It was Christmas on site this week- we removed the original exterior wall that was dividing the existing house from the addition. I can’t remember the last time I felt this level of anticipation.
Because the original exterior walls were structural, we had to leave them intact until all of the loads from the second floor had been accounted for with new beams and posts transferring the second floor load to the foundation. Once the new structural members were in place, the unveiling (or rather the sledge hammer demolition session) began. I was working on furring out walls towards the back of the house, so I waited in anticipation as my colleague Mike tore down the original facade. He called me over half way through the process, yelling, ‘Molly, there’s a photo op over here.’ I almost hesitated, I wanted to see the addition and wedge transformation of the space complete, a dramatic presentation, before and after. Alas, I could not resist.
Unfortunately in these photos it presents unremarkable, but believe me, this living space is lucky to have us intervene.
Highlights from this week:
- The HVAC subcontractors are well underway snaking their ducts through our framing. I’ve had a number of conversations with them about alternative routes and needing to incorporate soffits in order to accomodate their system. It’s a tricky project for HVAC; because we’ve demolished all of the interior walls on the first floor and the exterior walls are brick, it doesn’t leave much room for duct work. Additionally, I learned a great new phrase for what it is they do, “running tin.” As in, “We’ve got some guys up here running tin, I think we can start electrical next week.”
- The addition is sheathed. The new cut volume introduces itself to the neighbors.
- I spent a fair amount of time furring out interior walls in the master bedroom and closet. In this case to ‘fur out’ is to nail strips of wood to framed walls in order to make the wall cavity bigger to accommodate different components. You can imagine my surprise when I was asked to rip a 2×4 into 5 and spend a couple of hours nailing the strips to a framed 2×6 wall in order to accommodate an ironing board. This is why it’s important that architects build.
It was a snowy week on site. Friday was an early day due to slippery ladders and joists. Building has become a death-defying feat!
I continue to refresh and improve my framing skills. The order of operations required in layout, measuring, measuring, cutting, leveling, plumbing and nailing is far beyond what any builder gets credit. It’s truly an art and takes a specific mind to accomplish, let alone accomplish efficiently. So far I’m able to accomplish all tasks, it’s efficiency I’m working on.
This week the plumber came and uninstalled the existing radiant heat system and outfitted us with a temporary furnace complete with ducts snaking up to the second floor.
It’s keeping the interior at about 50 degrees and gives the site a wacky postapocalyptic flair.
More exciting is the exterior framing. The addition is almost completely framed and the new character of the facade is hinted. At this point it looks less like an addition, and more like an extremely dense urban condition, two fraternal siemese houses enjoying the view.
Highlights from this week:
- interior framing almost complete.
- existing HVAC system removed. We are switching from radiant heat to a 3 zoned variable heat forced air system. This decision was made based on economy of means- salvaging the original system was nearly impossible with the opening up of the first floor.
- I’ve developed a new appreciation for the LVL (laminated veneer lumber). We stretched 3 2×12 LVLs across the front of the existing house in order to hold up the second floor as we remove the corner. These massive engineered members express the engineering circus this project takes on. Seeing this dramatic beam bisecting the addition and shoring the existing structure, it seems wrong to bury it in the roof.
It’s gotten frigid in the deep north. All of our lumber is coated with a thin layer of ice and seems as though it cracks when you introduce it to nails and screws. My thermal layers have gone from 2 to 4, and rough-framing is well underway!
The last time I participated in wood rough-framing was during my first building experience just after I finished undergrad, Summer 2004. Needless-to-say, this has been an excellent refresher course. Roughing-in new openings within the existing structure has been particularly exciting and challenging. With studs that are out of plumb, and headers that list this way and that, measuring, cutting, and figuring takes on a whole new meaning.
Highlights from this week:
- Because we are removing load-bearing walls, we’ve been constructing many shoring walls to support the structure as we retrofit new posts and beams to carry the existing structure and open up the interior.
- As I mentioned earlier, rough-framing is underway! It’s amazing to see the house at scale and in relationship to its site. Because it’s a half story elevated from the ground, the addition is much more monumental than I had anticipated.
- I was told my my building colleagues that my tool-belt was insufficient, “it’s the kind of thing you’d wear to hang a picture in your house,” they told me. So I made a trip to the infamous 7 Corners Hardware store in St. Paul. There I found the most extensive array of tools I have ever seen, coast to coast, ever. Support your local hardware store! They’re becoming extinct!
After 3 weeks of breaking, digging, filling and forming, it feels like the site is taking a breath and settling into its new self.
I was reunited with my favorite tool this week, the salubrious palm-nailer.
I consider myself a strong woman, physically- I’ve backpacked throughout my life and carried my fair share of plywood, but using a full-size framing nail-gun for hours on end weighs on this one’s limbs. ENTER palm-nailer: the pneumatic nail-gun that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s such a relief to use a tool so small and light, it made me think why isn’t there a line of small light ergonomic tools for workers who choose not to strain their bodies as much?
This leads me to an unfortunate side effect of the work I’ve been doing, which is symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. I’m waking up these days with numb forearms and hands- my body is not used to this kind of labor. It’s likely due to me using a 28oz. framing hammer I’ve been using- I’ve recently switched to a 16oz. hammer, hopefully this remedies the situation. Additionally, moving from the demolition phase of the process into framing, should help my arms, as they will not be engaging in such constant repetitive motion.
Highlights from this week:
- We were paid a visit from the gas company who rerouted the gas line around the new construction.
- A plumber came to locate our sewage line. He brought with him a video camera attached to a long cord which he fed into the main sewage line. The images it produced snaking through the pipe was quite an other-worldly display.
- Framing of the first diagonal addition is complete. The new spatial quality of wedge addition is starting to reveal itself.
- We’ve started the MBR addition which takes about 5 feet of garage space and gives it to the master bedroom. This was an interesting framing process because the addition has to accommodate for movement in the garage slab; with the change of seasons and frost levels, the slab can move up to 1/2 inch. The framed floor in this section is elevated from the footing 1/2 inch, hovering over the slab.
- The original clay block structure continues to slow our process- from demolition to addition, masonry walls are difficult to work with.
Week 3 ends with a bang! The foundation is in place. The masons came and crane lifted their form-work onto the site and then meticulously set it up around the poured footings.
I observed this process as I made trips back and forth to the dumpster transporting demolished wall and ceiling debris out of the house. At some point while every sub-contractor is on site, they are told that the woman laborer hauling trash is also the architect, or in other words, the reason for the crazy footing configuration and the non-orthogonal foundation. Once they learn this they proceed to give me a hard time (all in good fun of course) about making their job more challenging. Although it took longer than it would have if I had designed a box on axis with the existing house, I could tell the sense of satisfaction they had once they had removed the form work. Challenging work is often the most gratifying.
It’s incredible to see the foundation in place. It’s much more monumental than I had anticipated. The poured foundation accommodates the addition, stoop, deck, stairs and a couple of planters. Most of the foundation stands 6′ tall- so you can imagine it’s quite a sight. The other part of seeing this built that came as a surprise is the beautiful proximity of the deck to Lake Harriet. The clients are going to have a great outside scene.
Highlights of this week:
- There is a slight correction to my previous post; what was thought to be scissor truss on the 1987 addition is actually a ridge beam, which requires 2 posts to hold it in place. Because of this, we had to pour an additional footing in the garage to support a post which will support the end of the extended ridge beam. The reason for using the ridge beam as opposed to the scissor truss was money and ease- it did not require the builder to tear off the roof. Whether or not this would fly in era, is another story- building code was clearly not as stringent in the 198os.
- Foundation poured! The presence of the addition makes itself more apparent to the neighborhood.
- We’ve removed the first floor interior structural walls, you now have a straight shot lake view from the very back of the existing house.
- flooring is removed- the interior is unrecognizable from it’s former life- it’s gutted.
- The pie-shaped MBR closet addition is framed- Mike has been doing great work on this. It’s been a tough job because he’s lofting the structure between two walls- this addition floats above the ground, there are no footings anchoring it. This is usually no big thing, but because the original structure is clay block, it becomes much more difficult to attach. Thanks to Mike and his mad skills, it seems to be happening with ease.
It’s getting chilly in Minneapolis- I’m not able to get away with jeans and a hoodie on site anymore. On my foreman’s recommendation, I visited Kaplan’s Clothing store today. I stocked up on some polypropylene long johns and an insulated Carhart jacket I wouldn’t be caught dead in anywhere but on site- needless to say this is not about fashion, so I am happy.
Turns out there are many theories on what is appropriate winter wear on site. There is the school of thought that more insulation is more effective – heavy insulated coveralls and hooded jacket provide a quick barrier to the cold. Alternately there’s the 6 layer technique used in order to adjust to different activity/warmth levels + cut down on the bulk of insulated outerwear. Having come from California, and nervous about diving back into Minnesota winters at full exposure- 8 hours a day 5 days a week- I’m going to opt both methods. ha.
It was a very exciting week on site. Excavation week. and the footings have been poured. I’m giddy. I’ve seen the outline of this form in plans, in CAD, on the computer, for months- and now it’s real- a huge hole in the ground and concrete pour-formed footings outlining the shape of the addition, stoop, planters and deck. The neighbors are buzzing. I’m buzzing. It’s happening!
Highlights from this week:
- Excavation Day! The excavator came in and tore off the front of the house and then dug a giant hole to accommodate the footings, foundation, + crawl-space.
- The excavator hit black dirt. Being a gardener, I’ve never heard of black dirt being a cause for concern, but in construction, when laying a foundation black dirt can be problematic. Black dirt is organic, spongy, compressible- it allows foundations to move – not what we want. We had a geotechnical engineer come to site and and take a core sample, turns out we’re in the clear, there was enough sand mixed with the dirt to move forward as planned.
- We found some surprises when opening up the walls of the previous addition (1987) all of the joists had been sistered together- a botch job, but shouldn’t affect our work.
- Another botch job was discovered in the 1987 addition- must have just been a bad year for building. What we thought were manufactured trusses, ended up being homemade trusses- this affects our process in that we will need to continue this method when extending the MBR (master bedroom) ceiling plane into the garage. Interesting to see what you find when you open up the walls.
Week one of construction has come and gone without any major surprises. Lots of sore muscles and bruises galore, but the thing is, I love it. It’s a small price to pay to have a physical hand in realizing what you’ve designed.
Here are a few highlights of the first week:
- We’ve removed the chimney from the roof through the 2nd floor- very impressive to see for the first time.
- The main gas line needs to be moved from the center of the property to accommodate the addition.
- We found the plumbing waste line directly beneath were we had planned to position a post.
- I found a postcard in the bedroom wall postmarked Feb 6, 1939.
Renovation and working with existing conditions as opposed to new construction is challenge I’m looking forward to.