Memorial Day Weekend

We took the opportunity of the long weekend and my Dad being in town to try to focus on the house. I got back into rough carpentry mode for a bit before putting my electrician and plumbing hats back on. I also got to try on a circus high wire hat – that’s one I don’t want to use again but I fear that I have no choice.

Since we’re putting a wood stove near our stairs, we need to build a wall behind it to protect the stairs from the heat and anyone from putting an arm through the stairs onto the stove. Instead of trying to mix a small protective wall with a banister and balusters we decided to just make a bigger wall and hang the banister off of it. We thought it would look better that way – less haphazard. I bought wood and cut it all on Friday. On Saturday, I assembled it and my Dad helped me put it in place and get it plumb. Sunday found me adding the fire blocks and yesterday, I pulled out the topmost fireblock to beef up the tallest stud into more of a corner so that there’s a place to mount the banister. It looks good, but I’m fairly out of practice at carpentry because it should have gone a lot faster than it did. I still need to get some OSB to take the wobble out of the lower end.


At one point, while take a break from carpentry, I went up and began manipulating the hot and cold water lines for the toilet and bath in the kids bathroom, attempting to force them through the holes in the stud and floor that I’d drilled for them previously. During the course of my wrestling, the cold water line came loose from the T that I (thought) I had crimped it to before I laboriously moved the tub into place. After examining the crimping ring (it’s PEX) I discovered that I had not in fact crimped it. I took apart the waste line plumbing (that I had just dry-fit, not glued) and proceeded to laboriously move the tub out of the way enough to get at the plumbing bits behind it so that I could check the other fittings to make sure they were crimped and fixed the one I disturbed. Now, I say “laboriously” because this is a cast iron tub which weights somewhere between 450 and 600 pounds depending on which literature or sales person you believe. The only way for me to move it by myself is to use the 1/2 of gap or so on either side (since it’s installed in an alcove) and slowly inch it out. First one side. Then the other side.

I did get the tub out and got my 3/4″ cold line fixed and discovered that I hadn’t crimped the 1/2″ cold line to the toilet so I fixed that too. I then proceeded to fold the 1/2″ hot water line to the shower back on itself and put a kink in it. This necessitated pulling the whole bit out and replacing it with an un-kinked bit.

This pretty much soured me on plumbing for the weekend so it was fortunate that I had a lot of electrical work to do.

I pulled wire for lights in the master and began drilling and pulling wire for smoke detectors in the bedrooms. I also finished getting the scaffolding together to perform my death-defying high wire work.

We have vaulted ceilings. We are quite enamored with our vaulted ceilings. They make the house look large and spacious inside. They make the wiring a bit of a challenge, but we’ve managed so far. Our vaulted ceilings are about 23′ off of the concrete slab at their highest point. We want a ceiling fan above the open area to help move the air around and help keep our climate nice in the house.

Originally, I’d been planning on using furring strips to great a gap for the wire and just hang drywall from them. I realized however that we’d have to do furring strips across a very wide space of ceiling, some of it 23′ up in the air and perhaps the ideas should be rethought. My second idea was to use the chases in the SIP panels where possible and furring strips only where I had to. This has worked out much better.


This shot is standing on the concrete slab, looking up past the scaffolding at the roof. The three white circles are where we’ve drilled the ceiling panel are about 3 1/2″ in diameter to give you a sense of scale. Now, the thing with pushing a fish tape through a styrofoam panel is that sometimes it gets hung up – especially when you’ve got a 12′ run in a 7-in-12 roof. Every time it gets hung up, you have to decide if it’s something you can fix by just wiggling around a little or if you have to figure out where it’s hung up and drill a new hole to “unhang” it. Between our top and bottom holes, we had to drill 3 other holes to get the fish tape unhung.


This was shot from the second story walkway and you can see all 5 holes in a neat line. There is about 2′ of 12-3 romex in a yellow sheath hanging from the topmost hole and a line leading from the bottom hole off to the right.

Now, you may be wondering how exactly I was able to work on this? Well, fortunately I was able to borrow some scaffolding from the guys who are building my parent’s house.


This is shot from the 2nd story and you can see how the upper platform is above the railing for the 2nd story walkway. I spent a good number of hours up there yesterday, wrestling with the drill, the cord, a small ladder to gain a couple extra feet at the tallest point, and my dislike of high places. Fortunately, I’m still here, the wire is all pulled and I won’t have to get back up there until I learn how to install a ceiling fan box in the panel in such a way to support the fan adequately – probably later this week.

Now, there are two rooms that really will only work to wire with furring strips – the two bedrooms with dormers. My dad and I spent additional time yesterday working on that.


These are 1x4s that my cousin and I ripped in half weeks ago. We spread subfloor glue on one side, and nailed the up. The nails should hold them while the subfloor glue dries and I’ll go back and put a few screws in later just to make triply sure that they hold. I’ll run the wire down center channel where the peak is and the ceiling fan will mount to a block of wood I’m going to anchor into the peak there.

Finally, here’s a shot clearly showing the ramifications of not having an attic space for wiring.


The orange cables are network and comm lines. The white is 14-gauge romex and the yellow is 12-gauge. These walls are not load-bearing – they’re just to delineate the rooms and provide a place to hang drywall.

Kitchen Wall

Since our house is a SIP house, it’s some extra work to put plugs and switches in the exterior walls. There will be times when it’s unavoidable, but we’re trying to minimize the situation both because it will be easier and we don’t want to pierce the envelop of the walls if we can avoid it.

One area in particular where we have to deal with this is in the kitchen. Kitchen’s require more plugs than any other room and it’s just plain convenient to have lots of plugs there. In order to make our electrical job easier, we’re furring out a 2×4 wall just inside the SIP wall. This will also give us a place to run some water and gas supply lines into the kitchen.

This is what I worked on yesterday. [1]

IMG_1953.jpgThis is the “before” shot. Notice that the wall in the shot (the east wall) is entirely OSB and the flooring in the back of the shot meets the OSB at the top of the wall.

IMG_1964.jpgHere is the “after” shot. It’s not done as I still need to frame around the window and finish building the corner but it’s looking good.

The studs are kind of hard to see, but they’re there. I put them on 24″ centers and we’ll just put a plug on each stud to get our spacing pattern. It’s 2 different sections of bottom plate – they break around the conduit embedded in the slab to feed water and electrical to a possible future island.

If you look at the top, you can see that the flooring no longer (visibly) meets the OSB. We had some leftover appearance grade 4×8 lumber when we built the house (determining lumber quantity must get easier with experience) so we decided to use it to make that wall more interesting after seeing an example in a picture of another house. It’s installed about 1 1/2″ off of the SIP wall which will give us about an inch of reveal past the drywall.

I was working by myself and had some pretty tight clearances so I didn’t want to have to stand the wall after building it on the floor so I built it in place. First I cut and nailed up the 4×8’s to keep them in place. Then I cut and nailed my upper top plate. The upper top plate is nailed to the SIP wall (which has a 6×6 post in it) on the right and to the glu-lam beam on the left. It’s nailed up to each 4×8 joist running perpendicular to the wall and to each decorative 4×8 chunk parallel to the wall. This ties everything together solidly and nothing has any space to move. Originally I’d planned to use right angle brackets to hold the decorative 4×8 chunks in place but I found it almost impossible to get them nailed in (you ever tried holding a nail and swinging a hammer a few inches up inside of a 1 1/2″ wide space?).

Once I had the upper top plate up, I cut the lower top plate and the bottom plates (bottom plates are pressure treated) and marked them for stud locations. I then nailed the lower top place up and just placed the bottom plate where it’s supposed to go. Once I had that to work from I began measuring and cutting studs to go between them. I found there to be about a 3/16″ variance in stud length, probably due to some unevenness in the concrete finishing around the embedded conduit.

After I had about 9 studs cut (enough to get even pressure from top plate onto bottom plate) I glued the bottom plates down with subfloor glue and began nailing the studs in place. After the studs were nailed up, I then nailed right angle brackets onto the studs and then into the SIP wall to help hold the wall in place. Probably this was overkill, but it makes me feel better and I’m sure that the inspector will appreciate it.

This weekend, I plan to finish the wall in addition to more work on waste line plumbing and starting on supply line plumbing.

[1] I know it was a workday – I went out to the property in the morning to meet with someone about some plumbing questions and to borrow PEX tools. It was an absolutely beautiful day and I decided to call my boss and see if I could take an unplanned day off to work on the house. He was very accommodating.

Moving a Wall

We’ve been spending a bit of time walking around the house, looking at the bare, framed walls and imagining how out stuff will fit into it. Thinking about how we’ll be using the space. Considering if it’s all “right”.

We have come to the realization that the master isn’t quite right for our bed. Amber and I bought a really nice (for us) oak, platform-style bed with attached nightstands and built in storage where the header usually is back when we moved into our first house in Felton (before Emma was born). The smallest square that will box the bed is about 8′ on a side. Our master bedroom is about 10′ deep (from the exterior wall to the bathroom wall).

This leaves us only about 2′ to walk around the bed and we just didn’t feel like it would be enough room.

After thinking about it individually, we each came to the decision that it really made sense to move the wall and make more space – and it’ll never be easier to move the wall than it is right now. It was a bit of a pleasant surprise for each of us to raise what we expected to be somewhat of a discussion point only to find out that we shared the view.

My dad and I started moving the wall about 1.5 weeks ago and it’s almost totally done now.

IMG_1752.jpgThis is the best “before” shot I can find. It shows the wall between the master and the master bath.

IMG_1836.jpgThe “close” wall is the original one and the far one is the new one. We kept the door where it was and just jogged the wall back 1′ on a 45° angle to make the math and cuts easier.

IMG_1840.jpgLooking up at the top plates. Since we have storage space on top of the bathroom, we’ll have to cut joists and the OSB flooring to match our new wall path.

IMG_1865.jpgHere is the almost finished wall. You can see that the new one is built, rim joist is moved, OSB is fixed and the old wall has been ripped down. In this shot the corner near the door isn’t totally finished, but I’ve finished it since I took the picture.

IMG_1866.jpgAnother perspective – looking down at it.

All in all, it wasn’t a very difficult task. Pretty much just straightforward carpentry. We had to think a bit to make sure we cut things right and we removed OSB in such a way that we could trim the joists, cut the OSB down and re-attach it.

We drew an outline of the bed on the floor using a lumber crayon while we were trying to decide if we had enough space and walking around the “bed” is now much more comfortable. I think that we made a good decision and will be very happy with the results.

Brief Status Update

I feel like the month of January was mostly a time for catching our breath and figuring out what’s next.

The structure is totally up (walls and roof). Most internal framing is done. The roof material is on and most of the siding, trim and fascia are done. External doors are hung, windows are in and we’re totally dried in.

Next comes plumbing and electrical. We’ve been planning our electrical setup and the DWV lines that we’ll need to run and the implementation of these plans should start in earnest this month.

Oof, what a month…

So, I’m finally back – after a month of focus on the house. As you all read in Amber’s previous post(s) we’ve hired some people to help us put the house up. I had originally intended to start putting the house up just by myself and with family during November…that didn’t happen. We did get a few panels up over the Thanksgiving weekend, but it’s just too big of a job for weekends. We’d be at it for months and I shudder to think what the winter weather would do to it all.

So, since we hired some people, our first story walls are up, interior walls are framed, posts and beams are set (a big job), first story windows are in and work has commenced on the second story floor. I spent a week working with them then I had to go back to work.

Check out the mast and the pictures below to see how we’re progressing.

South Face
The south wall with the sun shining on it. From the right the openings are:

  1. Kitchen window, over the sink
  2. Dining room window
  3. Picture windows flanking a sliding glass door in the open area
  4. Windows on either side of where our woodstove will be in the hearth room

Both Amber and I are fans of wood. We’re going to have a lot of exposed beams and some posts in the house. The GluLam in the foreground running out to the left goes out into the kitchen/dining room area. The GluLam parallel to and behind it delineates the boundary between dining room and open area. The post where the beams join is an 8×8 monster and I’m glad we didn’t go with something smaller. It looks like the perfect size for the area. The staggered windows on the left in the back will follow the stairs up.

Instead of the usual OSB subfloor, we’re going with a tongue and groove 2×6 fir. This will be exposed on the bottom in much of the downstairs and will be our floor upstairs until we put a finish floor down. The big GluLam through the center of the shot separates the kitchen/dining area from a hallway of sorts. The GluLam running out to the left is the same one from before that goes out into the kitchen/dining area. I was standing in our side door when I took the shot. We’re really excited by how the flooring looks and it’s turning out just like we hoped it would.

One of the coolest things about a floor like this is character. We get nice clean pieces, knotty pieces and stuff like this.

Our Foundation – Part the First

Every house starts with a foundation. It’s where the structure meets the earth.

Our foundation started with stakes and strings to mark the general position of the house (accurate to a couple inches). Then we chalked over the strings.

The chalk marks showed where to dig our footings. Our footings have been dug and we’ve embarked on the wonderful world of batterboards and stringlines.

A batterboard is a simple structure made of stakes. Its purpose is to provide a stable place to tie a string to so that you can mark the actual dimensions of the foundation.

We have two styles of batter boards:
* short
* tall

The short batter boards are made of 3′ stakes and they’re used on the high ground (where we don’t have a stem wall, the slab just flows down into a footing).

The tall batter boards are made of 4′ stakes (some with a couple additional 3′ stakes to give us the height we need) and they’re used on the low ground (where we have an actual stem wall).

Once the batter boards are setup then you need to start setting, measuring a moving strings. These strings define the actual dimensions of your house so they have to be really accurate.

We started out this process by putting the strings where it made sense, then measuring our distances to try to get the dimensions correct. After moving a few of the strings this way, we realized that this really wasn’t the way to go about the process. You really have to get your corners set at 90 degrees, then start moving both ends of a line to get your dimensions.


So, how do you get your corners to be 90 degrees? Geometry. A 3-4-5 triangle has a 90 degree corner between the 3 and 4 legs. Since our house is a basic 32’x47′ rectangle, we used 30-40-50 triangles. We measured 30′ out on the short side, and put a piece of tape on the string. Then we measured 40′ out on the long side and put another piece of tape on. Then, we measured the diagonal. If it’s longer than 50′, the angle is obtuse; if it’s shorter than 50′, the angle is acute. If it’s exactly 50′, then we have a 90′ angle.

It took us a lot longer than we expected to get our strings set. It’s a surprisingly difficult activity and we had several weather delays.

Once the strings were all set, we were able to move onto the fun part of actually building something…