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