A New Garage Door

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

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

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

See?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A DIY Take On Garage Door Installation

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

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

The General Part 4: HVAC and Painting

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

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

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

Here are some pictures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the MBATH vent going out.

 

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

Here are some pictures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to follow soon!!

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

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

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

New hold down bolts properly held in with epoxy.

New hold down bolts properly held in with epoxy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This shows the structure detail of the porch roof.

This shows the structure detail of the porch roof.

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

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

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

Close-up of the

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

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

Picture of a

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

My DIY version. That was some pretty fancy carpentry!

My DIY version. That was some pretty fancy carpentry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All buttoned up and ready for the lath folks.,

All buttoned up and ready for the lath folks.,

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!

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!