Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Doors and More Door Drama

When our family was visiting this Christmas, my brother and father in law (PR and RR, respectively) helped me to install windows, and we were on the cusp of putting doors in, as well, but the rough openings I made turned out to be too big. I guess I got a little too enthusiastic with the concept that it's better to make them too big than too small, so of course, I made them too big. Now I have to close the gaps, which will entail framing and sheathing, which is a bummer, but nothing I can't put off and in the hopes that it will fix itself. Hey, it's the holidays, a time for miracles.

For all it's worth, we now have all of our doors, and that's a bonus. The kitchen and shop doors were simple stock doors from Home Depot, so they were on the reasonably cheap end. As I've mentioned, if they have them in stock in their store, you save at least $100. The problem is, you have to be willing to live with an orange door that only a cat can fit through. Nah, just kidding. The doors are fine, and we found a couple of fiberglass ones that were the right size (36 inches wide) and reasonably decorative. So we went with it.

For the front, however, we wanted something a little nicer, and for the upstairs bedroom, as well, in order to access the beautiful balcony we hope to build so that we can sit and drink lattes and watch the deer walk by.

Just wanted to give a plug to Home Depot for their recent shift to outstanding customer service. I'm finding it a pleasurable experience to get help, and my recent need to have door delivered was a good example of this. I hope I'm not repeating myself, but I was hesitant to have the doors delivered because of the obvious cost and because I was hoping to do it myself. There was no way the French Door was going to fit into the back of my Mentor's Explorer, and I was convinced that the smaller doors wouldn't fit, either. I was wrong on the latter.

The guys who helped me, I think Al and Frank, were so helpful and friendly, I couldn't believe it. It was two days before Christmas, to boot. They heaved those doors onto the cart by themselves, an impressive feat that I'm guessing comes with experience. Either way, an excellent customer service experience. It turns out that two of the doors fit into the back of the Explorer, though I had to keep the back window open. The special order doors were too big, they had more framing on them, so that was out of the question, and I had to arrange for delivery, but more on that later.

Frank helped me take the doors to the car, helped me load them, which was logistically like jumping through hoops, and then, without even my mentioning it, he noticed that I had a flat tire and said he'd be right back. He returned with a pressurized air canister and filled the tire. I couldn't believe it. I had tears welling up in my eyes and I kept repeating to myself, "Man, I love this place." A good experience, overall.

It doesn't end there, however. I got a call later on about arranging delivery, and she said if I was lucky, he would help me move them into the barn, but no guarantees. It was up to their discretion, their only obligation was to get the doors to the house. No more. I figured I could always cover them up and have a friend come over and help me move them inside.

On the big day of their arrival, I got a call about 6:00 AM (it's a good thing I'm an early riser) from the delivery guy, and he said he'd be over by 7:00. It was kind of cool, he had a flat bed truck with a forklift, of all things, on the back. He parked on the road and drove the forklift down our driveway, doors and all. It could have been a timing thing, it usually is, but he was a really cool guy, and offered to unload and move the doors into the barn. They come attached to an A-frame to protect them during transport, and I the standard procedure is to leave everything and then come back for the A-frame. So, it saved him a trip to get the job done then and there.

He not only helped me move the French doors, which must weigh hundreds of pounds, but he hauled the other doors all by himself. I sat there like a dork watching him, but in truth, I wasn't prepared to lift one of those things. They have lots of glass on them.

Either way, it turned out to be yet another good Home Depot experience. I love that place. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Windows In and Window Revelations

Okay, so I've been out of touch for the past ten days. My apologies, but with the weather turning tropical and then arctic cold, it's been challenging to get out there and get my hands dirty, but there is still much to do. I've also been trying to focus on matters in our own house, which for the record never seem to end. And, of course, with the holidays in full swing and R's family visiting, there hasn't been much time to do much of anything but hang out and EAT! Not that it's a bad thing, mind you.

On a bright note, my brother in-law, PR, is not only a go-getter, but an experienced and accomplished one, to boot. Since he had a few hours (days?) of free time, he decided to help me put the windows in the barn. Help me is putting it lightly since he ended up doing most of the work. He knew exactly what to do, from caulking to leveling to fastening, it was pretty cool. My father in-law, RR, was there to help, and within a few hours, we'd managed to get the front four windows in. Amazing.

PR was so motivated, that we were on the verge of putting the rear windows in when he declared that the old windows, the same ones that were a source of aggravation and indecision, were not worth saving and to replace them. We'd wrestled with these windows, and after a lot of thought, we'd decided that we didn't want them to go to waste. They do seem like old windows, though, and PR said that he wasn't even sure if they were properly sealed, and they didn't have flanges to keep out the weather. I couldn't even tell you what brand they were, or for that matter, how old. Whatever be the case, RR was there and after much discussion, the decision was made: get new windows! More money, of course, but what else is new in the world of home improvement?

For all it's worth, those windows are pretty big, and since we're talking about the back of the house, we probably don't need to replace all of them with windows the same size, and could probably downgrade a bit without too many bad consequences, but we'll see. Also, the still might work on the shop, since that's a real-man's space, and a little draftiness shouldn't be an issue.

It's funny, because PR was disappointed with the windows, and even more so that the old ones weren't going to work, so much so that he wondered if we could get replacements at Home Depot right then and there. Unfortunately, they don't stock windows that big, because if they did, I would have jumped on that one (you save a bundle that way). So we'll have to order them.

I am greatly indebted to PR and RR for all their help. I think if PR were here for a month, he'd have that thing done and ready to live in. I exaggerate not. The doors were another story for another time.

Now that we have some of the windows in, I can look forward to PR's next visit to put in the rest... just kidding.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Continuing Attic Drama and Roof Rakes

Speaking of complacency, I plugged the gaping hole in the attic, and then stopped cold in my tracks. I've still got cover up that space between the frame and chimney, though I've also been told I should find the source of heat and stop that. Will it ever end? I do have an idea of where it might be coming from, and it's easy enough to address, though once again, I have to find out what the best (allowable?) approach is. It's one of those situations where caulking is your best friend.

In the meantime, I am poised and ready to put that skirt around the chimney. I've got the flashing and the caulk, and it should be pretty straightforward. One thing that ends up discouraging me is spending long periods of time in that cold, dark attic, where I have to negotiate my way around the joists and avoid breathing all that dust and fiberglass. Plus, it's cold, which is a good thing. It'd be nice to have some music, I'll work on that one.

I also got an extension on our roof rake, and I think it will do the job. I went to the Woodstock Home and Hardware and got an extension, and experienced firsthand the difference in customer service from two different people. I don't know if it's a gender thing, but the guys seemed intent on selling me something as quickly as possible and then being done with me, while the women were more conscientious and concerned. The extension piece I bought was a different brand than the one I currently have, but the design and shape are basically the same. I assumed it would be fine, and the guy behind the counter kept saying, "It'll be fine, don't worry," while the woman kept expressing concern. She said that the piece was specific for that brand and it might not fit. I just assumed they were all built the same. That makes sense, right?

Well, sure enough, when I got home, the pieces were slightly off. The holes that lock the pieces together are smaller, and of course they didn't lock in properlly. My first thought was, "Bummer, I should have listened to my mother," or some facsimile, thereof. I was ready to take the piece back and face their scorn when it suddenly dawned on me that I could always just drill the hole and make it bigger. Wow, a solution to my problems.

Sure enough, I enlarged the hole with the proper drill bit, and "voila!" I was back in business. I was going to call my Mentor but he would have just said, "Duh!" Either way, the extension makes a big difference in getting more snow off our roof. I've found it I get within a few feet of the apex, the icing problem is not nearly as bad, and I can sleep better at night.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Clogged Sinks

I've hit a bit of a wall of complacency and haven't done as much as I'd like on the barn, but I know I'll get back to it soon enough. The thing isn't going away any time soon. In fact, our doors just arrived and the windows are here, just crying to be installed. Of course, since this is new territory for me, and I've been told you really need to do it right, I've opted to put it off until they magically insert themselves into the rough openings. You never know, it could happen.

Also, I'm suddenly no longer at a loss for contracting help. Now that Winter has set in, the cold weather usually spells a slowdown for building projects, and the hands of experience start to come out of the woodworks filled with explanations of why they never returned my desperate pleas for assistance and now have plenty of time to help me. Whatever be the case, I think I'll be able to find someone to help me put those windows in, though I think my Mentor's friend B gets credit because he's one of the only ones who not only returned my calls, but actually showed up on our front door, albeit a week later than I'd hoped. If you can believe this one, I actually told him I didn't need him because I'd already finished framing the rough openings. How's that for cocky? That sort of thing always comes back to haunt me.

And it's not as if I'm at a loss for things to do around the house. There are assorted shelves to be built and attic issues that give me loads of anxiety because I keep putting them off... sort of. For all it's worth, some things have been done, and I have a plan.

Speaking of around the house, we had some sink issues that were the last thing I really wanted to deal with. Plumbing is not fun stuff, those guys really earn their pay. Somehow both of our sinks were slow to drain, and as hard as I tried to put it off, it came to head and could no longer be ignored. There's something about a clogged sink after four people have brushed their teeth that can no longer be ignored.

In a previous life, I would have opted for the quick and easy city-boy approach: pour Drano down the drain. Now that we have a septic system and can't and have to aware of what we put down there, I went in search of a better solution. I thought bleach would do the trick, but of course, it would fry our septic flora, plus stink up the bathroom with toxic fumes. It's not used in chemical weapons for nothing.

I went to Woodstock Home and Hardware looking for organic, eco-friendly Drano, and as you might have guessed, it simply doesn't exist. The guy at the store gave me the hard line and said there isn't an easy way around it. You have to go down in there and pull out the blockage, usually a hair ball. How does hair get down the sink?

So I did it. It wasn't pretty, and I didn't have anybody lining up to watch me extract the offending material, and offending it was. The upstairs sink wasn't so bad because I'd actually replaced the plunger when we first moved in. The downstairs sink, on the other hand, had years of buildup, and had never been cleaned. The black death mold was so thick that I had to run my fingers down the plunger, which has an "X" shape, to remove the stuff. Even though I was wearing gloves, it was still brutal, they don't make gloves thick enough, but it did the trick. I've vowed to somehow stay on top of this problem, which unfortunately means I'll give it some thought in the first few days and then forget about it until the problem crops up again, but some thought is better than none, right?

Now the sinks are draining well, everyone is happy, and life goes on... at least until the next big project. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Vaughan Willis for the pic.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Wrap

This is nothing short of a miracle, but we've managed completely sheath the barn and get most of the house wrap on, so the structure is reasonable condition for the weather. Still so much to do, however. We've got the windows and I think the doors have arrived, but since one of them is a big French door, it won't fit in our Mazda coupe, and I'm thinking we'll have to pay for delivery on this one. It's just too darn big.

My friend GS came over and we put the Tyvek up, and it was a bit of a chore. That stuff is so big and unruly, but with two people, essentially amount to rolling the stuff over the surface and stapling it as you go. I still struggle a bit with those staplers that you slam against the surface, they seem to tear the material, but live and learn.

The hard part was wrapping the second story gable. What a challenge, and it must have been quite a site to behold. We approached it with the idea that fewer large pieces was the best way to go, so we tried to install one huge piece on the second story. In retrospect, this was a mistake, and after talking to some pros, they said to use smaller pieces and overlap. While I understand that fewer pieces is better, a man's got to know his limitations. I think I can do the front gable, but in sections. Like everyone keeps telling me, just think like a raindrop.

Once the windows and doors are in, which should be before 2012, the house will be sealed. Of course, there are issues with the fascia and soffits, but those are better left for another year.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Attic Project and Good Procrastination Vibes

We have attic issues, and they are ones that cannot be ignored, as much as I'd like to. Again, it's one of those situations where I scratch my head and wonder how the previous owners dealt with it, but somehow they managed, for 25 years! There are major gaps in the sheetrock up in the attic, so much so that a lot of heat escapes into the airspace despite the double layer of insulation. Let's face it, fiberglass is fairly porous, so it can only hold in so much heat.

We noticed a problem, or rather it was pointed out early on by an experienced eye, from the beginning. From what I've been told, you want your attic to be as cold as the outside so that snow will stay on and not melt. The problem with melting is that it inevitably freezes again and forms ice dams. A sure sign of this are icicles, which are cool to look at, but spell trouble. The ice creeps back under the shingles and when it melts, it leaks onto your ceiling, and as we all know, water is the enemy to your house.

We knew we had to do something, and the solution had multiple stages to it. First off, increase air flow in the attic. This involves a number of things that I can never remember and have trouble even pronouncing, including soffits, eaves, ridge vents, and proper vent. The second stage is to stop the hot air from leaking into the attic. And the third is to get a standing seam roof. I was kind of hoping that getting a new roof would simply alleviate the need to deal with the first and second, but was told that they still need to be addressed. Nothing is invincible when it comes to water.

So I started in on the attic. I found a big hole in the sheetrock that let in a lot of hot air. There is also the issue of the frame around the chimney, which had about a one inch gap and again, lets in hot air. And finally, there are gaps in the framing and joists (redundant?) that let in warm air. All of these situations can be easily dealt with if you're Bob Vila, which I am not. Thus, the situation is never simple.

I must have asked about twenty people what to do, and go the same general response, with varying degrees of technical difficulty. Basically, I needed to seal up those gaps. This I wrestled with, since I wasn't sure what material to use. The holes are big, so simple foam won't work. I thought of rigid foam, and even drew up a sketch which I forwarded to several people before my Mentor finally emailed me and said, "If I was there right now, I'd slap you upside your head. You're way overthinking this one. Just cover the darn hole." This sentiment was seconded by our community energy expert. At least I came away from it with a pretty firm idea of what to do.

The issues that makes this so difficult for me are the fire codes. Once the word fire enters the picture, I can't take anything lightly. Even though the chimney is cold, I still feel a little uncomfortable putting flammable stuff next to it. Call me crazy, you wouldn't be the first, but I lean towards overkill. It drives my Mentor crazy.

In the end, I cut some pieces of wood and covered the holes, then caulked the edges to seal the air flow. Of course I used fire resistant caulking, which is ridiculous when you consider that the frame and wood that I sealed are flammable. Oh well, at least I feel better about it.

The next stage will be to make a skirt to seal up the chimney frame, and after consulting with 99 different contractors, I have an idea of what to do. I just need to do it. I will also seal up gaps that leak hot air and put yet another layer of fiberglass down. That should help.

The situation also calls for the diligent raking and shoveling of the snow off the roof, which is not a problem when you have reliable help nearby.

One last note, we are thinking of going with the standing seam roof, but found out that we are in the system and locked into a good price. Best of all, we can postpone the installation until Spring, which we'd like to do, and clean off the snow/ice/moss and get any trim work done (yeah, right) before they put the new roof on. Don't ask me why, but this latest development just made us happy. Procrastination is a beautiful thing, and we might very well apply it to other things, like digging the septic and ordering shiplap, but don't tell my Mentor. Then again, he's in Maine, and he can't slap me.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Barn Steps and Our House

Today we're hoping to finally get the house wrap onto the barn, but I fell short on some of the things I was trying to finish like getting I&W shield along the bottom perimeter. I think I may have made a mistake on the I&W shield on the windows and doors, but I think I can fix those after the fact. Also, I ran out of time and couldn't get to the doors. Darn.

To compound matters, it started to snow, and I couldn't get that stuff to stick, which seems like not a good thing. I ended up stapling it to the sheathing, which will create a barrier but not an ideal seal. What are you going to do?

I also need to take care of some important issues on our own house, namely the insulation. I have to spend some time in the attic sealing up cracks that are warming up the roof and causing ice dams. What a pain. It's a little nasty up there, and I have to watch my step so I don't put my foot through the sheetrock, or better yet, fall completely through.

My plan this week is to seal up the perimeter of the chimney with rigid foam and expanding foam, then cover it with fiberglass. Then I need to seal up the chimney frame, which is giving off a lot of heat, as well. The beauty of this is I can do it at any time since it's theoretically indoors. Also want to put into place some proper vent, though after looking it over, it might not be necessary. We'll see.

For now, let's get to that barn. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Barn on the Brain

That's barn, not Bard.

I've been a bit obsessed about this barn, for many reason, some reasonable and other not. Whatever be the case, I've found that it takes a lot of time for one person to accomplish what a team (which could mean just two people) of experienced people could probably do in a day. My biggest constraints working against me are time, lack of experience (in a big way), incompetency, and disorganization. Talk about huge, if not insurmountable, obstacles. Whatever be the case, if you have the time and the wherewithal, you can pretty much accomplish anything. Thanksgiving break was nice because with R home to watch the kids and feed them, I could dedicate my entire day to the barn. I'm not sure if that's a good thing, however. Also caught some huge breaks with the weather, it hasn't snowed/rain so much to stop the flow of progress, and I'm thankful for that.

Case in point, this barn. It has taken me all Fall and into Winter to sheath this things, but it's finally done.. almost. That last little piece is going to kill me, literally. I've managed to get almost 97.3% of that building covered with sheathing, and it's been a challenge on all fronts. First off, just knowing where to get the stuff, then how to handle and cut it. The pieces are huge and heavy, and worst of all, they have to line up with one another, within reason, of course.

Now having never done it before, I didn't know where to begin, so I did what I always do, much to my Mentor's chagrin. I sat around hoping someone else would do it or it would simply go away. No such luck. So with assistance and guidance from my mentor, I jumped in and took it on myself. It wasn't easy, the learning curve was really steep, I hurt myself repeatedly and pulled more splinters out of my hands than I can even count, but it moved along, and there were times when I even enjoyed it.

Framing is fun, you don't need precision, but the sheathing can be a chore, especially when it involves climbing a ladder to new heights in order to fasten a piece. Not only is it precarious holding that piece on a wobbly ladder, but then you have to nail the thing in while holding on for dear life. Believe me, for a real man in training, you're better off not having someone there to see what a wimp you are. It's kind of embarrassing.

Either way, the last few pieces of sheathing on the upper gable were by far the hardest part. It's hard enough to lift a piece of sheathing up to the wall when you're on the ground, but standing on a ladder increases the difficulty by several orders of magnitude. This is not a linear relationship. I had to cheat a little and cut the big piece in half because I couldn't carry the entire piece up the ladder. Oh well, you do the best you can.

I managed to get the top pieces on by standing on the second floor, reaching out the window/door with the piece of sheathing, then sliding it along the top of the piece under it. I then reached out the opening with my hammer and swinging it back towards myself to drive in the nail, almost as if I were pounding it into my face. There were times when I was blindly hitting the nail, along with my fingers holding it, but it worked, and it only took about 75 blows to drive in one nail.

The moment of elation was when I peered out and saw that not only was the piece secured, but it was lined up. Amazing. The apex of the gable was the hardest part because there is nothing directly below it, so I can't slide it in over the section underneath. I have to hold it up and hope it's line up when I nail it in. Best of all, I have to stand on a ladder while leaning out the window/door with my foot on the window frame. Talk about precarious.

The back gable will be even more of a challenge because it has a door for an opening, so there is no window frame to put my foot on. I have to rely completely on the ladder to keep me steady. I am not looking forward to this, but we are so close, I can taste it. Just gotta keep pushing forward because my friend is coming over on Saturday to help me put up the Tyvek, and then we'll be fairly good for the winter.

So I have four things I have to do this week.
I need to get that last piece on the back gable.
I need to finish nailing in all the pieces - I just secured them so they wouldn't fall
I need to put on ice and water shield...

I think that's it. Then I can put on the Tyvek, and we're good to go. Then again, I'm not sure if I need to remove the gable windows before putting on Tyvek. Better look into that one.

Gotta run, there's a piece of sheathing just screaming out to be installed. Until the next time, thanks for reading.