Wednesday, April 3, 2013

This Semi-Old House

I wrapped up a 10-day visit with my daughter (Jo) and son-in-law (Peter) in Las Vegas Tuesday. Monday was the one-year anniversary of their marriage (no fooling, they got hitched on April 1)and they "celebrated" by putting in a normal work day and then coming home to construction mess, joining me in progress to reconfigure the partition wall between their kitchen and living room. Happy Anniversary!

We knocked off about 10:30 pm, with everyone bone tired but the lion's share of the work done—which was a good thing because I had a hard deadline to depart for Arizona last evening and they were nervous about completing the project themselves.

Having always enjoyed working with my hands (my high school academic advisor tried to discourage me from taking shop as a freshman because that was not what college-bound students did), I got plenty of on-the-job experience in basic construction skills as a homesteader at Sandhill Farm, where the default mode is DIY, not HIO (hire it out).

As a person who's on the road a lot and frequently someone's house guest, it's turned out that having handyman skills has come in rather, well, handy. When I have sufficient breathing room in my work load and a long enough visit, I'm often available to tackle modest construction or remodeling projects. Commonly enough, my kids and some of my closer friends save them up for me.

Thus, Jo had the wall project in mind before I got to town. Basically she had a solid stud wall that extended from the hallway seven feet into the space between the kitchen and the living room, such that it created a visual barrier, and somewhat of a noise barrier (mitigating blender noise drowning out living room couch conversation, or, going the other way, a blaring television from intruding upon food prep). Not being worried about noise, Jo wanted to create more flow and a sense of greater spaciousness by manifesting a large pass-through in the partition wall, essentially removing everything from three feet up, leaving only the end studs.

Jo & Peter moved into their house in October and so far they've had no problem thinking up ways to change things for the better. They're limited not so much by their imagination as by the time, skill, and money needed to achieve them. That's where parents come in. Jo's Mom, Elke, has been willing to finance remodeling—within reason—while I've been asked to help with execution when I'm in town.

Though the house is new to Jo & Peter, it was built in 1972, which means it's modern stick frame construction (where you can count on studs being 16 inches on center), yet there's plenty of dust in the attic crawl space. Call it semi-old (kinda like me, who started his homesteading career in 1974).

We discussed this project as soon as I arrived, but we didn't get serious until Sunday morning—about 56 hours before my departure. While we speculated about what the wall remodeling would entail, we really couldn't know the full story of what we were up against until we peeled off the drywall—after which we'd be committed. Once we took the plunge, we stayed right with it. Fortunately, Home Depot was open til 6 pm on Easter.

Two questions loomed large:

o  Was the partition wall load bearing? It wasn't obvious from the room layout. If so, we'd need to install a beam (or header) to handle the weight after the studs were removed.

o  There was an electrical outlet in the middle of the wall on both sides. Would the wiring need to be moved? And if so, would we have access to a junction box, or need to install one?

Drywall removal confirmed that we indeed had stud wall construction and that we'd need to relocate the electric line feeding the outlets (rats). Our next step was a trip to the attic to discover how the ceiling joists were supported, and to see if we could track where the electric came from. 

—The good news was that there was access to the attic in the ceiling of the master bedroom closet; the bad news was that Jo & Peter don't own a ladder. 
—The good news is that Home Dept rents ladders; the bad news is that it didn't appear that anyone had been in the attic in the last 40 years (imagine the dust accumulated on top of the open batts of fiberglass insulation after four decades in a desert—yuck). 
—The good news is that it was spring and outdoor temperatures were in the 70s—the attic foray would have been brutal in June. The bad news was that Jo & Peter didn't possess a working flashlight.
—The good news was that there was a ventilation hood right above where I needed to look and it miraculously provided all the natural lighting I needed. The bad news was that the roof had been built with king post trusses and I couldn't tell whether there was a live load on the partition wall or not. 
—The good news was that there was a readily accessible junction box only four feet from where the wiring passed through the top plate into the partition wall, which meant that rerouting the wire feeding the outlets was going to be straight forward (whew).

By the end of Sunday we had completed the rewiring, had bought supplies from Home Depot (various tools plus the lumber we were going to use) & returned the rented ladder, and had cut the drywall back to the wood we were going to leave in place. 

After writing reports Monday morning (man cannot live by construction alone), I resumed work on the remodeling, cutting wood to dimension and sanding out the saw marks. Peter got home early and was on hand when I held my breath and cut the middle studs out. Fortunately, the ceiling didn't sag (free breathing restored), and we kept going. I recycled some of the removed studs to craft a top plate to cover the cripples left behind, and then mounted the main shelf (a lovely piece of eight-foot long 1x12 poplar with rounded corners—I was thrilled to have an excuse to use a coping saw).

We kept at it long enough to frame the remainder of the rough opening with 1x poplar and then cut fir 4x4s to assemble a simple post-and-beam support—just in case that partition wall really was load bearing, and we didn't know it yet because wasn't enough wind load Monday afternoon to manifest damage.

In any event, Jo nailed in the final piece of trim five hours before my departure. Yeehah! Here's an image of what we created, with Jo & I standing in the pass through (imagine the solid wall that was there just three days ago, and notice an avuncular Einstein overlooking our tableau from the back wall of the living room—I like to think he's adding his approval to our constructive family dynamic):

I figure I'll be a hero for at least another three months… until I return next and Jo has a new home improvement project lined up for her journeyman father.

1 comment:

remodeling springfield mo said...

Good-luck on your home improvement! I'm sure Einstein would be the focal point!