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 43.5 SIPs between their scheduled delivery on Apr 3 and May 6. I thought it would be interesting to graph my progress toward the goal to see how the estimates compared to the reality.
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. In late April and early May there were a number of weather-related delays. Following this, there was a long pause up to May 24th where I was getting structural walls, joists, and flooring in place in order to have the platform to build the second story. Between May 24 and Jun 5, the second story SIPs went into place. I completed the SIPs just before I began my new job.
In the updated version of this chart, you can see that my rate estimate wasn’t too far off, but basically failed to account for the work building the platforms for both the first and second stories.
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.
Since part of my goal is to document the process of construction, it’s time to declare my first major oops. Maybe this will save someone else from doing something pointless and wasting time and money. Sigh.
I am not happy with my floor implementation. It feels solid and well insulated, but there are numerous issues with it that have led me to decide to start over. In the end I expect I’ll waste about $600 and maybe a week worth of labor, but I think the end result will be better.
First, I wanted to nominate Terry S. for the “you called it” award on water. Even with one layer of house wrap, fully taped, and not one but two30×30′ tarps tented up and covering the floor, it is still basically raining inside every time the weather turns warm or launches into a downpour that melts the snow. While I’ve had builders assure me that the water will just run through, and it will dry out, and it will all be fine, I’m not certain enough to trust putting the rest of the house on it without checking. And checking means starting to peel up the subfloor so I can look inside, and once I start that if it looks bad, I’m going to need to redo things anyway.
But that by itself could just be a bit of maintenance in the spring. No, there are a lot of other problems that have combined to make we want to start over on the flooring.
Elevation: because of the additional 6″ of height added by the flooring (which would of course have been there with SIPs as well) making the home accessible is turning out to be a lot more difficult that I would have liked.
Structural: the bottom inlet nailers for the wall SIPs would have been mounted to the floor stack, which itself is not really a tested structural element. (SIPs would have been better, but not ideal.)
Levelness: in my rush to get the floor in place before the winter, I didn’t do a great job of shimming around the I-beams to bring the rim joist level up to the I-beam level.
Mechanicals: with the insulation sandwiched between the two layers, any mechanicals (plumbing and electric) going through to the basement would have to be cut through both layers of board plus insulation.
Water damage: may or may not have occurred.
So, I’ve come up with a new plan, and by choosing to go forward despite the possibility that the current floor is “sound” (with respect to the water – all the other issues would still stand), I have the opportunity to implement a good fraction of it (the first three steps) from inside the basement during the winter, so there will be less of a scramble to do the added work when spring comes.
Cut 2×8 joists to fit between (and perpendicular to) the I-beams. Notch these at each to a depth closely matched to the flange thickness of the I-beam, so that when assembled the top of the joist and I-beam will be flush. (This addresses the elevation issue: subfloor will eventually sit 6″ lower.)
Remove screws from bottom of current assembly.
Insulate rim joists. (May need to wait depending on other steps.)
Strip off and stack the subfloor boards. (If the subfloor was water damaged, then it would have needed to be replaced anyway, but if it’s OK I hope to be able to reuse it since I’ll be screwing back down to identically aligned joists.)
Pull out and stack the rockwool for reuse.
Strip off the 2×6 and 2×4 joists and the PIR. (We’ll have to see what order of operations works best for this.) Stack PIR for reuse.
Strip off and stack the PT plywood. (Need to determine if it can be reused elsewhere in the project; otherwise perhaps it will show up on Craigslist.)
Correct the shims on the rim joists to as near flush with I-beams as practical. (This addresses the levelness issue.)
Finish mounting east and west joists with joist hangars from rim joists.
Put off reinstalling insulation until after mechanical work is done. (This addresses mechanicals issue.)
Install inlet nailers with structural screws to rim joists. (This addresses structural issue, and is the first step of the work I would have started in the spring anyway.)
It seems like a lot of steps, but it feels like I should be able to do most of them in less than a day. So far I’ve completed the first eight of the 7′ joists and eight of the 4′ joists, and about 20% of the screw removal. While I was at it, I also restacked some of the stored lumber in the basement so that it’s not directly under the drip edges. The time spent has been about 3 hours so far.
For the last couple of weeks it has been “damn the winter weather, full speed ahead!” And somewhat to my surprise, I managed to get the floor panels I designed (and wrote about here) completed. Apparently after repeated exposures, my hands finally got used to working in 37°F (2.8°C) weather, and I didn’t feel cold any longer. My ears were protected by 3M™ WorkTunes™ headphones, which may have been the single best tool investment I have yet made on this project. Certainly the most consistently utilized, particularly with Spotify keeping my ears happy and not merely warm.
A big ($3000) order of materials was delivered in late October, and I immediately started trying to get the flooring in place. Zephyr was intrigued.
At first things went pretty quickly.
However, my birthday party happened just a day or two into getting the materials, so it was almost November before I really got going. Below you can see the bracing ready for the 2x4s to come in above the PIR foam board, and the 2×6’s used for every third span (west side) and for all of the 7′ spans (east side).
Here is some of the PIR foam board in place, 2×4’s across the top and on the braces, spray foamed along edges of PIR, as well as the first batt of rockwool.
And finally here is what it looks like with all the rockwool in place.
Then I started to get the actual subfloor laid on top. Unfortunately, not very long into this we had our first 4″ snowfall, and thereafter I was spending a lot of time with the shop-vac removing the snow and water that was stuck inside various cavities (either on top of the PIR board, or on the PT plywood bottom layer where the PIR board was not yet laid). Furthermore, laying the tongue-and-groove subflooring with the appropriate staggered (and thus, diagonal) pattern turned out to be extremely time consuming.
It’s probably worth sharing that the necessary tools for this are one (or more) sacrificial 2×4’s and a sledgehammer. You lay the 2×4 against the edge of the subfloor plywood (best if it’s the groove side) and whack the crap out of it to get the plywood to move across the glue and into place. I shattered one 2×4 along the way and beat another one beyond the point of further usefulness. Also, on occasion, you may want wood shims (used to force the tongue up into the groove) or a wonderbar weighted down with a heavy piece of PT lumber (used to force the groove plywood down onto the tongue). Or, you could do this with more than one person, in which case, you get someone to stand on the edge to keep it aligned while you whack the 2×4. This is definitely one of those “better done with a team” jobs.
But, in the end, I managed to get it all in place. I still want to come back and add the house-wrap to the remaining 2/3 of the floor, to keep water out over the winter, but at least the main job is now complete!
Was it worth it to do all that extra complex framing for the 10% improvement in insulation? I’m not sure – maybe not. I’m estimating that adds up to maybe 85 BTU/hr or 25W of heating saved, whereas the remaining total loss through the floor is perhaps 875 BTU/hr or 256W. The R-41 SIPs would have been closer to 553 BTU/hr for a savings of 94W. (All these numbers may be lower if the equilibrium temperature in the basement is higher.) But I learned a lot of interesting things along the way.