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 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!

 

It’s Electric!

While waiting for some more vacation time to accrue so that I could take a couple of weeks off and do the master bedroom buildout, I had a few weeks with nothing planned in particular. So last week, I decided to get some of my electrical work in. I’ve been researching this for some time and came to the conclusion that I would get the new service entrance panel and breaker panel all mounted and connected, and then I could call the city inspector. After passing that inspection, I could then contact the electric company (SDG&E) at my convenience and have the upgraded services connected at a time convenient for me. So I figured I could at least get the panel installation done.

The first thing was to order all of the parts. I had figured out most of this during the design phase of the remodel, so all I had to do was to re-familiarize myself with the work I already had completed, and then go back into the manufacturer’s catalog (I chose Eaton), get the part numbers, and then type them into the Home Depot website and put them on order for home delivery (that was free). 3 days and $1,000.00 later, I had all of my panels and breakers at the ready.

The next step was to open up the panels to see exactly how they were laid out so I could figure out what would go where, what knockouts I would use, what types of conduit and fittings I would need and what kind of wiring to get. I didn’t need a lot of wire because the panels are back-to-back, but it needed to be pretty hefty wire because it carries all of the house loads. One thing I had to figure out was how to lay out the grounding bus and neutral bus. If this means nothing to you, then you can (a) read my previous blog entry on grounding, (b) go to this website (http://www.wireyourownhouse.com) which does a pretty good job of explaining the terminology, or (c) skip ahead and forget the technical stuff. Since I like the technical stuff and it’s my blog, then I’m going to tell you all about it.

My brand-new meter panel. This is just like Christmas!

My brand-new meter panel. This is just like Christmas!

In most panels, the service (main) breaker and all of the feeder breakers are in the same enclosure. This arrangement allows you to install grounds and neutrals on the same bus. However, once you have a panel which is fed from another breaker (called a sub-panel), you now have to electrically separate the ground from the neutral. The reason for this is because if you have a unbalanced load running, such as a single 120v appliance, then there will be current running on the neutral, and if that neutral is grounded, it will be running through the grounding wire as well, which can be dangerous. It also can screw up the operation of your Ground Fault Circuit Interruption (GFCI) and Arc Fault Interruption (AFCI) breakers.

So, the way I have my panel wired up, with the main service breaker as part of the meter panel, I have to wire the panel with all of the circuit breakers as a sub-panel. Yes, it’s a little more complicated, but I wanted to be able to COMPLETELY de-energize the circuit breaker panel so I could work on it safely. All in one panels are NOT de-energized because you still have live voltage at the cables coming in from the meter into the top of your mains.

No big deal. All of these panels come with a neutral bus that can be separated by removing a jumper bar, and you can now have a separate neutral and ground bus. BUT, I had one problem. Nowadays almost EVERY breaker is going to have GFCI or AFCI protection. Out of the 21 circuits in my design, only 3 use conventional breakers. The GFCI and AFCI breakers have a “pigtail” which forms part of the sensing circuit and connects to the neutral bus. But I really couldn’t see trying to wire the panel with just one neutral bus without having pigtails on the opposite side making a complete mess and a wiring nightmare. If there is anything that I know about electrical work, it is that neatness counts. Big time. Yeah, you can get it to work if your wiring is a rat’s nest. but it will be difficult to work with later, especially if you have to troubleshoot or add a new circuit.  What I really needed was a neutral bus and grounding bus on each side of the panel so that I could have some flexibility in routing the wires.

Well, it turns out that the panel manufacturers make individual grounding busses that you can screw into holes in the panel that just so happen to match. So, I left the jumper between the existing ground and neutral busses and just didn’t connect them to ground, making them both neutral busses, and then installed two of the add-on grounding busses above and connected it all up with proper grounding wire.

Indoor distribution panel modified for neutral and grounding bars on each side.

Indoor distribution panel modified for neutral and grounding bars on each side.

With that problem solved, it was time to locate the panels and figure out how to attach them to the wall. I also had to make sure that it was vertically located to make it easy to work inside the panels, and met the utility company specifications for the height of the meter. The last part was to figure out how the wires would be routed so I could identify the correct “knockouts” to, well, knock out.

After some preliminary fitting, I temporarily attached the indoor breaker panel between the studs and marked the hole for the wires coming in from the meter. I then removed the panel, drilled the hole with a hole saw, and installed a short piece of threaded pipe, or conduit in electrician’s terms, so that the wires would be protected as they passed through the wall.

Closeup of the through-wall conduit, which is the silver pipe on the lower right. The yellow water seal is visible.

Closeup of the through-wall conduit, which is the silver pipe on the lower right. The yellow water seal is visible.

Turning my attention to the meter panel outside, now could locate it using the conduit coming from the inside as an anchor point. After some trial-and-error and trimming of the conduit coming up from the ground for the main power lines and ground wire, I marked the location of the mounting holes in the back of the panel and drilled holes for the mounting bolts. I chose to use carriage bolts for mounting the panel because (a) they would provide a good anchor to the plywood of the wall and (b) they could protrude enough so that I could get a layer of stucco on the plywood before I mounted the panel. More on that later.

Exterior studs and conduit aligned for the outer meter panel. Yes, the stud on the lower left looks a little out of line, but I needed to "adjust" it to make it fit.

Exterior studs and conduit aligned for the outer meter panel. Yes, the stud on the lower left looks a little out of line, but I needed to “adjust” it to make it fit.

Lastly, I needed to fit everything together to make sure it all worked. So, out with the inside panel (again) to install the bolts for the outside panel, replace the inside panel and fit the conduit into the hole in the wall, fiddle around with the outside meter panel to align it with the main power, ground, and thru-wall conduits, and finally fit the panel onto the mounting bolts. How does it look? Ugh! The damned thing was leaning over! But, never a project without some kind of do-over, and because I do a lot of this do-over stuff, I’m pretty good at it. One hour later, voilá! Nicely done.

Outside meter panel temporarily mounted., Want to make sure everything lines up before putting on the waterproofing building paper and stucco.

Outside meter panel temporarily mounted., Want to make sure everything lines up before putting on the waterproofing building paper and stucco.

Well, maybe that wasn’t the last step. I needed to make sure that the wall behind the outside panel was properly waterproofed, and if I installed it directly to the plywood, that would be impossible. The correct solution is courtesy of my favorite stucco guy, Kirk Giordano (http://www.youtube.com/user/StuccoPlastering). He showed a video of putting up stucco behind a new electrical panel with all of the proper waterproofing. In his instance, the panel was already located, but In my case, I could remove the panel to get better access. The key is to properly waterproof plywood with 2 layers of building paper, making sure that you flash and counter-flash around the conduit through the wall and the mounting bolts. Then, it’s time to do some stucco work! I really didn’t want to do a whole lot of it — just enough to make a nice surface in back of the panel. The professional stucco people that I plan on hiring will feather in around the panel and it will all look nice in the end. My job was just to make sure that I left enough room for them to tie into the paper and the lath when they come in to do the finish work.

The studs and conduit are properly wrapped in masking tape to shield them from the onslaught of stucco mud.

The studs and conduit are properly wrapped in masking tape to shield them from the onslaught of stucco mud.

 

Meter panel mounted in the final position. I tried to make the wall in back waterproof, yet easy for the stucco contractor to come in and finish around the panel.

Meter panel mounted in the final position. I tried to make the wall in back waterproof, yet easy for the stucco contractor to come in and finish around the panel.

Closeup of the sealer locknut. This is a great installation.

Closeup of the sealer locknut. This is a great installation.

 

Now the fun part — wiring! To me, this is a fairly straightforward task that is not particularly physically taxing, and you aren’t under any time pressure, like you are with masonry, and it’s pretty clean work (no mortar, sawdust, paint drips, water, etc.). My primary objective when doing wiring, other than meeting all specifications (e.g., wire sizes, connectors, strain reliefs, grounding) is NEATNESS. Especially in the main electrical panel. Wires should not just cris-cross all over the place, but be neatly run, vertically and horizontally, so it is possible to easily follow where each wire goes. As with all projects, a little forethought can go a long way, and in this instance, I figured out that I needed to route the ground wires first because I had to snake the wire coming in from the meter panel in back of the neutral bus on the breaker panel. I then had to connect just 3 more wires: two hot and one neutral. But these were BIG wires. Well, cables if you want to be more descriptive. For a 200 amp service, 2/0 copper is sufficient. There are some techniques for handling this size of cable, and I learned a lot from the Internet, as well as a great book by Rex Cauldwell called Wiring a House (Taunton Press, 2014). But basically, all you need is a utility knife, a pair of linesman pliers, a hacksaw and a crescent wrench (you use the hole in the handle for bending the cable).

Here are some pictures that show some of the electrical details.

Elements of a meter panel. Cables from the transformer at the street come up through the big conduit on the bottom. The two power lines hook up to the bottom of the meter, and the neutral cable hooks up to the neutral bar. The meter goes into the base on the left hand side, The two cables coming out of the top of the meter base go to the main panel breaker. Cables for power and neutral will come down and feed back into the house through the metal conduit on the right. Everything on the left hand side is the responsibility of the utility. Everything on the right hand side is all mine!

Elements of a meter panel. Cables from the transformer at the street come up through the big conduit on the bottom. The two power lines hook up to the bottom of the meter, and the neutral cable hooks up to the neutral bar. The meter goes into the base on the left hand side, The two cables coming out of the top of the meter base go to the main panel breaker. Cables for power and neutral will come down and feed back into the house through the metal conduit on the right. Everything on the left hand side is the responsibility of the utility. Everything on the right hand side is all mine!

 

Everything all wired up for action! The feeder breakers are installed back-to-back along the center so they make contact with one (for120v) or both (for 240v) of the hot legs. Outgoing wires for the branch circuits are routed in along the "gutters" adjacent to the hot legs. What is it about the trades and their terminology? Male and female fittings, nipples, studs, hot legs? Sheesh!

Everything all wired up for action! The feeder breakers are installed back-to-back along the center so they make contact with one (for120v) or both (for 240v) of the hot legs. Outgoing wires for the branch circuits are routed in along the “gutters” adjacent to the hot legs. What is it about the trades and their terminology? Male and female fittings, nipples, studs, hot legs? Sheesh!

And here is a video of me putting all of this together.

All done. Now it’s time for inspection!

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.

DSC_0039

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!

Building a Paver Patio

One of my  “successful” DIY projects was a paver patio I built when I was living in Chesapeake Virginia. In fact, you can still see the results of my handiwork on Google Earth. The address is 1901 Shady Cove Ct. (if you want to check it out). Building a paver patio is DEFINITELY in the realm of DIY. The question is, do you want it do look like DIY, or do you want it to look professional? I always choose the latter. And I think that all serious DIY’ers aspire to create works that equal the quality of, if not exceed, those that can be professionally built. I guess that strays into the realm of “artisan”, but let’s keep the discussion on the practical side.

We start with the basics. Looking good is one thing. Looking good and lasting a long time is quite another. In my second attempt at building a paver patio, which happened to be at my current address, I took a few shortcuts. While the initial results were nothing short of outstanding (hey, this was the second time I was doing this, right?), over time the patio deteriorated. I didn’t put in a proper aggregate base, and I didn’t seal it, so the ants came in and undermined the sand under the pavers which caused the pavers to sink and the ants to rise up and threaten our very existence. Additionally, the level and slope did not provide proper drainage. I spent a lot of time and effort (and $) fixing the level and drainage problems, as profusely documented in other posts on this blog, but I want to now focus on slope.

It is important to make sure that the ground has at least a 2% slope away from the foundation of the house to allow for proper drainage and water shedding during a heavy rainfall. While we don’t get a lot of rain here in San Diego, when it comes, it comes in gigantic buckets. So my landscape has to be able to handle large rates of rainfall, as infrequent as they might be. A 2% slope is more than adequate, but how, exactly, do you do this?

Making an accurate slope starts with defining a reference point. In the case of a slope away from a house, the reference is, well, the house. Convenient references are typically siding or the weep screed on stucco. Since I have stucco, I’m using the weep screed. Because stucco absorbs water, the top of the finished grade must be at least 4″ below the weep screed. Adding 2″ for the pavers, 1″ for the sand base, and 4″ for the aggregate base means that the ground must be 11″ lower than the weep screed. That’s fine for the level at the foundation, but my drainage grates are 10′ away from the house (120″) meaning that I have to subtract an additional 2-1/2″ to from the 11″ to get the required 2% slope away from the foundation (120″ x 2% = 2.4″). This means that the ground must be 13 -1/2″ lower than the weep screed at the line of my drains.

Now, you have to transfer these measurements to the surface of the soil. You can use a tape measure to transfer the marks from the weep screed, and then use a line level to transfer that mark to the reference you’re using for the slope, and measure down from there. However, that’s not very accurate, and it’s pretty fussy, especially for a DIY’er. A far better method is to get a laser level and a grade stick. It used to be that these setups cost thousands of dollars. But now, you can pick up a good rig for around $375.00. OK, that’s not exactly cheap, and if you’re doing just one job, then maybe renting is a good idea. But if you are doing remodeling as a DIYer working alone, this will come in mighty handy. Plus, isn’t collecting cool tools part of the DIY experience? I can always justify the expense by how much I save in labor costs. But I digress. Here is what you need:

Laser level tools. Make sure you get a grade rod calibrated in fractional inches. Most surveying grade rods are in decimal feet, and that can be a pain to convert, unless you're a professional surveyor, in which case you don't bother converting and leave that to the other trades.

Laser level tools. Make sure you get a grade rod calibrated in fractional inches. Most surveying grade rods are in decimal feet, and that can be a pain to convert, unless you’re a professional surveyor, in which case you don’t bother converting and leave that to the other trades.

Onto the task of transferring these measurements. After a lot of thought, I came up the idea of pounding in grade stakes close to the foundation, and then doing the same where I wanted the low point of the grade to be (near the drainage grates). I would then connect them with strings, and I would have an accurate grid to which I could properly set the grade. The only problem was that if I used the calculated level of the ground, I would have to be fussing with marking and stringing at ground level. Totally a non-starter. What I came up with was to offset the level by 4″. This corresponds to the depth of the aggregate base which I plan on putting in. I would then use a wooden “block” that was 4″ in height to run along the string, which would establish the proper level of the ground with the correct slope.  Here is a video and some pictures.

Now that the building lines are set, I have to remove additional dirt to get to the correct level.

Now that the building lines are set, I have to remove additional dirt to get to the correct level.

Look at these dirt clods. I needed a pick to break them apart!

Look at these dirt clods. I needed a pick to break them apart!

More petrified potatoes. Fortunately, these are very popular as free giveaways on Craigslist. I don't have problems getting rid of these.

More petrified potatoes. Fortunately, these are very popular as free giveaways on Craigslist. I don’t have problems getting rid of these.

This shows how I graded to the lines. I ran my 4" block along the lines and then established the correct grade at the lines.

This shows how I graded to the lines. I ran my 4″ block along the lines and then established the correct grade at the lines.

I then eyeballed the grade and leveled everything out. Pretty nice, eh?

I then eyeballed the grade and leveled everything out. Pretty nice, eh?

Unfortunately while digging (again) I had some trouble locating previously buried services. This is a repair job of my blasting apart my pristine new greywater irrigation system. Fortunately I know how to fix this stuff.

Unfortunately while digging (again) I had some trouble locating previously buried services. This is a repair job of my blasting apart my pristine new greywater irrigation system. Fortunately I know how to fix this stuff.

 

 

Here is the truck used to deliver the 15 yards of aggregate base.

Here is the truck used to deliver the 15 yards of aggregate base.

And here is the aggregate base in all its 15 yards of wonderfulness. This is really going to suck.

And here is the aggregate base in all its 15 yards of wonderfulness. This is really going to suck.

Here is a cool video on how to tighten, and easily loosen, building strings.

Easy Building String Knot

Now that the proper grade is established at the ground level, the next step is to add the aggregate base. The best aggregate base to use, at least in Southern California, is something called “Class 2 Road Base”. This is a mixture of aggregates from 3/4″ gravel down to dust. Plus it had recycled concrete. And it’s cheap(er). Best of all it compacts to a very stable base which is perfectly suited to a paver patio. Because I had the true genius of using a 4″ offset for my building strings, “all” I had to do was to trundle in the aggregate base and make it level with my strings. However, all of my genius could not overcome the basic fact of having to muscle the 15 yards of aggregate that was required to fill my front and back yard to the required 4″. Once the aggregate base is in place, it MUST be compacted. The best way to do this is with a plate vibratory compactor that can be rented. The aggregate base that I’m using compacts really well because of the different aggregate sizes. It really makes a stable, sturdy base on which to lay your pavers. Here are some pictures of the finished product:

This is the fill all compacted. The orange beast in the foreground is the plate compactor. Also notice the wet say in the background. This tool is essential in making nice cuts for your pavers.

This is the fill all compacted. The orange beast in the foreground is the plate compactor. Also notice the wet say in the background. This tool is essential in making nice cuts for your pavers.

Side yard all nice and compacted.

Side yard all nice and compacted.

Front yard all ready for the next step. I'll be filling this with decomposed granite (DG) and will stabilize it with a goop which promises to be resistant to erosion. We'll see...

Front yard all ready for the next step. I’ll be filling this with decomposed granite (DG) and will stabilize it with a goop which promises to be resistant to erosion. We’ll see…

The next thing to do is to lay out the sand on which you’ll be placing the pavers. After doing some research on the Internet, I found a really nifty way to get it perfect. Obtain some 3/4″ PVC pipes, which have an outside diameter of 1″, and lay them down at 4′ intervals. Then dump your sand between the pipes and screed it off with a 2×4. The original video on the Internet showed an 8′ spacing, but they had 2 people working the screed. So I chose to shorten the distance to make it easier for a one-person crew. Working as one person sometimes requires a different approach than what a professional crew would do, so just “doing it like the pros” is not always possible.

One-person screed.

One-person screed.

Everything is now ready for actually laying the pavers. While this can be a big payoff, because it’s so easy as compared to setting the grade and leveling the aggregate base, you have to be careful to set up that all important first course as accurately as you can. Once again, we need some reference points, and the most common one is the foundation of the house. In my case, since the patio occupies the entire back yard, I chose to use the corner of my foundation. The first bricks to lay will be the brick edging, which are bricks that are set perpendicular to the wall. For the corners, I used some 8″x8″ paver blocks, which made the corner transitions easier than cutting up 4″x8″ bricks on the diagonal. More of that to come. Now to set the pattern which you’re going to use for the “field”. Many patterns (basket-weave. running bond, 90º herringbone) should fit right along your edging, and you can merrily brick away. However, I chose to use a 45º herringbone pattern because (a) looks really cool, (b) aligns with the cardinal compass points relative to true north on the property, and (c) is a bit more challenging.

To line up a 45º pattern, the first thing to do is to set up a building line with some masonry string and blocks. This line needs to be parallel to the edge you’ll be working, and should be offset such that the filler bricks are relatively easy to cut and fit. I’ve seen some videos of how to set this up on the Internet, and while watching the process is instructive, these videos miss the obvious when it comes to determining the offset. It’s really quite simple: since the bricks will intersect the edge at a 45º angle, you’ll want to cut off the corner of a brick so you can flip the pieces around and complete the pattern. Here is a diagram:

Diagram of how to set up the first course.

Diagram of how to set up the first course.

A closer look at the diagram shows that the offset is the hypotenuse of a 45º right triangle, whose two legs correspond to the width of your brick. The hypotenuse is the square root of the sum of the squares of the legs (Pythagorean theorem, yes?), So since my bricks are 4″x8″, the offset is √(4² + 4²) = √(16+16) = √32 = 5.65. That works out to 5-5/8″. (If you really want to be nerdly, the closest fraction is 21/32 which is right between 5/8 and 11/16, so you could use your tape measure to get spot on, but in reality, 1/8″ is pretty good.) Why do I discuss this? Because I’m a nerd. And proud of it! That bit of mathematical nuance out of the way, it’s time to lay some brick! Take your bricks and align the corners diagonally with the mason’s line. You want to lay a fair number of bricks to establish a good course to build from, as shown in the picture. I set about 10 pairs (20 bricks).

Now we get to a point where we have to start thinking about the order of things. Specifically, you need to think about how you’re going to set the sand base, then lay the brick, without stepping in the sand base (which defeats the purpose), or disrupting the bricks that you’ve already set. You can (indeed must) walk on the placed brick, but you must step gingerly so as not to disrupt the bricks on the edges. So the brick path you step on needs to be at least 5-6 courses wide. You can start from one edge and build out until it’s wide enough, and then you’re home free.

Stepping Stones. Lay enough brick so you can step on it (carefully) and work your way out.

Stepping Stones. Lay enough brick so you can step on it (carefully) and work your way out.

One of the critical observations in doing masonry work is to realize that masonry is the art of adjustment. Constantly. Bricks are not exactly the same size. Foundations are not exactly straight. So, one has to constantly compromise. In laying this particular herringbone pattern, I noticed that the bricks tended to become misaligned, probably due to the fact that the bricks came in contact with the edging at their corners. This meant that only a slight misalignment in the angle of the bricks will make a big difference. The way to notice this is to look at the gaps between the bricks. If there are excessive gaps, then it is likely that the bricks are misaligned. This is where your rubber hammer becomes your friend. Simply tap the edges of the bricks and they will tend to lock together and self-align. To a point. If you’re not vigilant, then things can get away from you and you might have to pull some of the bricks up so you can align them. Bottom line: constantly pay attention!

It turns out that laying the pavers, as whole bricks, is only half the job. The other half comes when you have to cut the bricks to fit along the edges and any other protuberances, such as post foundations and drainage grates. This is where a diamond blade wet saw comes in handy. Although one can dry cut the bricks with a grinder, the wet saw makes the cuts much more accurately, resulting in a very nice, professional look. The cost of renting this type of saw is totally worth it, especially when compared to the effort you will expend in putting all of the pavers in. The technique is to fit a brick where it would normally go, and then mark where it contacts the edge with a sharpie. Turn the brick over, draw a line between your two marks, and you now have your cut line. I also number the cuts so I can cut in batches to save time, yet keep all of the pieces organized. You’d be surprised how much they all start looking alike! Remember — mark the BOTTOM of the brick. Having a bunch of numbers on the top of your bricks will elicit some uncomfortable questions by your guests after you finish.

Step #1: Line up your bricks.

Step #1: Line up your bricks.

Step #2: Mark where the brick intersects the edge.

Step #2: Mark where the brick intersects the edge.

Step #3: Connect the marks to make a line.

Step #3: Connect the marks to make a line.

Step #4: Number your bricks so you'll remember where they go.

Step #4: Number your bricks so you’ll remember where they go.

Step #5 Cut the bricks. See how handy the numbers are?

Step #5 Cut the bricks. See how handy the numbers are?

Step #6. Set the bricks in place. Looks nice!

Step #6. Set the bricks in place. Looks nice!

Now that the bricks are in place, they should be set into the sand base. This is best done with a plate vibratory compactor. This is a little like a lawn mower, except that it’s heavy and has some weights that rapidly spin, causing the plate on the bottom to buzz in a heavy manner. This is, perhaps, one interpretation of getting “heavily buzzed”. At any rate, the bricks will settle nicely into the sand base and start to lock up with each other, stabilizing the entire assembly. That’s all good, but in order to completely stabilize the structure, you must add sand. These pavers are specifically designed to have small (1/8″) gaps between them — in fact, there are little tabs on the sides of the brick to optimize this spacing and keep it uniform throughout. Because the gap is small, and the friction of the sand is what is used to lock the pavers in place, it is important to use “joint sand”, which has the right grain size and sharp edges. The process is to spread the sand all around, sweeping it back and forth a bit to get it to go into the gaps, and then take the plate compactor and run it over the bricks again. This will shake the bricks and the sand will rapidly and completely fill the gaps. (Heavily buzzed with “joint” sand — hmmm…. maybe that’s what makes them act like bricks.) You’ll want to sweep and vibrate one more time to make sure the gaps are filled all the way to the top. You will likely now have some excess sand on top, so it will need to be swept off. I used the extra sand to make a sandbox for our outdoor cat, Tiger.

Here is our outdoor cat, Tiger, in the supervisory mode. He is a feral cat that we tamed, and he comes in to eat and when the weather is bad, but we could never litter train him. So....

Here is our outdoor cat, Tiger, in the supervisory mode. He is a feral cat that we tamed, and he comes in to eat and when the weather is bad, but we could never litter train him. So….

Tiger's Toidy. A pristine sandbox in a secluded, private location. It pays to be a cat!

Tiger’s Toidy. A pristine sandbox in a secluded, private location. It pays to be a cat!

 

Finally, the last step: sealer. Sealer is important because (a) it penetrates the sand, discouraging ants and other bugs from coming up through the gaps between the bricks, and (b) penetrates the surface of the bricks to make the cleanup of spills, including such things as grease from your grill and bird poop, much easier. Putting on the sealer was not particularly difficult, but it was important to flood the bricks, and especially the gaps, to get good penetration. I used a roller attached to a pole and it worked pretty well.

This particular job took a lot of time, particularly in some unseasonable heat, but I took some vitamins and had a few extra cups of coffee, so the following video outlines the process from start to finish.

As a bonus, I now have completely cleared my driveway which, for the past 18 months, has served as a lay down area, particularly for the bricks and sand I harvested from the original patio. I finally feel as though my outside projects are near conclusion. Here are some more pictures:

Driveway with all the junk and lay-down for the patio. I removed the patio bricks 18 months before and they've been sitting there until now when I could reinstall them.

Driveway with all the junk and lay-down for the patio. I removed the patio bricks 18 months before and they’ve been sitting there until now when I could reinstall them.

After 18 months, the driveway is clear and I can now park my cars! Unfortunately, this is a temporary situation as I will be starting on the inside of the house and will need this space for another lay-down area. :(

After 18 months, the driveway is clear and I can now park my cars! Unfortunately, this is a temporary situation as I will be starting on the inside of the house and will need this space for another lay-down area. 😦

So, the next few steps will be to finish off the outside, and that begins with a terrific outdoor space called a “catio”. More to follow….

“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!

Masonry — How To Learn A New Skill!

Let’s face it. If you are a dedicated DIY’er, then you have to be willing to take on new projects which stretch your skills. Otherwise, you wouldn’t make any progress on the DIY highway. The reason that I say “stretch” is that expanding your skill set really means building on your existing skills.

There are some fundamental skills that anyone who builds must have. You have to know how to measure. You have to know what it means to be level, square, and plumb. You have to know how to think in 3 dimensions. For example: if you’re cutting a board into 24″ sections, then you have to take the kerf of the saw blade into account. Thus, you need to measure 24″, 48-1/8″, 72-1/4″, and so on. If you don’t, then every cut will be 1/8″ shorter than the previous one, and that can add up! Or you can cut and the repetitively measure. That’s what I tend to do (easier to keep track of, but takes more time). Building is fundamentally a creative art and, as such, you have to have a feel for materials and you have to like working with your hands. Your intuition also plays a big part and is an invaluable skill in and of itself. Don’t be afraid of it!

The next level is to take stock of the materials that you will be using. This generally takes two forms: (1) the actual material and, (2) the things you need to stick it together. For a wall, that will mean (1) lumber and drywall, and (2) nails, screws, tape, and drywall mud. For a masonry fence (what I happen to be building), that means (1) concrete block (i.e. concrete masonry units, or CMU’s) and caps, and reinforcing materials (rebar, anchors), and (2) concrete (for the footing), and mortar. Don’t forget the wire ties for the rebar and the rebar chairs to elevate your rebar assembly so it doesn’t bottom out  in the footing.

Understanding your materials is very important because you will be manipulating these materials to produce your DIY masterpiece. How do I cut it to size? How do I move it around and put it in place and how to keep it there? The answer to this second question is always very important to a DIY’er because, for the most part, you’re the only person there. In fact, the ability to do a job by yourself, without help, can be a crucial factor in deciding whether to go the DIY route, or to hire the job out. That is why I plan on hiring out my sidewalk concrete job.

Then there are the tools. Ah, tools! The MOST important tools that you have  (and everybody has) are your hands, your eyes, and your brain. That is why safety is SO important, because it becomes vastly more difficult, if not impossible, to do DIY projects if you are injured. See my previous post on safety. That being said, you just can’t cut wood or rebar with your hands. You need tools, which are basically extensions of your hands that perform a specific task. Tools can be segregated generally into the categories of measure, cut, beat, twist, or squeeze. The tools become more nuanced depending on the material you are working with, and generally can be grouped that way. Woodworking tools are different than metalworking tools, are different from masonry tools, etc.. You won’t use a hand saw to cut rebar, nor will you use a grinder to cut wood. So, to accomplish a project, you will likely have to get tooled up! And each new project can be viewed as an opportunity to add to the tool stable. If you’re just starting out, then obtaining the tools you need may be more expensive than the materials for the project. Fear not. Tools are an investment, and you can use them for the next project (and the next, and the next). Eventually, the ratio of tool to material expense goes way down, but NEVER to zero! There is ALWAYS room for one more tool. As an example, because I am taking on a masonry project for the first time, I had to invest in a number of tools, seen in these pictures.

Masonry Tools That I Bought

Masonry Tools That I Bought

 

Safety Equipment: Gloves, Safety Glasses, Hearing Protection, Breathing Protection. DON'T SKIMP!

Safety Equipment: Gloves, Safety Glasses, Hearing Protection, Breathing Protection. DON’T SKIMP!

Finally, to actually build, you have to apply your tools and your skills to the materials and start the creative process. But what if your skills fall short? Well, you have to self-educate. That means one of two things: learning by doing and making mistakes, and learning from others who have made their mistakes. This reminds me of one of my favorite sayings ever:

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgment.

So, the BEST learning comes from your own experience (and mistakes) because you’ll remember them. However, that imposes a lot of risk and wasted time, so the BEST approach is to learn as much as you can from others with experience, and then go ahead and get some experience for yourself. That way, your mistakes, which you WILL make, will be less common and of less consequence. Before the Internet, I used to get all of the books and magazine articles I could on whatever subject I needed to study and spent a lot of time going through all of it. Now, the Internet has not only vastly more information on any given subject, but there are also VIDEOS which, for me, make all of the difference. To see a master craftsman with 30+ years of experience showing you how they do it, step-by-step, is almost like being in an apprenticeship program. Except that you don’t have the master yelling at you when you screw it up. That is left as an exercise for the you, the student.

For masonry work, I found a guy called Mike Haduck, who is a master mason in Pennsylvania. He has a YouTube channel  (here)  which is really good, and he covers every aspect of masonry that I could possibly imagine. He has great humility and in my mind is a great teacher, but why I really like him is because one of his tenants is that “there is no one right way”, meaning that his way is not necessarily the only way that you can produce a good result. It’s just his way. For a DIY’er, just getting insight on any way that works is better than nothing. However, because each job has its particulars and nuances, you have to remain flexible and, when necessary, do a riff on the basic techniques to make things work for you. And, as you get more experienced, you may develop your own ways which you can carry forward to other projects.

Here are some pictures of getting ready for the project:

Ready For The Footing

Ready For The Footing

Pouring the Footing

Pouring the Footing

Footing Completed!

Footing Completed!

Always sign your concrete work!

Always sign your concrete work!

Brick Delivery

Brick Delivery

Building Materials. Christmas in February!

Building Materials. Christmas in February!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also had to make a lintel, which is a piece of masonry that spans an opening. I followed Mike Haduck’s You Tube instructions (see here), and here are the pictures of the effort:

Making the Lintel. The 7" grinder is a new tool Santa gave me for Christmas!

Making the Lintel. The 7″ grinder is a new tool Santa gave me for Christmas!

Tools for rebar cutting: Measuring tape, 4" grinder, work stand (work-mate or equivalent) and a sharpie.

Tools for rebar cutting: Measuring tape, 4″ grinder, work stand (work-mate or equivalent) and a sharpie.

Bent rebar, cut blocks, and mortar, ready for assembly

Bent rebar, cut blocks, and mortar, ready for assembly

Finished lintel. I didn't pound it, like Mike did, so I hope it will be OK.

Finished lintel. I didn’t pound it, like Mike did, so I hope it will be OK.

Time for cleanup. Always keep your tools clean (especially masonry tools) and always clean up after a day's work. My dad taught me that.

Time for cleanup. Always keep your tools clean (especially masonry tools) and always clean up after a day’s work. My dad taught me that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, I’m ready for the President’s Day long weekend, and I’m very much looking forward to it. This will be the culmination of a lot of work in that this will be the construction of something that will be actually be permanent and seen by all. Stay tuned…..