Framing the Cottage: Part 1!

I realize that this is maybe not the most exciting post to kick off 2015, but hey, I don’t make the rules!

Just kidding. I MAKE ALL THE RULES. On this blog anyway. Live it, love it.

Anyway, happy new year, folks! I feel like I’ve been hearing this from almost everyone I know, but 2014 sort of felt like a jumbled confusing mess of craziness and turmoil and general lunacy and I’m happy to see it go. 2015 is going to be better. I don’t know exactly how and I don’t know exactly why but I feel it in my bones and I feel it in my loins.

Between all the holidays and travel and stuff that comes with the end of the year, I stepped away from the cottage renovation for a few weeks to work on getting the library/living room to a done-ish state in my own house. I should have a working camera by the end of the week (long story), so I’ll take a bunch of pictures then! Taking that amount of time off from the cottage wasn’t really how I intended things to go, but getting a little more of our own house in order has made such a big difference. Worth. It.

When I bought the cottage, I figured I could reasonably slow my roll on our own renovation while I worked on that one, but what really happened was that I didn’t do anything in my own house while I was working non-stop on the cottage. And as much as I like renovating, coming home at the end of the day from one construction site and walking into another turns out to be something less than fun and relaxing, so minimizing that feeling a bit has already made me feel exponentially better about things. It also gave me some time to think and plan and fine-tune how I want the cottage to pan out, which is also fairly motivating. I’m ready to jump back in!

LumberinTruck

SO, let’s get back up to speed, shall we? The last major thing that really went down with the cottage renovation was framing—turning the SketchUp models (here and here) I’d been playing with for a couple months prior from virtual reality to reality-reality. Originally, I thought that the framing would be a pretty minimal task: shift and widen a doorway here, remove a non-structural wall there, add a half-bath…nothing too crazy. But as demo progressed, it became increasingly clear that everything was more involved than I anticipated. I’m sure this shocks exactly nobody reading, so I’m not sure why this sort of thing is perpetually so shocking to me. I learn slow I guess.

Because the cottage is essentially the product of an original (I’m guessing circa 1850s) structure and three later (I’d wager early 20th century) additions, things had gotten funky with the structure over time. Exterior walls became interior, but the new openings were never properly supported by framing. The wall that didn’t look like it was load-bearing in the early inspections definitely was. There were places where it sort of seemed like the house probably should have collapsed, or at the very least shown some significant sagging/settling, and I’m still sort of impressed that neither of these things ever really came to pass. Point is, it was a big job requiring more experience and know-how than I could reasonably claim to have, so again I brought in my main man Edwin (and his cousin, Edgar!) to take the lead.

When I asked Edwin what materials he thought we’d need to get started, he thought for a second. “100 2x4s and 40 2x6s…to start.” I thought he was kidding. He was not kidding. It seemed like an insane amount of lumber at the time, but (spoiler) it didn’t end up being nearly enough! I thought I more or less grasped how this framing party was about to go down, but I understood…nothing.

Demo

Not that this is all that relevant, but the first day of framing will pretty much forever go down as the craziest day of the cottage renovation. Edwin was ready to start the job before demo was entirely complete, so I met Edwin at Lowe’s when they opened to buy the lumber, then came back to the cottage, unloaded everything, and delegated demo-duty tasks to six other people while Edwin and Edgar got to work…it was just chaos EVERYWHERE. Lesson learned: 8 people is too many for me to manage at once.

Everyone cleared out by mid-afternoon, and Edwin, Edgar, and I got to work on the kitchen floor. I know that for most people, the whole point of hiring contractors is to do work that you aren’t capable of, don’t want to do, or don’t have time for, so it makes sense to stay out of the contractor’s way while they do their thing. I take the opposite approach, though: I watch, I ask tons of questions, I assist wherever I can, I ask to use the tools…I’m sure it’s hugely annoying, but it’s such a good way to learn! I feel like I can absolutely take on some of the smaller framing projects in my own house now.

kitchenfloor

Back to business: the kitchen floor had some serious water damage and rot issues happening in the back corner—probably due to a combination of plumbing issues (the old sink was in this region) and that window sitting wide open while the house was vacant. I’d prepped by taking up all of the wood flooring (it was either fir or yellow pine) and about half of the subfloor to expose the joists. I was planning to salvage and reuse the wood flooring that wasn’t rotted, but sadly the salvageable boards got thrown away that day by accident. BUMMER. I had too many cooks in the kitchen! The boards weren’t in very good shape and were coated in old linoleum adhesive (which, yes, could have contained asbestos…), so it’s not a HUGE loss, but I still get grumbly thinking about it. Everything was just so nuts that I didn’t even notice until the next day!

KitchenFloorLVL

Edwin and Edgar used a reciprocating saw to cut the existing joists roughly in half (they were structurally fine on the other side of the room), removed the rotted pieces, and placed an LVL beam perpendicular to the original joists. “LVL” stands for Laminated Veneer Lumber, meaning that the beam is made up of many thin layers of wood sandwiched together with super-strong adhesives. They’re much stronger, straighter, and more uniform than regular framing lumber (which is typically a soft wood like pine, fir, or spruce), and less inclined to bow or shift over time. Cool! Once the LVL was in place, Edwin nailed through the back of it into the ends of the joists, and later went back in and added joist hangers for extra stability and maximum support.

nailer

After the LVL was in place, a new 2×8 was installed against the inside of the sill plate, and the new joists were run between the LVL and the new 2×8. That kitchen floor is going to be SOLID. I decided to just go ahead and rip up the rest of the original subfloor, figuring it would make plumbing/heat easier to install and would just be easier to put down a new uniform plywood subfloor rather than patch in around the original tongue-in-groove one and end up with any inconsistencies in depth and whatnot.

At some point in here, Edwin and Edgar also completely rebuilt the interior kitchen wall—the one that’s shared with the dining room. It’s a load-bearing wall that had NO support on one side where the doorway was and inadequate support on the other side where the pass-through was. What a mess! Now it’s strong and solid, though!

LVLbeam

Before the day was out, we worked on placing the other LVL beam up at the front of the house, where the load-bearing wall in the center of the new living room was being removed. Sometimes when removing load-bearing walls, the beam will just go beneath the joists that need to be supported, but with only 7.5 feet of ceiling height in here, that wasn’t an option! Instead, the beam is getting pocketed up into the ceiling—running alongside the existing joist, which runs perpendicular to the joists that need to be supported. This stuff is hard to explain, so apologies if I’m speaking gibberish here!

joisthangers

The next day, Edwin and Edgar face-nailed the beam to the original joist, further secured it using large bolts (I think 12 of them?) and then secured the perpendicular joists to the beam with metal joist hangers. Considering that this load-bearing wall was previously being supported by about 3 2x4s, it’s MUCH stronger and more solid now!

basementstaircutout

Then we turned our attention to building and installing the new basement steps! YAYYY! The old basement stairs were horrifying and only accessible through a trap door in the kitchen floor, so both for the sake of space in the kitchen and to promote the basement as accessible, usable space (laundry machines and other utilities will live down there), I made the decision to relocate them under the main stairwell. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it wasn’t a small thing, either! The opening had to be cut out (yes, it was terrifying to watch Edgar go at it with a Sawzall while he was standing on the parts he was cutting away, but these dudes play fast and loose and I like it) and framed in, and a doorway had to be framed in on the kitchen wall for access to the new stairs.

Basementstairbuilding

Then we had to build the stairs! I thought this would consist of either buying pre-made stringers or cutting our own, but instead the stairs are just two 2x10s (Edwin said he wanted 2x12s, but I swear that’s not what he told me when I went to buy the wood!) for the stringers and smaller lengths of 2×10 for the treads. The treads are secured by nailing through the stringer into the short edge of the tread, if that makes sense—super simple. They’re very sturdy, though, and Edwin assures me that they’ll pass inspection, so I guess we’ll find out!

temporarysupportwall

Then it was on to re-framing the wall between the dining room and the new coat closet/half bath! This is the kind of thing I was talking about before—I figured this wall was more or less fine the way it was (it’s been standing for 150 years, right?) and we just needed to shift the doorway over a bit, but NOPE. The entire thing got rebuilt better and stronger than it was before. That’s actually true of every single interior wall in the house—they all had some problem or another that just made it easier and smarter to start over, even though a lot of the walls didn’t change locations at all. Now the only original walls in the house are the exterior ones, which is pretty insane!

Anyway, the basic process of removing and replacing these load-bearing walls was essentially to throw together some temporary support on either side of the original wall to bear the load while the wall was removed. After the old wall framing was removed, the new one could be assembled in its place (with fancy things like standardized stud-spacing, solid lengths of wood, headers, etc.), and then the temporary supports could be removed. It was actually fairly simple, even though it sounds pretty overwhelming. So anyway—the photo above is of the guys putting the temporary support in to hold up the dining room ceiling.

diningroomwall

Here, Edgar is nailing in the new header—you can see the temporary support walls on either side of them.

doorways

Framing in the half bath went pretty quickly, and that was about it for the first floor! The house is a DISASTER, though! Between the framing happening at such a fast pace and not really having adequate time to completely clean out the house after the demo, I seriously have my work cut out just to get ready to dive into the next phase.

downstairssketchup

Not that this is terribly convincing or at all good-looking, but JUST FOR REFERENCE, this is the same view in the SketchUp model, just so you can get an idea of where you’re oriented. Make sense? It’s really exciting to see the the framing in real life, at least in person—it’s nice to finally get a sense of how the space will feel when things are done!

nailpulling

One of the things I spent stupid amounts of time on during this period was de-nailing and stacking/sorting alllllll the many pieces of trim (from around doors and windows) that came out during demo. There isn’t anything wrong with it, aside from the filth aspect, and reusing it will keep it out of a landfill and save me some money when I get to installing molding. Pulling nails out of old lumber is generally pretty easy—the trick is to use end-cutting pliers (I have these) and pull the nails out from the back. Trying to hammer them back through the front usually just causes more damage to the wood and is more labor intensive.

trimandlumber

Since the cottage isn’t very big, this stuff needs to get OUT so that there’s space to work and maneuver! This is maybe about half of it—I still have to go back and sort and haul the rest! On the left is the old framing lumber (FOR WHAT I DO NOT KNOW) and on the right is trim. Now it’s all festering in my garage until it’s time to bring it back over to the cottage, but that’s a little while off. There’s still a ton to do before I’m at that point, clearly!

Obviously, getting the framing done is a HUGE step in the right direction. I’ll talk about the upstairs next time, but the next steps are getting the heat system in, plumbing, electric, insulation, and then finishing work like walls and tile and fixtures and all that fun stuff can start. YAY.

Diary time!

Day 24: Met Edwin at Lowe’s at 7 to buy lumber, nails, and joist hangers. Dump truck came in morning, worked on filling with debris until 2. Unloaded truck with crew and Edwin and Edgar started repairing kitchen floor and reframing interior kitchen wall. Went to Herzog’s for LVL beams and 2×8 and 16′ 2x4s. Loaded scrap metal in Edwin’s truck and went to scrap yard with Chris. Sent all workers except Edwin and Edgar home at 3. Edgar and Edwin and I finished framing interior kitchen wall and header and then dry fit LVL on load bearing wall in front.

Day 25: Edwin and Edgar and I worked on framing basement stairs and kitchen floor. Went to Herzog’s to buy more lumber.

Day 26: Worked on cleaning house alone, pulling nails from trim, and organizing things for next work day. House was a disaster!

Day 27: Painted sunburst pediment outside, caulked/bondo’d around door, and painted deck.

Day 28: Edwin and Edgar are back, working on removing load-bearing wall and re-framing wall and opening in dining room.

Day 29: Edwin and Edgar remove load-bearing wall, frame in downstairs half-bath. I went to pick up more lumber in morning and chased mess rest of day.


44 Comments

  1. I get so much joy from seeing properly executed construction work.

  2. Whoa!

    That’s some major work there.

    How many square feet are you allowed in New York until you need to get plans drawn up by an architect and have an engineer approve them?

    • That’s a good question, Adrien, and honestly I don’t know the answer! It might vary by municipality…at the building department in Kingston, I just had to submit plans with measurements (my sketchup drawings sufficed) and the framing will be inspected. I suppose it may also depend on how much work you’re planning to do…since changes to the existing layout were fairly small (despite all the new work that ended up going into them), that might have been a reason I was able to avoid a more extensive review of the plans.

  3. PS I’m learning so much from your blog!!

  4. So much progress! Idea for old framing lumbar, if it’s safe/salvageable/fits with style of home: use it to create the dining table for if/when you stage the home. Or a coffee table or work bench for your own home?

    • I’ve thought about stuff like that, B! It could happen! I also think about using it for shelving somewhere at the cottage. Reusing it in the renovated space would be nice!

      • I like the shelving idea! Could it work for some pretty open shelving in the pass through to the first floor bathroom?

      • Maybe! Although I think that’s going to be concealed behind doors…it’s the only closet on the main floor, so I feel like if it were my house I wouldn’t want to worry about it looking perfect all the time, you know?

      • You’re so right – closed doors would be much better, especially if there’s no other storage. You think of everything. This house is going to be so nice! And so functional, especially relative to its modest size.

  5. I wish I had a great building team like Edwin and Edgar. It looks like they really know their stuff. Every time I hire somebody to do work like this, I’m terrified that I’m not getting quality work.

  6. I am very excited to hear about the mechanical and insulation you are planning. I know it is difficult to satisfy energy codes in old homes with 2×4 exterior walls. Are you planning on closed cell spray foam? I think it would be an advantageous move as you get to an R-19 or R-21 (typical wall requirements) in the 3-1/2″ available. Also, it will create a vapor barrier that I’m sure is missing from beneath your siding. They just didn’t build the same back then! Also, in your vaulted ceilings you won’t need any roof venting if you used closed cell. Just a tip from a long time reader and architect. Love the shot looking from the front of the house to the back!

  7. Jeez. That is a lot of wood, and a lot of work. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.

  8. Happy new year Daniel, don’t you just love the smell of new wood and the sound of saws?

    It means something is getting done….basement stairs!!!!! Yeah!

  9. As always love your blog. Love seeing the sketchup come to life.

  10. That “half-bath framing” shot really illustrates how it’s going to look & I LOVE it. Your explanation of what is being done is clear even to a non-technical person like myself. I am so impressed by your efforts to make your little cottage sturdy & viable for the long haul.
    Plus I am in love with Edwin & Edgar. Nothing more attractive than a man who is good @ his job.
    AND…AND..and…this is exactly how to bring in the new year. Get past all the frivolity and back to real life. Thank you!!!

  11. It’s always good when everything is well supported.

  12. Not an architect, but someone who had started interior design over 30 years ago and had to bail, but not before reading up on headers and such. This and my many years watching This Old House on TV, it looks like the boys did good on the framing from what I can see, which is good.

    Seeing how much you guys are having to do, it does not surprise me in the least with houses this old as standard stud spacing and all that simply didn’t exist until at least the late 40’s, or early 50’s if memory serves, that and the multiple additions that took place over the years can weaken homes like these as you have just noted with this cottage. I’ve watched episodes of TOH and have watched episodes in a remodel where they talk about how much the floor joists had been hacked in a bathroom and were surprised that it was still holding the old tub up, but the sag, oh the sags they find.

    It’ll definitely be interesting to see how this progresses over the next few weeks.

    Keep up the good work!

  13. Wow, you’ve gotten a ton done. Congratulations! Hope you are happy with the final interior wall placement. Great you are saving all the trim to reuse. It will look good and save a heap of money.

  14. I love the way that little window in the kitchen is centered with the new long view of aligned doorways.

  15. Happy new year Daniel. This post made me think back to the beginning of your blog when you would detail how to put up shelves or whatever; look how FAR you’ve come!!! I love seeing the Sketchup drawing coming to life! Speaking of Sketchup, inspired by your skills I used the time over the holidays to MASTER Sketchup (well ther is still progress to be made) it’s so much fun when you know how :) Daniel dear I know you’re really busy but pleeeease don’t make us wait so long between posts, it’s agonizing checking every day, I know, I know that’s selfish of me but we sooooo love your posts, keep em coming.
    Your # 1 fan, Luna

    • Aw, thank you, Luna! One of my big goals is trying to get more content up on the blog moving forward, so hopefully those long waits will be fewer moving forward! It makes me crazy, too!

  16. The neverchanging question on keeping and mending or removing to rebuild. I empathize with your ambition to preserve, but I think you really went the right way and took the walls down in this case. It is different if it is a solid and sound house, then it is worth the extra mile to mend and work around, but for this little cottage with rebuilds and rot… For insulation, I would be careful with the basement just because of the lack of vapor barrier. Roofing is different, since it is more accessible and can be totally redone with a modern solution. Basements like this are meant to be heated from the living space, and the ground is most likely not dug out and insulated in the way to stop too much water transfer. Depending on what you will use the basement for I would minimize the insulation and try to find materials that can absorb moisture without mould issues, and that can disperse of them to the warmer side above. For the basement floor something like this can break the cold barrier, I am sure you have something eq on the US market. http://www.isola.com/products-2/floor/underlayer-for-floor/

    • Thanks, Louise! Admittedly I have some research to do on how to approach the basement and the crawlspace under the kitchen, so this is very helpful!

      • Crawlspaces are really tricky, ventilated, closed and heated,or just plastic on the ground… I have half basement, half crawl space (with a well that makes it really creapy) and I think I have gone through all the options and backwards and for now we do nothing with the insulations. I want to insulate the floors to the crawlspace since they are really cold, but I dont think it is possible without major rework. I have cleared the space of anything organic, and put down plastic on the ground, and maybe I will cover the ground first with a layer of Leca Pellets. I am measuring the RH in both basement and crawl space. In the basement we have a dehumidifier. Another version would be to make the crawl space part of the house, insulation on the outside of the foundation, close upp all the vents, and place a dehumidifier in the crawl space. I have also seen people dig the crawl space out, put in gravel, EPS and a new concrete slab on top, with floor heating in it. For the basement I will use insulation, flax or hemp sub the beams, but not more than 5 cm, and keep a constant check on the RH to make sure it is under 60% in the summertime. I am also thinking of adjustable vents in crawlspace and basement, that shuts auto in the winter when it is cold and low RH.

  17. Glad to know that I’m not the only one to annoy contractors instead of just letting them do their thing. But it’s true, you learn so much and so fast if you can just ask and help and ask and look and…

    Looking good!

  18. I spy with my little eye… a bit of Mrs. Nicole Curtis advice!

    Sorry, couldn’t help myself. I’m just in the middle of a Rehab Addict marathon. I have to say this tho – even reading about framing from your point of view is entertaing. And since I’m from a country where we don’t even build that way, THAT is a compliment.

    I love your blog and have been reading it since you slaped some paint on a dresser and made a table.

    Best wishes in 2015 from a random person in Slovenia.

    • Ha, what’s the advice?? <3 Nicole. I need to catch up on Rehab Addict!! (And thank you!!)

      • Its the de-nailing thing. Love her too. She inspired me to find a beautiful arched brick ceiling behind the lowered drywall one. OMG why in the hell would you cover that up!?!!

  19. The new lumber stacked in the truck was my 2015 inspiration.

  20. You are doing amazing! Hooray for the brothers! Keep up all your amazing work and RIP to your old camera. You need a fit bit to track all the running around you are doing!!! (I just got one and am in love )

  21. Love seeing your progress. I am really enjoying how you document and explain everything. I don’t want to miss anything!
    Stay warm–it’s 26 degrees in Maryland–it must be very cold where you are.

  22. It looks really good! Can’t wait to see everything come together :)

  23. You’re such a tease! You’ve mentioned a deck a couple of times now in your diary and we still haven’t seen it. I can’t wait. I also hope you’ll show us the basement eventually. Roughly how big is it? (Can you stand up or do you have to stoop? How many feet by how many feet wide is it? Is it a square room or…? Etc.)

    Awesome progress on the interior. Love the view through those doorways with that window. It’s starting to look like a proper house instead of a tumble-down shack.

    Your future buyers are SO so so damn lucky to have you doing this project now.

    Oh, I almost forgot. Does all this new progress mean you finally sorted things out with the gas company that was giving you grief?

  24. oh i was having such a shitty day and thinking.. if there was just a new episode of “manhattan nest” read.. BOOM! :)

  25. Question: Have you had to replace any mud sills? Any tips would be awesome. I recently came across a lot of rot along the front of my house (1880). This particular mud sill has floor joists sitting on it and I can’t currently get to it from the outside since the last owner poured a concrete porch (w/o a water barrier) right against the band board.

    I also ran into the same situation as you when it comes to additions that were not structurally sound. Imagine a 2×4 ledger board nailed into siding. That piece of shit was bearing the 1/2 the load of a 10×10 kitchen. It was a poorly made double porch that someone decided to close in…

    • Hi Chris! We did replace sections of the sill plate in the front of the house and a section in the back that had both rotted out. You can read a little about it here…I’m not sure it’ll be at all helpful to your situation, though! Sorry! I’m still far from an expert with this stuff!

  26. Loins never lie.

  27. Love your blog and think it is super cool that you are being thoughtful about reuse! This place is going to be amazing!

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