Garage Loft

Alright, I’ve got a new little project in the works. I want to build a storage loft in the garage above the 1/2 car bay. We have a ton of “stuff” in the basement and garage that needs to be stored somewhere so I can take back both spaces and restore some semblance of sanity in my home after five years of living here.

Here is the plan:170924 garage plan

This is what the garage looked like during construction:


The garage before it was sheeted back in 2011. You can see the man door and side window.


This is what it looks like now:


The mess in the garage that will hopefully be cleaned up once I finish my loft project and workshop project. (If you want that red Toro lawnmower, let me know.)


My plan is to lag in 2×8 rim joists around the perimeter, just above where the 3-1/2″ window trim would go. And we would mount an LVL or similar type beam the entire length of the open side, with posts at each end, and one in the middle to support it. The decking will be 5/4 boards with gaps between them so I can sweep up there easier and it’ll look nicer, not be too claustrophobic.

My labor is free, so I just need to pay for lumber. I’m hoping it comes in at under $1,000 worth of material.

Once the loft is complete, my next project will be constructing my typical 2×4 workbenches and shelving units under the entire loft, creating a full blown shop for myself.


Framing The Basement – Steel Studs

Here’s my recap for framing the basement. It’s probably a good thing I’m writing this a few weeks after the actual work, because it wasn’t as easy a chore as I would have thought.

In a previous life I rough framed houses, so framing is probably what I’m best at when it comes to home DIY projects. Had I chose to use wood framing I’m sure partitioning the basement would have been uneventful. Well because of my concerns with flooding down there, should the sump pump ever fail, I was leery to use pine 2×4’s that could become water-logged and moldy in a water event. There’d be the risk that I’d have to rip everything out and start over if that ever happened.

I could use all pressure treated lumber, which would be impervious to rot, but I was thinking of a more contemporary solution.

Steel Framing

I knew about steel framing, having seen it used at my corporate job. It seemed like that might be a good option: use galvanized steel framing. If it got wet it wouldn’t rot, mold or rust. So I did my homework.

From what I gathered steel framing would be less expensive and go up as quickly as lumber. You can’t use it for structural walls, but none of my basement walls are structural. They just have to hold up drywall. Steel framing is also resistant to fire, which is a good thing around mechanical systems. And steel is 100% recyclable, so it’s a good choice from an environmental standpoint.

I got a quote for having someone else install the walls, but I decided to try to save some money, as well as learn a new skill by doing it myself. Here is an article from The Family Handyman magazine that explains how to install the steel studs (click here). I’ll let you look and learn on your own. Instead of going through the steps again, I’ll hit on my thoughts and highlights regarding using steel framing (compared to wood framing).


From what I read steel was supposed to be cheaper but I’m not sure that’s the case. If anything it’s a wash. Studs were $4.17 for 10′ lengths. Pressure treated wood is more. Regular pine / fir is less. I looked at both Lowe’s and Home Depot and both stores had steel in stock for similar prices. I bought at Lowe’s because I get a discount there.

Fastener wise you have to buy screws, four per stud. That cost is likely the same as nails so that’s a wash. The same goes for the floor anchor bolts.

Advantage: it’s a draw


Steel is great because it’s straight and light weight. I did the entire project single-handedly. I’m not sure I could have done wood alone. Also we haul materials on the roof rack of the RAV4. Lightweight steel means more studs per trip to Lowe’s. Wood is renewable. Steel is recyclable, fire resistant and doesn’t rust*.

Advantage: steel*

(*make sure you get galvanized steel. I bought mine at Lowe’s and I’m almost certain it’s not galvanized, other than one batch of studs. I asked the associates on two occasions and they said the product I was buying was galvanized but I’m pretty sure it’s not. What I got will likely rust over time potentially. I’ll keep an eye on it (I have access to nearly all the walls from  the back side via mechanical rooms).)


Wood is easy. Measure and cut. Steel studs are a pain in the ass to cut to length. Our ceilings are 9′ tall. Turns out the holes for electrical wires to go through the stud fall right at 9′ from the end of our 10′ studs. So I had to cut each stud two times.

Actual installation was nothing short of maddening. A drill holster is an absolute necessity since you have to screw each stud four times, twice each top and bottom into metal channels. You also have to clamp the stud to the track every time you go to fasten a screw. I nearly had the entire basement framed before I learned that you just gotta jam the drill on full blast and hope the screw bites.

The worst part is trying to fasten a screw where the track butts up against an obstacle such as the I-beam running down the center of the basement. I finally figured out you need to install the fastener from the inside of the stud, not the outside, first. Then do the subsequent other fastener on the other side of the stud, from the outside.

Steel stud install easily took 2-3 times longer than wood would have.

Advantage: wood


Steel studs can’t bear weight. So if you’re going to hand cabinets or shelves you likely have to frame those areas with wood. Doorways need to be trimmed in wood anyway because finish trim won’t attached to steel unless you use decorative small profile head screws. I plan on putting in a barn door for the storage room and I know I’ll have to block the heck out of that area to support a sliding door.

For electrical, my electrician is saying steel will cost more because of the boxes and whatnot that he’ll have to use. Also I’ll need to block in with wood mounting points for outlets and more.

Steel is great for partitions but not much else. By the way, all my soffits are made from wood, as well as the ceiling in the bathroom.

Advantage: wood

Final Verdict

So it’s no surprise that I can’t recommend steel framing for any project. I love the look, and steel is definitely easier if you’re working all by yourself, like I invariably am. I suppose the learning curve is there: I now know what to look for and I’ve made many of the mistakes. But regardless I probably should have just stuck with lumber, even if I used pressure treated sole plates and risked wet wall studs.

Check out my photos below for more info and details.

Shoot me any questions in the comments section.


Basement Planning and Pricing

Before we jump into all the “fun” work I’ve been doing in the basement for the last six weeks, let’s do a post to go over our game plan.

Budget is the biggest driver for the project. We have zero money frankly, but as I said in the last post: we feel strongly that we need the space to be useful, otherwise what’s the point. Before the project the basement was full, no exaggeration, of “stuff”. Furniture, half filled boxes, years worth of stuff that had just been moved from house to house. For example, in our old house we had a library filled with books. There’s nothing like that in the new house, so there are just box after box of books. My wife collects board games and we’ve never once had a place to store and display her very extensive collection. I have every car magazine from 1986 to the early 2000’s. Yes, those can be recycled but I’d like to go through them first. Point is we have more crap than most of you combined.

The basement has to stop being a big catch-all.

Okay, back to design and our plans. Here are the main project areas. I’ll go over them in detail in subsequent posts.

Exterior Walls

When we built the house, you may recall we used Superior Walls for our foundation. The basement walls are prefabricated out of cement and steel, and stand nine feet tall (9′). The walls feature metal stud facings so we can apply drywall directly to the face of them. No need to fir out the walls which saves a lot of time and money. I just need to frame in a few of the corners with drywall nailers. Note, we would also have to frame in for any shelf or cabinet supports ahead of time. Superior walls cannot support a vertical load so don’t go screwing in cabinets into the studs. More info, and to see nailer diagrams, click here.


The foundation walls are insulated to R12.5 from that factory with blue rigid insulation. When we installed them I speculated that we would insulate them with another R-20 worth of insulation, which I think is the maximum if we fill the rest of each cavity with sprayed insulation. Well to keep costs down we did two things 1) only insulated the top 4′ of the exterior walls and 2) went to a depth of 1.5″ (R-10). Why? The top half of the wall has the most exposure to outside temperature changes. Once you get beyond 4-5 feet the earth’s temperature is pretty stagnate, something like a constant 50 degrees or something (I’ll let you look it up). By the way, cost to insulate the top 4′ with 1.5″ of 2 lb. spray insulation (R-10): $2,164. Three inches (R-20) would have been $4,040.


The floors in the basement are cement (over 4″ of rigid foam insulation by the way). Our basement is prone to flooding if the sump pump ever fails, so that drives many of the design decisions we’ve made in regards to our basement project. Long term our plan would be to cover the entire 950 sq. ft. of living space with ceramic or porcelain tile. Short term though we’ll leave it cement. I’ll rent a floor cleaner from Home Depot and clean the cement myself. Not sure if I’ll seal it at this point. I’ll decide when the time comes. We could stain the floor like we did in my studio. That is always an option, in lieu of putting tile down. For now though regular concrete will suffice everywhere, though the bathroom will likely get tile right out of the gate. Cost should just be a few hundred dollars for cleaning and any tile.


There is some debate whether to put in a drywall ceiling or suspended ceiling. Drywall is cleaner and more finished. Suspended ceilings give you access to HVAC, water and electrical. If you think about it, the other floors of the house are covered in drywall with no utility access. So I think drywall is a fine choice. The problem with our ceiling is there are a lot of pipes, ducts and other obstacles that I don’t want to, or can’t, soffit around. We’ll be putting a drop ceiling in all the living areas except the bathroom. Armstrong has a wide selection of ceiling tiles and a lot of inspiration shots on their website. I got a quote for installing a generic Armstrong system: $3,500. I’ll do it myself. Hopefully the material cost will be closer to $1,000-$2,000. We may hold off and do this next year if we can’t afford it.

The yellow areas will likely be drop ceiling.

The yellow areas will likely be drop ceiling.

Interior Wall Framing

Because of the potential for water flooding should the sump pump fail, I was hesitant to use wood framing. If the basement flooded there’s potential for mold to grow in water-logged studs and walls. Regardless always put down pressure treated sole plates, but I didn’t feel like using treated studs. I was curious about metal framing so that’s what I went with. I still used wood for soffits, blocking and ceiling areas. Look for my thoughts on metal framing in a future post. Cost wise we got an estimate for $1,791 to have someone else do the framing. I did it myself, learned a new skill and spent about $750 on materials to partition the basement. By the way, this includes material for desperately needed storage shelves in the storage room.


I don’t do electrical so we’ll have to hire a pro. We’re doing the bare minimum. With the drop ceiling and good access from the storage room we can add-on later. For now it’s all switches, outlets, and ceiling cans. I’d like to swing for 4″ cans but may just default to 6″ to save money. Would like to populate them all with LED bulbs though. Cost estimate for electrical parts and labor is at $4,000. Yikes!


We’ll drywall everything. I may put 12″ of cement board at the bottom of every wall because of the aforementioned water damage potential. Or not. Estimate we got was $3,757. Doing it myself will hopefully save some money. But I don’t have the patience or craftsmanship (or desire) to mud it all so I may have to source that.

$4K electric, $2K insulation, $1K framing, $3K drywall = $10K, then do the ceiling next year or down the road maybe. We’ll see. I just hand over receipts and the wife keeps track and cuts checks.

Stay tuned for future posts on each step of the way. As of this writing I’m wrapping up framing and the insulation is done.




Framing Walls (and Installing a Sink !!!)

I spent this weekend working on my office cabinet project.  The goal was to frame the two walls so that I could call the plumber and get the sink pipes extended.  All went well I can safely report tonight.  I even got a bonus project done with my free time on Sunday.  Before I go into the play by play, I’ll share something with you; throughout the process of building the house it seems a lot wasn’t going as well as planned.  As I work on each subsequent project, I have found that if I take my time, think things through and remain calm these projects are going easier.  And they don’t seem to take much longer (compared to just barreling through them), so there is value in taking my time.  Knock on wood of course.

The walls I’m building are add-ons so the first order of business is to get some solid nailing blocks in the existing exterior wall.  If I was smart I’d have had a “pocket” framed into the wall when we were rough framing the house, before the drywall went in, but realistically I wouldn’t have been able to devise where the pocket should be so the chances of getting it right back then are slim.  I spent some time marking out the location of my wall, taking into consideration my already made countertops, cabinets and even factoring in the existing steps in my studio.  Once I was comfortable with my marks on the wall I used my oscillating tool to remove the drywall and create two horizontal openings.  I devised my game plan on the fly and am fairly happy with it, looking back on my handy work.  The plan was to install two 2×6 blocks, anchored between two existing wall studs, to provide  a solid anchoring for my perpendicular wall.  After the drywall was off I scraped away the insulation inside.  Our insulation is made from recycled newspaper that was “damp” blown into the wall cavities.  Suffice to say I had to “scrape” some off to make room for the 2×6 blocks.  I then inserted the blocks and worked them down behind the drywall.  See the pics for my trick on getting a grip on the blocks.  I came up with that after scratching my head trying to figure out how to get the block into position.  The insulation, drywall and studs had a firm grip on my block so snaking it into place was tough, but the trick made it do able.  Once in place I mounted a 1/2″ block which I’d eventually mount the new wall stud to.  Finally I replaced the drywall pieces I’d cut out earlier.  Ha, after about two hours everything looked basically like it did when I had started.  But I knew I could now start building my walls.

I cut a couple treated 2×4’s, covered their underside with adhesive caulk, and fastened them to the studio’s cool cement floor with blue colored masonry screws that I picked up at Lowes.  I then cut all my studs, to about 98″ and mounted the first one to the exterior wall, screwing into the 1/2″ blocks and ultimately the 2×6 blocks I’d hidden behind the wall hours previously.  I used screws and a drill for the entire project.  I don’t have a nail gun and hand nailing is fairly quick but laborious.  Screws seemed to work just fine and I had a lot left over from other projects that I could use on this job.  Once that first stud was up I continued putting up the rest of the studs and finally the top plates.   The design I came up with meant that both walls would stop about a foot or two from the ceiling.  I capped the wall design off at the top of the upper cabinets.  This created that open air space above the  cabinets which will help keep the art studio feeling airy.  One bad thing with the design is that the walls are only attached to the floor and the one exterior wall so they’re prone to wiggling.  I nailed a filler board down low at the end of the one wall, where it meets the steps, and this helped stiffen and level the wall.  Putting in the new floor framing extension would stiffen the walls more.  Finally the drywall, cabinets and shelving should stiffen everything up as well.

One pesky task that I decided to tackle during this project was the “hidden air vent” buried under the office platform.  I knew it was there ’cause I had photos.  From what I remember it was there and no one ever hooked it up during construction.  They just built the platform over the top.  I’m not sure why.  I’m sure it sat there untouched, with some blue foam stuffed in it from when they poured the concrete floor (the foam kept the cement out during pouring). My concern was that the blue foam may have been pushed down into the air duct and was causing blockage, or maybe conditioned air was leaking into the cavity under my office.  Either way I wanted to fix it and possibly route the vent into the floor of my office and finish it off.  I started by prying off the drywall that capped the platform.  The platform is only about 14″ off the ground which meant that the 2×6 joists left only like 9″ of vertical space underneath the platform.  Ugh.  After finding a real flashlight (my boys seemingly steal all of the working flashlights and hoard them in somewhere secret) I peered under to find a mountain of insulation.  I guess when they blew the insulation in the wall cavities a  lot of it exited out down here until the cavities were full.  I chickened out a few times before talking myself into getting under there.  It was the right thing to do.

I crafted a cardboard insulation pusher on a stick and did just that, started pushing the insulation to the far side of the space under the platform.  Based on the pic I shared the other day I thought the vent was way in there.  I glance up at the exposed wall studs and decided to check my photo again; so I’d know how much insulation I’d have to push away. I was pleasantly surprised my sense of scale was off and it turned out the vent was about three feet in instead of eight feet in.  This was great news cause being under there was like being in a coffin.  And I was breathing heavy with the prospect of having to go way back into there.  So I brushed away the insulation and sure enough, there was my vent.

There was no way around it, I had to get in there.  My head barely fit and then my fat gut and waist did not fit.  Talk about hyperventilating…but with a twist I was in.  The wife handed me tools and the vacuum hose like a hygienist helping a dentist.  I pounded away at the cement overhanging the vent and carved away at the blue foam blocks inside.  Pulling the last one out of the metal vent shoot I reached in….and much to my dismay….I found…..all was for nothing.  They never cut the 8″ green air duct open at that vent.  They must have never planned on finishing that vent.  I could have just left it; I didn’t have to get all freaked out by the claustrophobic space, eat insulation or fish around for the vent.  Oh well, knowing that nothing was wrong from an air flow standpoint outweighed any frustration I would have felt going through all these theatrics. Back to the work at hand then.

I wrapped up the framing at this point by roughing in the “floor” extension.  I just used 2×4’s and set it up for a 1/2″ piece of OSB board to cap it off.  This area will just hold up the cabinets and should be plenty strong enough.  I’ll install the OSB and some 1/2″ flooring once the plumber is done extending the pipes.  So that’s it for that project for now.

With an hour to spare I decided to get the sink in Christine’s studio installed so the plumber could hook that up too when he comes out.  We bought a small stainless steel bar sink, that included a faucet and drain for only $109 at Lowes.  It was easy to install. See pics below for step by step.

Ok, I’m exhausted and need my beauty sleep.  Stay tuned, hopefully next weekend I’ll be doing some drywall.


Tar and Feather

I awoke to a relatively meager 3″ of snow on the ground this morning.  After some running around with kids and wife dropping off the car at the repair shop, I hopped in the Jeep; throwing the half bath vanity and the replacement light pharmacy sconce for the master bedroom inside before boarding.

As luck would have it Tony and my brother were freezing their asses off installing the porch columns that I would have had to help install, were I not so tardy this fine Saturday morning.  Approaching the house, after proudly parking the Jeep in front of my studio, I noticed all the breezeway columns were installed.  It appeared that the threaded bolts in the cement footers lined up fairly well with the corresponding headers running the length of the breezeway, from house to garage.  We used simple pressure treated 4×4’s for the columns or posts.  Each will be trimmed out in cedar to give the look of a 10×10 or 12×12 column.  By trimming the narrow dimension posts with large dimension “one by” cedar, we’ll be able to camouflage any inconsistencies or misalignment in the posts.

After a brief joke about letting all the hot air out of the house (the porch door was cracked open to allow hoses and cords outside) to the guys installing posts in the screen porch area, I stepped back inside; relieved that I’d missed that task.  Asking my other brother what I could do he mentioned I could work on the couple of items I’d mentioned the other day.  One was replacing the attic window panes with tempered panes.  A mis-measurement long ago lead to non-tempered panes being installed.  These would have to be fixed before we move in, otherwise the windows would need unsightly railings in front of them.  The other task was to investigate the draft mentioned by my brother.  He had experienced it coming from under the fireplace when they were installing the hardwood flooring.

Laying down some cardboard on the wood floor I got down on my belly and peered into the 8″ tall gun slit below the fireplace. Sure enough I could feel cold air.  And not just a little, actually quite a bit.  I was a fair bit alarmed because the whole premise of the house was that it was air tight and super insulated.  We had identified some problem areas when we did the blower test but the fireplace wasn’t really one of them from what I remember.  I reached into the cavity below the fireplace.  Quickly, for reference, the fireplace unit sits on a cement board and 2×4 platform about 8″ off the first floor deck.  The back of the fireplace juts out into the screen porch several inches.  You may remember, Eric and I built a 2×6 plywood box (or chase) to house everything.  The exterior of the chase has house wrap, 4″ rigid and cedar siding.  The inside has pink or blown insulation with a foil face for fire proofing. We insulated under the fireplace by installing pressure treated 2×10’s to form boxes, then we filled the boxes with 10″ of rigid insulation.  At the time I think we mentioned we should have installed the rigid horizontally, but alas we did 4″ blocks vertically.  We thought we had caulked everything up good.  apparently not, for as I stretched and dipped my hand I could feel a slight draft of cold air.

Slit near floor, below fireplace and to the left of Tony is where we had an air leak. It's about 8" which is just enough to make you think you can do productive work under there.

“Hmmmm…..okay here…..I can feel the draft here”, I think to myself.
Sure enough coming up between the seem in two of the vertically install blocks of, our friend, blue foam.  Mind you, at this point I’m belly down and up to my arm pit in fireplace goodness.  I’m clawing around at loose insulation, made from recycled newspaper, that had fallen down; grabbing handfuls and setting it aside.  I can taste the fiber like grit of insulation in my mouth.  Yummy. 
Then my hand reaches way back and the cheapo pink insulation feels cold….but not really, cause what it feels like is not cold but rather cold and wet……what the?  Slowly the fiber like dust settles enough and I gaze into the dark cave under my fireplace.  Scanning right to left I do a double take, not sure what I’m looking at.  At first I think its expanded foam shooting skyward from between the blue foam blocks.  It literally takes five to seven seconds for my brain to comprehend what I’m seeing.  In disbelief I force my hand to continue panning right to left and grip the, literally, ice-cold stalagmite protruding upward.
It’s a god damn upside down icicle in the middle of my house.
I think to myself, as a form of diversion, “which is it, stalactite or stalagmite?  Those things in caves?”
Continuing in disbelief I think to myself “Enough of this” and I break the f-er off at the base.  Damn thing is easily four or five inches long. “How does an icicle even from upside down?”  I peer in again looking for its counterpart on the “ceiling” of the fireplace slit.  Nothing there.  Getting to my feet my mind races.
The whole philosophical foundation of this house was that it would be airtight, super insulated and energy-efficient.  And looking down in my hand I’m seeing just the opposite of everything we’ve done for seven months.  Imagine you went out and laid down money for a Lamborghini. On your way home you decide to open it up a bit on the freeway only to find that you’re being passed by mid-90’s Chevy Cavaliers.  You pull over, pop the carbon fiber hatch and find the automotive equivalent of a friggin’ upside down icicle in your engine bay. (Chris, they’re call stalagmites btw).
Are you f-ing kidding me?  I’m sweating to death cause the house is so hot everywhere else, yet it is cold enough to form an icicle in the open space under the fireplace.  It’s 70 degrees inside the house yet I can see my breath under the fireplace.

This was living under my fireplace inside my super tight insulated house. Trust me, the irony that it looks like a certain body part in my hand was not lost on me in the least. Very apropos all things considered. Basically the energy efficiency gods having a laugh at my expense.

As best I can tell, the air infiltrated our 2×10 box through a uncaulked seam.  The narrowness of the seam accelerated the super cold air.  As soon as that cold air hit the warmth of the house it condensed on contact and created a micro climate under the fireplace.  The insulation got damp and the area where the air penetration was built up this kick butt stalactite or stalagmite or whatever the heck it’s called.  I spent easily the next twenty minutes trying to figure out a fix.  Looking outside I could see there could be some improvement sealing out there but it’d have to wait til spring or summer.  Just too tight and cold to crawl under the deck today.

Fuzzy pic but you can see how tight it is under the fireplace. Just tall enough though to think you can be productive. Just short enough to eliminate any success at doing anything worthwhile.

I decided I’d cover the whole surface of the blue board with a cocktail of expanding and non-expanding foam.  On top of that I’d place a cement board panel.  I’d then caulk all the seams.  Running up to Terry Lumber I picked up the two types of spray foam.  I started with the non-expanding type, spraying the perimeter and dumping the rest of the can as best I could on top.  The close quarters made 80% of this work a guessing game.  Next I used most of a can of expanding foam, jamming the nozzle down into the cavity where the icicle was.  I had previously beat the base of the icicle to break up the ice as best I could.  The conditions were not optimal, temperature wise, according to the can but I couldn’t wait til July in Cleveland to do the job.  Once all the foam was down I squished my cement board panel down into the foam.  Securing the panel with screws or even a nail was impossible….believe me I tried.  So I held the panel in place with some cut 2×4’s, applying pressure between the panel and the fireplace “ceiling” above (the platform for the fireplace).  I then caulked all the seams I could see, including some that probably made no difference.  Into other voids I saw, I sprayed expanding foam to seal everything up real tight.  I then tossed the loose cellulose insulation back into the chase bays in the areas that the pink insulation was lacking.  The pink insulation was still a tad wet but I fluffed it up and it should dry out now.
Throughout the process I essentially rolled around in spray foam, caulk and cellulose insulation.  My hands looked like I made love to an unwilling bird.  Pulling the dried caulk from my fingers tested my hand’s ability to retain skin to flesh.  I’m pretty sure I inhaled enough chemicals and insulation to obliterate any hope of not dying of cancer. I basically, figuratively….slightly literally, tarred and feathered myself over the course of an hour.
It was not a text-book operation by any scope of the imagination, but I will say, our little cavity under the fireplace did start to warm up after a while.  And I couldn’t feel any direct cold air anymore.  After that was done we started to skin the fireplace with 1/2″ OSB.  Upon that will go chicken wire and our masonry stone.
Elsewhere in the house Eric is continuing to work on trimming out the doors.  The three panel doors look really nice in person.  Tony and I trimmed out the top of the master closet with 1/4″ luan plywood and some left over 1x scrap we had lying around. The coming week should include kitchen cabinets and baseboards starting to go in. 
‘Til next time, stay warm. 

Trimming closet top in 1/4" plywood


Using left over 1x2 rips to trim top of closet


Trimming out the interior of the porch door


Pantry pocket door with trim.


If you're doing this at home, start with the top piece then do the sides. Our casing is about 3.5" wide. Base board will be about 5" tall.

Autumn Road

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the new house is the drive up the driveway to the site in Autumn.  That alone is worth the price of admission. In just a few hundred feet the beauty of the valley encloses into a leaf lined country “road”, ultimately leading to our home, perfectly bookended by two stands of trees.  A day’s trials and tribulations give up their last gasp, having been worn down by a spirited charge down the valley’s wall and winding roads.  Leaves gently flutter earthbound through the glint of a lazy late season sun.  The crunch of gravel under tire is tempered by a week’s worth of leafy carpet laid down fresh.  Regardless of the temperature outside, one is virtually guilted into rolling down the window to catch the scent of Fall in the air.  Carbon cycling back to where it came from.

View of house with most of the metal roof in place. The charcoal grey color is great this time of year because it holds its own against the steely Autumn Ohio sky

Most of the standing seam metal roof is now in place.  It has unified and slimmed the house considerably.  It does not look as expansive as anticipated.  The metal roof should last upwards of 40+ years and is fully recyclable when it does need to be replaced.  The gentle ripples between seams allow the metal to expand and contract, avoid oil canning and provide a gentle visual detail to add interest.  We’ve got nothing but compliments on the style and color. (pat on back, and a “thank you”, for the wife).
With the sun setting so early it’s impossible to get pictures of the inside.  Suffice to say, all the trades have roughed in the mechanical systems so we’ll be ready for insulation relatively soon.  The exterior insulation is being wrapped up as well.  After that we start finishing the exterior and interior with siding and drywall respectively.
Waste wise, we’ve employed our second waste container from Kurtz Brothers.  This time it’s a smaller one to handle the intermediate was being generated.  We should have one more container for end of project.  Maybe two.  Waste is something I wish I’d done a better job with but at least by using Kurtz Brothers, i’m assured that a lot of my waste is being recycled and made into other products.  This is better than randomly picking some everyday waste hauler; who knows where their waste ends up.
The interior framing is complete.  We’re making the kneewall areas our “line of defense” against air transmission, so we increased the roof thickness to 16″ by installing 2×4’s to match the interior ceiling plane.  This will give the roof an R-60 value throughout, saving a lot of energy and resources that can be used for something better than heating and cooling our house.  We also framed in transoms above the interior doors to allow for evening privacy AND air flow between rooms.
Fortunately the weather has been pretty good lately.  This is an encouraging change as we finish closing in the house.
Pretty soon I’ll have to go outside, or open a window, to get in the Autumn mood.  Maybe go for a walk down the drive.

Cut Man

Today was pretty cool.  Today I took a vacation day and worked on the house.  Today I had the privilege of stepping into a time machine.

I don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason I woke up at 4am stressing out about the house.  My mind processing 10,000 things regarding design, to do’s, road blocks….on and on with no hope of getting back to sleep.  When I did get to sleep again I was greeted with the “house dream” consisting of a massive house, executed nicely but with enough oddities to stress me out, even in dream mode.  Next thing I know I’m transported to the present and I awake in a panic wondering what time it is. 


Damn it all to hell.  Finally able to sleep but I’m late.

Text shows my brother’s running late as well; enough time to scramble, throwing my circular saw into the Rabbit.

The weather looks a thousand times better in that it shouldn’t snow today.  Yesterday was a complete nightmare of wind and air turning to a crystalline vapor mist.  Today would be dry.  Today was my day.

Today I was a cut man.

I arrive on site to the pleasant surprise of several trucks and vans on site.  Finally the trades were cramming to get their work done and get inspections going.  I park the Rabbit on an embankment to the side of our driveway, suitable for the Jeep, not really for the VW.  Propping the door ajar with my foot I grab a handful of the day’s requirements.  One dash into the hatch to grab my saws and tool belt then up the drive to the house site.  Looking at the house I admire its scale and proportions.  They grow on me daily.

My brother is getting out of his truck.  We exchange pleasantries and walk inside.  The electricians are hard at work; wires running seemingly everywhere.  The radio is blaring classic rock and the smell of wood fills my nose.  I set down my saws and swing my tool belt around my waist, fastening the plastic fastener in front.  Not in back like the nerdy guys do in the handyman magazines or I suspect they do on ‘This Old House’; no offense to TOH, I’m really a huge fan.  It’s just this is how I’ve always worn it.  What is missing though is any semblance of a carpenter’s pencil.  Rather I’m stuck with random ballpoint pen from my car. 

Amateur hour.

But not really.  Because today I got to do something I haven’t done in a long time.  And not to say I’m an expert at this, or anything for that matter, but for one day I got to do something I wasn’t too half bad at doing back in the day. 

Today the plan was to tackle some odds and ends.  In the end we ultimately framed out the fireplace.  The actual fireplace will go in next Friday so we needed to frame it out.  Part will stick into the screen porch.  The rest into the Family Room.

After setting out the tools, extension cords and air hoses I manned my station.  Two plastic saw horses that had seen better days but were secure and proud none the less.  I loaded them up with 2×4’s and 2×6’s.  For the next several hours my brother and I designed, schemed, cut and nailed until we had the framework that would eventually house our fireplace.  I pulled the tree hugger card and made sure we had 8″ of rigid below the fireplace box and I even used the 2×4’s from the window packaging for the plates and platform joists.  My cuts were the straightest but hey, it’s been a while.  Afterwards we set the first door of the house, the one going to the screen porch.  Meanwhile the roofers continued their march west.  The HVAC techs, electricians and plumbers all made significant progress as well.

And over in the Family Room was a 38-year-old guy transporting himself back in time.  See, in high school and college my brothers took pity on my and let me work for them rough framing houses.  I wasn’t the most adept at walking roofs or walls so that basically meant moving lumber.  Eventually though I could man the saw; measuring, cutting handing up boards and sheets of plywood to the guys above, below or around so they could be nailed up.  Sure I’ve nailed my fair share of boards so it’s not like I was one-dimensional, but the romance is being one thing or another, not necessarily a jack of all trades. 

For all intents and purposes. I was a self-proclaimed “cut man”.

So for one day I got out of the office and I got to man the saw again, alongside my brother.  He laughed because he said it takes a pretty special project (or a fair amount of money?) for him to come out of retirement, away from his cabinet shop, and fire up the  framing gun.  I’m pretty sure if I wanted to I could close my eyes or squint hard enough to transport myself back eighteen years today and not have been able to tell the difference.  It was only for a handful of hours, but part of me had dreamt of it for a long time.  And part of me knows that, aside from maybe one or two more days at the house, it’s a dream turned memory that will most likely never be repeated as long as I on this side of the horizon.  The funny thing about time is it glosses over everything so much that the only things that shine through are the good parts, generally speaking.  Framing was a nasty job at times and working to death in a corporate America cube is a lot better in most if not all regards.  I’m not being mellow dramatic either.  I have absolutely no desire to go back to that way of life or to even do much more manual work on my own house for that matter.  But inside of me, somewhere, there’s a part that looks fondly upon the best parts of that old job.

To visit, possibly for the last time, that time and place while working on my own house is pretty special.

So as I reflect upon the existence that is my life at the, god willing, halfway point I’m ashamed that most of it is made up of selfish acts and actions.  Maybe in a way this house can somehow be one selfless acts I somehow help leave behind.  The reality is though I’m going to enjoy it as much if not more than anyone else so there’s not much selflessness about it.  And the reality is I’m but one of dozens of people making this house a reality.  At times a bit player at best I am. I like to think though on the off chance one of my sons wants to hang on to it or sell it they’ll either get a house that will have low overhead and was ahead of its time or they’ll make a pretty penny off it.  When you’re me, this is as good as it gets.

I can always hope and dream though.

When my boys look back upon it, upon that house, somewhere back there in the shadows where memories and dreams dance, what they’ll see is their old man got to be a cut man one last time.  And he loved every second of it.

Pics for your enjoyment:









It’s Autumn in Ohio.  Which means it doesn’t stay light out much past 6pm and is pitch black at 6am.  Generally these are the two times I am out at the house.  Rain clouds don’t help the situation. 

What this means for you is that you don’t get to see any new pictures. 

Yesterday we had the framers back on site.  I trudged through the rain and mud and left a punch list tacked to the foyer wall early in the morning.  I then had to bolt to work and then onto a design crit at the Institute of Art.  The Rabbit likes the whole house building thing I suspect.  I filled his tires with air the other day to give him a fighting chance when I go barreling down into and up out of the valley that our new home will be located.  The right rear was down to 10 psi, so maybe he picked up a nail.  I have to keep a close watch ’cause he’s not one to complain.  It’s a miracle we’re both not dead yet.  I’m pretty sure if we did wrap each other around a tree on some inky black rainy morning I wouldn’t die.  Who would they call to say something’s wrong with the house if I wasn’t around?

I was a little concerned regarding the window installation.  I left various notes not to molest the mylar balloons, lest all the gas escape out of them for lack of a thoughtful touch.  Wasn’t too long until a series of phone calls to the site ensued to explain what to and not to do regarding everything from the windows to the porch construction.  The dim morning light revealed nothing except more rain being pushed across the windshield.  By time we got to the third phone call of my claustrophobic, cross town commute the Rabbit’s front tires were slipping enough to remind me he was there.

“They’re going to mess it all up, we need to go back.”

“We don’t need to go back Rabbit.  We need to go to work.  Have a little faith.”

[Yes, I mentally talk to my car.   Contact my therapist and take a number if that alarms you.]

Turns out man does not live by faith alone.  I’m pretty sure they screwed up my windows.  Not so much that all the gas is gone in two of the largest windows in the house.  Rather they cut the balloons and it doesn’t look like the tubing is crimped so I have my suspicions.  Luckily the gas, which makes the window cost more and perform better than cookie cutter windows, is colorless and odorless.  So there is no discernible way to tell if it’s inside the window or not.  Now technically I don’t know if it’s in there or not from the factory but lets assume the window company filled them with gas.  I now have doubt in my mind regarding the presence, or lack there of, of gas, that will drive me certifiably insane at some point in the next 1-30 years that I’m alive and live in the house.  That’s apparently where faith gets me. 

I’m working out a deal to get a window tech out to assess the situation. Afterall I already know at least one window needs to be refilled because someone cut the balloon outright during unpacking.

Meanwhile the blue rigid insulation is going on nicely.  On top of that are firring strips for the siding.  For the board and batten siding we have horizontal firring strips and vertical strips covering the seams of the rigid insulation.  For the lap siding we just need vertical strips.

The roof is scheduled to start being installed next Monday assuming the weather is nice.  Electrical, plumbing and HVAC rough’s should be done in the next week.  For a water tank we found out today we’ll be going with an 80 gallon electric tank.  I may switch to 50 gallon to minimize the amount of water we have to heat and idle.  We had to switch from the gas-fired tankless water heater because we’ll be using a hybrid gas and geothermal heating system.  The geo system will pre-heat the water, therefore an old-fashioned water tank will be just as efficient as the tankless, or so I’m told.  I’ll wrap the tank in insulation to retain heat and keep our utility costs down.

For future power supply options or expansion I checked with a local solar power company.  All we need to do is leave one 15-20 amp breaker slot open in the garage panel and run a conduit from the garage attic to the electrical panel.  The garage really is the best spot for photovoltaics.  We don’t want to mar the aesthetic of the main house with PV cells.  In theory I can power two cars with a closed system in the garage and never pay for gas again (except for the Jeep).

The porches are being framed in this week in anticipation of the roofer starting.  They also built the office platform for my studio.  My punch list for the framers includes the items that will be needed for the insulation as well such as firring down the roof to get 16″ of blown cellulose insulation in the roof.  I’m trying to get them to use the left over 2×4’s from the window packaging to save me some money and trees.

Today’s only eye candy is the front hall pic.  We landed on a design.  I’ll talk more about it when we do the walk through.

I’ll jump onto the stair case designs next.  We’re way behind on a few of the design items.  We actually need to select flooring now too so we can match the stair treads to the flooring.  My carpenter (aka my brother) isn’t talking to me right now ’cause I got short with him regarding the windows and my lost gas.  I have faith at some point he’ll start talking again; after all he’s not going to want to keep walking around my kitchen cabinets in his shop, right?

Now I haven’t been going to church too often with everything that’s going on, but I suspect the big guy will let it slide for now. Which gets me thinking. There’s a lot of faith involved when one takes on this kind of project. Faith that it’ll turn out half way decent.  Faith that we’ll all be talking to each other when it’s done. Faith that my kids will forgive their old man for spending their college fund on the wild goose chase that is this environmentally friendly house.  Faith that I’ll still be married and / or alive at the end of this god awful process. (just kidding honey, I love you, please pick out flooring for me already.)

Faith that when this ridiculous carousel that is my life spins around to the other side there will be a brass ring there waiting for me.

Faith that I’ll be able to grab it.

Slow But Sure

We’re slowly wrapping up the rough framing and getting ready for insulation.  I met with our EnergyStar rater and insulation contractor this week to do a walk through of the house.  It’s best to know what we need to do before the insulation and drywall start going on.  On the exterior the windows are being installed and the rigid insulation is going up.

There is some concern regarding the HVAC ducts being on exterior walls.  These days most if not all the ductwork should be on interior walls to insulation them from the exterior.  Otherwise it’s difficult to get enough insulation in those wall bays.  At least I’ll have 4″ of rigid insulation on the exterior to mitigate the issue as best we can.  Flexible ducts have been installed in many of the kneewall attic areas of our Cape Cod style home.  This means that in reality we will have to treat all these areas as conditioned space.  This will mean insulating the roof and exterior walls just like the main house, but also using some paper material to prevent air movement.  The paper material will act like drywall in terms of controlling air flow, but will be less expensive to install.  Another concern with the flexible ducts is they were installed with too many tight turns or corners.  Flexible ducts need to have gentle radius turns to keep air and debris from piling up in the corners.

A bit more on insulation.  We’ll be using blown in cellulose insulation made from recycled newspaper.  Fairly green although it is treated to be fireproof.  For air tightness we’ll be caulking the drywall seams so that should minimize any perceived ill effects of the fireproof insulation.  As far as I know it’s a safe product.  Part of the insulation job will include extensive caulking and sealing of the entire house, including around light fixtures, outlets and any wall or floor penetrations.  One place to pay attention to is between the OSB sheets.  Technically the framers should space the sheets 1/8″ apart for expansion.  They usually don’t but regardless, any visible gaps in the OSB should be sealed with spray foam from the inside.  On our house there are a couple of areas where you can see daylight shining through the green Raindrop housewrap, between the OSB wall sheathing.

We’ll be having a blower test and filling out three sets of survey forms to establish our home’s HERS rating and ultimately our EnergyStar qualification.  It’s critical that the house essentially be air tight.  I Googled it and it looks like Ohio has about 1,300 EnergyStar homes so we’ll be in the vast minority.  Hopefully in a few years this will be the norm.

On the exterior we continue to pick away at sealing everything and installing the blue rigid insulation.  Windows are starting to go in.  We seat the aluminum nailing flanges of each window in a bead of silicone sealant / caulk and level / nail the windows in place.  Over the top of the flanges, just like our REMOTE wall article says to do, we cover with Grace Vycor Plus membrane flashing.  The insulation contractor will seal everything up from the inside with spray foam and caulk where necessary.

The windows show up with a breather tube and mylar expansion bag.  Serious windows do this because all the windows are gas-filled. Without the tubes the windows would explode when they’re driven over the Rocky Mountains.  Without the mylar balloon the gas would escape.  One of the balloons did get cut so I suspect we’ll have to have a tech come out and refill that window.  On all the other windows, I’ve been crimping the tube in two places and will cut off the mylar balloon.  I then hit the end of the tube with silicone caulk and then tuck it into the window frame.  The gas should stay in the windows for 100 years.  Definitely not my problem then.

On the exterior we’re installing aluminum termite shield to protect the bottom of the rigid from ant / bug infestation.  We simply bought some white aluminum sheet metal and bent it up to form an “L” with a little lip for water run off.  The termite shield gets tacked up behind the housewrap at the bottom of the exterior walls.  It overlaps the foundation by about 2-3 inches.  Resting on top of the termite shield and housewrap are our 2×8 foot  x 4 inch thick sheets of Dow blue rigid insulation.  The rigid is installed by tacking the panel with a couple of screws.  We then come back through and put 1×3 firring strips over the vertical seams.  The horizontal seams get a one foot strip of Raindrop; it’s zig zagged with 4″ stapled above the panel against the existing housewrap, then 4″ runs across the top of the insulation panel, and finally the last 4″ flaps down over the top of the panel.  If our panels weren’t so dirty we’d just tape all the seams.  The firring strips will help give us a decent seal as will the housewrap strips.  We use 8″ screws to secure the firring strips to the wall (passing through the rigid insulation).  Try to hit studs with every screw.  Otherwise the screw will act as a conduit for cold or heat.  We missed a ton and technically should back out the screws and try again, but it’s painfully slow already so we’ll snip the exposes screws and I’ll kit them with some foam insulation.  Should be alright, even for Ohio.

One interesting thing I came up with this week, the loft window is showing up late but we need to get the blue board in place ahead of time.  Once the blueboard is in I won’t be able to get the membrane flashing in place.  So I took strips of it and left the backer paper on and stuck the rest to the window buck perimeter.  After the window is in they can remove the paper and stick it over the flanges.

Here are some new pics from the last few days.














blue foam with housewrap horizontal "z" at joint


detail of housewrap "z" at horizontal joints of rigid insulation.


column pads for porches are finally poured. sono tubes shifted so much, threaded bolts are barely in pad. Bad workers, bad.


to remove just the backer paper from half a strip of Vycor membrane flashing, I use a common nail.


I remove half the backer paper so I can stick the strip around window buck. Once back ordered window is in I can stick the rest. In the meantime I don't hold up blue foam installation.


termite shield


window breather tube and balloon



We really like our house.  Like I think I have a crush on it.  It’s not the most beautiful house in the world on the outside; at least not yet.  But inside, especially upstairs, I really really like it.  And it’s big, a lot bigger than we imagined.  As I’ve said, this is not good but it is what it is, no changing it now.  We’re growing accustomed to all of the house’s quirks and faults.  We’re growing to accustomed to calling it our house now instead of just a pile of cement, wood and PVC pipe.  It’s our house.  It’s no longer this task or that task.  No longer this guy’s coming this week or that guy screwed me over on timing or I hate Mother Nature.  It’s our house.  We’re going to get it done and no one will stand in our way.  Lead, follow or get out-of-the-way.  We’re past the point of no return.  Come hell or high water (god, I hope that high water part is just figurative) we’re finishing this house and moving into it.  I have a good picture in my mind of what everything will look like.

It’s our house.

I think I’ve imprinted on it like a baby goose to his mother.

Of course nothing’s drywalled yet so it looks really open.  But I think it’ll remain open even after drywall.  Long term there are things we can do if it gets too dark and claustrophobic.  For now though it’s great.  Upstairs is my favorite.  The loft is going to be such an odd open room on top of the house that I’m smitten by it.  Who the hell knows what we’ll do up there but we’ve got a loft.  It’s like someone leaving a roadster behind in my driveway; I don’t know what we’ll do with it, it’s not very practical, but it may just be what  a weak soul needs in the thick of it all. 

The upstairs hallway is a room in itself and will prove to be a great gallery for showcasing art for ourselves or potential clients.  I’m looking forward to the alcove I carved out of the bathroom to showcase some found treasures and / or art.  The bathroom bumpout adds some interest as well and will prove perfect for the “Mexican” hutch currently in our dining room.  Christine’s studio is going to prove to be out of this world phenomenal.  With ample cabinet space, stain glass interior windows and vaulted ceiling, I’m honestly jealous.  Oh well she’ll have to walk stairs to get to the kitchen downstairs.  Although, there is a perfect spot for a fireman’s pole…..

Downstairs, the hallway by the bath and laundry will prove to be another perfect gallery wall that clients can glance at as they ascend the staircase for meetings with the Mrs. in her studio.  The crossing axis created across the house and into the Master suite is fantastic.  I can see about 30′-40′ in either direction.  Even though the house is open, the position of where the windows will go created a breeze if you stand in the right spot.  Our architect’s planning is already reaping rewards.  The plan is that through passive solar planning and strategic window placement, we’ll have enough natural breezes in the house to negate the need to run the air conditioner unless absolutely necessary. I can’t wait to try it out once the windows are in and everything’s sealed up tight.

This weekend we did the electrical walk through.  We decided where all the lights would go as well as outlets, switches, cable outlets, and phone jacks.  We’ll actually have a lot more lighting fixtures than most houses, even though we’ll take advantage of day lighting as best we can.  Most of the fixtures will be recessed into the ceiling and will be on clusters of individual circuits to afford us some flexibility.  I’ll be putting LED bulbs in every fixture I can generally speaking.  There will be some CFL’s and regular fluorescents here and there.  No incandescents as far as I’m concerned.  We’ll see how it pans out.  As for fancy fixtures, we’re predominantly looking at sconces, a few ceiling fixtures, exterior fixtures and finally, a set of pendants over the dining room table.  Nothing to fancy, but not necessarily cheap either.  Seems retro barn look still costs money.  We’ll set up a separate panel in the garage to hook up duel 240V charging stations for electric cars.  The panel will also help us manage a full array of photovoltaic solar panels.  The garage is tall enough too that I could build a battery loft and even install a back up generator if need be down the road.

Most of the PVC plumbing pipes are in and the tub units are getting ready to be installed.  We have full shower in the basement that we’re not going to install right away, but best to get it down there now.  After everything’s done, it will be impossible to get a shower unit down into the basement.  We have plans to add some dummy walls and conduits from the basement to the attic for future expansion of electrical or other utilities such as a solar hot water heater.

Mother Nature has made this the rainiest few months I can think of.  Suffice to say if it’s sunny no one’s working, if it’s raining no one’s working.  One roofer should be out there this week putting down the underlayment and ice guard which should all but eliminate rain inside the house.  We have the challenge of building up our REMOTE wall system before the metal roof contractor starts later this week.  The loft and dormers need to be prepped with underlayment, blue rigid insulation (Dow brand from Insulation Depot), and firring strips for the siding.  I also need to start caulking the Raindrop housewrap where it overlaps.  The window bucks need to be cleaned up and the first installment of the Grace Vycor needs to go on, under the Raindrop around the window except below the window where it goes on top of the Raindrop housewrap.  The rigid insulation will need to be caulked too.  Because it’s recycled I don’t think tape will stick to it, it’s filthy.  So we’ll caulk the joints before we put the firring strips on.  The blue board is tacked in place with screws then we fasten it by passing an 8″ screw thru the fir strip and then the insulation into the studs.  All along the bottom we’ll have our first roofer bend up aluminum termite shields and tack those along the perimeter.  These will keep ants our of our rigid insulation.

Busy week this week.  Here are some cross sections and pics (cross sections courtesy of REMOTE wall article and Classic Metals out of Holmes County Ohio).

This REMOTE wall section comes from a builder in Alaska. Generally speaking it's our bible for our walls. execution on our end has not been stellar but doing the best we can.


I was told we can put half round gutters on a metal roof because a flange has to go into the gutter. I don't buy it, but alas I'll go with cookie cutter gutters to save cost. I little piece of my soul will kill itself every time I look at my lame gutters.


detail of metal roof at gables.


cleaning up phase one.


we have to wrap everything in raindrop housewrap. then wrap the window openings in flashing. the windows are late so we have to do it piecemeal.


I have to leave reminders on how to do everything related to insulation and air tightness. no one working on the job's ever done this before so it's a crap shoot everyday.