The House That Frank Built

OK sports fans! This moment has been many years in the making. The moment when I, and only I, will bust out the structure of our house with the intention of EXPANDING our living space and making a fantastic en-suite (master bedroom-master bathroom) in a manner that puts HGTV to shame! Because this is a big task, and I needed to focus all of my spare time on it, I haven’t made a blog entry for a while. It’s either work on the house and generate material for the blog, or write the blog and make stuff up. I prefer the former. I took 2 weeks of vacation to accomplish this bodacious task, and I got most of the way through. At least I put up the walls and the roof trusses. But it took another 4 weeks of my spare time to finish the roof structure, put the trim on, and finally cover the roof.

Phase 1: Demolition.

As with most building projects, the first part is the demolition. I know I’ve been talking about demolition a lot, so I won’t bore you with too much more of it. As with most demolition projects, the best course of action is to work from the top down, and to disassemble whatever you’re demolishing in the opposite order that it was built. Because the bedroom extension will also result in extending the roof (sleeping under the stars is OK if you’re camping), I began by stripping the shingles from a portion of the roof. My biggest concern was roof safety. If there is anything dangerous in this endeavour, this is it. So I took some time to get the proper equipment: roof jacks, scaffolding, and a safety line with a harness. Yes, it cost a few bucks, but it’s cheap insurance. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I’m a bit obsessed with safety. The other nifty tool that I got was a roofing shovel. This tool has a notched spade that you ram underneath the shingles to get under the roofing nails, and a fulcrum that allows you to pop the nails right out. The technique is to start at the top of the roof, and after you pry off the ridge shingles, you get a start on the shingles at the top and then just go to town. That being said, even with the right tools and safety equipment, it’s hard, tedious, and somewhat messy work.

Safety harness and safety line. It's kind of a PITA to work with, but it sure provided me peace of mind. This is what all the pros use now.

Safety harness and safety line. It’s kind of a PITA to work with, but it sure provided me peace of mind. This is what all the pros use now.

Roof safety: Roof jacks to provide a solid base for working.

Roof safety: Roof jacks to provide a solid base for working.

Roof stripping complete. Took me all day.

Roof stripping complete. Took me all day.

 

Next was the trim. One might think that removing trim is no big deal. But it was to me because I had to get way up high and had to bang and lever stuff around, keep my balance while precariously perched on the scaffolding and ladder, all the while making sure that whatever fell down didn’t fall on me. The other bad news was that we were experiencing a record heat wave, so that meant that every push and pull was accompanied by beads of sweat in my eyes, lack of energy, and dehydration. I kept trying to drink as much water as I could, but there’s really no way to keep adequately hydrated while doing heavy physical labor in 96 degree heat.

Roof overhang and trim removed.

Roof overhang and trim removed.

Now, on to the messy part: Knocking down the walls. This part of the demolition worried me a bit. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time cutting stucco vertically on the wall, but I needed to get the wall down in pieces that were not so big they would damage the subfloor when they would inevitably come crashing down. I first had to knock down the gable wall, first by taking down the triangular portion of the gable by splitting it at the top plate, and then taking down the vertical walls. Since the side walls are load bearing, I had to build a temporary structure to accept the load. Also, I only took down one of the side walls at a time so only one side of the roof was unsupported. Because I didn’t want to have to cut stucco while precariously balanced on a ladder from the outside, I decided to pull the wall down from the inside. Since I know that the easiest way to cut the stucco is when the stucco is lying flat, I decided to yank the whole wall down and then disassemble it. Sure enough, with all of that weight of the stucco, it came down with a big crash! This turned out to be a very bad thing because I, like a dummy, did not think to put temporary bracing under the joists of the bedroom floor. Here is the result:

Gable wall demo complete. What have I gotten myself into?

Gable wall demo complete. What have I gotten myself into?

Temporary bracing to transfer the roof load to the floor. Too bad I didn't complete the job by constructing concurrent bracing to properly transfer the load from the underlying joists to the slab foundation below.

Temporary bracing to transfer the roof load to the floor. Too bad I didn’t complete the job by constructing concurrent bracing to properly transfer the load from the underlying joists to the slab foundation below.

Wall before demo.

Wall before demo.

Wall after demo.

Wall after demo.

Minor damage from the downfall of stucco. I had a surprise coming.

Minor damage from the downfall of stucco. I had a surprise coming.

Joist failure as a result of not properly transferring the load to the foundation. I'm going to put a bag over my head when I call my engineer for recommendations.

Joist failure as a result of not properly transferring the load to the foundation. I’m going to put a bag over my head when I call my engineer for recommendations.

Cracked joists. I needed to deal with termite damage anyway, so really no extra work. But I sure feel dumb!

Cracked joists. I needed to deal with termite damage anyway, so really no extra work. But I sure feel dumb!

Phase 2: Build the walls.

One of the tricky things about building on a second floor is that you actually have to get the building materials UP to the second floor. This meant spending the better part of a day tediously pushing lumber, mostly one piece at a time, up a ladder and onto the second floor. I had to plan ahead to make sure that I had all of the lumber for the entire build, including the interior framing and plywood, because I did NOT want to struggle hauling this stuff up the indoor stairs after I closed in.

Lumber delivered. Now, to get it up to the 2nd floor!

Lumber delivered. Now, to get it up to the 2nd floor!

Building a standard wall for a house is pretty straightforward. You layout and cut the lumber, build and sheath the wall while flat on the floor, and then raise it up. The easiest way is to start by carefully aligning your sole and top plates, and then doing the layout of the studs all at once. This not only saves time, but more importantly, helps to make the wall square because all of the top and bottom measurements are the same. The next thing to do is to make a “kit” for all of the framing lumber. This not only includes all of the studs, but also the headers, sills, cripple, and jack studs for the window and door openings, as well as the framing for each corner. From there, it’s a simple matter of separating the sole and top plates, scattering in the pre-cut parts, and then methodically nailing them together. It’s important to follow a nailing schedule, meaning that the prescriptive codes require specific sizes and spacing of nails for a given assembly. For example, a stud to sole plate or top plate can be two 16d nails driven longitudinally into the stud (“face nail”) or three 10d nails driven in from an angle (“toe nail”). Fortunately, the County of San Diego has a convenient summary sheet of all of these requirements, which the plans inspector “suggested” that I include as part of my building plans. I took the hint.

Wall lumber cut to length and organized to form a "kit". I did this for the lumber for all three walls.

Wall lumber cut to length and organized to form a “kit”. I did this for the lumber for all three walls.

All kit parts need to be labeled so you don't get confused. These are labeled "C/O" for "cripple" stud (window), and "outside" because the top is cut at a 5º angle to allow for water drainage from the sill.

All kit parts need to be labeled so you don’t get confused. These are labeled “C/O” for “cripple” stud (window), and “outside” because the top is cut at a 5º angle to allow for water drainage from the sill.

The next thing to do is to sheath the wall. In many building situations, it’s better to put the wall sheathing on after the walls are raised because you can do some adjustments for dialing in plumb and square, and you can apply the sheathing in a fashion that overlaps the structural assemblies to add some strength. However, it’s more difficult to fool around with large pieces of sheathing, particularly plywood, when you’re trying to hang it vertically. Putting the plywood on the walls while they were still on the floor was a no-brainer for me as a one-man-show. One thing I learned about walls is that 2×4 lumber can be pretty flexible on this scale. You have to use a big sledge hammer to bang stuff around, but it’s important to square things up before you put the plywood on, because once the plywood is attached, it ain’t movin’!

Lastly the wall needs to be raised. There are lots of pictures of construction crews all gathering around a wall, and with a mighty “heave ho”, the wall comes up. Not possible with just me doing the heaving. Fortunately, there is an outfit (Qualcraft) that makes something called a wall jack. This operates much like the old-fashioned car jack that you used to hook under your bumper to change a tire. But instead of a metal jack shaft with teeth, it uses a long 2×4 piece of lumber. It’s pretty ingenious, and here is a short video and some pictures:

Wall jacks in position, ready for action!

Wall jacks in position, ready for action!

Close-up of wall jack. 2x4 screwed into the floor prevents kick-out.

Close-up of wall jack. 2×4 screwed into the floor prevents kick-out.

 

Last wall up, ready for trusses.

Last wall up, ready for trusses.

Phase 3: Place the trusses.

Now that the walls were up, it was time to get some help. The trusses, by themselves, are not particularly heavy, but they are difficult to handle and are fragile if they are handled while they are flat. Fortunately, the same co-workers that helped me place the big beam I needed for my garage portal were willing to spend a morning yanking these bad boys up and securing them into position. I only had 4 of these, but we had a little trial and error at first, so it took a little longer. I also had them come back to help me with the gable wall. Now, it was up to me to finish detailing the front of the roof line with outlookers and blocking.

Last wall up. Things are beginning to take shape.

Last wall up. Things are beginning to take shape.

Trusses delivered.

Trusses delivered, ready for installation.

My "crew". Their help was indispensable in completing this phase of the project.

My “crew”. Their help was indispensable in completing this phase of the project.

Trusses are up!

Trusses are up!

Gable wall and outlookers in place.

Gable wall and outlookers in place.

Phase 4: Finish the roof.

Finishing the roof was actually a two step process. I first needed to get the trim boards placed on the ends of the truss overhangs and outlookers. These are called “barge” rafters, and these were particularly long and heavy. I spent an entire day messing around with scaffolding and engineering a “third hand” to hold the rafter while I put it in place. But when I found it impossible to even the the board up there by myself, I knew it was time to call my crew back for another session. Sure enough, in about 3 hours, we were all done. Finally, I was able to get the roof sheathing in place. If this were a flat surface, this job should have taken about 3 hours. But because it was on a roof, I had to laboriously move around and reconfigure scaffolding, haul materials up and install them, and then move onto the next part. Getting the plywood up for the roof sheathing was also challenging. I decided to make a simple lifting fixture from scrap 2x4s that I screwed onto the plywood, and then used a rope to pull up the plywood. I also set up a couple of long boards to help the plywood slide up to the roof. This lifting fixture also proved valuable in placing the plywood because it gave me some leverage. Note that I had to place on piece of plywood at a time using this method, so, again it took a long time.

Another thing I learned about working on a roof is that it’s physically hard! That’s because you constantly have to fight against gravity because you’re working on a slope. Plus, there’s no shade (duh!). So, in addition to it being hot, all of that up-and-down and muscling the plywood in place really wore me out. In the end it took about a week (!) to finish the roof. But I liked the result.

Outlookers in place, ready for the barge rafters. Note the "3rd hands" to the right and left of the scaffolding on the outlookers.

Outlookers in place, ready for the barge rafters. Note the “3rd hands” to the right and left of the scaffolding on the outlookers.

Barge rafters in place. Beginning to look like a house!

Barge rafters in place. Beginning to look like a house!

Shiplap appearance boards are on the roof overhangs to match the rest of the house.

Shiplap appearance boards are on the roof overhangs to match the rest of the house.

Roof all done! Looks nice.

Roof all done! Looks nice.

The inside. This is going to be a nice bedroom!

The inside. This is going to be a nice bedroom!

The proud builder and his creation.

The proud builder and his creation.

Phase 5: Install the connectors.

Actually, installing the connectors is something that I did as I went, but I wanted to highlight the fact that the days are gone when you can simply use nails to build a house. Modern house construction uses metal connectors almost everywhere, especially between major components (e.g., foundation to first floor, first floor to second floor, second floor to roof). There are hundreds of connectors to choose from, but that was taken care of during the design phase, so the ones that I’m using are all in my plans. Each connector has a specific fastening schedule (number and type of fasteners), so you have to be pretty meticulous. I made copies of the specification sheets for each connector that I used, and highlighted each one and keep them in my permit book so that when the inspector comes by, I can show him what I’m working to. I really did learn something when I prepared for my inspections in the Navy!

Metal connectors for the roof, studs, and top plate.

Metal connectors for the roof, studs, and top plate.

Connectors between gable and front wall. I still need to add connectors between the wall and the rim joist on the bottom.

Connectors between gable and front wall. I still need to add connectors between the wall and the rim joist on the bottom.

I’m hoping the pace will now pick up with the roof, windows, stucco, and HVAC contractors coming in. Stay tuned!

 

Upon This Rock I Will Build My House

With demolition largely complete, it’s time to start building! Well, not quite so fast. Demolition being “largely complete” simply means that I’ve done as much as I could without actually opening up the house. This is an important distinction because once you open up the house, you have to work like hell to build it back up so that the varmints stay outside. Especially the ones who are walking by and see your expensive tools and want to take them.

My new pneumatic nail gun. The new tool for this project. I know, a REAL framing carpenter only uses a hammer, but nobody does that anymore these days.

My new pneumatic nail gun. The new tool for this project. I know, a REAL framing carpenter only uses a hammer, but nobody does that anymore these days.

At any rate, I was ready to build the portion of the garage that was directly under the new bedroom addition. Originally, I planned to keep the existing structure and simply reinforce it and put plywood panels on the outside to make new shear walls, and build a new deck overhead. But, alas, when I removed the drywall, I found that the framing around the garage door, commonly referred to as a “portal”, was not even close to the required specifications. So, I had to take down all the walls and start from scratch, building up from the foundation. It was probably just as well because the existing framing, although adequate, was lacking somewhat in craftsmanship and accuracy. Best to get a fresh start. But I had one “big” problem.

One of the hallmarks of this project is that I’m doing EVERYTHING myself. So, I typically have to give some thought about how I will handle materials without help. In most cases, I can rig up a “third hand” or find a way to wrestle this or that into place, and sometimes have to come up with a mechanical solution (e.g., ropes, pulleys, chains). In this particular case, I had to figure out how to lift a REALLY BIG BEAM into place. I’m talking 3-1/2 inches thick by 16 inches tall by 20 feet long. While contemplating this at work, I mentioned my conundrum to one of my co-workers, who happened to have some extensive remodeling experience himself. He said, “Let’s just get some folks together and muscle this thing into place. It won’t take but a few minutes, if everything goes right, but let’s plan on a few hours because I’m a believer in Mr. Murphy.” He was referring to Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it probably will. So, with some cajoling, I was able to enlist the help of another co-worker and my oldest son, and arranged for a Friday morning beam raising ceremony. I also got my plumber scheduled so he could re-do the water service entering the house. This was important because I had run the water line through the front and needed to have the line disconnected to get the shear wall in place.

Now the pressure was on! I took 3 days off from work, figuring that I could get the demolition done and the framing up to accept the beam during the first two days, and be all ready by the appointed time on Friday morning.

The front of the house sure looks different with the balcony removed.

The front of the house sure looks different with the balcony removed.

Day one, Wednesday: Let the demolition derby begin! The first thing to do was to remove the old balcony floor. It turned out that the subfloor was attached with screw nails and it was a real bitch to lever off the plywood, and of course, it took much longer than anticipated. I then had to disassemble the joists underneath. I found out that I could knock them sideways and they came right down. Then, I had to remove the stucco from the walls.  This is one dirty, tedious job that requires a lot of muscle work. Never mind that I had to take my 7″ grinder and precariously balance myself on top of a stepladder while getting all that dust in may face. Fortunately, I was smart enough to wear full goggles and a dust mask. Still, the goggles fog up and you end up getting covered with that crappy dust and end up looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Needless to say, this took longer than anticipated (do you see a pattern developing?) and I had to stop before I could finish. Plus I was dead tired. I figured I could make up the time tomorrow. But first, I had to clean up and then install a big piece of black visqueen across the garage opening. I wanted to discourage random thievery and I figured that hiding everything would at least keep my valuable tools out of sight.

The stone that the builder rejected has become the chief stumbling block.

The stone that the builder rejected has become the chief stumbling block.

Day two, Thursday: Despite being exhausted from the day before, I had trouble sleeping because I was cramping up. That’s what happens when you hit your body hard with a bunch of exercise (as I know from my triathlete days). But woke up early because I knew I had to catch up. Went to Home Depot to get some pressure treated lumber for new sill plates because the existing ones looked like hell and I figured now would be the time to replace them. More unanticipated work. I still had one wall to knock down and some additional stucco to remove, but I couldn’t start because my lumber delivery came. It was one big load all strapped together, so the driver just slid it off the truck and onto the driveway. So, I had to move it all around in order to clear the driveway, but it was just as well because I re-stacked it in the order I needed to use it, which would hopefully save some time later. And it was getting later. By the time I had finished the remaining demo, and cleaned up, it was noon. Putting in the new sill plates took some time, but I figured that the wall framing would be pretty easy. I cut all of the lumber to the sizes I needed, but was only able to get one of the walls together and up before it got dark. And I was totally out of gas. Time to get some rest for the big day tomorrow! But first, I had to clean up and put that damned plastic back up.

Day three, Friday: I couldn’t sleep last night either because I knew I had to get that last wall up and I had folks coming at 7:30. Fortunately, I was able to get the wall framing assembled on the ground, and my son showed up to help me wrestle it in place. I was just finishing up when the rest of the crew arrived, and it was time to raise the beam! After a few minutes of strategizing, we all grabbed it and muscled it up there. I tacked it in place, but then Mr. Murphy showed his ugly head. I realized to my horror that I made the end walls 3″ too short! How could that be?? Well, like a dumb-ass I subtracted the double top plate, which I shouldn’t have done. Now we had to take out some nails, which was pretty damned difficult, and raise the beam enough to slip in a couple of 2×4’s underneath to get everything level. Unfortunately, we had to do this one side at a time, which meant that there were some small gaps at the ends because lifting up the beam on one end, even by 3″ threw it slightly out of level. In the end, I was only about 1/2″ off, but still you could see some gaps. Ultimately, gravity will settle things somewhat, but it was a little disappointing. Nevertheless, my plumber came and did his typically excellent installation, so I was able to get up most of the shear panels and ended the day with something that looked like a proper structure. After clean up and putting the plastic up (again) I could go in with a sense of satisfaction.

Day four, Saturday: Once again, I was working by myself. I got the rest of the shear panels up and then had to install some additional framing around the garage door opening so that I could re-install the garage door. I didn’t want to keep putting plastic sheeting up, plus I sure didn’t want to leave the house wide open when I went back to work on Monday. This took longer than expected because I decided to put some additional framing in to more easily locate the seismic hold-downs. I then had to attach a 20′ 2×12 to an existing beam that would support the joists of the bedroom addition floor. When I did the plans, I figured that what was existing (a built up beam of 3-2x12s) was good enough, but the plans examiner INSISTED that I put in another 2×12 and secure the whole assembly with a bunch of 1/2″ carriage bolts. At the time, I though it was overkill, but as I tried to marry up the new 2×12 to the existing structure, lo and behold, the existing beam was sagging. I mean by a very noticeable amount, like over an inch! So, I guess the plans examiner was right all along, and I now thank him for his advice. I wasted an hour trying to jack the existing beam up with what I had, but the more I thought about it, I figured the only way to straighten the whole thing out would be to replace it — a non-starter. So I did what a lot of remodelers end up doing, which is living with what you have and adapting. There will be a discontinuity when the new floor meets the old floor, especially in the center, but I’ll deal with that later. I also had to waste another hour or so cutting out the bottom of the aluminum framing around the sliding glass door.  The new lumber was hitting it and wouldn’t go flush to the existing built-up beam. As usual, time flew and by the end of the day, I only ended up getting the new 2×12 tacked up and in place. Still had to install all of those bolts.

New joist all bolted into place. See the gap between the bottom of the new joist and the bottom of the existing beam?

New joist all bolted into place. See the gap between the bottom of the new joist and the bottom of the existing beam?

Day five, Sunday: I really wanted this to be a day of rest, but I spent several hours after church re-installing the garage door. It was a little fussy, but I got it in and working. This was good because now the garage had some physical security and I felt OK locking it up and leaving it. All the tools were out of sight, and it would take some doing to climb up and around to get into the place. So much for the “big week”. At least I got stuff closed in a bit, which removed some of the pressure to meet deadlines. After all, this is supposed to be enjoyable, eh?

The garage door re-installed and my tools safe from random thievery.

The garage door re-installed and my tools safe from random thievery.

Here is a video of the whole thing:

Now my attention turned to installing hardware. Besides the bolts for the new 2×12, and joist hangers and hold-downs for the new joists, I had to figure out where to drill holes in the foundation to install threaded rods glued in with a special epoxy to meet new code requirements for seismic loads. I had a pretty good idea where most of them should go, but there was a tricky spot in the corners next to the garage door opening. Additionally, the special epoxy installation needed a “special” inspection, meaning that an inspector certified in this sort of thing had to inspect every hole for proper depth and cleanliness before you put the epoxy goop in. So I figured I would ask the inspector about the bolt location AHEAD OF TIME. Note my predilection for avoiding future trouble caused by me.

Proposed hole locations. I really didn't know how to do this correctly. At least I realized this ahead of time.

Proposed hole locations. I really didn’t know how to do this correctly. At least I realized this ahead of time.

I looked up special inspectors on Angie’s List, and while Angie’s List is usually pretty good, here I found nothing. So I searched on the Internet and found a guy whom I contacted. He was very cooperative, and since I did the design, I knew the requirements so I was able to give the impression that I knew what I was doing. I sent him a picture of the proposed hole locations, and he contacted a colleague who happened to be a registered Professional Engineer (PE) to get his advice. After some back-and-forth, I contacted the PE, whose name is Chris Pinnow (see link to his website) and arranged for a meeting. As the appointed time came closer, he was running late and suggested that he would come the following day (Saturday) AND he would bring a hammer drill and bit and offered to help drill the holes and knock off the entire job! It was pretty easy to say yes.

"My" engineer- Chris Pinnow. Really glad to have met this guy.

“My” engineer- Chris Pinnow. Really glad to have met this guy.

Sure enough, he shows up and we get to work, and in 4 hours I have all the holes I need, properly inspected with threaded rods properly secured with that special epoxy. Turns out that I had some misconceptions about what the hold downs were supposed to accomplish, and I’m really glad that Chris came and checked things out, because he made some crucial corrections to the installation. Here is the lesson: The days of framing a house with a stack of 2x4s, circular saw, and a big box of nails, are over. Today’s construction techniques are pretty sophisticated and if you’re doing something on the order of a remodeling job that involves structures, you’d better find a PE that can help you look at a few things should they come up. Their prices are usually very reasonable for professional services, and their advice is well worth it because you won’t have to do things over.

Final location of the holes, per my engineer.

Final location of the holes, per my engineer.

New hold down bolts all glued in place.

New hold down bolts all glued in place.

With that out of the way, it was time to build the deck over the garage, which serves as the structure for the floor of the bedroom addition. Ordinarily, this would be a relatively straightforward task, and if you were building totally new construction, it’s a day’s job, even if you’re solo. But with remodeling, usually nothing is so straightforward. That’s because the old stuff has most likely moved around a little bit due to settling. Plus, sometimes the carpenters who build the house may not be so fussy about accuracy, especially if they’re building a tract house and time is of the essence. So, things are not necessarily plumb or square, and you have to accommodate this when you meet up the new with the old. In my case, the built-up beam that supports the existing bedroom gable wall was not only sagging, as mentioned above, but was also bowed out and canted forward. That meant that I had to not only cut each joist to a different length to accommodate the bow, but also cut each at an angle so they would meet up correctly with the canted face. But, hey, it gives me a chance to exercise my craftsmanship skills.

Old meets new. Note the sag in the existing beam as compared to the new joist. Also note the location of the chalk line.

Old meets new. Note the sag in the existing beam as compared to the new joist. Also note the location of the chalk line.

Notice the difference in the position of the chalk line. This shows the bow in the existing beam.

Notice the difference in the position of the chalk line. This shows the bow in the existing beam.

My worksheet to keep track of what joist goes where.

My worksheet to keep track of what joist goes where.

I had to cut each joist at an angle to take into account the cant of the existing beam.

I had to cut each joist at an angle to take into account the cant of the existing beam.

All joists are up. Still have to add the rim joists.

All joists are up. Still have to add the rim joists.

Deck framing complete with rim joists installed.

Deck framing complete with rim joists installed.

Blocking detail. These are short blocks of wood that fit in between the joists. This not only gives the structure a lot of additional strength, but also squares up the joists nicely. Note the tight fit in the corners. Really looks nice!

Blocking detail. These are short blocks of wood that fit in between the joists. This not only gives the structure a lot of additional strength, but also squares up the joists nicely. Note the tight fit in the corners. Really looks nice!

Now with the framing in place, it was a simple matter to install the plywood on the frame to make a nice solid deck for the bedroom floor. I was a little concerned about fitting together the tongue-and-groove plywood together by myself, but I came up with a nifty way to do it. All you have to do is to get one corner started and then temporarily secure it with a deck screw to the joist below. Then you can coax the whole assembly together using the deck screw as a pivot. Here is a picture:

How to mate tongue and groove plywood by yourself.

How to mate tongue and groove plywood by yourself.

With the deck in place, it was time for an inspection. This was important because if I don’t have an inspection every 6 months, the city assumes that my project has been abandoned and they cancel my building permit. Because I can only work so fast, and I didn’t have a lot of inspectable items while I was working on the outside, AND I used up my one-time extension, this was a big deal. The inspector came and had some good words of advice, particularly when he pointed out that I had installed the washers on the hold-downs upside-down. How embarrassing!!

New hold down ready for inspection. Note the position of the U-shaped washer under the nut. I had a little surprise coming.

New hold down ready for inspection. Note the position of the U-shaped washer under the nut. I had a little surprise coming.

Hold down properly installed (!)

Hold down properly installed (!)

Nevertheless,  I got a couple of inspections signed off, so I punched my card for 6 more months. This whetted my appetite for the BIG buildout of the master bedroom, which is next!

New deck installed.

New deck installed.

The proud builder atop his masterpiece.

The proud builder atop his masterpiece.

And The Walls Come Tumblin’ Down — A Short Discourse In The Art Of Demolition

Demolition. The word itself evokes images of fire and brimstone, mass destruction and the wailing masses. If you watch some of the home improvement shows on TV, you’ll typically see the homeowners doing some wailing of their own, albeit of a different ilk. Take that sledgehammer and just beat the living daylights out of everything you see and you’ll be a REAL remodeler! Well, I am here to tell you that what makes good reality TV makes a horrible approach to a demolition project. Swinging a crowbar and acting like a drunken oaf is a waste of time, effort, and money, and a more thoughtful approach can save you all three.

Enter the “art” of demolition. As with most things in life, a good demolition project starts with a good plan. It turns out that there is a lot to consider: How much and of what type of demolition byproduct will be produced? How do I get rid of it? How big of a dumpster do I need? Do I need a permit? (Typically you need an encroachment permit if you use  dumpster that goes on the side of the road.) Am I dealing with any hazardous material (e.g., lead or asbestos)? What are the areas to be demolished and how do you account for the new structure(s)? How does the demolition sequence affect the building sequence or vice versa? Am I removing any load-bearing structure that will need temporary bracing? What tools are best and do I have to obtain any? And this is not an exhaustive list. Is demolition a DIY proposition? Well, I guess that depends. If it’s a small project like remodeling a bathroom, then it definitely can be DIY. If you’re busting out a load bearing wall and building an addition, then it can be DIY, but you’d better have some previous experience so you have a pretty good idea of what you’re doing. If you’re going to demolish an entire house, well, that’s probably not DIY.

Equal in importance, or perhaps more, is safety. I cannot emphasize this enough. Perhaps I’m a bit anal when it comes to safety, and my background in industrial and military environments has given me a certain viewpoint about it. There are two ways to approach safety, protection and prevention, and it’s important that you incorporate both approaches because they work hand-in-hand.

First, protection. Protection is all about minimizing the dangerous effects of a hazardous environment. To be more specific, you need to protect yourself physically from the potential dangers of your work. Of all the protective gear that you can get, eye protection is probably the most important. Unless you’re reading your plans or answering your smartphone, I can think of very few construction activities that do not involve the potential for stuff flying around and getting in your eyes. Next on the list is probably gloves, followed by hearing protection and foot protection. For demolition in particular, breathing protection becomes a big deal, as does a hard hat. If you’re going to deal with hazardous materials, like lead or asbestos abatement, then add protective coveralls to your outfit. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so the best approach is to think carefully about safety before you start the job and make sure you’re properly outfitted.

Prevention means stopping a hazardous situation from existing or developing, and this requires constant thought about what you’re about to do next. If you’re going to be working on a ladder, then make sure it’s properly situated and don’t exceed the recommended standing height (i.e., don’t stand on the top step). Keep clutter to a minimum so you don’t trip and fall. That’s quite important during a demolition project, so the orderly and periodic removal of debris should be part of your plan. Make sure your cords from your electrical tools are out of the way so you don’t cut into them. If you’re going to work on the second story or roof, then consider renting scaffolding. Safety when working with power tools is all about prevention, and one must be constantly aware of where the dangerous parts of the tool are so as not to injure yourself or others. To sum up, I would say that prevention is more of an attitude and state of mind. You have to make it a priority and, really, always be thinking about it.

Wow. All that talk about safety got me fired up! Was it good for you too?

Now onto the real deal. Removal of a stucco wall that formed a balcony (i.e., a pony wall) outside my master bedroom was first on the list. While it may be tempting just to take a sledgehammer and wail away, there really was a much easier way to approach it. The first thing I wanted to do was to prevent the debris from falling on my new sidewalk, gate, and railing, so knocking down from the inside-out was a non-starter. What I decided to do was to disassemble it in basically the reverse order of the building, and then take it apart into smaller pieces that could be tossed onto the driveway. This meant taking off the top trim, which I would use later to weight down some visqueen on the driveway, giving me a large target to toss the debris onto, while helping to protect the driveway.

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House with balcony, before demo.

Balcony trim and top plates on a sheet of visqueen. This helps prevent damage to the driveway when I toss stucco slabs over the side.

I then pulled off the stucco from the inside of the wall to expose the framing. There is a technique for stucco removal, which I learned from my favorite stucco guy on YouTube, Kirk and Jason Giodarno. Here is a video:

There are two key elements to this technique: (1) cut the stucco into small enough sections so that you can move them around  — stucco is heavy!, (2) cut THROUGH the lath (wire mesh) that holds the stucco together. If you bash stucco with a sledge, you’ll get a bunch of stucco turds all connected by the underlying lath. Totally impossible to work with!

A 7″ grinder with a wet-dry masonry wheel. Essential for demolishing stucco.

Stucco all cut into sections for ease of removal.

First slice of stucco removed.

 

Inner balcony stucco removed.

Once the stucco was off the inside, I pulled up the lumber that connected the tops of the studs (top plates). I then cut the stucco from the inside, which is easier because the lath is closer to the inside, so you don’t really have to cut all the way through. Once I made another cut spaced by two studs, it was an easy matter to pull the section of stucco and studs inward. The weight of the assembly and the leverage I was able to provide caused the lath at the bottom to fail, and the whole thing just plopped down in front of me. Now I could knock off the studs and cut through the lath to make the stucco slabs small enough to handle.

Balcony debris. Because of the sequence, I had to walk over this stuff until I opened up a hole in the outer stucco so I could toss this stuff onto the driveway.

First section of outer stucco is removed. This gives me a “window” to toss the debris onto the driveway without having to lift it up and over.

The balcony wall safely in the protection of the dumpster.

The front of the house sure looks different with the balcony removed.

 

With the outside done (to a point), I started the demolition of the master bedroom which is really the main part of the remodel. Because I am a diligent homeowner, knowing that I had an older home, I tested the popcorn ceiling for asbestos. Actually, I was also motivated by the $25,000 fine that might be levied against me for improper asbestos disposal by the EPA. Sure enough, I had asbestos, so I needed to take some precautions. Now, before I get into the details about this being a DIY job, I want to make a few disclaimers.

  1. I have formal training and experience in asbestos removal and remediation from my Navy days. The older engine rooms used asbestos to keep the steam pipes insulated, and because I was the officer in charge of maintaining an engine room built in the 1950’s, I needed to know my shit.
  2. I have formal training and years of experience in handling and disposing of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) and nuclear waste.

Having gotten that off my chest, allow me to say that proper and safe removal of an asbestos popcorn ceiling isn’t particularly challenging from a technical standpoint. You just have to use some common sense and understand exactly what the hazards are so that you can protect yourself, and others, against them. The main thing to remember about asbestos is that it is the airborne particles that cause all the problems. And they are big problems. Basically, any asbestos particles that you inhale will stay with you for the rest of your life. They become embedded in your lungs and you can’t get rid of them, and their sharp edges provide a constant source of irritation that can eventually develop into mesothelioma and lung cancer. So, airborne particles are the enemy. Let’s go back to my original safety mantras of protection and prevention.

To protect yourself against asbestos, you need to be fully covered in a HAZMAT coverall with a hood, wear disposable gloves, have full goggle eye protection, and a respirator with filters.

All suited up for asbestos! I needed to have one hand ungloved to take the picture. Otherwise, I'm ready to go!

All suited up for asbestos! I needed to have one hand ungloved to take the picture. Otherwise, I’m ready to go!

The good news is that you can buy an asbestos removal “kit” online (PK Safety) for around $30. Since the popcorn material is usually low in asbestos (2% – 3%), you do not need a fully sealed, forced ventilation suit and mask (yes, I’m familiar with those as well). So, you’re getting off easy.

To prevent, or at least minimize contamination, there are two things that should be done. First, seal off the area, meaning tape some plastic over the door(s) to other rooms, and put a plastic dropcloth on the floor. This dropcloth simplifies disposal because you just wrap it up and double bag it, popcorn and all. Second, use some water from a garden sprayer to wet the popcorn. This not only helps keep the asbestos from getting airborne, but also makes scraping the damn stuff off pretty easy.

One last thing before I suited up was to make sure that I had EVERYTHING I would need at hand. Once you suit up and start, you don’t want have to stop in the middle because it’s usually difficult to get out of the suit, and even harder to put it back on (if you don’t destroy it when you take it off). Go to the bathroom, even if you don’t feel like it.

You’re welcome.

Tools for asbestos removal. A garden sprayer and scrapers. Pretty basic.

Tools for asbestos removal. A garden sprayer and scrapers. Pretty basic.

Trash can all ready to load the asbestos popcorn. Getting this ready before I suited up saved me some time and aggravation.

Trash can all ready to load the asbestos popcorn. Getting this ready before I suited up saved me some time and aggravation.

So, I mentioned that removing this stuff was not technically difficult. Just spray some water onto the ceiling to cover an area that you can reach with your stepladder, and take a wide-bladed scraper and ease the stuff off in big strokes. Then clamber down the ladder, being careful not to slip on the goop that you just plopped on the floor, move the ladder, and start again. Did I mention that the coveralls get hot, and that your goggles fog up and get poopy popcorn on them that you have to wipe off and you still can’t see? You get the picture. Technically difficult, no, but tedious and uncomfortable, yes. Much like other things in life, eh?

First section of asbestos popcorn removed. Note that the ceiling is saturated with water in the area that I'm working.

First section of asbestos popcorn removed. Note that the ceiling is saturated with water in the area that I’m working.

The bedroom ceiling free of that nasty asbestos popcorn.

The bedroom ceiling free of that nasty asbestos popcorn.

Once all of the ceiling is scraped, you need to roll up the poopy popcorn in the plastic dropcloth and stuff it all in a big garbage bag. You will probably have to do this by sections because of the volume and weight and use several (3-4) large garbage bags. Remove your coveralls and gloves and stuff them in the last bag. Then seal with duct tape and double bag.

Now it’s time to dispose of this crap. Fortunately for me, my city has a residential hazardous waste disposal program, so all I had to do was take it to them and they unloaded the bags of objectionable material from my Prius for free and thanked me for being a conscientious citizen. One last word of caution: make sure you know the rules for disposal in your jurisdiction as there may be some extra costs and procedures. It’s probably a good idea to do this beforehand.

So, for a $30 hazmat kit, I did the work myself and saved about $1,700. Not bad for a DIY’er on a Saturday morning. But, again, I have formal training and experience in this sort of thing, so, if you have ANY DOUBT about what you’re doing, PLEASE engage the services of a professional!

On to drywall removal. This is where the home remodeling shows on HGTV show the owners having at it with sledges and crowbars. Good for them. I hope they got their exercise for the day. Conversely, I decided to use an easier method, which involves using a sawzall to cut the drywall into smaller panels and then use a crowbar to yank from the back and pop the nails out. This results (mostly) in large sections which are much easier to handle. However, before you plunge you sawzall into the wall, you really need to try to figure out where your electrical, plumbing, and telephone/cable/data lines are so you don’t cut them. The best method is to cut out a little section of drywall by hand near where you know these services are and get an idea for which way the lines are going so you can avoid them. As more of the wall comes off, it becomes easier to see what’s behind and where it’s going. For safety, its a good idea to kill the electrical power to the area you’re working on, just in case you run into an electrical line.

Essential drywall removal tool. You need to use this first to locate your hidden service lines before you attack with a sawzall.

Essential drywall removal tool. You need to use this first to locate your hidden service lines before you attack with a sawzall.

The drywall is cut into sections to ease removal.

The drywall is cut into sections to ease removal.

Because of the cuts, the drywall comes off in big slabs. For the most part, at least.

Because of the cuts, the drywall comes off in big slabs. For the most part, at least.

All drywall removed.

All drywall removed.

 

Finally, structure removal. The first piece of business is to make sure that know whether you’re removing a load bearing structure or not. But what does load bearing mean and how can you tell the difference? The the answer is sometimes not so simple. Sure, the exterior walls support the roof and/or second floor, and that load has to be transferred through the walls to the foundation. But without a more nuanced understanding of structures and mechanics, well, the explanation is beyond the detail that I wish to chronicle in this blog entry. I reserve the right to wax poetic on structural theory and practice in the future. In the meantime, if you don’t understand it, then hire somebody who does know and follow their advice. You don’t want your roof to fall down upon you and ruin the rest of your day. Plus, you will be very sad.

The wall I had to remove was NOT load bearing, so that simplified the process significantly. Again, I approached the demolition with an eye to safety, simplicity,  and ease of removal. The wall was attached to the bottom chords of the trusses by some cheap connectors, so all I had to do was to pry out the nail securing each connector to the truss. But, since I didn’t want the entire wall to fall down on me, I used my sawzall to cut the double top plate so that the wall could be lowered in sections (and handled by one person safely). Each wall section came down smoothly, and from there, it was simply a matter of banging apart the structure with a hand sledge (a.k.a. “engineers hammer”) so that I was dealing with individual pieces of lumber. The good news here is that (a) I was able to salvage some of the longer timbers for use in a support that I will have to build when I bust down some exterior (i.e., load bearing) walls in the future, and the remainder I was able to give away for free on Craigslist, which minimized my dumpster waste. Here are some pictures.

Wall framing cut into sections for ease of handling by one person. Note the section of framing on the floor.

Wall framing cut into sections for ease of handling by one person. Note the section of framing on the floor.

Section of wall framing on the floor, ready to knock apart.

Section of wall framing on the floor, ready to knock apart.

Wood I salvaged from the framing demolition. I advertised it for free on Craigslist, and it was gone in a day.Wood I salvaged from the framing demolition. I advertised it for free on Craigslist, and it was gone in a day.

Is it safe to come in?

Is it safe to come in?

 

 

This was our bedroom?This was our bedroom?

I know you say it's going to be great. I'll believe it when I see it!

I know you say it’s going to be great. I’ll believe it when I see it!

Movin’ Out!

Hello everyone! I know that I have not written for quite some time, and that was due to a variety of factors, not the least being that I was sick for 3 weeks, and I had a month — long project at work (my REAL) job that required a lot of overtime. They call it “uncompensated” time because I don’t get paid any more for it, being a salaried employee, but other than the money, the result is the same. No work on the house, and no time to write about what I wasn’t doing. But now things are back on track.!

In order to actually get to the “remodeling” part of the project, I need to demolish the things that I need to get rid of. But, since this involves rooms where we actually live, we have to move out first. Now, when I was active duty military, we moved a lot. About once every 2-3 years. And because of that, we went through ALL of our stuff and tossed what we know we wouldn’t be using anymore. Yes, we accumulated things over time, but we felt these things were what we really wanted to keep.

Fast forward to the now. We’ve been living in this one place going on 17 years (!) and without that periodic purging that was our habit before, we looked around and noticed that we had a lot of crap. And the places I needed to vacate, the master bedroom, garage, and attic, were the places where we put most of the crap that we didn’t want to deal with at the moment. So, we needed a plan. There are basically 3 ways to deal with one’s possessions. (1) Get more storage, (2) store your stuff more efficiently (i.e., be neat), and (3) go through everything and get rid of the stuff you don’t need or want.

The first option, getting more storage, is actually a primary goal of the remodeling project. Unfortunately, we needed the storage now, and the typical answer for a remodeling job is to rent storage. Storage rentals come in two flavors: on-site or at a storage facility. I knew that I would be getting an on-site storage container, primarily because I still wanted access to some of the things I was putting away, but also felt I might need off-site storage as well. So I looked into the cost, figuring that I would need it for at least a year. Wow. I was coming up with some crazy numbers like between $4,000 and $5,000! Hey, that’s my new kitchen cabinets right there! It turned out that the off-site warehousing was the biggest cost contributor, so I decided to go with just on-site storage first, and wait to see if I really needed any off-site warehousing. I got a bunch of bids and found a local company that would rent me an 8’x10′ container for $60.50 per month with a one way delivery charge of $89.00. That worked out to about $1,000 for the year. Compare that to Pods ($2,600) and Pack-Rat ($1,700), and I believe I found a deal.

Here is the 8x10 container. It fits the area very nicely.

Here is the 8×10 container. It fits the area very nicely.

Now, onto #2 (efficiency) and #3 (elimination).

In practice, efficiency and elimination go hand-in-hand. When you’re going through your stuff, deciding where to put it, you’re also deciding what to keep and what to eliminate. As things get sorted, you decide what to keep, BUT, you have to HAVE a place to keep it. Therefore, there are some decisions to make. Personally, I believe that the hardest part of the entire process is to decide what to keep and what to toss. My attitude is to toss everything and convince myself that whatever is in my hand is, somehow, worth keeping. The objective is to toss, so if there is any doubt.. TOSS! And then move on. No sentimentality! Well, OK, I kept a few things (paintings from our children, my sword and hat from the Navy, and maybe some other stuff, God knows what else), but really, one has to be firm in these matters!

Here are 6 large garbage bags of shred. We had a lot of old papers with personal information. Good thing we had a pro shredder!

Here are 6 large garbage bags of shred. We had a lot of old papers with personal information. Good thing we had a pro shredder!

Wow! What a big pile of disks. This stuff has a bunch of personal information like tax returns (SSN's), financial info, etc.. They were made in the days where identity theft was not such a big concern. All the more reason to shred!

Wow! What a big pile of disks. This stuff has a bunch of personal information like tax returns (SSN’s), financial info, etc.. They were made in the days where identity theft was not such a big concern. All the more reason to shred!

Pry the disk cover open by inserting a screwdriver near the metal slide.

Pry the disk cover open by inserting a screwdriver near the metal slide.

 

Pop open the plastic cover and retrieve the magnetic film.

Pop open the plastic cover and retrieve the magnetic film.

 

Here is the magnetic film that stores the information. Unfortunately, there is this pesky metal center which doesn't shred very well, so....

Here is the magnetic film that stores the information. Unfortunately, there is this pesky metal center which doesn’t shred very well, so….

Tear the metal center out from the magnetic film of the disk.

Tear the metal center out from the magnetic film of the disk.

 

 

And just drop it in the shredder!

And just drop it in the shredder!

One of our cats helping with the move out. For some reason, all cats are attracted to boxes. They were really having a field day during the move!

One of our cats helping with the move out. For some reason, all cats are attracted to boxes. They were really having a field day during the move!

Back to #2. (WHO DOES #2 WORK FOR?) As far as our sleeping arrangements, we actually had 2 other bedrooms that were available. We decided to split up our clothes and bed, and it turned out that we had enough space. It isn’t pretty, but it’s functional. Pretty comes later. We sorted through our clothes, packed up those which we could not part with, and the rest we put in the “eliminate” pile. Suddenly, we were out of our bedroom. One down, two to go. The attic was predictable with a lot of stuff (crap) which went into the “eliminate” pile. However, we had a lot of camping equipment, which I knew I would have to deal with. Finally, I had the garage. I did my best to organize all of the tools and parts that I had, and quite unemotionally tossing those things which I knew I would never use again. Even if I bought them for one purpose (think rebar caps) and then saw no foreseeable use for them. NO EMOTION ALLOWED. Except when I had to pack my “I Love Me” wall (all of the mementoes that I had accumulated over my Navy career). Parting with your past is hard….

The master bedroom before the move out.

The master bedroom before the move out.

Our master bedroom being properly guarded by one of our cats.

Our master bedroom being properly guarded by one of our cats.

All nice and cozy in our "new" bedroom. Even the cat likes it!

All nice and cozy in our “new” bedroom. Even the cat likes it!

Bedroom #2, all packed in. I guess we still have some clutter. Alas, that is part of our lifestyle, so best to learn to live with it!

Bedroom #2, all packed in. I guess we still have some clutter. Alas, that is part of our lifestyle, so best to learn to live with it!

 

 

I have what I call a “sea story” about packing things efficiently in a confined space. Being a submariner, I have extensive experience in such matters. However, there is the story of the excess toilet paper. First some background. There are stories in old submarine lore that tell of times where the Supply Officer failed to order enough toilet paper to last for a 60 day patrol. If you run out at day 45, things can get pretty nasty and depressing. You get the picture, yes? So, I knew of one Chief Of the Boat (COB) who was determined not to let that happen. He ordered a significant amount of toilet paper, and after the loading crew had stuffed as much as possible into every nook and cranny, there were still two cases of TP left. These are Navy cases, meaning that each case has about 4,000 rolls. Not to be thwarted, this COB started a rumor that these were the “last 2 cases” that supply had available, and there would be no more before the ship got underway.  He then left the cases of TP in crew’s mess and walked away. In 15 minutes, those cases were empty. COB, where are you when I need you the most?!

Finally #3. What are you going to do with all of the stuff you eliminate?  Again, you have a few choices. (1) Throw in the trash. This is good for a lot of stuff, but it negatively contributes to the environment and landfill, so maybe it’s not the best choice. (2) Give it away. Craigslist is great for having somebody pick up your junk for free. So long as you advertise it as free.  One person’s trash is another’s treasure, yes? Another great option, at least around here, is AMVETS. These guys are great. They come to your home, pick up what you want to get rid of (OK, so no trash or HAZMAT), but it’s free, reliable, and tax-deductible. Did I mention these guys were good?

After a fashion, I progressed to the point where I knew I didn’t need off-site storage. I packed things carefully into the on-site storage container, making sure that I put the things I would need the least in back, and leaving room to access those things that I might need in the near future. I’m sure that won’t work and I’ll for some reason have a need for the very thing that is in the way-back, but one must move forward with the best guess of what the future might bring.

Here is all of our camping equipment. It looks like a lot, but I ended up stacking it up very neatly. The wooden reindeer is a stray Christmas element which we typically do not take with us on camping trips.

Here is all of our camping equipment. It looks like a lot, but I ended up stacking it up very neatly. The wooden reindeer is a stray Christmas element which we typically do not take with us on camping trips.

The storage container, all packed up. There's a lot of room still in the overhead spaces, but the idea was to keep things accessible, especially for all of the tools.

The storage container, all packed up. There’s a lot of room still in the overhead spaces, but the idea was to keep things accessible, especially for all of the tools.

 

The garage. I know, it looks like there's still a lot of stuff, but most of it is old cabinets and storage which is on its way out.

The garage. I know, it looks like there’s still a lot of stuff, but most of it is old cabinets and storage which is on its way out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the near future is demolition. Stay tuned!!

A last look at our master bedroom before the remodel. Notice the demolition tools at the ready.

A last look at our master bedroom before the remodel. Notice the demolition tools at the ready.

The dumpster, delivered and ready to receive.

The dumpster, delivered and ready to receive.

One last look at the original house. I will be documenting the transformation in numerous future blog postings.

One last look at the original house. I will be documenting the transformation in numerous future blog postings.

Removing Recalcitrant Concrete Forms — How to Adapt and Change Your Approach

This week was a bit of an interlude. I had just finished one project (the new patio cover/trellis supports and footings), but I really wasn’t ready for the next one (building the backyard retaining wall). Nonetheless, there was a lot of work to do. I had to determine exactly where the backyard retaining wall would go based on how much dirt I had to accommodate from the net result of my adventures in grading (see previous posts). So, early in the morning, I went out with my AWESOME laser level and grade rod and determined the level of my retaining wall, and then went back to my computer model to set the dimensions of the retaining wall based on the volume of dirt I had to re-distribute. I then calculated the number of retaining wall bricks and capstone that I would need.

I also had to demo the old footings with a jackhammer. It cost $75 for 4 hours — if I would have done this earlier, when I had the jackhammer for other reasons, I would have saved the $75.  That is (part of) the price of not thinking ahead. Oh well. I also had to sort through a bunch of other demolition products, primarily lumber, so Habitat for Humanity could pick it up. To meet their requirements, I had to disassemble all of my structures (e.g., concrete forms), and also had to rid some of my other used lumber from nails and screws. I don’t want to pay somebody to take this lumber to a landfill where it will rot and pollute our environment, instead of being repurposed for someone else’s needs. My lovely wife is the great conservator and recycler, and I always follow her recommendations. Over the years, I have come to truly appreciate her wisdom and forward-thinking about our care for our environment. It makes a difference on many levels.

A big pile of busted up footings. Will I ever get rid of this stuff?

A big pile of busted up footings. Will I ever get rid of this stuff?

All the lumber I used for my concrete and footing work, ready to be repurposed by Habitat for Humanity.

All the lumber I used for my concrete and footing work, ready to be repurposed by Habitat for Humanity.

Part of my demolition activity was to remove the forms from the concrete pour. In particular, I had to remove the forms which made a recess in the concrete to fit in my footlights. These were all left in place when the outside forms were removed because it was important to have the concrete cure and gain maximum strength because removal of these forms places a stress on the surrounding concrete. Thanks to my naiveté,  I did not seriously consider the potential difficulty in removing these little forms. After all, they were just little plywood boxes held together with a few finish nails. And the concrete contractor did a good job of spraying release agent (diesel fuel — you can smell it when you pull the forms), so I figured no big deal. I’ll just yank these bad boys out by inserting a few screws and pulling with pliers.

This approach did not work out well.

Turns out that the fresh concrete has water (duh!) which gets absorbed in the wood, no matter the release agent. This causes the wood to expand, and, unless you live in a desert (I do) and are willing to wait for several months to let ALL the moisture evaporate (forget that — I have a schedule to keep and I’m impatient), then you will have to remove the forms using brute force. This was an “inside” form, meaning that when it expanded, it only forced itself tighter against the surrounding concrete. I tried a couple of methods which involved a somewhat clever use of jackscrews that would push out the form from behind, but all ended up in failure. If I would have foreseen this complication, I could have installed the correct hardware before the pour, but I didn’t, so I was stuck. In the end, the brute force method was the way to go.

Brute force means removal by destruction. Basically, you use an array of tools, (hammer, crowbar, hand-held jigsaw, drill, chisel) to cut up the form and lever it out. Without doing damage to the concrete, of course. I would cut the top and bottom of the plywood with a jigsaw and then crowbar the top and sides out. For the back, I would drill a horizontal and vertical line of holes, and then use a chisel to break the plywood along the drill lines. The remaining pieces could then be pried out. So was this DIY hell, or was it what the pros do?

In a word, yes to both.

I had a basic misconception with how difficult the form would be to remove based on overlooking the expansion of the wood due to moisture in the concrete. My initial attempts did not take this into account. After trying the alternative jackscrew approach (the screws would either strip or shear off), I found that the brute force demolition approach was not so bad. This is what I think pros do in this situation. So I eventually came up with a “pro” approach. It just took me a few iterations. And a lot of time. Which is why pros are always faster. But I had “fun” doing it, right? Truthfully, no, but I learned something, and that is one of the benefits, if not a joy, of being a DIY.

Here are some pictures and a video:

Here is an "after" picture. Note how the edges of the well are a bit rough. I'm going to have to figure out how to hide this. Hiding your mistakes is an essential part of being a good DIY'er. Hey -- even the pros do it!

Here is an “after” picture. Note how the edges of the well are a bit rough. I’m going to have to figure out how to hide this. Hiding your mistakes is an essential part of being a good DIY’er. Hey — even the pros do it!

The detritus from the destructive removal of the concrete forms. That entire project turned out to be a "well spent" afternoon (!)

The detritus from the destructive removal of the concrete forms. That entire project turned out to be a “well spent” afternoon (!)

 

I’m trying to get a little more traffic on my blog and I ended up getting a domain name: http://www.diydivo.com.  It’s easier to remember, so please visit often!

 

“Little Projects” — Another Part Of A Home Remodel

Thus far, most of my posts have been focused on progressing the home remodeling project as a whole. However, as with any thorough home remodeling, there will be a few things that will be seeming unrelated to the main project, and these stem from the inspections that occurred in leading up to the start of the overall project.

In this example, I had a plumber come in and inspect my domestic water drain lines (not to be confused with site drainage for runoff). I actually did this quite a few months ago because I wanted to know if I had any major work lurking in the background and would have to perform additional digging to fix my drain lines. The good news was that my drain lines were in excellent shape. No clogs, build-up, roots, or other “growies”. In fact, I did not need a drain cleaning! However, there was one part of the drain, right below the kitchen sink, that had a crack and was leaking. My plumbing contractor (Eastlake Plumbing)came in and did an AWESOME job fixing the drain. In fact, they re-routed some of the drain in order to fix a problem that the original builder left behind. However, I had to cut a hole in the stucco on the outside wall near the drain in order to give my plumbing heroes the correct access. That left a big hole in the side of my house. I wasn’t sure exactly how to fix it, but I had bought some cheap plywood and some goop with the hope that I could just seal it up and have it done properly when I hired a stucco crew to stucco the addition and “fix” some other problems.

I had deferred this project because I wanted to keep my momentum going with the brick wall and front yard. That turned out to be a good move because, lo and behold, my favorite YouTube stucco guy Kirk and Jason Girodanos posted a video on how to do a stucco repair after a plumbing job. He gave me some key pointers, but more importantly, showed the job from start to finish so that I had a really good example from which to proceed. I bought my materials, and then finally, this past weekend, had a chance to actually start on this project.

The first thing to do is to chip away the stucco from the perimeter of the cut so that you can slide some building paper underneath. Unfortunately, as I broke away stucco and exposed the underlying structure, I found that it had been adversely affected by the water which was constantly leaking out of the drain. Plus, for whatever reason, the original stucco only had one layer of building paper underneath, instead of the required two layers. So I had to remove a lot more stucco than I planned on in order to expose solid material from which to work with.

The other problem was that there were several studs, plus some of the sole plate and the weep screed, which were totally rotted out. Thus, I had to deal with the structural issues first, before I could move forward with the stucco repair. At least my carpentry skills are fairly well-developed, so I was able to cut away the offending materials, and rebuild the ends of the studs by wedging in “cripple” studs at different lengths to form what looks like a finger joint. This gave me some resistance to shear forces, in addition to the gravity forces which were taken by a new sill plate that I attached to the foundation using a “gunpowder” hammer. I also had to cut notches in the new studs to accommodate electrical wiring and then secure them with nail plates.

Demolition is complete Note how the rotten sole plate and studs are removed, and that I cut the studs to make interlocking "fingers" that will provide lateral strength.

Demolition is complete Note how the rotten sole plate and studs are removed, and that I cut the studs to make interlocking “fingers” that will provide lateral strength.

Rotted out studs. Like swiss cheese!

Rotted out studs. Like swiss cheese!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New sole plate installed. This is a "powder activated" hammer, meaning that it uses a .22 caliber shell to power a hammer. The nail has an orange centering bushing that holds the nail in the "muzzle" of the hammer. You whap the end of the tool with your regular hammer, and that fires the shell and drives the nail right into the concrete. I bought this years ago for attaching furring to a concrete wall, and I've used it countless times since. A must-have if you want to attach something to concrete.

New sole plate installed. This is a “powder activated” hammer, meaning that it uses a .22 caliber shell to power a hammer. The nail has an orange centering bushing that holds the nail in the “muzzle” of the hammer. You whap the end of the tool with your regular hammer, and that fires the shell and drives the nail right into the concrete. I bought this years ago for attaching furring to a concrete wall, and I’ve used it countless times since. A must-have if you want to attach something to concrete.

Replacement studs, interlocked, nailed, and notched for the electrical wires.

Replacement studs, interlocked, nailed, and notched for the electrical wires.

Nail plates over the wires. Required by code, but also did a good job of keeping the wires in place. Note that I'm fitting the building paper.

Nail plates over the wires. Required by code, but also did a good job of keeping the wires in place. Note that I’m fitting the building paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next step was to shove 2 layers of building paper underneath the original building paper at the top edge of the cutout. I thought this would be a major problem, but it turned out to not be so bad. For me, the key was cutting everything the right size and breaking it down into a few separate sheets to make it easier to handle and position.

From there, I had to staple on some lath. I got this lath at a discount because it was folded over and wasn’t a continuous sheet, but for my purposes it was OK. Again, cutting and fitting took several iterations, and I used a number of individual pieces to make things easier to work with. And a lot of staples.

Building paper in position.

Building paper in position.

Lath installed. Ready for stucco!

Lath installed. Ready for stucco!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, time to put on the actual stucco. I bought a couple of boxes of “stucco patch” which has only a 20 minute working time, so ya gotta work fast! I used my “eggbeater” mixer and a 5 gallon plastic bucket to mix the stucco and then went to work. Kirk and Jason Girodanos  use what is called a “pool trowel” and that worked like a champ! So, I got everything on, but I ran out of stucco mix, so I have a big concave area in the wall where the patch is. NBD because (a) the patch is fully functional (waterproof and no holes), and (b) I’m going to have a crew come in and stucco the addition, so I can have them go around the house and fix all of my other stucco problems. Honestly, I don’t know how to apply the finish, and I have other demands on my time. Again, this is an example of making smart decisions about what you do yourself, and what you contract the pros to do. When it comes to portland cement products, I will typically defer to a pro who has a crew that can get the job done before everything turns into an unworkable and ugly slag heap. I speak here from experience.

Stucco in place. Looks like crap, but it's functional and it's concave so the pros can cover it up and make it look nice. I'm calling this the "brown" coat for obvious reasons.

Stucco in place. Looks like crap, but it’s functional and it’s concave so the pros can cover it up and make it look nice. I’m calling this the “brown” coat for obvious reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up: the big Concrete Pour!

Demolition, Excavation, and Skid Steers

Now that I had the brush cleared and a dumpster to put my detritus, it was time to start demolition in earnest. The first step was to get rid of my retaining wall, sidewalks, and driveway apron made of cobblestones.

Basically any hardscape besides the driveway proper was going to go. In a blinding flash of naivete, I went ahead and rented a breaker (a.k.a jackhammer) and had the notion that I would be able to take care of this trifling demolition effort in a mere afternoon. 2 days later, I had barely made progress on that damned retaining wall, and it wasn’t looking good for the completion of the demo that weekend. I had to lift that heavy jackhammer and get it into all sorts of crazy positions in order to get proper purchase on the wall, and even then, it took forever to bust up the concrete — especially the foundation. So, I stopped the foolishness with the retaining wall and focused my remaining efforts in breaking up the sidewalk on the side of the house so I at least accomplished something during the weekend. I went back inside, cleaned up,  and nursed a beer while I licked my wounds and began plotting plan “B”.

The problem that I had was that I needed bigger tools and more power, preferably something that I didn’t have to lift and lug around. Fortunately, I rented a mini “skid steer” for use during the Columbus day holiday weekend, and I was initally planning to use the skid-steer to do excavation and grading. But these little beasties have all manner of attachments, and all I needed to do was to rent the companion breaker attachment. So, for a mere $700 extra (it was $800 for the skid-steer), I would be in business. Now, I just had to do some replanning and figure out how to operate the damned thing.

First, a little background on what a skid steer is. These are smaller versions of a standard power shovel, with a bucket on arms that can be used to scrape, scoop, push, pick up, and dump stuff. It has a small diesel engine that powers a hydraulic pump, and it has 4 wheels which are powered by hydraulic motors. These motors are controlled by handles on either side of the operator such that when you push both forward, the machine goes forward, and when you pull them both back, the machine goes back. And when you push one forward and the other back, the machine skids and spins around and does donuts. Hence “skid-steer”. The best thing about these little guys is, well, they’re little. Perhaps compact is a better work. They weigh about a ton and a half, but they’re only 36″ wide, which means they can fit into your living room through your front door. Not that you’d want to excavate your living room, but I’ve seen videos of folks driving them into garages and using them to bust up garage slabs. Which is where I got the idea to rent the breaker attachment to help me finish the demo work. Here are some pictures:

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The day came when the rental company delivered the skid steer and attachments (hydraulic breaker and two buckets). I had downloaded and printed a copy of the operator’s manual, studied it, and watched some videos on operating it. With my hard had and safety glasses, I nervously strapped myself in the seat, checked everything out, and fired it up. After a few tentative moves, I found that it was very intuitive to operate, so I set the bucket down and disconnected it from the arms so I could mount the breaker attachment. Bad move. I went over some uneven ground and got stuck. Turns out that you need the weight of the bucket , or attachment, to balance things out. So the lesson is that you put all of your attachments in one place next to each other on level ground and make your changeouts there. I put on the breaker attachment, and then went to town on the front sidewalk. Awesome! That thing broke apart fairly quickly, and using the machine to pull out deeply buried chunks of concrete with the breaker was a real labor saver.

One of the conundrums I had to overcome was getting the little guy in the back yard. There was not enough clearance on the sides of the house (yep, less than 3′), but fortunately there is a common walkway on one side of the property, and there are gaps in the masonry wall that borders that walkway, covered with wood fencing. So all I had to do was remove the chunk of fence and I was in business, right?  Well… not so fast! The walkway is about 20″ higher than the level of the ground in my back yard. So I had to build a ramp. The first version looked pretty sturdy, but literally broke apart after a few uses. I had to build another one, at a critical time while I was still paying for use of the skid steer (that $1500 clock was ticking), and it was better lasting a whole day, but in the end, it didn’t cut it either. Plus it was too steep, so I was on the edge of doing wheelies going up with 1.5 tons of machine and another half ton of load. Not cool. Especially when I slipped off once, had to back up, and ended up bashing a support column on my porch cover. Ahh… the joys of DIY! At least I had to replace that column for other reasons, so NBD. I’m trying a new scheme  for next time which involves railroad ties. I figure if it can support a locomotive, it can support a measly skid steer!

Here are some pics of the failed ramp(s) and the broken post:

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DSC_0062 DSC_0070

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end, I moved 2 loads of concrete and rocks (about 25 yards) and loaded up another 15 yard dumpster with excess earth. I still have some grading to do, so there will be more earth removal. And my grading skills suck. But I relish the chance to improve for next time, and I’m carefully studying YouTube videos as part of my heavy equipment apprenticeship program. Nonetheless,  one typically learns by doing. Either that, or I’m going to have a really bumpy landscape!

 

More pics:

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