Monday, April 30, 2007

Return of the 12 hour day

Felt pretty well-rested Sunday morning. Picked up some galvanized roofing nails along the way for the DensShield, and we were at the house by mid-morning.

All in all, things ran very smoothly! We were doing a pretty good job of correctly measuring and cutting the stuff, we finished insulating the last bit of outer wall at the foot of the tub, put in a few more 2x4 nailers in the corner, stuffing insulation in the tub cavity, glue'n, shim'n, nailin' that stuff up!

Paused around 2:15 to eat lunch (amazing left over wheat berry salad - man, so good). 'Round 2:45 we split to get some more drywall screws and some coffee. Last weekend we discovered that the restaurant slash wine and cheese shop in town is open on Sundays and they have great coffee. Previously if we wanted to get coffee on a Sunday we were limited to the weak gas station stuff, as the pastry place is closed Sunday's. But yeah, the coffee at this place - they serve it with real cream rather than half and half. Love this town.

We were making good progress but as we were pressing the final piece of wall into place, the edge caught on something and a bunch of the drywall-ish innards fell out rendering the approximately 5'x3' panel that we cut, dead. This was heartbreaking - one piece away from finishing this stage and it broke, and it was our last piece! Didn't lose cool, just searched our scraps and found one piece that we could use after we trimmed away the damage. What's an extra seam to tape at this point? I guess we'll find out!

I don't think I allowed myself to step back and look at the whole job until we quickly straightened the bathroom up - I wanted to see it empty, to see the shape and feel the dimensions. Wow. We built this room! Almost....

We also wanted to get this forest of a lawn mowed before we lose our chance to cut it with our push mower. Having mowed the likewise out of control lawn back in Esmont last weekend, Erika set to the task of cleaning the inside of the house. We've really let the place go, haha. Construction zone..lumber yard..tool depot..hardware pit. Meanwhile, I went outside to mow.

It took an hour to finish the front yard and it was getting pretty dark. The inside of the house looked great, the outside was definitely improved and smelled wonderful and fresh.

We took a few minutes to admire our work, then decided we'd start mudding and taping in the bathroom. Not bad for our first try! After an hour, we had half of one of the walls taped and the first coat of compound on all the nails and screws. Finished our nearly 12 hour day by 10, and were cleaned up back at the farm and eating dinner by 11:30.


Short little workday

John was out of town Friday night, and I was resting. Resting, resting, resting. Listening to birds, taking walks to look for wildflowers, and other stereotypically "relaxing" activities. (Wine, books, crossword puzzles: yes.) Friday night turned into Saturday morning...morning became afternoon...I'd thought about going over to the house and doing this and that on my own, but I was too busy. Resting.

Anyway, we met up at the house in late afternoon Saturday, John with a deep voice from 3 hours of sleep. We popped a little piece of drywall into the hole above the door. Then another big piece behind where the toilet will go. (Forgetting, by the way, to mark where the toilet will the mark is on the other side of the, um, wall. Oh well.)

On to DenShield, the special pricey stuff for around the shower. It's grey. You pay a lot more for the greyness. It keeps water out. We put up one sheet, where the showerhead will be. And that's all she wrote.

Other stuff happening at the house: hostas have come up around back, poking through piles of insulation. Some bush is blooming at the edge of the yard. Violets are all through the grass. The mountains are still there.

- Erika

Thursday, April 26, 2007

more wallin'

We forgot to bring the last of our chili for dinner, but an improvised dinner of crackers, cheddar, and a pale ale went down just fine. Sitting on the porch swing with satisfied bellies, I think we were close to dozing off while listening to the birds. Jumped up and got to work.

Short work was made of installing the drywall panels above and below the back window, thanks to a sack of drywall nails. We were finding it difficult to use screws in some spots, and in other spots the hard wood just snapped 'em, so we switched to nails for those spots.

Next, we insulated the next outer wall, stapled and taped up the plastic, and measured and cut a single panel. Most of the 8'x4' panel would be used in one piece here. Lifting it into place we saw that it needed some shaving here and there, and rather than take it down completely and move it back out of the little bathroom, Erika just lowered it enough so that I could get up on the ladder and do the trimming. Drywall rained down all over Erika and it made me a little sad.

After some finagling, we got it into correct position and Erika tacked it up with some nails. I worked the bottom half with the screws and she the top half with the nails and before too long, we had it done.

Swept up and left by 11:15.

- John

The days blend together

So we're a little behind on blogging. Give us a break. We're tired.

Here's some stuff that happened last Monday and Tuesday:

1. We finished up the second layer of plywood on the floor -- the "underlayment" -- since John wisely realized that if we did wall drywall first, we'd have a pretty hard time getting the plywood in place.

2. We figured out the insulation. It's recycled denim, which we like for many reasons--no formaldehyde, recycled, not itchy like fiberglass. You just stick it between the studs and away you go, notwithstanding a little dust. Now the walls are blue!

3. We figured out the vapor barrier. Stapling plastic over the insulation: not too hard. Now the walls are shiny!

4. And then we kept drywalling. Got a big piece in on the back wall. It gave us lots of trouble with the screwdriver, so we fastened the bottom (where there's enough leverage to lean into the screw and not slip) and left the top for when we could come back with nails and a calm state of mind. Now the walls are grey, fragile and dotted with holes we'll be filling in with joint compound at some later date.

5. We saw some wildlife. Now, all along we've been seeing mice in the house; wild, unafraid mice. OK. Then last weekend I was in the basement and saw a rat. It was fairly huge and seemed right at home. Hrm. Then, Tuesday night, I'm putting the last of the screws in our big drywall panel and hear John gasp behind me. What, what? "There's a huge snake in the rafters," he says. Sure enough: a blacksnake arched over the ceiling joists in the dining room. It was maybe 3 feet long, with a white throat. We kept an eye on it as it slithered up a rafter between pieces of insulation; I saw its thin, pointed tail disappear. And we haven't seen it since! It must have come into the crawlspace and up into the house through one of the many gaping holes we have in the floor. It's this kind of thing that makes the place feel more like a barn than a house. So yeah, we're working on that. Ssssssss.

- Erika

(the simple request of a stud we hope never bows)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What drywalling is really like

In our case, it's really like a whole lot of fussing around with our not-at-all-square bathroom structure, shimming and shaving and thinking about "planes," before we ever got into the actual drywall. One of the main problems: a ceiling joist that dips down half an inch below the others. We sized it up and decided just to saw a slice off, then sister it with a new joist. (Much easier than taking it out altogether, since all our wall-frame nailers are attached to it. Hindsight is 20-20.) This worked pretty well, not counting all the crazy sawing John had to do with the jigsaw, breaking blades, arms overhead while balancing on our funky little stepladder. Not a pretty cut, but it got the job done. Also, it was harder than we expected to sister the joist since the old one not only dipped down, but also waved left to right. "How is our house even standing?" I sometimes think.

We also had some shimming to do around the edge of the ceiling, chiseling here and there, etc. With all this working overhead, we were both pretty bushed--tired arms and necks--even before we touched the drywall.

Ah, drywall. The stuff of myths. The guy at the hardware store just shook his head when we stopped by on our way in that morning and told him today was drywall day. But it actually wasn't so bad! We started with a big sheet that didn't need anything special, just one cut and the ol' glue and screw. The score-and-snap method of cutting drywall worked quite nicely. We got the sheet in place after gluing liberally, and here comes the hard part--holding it up overhead while screwing it in. It's freaking heavy. (Carrying the full sheets in by twos last night, from the car to the kitchen, nearly killed me. I'm not exaggerating. I was emitting involuntary whimpers as we went.) But we got it done. Good thing one of us is handy with a power screwdriver. (That would be John.)

Next sheet: same deal, plus a hole for our ceiling light. Drywall dust raining down as we trimmed the hole on one side while holding the sheet in place. Third sheet, a little one, slightly off-kilter. And then the piece de resistance, the weird triangle at the doorway. We managed not to break off the little point as we fit it into place.

A ceiling! Woo-hoo. Not a bad job for our first attempt. There are a couple things we wish we'd done differently, but what else is new? This will be just fine. Taping and mudding and sanding still to come. Quitting time.

We have to drywall every ceiling in the house, by the way. But not today.

- Erika

So close yet...

After a refreshing night out with some friends, we dragged out of bed about as early as we could manage, into the bright, warm, sunny Saturday morning. Breakfasted at the picnic table, then gathered up our lunches and headed off to the tile shop for the DensShield tile backer that we plan to use instead of greenboard on the walls and ceiling around the tub.

We got to the shop at 11 and asked for our sales guy, who informed us that a contractor wiped them out of DensShield late in the previous day. There is nowhere else to buy this stuff in the area, as far as we know. After wiping away the tears, we drove up route 29 to hell, and spent the next three hours in hell picking up what amounted to only a handfull of items, plus drywall accessories and 6 sheets of DensArmor (not to be confused with DensShield), which is the new alternative to greenboard - better mold and moisture resistance. Viva la resistance!

We tied the stuff to the top of the van (which had been having some overheating problems earlier in the day even without any cargo) and left the hell store.

In hell, nobody has the answers to your questions. In hell, nobody cares. In hell, people talk very fast and very vague, and do not have time for specialties. In hell, they rip hours from your life in what seems like, well, less hours than that.

We headed to the house and finished up our shopping for drywall tools at our very friendly and helpful and chill local hardware store.

Basically, we got a few things done to prepare for closing up the walls: Finally figured out the wiring problem with the existing GFCI receptical and fixed it, reseated all of the outlets, switches, and light fixure boxes to their correct depths, built a wooden mounting bracket to suspend the ceiling light fixure box in the desired location between ceiling joists, caulked up the wall cavity, and constructed an post/double stud for the outer corner of the bathroom wall frame.

There would be no drywalling that day after all!

- John

Friday, April 20, 2007

Door more

I headed up to Lowe's after work for a solo lumber run, while John went right to the house and got down to some measuring and cutting. The day's goal was just to get the door in, so we needed various nailers and blocks. He'd bloodied his thumb with the hammer by the time I arrived. I think John is getting pretty sleep-deprived, poor guy.

Yes, thumb was smashed but nailers and blocks were ready to go. We stood the big door frame in place and began fiddling around to get it straight and level. Which we did. And nailed it in. And then we had a door on the bathroom!

- Erika

Another piece of the wall

We've been setting nightly project goals lately. It helps us feel like we've accomplished something, even if it's not a back breaking 6 hour weeknight shift. Tuesday's goals were pretty clear cut: finish up running the pex tubing in the bathroom (we couldn't get the hot water line done Monday because we ran out of tubing), and see where we stand with the final piece of the bathroom frame: the door frame.

The tubing went well and was done in under a half hour, if you count the 15 minutes or so that we spent trying to find the gauge. then we kicked over to our old friend who has been lying on the kitchen floor for a month, the door frame.

Erika carefully salvaged the frame and its trim from the wall that used to exist between the kitchen and bathroom/mystery area. Clearly it is as old as the house - it's made of the same impenetrable wood, weighs one million pounds, and is scarred with the rust and holes of many twisty nails. We started by pulling out the old anchoring nails, the remaining trim and random nails, staples, and so on. Once we de-porcupined the frame, we carried it to the new wall and carefully lifted it into place.

The good news is that it fit in the space that we left for it during the wall framing! We did some kicking and twisting, tying, blocking, and shimming, and before too long we could see that this was definitely going to work. So, we put the door on its hinges, just for fun.

Knock knock - may I come in? - why certainly - here I come, through the door! haha.

Goals accomplished and wanting an early night, we took inventory of the lumber left on hand and figured out what we'd need to pick up for the next night. Just as we were picking up our things to head out the door, we lost power again.

- John

One step closer to running water

Monday was a day for pex tubing. We purchased a 20' stick of 1/2" tubing and 12' of 3/4" and on my way out of the hardware store I wondered how we might fit this in my little Rabbit. Loop it out the sunroof!

When we arrived at the house, we learned that the power was still off from the night before. Decided we just need to work quickly while there was daylight. Unfortunately, the batteries on our drill wore down after boring out the first 3/4" hole in the sole plate where the water lines are to come up to the tub.

Working from the 3/4" tubes that we had run to the bathroom many weeks ago, we now had to reduce 'em to 1/2" and run cold water lines to the tub, toilet, and sink. It was tough-going, trying to get a square grip on the crimp rings, contorting ourselves and the large crimping tool under the floor. We managed to pull enough of the tubing above the floor to make the job a little easier. But the tool seems to slightly over-crimp the 1/2" rings. Not terribly, but not as perfect a job as it does on the 3/4" rings. Here's hopin'.

Power came back! The lights lit and the stereo rocked. Headed down to the basement to start working on replacing the maze of water pipes down there. A mouse ran past my sneaker, I don't think it noticed me.

We got a little bit done down there, but I wanted some more time to think about how we're going to interface the heat system with this area. We'd like to be able to switch the hot water source between the existing electric water heater and the outdoors wood boiler so that in the winter when we're heating our house with that boiler, we will also be heating our domestic hot water. They call this an "open direct system."

We went back upstairs and contemplated what else needed to be done in the bathroom before we start getting the walls closed up. Had to think through the post that we'll be adding to support a large oak beak (so that we can finish opening up the kitchen area). Erika cut another stud for the long wall of the tub and I tried shaving the crown off one of the old oak studs with our new block plane. Yeah right. Took a second and third look at the situation and realized we can fix that problem with drywall shims.

Cleaned up and headed home for the night, but I think we spent a good amount of time at home trying to think through the sink basin vs. available vanity size issue that we've been facing. How did it get so late?

- John

Monday, April 16, 2007


Sunday. Another rainy one, this time with wind gusts. If Saturday is plugged in, surely Sunday is plumbed? We got to the house and contemplated the task before us: assemble the so-called "tree" where the showerhead and tub faucets connect.

Between the multilingual instructions that came with our faucet set and the two or three books we're consulting as we decipher the language of the plumbers, it took us a good hour to get a shopping list together for the hardware store—bits and pieces we'd need to finish the assembly. Along with the list were several questions for the long-suffering owner of the hardware store, who has taken to greeting us with "What's up, guys?" and expectantly waiting for whatever query we have that day. (Typical example: "This is brass, right?") Where would we be without him? Some furnished condo in Charlottesville with two numbered parking spots and all-night gym access, I guess.

Anyway, our list got a lot shorter once we started talking to him about the job and he told us to just use pex tubing to build the tree, instead of sweating copper like we'd planned. I haven't soldered since seventh grade shop class. John has soldered a lot, but sweating copper is apparently not the same thing. So we were happy to hear we could use pex. (After all, we have a WHOLE DAY'S experience with it!) Got ourselves a pipe wrench and adjustable wrench, some pex fittings, plumber's tape, coffee, dried apricots. Back to the house.

We stood in the tub and tested the recommended 78" height for the showerhead. Seemed right. Measured for the height of the faucets and the tub spout. Then used these to lay out three 2x6 horizontal nailers that will go between the studs. We put a temporary 2x4 vertically behind these and screwed it in, so that we can move the plumbing tree around and have everything stay put until it's in the wall. Then we'll unscrew the vertical.

Putting brass connectors together with plumber's tape, we discovered that the tapered threads are mighty hard to screw in. You only go so far before it starts getting really tight, and we weren't sure where we could safely stop and still make a seal. So we figured we'd try to get them all the way on. (Experienced plumbers, start laughing here.) I got on the pipe wrench, which worked much better once we got it facing the right way, John got on the adjustable, and we pushed with all our might. This went on for about 40 minutes, during which we made four connections and John pinched his finger really badly when the adjustable slipped. (Blood on the valves.) After that he started using the brick chimney to push against instead of me. Who can blame him? We found out later that no one expects you to get those things all the way on. Well, we like to go above and beyond.

Measured and cut pex, crimped it on, and soon we had most of the tree. Now for the supply lines, which have been sticking up from the crawlspace since we ran them a few weeks ago. Where should we cut them? It's all guesswork at this point. The pex is curving around and running into joists so it's pretty hard to see how this will all go together. We had long air chambers we'd put on (to prevent "hammering," that slamming sound in the pipes) and these were really in the way. So we did our best and made a cut in the hot supply line. John did some very difficult crimping while lying on his stomach. Repeat for the cold line. Now we're all ready to put in the tree, except for needing a 3/4" drill bit to go through the soleplate of the wall and connect everything together.

We were discussing that and the other stuff we'd do the next day, when we came to the last remaining vestige of the old bathroom: the wall of white tile. We've put off deciding what to do with it. Time to fish or cut bait. It might be moldy back there; we don't know if it's insulated. Worth saving? Nah.

What a fun ending to a tough day: smashing tile and yanking drywall.

Not too much mold, but the insulation was mouse-chewed. We were almost done when the power went out. Total blackness! John felt his way around the perilous gaps in the subfloor and found the flashlight. We skipped cleaning the mess and just gathered up our stuff. The wind made a terrible sound under the metal roof. A breeze whirled through the house. Did our roof just fly off? Nope, the plastic over the attic window and door was totally loose and flapping around. We put it back as best we could, with nails instead of staples (no power for the staple gun). Goodbye, house. Hope to see you intact when this storm is gone.

- Erika

(pics of the plumbing "tree" will be placed here in a day or so! dude!)


Saturday we were feeling pretty spent and had to decide between rewiring the bathroom or assembling the tub/shower valves and plumbing. We opted for the more straightforward task of rewiring the bathroom.

Early on in the renovation we had removed some outlets and switches to make way for floor framing and wall demolition, so first we needed to map out the circuits. We did this by a combination of flipping on a circuit and testing wires, outlets, and switches with our handy voltage tester. Once we determined what the bathroom and neighboring kitchen and dining room circuit components were, we were ready to figure out an electrical configuration for the bathroom.

We decided we only need 2 outlets in there. Those would be for guests with bathroom machines, because all of our bathroom devices are old fashioned, I guess. In fact, I can't remember the last thing I ever plugged into a bathroom wall. Oh yeah, it was a phone charger in a campground bathroom in Ohio, about 2 seconds before a bolt of lightning struck 20 feet from me. How ironic. Anyway, we want the light switch for the overhead light to be right inside the door, and a switch for the light above the sink on another wall.

We ran new wire, re-routed old wire, bored holes in frames, and temporarily taped switch boxes in place. I spent about 30 minutes trying to feed a wire through a round-the-corner set of holes that must have been drilled before the old post was assembled. Two leads were run up to where the light fixtures will eventually be installed. It was pretty cool when we tested everything out with the voltage detector and it all worked!

Lastly, we disassembled an old wall-mounted light and reassembled it as a hanging fixture. Erika wired up a junction box and nailed it to a 2x4 that she then placed across two ceiling joists. She wired our little lamp up to it, then we turned the power back on. Flipped the bathroom switch and on came the light! We turned it on and off a few times, giggling.

Since part of the bathroom circuit included a couple of outlets in the dining room, we removed them and joined the wires together in a junction box so now the bathroom is completely on its own circuit. We identified a wire that is the start of its own circuit, but goes to nowhere (used to go to an outlet). We'll use this to power the dining room. Finally, we tied up a dead-end wire that was left hanging (powerless, of course) after the kitchen wall demo. We made it "safe," put some bulbs in the kitchen overheads, and returned power to that part of the kitchen, for the first time in almost a month.

The day was gray and rainy and we drank coffee, had delicious pastries from down the road, and kept WTJU's Rock Marathon turned up the whole time.

- John

The walls keep closing in

With the tub in place, we were able to frame the wall in which the tub plumbing will run. This is the third section of wall we've framed. It went relatively smoothly this time around, though it's always a struggle to nail the planks between the ceiling joists - even more so this time because we're running out of room up there with all these walls going up!

This wall section was much like the others except a little longer and therefore with an extra stud. Determined to complete this task before leaving, we didn't load into the van until 2:30am. A new record!

- John

How to put in a tub

1. Cut scary-looking hole in the subfloor for the tub drain. Make a little smaller than recommended, just cuz it looks so gaping huge. After all, it was a lot of work to put the dang floor down in the first place.

2. Wrestle tub into place using a combination of brains (iron pipe inserted underneath as roller), brawn (lift with the legs!) and dumb luck (nobody stepped in the subfloor hole or dropped 300-lb. tub on their foot-- Happy day!).

3. Lift tub and slide shim made of 2x4 under wall side in a blind attempt to level. Nope, too high.

4. Maybe an inch and a quarter would be perfect. If only we had something that thickness…like that piece we just cut out of the subfloor!

5. Perfect!

6. Move tub away from the studs and cut notches, using jigsaw and lovely new chisel, for the edge of the tub to fit into.

7. Put a new stud in next to the sketchy-looking old one with an S-curve at the top and a disturbing dark color that probably means water damage.

8. Nail 2x4 brace along studs to hold up the tub. Consider how unlikely this arrangement seems as a way to support such a heavy object. But hey, that's how it was in there before we came along.

9. Move tub back in. Damn, we've moved this tub to China and back by this point. Level it, square it, stand on it to test for wiggling.

10. Notice: the bathroom is getting smaller, and more like a bathroom. Things are progressing as planned.

11. Dub thee "tubbed."

- Erika

John here: It rained and rained and rained that night, and we knew that poor Toes was back at home, outside. She was a wet cat when we arrived but started purring again after we towelled her off! She doesn't understand why we're always coming home so late, smelling of sawdust and ladybugs.