Saturday, January 23, 2010


Thinking through the next move

Joe's period tent from Tentsmiths in New Hampshire

A picture of Joe from 1793

Joe and I geared up for a 100 mile ride

Hooper extraordinaire

For the last 5 months, Joe Sykes has been here day-in and day-out helping us build our place. If you've been following our progress on the blog, almost every post either shows or mentions him. He and I wrapped up the last of the major framing work a week or so ago and with this ends the arrangement we've had up till now. I thought this would be a good point to both acknowledge our appreciation for Joe's help, but also to give a slightly more in depth picture of this unique guy.

We met Joe through contra dancing, and if you have contra danced anywhere in New England over the last decade or two, you've probably met him too. He is an avid and excellent dancer and it is not unlike him to drive great distances to dance all weekend and then be back first thing Monday morning ready to roll. There isn't much that slows him down except for maybe a plate of poutine somewhere north of the border in the middle of a long bike journey.

In anticipation of the house project, I knew I was going to need someone to work with and I'd be mulling it over a bit when, one day in March, Joe called up and said he had a "crazy idea" which was his offer to come down to the valley, set up his tent and help me out. I took to the idea right away and we kept in touch leading up to the start of the project. As planned, Joe set up his very cool old-school canvas tent (old school as in Early American) and started staying here Monday morning through Friday afternoon. From the get-go we fell into a friendly raport and had fun throughout, even when it was cold, or wet, or steep, or heavy, or complicated. Joe never complained, never shirked, and was always ready to go, sometime more then I was, and I appreciated this throughout. Joe built a number of houses with his dad, and has spent most of his career in the building industry.

Beyond being a crack carpenter and contra dancer, Joe does English Country dancing, Cajun dancing, Morris dancing, plays some nice fiddle, share's my enthusiasm for bikes and long long rides, takes part in revolutionary war reenactments, and last but not least makes, sells, and goofs around with hula hoops. These are works of art.

Its nice to work with someone with whom you share so much in common, be it bikes, contra dancing, music, or building. We could easily spend a day listening to either one of our I-pods on shuffle and be quite happy. I find the music or radio choice really sets the mood on a work site and there was no big tug-of-war in this department.

One anecdote about Joe. One day a visitor was here and sailing came up in the discussion. Someone asked Joe if he'd had much to do with boats and he said "No, not really". The conversation moved on and that was it. Sometime later in another discussion I heard Joe saying something like "My dad and I rebuilt the Peterson 28 and sailed it on the lake until my dad sold it to some folks on Martha's Vineyard, so I trailered it down, launched it, rigged it and then sailed it across the Sound, helped the new owners commission it and did a short cruise with them". What? I thought he hadn't had anything to do with sailing. That's Joe. Getting to know him has been fun because there is always some funny and unexpected aspect of his life that you'd never guess was there that comes out and can't believe he'd hardly mentioned it.

So, I'm working on my own for a while, but have no fear, Joe will be back in a month or two for the next round.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The five inch move

I chalked out the walls on the first floor. The space in front of the door will be the mudroom. The area where the table saw is sitting will be the bathroom, and the plumb bob (the pointy weight on a string) is hanging from the stair opening on the second floor to check that it is in line with the wall of the bathroom. It is.

Here's the first floor plan again for reference to make sense of the lines above. The photo is taken near the bottom of the stairs facing towards the doorway in on the right in the plan. (Remember to click on the photo for a clearer view.)

See how the lines on the floor run right into the door? No good. These lines represent the wall separating the mudroom from the kitchen. Correcting this requires moving the door about 5" to the left.

The opening with the door removed

New framed opening done, starting re-installation

Yesterday I laid out the interior walls in red chalk on the floor and confirmed what I was already aware of, which is that having chosen a 3'-0" wide door instead of the 2'-8" door that I'd originally drawn, the door was butting into the wall between the mudroom and the kitchen.

The options here were to either have a slightly bigger mudroom and slightly smaller kitchen, or to move the door. There really wasn't much of a question. Move the door. So, what has mostly been "building" made a slight detour into "renovation". I had to take out the door, reframe the opening 5" inches to the left of the original, and then reinstall the door in it's new location. Easy to describe, but a lot of work to do.

Nonetheless, by the end of the day today I had it back in and fitting nicely, so tomorrow I'll finish up the loose ends of the project and go into coming up with a framing plan for the interior walls, order up some lumber and put 'em up. That should be fun.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First Floor Panorama

I spent yesterday clearing out all unneeded equipment and materials. Today I took care of some errands, including a trip to the dump and dropping off some tools in need of repair. I also picked up some mylar drafting sheets in order to start drawing some interior elevations to clarify our choices for that come into play with with our lighting and electrical work.

In a sense it feels like we are at a new starting point. When we first designed the house, we made enough decisions to get us to "go" but left a lot of the finer details to be worked out. Now we have to make those decisions. Its exciting stuff.

The photos show a panorama of the first floor.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Double walls and suspended roof

The green gussets show the secondary roof hanging off the original roof rafters

Another view of rafters with gussets to secondary roof
that acts sort of like a suspended ceiling that will
eventually be filled with cellulose insulation

A close up of roof system

Last week Joe and I finished building in the secondary, or double, walls and roof in the house.

The purpose of this work is to create a 12" deep wall and 21" roof cavity along all the exterior surfaces of the house. The photos show these being built, but I wonder if the concept is clear. Imagine you built a wall stood it up and called it good. In this case you then build another wall exactly the same size and stood it up a few inches apart from the first so that the total depth of the wall is 12" from one side to the other. The same thing is happening at the roof except in this case the second "wall" is a ceiling being hung off the original rafters to create a total depth of 21" from outer surface to inner, once the sheetrock is in place.

Once all the plumbing and electrical work is done, well then staple into all the interior wall and roof framing a retaining fabric that will hold in the cellulose insulation that will fill these walls and roof bays.

The whole point here is to reach our R-value insulation goals. Dense packed cellulose has a R-value of 3.8 R per inch, so with a 12" thick wall we'll have a calulated R-value of 45.6. The roof, at 21" will have an R-value of 79.8.

A secondary benefit of building the walls and roof this way is that there is very little physical contact between the outside and inner walls and roof. This means there is very little opportunity for thermal bridging between the two (thermal bridging is cold moving in pathways from the outside to the inside. In typical construction, the 2x4's or 2x6's in the wall are thermal bridges for the outside to the inside.) The green straps in the photos are connecting gussets between the inner and outer walls and are the only point of connection between the inner and outer surfaces.

Another advantage of this way of building is that we do not have to drill through the studs in the walls to run the electrical cable or water lines as is typical in standard construction.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Changes and fixes

This photo shows the original framing removed from over the large living
room windows. The open space was soon filled with a header and new framing

The "real" post that replaces the temporary
one we'd had in place for a few months

This photo shows the framing for a larger window which
will replace the small one currently installed

Over the last week or so, Joe and I have continued building in the secondary walls throughout the house. The work has gone smoothly and as fast or faster then I might have imagined. Usually it is the other way around.

Along the way we've made some fixes and changes as needed. In looking at a reference book I've been using, I noticed a qualifier to something which I hadn't questioned. If you recall, there are no headers over the windows located on the gable-end walls because they are not carrying any load other then the weight of the walls themselves. Well, it turns out that this works just fine, but IF the window or door in question is over 4 feet wide, there should be a header.


I don't think this would have been a big deal, but I was glad to have seen this note when I did because it was easy for us to add headers to the two windows to which this criteria applied.

We installed the permanent post that replaces the temporary one which has been in place since the fall. It's a nice looking post. We might do more decorative work to it at some point, but for now it's just going to do it's job of holding up the second floor at the turn of the stairwell.

Another change was to the window on the second floor. Nancy and I decided on the size and configuration of one particular set of window in haste and once they arrived and we installed them we decided that we'd arrived at something a little too small. So, Joe and I framed out an opening for a larger window which we'll install once I chase down the window company and get our new one on order. It'll be a much more pleasant view and light for the second floor once the new window is in place. It looks out over the garden and we look forward to coffee and tea looking out on fruits of our gardening work.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year

Yes, things are happening in the house after a nice holiday break.

The roofers completed the last of their work a few days after Christmas on a breezy morning when the temperature was, if I remember correctly, around 10. It looks great and we are glad to have that part of the project wrapped up.

After some satisfying time off, both Joe and I got back to work on Monday building the secondary interior walls. The result is to make our current 5 1/2" deep walls effectively in to 12" deep walls. This requires making walls that parallel the existing walls and are attached at the top, bottom, and at various points between. Hopefully the photos show this better then I can describe it.

The point of this work is that when we insulate the house with the blown-in cellulose, there will be a full 12" of insulation thickness. It used to be that 3 1/2" was considered acceptable and nowadays 5 1/2" is considered good.

In our situation, the two walls have minimal connection, so there is very little thermal bridging from the outside to the inside. In conventional walls the studs create direct thermal bridges from the outside to the inside--the cold passes through the exterior sheathing to the wooden stud and then to the sheetrock on the inside. Our wall system puts cellulose insulation between the outside wall and the interior sheetrock. Breaking that connection is the major advantage of this method while allowing lots of space for insulative fill.

I think we'll wrap up the first floor tomorrow and move upstairs on Friday.