All posts tagged: Framing

Olivebridge Cottage: From Bad to Worse (and Worse and Worse and Worse)

Have you mentally recovered from the last post about Olivebridge Cottage yet? If you thought things could only go up from there, I hate to tell you that you are so sorely mistaken because this house is the worst. Happy Wednesday!

So far, we have a host of structural issues ranging from somewhat serious to super duper serious (try not to get lost in my jargon), evidence of multiple infestations that wreaked havoc not only on structure but also electrical and insulation, code violations for days, severe mold problems, one very ugly and increasingly torn apart house, two blindsided homeowners, and one grumpy and dejected blogger guy who was me.

bedroomwall

Where we left off, we knew we were looking at reframing this entire wall, the bottom of which was completely rotted after sitting under an improperly installed deck thing for years. Those two tall narrow windows are in the bedroom, and over to the left (mostly out of frame) there’s a third one that’s part of the full bath.

diningsliders

We also knew we had to reframe this adjacent wall, which had similar rot issues due to the deck. I guess it looks almost OK from the outside, but the sill plate was completely rotted and most of the studs were compromised as well, to say nothing of the under-sized header creating the rough opening for the sliders and the foundation being entirely below the ground and everything just being a total fucking mess.

bedroomwindow2

Lemons, meet lemonade? Since this bedroom wall also had its own host of issues, I proposed that while we were doing all this framing work, maybe we should steal the sliders and put them in the bedroom, and then steal these windows and put them in the dining room, and then steal some other windows to take the place of those two tall skinny ones in the first picture, because they were dumb and nobody liked them anyway. Musical windows. The homeowners did not want to try to recreate the little deck thing outside of the dining area and we all agreed that the space remaining there was a gross mosquito-ridden cesspool anyway, so waking up and being able to open your nice big sliders and walk out onto a nice big platform deck outside the bedroom seemed more appealing.

bedroomwindow3

So that is what we did. It was kind of exciting even in the midst of all these other things that were really not exciting.

diningroomwallreframing

Out came the sliders. Up went some temporary support for the roof. Out came the old rotted framing.

anchorbolts

Ahhh, nothing like a brand new pressure-treated sill plate, properly anchored to a CMU foundation, amiright? Just say yes. In bleak times like this you take what you can get in terms of excitement and reason to carry on.

diningwindow

The new-old window from the bedroom actually worked VERY well in the dining room. Centering it on the wall looked a billion times better than the off-center sliders, and it framed the view of that postmodern toilet sculpture really beautifully.

diningwindow2

Framed, almost sheathed, almost back in business. See how the bottom plate of the wall is just peeking up over the dirt, though? That’s not good. By code you should have at least 8″ of foundation above grade, so this area will need some excavation and some way to redirect water away from it, because otherwise it all flows down here and causes the house to rot to pieces. Ask me how I know.

bedroomsliders1

Love when a whole wall is torn off a house. It looks like a dollhouse? Like a dollhouse from hell? So we sistered in a new pressure-treated sill plate, took out the old framing, and framed it in for the huge sliders. Fun fun fun fun fun.

bedroomsliders2

Also a nice change! This area also needed some excavation and grading to get the bottom of the framing out from essentially being underground.

1

Then we moved on to the really bad wall. Shudder. Same story, different day, some creative framing work I don’t even want to remember.

2

We stole the old kitchen window and two smaller windows from the front enclosed porch, which are different styles but the same height and look fine together. Between the new sliders and these new windows, the little bedroom got a nice big upgrade in terms of views, light, and how furniture can be arranged…so that was good? The roof was so crazy sloped in here—look at that piece of wood between the header and the top plate! Oy. To distract from it, I thought maybe we’d use vertical beadboard in this room, up until about 8″ from the ceiling and drywall the rest of the wall up. That way the molding that finished off the top of the beadboard would be a straight line and the rest would read as “character.” Not ideal, but there’s only so much you can do when working with parts of an existing structure.

3

Better? I like it a lot better.

OK, I’m out of good news. Hope you rejoiced in that bright moment of kind-of-almost-progress.

sunkenLRdemo

Back in the living room, remember this mess? We’d already figured out that we had to redo the roof over the enclosed porch, and we also knew that the posts supporting what was originally an exterior wall of the house weren’t sufficient—basically everything you see here was a big structural mess. Demo continued to go along swimmingly:

diningstairs1

Look at how these stairs are built. Drywall screws, 2x4s, and a prayer. WHY. It’s not like this is even such a problem so much as it’s just incredibly weird and annoying and very evident that whoever did this work was even dumber than me.

diningroomstairframing2

Naturally, underneath the stairs things looked like this. I’m not even going to list all the things that are wrong because everything is wrong.

bathroomframing1

Here’s what’s on the other side of the shower wall in the bathroom! Is it even worth explaining? Or trying to understand? There are some original 2×4 studs supplemented with some 2×3 studs, some of which are attached to some other wood but some of which are kind of just floating and then used as nailers to screw very heavy cement board to which is holding up hundreds of pounds of tile and thinset and grout. All manner of creature had been hiding out around the tub, evidently, because they left the nests to prove it.

OH YEAH AND A CARCASS. What is it with me and houses that have dead bodies near bathtubs? On the bright side, this corpse was a squirrel but on the not-bright side, I had to find it this time. I’ll spare you the photographic evidence.

eatenframing

As a final “fuck you” before dying in the wall, this badass squirrel tried to make the house collapse.

eatenelectric

Or catch on fire.

Honestly, at this point? TOTALLY understand where that squirrel was coming from. Big up, my brother. You did your best.

kitchendiningfloorframing

Then it got worse, because it wasn’t super apparent until I pulled up the carpeting that the living room floor was sagging really severely in the middle. Like, a few inches over only a 12′ span! Not only did it look horrible, but it would also make laying new flooring (which at the time was supposed to be an engineered hardwood) sort of impossible. Something told me (can’t imagine what!) that this was probably due to some other awful underlying cause that nobody had noticed, because in this house where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It’s always worst case scenario at Olivebridge Cottage.

LRjoists1

At first glance, the condition of these joists seemed kind of alright! The sill plate looked to be fairly new pressure-treated lumber and the joists were too.

LRjoists2

Then I looked closer. Yikes! That’s the end of an original joist, totally destroyed by what I assume were termites. But that’s not that big of a deal, because look!! Somebody already sistered in new joists. IS SOMETHING HERE ACTUALLY…KIND OF OK?!?!

LRjoists3

Don’t get crazy, of course it isn’t. Whoever made this repair evidently decided only sistering in a few of the joists was worth the effort, leaving most of them still super rotted and failing. If the major sag in the floor had been from normal settling and just a funny quirk of this house, it would have been OK, but this is really the result of this floor system no longer being up to the task of, ya know, supporting weight and stuff. Kind of important.

Oh, and upon closer investigation? Those joists that were “sistered in”? ONLY SPANNED HALF THE ROOM. To do it properly and actually reinforce the old joists, the new joists would have had to span the length of the entire joist—from sill to sill. I guess conceivably it might be OK to terminate the sistered joist halfway, but then I think you’d need some kind of beam running perpendicularly underneath to support everything…I’m no engineer but any idiot can tell that this is SO JACKED UP OMG GET ME OUT OF HERE

LRjoists

Because the crawlspace has only a few inches of clearance between the ground and the joists, the only way to get at the joists was to pull up the subfloor. You can kind of make out in this picture how the sistered-in joists aren’t really doing what they’re supposed to do…maybe because they’re roughly 5 feet long on a 13 foot span.

Roofline1

Because we were now looking at a new roof for the enclosed porch part of the living room, new wiring, new insulation, new joists—basically new everything—at some point in there it seemed to make much more sense to take the opportunity to change the house in more visible, valuable ways than just trying to rebuild a heartier version of what was there. The living room itself was really small, with a huge hearth, doors, stairs, and openings on every wall, which made it a huge design challenge from the get-go. Like, where am I supposed to put a couch in this room where it won’t either block something or look horrible? I never really found the answer, because the new plan became to rip down the enclosed porch roof and half of the living room roof, pocket a new structural beam up to the ridge, and run new rafters down the front elevation to match the pitch of the kitchen/dining section of the house. Like so:

rendering-5_18

At this point we are also re-siding the house due to all of the layers of exterior wood rot, so obviously I was also advocating that we paint this sucker black. Our original inspiration for this project was modern Scandinavian cottages, of which we were mainly looking at interiors because we weren’t planning to really touch the exterior of this house, but then every plan we made fell to pieces because this house was a piece of garbage.

I love a black house. Leave me alone.

Anyway. It’s not like the house in that rendering is about to win any architectural awards, but I still think it’s sort of cute in its own way and gave the house an actual living room without changing the footprint. Everyone was pretty much on board with this and it felt kind of exciting.

LRsillplate

Until it didn’t. Here’s a fun little glimpse of the foundation under the living room. Notice anything? How about the fact that the sill plate and rim joist have actually migrated a couple inches beyond the outer limits of the foundation, leaving them…floating? How about the enormous hole made by rodents right through both of these essential pieces of structural framing?

LRfoundation

How about the fact that the ENTIRE FOUNDATION is what you see here? That’s a single row of cinderblocks resting on some bluestone rubble, right on the earth. No mortar. Not footings. No anchor bolts, or…anything. HOW this house was even standing was kind of a miracle.

LRfoundation2

Moving down the wall, things just got worse. Note that you’re also seeing black tar paper over the studs—zero insulation, zero sheathing.

LRfoundation3

Hot holy damn.

livingroomdemo2

I give up. I have no more words to say, no more feels to feel.

livingroomdemo

I think this is the image that I see when I imagine how hell looks. Then we figured out that that 8-foot span of window had a single 2×4 for a header and that entire wall was a combo of bad foundation, rot, no sheathing, no insulation, eaten electrical, and hell started to look more like this:

livingroomdemo3

Which got cleaned up to look like this:

livingroomdemo4

Annnnnnnnnd, everything is terrible.

At this point, it’s probably plainly obvious to you (and me, and the contractors, and my dogs, and…well, anyone) that this house is more or less the definition of a “tear-down.” It should be noted that I do NOT say that lightly, because I’m the sort of person who thinks everything can be saved. So why were we still doing all this stuff?

It’s a complicated answer, which I’ll try to uncomplicated a little. Firstly, because at this point we actually hadn’t spent that much money, and the building department had continued to give us the go-ahead every time I called them to explain how the renovation had expanded beyond the work detailed in my original permit application. Secondly, tearing down a house is a big deal, particularly when the homeowners didn’t buy a tear-down—or, more accurately, didn’t know they were buying a tear-down. They bought a house, and paid for it accordingly. TV shows would have you believe that basically any money you put into a house becomes equity that you’ll then see a great big return on if/when you sell, but there are limits to that.

Out of respect for the homeowners’ privacy, it should be noted that the figures in the example below are fictitious—they do NOT represent the actual costs associated with this renovation. I’m only listing numbers to illustrate a hypothetical—because costs on all of this stuff vary dramatically depending on where you are, the costs of this particular renovation aren’t as relevant as the bigger picture. Here goes…

Say houses in your area generally sell for between $300,000-$500,000. Say you buy a house for $350,000, and hire contractors to do a $75,000 renovation, bringing your investment to $425,000—which is OK, you figure, because you’ll have a really nice property that you’ll be able to sell in a few years for probably close to that $500,000 upper limit.  But then you start to renovate—paying people to do so, as many (most?) people do—and the problems pile on and pile on and pile on. When the issues start rolling in, you do what pretty much anyone would do and have them fixed so you can move onto the rest of your plans. Then the problems don’t stop, and before you know it you’ve spent $35,000 of your $75,000 renovation budget just finding issues, fixing them, and finding more issues, bringing your total investment to $385,000, and all you have to show for it is a complete disaster, and a house with a TON of problems that may or may not be fixable. So what do you do?

Tearing down the house and rebuilding it is, of course, the most simple solution…but now you are $385,000 in the hole and will probably be at least $400,000 deep after you demolish and dispose of the thing. Then you have to hire an architect to design you a new house (call that $20,000), pull a permit for that house that may or may not be approved by the town’s building and zoning department—whose zoning rules have changed in the 60+ years since your house was built—and find a builder to build the thing from the ground up for about a year (the year during which you thought you’d be living in your house and must find other accommodations). Of course, now you need new everything, because you no longer have a house at all, just a piece of land. New design, new well, new septic, new foundation, new rat slab, new framing, new sheathing, new roof, new walls, new ceilings, new electrical, new plumbing, new HVAC, new insulation, new finishes…new everything.

The house you now have to tear down is 1,800 square feet, and the town is allowing you to expand the footprint 200 square feet—bringing you to a 2,000 square foot house. Even at a modest $130/square foot of new construction cost, your new house is going to cost $260,000 to construct, meaning that after the initial purchase, the initial kind-of-renovation, the architect’s work, and now the new construction cost, you’ve spend $665,000 on a property that’s worth maybe $475,000—perhaps less because that cost per square foot doesn’t exactly buy you high-end finishes. You think that maybe pre-fab is the way to go, but after quite a bit of research you realize that those suckers are actually quite expensive and typically pretty little, so that idea gets more or less shelved.

It’s not like you can make this decision unilaterally, either, because your mortgage, assuming you have one, is tied to the house you bought—it’s extremely important to review the terms of your mortgage documents carefully and consult qualified legal guideance to ensure that you aren’t violating the terms of your mortgage. At worst, a complete tear-down could result in the bank needing back all that money that you borrowed because the house that they essentially own no longer exists! So now you’re out of pocket on your 20% down payment ($70,000) the initial renovation ($35,000), the new design ($20,000) the demolition ($15,000) the new construction ($260,000) and the remainder of your mortgage ($280,000), which means you’re $680,000 deep on a house that’s not going to appraise for over $475,000 anytime soon. OUCH.

On top of that, you bought this house. You love this house. The idea of tearing down this house is almost unfathomable because you would be legitimately very sad to see this house that you love and bought end up in a landfill. And even if the process of renovating is slated to cost $125,000 on top of what you’ve already spent, that means you’re $230,000 out of pocket with 30 years to pay off the other $280,000, which isn’t great but also isn’t so bad considering the severity of how shitty your situation is.

exterior3

So we kept trucking. Kind of. Sort of. Until everything came to a halt.

Diary time!

Day 15: Continued all clean-up and organization on interior, pulled up flooring in sunken living room. Adriana visited and we talked plans.

Day 16: Dump run, continued demo on exterior and deck space and moved indoors to work on sunken living room.

Day 17: Finished demo in sunken living room, de-nailed beadboard, and took up half of living room carpeting.

Day 18: Dump run. Pulled up all carpeting in living room and organized wood. Cleaned up front yard and got wood ready for reuse. Demo’d existing stairs. Loaded truck for dump.

Day 19: Dump run.

Day 20: Got dump truck serviced. Continued demo in living room and diagnosed issues with living room floor sagging—shit. Discovered more major mice/squirrel damage including damage to framing and electrical. Pulled affected electrical—lucky house hasn’t burned down.

Day 21: Worked on exterior demo and moved all things out of bedroom for framing. Edwin came and we installed sill plate on dining room wall. Discussed what to do about kitchen floor and construction of “addition.” Demo’d interior bedroom wall and removed all siding and exterior sheathing in prep for framing in sliding doors tomorrow.

Day 22: Demo’d siding from dining room wall and removed eaves overhang and shiplap sheathing. Edwin and Edgar came and we all worked on framing in new dining room window. Installed window and moved on to sliding doors in bedroom. Sheathed bedroom door and will sheath dining room wall tomorrow. Both changes look AMAZING.

Day 23: Lowe’s run for sheathing and Tyvek supplies. Demo’d cinderblocks on dining room wall and assisted with sheathing. Worked on cleaning up site.

Day 24: Met with Carl to plan excavation job. Some site cleanup.

Day 25: Demo’d concrete block from front of dining room wall to prepare for new sheathing. Demo’d interior of bedroom wall and insulation. Removed old siding and sheathing from wall to be reframed tomorrow.

Day 26: Helped reframe bedroom/bathroom wall and figure out new windows. Dump run in Edwin’s truck. Came back and finished framing dining room wall and did site clean up for a while. Went to Lowe’s to source window option for kitchen. Loaded car for stuff to take to Habitat for Humanity Restore tomorrow morning.

Day 27: Habitat for Humanity run to drop stuff and scout windows.

Day 28: Contract amendments.

Day 29: Met with chimney guy. Did some interior clean-up.

Day 30: Picked up windows from ReStore, door from Door Jamb, and delivered to site. Consulted with Edwin and Edgar on plan of attack for living room floor and foundation issues.

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.

framingbefore

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.

bathroom1

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.

bedroom1

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.

bedroomwall1

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.

oldandnew

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

raftersawing

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!

rafters2

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.

Planning the Cottage Interior: The Second Floor

Now that we’ve gone over how the layout of the first floor of the cottage is going to change, let’s move on to the second floor (which we toured here!)! I appreciate the feedback on the first floor—even though the basic framing work is more or less complete already, there are still a million and one things to think about before I start really putting things back together. Luckily I have some time since I still have to get all the mechanical stuff (HVAC, plumbing, electric, insulation—oh my!) sorted before I can start beautifying, but hopefully not too much time. I want to move on to the fun stuff!

As with the first floor, the major framing work has more or less been completed at this point on the second, but I still think it’s important to get a sense of this stuff before I dive into the process of how it all actually went down. I’m psyched about the first floor, but I’m really excited about the second floor. I feel like I’ve had a better sense since Day 1 of how I want it to look and feel up there, and it just has so much potential. I think it’s going to be pretty spectacular.

I wanted to get this post up a few days ago, but then I got obsessed with trying to make the SketchUp models more accurate by showing the pitch of the walls and ceilings. I DID IT FOR YOU, SO TRY TO ENJOY IT. It was really hard because I’m bad at computers and it’s not perfect but I have to tear myself away and move on. Playing with SketchUp is a lot like how I played The Sims for hours on end as a kid, except there isn’t a virtual person you can create and then brutally starve at the end of it all. Kids are monsters.

exterior

Anyway, the reason the ceilings are so important is that there’s no attic in the house, so the plan is to vault the ceilings! I’m so excited about this, and just how much bigger and brighter the whole space will feel as a result. I’m including this sketch of the exterior (excuse the lack of windows or doors downstairs…you get the idea) to show the basic shape of the roof line. Funny, right? The way it pitches in two different directions?

I’ve mentioned before that I think this house was originally some sort of secondary structure for one of the neighboring houses, like a carriage house or something. The “middle” section, where the roof pitches oppositely from the back and front, is the old, original part of the structure—this is the area that currently houses the dining room and staircase downstairs and will become a bathroom upstairs. The front section of the house appears to be a product of two separate additions, and the back of the house (where the kitchen and smaller bedroom are) are another addition. I think that the original section dates from about the mid-19th century and the additions all seem to be early 20th. I’m trying to get more information about it.

ANYWAY, you might be able to tell on the renderings that the whole roof situation causes some funny quirks with the space, but I don’t mind!

secondfloorbeforeandafter

These before/after renderings don’t take into account the pitch of the roof, since I thought it was easier to see what was going on without that. As with before, the bottom of the photo is the front of the house, so let’s start there!

Welcome to the new master bedroom! It’s large and wonderful. The old space was so weird and chopped up, what with the two closets at the front of the house and the only bathroom in the house basically built into the room. The bathroom was the real problem here—the bathroom itself was small, and it made the rest of the room feel cramped and unpleasant.

bedroombeforeandafter

If you take the front exterior wall of the house away, this is more or less how things look! That bed in the “after” rendering is so ugly. Oh 3D Warehouse…

SO. The two closets in the front flanking the windows get removed entirely, and traded for closets along the back wall of the room, flanking the door. I originally planned to keep the existing closets, but they seemed to take up a lot of space without actually providing very much storage because of the sloped ceiling, and made the whole room feel a little closed in. The new closets are much bigger and have some usable height for shelving and whatnot, and are more out of the way. Obviously they’re going to have doors and stuff…I think I have a plan for this all to look great and not awkward like it does on the plan.

One thing to note is that I didn’t include the collar-ties in the rendering (the horizontal framing pieces that tie the rafters together), but those will be here and will be exposed. I’m planning to just paint them white and I think they’ll be nice! I’d definitely rather see the painted collar ties and have the ceiling go all the way up to the peak of the roof than do a flat ceiling, even though Edwin thinks I’m crazy.

The bedroom door gets shifted over a couple of feet, basically to where the old bathroom door used to be. I’ll reuse the old 5 panel door, of course!

hallwaybeforeandafter

Moving toward the back of the house, this is the area above the dining room. If this house were bigger, it would have been nice to leave this area totally open as a nice reading nook kind of zone, but that would just be a big waste of space here. Instead, I’ve narrowed the hallway somewhat (it’s still 4 feet wide, so the size is still fairly generous), and added a little over 6 feet of closet space that will go from floor to ceiling. The closet is about 18″ deep—perfect for linens and just general storage. I know firsthand how difficult storage can be in a small space, so I’m trying to take any opportunity I can to build it in!

Spoiler: originally I wanted to vault all of the ceilings in the upstairs, but once we gutted and Edwin and I talked (and talked, and talked, and talked), it became clear that vaulting the ceiling in this middle section was not a great option. There were so many crazy angles with the two different roof pitches and a LOT of necessary framing to get everything stabilized and safe…you’ll see. It’s totally fine, though—we were still able to raise the ceiling several inches from what it was, and I think it will be somehow more interesting and dramatic to vault the ceilings just in the bedrooms.

bathroom

There isn’t really anything to see in the “before” rendering of the bathroom. Essentially the room was a bit narrower (because the old hallway was wider) and was being called a third bedroom, but it was really small and weird as a bedroom. This bathroom is going to be NICE, though. It’s definitely pretty spacious (especially for an old house and one of this size) but not stupidly huge, and I think it’s just going to be all-around really great. The plan is a toilet, tub (I’m picturing something kind of 1920s, with a curved corner preferably!)) and double sinks. These sinks aren’t at all what I’m picturing—they were just the first ones I could get to load in SketchUp. I’d love to do two vintage pedestal sinks or wall-mounted ones or something, although I know people will shit all over me if I don’t build in some storage. I’ll figure it out!

Anyway, I’m excited about the bathroom. I spend too much time thinking about fixtures and materials and endlessly debating whether to put in a tile floor or not. I’m leaning toward yes…I have LOTS of flooring to patch in elsewhere so I could use the old boards, and it would be pretty luxe to do radiant floor heat in here, and it might brighten things up a bit besides. It wouldn’t be very expensive.

backbedroom

The second bedroom (which is smaller but still a nice size and easily fits a full bed) undergoes the fewest changes of any room! The ceiling is getting vaulted in here, too (again, with exposed and painted collar-ties), and you’ll notice that I did decide to lose the closet. I know, scandal! I mentioned this back when we toured the second floor prior to demo and a lot of people gave me virtual stink-eye, but it’s the best thing for in here. I checked with the building department and there is definitely no requirement in Kingston for a bedroom to have a dedicated closet to be called a bedroom, so that isn’t an issue. I don’t think buyers necessarily expect it here, either…old houses typically don’t have closets, and pretty much all the houses here are old! The rendering might help (or not?) show that the closet didn’t actually provide a lot of storage space, but it was really large and sort of took over the room. It feels SO much bigger and nicer without it. There’s still space for a nice freestanding armoire, which will achieve the same thing but just fit the space so much better.

So there it is, the second floor! I’m excited to show pictures of the space all framed out—it’s so exciting for me at least to see it at this stage, when you can really get a sense of how the space is going to pan out.

Planning the Cottage Interior: The First Floor!

It’s been a minute since we checked in on the old Bluestone Cottage, hasn’t it? This time of year always feels especially warp-speed-ish. I can’t be the only one who feels like this. It’s like October lasted 10-15 minutes, November went on for roughly the blink of an eye, and now it’s basically 2015, which more than likely means another year has gone by and, once again, I failed to make good on any of my resolutions. I have still used my gym membership exactly once, my email inbox remains a total disgrace for which I have yet to devise an effective system, my body has still never been cleansed with juice for multiple days…WHERE did 2014 go? I guess for 2015 I’ll just roll over everything from 2014 and maybe add “avoid attacks by swarms of leeches,” just to feel like I have new and accomplishable goals. Anyway, not the point. Ignore me.

I kind of wish things were moving faster in renovation-land, though.

Good News:

1. The cottage is still standing.

2. I’m still alive.

3. My house is also still standing.

4. Spoiler: the framing at the cottage is pretty much DONE. And has been for a few weeks.

Bad News:

1. Ideally, the next steps would be running the new HVAC system, roughing in plumbing, diving into the electrical, insulating, and starting the real fun of new walls and fixtures and finishes and all that jazz. Unfortunately, I need gas to do the HVAC, and the gas line running from the main at the street to the house needs to be redone. For reasons that are almost too complicated and definitely too annoying to even really get into, I’ve been trying to get the utility company to do this for about 6 weeks at this point, and I really don’t know when it will happen. It’s mega-annoying. It’s also probably the worst time of year to try to be booking the plumber, since winter usually means burst pipes and emergencies and everyone trying to get their heat systems working at once, and I’m not really an emergency. Anyway. Hopefully the next couple of weeks will see more progress than the last few have!

2. It is COLD outside. And without a heat system, the inside of the cottage is exactly as cold as the outside. Which makes it a very difficult place to work. Hence the lack of progress. I’m trying to muster the strength to go over there for a few hours for a good pre-plumbing-extravaganza-clean-out, but I’m a wimp. I really just need to bundle up and bring a little space heater and completely dissociate from my body and it’ll all be OK. Or I’ll die. One of the two.

3. The exterior of the cottage is close to complete-ish, but not quite there. The windows all still need lots of work, some of which might be above my skill set and necessitate the abilities and tools of a professional. There are still a few things I need to paint, but I’m worried it’s too cold. Maybe we’ll get a warm day when I can bang it out.

4. The stall caused by the HVAC/plumbing stuff at the cottage has forced me back inside my own house, thereby forcing me to confront all the work that I still need to do. Progress seems freakishly, comically slow and drawn-out. There is still no library, no pantry, nary a wall has been painted since the dining room, and I’m getting antsy and impatient. I’ve been chipping away at some stuff, though, so my goal is to check some big items off the list before the cottage consumes me again. If our own house was even a little less under construction, I think I’d feel a lot better, but right now the amount of stuff left to do is kind of overwhelming and the house is a damn mess.

SO. I haven’t really been sure how to blog about all the new framing work. It’s hard to just show pictures of it happening because it won’t make a ton of sense, and the pictures themselves are sort of hard to decipher. I’ll be back in a separate post to talk about the process of it all, but I figured a logical place to kick this thing off would be reviewing the floor plan. We’ve already done a pre-demo tour of the upstairs and the downstairs, but I know that it’s difficult to understand the space as a whole without seeing it all laid out! Hopefully this will help. This post is kind of long so I’ll save the second floor plan for next time.

Sound like a plan? GREAT.

Oh, FYI, my SketchUp skills are really elementary and these renderings were just for my own reference, the building department, and for me to help explain stuff to Edwin as we actually built it. None of the furniture is even remotely what I see in here; it was just helpful to have a sense of how things would fit. So ignore the ugly.

1STFLOORBEFOREANDAFTER

The bottom of the picture is the front of the house, just in case that wasn’t clear!

So—some big changes! Pretty much the only thing I was sure about when I bought the house was that the wall in the front had to go. It created this small, awkward room at the front of the house that just felt like completely wasted space. This house is really just too small to have some sort of entrance space like that, or a sun room different than the living room, or whatever. In the new plan, the wall gets blown out and the space becomes part of the living room.

Naturally, everyone who looked at the wall prior to demo said it didn’t seem to be load-bearing, but as a few readers guessed the first time I mentioned taking the wall out, it was load-bearing! That doesn’t mean that the wall can’t come out, it just means that a beam needs to go in its place to carry the load. I know that sounds like a huge deal but it really wasn’t.

frontview1

This is just a section cut showing how things look when you take the front wall of the house away, and the effect of removing that first interior wall. I know this living room looks very stupid and ridiculous in the model, but it won’t be in real life! It’s a nice size, but I didn’t want to make it too big…since the ceiling height is so low, I think it would feel really strange if the room was too expansive. Like someone’s finished basement. This feels right for this house, and it’s plenty big for a normal couch, a couple chairs, and a credenza or bookshelves or something. I intentionally designed it so there would be multiple possible/practical furniture layouts, which is sort of a luxury for a relatively small space.

One of the most significant changes to the first floor is shifting the through-traffic to the left side of the house instead of sort of awkwardly cutting through the center. It’s obviously a very simple plan but I think it will work a lot better, especially with furniture. Wouldn’t it be annoying to get from the living room, through the dining room, and into the kitchen with the old plan? Once you put a dining room table in the middle of the room? I like this much more.

iso

You might notice that a window disappeared in the living room area! I really resisted moving or replacing any windows, and ideally would have done it before the house was painted, but I wasn’t sure about the interior when that was happening and it ended up falling right in the middle of that wall. I’m still considering whether I should put a couple small windows back on that wall…the large windows in the front let in lots of light, and that view on the side isn’t nice, so I’m sort of inclined to just patch in the clapboard outside and call it a day.

I went back and forth on putting a half bath in this house, but it’s one of those modern conveniences that people like, should increase the property value, and shouldn’t cost a ton to do. That small space before it I’m picturing as a small coat/storage closet. I know it’s sort of a strange arrangement to walk through to get to the bathroom, but I think it makes the bathroom feel a little more secluded and out of the way than having a door right in the living room. It also preserves that wall in the living room as a place you could put a couch on or a sideboard or whatever. I think if I buy or build a wardrobe thing with doors, it won’t feel awkward.

The dining room is staying more or less the same, except for the wall to the right of the chimney (elegantly represented here by that square pillar thing). I went back and forth on this, too…pre-renovation, it had been opened up as kind of a pass-through bar thing, which was sort of nice for the amount of light it let into the dining room. I know opening up spaces like that is popular with modern renovations, but I don’t really like seeing it in old houses, so I decided to close the wall back up! I think aligning the doorways and creating a straight shot from the front door to the back of the house will actually make the house seem more open than it was before, even though it’s really more closed up. Anyway, I like the idea of building some kind of storage into that space, like an old china cabinet/hutch situation. Maybe I can find something good salvaged, but if not I wouldn’t mind trying to DIY it. I’ve never built cabinets before!

kitchenbeforeafter

The “before” rendering of the kitchen is pretty generous since there weren’t actually cabinets or a sink when I bought the house, but I think this is similar to how things might have been set up. In any case, the big decision in here was whether or not to cover over the old basement stairs. Those stairs were originally on the exterior of the structure, but the addition of the kitchen brought them indoors. Maintaining the original stairs would have meant either boxing in the opening with walls, a banister, or devising a clever trap door solution…all of which were not really ideal solutions in my mind. I didn’t want to make the kitchen feel smaller with more walls and the trap door makes the basement sort of lousy as usable space (since access would be a hassle) and means that that area of the kitchen couldn’t really be used for anything else. I asked Edwin for a separate quote to add new basement stairs stacked under the original staircase and it was $800, plus another $400 to frame in the old opening and do some significant repair work to the existing joists under the kitchen floor, some of which had rotted due to water damage. It’s another one of those costs I wish I could have avoided, but that price seemed really reasonable and entirely worth it. The kitchen can be so much nicer as a result! So in the new plan, I have the fridge and some tall pantry-type cabinets on that wall, and a straight run of cabinets (lowers, but no uppers) with the stove and sink opposite. I think the kitchen is going to be great! I love a good kitchen renovation.

I hope that clears up the first floor! I’ll be back with second floor plans ASAP and we can all find out together how many horrendous SketchUp models we can look at before our eyes start to bleed. It’ll be fun!

Back to Top