As I started thinking about putting in the structural walls to support the floor joists, which need to go in before the second floor can be built, I started to agonize about certain aspects of the design that hadn’t really captured my attention before.
There are two areas on the original plans where very long (eight to ten feet long) “headers” (structural supports over openings) were needed to bridge over open areas: over the kitchen (shorter span, and less weight to bear) and above the two angled bedroom doors (longer span, and greater weight). I wanted to keep these headers limited to 2×8 members, so that they wouldn’t have to drop down significantly into the living space, but there are limits to what even a triple 2×8 can span and still provide sufficient structural support.
And then I found myself wondering why I had wanted those slanted doors in the first place. I mean, they’re harder to build, they take away from the floor space in the bedrooms, they don’t actually add useful floor space to the living room… they just seemed like a bad idea all around. Could I adjust the plan so that the doors were straight along the wall, thus providing a space between them where a vertical support (“jack stud”) could support the header?
One question led to another and pretty soon I was rethinking a lot of different things. What did I really want to do for loft access? Where would it go? Was the area I had carved out for the washer/dryer actually the right size? Were the closets the right size and optimally placed? Did I need three doors within a few feet of each other around the bedroom and bathroom? In the end I made a lot of relatively small adjustments, but several that I think are reasonably significant.
Raederle answered the question about the three doors with a resounding “yes”: given that the bedrooms open out onto the living area, it’s really important that at least one of the bedrooms offer a path to the bathroom without going into the common space. Imagine your kids have guests over and you’ve slept in… do you really want to have to put clothes on to get to the bathroom in the morning?
We decided that the aesthetic of a spiral staircase would add a lot of appeal to the interior design. This would take more floorspace (12-15 sq ft) than a drop-down attic stair (8-10 sq ft) but a whole lot less than a conventional staircase (33 sq ft), and despite the cost it would probably be worth the difference in making a more pleasant and usable space. The placement of this couldn’t be after-the-fact, since it would have to come in to an area where the ceiling height was at least 7′ (a maximum of 18″ south and 48″ north of the centerline). In the end, it pushed the doorway of the second bedroom to the south end of the wall. (One can argue that this slightly improves egressibility since it opens out right onto where the back door is located.)
I tried adjusting the closets to go adjacent instead of back-to-back. However, this created issues with the placement of the BR1-LR door and with ensuring the accessibility of the bathroom, and so instead I just stretched out the wall between them. The combination of the door and closet placement now means that BR2 could more easily accommodate two twin beds, by poking one into the corner created by the closet.
A little fine-tuning on the loft design now brings the northern loft area further out over the kitchen, which gives better access to the west wall window in the loft. (I may also take advantage of this to increase the kitchen cabinet sizes a bit on the right of the sink, though I haven’t addressed this in the design.) There’s a small area between the staircase and the bathroom where the loft floor meets the staircase platform which is actually cantilevered out, but it’s under 2′ long and I don’t think it will be aesthetically objectionable since it’s at ceiling height.
I ensured that the washer/dryer space was big enough for the larger (4.3 cu ft) unit rather than the smaller (2.8 cu ft) unit that I had originally projected; this means it will fit a wider range of solutions.
I adjusted the west wall of BR2 to be a 6″ wall instead of a 4″ wall, to provide extra structural support for the flooring and make it easier to route mechanicals. This wall is intended to come in partially overlapping the steel I-beam in the floor, so that it’s easy to route mechanicals to the side of the I-beam, while still being able to bear most of the weight directly on it.
Below is the resulting changed plan. It probably doesn’t look much different unless you’ve been spending as much time thinking about this as I have… but it means that there are no headers on the west bedroom wall that exceed the width of a door, and the header over the kitchen falls into the range where three or four 2×8’s can easily provide the required support.
I needed to get this nailed down because one of the next steps is to actually lay out the placement of these walls on the subfloor, so that I can begin constructing the structural walls and then complete the rim joists and floor joists of the second floor.
I have previously mentioned that I got some help from my neighbor Dane in putting SIPs in place for the first corner. Well he came back over for the final SIP of the first floor, which needed to be installed from the outside in. Between the two of us we were able to hike the 25th SIP of the first story into place, and then I got it locked in and screwed and nailed down.
I even managed to make it an early day and retire with a celebratory margarita and homemade salsa. (I’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes, since this seems to make a big difference in how quickly I recover from sunburns.) I was intrigued that Spanish distinguishes between structural walls (muros de carga) and non-structural walls (paredes). I haven’t started on las paredes internas, although one of my next tasks is building some of the internal structural walls to support the floor joists.
We now have two days of rain and possibly a day of snow in the forecast, so I’m catching up on blogging, paperwork, constructing bookshelves, and various other things I can make progress on from indoors. I’ve made some small adjustments to the floorplan as well, in consideration of where to place headers for second-floor joist support and some other factors. I’ll update you on this in a separate post.
Yesterday was another great weather day and a day of good progress. However, it also came with some unpleasant surprises – hopefully of the “that which does not break your leg, makes you stronger” variety.
First was the nail that I hit wrong, which instead of going into the wood, somehow bounced off the wood, the hammer, or whatever, and socked me right in the front incisor. It certainly reinforced the reason that I’m wearing safety glasses even when I’m not cutting things. It was a bit of a shock, but no long term harm done as far as I can tell.
By the early evening I had completed the north wall, which brought me up to 13½ SIPs, because the last section involved simply ripping a SIP up the middle to fill the remaining 22 inches. The house also now has a front doorway, albeit lacking an actual door at this point.
Thereafter, I began work on the first SIP of the west (kitchen) wall, and was struggling to get this done before nightfall. As you can sort of see in the photo above, this SIP needed to come outside of the north wall to the west, but flush with the wall to the north. That made putting it in place quite a bit trickier than anything else I’ve done to date.
Long story short, when I thought I had it nearly in place, I managed to drop it on myself – probably not all 137 pounds, because the other end was still resting on the floor, but it knocked me over and landed on my leg. This hurt. I was interested to discover that I did not (as far as I can recall) swear loudly or yelp in pain. Those reactions seem more tied to things going wrong, like the sixth nail in a row flying off instead of going in, or to more precise blows (like the hammer blow to my middle finger, heh…)
In the end, I took a different (sliding, rather than tilting) approach to getting it into place, which was successful, and I was able to get my third corner done before nightfall. (Just barely before, as you can probably tell from the lighting in the photo.)
Yesterday I finished the east wall, as well as getting in the bathroom window. Four SIPs in total, including putting in the top inlet nailers. Today it is snowing and raining and sometimes both, so progress has gone on pause again.
A brief note on COVID-19. Right now in NY state, single-person construction companies are allowed to operate on the premise that they can’t get anyone else sick. So I fall under that. However, when it gets to the point that I need help, e.g. bringing in a crane to lift the beam that supports the roof ridge, I will probably need to be past that. As of today (Apr 26) Governor Cuomo has suggested that construction companies may be among the things to open when the stay-at-home orders are lifted (currently scheduled as May 15). So, if I can have the SIPs completed by May 15, I should be able to schedule the roofing to begin shortly after that. This gives me a narrow 3-week window to complete the main work of closing in the structure before Jun 8, when I’m scheduled to return to work full time. So, that’s my timeline right now.
My original estimate was that I could do two SIPs per day, which would mean that I could complete the approximately 45 SIPs between their scheduled delivery on Apr 3 and May 6. Unfortunately as already mentioned, I was still working on redoing the floor until Apr 14. That put me about 10 calendar days behind. The first SIPs, however, started to go up faster than I had predicted. Now I’m seeing some weather-related delays. So I thought it would be interesting to graph my progress toward the goal to see how far behind I am and get a sense of when I might catch up.
In the updated version of this chart, you can see a long horizontal “no progress” line from May 6 to May 24. This is where I was putting up joists and subflooring for the second story. After that, second story SIPs started going up.
I will try to refresh this data periodically as I go.
When I talk about “foam spray” I’m not trying to conjure images of the (original) Little Mermaid, and I’m not even talking about the cans of compressed foam material that came with my SIP order. What I’m actually referring to is the rather unexpected spray of small foam particles that I’ve been contending with since I began working with my new SIPs.
Each SIP needs to be routed out at the top and bottom and at every edge where structural components (such as window frames) need to be added. Murus Co., my SIP vendor, offers a cleverly designed tool to rout out the foam to the exact depth of a 2×6 member.
What they don’t tell you is that when you do this, it snows. Not the cold stuff, because it’s snowing insulation after all. Do not try this on a windy day. To help with this, I decided I needed to make a separate tool, which is a foam-catcher. I plug the shop vac directly into the end of this, and it does help contain the foam spray.
However, the best solution so far has been actually getting up the first walls. Once I had my corner in place (with some help from my more experienced neighbor Dane) I was able to get a few panels in place myself. This shielded from enough of the wind that further routing inside the partial walls was relatively contained.
After this, I began installing more SIPs on the east wall. By the end of the day on Apr 20, I had seven SIPs in place and I thought all was going rather well.
That was until I woke up on Tuesday morning and realized that I had forgotten to include the structural members in the center of the east wall which would provide the primary vertical support for the roof ridge beam. Ugh… So after attempting to pull out the ring-shank nails unsuccessfully, and a trip to the store to pick up a better tool, I was thrilled that I was actually able to pull out all of the nails rather easily. Getting the panel loose from the foam which had glued it in place was a bit more difficult. (Okay, a lot more difficult, it took longer to get it free than it took to get out the ~2 dozen nails.) But eventually I was able to take it down, leaving me back at six nearly-completed SIPs on Apr 21.
The SIP I removed (on the top of the wrapped stack) is still in relatively good condition; I was worried that I was going to have to cut it loose, but this turned out not to be necessary. nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, I’m going to put it aside for use in a non-load-critical location, probably on the second floor, just in case the process did invisible damage to the structure. I’ll take a brand new SIP to replace it in this structural location on the first floor.
Unfortunately, the weather has now gotten too windy, snowy, rainy, and cold to proceed for a few days. (The foam is supposed to be applied at temperatures over 50°F, and I doubt I could manage to hold onto a 4×8 SIP with 20 mile-per-hour winds.) So I’m working on some other home projects for a few days, and getting this blog up to date!
Friday, Apr 3 was my last day with my previous full-time employer. While many in the country (and some at my former employer) are being laid off due to COVID-19, this was a voluntary departure for me. I gave notice on March 16, well before the future magnitude of the economic impact of COVID-19 in the US was clear to the average citizen. (I kind of had an inkling, though many aspects of the timing and time course of events were still surprising.)
This now makes our little construction company my full time job. I scheduled all of this to (supposedly) correspond with the delivery of my SIPs (structural insulated panels). However, because of weekends taken delivering Raederle to and recovering her from a trip to Costa Rica, I lost a bit of the time I expected to have for removing the old floor (“deflooring” as I’ve been calling it) and reinstalling the new one. Then, in a pleasant surprise, my SIPs arrived more than a week earlier than expected on Mar 25. So now I’m a little “behind the eight ball“. (Q: “How will house construction go?” A: “Without a doubt”)
I want to try to update more often so that the rapid progress can be reported, but I have to balance that against getting the most out of the usable working hours. So we will see how that goes.
I’ve been gradually building up a summary of the main features that I plan to include in the Little Rental House. Some of these will go in with the first build; others might be “nice-to-haves” that get added once the home is actually ready for occupancy.
ADA-compliant parking space
ADA-compliant bathroom, kitchen, living areas
ADA-compliant entrance ramps, etc.
Efficient resource use for heating and cooling
Walls, ceiling, and floor all insulated to better than R-40.
Double (or maybe triple) glazed windows for heat retention.
Heated with air-source heat pump to minimize power required.
Heat-recovery ventilator to provide fresh air with minimum heat loss.
Hot water heating inside heated space (reduces heat loss)
Drain water heat recovery unit
Minimum water footprint
Rainwater collection with filtration and UV sterilization
Downcycling of greywater for toilet flushing
Minimum power requirements
Low-voltage LED lighting used throughout to save power (< 0.25kWh/day)
DC refrigerator (< 0.7kWh/day)
Direct outlets for DC appliances (24V, 5V USB)
Two stage water heating with ultra-insulated storage (30 gal, est. < 0.5kWh/day) plus on demand system for large volume use (AC only)
Water pumping using low power, low voltage DC pumps (< 0.1kWh/day including sterilization)
Heat recovery from waste water (bathtub, clothes washer, sinks)
Grid-flexible solar power generation
Battery storage (about 10 kWh) for approximately 6 days including hot water, up to 2 days with constant heating.
Online inverter provides whole-house “uninterruptible” power supply
The City of Ithaca and Town of Ithaca are working on a new joint “energy code supplement” to encourage green building. New construction should get a minimum of 6 “points” in their system. My rough calculation for the proposed home is 11 points: