Monday, January 29, 2007

Walls - The Simple Pleasures

Other than creating returns for the future AC system, the walls were now ready to be drywalled - finally! In preparation for this project I found a drywall lift (on EBAY of course) since I wanted to hang 12 foot sheets on the ceilings. All of the walls are a combination of 12 feet by something so this would cut down a great deal on taping. With almost an entire house to re wall, I figured I could buy 2 or 3 lifts by the time renting charges were added up. It's not the best, but it does get the job done.

I started out in the parlor, first finishing off the newly constructed fireplace wall. Then I took some measurement on the ceiling and found that the joists were not all the same height and were leveled off to the top edge on the floor above. I found almost an inch and a half difference between them, so shimming was out of the question, I would need to sister pieces to the joists. Originally the plaster guys would have leveled the surface with his mud, but drywall of course will follow whatever you mount it to. After some online research, I found a good way to level everything off. First I found the lowest joists and that became my ceiling height. Next using a laser level. I marked this height all the way around the perimeter of the room as a guide. Then using brick layers string, I ran 4 strings from end to end across the joist runs and secured at the height marked by the laser. With these strings, now I could sister to the joists and just set to the strings, giving me a perfectly level ceiling. For studs to use to sister, instead of buying 2x4 or 2x6 pine pieces, instead I used 2x6 metal studs as recommended online. With these you are guaranteed a straight piece every time.

Finally with a level surface to secure drywall to, the ceiling was installed. With this I can't stress enough how much easier a lift is than using a dead man and man power. I was able to hang 12 foot sheets by myself (and I'm not a big guy), even more important was that you could sit there, take your time, and fine tune the sheet into place. I did find it a bit harder screwing into metal studs, so the lift here was also a blessing.

Next it was time two start the walls. With 9 foot ceiling, I used 10 foot sheets vertically. Because of the stone walls, instead of studs there are 1 inch nailers that secured the lathe in no particular distance from each other. So I had to plan out my drywall seams and then add nailers where I needed them. Then due to some variations like the ceiling (though not as extreme) I had to run strings again across the wall and shim out low spots. For a little added insulation I added 1/2 inch insulation boards between the nailers which gave me about an additional R3.5 - I didn't want top use fiberglass, because the wall needs to breath with the stone. The boards lay against the rough surface of the stone and leave a gap. The stone walls themselves are 12 inches plus thick, so the first floor should be pretty tight. Biggest losses ware around the window opening which i added insulation and foam between the stone and wood construction for the windows.

This room was my first experience with drywalling curved walls. I have heard of several methods to due this including dampening the drywall. In the end though I just started from one side, top to bottom and fastened it loosely. Then work over to the next row of screws and work them in loose. After the third row, the previous row will start to stick out above the surface as the boards begins it's bend. I would go back and bring these down the surface, then continue on till I reached the other side of the piece. The key is don't force anything and use a 1/3 more screws than normally on a flat surface. You'll soon develop a feel for what the drywall will allow you to stress it before popping through a screw.

Finally worked around the entrance to the room and now the first room was walled again - I got walls again!! Ahh, the simple pleasures.

parlor drywall finished - note new (old) front door/sidelights for foyer

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Two Oak Floors??

That's what I discovered when I started taking up the 2 inch white/red mixed oak flooring in the parlor to start building a hearth. I assumed what I could see from the basement was the bottom of a sub floor that the oak was laid over. But as it was exposed and the rosin paper removed, this sub floor had a finish on it..... huh?? Why would anyone do that to a sub floor? Then it occurred to me could this be the original flooring of the first floor. The more I looked at it, the more it started to make sense. It was 3 inch red oak, and a very similar color to the staircase. But then I started thinking why would anybody lay an oak floor over a perfectly fine existing oak floor instead of just sanding and refinishing the original.

original under later floor

Maybe the original floor was damaged? I did a thorough inspection from the basement and I could not find one spot of water damage or holes other than what was through the second oak floor. So next I had to decide do I go with what I have, or do I spend the extra work and time to expose the original, with the chance of finding it damaged beyond repair. After doing a poll of people, the majority said take the second floor up and go with the original (of course they're not doing the work!). So with fingers crossed I started taking up the floor... and knew there was no easy way of turning back.

original floor exposed

In the end - I got lucky. No damage, in fact probably better than the second floor since it was damaged by pets. And when I reached the dining room, a big question was answered as well. I guess the installers ran short of rosin paper, so they used a few pages from the Chester Times - dated January 25,26 1942 - just as WWII began. So apparently old Lloyd had the floor done for a remodel - but why?? Only guess I have is that the original is not as tightly joined together as the later flooring, other than that, your guess is as good as mine!

what do we have here?

So we have a house with almost all the original trim gone - but two layers of oak hardwood floors! And now 500 square feet of extra flooring to use who knows where - too bad it's not 4 inch wide or I could use it to mill new trim. You never know what you'll encounter next!

original floor in dining room and 1942 newspaper

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Let's Build A Fireplace

... without burning the house down.

A must have item when we were looking for a new place was a fireplace. Our old house had one that I used with a Vermont Castings wood stove. Nothing better than fighting between the cats and your significant other for that prime spot in front of the stove. When looking at this place I was disappointed that there was none (didn't know about the foyer gas fireplace yet), but decided that I could certainly build one in the parlor. So about 2 months after starting the project I found a great deal on EBAY for a Vermont Castings Resolute Acclaim wood stove, same model I had at our old house. This one was complete with accessories too. This model does not have the catalyst built in, but surprisingly is still quite efficient when burning good wood. Load it up at bed time and it'll go most of the night. And at about 2000 sq. ft. rating, should put a good dent in my heating needs, actually heated the entire old house.

So armed with a stove, it was time to come up with a plan. I was hoping to build on an outside wall, which would have made running a chimney much easier, but the parlor layout just didn't work. So ended up building on the interior wall backing up to back staircase/basement wall. Checking the floors above, I had common walls through the 3rd floor to run along and build a chase around the piping (don't want to be in the middle of a room!). With a location solved, next was coming up with a hearth plan. The floors appeared to be 2 inch wide oak with a sub floor. I figured I would take up the floor a few feet from the wall, build my hearth with cement board on top of the sub floor, then build back the oak around it. This would give me extra pieces of floor to use for patches where the PO's drilled holes, etc.

I had an unexpected surprise when I pulled the floor up, which I'll get into in my next post. But any who, with the floor up and a hearth base built, next was adding reinforcement for the chimney supports. There is a main support that mounts to the wall just above the clean out Tee that support the entire chimney, so this had to be anchored to some substantial wood. Also had to build a support box in the ceiling for the fire block. Each floor has to have a fire block that the chimney run through. I am using Duratech piping system made by Duravent. They have several variations but I'm going with the best line they have. It's double-wall stainless steel, and not cheap - but I'm not going to play around when it comes to fire. It's actually quite easy to install, the 4 foot sections twist and lock together. As far as building a chase, only 2 inches clearance is required.

With my supporting built, next I needed to shim the studs and put up the drywall and cement board before I can build the actual fireplace. Then I was ready to build the chimney for the first story into the second floor bedroom. After triple checking my marks for the floor above, I cut out the flooring in the bedroom so the chimney could come through, fortunately I was spot on, only get one chance. After I set the height of the clean out T to the back of the stove, everything was locked down and was ready to start building a fireplace.

The design is a cross between the fireplace at the old house, and the fireplace in the Swarthmore house we almost bought. The "fireplace" is just a chase for the stove piping, but will give a more authentic appearance then having exposed piping or a small chase surrounding the pipe, plus allows us to have a mantel. Basically when done will appear to be a real fireplace with a stove inserted in the hearth like our old house was. The walls of the structure will be covered in cement backer board, then covered with a brick veneer, inside and out. This will meet code and give an authentic appearance. The hearth will be either tiled or slate. Would love to match the green arts & crafts tile in the foyer, but way to expensive. I made sure to add a nailer around the mantel level, which will be oak and wrap around the sides and end against the back wall.

Looks good so far

Monday, January 22, 2007

Adventures in Heating - Part 2

With all the radiators installed and piped into the system it was time to focus on the boiler. It's an old H.B. Smith coal boiler that was converted to oil. It was in serious need of maintenance and cleaning. I almost considered replacing it, but after talking to my buddy John who worked in heating back in the day, he said it was a keeper. When I first told him about it, he was expecting to see some asbestos covered octopus unit - but instead he said these were one of the best ever made. H.B Smith was mostly an industrial boiler maker and that in it's day these were the Cadillac in boilers, and actually are still in business to this day. So it was decided to give it an over hall and see what happens.

The oil burner was fitted into the old ash door and the opening filled with a heater cement - can't recall the name of it. It was shabby installation, but got the job done. The old sight glass had been covered with the same stuff. There was no filter on the oil line which also was a problem. The old supply and return pipes were originally covered in asbestos insulation, but this was long removed leaving bare rusty pipes that heated the basement more than the house. The boiler was disassembled down to the cast iron water tubes and the process of restoring/repairing began.

The panels were repainted. The cast iron front door assembly was sandblasted, repainted, the original sight glass repaired, and gaskets added to the doors. Some vent holes from its coal days were sealed to stop any unwanted drafts through the boiler. The cast iron exhaust elbow had a crack repaired and an early unused damper sealed and new plate made for back cover. The expansion tank was flushed and repainted. I repacked the original valves, went over the old gauges and rewired everything. Most important, I added a local emergency disconnect on the side of the boiler and at the top of the basement stairs - both must be in the on position for boiler to operate.

With the main boiler reassembled and thoroughly cleaned inside, next was the oil burner. It's a Beckett burner, the Chevrolet of oil burners. I went through a complete rebuild making it like new condition. The tip was OK which I cleaned and reused - I wish I had noted the size as you'll see later though. With the burner done I needed to come up with a better mounting solution. My dad and I came up with a design and he fabricated it out of stainless steel plating. It's basically a big L, with a base plate with lock downs to hold the burner and a vertical plate that covers the opening of the boiler with a hole to allow the burner to poke through. Everything is sealed with high temp gaskets. An in line filter was then added and the assembly installed.

With everything fitting together as designed, the front disassembled one more time to install a new firebox, which was in desperate shape. I found a universal one on EBAY that worked perfect. I was able to center the new one better inside the boiler with just the tip of the burner entering. You don't want the flame to close to the back wall of the firebox which will disrupt the flame pattern.

Old and new fireboxes

So I'm sure at this point you're saying Hey, great, now it's nice looking ancient oil hungry beast. Well you'd be surprised. The paperwork with the boiler had the burner measured in the mid 80% range. But, then there's the efficiency of generated heat and transfer of that to the system?? Yes, I thought of that too. The biggest problem with these old coal units is you have this huge firebox that you throw heat into, which quickly is drafted into the flue and up your chimney taking probably 50% the heat you just made with it. So the question is, how do modern boilers slow this down and increase the transfer? Well one of the main ways is adding baffles, creating a "torturous path"for the heat and gases. Basically the longer the heat and gases created by the burner stay inside the boiler, the more that will get transferred to your water. Also the sizing of the firebox area is much smaller, concentrating the same heat to the boiler tubes at a much higher level than the early boilers - you don't need all that room for coal anymore. Well what we came up with was a self designed baffling system to obtain the same modern solutions. Firebricks were stacked in the corners supporting 1 inch square stock steel running across the front and back walls. Then two plates were made that sit above the firebox in the middle and lean against the outside "water wall" tubes - the initial and highest point of heat transfer in a boiler - basically creating a V shape. What this now does is re sized the firebox area to about 1/3 the original area, and forces the heat created against the sides of the boiler where the tubes are and then up to the secondary stages of the boiler. Also the small opening left for the heat to escape to the secondary stages slows down the draft. Will it work???? You'll see....

Baffle plates sitting above firebox

Finally the pipes feeding the radiators were cleaned and pained with Rustoleum, then the supply lines were insulated to also help with efficiency. It's a gravity system, without a circ pump. This is another modification that will need to be made, but not until after this season.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Five Things - No One Is Safe!

Life In The Prarie Box got me. Yep, even the newbies here in house blogger land aren't immune to the five facts flue going around.... (those readers who don't know - it's a game of spill your guts or else be sentenced to 10 years of sanding drywall) Wait I'm doing that now... what I do wrong?? Since I'm doing the blogging here, I'll let Rach remain as the mysterious other half.

  1. Count me as another traveller of the bunch. In high school I did a 6 week exchange program in Germany, lived with a family, went to the school, the whole bit. That started the travel bug. Then when I was 25 between school and a career I finally one day decided I was going to backpack Europe. Month and a half later I was on a plane to London, armed with a rail pass, a credit card, about 5 days of clothes, a return ticket for 7 weeks later, and about 5 days worth of travel plans - oh yea, and I was by myself! By far one of the best times of my life: Belgium, Amsterdam (Netherlands), Germany, Prague (Czech Republic), Austria, Italy, skydiving and hang gliding in the Alps of Switzerland, France including the D-day beaches, England, and Scotland. Where to next?
  2. I am fascinated with the story of the Titanic... and no, it was long before the movie came out. It probably started when I was 7 or so, by age 10 I was a member of the Titanic Historical Society. At age 12 attended a convention in 1987 where I got to meet 9 survivors and Robert Ballard who discovered the wreck - what stories they had to tell! Over the years I have accumulated quite a collection including original newspapers from everyday for a week after the sinking (one claims still afloat and everybody safe - whoops!), original books, magazines, etc. from right after the sinking - and my most prized - 15 passenger signatures (6 obtained in person) and 3 who were victims. When the movie came out I was asked to do a talk and display for my old school - my old teacher remembered the "Titanic Kid". How ironic it was to be considered a geek by other kids for my interest, then 15 years later.....
  3. Another passion is old cars. I had a 1963 Impala I bought with paper route money when I was 15. Later on had a 1963 Mercury Meteor - little old ladies car. My dad has about as much vision with cars as I do with houses. His latest project is a 1950 Chevy convertible that sat in a field for 20 years, bullet holes and all! When the house is finished (yea right!), I hope to find another cruiser to escape from the house in.
  4. I have a really bad addiction with collecting old radios. It started out innocently, but now I probably have 60 or so in the basement. The table ones aren't so bad, but there are about 20 consoles. I have at least limited myself to pre-WWII Philco and RCA-Victor sets. It's also spawned a few other collections, 3 jukeboxes, candlestick phones, cameras, victrolas, just about any early technology - I'm game. This is why the basement is referred to as "the museum". And the state of my addiction - still no cure!

Oh well, thats only 4. Well, I'm supposed to spread the five facts flue to five more victims - but at this point it's an epidemic. If I can track down any who haven't been caught I'll pay it forward.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Adventures in Heating

The time had come for my next project on my "system" upgrades list - the heating. From hour one the heater and I went to battle, though I have to admit that it wasn't the heater's fault that the PO left me with an empty oil tank on the day before New Year's (thanks pal!)

I did manage to get it working for the winter with a bunch of help from my buddy John, but I knew changes were in order - and soon. There were actually two problems: one was the boiler was just ancient and neglected, and two even if I could make heat, getting it through the house was a big problem. It didn't take long to realize that major changes had been made with the radiators. During the apartment conversion, for some reason the original rads in the foyer, parlor, and dining room were replaced with newer thin wall rads about half the capacity of the originals. The kitchen had an original that I think came from the old mudroom, and the powder room had one that wasn't even piped in! On the second floor three bedrooms had their originals, but the old 4th bedroom lost its rad during conversion to a kitchen. The bathroom lost it's unit as well. Finally the 3rd floor had its one original. So all in all I had lost at least 3 and 3 more were cut to half capacity.

The search was on and the heater gods must have been smiling on me, cause not even a month after buying the house, I found 4 rads on EBAY, the right style AND the right sizes that I needed. And managed to grab them at $25 a piece! Well finding a sucker.... I mean friend to help me get them was a chore, but the adventure getting them was even better. They were out in a field (yes... a field) next to a barn in NJ. Apparently the guy had to tear down the old house on his property, due to condition and lack of funds to fix it, township on his butt about it, etc. Well the ground was soft and they kept sinking in the mud. He had a 1940's tractor with a home made hydraulic lift that leaked more than lifted. We did manage to use the tractor to stage them at the back of my truck, and an engine lift I brought to get them in the bed - all while it was dark out in this field in the middle of nowhere - poor Butch thought this was straight out of a horror flick and that we would be in the next days news reported missing and found 10 years later in a tomato field somewhere in southern Jersey. Well we got em loaded up and I think I took a few years off the old Chevy getting them home.

So fast-forward six months later and the new old radiators are ready to be put in their new home. That's when you find out who your real friends are.... "so how's the house coming".... "well I'm ready to carry the new radiators in the house...... (click)....hello??.....hello??" Guess I'm out of friends and poor Butch is still in therapy suffering from a radiator phobia after the NJ adventure and the creepy guy in a dark field in NJ.....

The NJ radiators - first one ready for it's new home

So how does a 5 foot 6, 150 pound weakling get 4 radiators twice his weight into the house by himself?? Well first he gets a chain fall and rigging so he can lift them off the ground in the garage - oh and don't forget to brace the beam your lifting from that is starting to split in two. Then build a cradle that will sit in a dolly that will support them upright while I wheel them to the back door. Don't forget to make ramps to roll off driveway and across the lawn.

Lifting into the house

Next step took some forethought. When re constructing the walls in the back, I added a reinforced header above the door so that I could rig up the chain fall and hoist up and through the back door. So after taking the chain fall from the garage and setting up again above the back door, you can see the results. Actually worked quite easily.

Setting in place in the Parlor

Once through the door the radiator had to be placed back on the dolly and then rolled through the house. Then I staged it for lifting again where it would be installed. This had to be done before the drywall was up since I had to use the above joist to rig the chain fall again. Next I picked it up off the dolly and set it down where it would be hooked up. I did have to hang the drywall behind the rad now or else would be very difficult later.

... again for the foyer

... and the dining room

The last NJ rad went in the corner of the kitchen next to the stove. Another (the long short thin tube from the parlor) will be installed under the large kitchen window. Finally the mystery radiator that was found never even piped will finally get it's very own piping in the powder room.

powder room with sneak peak of new old tub

Well I cleared the first hurdle unscathed.... but, how do I get two more upstairs... by myself?? After some thought and more busy signals on the phone, I came up with a plan. Out comes the old chain fall again, this time mounted above the butler stairs doorway in the kitchen. Well I am able to hoist on the landing but now the hard part. I turn the corner on the landing and lay scrap plywood on the steps as a ramp. Then I get two 2x6's sistered together and nail across the opening for the stairs on the 2nd floor. Now I use this to rig the chain fall to and slowly ramp the radiator up the incline, then work into the hall. Finally I'm able to slide this one on plywood (to protect the floor) into the kitchen and stage for piping. Then it was repeat for the 2nd that will eventually go in the bathroom.

Piece a cake!

After all that, I then got to spend the next 4 weeks piping all these bad boys into the existing system. I was able to borrow a pipe stand, ratchet threader and pipe cutter, which made work a little easier. I won't bore you with the whole process, but it was just basic measure, cut, thread, dope, and install - aaaand repeat. And sweat like a hog cause it was July and 90's the whole time.

New piping through first floor kitchen to added upstairs radiator.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mrs. Hall Would Have Loved This Gizmo

In my efforts to update the house's "systems", there is one that I nearly overlooked. I purposely held off from starting drywall work for a few weeks so that I could just stare at the open walls and make sure I didn't miss something while everything was opened up.

Then one day the new TOH magazine came and there was an article on central vacuum systems. Duh! Why hadn't I thought of this before. I actually had some experience working on these systems in my electrical days - but would like to forget working on the one at the foot doctors office.... ick! So I started poking online for prices and found them to be relatively inexpensive for the materials and the unit comparative in price to a high end upright vacuum. So this was a no brainer. After coming up with a tentative layout, I ordered the outlets and bought PVC pipe at Lowes.... but here's what I learned the hard way - the outlets don't adapt to SCH 40 piping. It's actually a thinner walled PVC made for vacuum systems. So back the piping went and I had to order all my fittings and pipe through the same vendor. Still it wasn't expensive.
These systems have it all over conventional vacuums. Much more powerful motor, system exhausts outside so great for allergies (biggie for me), no more carrying a bulky vacuum up and down 3 stories, and only need to change the canister about twice a year.

There are two types of attachments you can use: one that has a wire and plug strapped to the hose to use in a nearby outlet, and another that has the power connection built into the hose connection at the hose outlet. With the walls opened up, it was very easy to run a feed for power (along with the switch wire) to all the outlet point so I went with this option. The hose on the attachments is 30 feet long, so you don't need to add many outlets - just have to carefully plan your runs. For the first floor I installed one in the parlor which will do that room and the foyer plus main stairs and one in the kitchen which will cover that room plus the dining room and powder room. For the second floor I added one in the center hall which can reach all four rooms. Then one centrally located on the 3rd floor that will cover that floor. Also will add a utility outlet in the basement near the unit when it's installed. So that's only 5 outlets total to cover 4 floors. Actually using a 30 foot cord and experimenting with locations was a big help to layout the locations.

Another great option available is the dust pan outlet. All you do is sweep your dirt by this attachment, then open the lever and sweep in..... GONE! I will be adding one in both the kitchen and the master bath upstairs.

If you have done basic PVC piping and know basic electrical work, than this is a fairly straight forward project. The key is to keep it simple. Use the least amount of outlets possible to cover the house, make sure all of your "sweeps" are going towards the vacuum, and remember dirt doesn't want to move against gravity too well.

All of the piping is in the walls now and run down to a common header running along the center beam. Later on when I buy the vacuum unit i will locate it near my service panel, then tie in the pipe and wiring. But for less than a $200 investment the system is in the walls and ready when I am.
..... don't put away that rug beater quite yet !

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Miles And Miles Of Wire

With the back of the house modifications done, it was time to switch gears and get the "systems" of the house up to snuff....

In a past life, I was a residential/commercial electrician (even taught basic home electricity at the local community college for a brief time) - but then found out there was more money in making electricity than getting it to your toaster. So now instead of playing with measly 120/240V circuits, I get to play with 480 volts, 4160 volts, and yes even up to 13.2 kV - fun stuff! Yep, that's me on the right wiring up a cooling tower fan motor in the pouring rain... what a good day that was. So fortunately for me, tackling the electrical system was just another day on the job. During my time as an electrician, I was fortunate enough to get to work in the Main-Line area of Philadelphia (Villanova, Bryn Mawr, etc.) and had the opportunity to work in some great old houses... well, more like mansions. I think this is when the old house bug really got me. Remember the movie Money Pit with Tom Hanks? Well I actually worked on a project that was true life to that movie, complete with a hole in the front foyer floor and all! The carriage house for this place was bigger than my first house. Also recall working in one place that had it's own ballroom! Any who, the majority of the work I did involved working with very old electrical systems which now will really pay off with updating this place. Another benefit of those projects was getting to see other craftsman at "their" line of work and picking up tricks of their trades.

OK, back to the house. The wiring in this place was pretty much a lost cause. Between the old knob and tube and the poorly done modification to make an apartment (but still only had one service??!) I decided to just start from scratch. I did however salvage some of the romex I demoed since this stuff has skyrocketed in price.

My first order of business was to upgrade the service. I was fortunate in that the service was upgraded to 200 amps probably during the 1971 conversion and had an old Federal Pacific circuit breaker panel. Problem is, breakers for these panels are super expensive now and FP panels have a bad habit of catching fire - yep. The service cable was in good shape, though it does need a weather head installed (never had one). So the FP panel was removed, a nice big backer board mounted, and a new Square D panel installed. I temporarily powered the old circuits in the new panel, and will slowly remove and switch to new as the new circuits are ready to be powered up. You will also see the white panel, which will handle all my low voltage circuits - cable, phone, etc. There is a timer for the front outside lights, a service receptacle that doubles for my CO2 detector, and finally the doorbell transformer. Now everything is neat, organized, and easy to work on. Also to note, a grounding rod was added to ground the service. These must be at least 8 feet long and you can't go into the ground any more than a 45 degree angle - giving you at least 4 feet of depth. Just make sure you don't hit anything buried under ground! Also made sure water meter was bonded. And water pipe grounded to service. All the grounds in your house don't do you much good if these steps aren't taken.

I tried to keep some order to my wiring runs, as you can see in the above, photo. All of my circuits come out of the panel and either run along the outside walls towards the back, or run straight to the middle beam and then towards the back. High voltage and low voltage wires are separated. Sometimes stray voltage can be induced into coax when running to close to your circuits, causing interference in your cable signal. This also makes life easier when tracing wires.

My plan for circuit load was simple - I ran one 20 amp receptacle circuit, one 15 amp lighting circuit, and a coax and CAT5 cable to each room as needed. This system, though a bit overkill, will keep my loads well under limit and make for easy isolation of circuits when a room needs to be shut off - no circuits with this in that room and something in another..... you know the deal.

Another item I highly recommend is installing a hard-wired smoke detector system. In the picture above you can see the one I installed at the base of my main staircase. I also installed one at the bottom of the basement steps, one at the base of the butler stairs, one in the 2nd story center hall, and finally up on the third floor. Especially in a three story house like this one, if a fire were to start in the basement, the detectors are all daisy-chained together, so if one goes off they all go off. If I were on the third floor I would here this right away, but if I just used a battery alarm, I may never hear it four floors up till it was too late.

The 2nd floor hallway is quite busy. Here I have doorbell wire, thermostat for 2nd AC unit, then wires for a 3-way and 4-way lights. The hall light can be switched from here, the base of the back stairs, and from the foyer. The foyer light can also be switched from here and the foyer.

While the walls were opened up downstairs, now was the ideal time to run new feeds to the 2nd floor rooms. Here you can see my 12-2, 14-2, coax and CAT5 wires, each room having a dedicated bundle like this. When these room are done later on, I will decommission the old feeds and switch to new. Sure beats fishin wire!

Another item I took care of now was running my lines to the third floor. In the third floor closet, I plan to locate an AC unit to do the 2nd and 3rd floors. With the walls opened up, I discovered a common wall (on the main staircase) that went from the closet straight to the basement - what luck! So I ran a 50 amp (6-3 wire) line to feed a sub panel in the closet. The extra wire in the line is for the neutral. When feeding a sub panel, the ground and neutral must have dedicated wires by code. You can't use the same wire for both ground and neutral from the main panel to the sub. This will power the AC plus handle any 3rd floor circuits still on knob and tube (3rd floor already has some updating). Next I needed to run thermostat wire. Then I had t0 run my refrigerant lines and insulate these. Finally I ran the condensate drain, which instead of having unsightly PVC running down the side of the house, or hidden in a downspout, it will be totally concealed and exit outside from the basement.

The old Hall House has now taken it's first steps into the 21st century...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On The Level

With the back walls now completed in the kitchen modification, it was now time to focus on the floors in the back addition. There were three issues that needed to be dealt with.

  • First of all the flooring was a patchwork of 4 inch heart pine in what was the pantry section, then became 3 inch heart pine in what was the original mudroom section, a plywood patch in the later bathroom area, and yes the tried and true soup can lid patches where the old radiator and sink pipes were removed!
  • Second was that the floor had over a 1 inch slope from the main house to the outside wall - and apparently was constructed this way on purpose.
  • The third major issue was that where the original porch was located, originally you stepped down to a lower floor when you went out on the porch from the mudroom. When the porch was converted to a bathroom, another floor was built on top of the original to even the floors out. Unfortunately they did a piss poor job of it.

With the flooring removed (and yes, salvaged for other projects) I first needed to reinforce the point of transition from the old kitchen to the newer section. First I made a nice straight clean cut for the transition. Then a filler piece was cut to fill the gap between the sill on the main foundation and the ends of the floor boards. Once everything was nailed in place, I had a rock solid edge and plenty of meat to nail a 2x6 leader to support the edge of the new sub flooring at the transition. Then after marking a level line to the outside wall, I found that each joist dropped another 1/4 inch from the previous one. So to shim everything up, 1 piece of lathe (I have plenty!) was added to the first joist, then two, and so on till I reached the wall.

Next I had to add 2x6's along the outside perimeter so that I would have support along the edges for the new sub floor. As an added support, cross pieces were added to take any twist out of the original 2x8 joists since they're about a 16 feet long run with only one support point in the middle. They also help support the floor insulation. With the framing for the floor complete up to the old porch I could start adding floor insulation and 3/4 sub flooring.

Once I reached the old porch floor it was time to demo what remained of it and start building a new floor flush with what I just finished. In the original porch floor you can see where the first bathroom was added ( I think in the 1940's), that only part of the porch was sacrificed for. The 1971 conversion would make this entire area into a bathroom.

I continued adding support around the perimeter and for the center joists, I sistered them to the others and extended to the south wall. Cross bracing was also added here as to prevent twisting as well as for support where the dividing wall will be located and toilet/tub locations.

I continued with the sub floor installation, but held off on insulation until the plumbing is complete. I added 1/4 inch backer board to the sub flooring in the powder room area for a tile floor and then built a dividing wall to form the powder room. The ceiling framing you see was from the 1971 bathroom, which I demoed only up to this point. It was pretty straight, so this saved me building a flat ceiling in there.

Now I have a new solid floor with a smooth transition to the old kitchen and to our new powder room. This completes the structural changes for our new kitchen/powder room. Whew!

Structural changes complete - staging items for new layout.