All posts in: Bluestone Cottage

Thinking About Flooring in the Cottage

One of the things I find myself thinking about a lot is flooring. I endlessly, relentlessly agonize over what to do with the wood floors in my own house when I eventually refinish them, which is the subject of a whole different post. It’s best to not even get me started on the two bathrooms, either. I mean, the options just seem boundless! I’ve never felt particularly compelled to add another bathroom to my house, but I’ll admit that the idea of just getting to pick out another floor almost makes me want one. Also, sinks. And tubs. And mirrors. Maybe I just want to renovate more bathrooms?

The cottage renovation has sort of sent my obsessive flooring thoughts into overdrive. I have a surplus of floors in my life to worry about. Consequently, I’m losing my mind. Or I’ve lost it already. So let’s think this through together, yeah?

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This is that familiar new view into the cottage when you’re standing at the front door. I’m still really pleased with this new floor plan—I think once the walls go up, it will feel just open enough but still efficient and cozy, like this place needs to be.

The floor has me a little worried, though. In the living room at the front of the house, there’s flooring that appears to be yellow pine. It’s in really, really rough shape, but I actually think it would refinish OK. There’s some significant patch work to do on areas where boards are missing or too damaged, but it would be doable. Another thing to keep in the back of your mind is that these floors run side to side.

Aside from that, the other notable thing about this floor is that it’s laid directly on top of the joists, underneath which is an uninsulated crawlspace. I know using an original subfloor as flooring isn’t all that abnormal in old house renovations, but I also worry about having just 3/4″ of wood between feet and a cold crawlspace in the winter. It seems potentially uncomfortable and potentially inefficient from a heating standpoint.

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The real problems start in the dining room, which is the original part of the structure. This flooring also appears to be yellow pine, but the boards are a bit thinner than in the living room. They’re laid on top of an original pine subfloor—I think it’s hard to tell from the picture, but this means that they sit about 3/4″ higher than the flooring in the living room, which isn’t so ideal. It also means that the boards run the same way that the joists do—back to front—meaning that the flooring runs perpendicular to the living room planks. So that’s kind of Issue #1 and Issue #2: the height differential between the floors is less than ideal, and the opposing directions just makes things feel sort of choppy and awkward.

Then there’s the fact that during the framing extravaganza, the dining room wall actually moved over a few inches in order to effectively support the joists on either side of the beam in the ceiling. So all of the dining room flooring actually ends a few inches before the wall, which would be a very tricky thing to patch in and repair without it looking strange. I’d probably just end up running a couple of boards perpendicular to fill the gap, but it’s not the most glamorous solution. I’m worried about it all ending up looking a little patchwork-y.

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The other thing about the dining room floor is that it’s in bad shape. I think most of it would still refinish OK, but there’s definitely some advanced water damage in certain areas, and those boards would need to be replaced and new boards feathered in. Not a huge deal cost-wise, but it is just a lot of labor to put into this floor that I have other issues with already.

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Then we have the kitchen. Now, it used to be that the flooring in the dining room ran continuously into the kitchen (which was covered in layers and layers of glued down linoleum, but still…), but unfortunately about 25% of it was way too rotted to save due to water damage, and the rest had to come up to address the structural issues, also due to the water damage…and then whatever was potentially salvageable got accidentally thrown away during a particularly insane day of demo. Anyway, the point is that there’s no floor at all in here anymore.

So where does that leave us? By my calculations, it looks like this: even if I did a good patch job on all the existing hardwoods, then put down something new in the kitchen, we’re still left with three different types of flooring, at two different levels, running through 3 rooms on this main floor, which bear in mind is only 600 square feet. I don’t know about you, but to me that just sounds…crappy.

I think there’s a solution. If I take up the top layer of the dining room floor, the original subfloor should be the same height as the existing flooring in the living room. After I put a new 3/4″ plywood subfloor down in the kitchen, everything is on the same level…and then a new, continuous floor could be laid over everything. I like this solution for a few reasons. Firstly, it would mean running all the boards from back to front, which I think would visually make the first floor appear a bit more expansive than it is. Secondly, the main floor doesn’t get a ton of natural light. Coupled with the low ceilings, I’ll admit I’m a little anxious about it feeling too dark. The condition of the existing floors and the fact that there’d have to be a lot of patch work to salvage them pretty much guarantees that I’d have to stain them fairly dark, which I’m not super inclined to do in a space that’s already kind of dark. New flooring could be left natural and sealed, which would just keep things lighter. Third, I think new flooring throughout would go a long way toward unifying the spaces. I don’t want the house to feel choppy, and I don’t want all the work that is going into it to feel too apparent. Patchy floors make it pretty clear that a wall used to be here, and a doorway used to be there—that kind of thing—and I’d rather avoid that feeling here.

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One of the things I love about the cottage and I’m trying to respect in the renovation is the modesty of the house—the size, the style, the scale of the rooms, etc. I definitely want to carry that idea through to the materials, which is convenient because it saves me money and will look appropriate. In that vein, I love the idea of doing a simple wide-plank pine floor in here! The size of the boards would actually approximate the original 19th-century subfloor in the dining room, which I feel is a nice nod to the history of the house, and the knots and “imperfections” in the boards would lend some nice character for the more informal, cozy cabin vibe that I think this house wants to have.

Luckily, this stuff is cheap! Admittedly I haven’t done really any hunting around, so maybe there’s an even better price out there, but a quick look at Lumber Liquidators has this flooring coming in at $1.39/square foot! That’s pretty damn good for real hardwood. Even factoring in the extra 20% that I guess you’re supposed to order when you install hardwood, the floor would clock in at right around $1,000. I’m pretty confident that installing it myself wouldn’t be a big deal, so then I’d just be paying a bit more for tool rentals and polyurethane and stuff (some of which I’d need with the refinishing option anyway). Seems very worth it, right?

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SO. I think my mind is pretty made up about the first floor. Which still leaves the second floor. Specifically, the bathroom.

The floors up here are the same yellow pine as on the first floor, and they’re in good shape. There’s definitely some patching to do to seal up some big holes and stuff, and they really need to be refinished, obviously, but I think they’ll clean up just fine. The second floor gets more natural light than the first, so I’m not even that concerned about staining them dark if necessary.

Obviously I don’t have a lot of hesitation about putting a wood floor in the kitchen or even the powder room on the first floor—I know people tend to be really anxious about using wood in spaces like that, but I’m not really one of them—but I keep going back and forth on whether I should replace the floor in the bathroom. I’ve never lived with a wood floor in a bathroom, so I can’t personally speak to the practicality of living with one, but I know some people are fine with it and some people wouldn’t dream of it. Honestly, I don’t really know where I stand! I guess if this room didn’t already have a wood floor, I’m pretty positive I wouldn’t put one in…but since it does…

Part of me feels like the floor is in good shape, and there isn’t really a reason to incur the expense/hassle of ripping it up and replacing it with tile. The other part of me feels like a potential buyer might not really want their only full bathroom to have a wood floor…and maybe this imaginary person has a point? Then I remember that radiant floor heating exists, and think about how fancy and luxurious it would be to put that under a new tile floor in the bathroom. Then I think about the previously unforeseen expense of replacing the floors on the first floor, and that the easy and responsible thing to do would be to make up for it by cutting a tiled floor for this bathroom from the renovation plan. Then I worry that I’m being penny-wise but pound-foolish because maybe somebody will really like this house but feel like a major corner was cut by not tiling the bathroom, or maybe a radiant-heated floor in the bathroom would put some other person just totally over the edge of wanting this place. Then I remind myself that if it’s that big of a deal to somebody, they could always tile the floor at some point in the future.

This is what I think about. A lot. Round and round I go.

So here’s a hypothetical. Would the only full bathroom in a house having a wood floor be a deal breaker for you? Would you prefer it? And hey—if you have a wood floor in your bathroom, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

Kohler Brockway Sink in the Cottage Bathroom!

Once in a while, one of the really awesome benefits of having this blog is that it’s kind of like I have more eyes thrifting for me. This kind of thing is a relatively rare occurrence—I’m not that fancy—but I do feel extra super lucky when I get an email or a tweet or a comment from a reader letting me know that they spotted this or that in a thrift store or on eBay or Craigslist and thought I might be interested.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about that nice rosewood credenza that a very kind and neighborly reader named Priscilla found and put on hold for me at a thrift store. That was really awesome when that happened. Priscilla has been kind enough to text me every now and then if she see’s something while she’s out and about…and girlfriend just went and did it AGAIN.

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So one day while I was busy working on the living room at my house, Priscilla texted me a picture of this 3-foot wide enameled cast iron double sink over at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, asking if I wanted it since she couldn’t think of a reason to buy it herself. I don’t need it for my house, and it didn’t really fit into the cottage plan either, but come on…that’s a good-looking sink! Originally I was planning on doing some kind of double vanity/double sink situation in the full bath at the cottage, but after thinking it over for a few minutes and looking at a few pictures of this model in use, I started to get really excited about using this instead. The holes accommodate 2 separate faucets, so it has the functionality of double sinks but the simplicity and glamor of a single basin. What’s not to love?

I don’t know how old this particular sink is, but it’s actually still in production! It’s made by Kohler and is called the Brockway—looks like it retails for between about $1,200-$1,600, depending on the source. Mine was only $175! Such a score. It didn’t come with faucets, mounting hardware, or the soap dish that goes in the middle, so that’ll add a few hundred dollars, but that’s OK—it can all be ordered separately from Kohler, which is really nice. I don’t have the budget that would allow for buying this kind of thing new, so it’s exciting to be able to put something so high-quality in this house that will hopefully stay with it for a long, long time.

This sink feels especially meaningful because back in October, Kohler held a small conference for bloggers at their headquarters in Kohler, Wisconsin, which I had the pleasure of attending! Admittedly, I went into the trip knowing next to nothing about Kohler as a company (other than that they made my toilet, which I like…), but I had such an appreciation for them by the time I left. What really struck me was how Kohler has balanced almost 150 years of design innovation (they started by making enameled cast iron bathtubs in 1873!) with a real respect for historic styles and production methods—something that seems really out of the ordinary for such a large, international company.

We got to spend some time in a museum area of one of the Kohler buildings, and while it was interesting to see how much things have changed over almost 150 years in business, it was even more amazing to see how much has stayed the same. They still produce almost everything out of their Wisconsin factories, including so many classic styles that are really nicely suited to historic renovations. It made me so happy to see all that stuff right alongside their sleeker, more modern designs. On the last day, we even got to tour the factories, and I think the highlight for a lot of us was seeing the cast iron goods being made. In my admittedly nerdy sort of way, I like having this sink because I’ve seen firsthand exactly how it was made…coming out of the oven glowing red-hot, hot enough to melt the powdered glass particles that get sprayed on it to form the enameled surface…SO COOL. I wish I could go back, like, once a month.

ANYWAY. Want to take a look at how great this sink looks in a bathroom? Yeah, I do too.

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From Country Living / Photos by Max Kim-Bee (click photo for link)

I really like this picture because it’s so much of what I can envision for the cottage bathroom! I’ve been thinking a lot about plank walls for the entire upstairs space, including parts of the bathroom that wouldn’t be tiled. The reclaimed wood shelf, the mirror, the sconce situation…it’s all just so nice!

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From House Beautiful / Photo by Alec Hemer (click photo for link)

What’s better than one double sink? TWO DOUBLE SINKS. So much sink action. And oh hey look, more plank walls! And a plank ceiling! And…BRASS. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the Cannock faucet that’s recommended to go with the sink (maybe I’d like it more in real life?), but I do really like these, and the brass factor just puts it over the top. I’ve never actually seen all-brass traps and supply lines in the real world, but damn. That looks great. Plumbing fantasies.

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From Remodelista / Photo by Sean Slattery (click photo for link)

Hot DAMN, this bathroom. Sooooooo gooooooood. I sort of laughed when I saw this photo because the subway tiles and black hex floor tiles are also things I’ve been mentally tossing around for the cottage bathroom. Although my tiles would be ceramic and these look to be marble, but whatever. Oh, and I see you, skinny beautiful black radiator. And those cabinets. And that gorgeous tub. GUH. But the sink looks amazing, right? Right. It’s such a versatile piece.

Looking at these fancy bathrooms makes going to my bathroom feel kind of like taking a dump in a porta potty on a hot summer day, but I don’t even care.

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So there. Obviously this bathroom has a ways to go before this sink can have its moment to shine, but it feels motivating to have it now, while I still have some time to plan. It makes me so excited to see it come together! Now to just find myself a tub…

Hunting Radiators

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People say it all the time: during any renovation, surprises happen. Curveballs, if you prefer that kind of athletic terminology. I do not because I do not enjoy sports.

The cottage renovation has been almost eerily lacking in them, all things considered. Yes, there was the rotted sill plate that needed to be replaced in the front, and I guess the original wall framing inside was worse than anticipated, and there’s the ongoing lack of gas service, but…is that it? I don’t really know what I was expecting. Maybe it’s just what you get when you buy a condemned shell of a house…you kind of expect everything to be disastrous so it feels like a little bonus when certain aspects are actually pretty OK. It’s possible my definition of “OK” has just gotten a little skewed and kooky.

I fully admit, own, and embrace that I am not an expert on…really anything. During the early planning stages of the renovation (which started pre-purchase, since I had to figure out a budget and all that…), I met my plumber, Carl, at the cottage to talk about the plumbing and the heat system in the house—namely, that there was none, and we’d be starting from scratch. I remember offering that the intelligent and modern thing to do would be to install a forced air system for heat, and I remember him quickly agreeing with me that this would be the correct and most cost-effective solution.

BAM. I know, you don’t have to tell me how hip and with it I am. I was even a little excited about the new fancy forced air system that this house would have because, for some extra cash, it could also be an A/C system! AIR. CONDITIONING. In an old house. This place was basically shaping up to be a fucking SPA.

So that was the plan. Now you know.

Fast-forward warp-speed-style to a couple of weeks ago. Demo is done, new framing is done, I’ve switched to present tense, and I ask Carl if we can get going on installing the ducts and the furnace. That way, everything will be in place when the dumb gas line finally decides to materialize. So Carl sends some of his dudes over to the house that evening. I meet them there.

Carl has several dudes who work for him. I really like them all. They’re funny and smart and they are all OBSESSED with Mekko and in general we just have a nice time getting frustrated about plumbing. Plumbing is really frustrating in general so you can choose to be a dick all the time or you can choose to be a cool and groovy dude. These are cool and groovy types. I know how most of them take their coffee so I consider us all very good friends at this point.

Anyway. Dudes walk through newly-gutted, newly-reframed house. Dudes exchange worried looks.

“And you said you wanted to put forced air in here?”

There’s this one guy who works for Carl who I would still say is pretty cool but his attitude is not so groovy. He’s what we call crotchety. On the surface he sort of seems to hate everything and everyone but I know he’s really a softie. We’ll call him Joe.

“No fucking way you’re running ducts in this house,” says Joe. “No way, no how.” He’s visibly angry already, just at the prospect of even attempting the job.

I ask him to elaborate.

The basic gist of the story is that in a house with no attic and only a partial basement, running the necessary ductwork from room to room becomes much more complicated, so almost everything has to be run within the living spaces—not above or below them. With framing to accommodate the ducts, this isn’t really a problem…but this is a small house with 7.5 foot ceilings. Joe begins mapping his best guess of how the ducts would need to be run: through a chase that would need to be built in this corner, across a soffit on this wall…the picture he paints takes up a lot of space and looks super ugly. He quickly gets flustered and goes out to the van to smoke a Newport.

One of the guys calls Carl. Carl says he’ll be on his way as soon as he gets done with whatever he’s doing.

Joe sits in the van and smokes. Me and the other guys stand around outside, where it’s a little bit lighter, and shoot the shit. We talk about the neighborhood, about Kingston, about the house, about their haircare regimens, about cars, about their pocket-knives, about how cold it is. Eventually, Carl shows. We all go back inside, cellphone flashlights activated.

Carl looks around. He explains that the forced air system isn’t impossible, but would involve some soffits and chases and custom ductwork, meaning added cost. At one point he just stops. “Wait, why do you want forced air in here, anyway?”

“I just thought that’s what people did.”

“Honestly, you’d be better off with radiators. A lot easier to snake pipes than run all these ducts. We can do the same system we put in your house.”

“Like…baseboard radiators?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

Allow me to explain something: I have this thing about baseboard radiators, and the thing is that I dislike them. I don’t mean that to make anybody feel badly about their baseboard radiators. I know full well that I sound like a dick. It just seems like they take up too much space, the heat they radiate isn’t all that nice, and they somehow look neither vintage/interesting nor modern/inconspicuous. The thought of putting them in this house (particularly since I’ve just finished removing vestiges of the former, defunct baseboard radiator system) makes me sad and upset.

Then I have a Dangerous Idea.

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“Carl,” I ask, “is there any big difference from your perspective if I wanted to use old cast iron radiators instead? If I bought them all and got them in the house and everything?”

“No, not really. If that’s what you want.”

Even though I don’t love baseboard radiators, I do love old cast iron radiators. They’re beautiful, they’re effective, and the heat they give off is comfortable and gentle. They also just add instant character to a room, which is something this house is going to need.

So, yeah…I’ve made it my mission to find, purchase, and move about 7 vintage cast iron radiators for this house. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen/heard of this being done, so I guess we’ll all find out together how it works out.

I’m an idiot.

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Naturally, this exciting choice of mine has turned out to be more complicated than I initially thought. This is because I don’t always think things through. My first instinct was basically to measure the spots in the house where a radiator could/should reasonably go, then find a radiator that would fill the space nicely and look good in said spot.

Wrong. Wrong strategy. I even spent a couple hours shopping, picked out a bunch of radiators, and got the dude to quote me a price armed with only this information. It wasn’t one of my more intelligent moments, but I didn’t buy them so I guess that’s something.

As it turns out, sizing radiators is actually a fairly exact and math-y thing that involves more than saying “yeah, that’d look good under that window.” Go figure.

Here’s what I’ve deduced with a little help from the internet and a little help from Carl:

1. The first thing you need to do is figure out the BTUs (British Thermal Units) required to effectively heat a room. This depends on many factors about the room itself, but luckily there are online calculators out there to help you take those factors into account and figure it out. I used this one. Using my SketchUp models as a guide, I went through the cottage room by room and figured out the BTUs required to heat each space. Then I wrote them all down in a notebook for easy reference while I’m shopping.

2. When shopping for radiators, you need to know how to calculate the BTUs per hour that a given radiator will produce. You do this by calculating the square footage of the surface area of a radiator (which depends on whether it is tube-type or column-type, its height, depth, and number of sections), and then multiplying that number by the heat emission rate per square foot, which is reliant on the water temperature produced by the boiler (hot water standard is 170 BTUs/hr, steam is 240 BTUs/hr). This guide makes things pretty straightforward.

3. Make sure you can identify the difference between steam radiators and hot water radiators. I think the easiest way to do this is to look at the ends. Hot water radiators should have a pipe at either end for the supply and return. Steam radiators have one pipe because they only need a supply line. I’ll be installing a hot water system because it’s easier and more efficient.

4. It’s better to be too big than too small (har, har). Temperature to the system can be decreased but not increased beyond the standard capacity of the boiler. Just be careful because you don’t want one radiator that’s too oversized and the rest to be correctly sized—this is what leads to big temperature discrepancies between different spaces.

 

ANYWAY. This is what I’ve learned…or at least I think I’ve learned. Now I have to go find them! Hopefully it won’t be too bad. I’m aiming to spend $1,000-$1,500 for all the radiators. They aren’t super expensive but they aren’t cheap either. Luckily this is a modest house, which means modest radiators—nothing super ornate or fancy looking, which is more expensive.

Even though I’ve been looking at Craigslist a fair amount, I think my best bet is a good salvage place that will just have a ton of selection. The size guidelines of the radiators combined with the space constraints of the house means that I’ll have to be looking for pretty specific radiators—in other words, I need them to be effective and fit in their designated spots. It feels like a tall order, but possible!

Framing the Cottage: Part 2!

Following up on one framing post with…another framing post?! I shouldn’t have!

No, really, I probably shouldn’t have because I know this stuff is kind of boring and technical and the pictures are crap, but here it is anyway. I guess I like that sort of thing. I promise I’ll show you something pretty soon to remind you why you are even here.

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The framing situation on the second floor was even more insane than it was on the first floor, so I’m so glad I had Edwin and Edgar’s expertise on my side. I mean, take a quick gander at that photo above and you might get a sense of what I mean. The huge gap on the right (next to the stair banister) of that wall in the foreground was the old bathroom doorway. The gap to the left of that was the old bedroom doorway. The only thing that really needed to be done was have the new bedroom doorway basically shift to where the old bathroom doorway was, enclose the old bedroom doorway, and call it a day. But look at that wall! The original top plate is missing a huge section in the middle, meaning that the original rafters beyond are pretty much floating in space and held together with collar ties that are…also just floating in space. One of the other big goals with the upstairs was getting the ceilings as high as possible, and vestiges of the original roof were in the way of that…ANYWAY, it doesn’t take somebody with a lot of construction experience to look at that picture and know that something ain’t right.

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While the first floor was being framed in, sections of the second floor were temporarily supported by upright 2x4s. This is because of the balloon framing—the remaining studs that you are seeing in that first shot extend down through the first floor, too, so before they were cut out down there, the load had to be supported up here so everything wouldn’t collapse.

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One of my favorite moments during the whole 10-day framing event was when so much of the old framing was removed but before the new stuff was put in…it was just so weird to see the house like this! This is the view from the top of the stairs into what will be the “master” bedroom, which is going to be such a great space. I’m SO glad I removed the closets on either side of that bank of windows—they really provided so little storage and the room looks and feels so much more open and large now. Remember, new closets are getting built on either side of the doorway, which will provide a TON more storage and be out of the way, too.

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Edwin and I talked a lot about exactly how things were going to go upstairs. My original plan was to vault all of the ceilings up here, but it quickly became clear that because of the crazy angles of the roof (and the amount of framing required to properly support everything), the best plan was to vault only the ceilings in the two bedrooms and leave the future-bathroom and hallway area with flat ceilings. The problem was that the ceilings in that middle, original section of the house were only about 6’8″—super low! So the goal became getting maximum ceiling height while supporting the weight of the roof and all that.

Edwin and Edgar started by cutting out more of the original top plate on either side and then started building a wall within the opening. The new wall is higher (set in from the outer edges because of the angles of the roof above), giving the bathroom/hallway space a new ceiling height of 7.5 feet! It’s still cozy, for sure, but it really is fine in this house. I think it’ll feel very sweet as opposed to oppressive or claustrophobic.

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Here you can kind of get a sense of how the new framing is interacting with the old. Sorta cool, right?

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Fast forwarding many hours…studs are in place, toe-nailed into the top plate and sole plate, so the wall is rigid and strong and the top plate is supported. The wall opposite (between the bathroom/hallway and the smaller bedroom at the back of the house) was rebuilt the same way. Next, 2×6 framing lumber was run between the top plates of the two walls and secured—hello, higher and level ceiling joists!

The original rafters got nailed into the new ceiling joists, so now the middle section of the roof is actually supported! Fancy that! After everything was nailed into place, the excess length of the original rafters could be trimmed down with a Sawzall, which is what Edwin is doing in the photo above. Higher ceiling, a-go!

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For some reason I don’t seem to have any pictures showing how things got totally finished up, but this is pretty close to the end! The closets in the master bedroom still needed to be framed in when this picture was taken (and the bedroom doorway isn’t framed in yet), but hopefully you get the idea. Edwin is standing in what will be the large hallway linen closet. I didn’t have them do anything other than leave a big space for it—I think I have a pretty simple plan for how to build it out without too much additional framing work, but I haven’t quite solidified it. It’ll probably be one of those things I have to figure out a little bit as I go.

That about wraps up the framing posts! All in, the framing came out to $5,700 plus materials (which I haven’t fully tabulated, but framing lumber is pretty inexpensive). So it definitely wasn’t a small expense (and more than I’d originally factored in to the budget, so I’ll have to compensate elsewhere…I like a challenge!), but it was pretty necessary. And considering that we re-framed the kitchen floor, added entirely new basement steps, rebuilt every interior wall, framed in two bathrooms, raised ceilings, took out a load-bearing wall, added closets, raised collar-ties, and reinforced an exterior wall…I feel good about it! This house is probably more solid than it’s ever been as a result, and it feels so good to embark on the next steps with such a strong foundation.

Now c’mon, heat! It’s coooolllldddd out there!

Diary!

Day 30: Edwin and Edgar worked on second floor bath, hallway, and master bedroom. I went to Lowe’s for more lumber, back at noon. Spent rest of day cleaning and clearing crap.

Day 31: Built fence in backyard. Filled hole in basement.

Day 32: Made two dump runs and a scrap metal run in John’s truck. Cody worked on pulling nails from trim lumber. Worked on putting backyard compostable waste into yard bags—filled around 20 bags.

Day 33: Dump run in John’s truck in morning. Spent afternoon sorting, de-nailing scrap pile and loading into John’s truck for storage in my garage.

Day 34: Edwin and Edgar finished framing and I worked on cleaning up. Huge mess inside! Must borrow truck again to haul lumber crap and make another dump run.

PS—If you’re working on a renovation project in the Hudson Valley/Catskills region and need a contractor, feel free to shoot me an email for Edwin’s contact information. He’s a delight to work with.  

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.

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