measurements (as shown) and constructed the rest of the model from there using the known dimensions of the lumber and the rafter spacing (16″ o.c.).

Close-up of the

Close-up of the “sleeper” rafter and how I measured the cut angles. The 3D modeling program gives me the exact angles.

I know this isn’t a really useful “how to” unless you have a 3D modeling program, which I highly recommend anyway, but really, if this is something you’d like to know more about, then visit Sim’s website (link above). Here is the link for his blog post on Off Angle California Framing.

Picture of a

Picture of a “pro” roofing job (by Sim Ayers) using a California sleeper.

My DIY version. That was some pretty fancy carpentry!

My DIY version. That was some pretty fancy carpentry!

Once I had the rafters and trim in place, I needed to get the roof on. I decided to use shiplap on the entire roof because the underside would be exposed and I wanted a nice look.

Underside of the porch roof matches the shiplap of the eaves.

Underside of the porch roof matches the shiplap of the eaves.

Front wall extends up to the last common rafter. Note the small space between the main roof, the adjacent wall, and the porch roof. This will be totally closed off when complete. Maybe I'll cut a small hole in the bedroom wall and use this as a

Front wall extends up to the last common rafter. Note the small space between the main roof, the adjacent wall, and the porch roof. This will be totally closed off when complete. Maybe I’ll cut a small hole in the bedroom wall and use this as a “secret compartment”.

I always sign my work. This area is going to be covered with plywood and stucco. I wanted people 2000 years from now to uncover my hieroglyphics during an archeological dig and argue for decades about what this find meant.

I always sign my work. This area is going to be covered with plywood and stucco. I wanted people 2000 years from now to uncover my hieroglyphics during an archeological dig and argue for decades about what this find meant.

Now, before I got the windows installed, I wanted to load the bedroom with any additional drywall and lumber that I might need because I sure didn’t want to haul it up the stairs! Fortunately, I could rent something called a “material lift” which makes it possible.

Drywall and lumber ready for loading up into the master bedroom. I wanted to get this loaded before I had the windows put in,

Drywall and lumber ready for loading up into the master bedroom. I wanted to get this loaded before I had the windows put in,

I rented a material lift to get all of the plywood and drywall up to the second floor.

I rented a material lift to get all of the plywood and drywall up to the second floor.

Unfortunately, I had some “learning” to do when it came time to actually use it as the following video shows.

Despite my failings, I was able to get the materials loaded and the windows installed.

Drywall and interior lumber loaded into the master bedroom. That was a LOT of WORK!

Drywall and interior lumber loaded into the master bedroom. That was a LOT of WORK!

All buttoned up and ready for the lath folks.,

All buttoned up and ready for the lath folks.,