October 21, 2007

Gettin it Together

Newbeam0001 When I last left off discussion of the sill repair project, I was carving away at the house with a chainsaw (see Heavy Duty Wood).  Well the carving went on to include shaping the replacement beam and after carefully measuring and sketching out the cuts I needed to make, I was able to shape it to fit snugly in place where I had taken out the old rotten one.  After all the sweat and worry that went with removing the rotted sill and fashioning a replacement, the sight of the new-old beam in place was decidedly satisfying.

The next task was sealing up all the cracks with spray foam insulation, and then replacing the sheathing that had been removed to access the rotted sill.

Sealing the cracks with foam was pretty straight-forward.  I've done this enough now to know how to keep it neat.  The poly-urethane foam sticks to everything it comes into contact with and if you're not careful you'll be discovering it in all kinds of unintended places.

Sheathing0001 Replacing the sheathing took a little more thought than you might expect.  The original sheathing is made up of rough sawn 1-inch boards.  The original clapboards are about a half inch at their thickest and are nailed directly to the 1-inch boards.  So the gap I had to fill between the studs and the surface I would be remounting the cement shingles to was between 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 inches.  The nature of the original sheathing and the uneven hand-hewn foundation sill didn't provide for exact measures.  After considering a couple different options for replacing the sheathing and building up the surface, I decided on using one layer of 1/2" plywood and then a layer of 1" rough sawn boards I had salvaged from demolition work almost three years ago.  This saved me a little money and helped make some space in the shed.  (The pink strip that you see in the picture is a sill plate foam strip that I used in an unconventional way to help prevent air infiltration through the gaps created by the uneven sill beam.)

Vycor0001 Once the sheathing was back in place, I was ready to install some water-proofing.  I used Vycor self-adhesive vinyl flashing to protect the bottom edge of the new sheathing. The weather report said rain was on the way, so I made sure to get all the vinyl flashing in place before I quit for the day.  However, the next morning when I went out to get the newspaper, I noticed that the strong wind of the night before had pulled the Vycor from the house.  Unfortunately it hadn't adhered well to the rough sawn sheathing boards.  I was able to salvage half of it and got it re-applied--this time with staples.  Stapling is not the preferred way of mounting this product but it was the only way I was going to get it to stay in place under the circumstances.  Luckily the rain hadn't arrived yet so I was still working with dry wood.

You can also see the new door sill in place in this last picture.  Getting that installed was a project in itself with having to build up the substrate and work around the ancient existing door frame and casing. But now there's a solid door step where before only the lightest feet could tread without fear of collapse.


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October 18, 2007

Insulation Review

Thanks to Alex for the comment on insulation.  As thing start to cool down here and the furnace starts firing up every morning it's worth reviewing insulation issues.

The upstairs insulation has worked out well. The house is very cozy, though I still need to tighten up the windows.

The 1x3 strapping over the 1" rigid board worked out well too. The only thing I wish I had done was plan a little better for things that might be attached to the walls later (like the wainscoting in the bathroom). If I had been more consistent with my placement of the strapping, I would know exactly where I had something solid to nail to. Maybe I should have gone 16" on center with the strapping instead of 24"?

I'm finding that using the stud finder for locating the strapping isn't easy. The tool gets confused by the studs that are deeper in the wall.

As far as the strapping being sufficient for holding the drywall (with a coat of plaster I might add)--nothing's fallen yet! I think it's a necessary step with insul. board as thick as 1". Without it I think you'd be asking too much from the sheetrock screws. With the downstairs walls I used 1/2" rigid board and no strapping. That's been fine too but the walls have a lower R-value as a result of both the thinner insul. board and the air space provided by the strapping.

Anyway, please go ahead and post comments, and I'll reply as I'm able.  Thanks again, and good luck with your project.

james graham (aka handyman)

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October 14, 2007

Here's to Jack and Dolly

Tubready2mov0001 After over a year of being stranded out on the landing at the top of the stairs, the old cast iron bath tub has found its way into the bathroom.

Once Cybele finished putting the final coat on the feet, the tub was ready to be moved.  The trouble was finding the will to do it.  Moving a 300-odd pound tub was not something that was going to be the highlight of the weekend.

There were two possible routes for getting it from the hallway to its permanent home between the toilet and sink.  One was through the doorway.  The problem with this route was that the tub is just under 32" wide and the doorway is just over 28".  Tip the tub on its side, however, and it would fit since it's only about 25" high.  The other route was through the window space between the bathroom and the stair landing. (Remember, I installed a frosted/stained glass window in the bathroom wall in order to provide light to the interior space.)  The problem with this route is that we would have to lift the tub up to the height of the window sill which is about 30" from the floor.

Earlier in the day I posted a request on the town's listserv for a furniture dolly, the kind that's flat and has four wheels and is usually seen in the hands of beefy movers.  I figured if we were going to try tipping it on its side to get it through the door, a moving dolly would be key.  Thankfully the listserv responded positively and within a few hours I had a sturdy dolly in hand and was ready to get started.

We decided to try getting the tub through the doorway.  Lifting the tub over the window sill in the small space right at the top of the stairs just seemed like a disaster waiting to happen.  The tub had probably lived on the second floor of the house for over a hundred years.  Who knew how desperately it wanted out? The image of it careening down the stairs after slipping from our grasp was a once in a lifetime event I didn't want to enjoy in this lifetime.

Our decision made, the first step was to remove the sink vanity so that we had room to maneuver the tub once we got it into the space. It would have been helpful if the toilet was out of the way too, but removing and reinstalling that was a task I was hoping to avoid.

The next step was putting down cardboard on the floor to protect the tile and help roll the tub over the 1" door sill.

With the sink removed, the cardboard in place, and the dolly positioned, I was ready to call in the muscle, ur, my wife.

Tubinplace0001Tipping the tub onto the dolly was easy enough and getting it over the door sill and halfway through the door went alright too.  But then the toilet was blocking our progress just as the drain pipe was catching on the door frame.  I was ready to push it back out into the hallway and reconsider, but Cybele (the sexy mover) reasoned if we could only tip it a little more, the pipe would sneak through the door.

It worked! We were through the door and into the bathroom. Now all we had to do was to tip it back up into its rightful place against the wall.

The problem now was getting the feet to stay on the far side of the tub while tipping it just right so that the drainpipe landed in the hole in the floor.  This took a couple of tries and once it was in place, there was still the job of getting the feet installed on the near side of the tub which was now in a place that prevented us getting a lift-hold on it.

That's when I went for the 2-ton auto jack.

With Cybele lifting a bit, I was able to slip the jack under the tub just far enough.  With hydraulics working for me I was able to hold the tub up, install the feet, and even position it just right.  James, Cybele, Jack, and Dolly had all done their job.  Well, James still had to reinstall the sink vanity.  But the tub is in place, and an unwelcome task that had been hanging over me for a long time is done.


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October 09, 2007

Grandpa's Ladder

Grampsladder We moved upstairs back in June (see Movin' on Up) despite the fact that there are a lot of little finishing tasks that need to get done in that part of the house.  It was a good idea to make use of the space before completing everything, though.  We're a lot more comfortable having the additional space, and even if I have to look at windows without trim as a constant reminder of what needs to get done, I'm happy that we're using the whole house that we're paying for.

I was happy to take care of one of those unfinished tasks this weekend.  While still nursing my injured back, I couldn't in good faith continue work on repairing the front sill, but I could still handle a few power tools--at least enough to install a ladder to Ramon's loft.

The loft above my son's bedroom was former attic space. At some point during the rebuild it struck me that this would make a fun little space for him, especially since his bedroom is pretty small (only 9x12). The problem of course was coming up with some means for getting up there.  I wanted to leave the access space as open as possible to give the room a larger feel, so this ruled out using one of those handy pull-down staircases.  A little spiral staircase would be cool but I felt that would take up too much floor space.  The easiest thing would be to mount a ladder.

Finding a ladder to mount was the problem.  I nice iron ladder, custom made would have been nice but was not in the budget.  I knew I'd have an easier time mounting a wooden ladder, but these days wooden ladders are hard to come by.  I remembered that my dad had an old wooden extension ladder but he had recently moved from the old homestead in order to downsize and escape the burden of home maintenance. (I might do that too someday.)  I called up my brother Pete, and sure enough, he saved that old ladder from the trash heap and was willing to donate it to the cause.

It turned out to be the perfect solution.  The metal brackets that held the extension pieces together made for fine mounting hardware, and the little pulley for lifting the extension is fun way to get stuff up and down out of the loft.

Admittedly, watching 6 year old Ramon climb the old wooden rungs 8 feet into the loft has me holding my breath a little, but he seems pretty happy with it.  And I'm happy to have my big stepladder back which he's been using to get up and down until now.


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October 05, 2007

Blue Bath

(Handyman's wife Cybele checks in for a posting...)

Paintedtub0001Some time ago I went through a faux finishing phase. I stripped and refinished a dresser, painted the frames of several mirrors, and redid a tabletop using paint and powdered graphite. Jocasta Innes’s Paint Magic  and Mindy Druker’s Recipes for Surfaces were my Old and New Testament. I didn’t have much money, but I had plenty of time to layer on gesso and experiment with oil paints, glazes, and toxic fumes.

Fast forward 15 or so years. Now with a bit more money—but never enough—and much less time, James called on me to help out with painting our new old house. Priming and painting walls was different than painting furniture, but I did a decent enough job, right honey?

Must be, because he also tapped me to paint our cast iron bath tub. Now, putting in the bath tub in our upstairs bathroom is key. Our son has just about had it with showers, and I like to soak in the tub every one in a while myself. But I stalled. I delayed. I dragged my feet. I don’t even have James’s excuse of having other renovation tasks to tackle. Nope, I was just being lazy.

In the late summer, we finally trooped to the hardware store and picked out a paint with the simple and unlikely (for a paint color) name, “Blue.” James handed me the wire brush, sandpaper, a dust mask, and a drop cloth and pushed me upstairs. Once I got going, I enjoyed myself. Two coats of primer—three in a particularly rusty area—two coats of paint and many hours of drying time later I was done. Mission accomplished!

But like our current administration, I was not really done. “Uh, Cybele, weren’t we planning on painting the legs and pipes white?” Oh yeah, I’ll get right on that. . . .

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October 04, 2007

Heavy Duty Wood

Slow but steady work continues on repairing the sill underneath the front door threshold.  Cutting away the rotted sill was more work than I expected.  The hemlock beams are very dense and cutting through them is a bit like cutting oak.  After watching my reciprocating saw heat up a few times, I decided it was time for the big gun.

Bigguns It requires a certain amount of courage (or foolhardiness?) to take a chainsaw to your house.  The tell-tale deafening noise, the smell of two-cycle fuel burning, and the sight of wood chips flying off of your house  is not for the feint of heart.  But it certainly sped up the job.  I was also happy to realize how accurate I could  be in making the cuts.  I'm not ready to start making bear sculptures for the front lawn, but a chainsaw really does make for a fun carving tool.

A word about old tools: It's in my nature to try to get the most out of everything before sending it off to the scrap heap.  I'm also inclined to see value in things that others are ready to cast off.  The other side of the same coin, you might say.  The chain saw I have is one that I picked up at an auction for $25.  It's an old McCulloch Power Mac 320.  This saw gets the job done, but not without a little TLC each time it comes out of the case.  I'm always having to tinker a bit with it half-way through whatever task I've started on, I guess kind of like an old man who needs to take a nap half-way through raking the leaves.

That's all fine if you've got the time. If I was being paid to do this work, I certainly couldn't charge for the time it took me to stop and fix my equipment each time it broke down. And at some point I have to decide whether fighting with the old things for largely aesthetic reasons is worth the trouble.  I'm not ready to invest in a new chainsaw yet.  I don't use it enough to justify the cost, but the "old broken down machine" issue is one that the frugal DIYer can't ignore.

Backbreakers And while I'm on the "cautionary tales for DIYers" tip, let me tell you about my aching back. 

A neighbor had recently torn down an old shed and told me that there were some old 8x8 timbers that I could have if I wanted.  Well, being in the middle of a project that requires just that kind of replacement material, I couldn't pass up on the offer, so I went over with the truck to check them out.

Most of the beams were 10-12 feet long, so there was no way I could carry them with my pickup, but the shorter ones, I thought, I'll just throw these in the back and be off.  What I ended up doing was throwing my back out and being off the project for several days.  This is when DIY stands for Dumb Idea Yeoman.

The beams will serve me well no doubt, but my own foolishness turned a good deal into a costly one.


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September 30, 2007

Light Duty Tasks

A minor back injury (I can still walk) has kept me off the main task of repairing the rotted sill along the front of the house.  With the cold weather approaching, the inability to take care of that and other physically intensive tasks like stacking firewood and doing some minor roof repairs makes one appreciate the predicament that early-American homesteaders would find themselves when a similar injury would lay them up.  At least we still have the oil furnace as a backup.

Although I can't crawl around on my hands and knees with a sawzall to carve away at the sill, there are a few light-duty tasks I've been able to get to in the meantime.

Woodrack0001 I recently ordered set of brackets for making a firewood rack.  For the past couple of winters I've stacked wood on discarded shipping pallets and other pieces of scraps.  This worked alright except it meant either creating some end post or using a criss-cross method of stacking the ends of the wood pile so that it was self-supporting.

Our wood stove has a small firebox which requires the wood to be no more than 16" long. I found it wasn't easy to stack wood this narrow in free-standing rows without being very deliberate about the process.  Stacking wood isn't something that I really care to be that deliberate about so I've turned to these wood racks as a solution.

A set of brackets combined with some 8 foot pressure treated 2x4s will hold about 1/2 a cord.  If this works well, I'll build some more racks to help with my firewood frustrations.

The light task of putting these together kept me busy long enough to feel the weekend wasn't a total loss, and also gave me the pleasure of using the old handsaw again.


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September 25, 2007

What Rot

Before I actually started cutting away the rotted sill, I wanted to shore up some of the nearby framing.  The ancient hot water heater I've mentioned in previous postings (Hot Water Detour and Revisit to Hot Water) was installed a lifetime ago and in such a way that has a bearing on the sill work I'm involved in now.

New joist next to sawed-off timber.

In order to get the big stone lined tank into the basement, the installers cut a hole in the floor right inside the front door.  They also cut right through a 7" diameter log that served as a floor joist.  They patched up the hole with some new flooring and tacked a couple of scraps to the freshly cut ends of the log to serve as headers for the severed joist.

The tolerance of wood frame construction for this kind of butchery is pretty amazing.  It really looks like the floor should have collapsed a long time ago, but I suppose between the old plank flooring that's an inch thick, the hardwood flooring above that, and the scrap pieces nailed in as headers, the load that the old floor joist was meant to carry is spread out.

Newjoist3smNow I was about to cut into one of the framing members that was probably carrying some of that extra load.  Before I started, I thought it best to replace the severed joist.

The challenge was the space I had to work in.  A mix of plumbing, heating ducts, and electrical wires converge on that spot.  Getting a new joist in there meant removing staples on the electrical wires so they could be moved aside and then threading a couple of 12 foot 2x6 boards through the ducts and plumbing so they could be sandwiched together and mounted. I also needed to jack up the new joist a bit before mounting it in its joist hanger.  It seem the floor had sagged a bit over the years.

Cuttingaway_2 With the new joist in, I was ready to start cutting away at the rotted sill.  There's still the issue of the wall studs that are supported by the sill, and how much sill I can cut out without providing support for those. There are 4 in question. The two on either side of the front door weren't getting any real support from the sill because of the rot, so I'm not worried about those.  The two studs on either side of those, however, may be carrying some load.  I'm relatively confident that I'll be alright taking the sill out from under those if I have to.  Again, the wood frame has the ability to transfer its load through the sheathing and across the top plate. It's not like removing one leg of a three-legged stool. It's more like taking 4 legs from a 60 legged stool.  Still, I'll be removing pieces of the rotted beam carefully, and plan on providing temporary support where I can.


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September 19, 2007

Sill Exposed

Thresholdrot0001 With the days of summer waning I figured I better get started on at least one of the exterior projects I planned for this year.  The sill under the front door threshold is severely rotted and needs to be replaced.

I've been pretty confident all along that the awful looking rot was limited to that one area but I really couldn't be sure until I removed some siding to have a look.  The siding on Chez Melendy is cement asbestos shingles.  These shingles were probably added to the house sometime in the 50s when asbestos was all the rage and before it was deemed a hazard.  The shingles are fireproof and are a good protective siding with decent insulating qualities.  They don't pose the same hazard as other forms of asbestos because the asbestos is trapped in cement.  Unless the shingles are pulverized in some way, the asbestos remains encapsulated.

Sidinglayers Knowing the lack of danger posed by the shingles didn't keep me from being cautious, however, so I donned my fine-particulate respirator and got to work removing the first two courses of siding.  The shingles are strong when mounted flush to the house but are brittle when removed.  I couldn't help but break some as they came off, and it was for this reason that I wore the respirator.

Note: Asbestos particles are microscopic and can pass easily through your basic 2 dollar dust mask. An OSHA approved fine-particulate respirator is the only way to go.

Once the asbestos shingles were removed, I was ready to remove some of the original siding that was underneath.  I was happy to see that the original siding is in pretty good shape.  At some point in the future I'd like to remove all the asbestos shingles and go back to the original clapboards to bring out the original charm of this old cape cod style cottage.

Sillexposed0001 With all the siding removed from the lower 12" of the house, I could see the condition of the sill beam all along the front. Happily, it's not in real bad shape after a hundred and fifty years of existence.

The real work is ahead of me though as I need to chisel away the rotted section and then use pressure treated lumber to replace what's been removed.  I'll be looking for advice from some local builders as I start to put it all back together.  This section of the house is critical in that it's susceptible to moisture and, if not insulated properly, can provide a place for cold air infiltration.  I want to get this job right the first time, and completed before the snow flies.


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September 16, 2007

This and That

Retrolight0001_2 This weekend was spent taking care of odds and ends.  I hooked up the vanity light in the upstairs bathroom.  I found this industrial fixture in an architectural salvage store for $10.  The light looks like it came out of a WWII era submarine.  It's a little big for a vanity light but it looks so cool, I thought I'd give it  try.

We still have to decide on a medicine cabinet.  I'm considering building one using the wood salvaged from the old kitchen cabinets that I ripped out nearly three years ago.  We'll see.

Firewood0001 Speaking of wood that was salvaged from the original demolition, the pile of scrap seen at right is what's left of all the unpainted wood I ripped out of the house.  This pile is half as big now as it was when I finished the demolition.  I hate throwing things out, even trash sometimes. 

While gutting the insides of the house at the beginning of this project, I separated the unpainted wood from the rest of the demo material figuring I could burn it for fuel in the wood stove.  It's turned out to be a bit of a chore processing these scraps for use as fuel.  The main task is cutting the pieces to a length that can fit in the stove, and then either storing them in boxes or bundling them with twine.

After two years, this pile is starting to decompose.  It's time to get rid of it entirely so that its rotting doesn't end up contributing to the demise of the barn.  Today, I spent a couple hours cutting up the stuff with an old table saw.  I've got a ways to go before getting rid of it all.  It may come down to hiring somebody to haul it away.

Primedtub0001 The other task we got started on was painting the bathtub.  This tub came with the house and it's been sitting in the upstairs hallway for a couple years waiting for the bathroom tile to be installed.

The paint that was on the tub was in fair shape so Cybele used a wire brush and heavy grit sandpaper to remove anything that was loose.  Then she applied two coats of primer that's formulated for all surfaces including metal.  Tomorrow we'll put on the first coat of the blue paint we chose for the tub.

Some web info suggested all kinds of sandblasting and spray painting for cast iron tubs, the idea of turning my upstairs hallway into a paint shop didn't fly.  I'm sure that two coats of primer on cleaned-up surface will be sufficient.


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