Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day Present

Most guys would get their sweetheart roses, a card and maybe some chocolates. I bought my wife one-hundred-eight dollars worth of straw bales for Valentine’s Day.

The winter has been everything the Farmer’s Almanac had predicted, and more so. We’ve been snow-covered since Christmas for intents and purposes. And this week the bottom finally fell out of the thermometer; treating northeast Ohio to windchill lows in the -20 to -30 range. As Valentine’s Day dawned we were greeted with winter storm warnings, and cancelled travel plans.

The nagging worry about our bees, that had been omnipresent in the back of our minds, worked its way forward with the arctic weather looming. We decided to put up the burlap wind break that we had neglected to erect before winter. But we wondered if there was more we could do. I’m not sure who thought of what, but I googled “hay” and “beehives” and sure enough found examples of straw bale wind breaks around beehives.

The last thing I wanted to do was go buy a bunch of straw bales and haul them back to the apiary. But it was Valentine’s Day and suppose that’s what you do when you try to be more good, than bad.

With the suspicion that carrying bales of straw out back would be the end of me, visions of a heart attack leaving me face down in a blanket of snow, I reluctantly put on my long underwear, boots, scarf, coat, hat and gloves. Outside I went. I hooked up the trailer and headed down to our local hardware store / lumber yard. Once there, I bought as many bales as I could haul.

Sure enough, back at the ranch, after carrying two bales back I was ready to welcome the relief of a good life-ending cardiac event. That’s when my Valentine came out and had the great idea of using a sled to haul the straw back there. It worked brilliantly with the two of us, and our trusty sled, moving ten more bales back to our beehives.

I stacked the bales as best I could to get as much coverage around the three hives. We also put up the burlap wind break around the southwest corner, which is the corner most exposed to the prevailing wind. I also pushed some snow under the hives; the intent being that it’ll keep the wind our from under the hive. The top of the hives have a decent three inches of the white stuff to help insulate as well.

We’ll see. I’m not even sure if hive No. 1 is still alive. So maybe we could have allocated resources to the other two hives. There’s no way to tell so we just did the best we could do.

With that, I’m writing off the “straw bale for bees” thing as my Valentine’s Day present to my wife this year. And I didn’t even have a heart attack.

Snow Guard Repair

Elsewhere our friends at First Choice Exteriors came out and fixed the snow guard on the garage. They were out on Monday and fixed things right quick at no cost to us. If you have a need for a metal roof or metal roof accessories, these are the guys to call. They are courteous, and do great work; which they stand behind. They service northern Ohio, and I think they even trek out to Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Highly recommend them.

Basement Update

I finished farming the basement today! Only took me 6 months. I still have 3 metal studs to install but I’m leaving them out until we get EVERYTHING in to the storage room. Next we’ll get the framing and insulation inspected and the have the electrician come out to do his thing.

Today I completed the framing for a little storage cubicle under the staircase. That area, while good for storing Christmas decorations, it also makes for a good “fort” too.

Here are today’s photos. Stay warm peeps.

Advertisements

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).

Cost

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

Material

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).)

Installation

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

Utility

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.

Insulation

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.

Floors

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.

Ceiling

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.

Electrical

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!

Walls

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.

-Chris

 

 

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.

 

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. 

8:23am. 

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: