Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Rim joist moldings at stairs + living room crown

Loyal reader,

I don't have much to say on this post except there is a detail in this house that I really look at and appreciate from time to time.

Upon realizing that the entire upstairs of the house was being held up by a 1x8, I had to quickly come up with a game plan to save the house from further sinking and/or collapse.

Over the years, the center of the house (at the stair opening) has sank steadily, only on the 2nd floor.  If you have been to the house, you have noticed it.  Walking upstairs in the hallway sort of feels like this:

My hallway is about as balanced as our judicial system. Above is a scene from the spinning tunnel of a fun house.  Just subtract the word "fun" from "fun house" and you have.. well... my house.  I feel just slightly less giddy than these folks when walking through my hallway.
I'm not exaggerating much. The hallway is about 5' wide at its widest area (top of stair landing) and it is seriously 2 inches out of level.  I lasered it in penney's room when I was renovating it, and its about 3 1/2" drop over about 9 feet.  In short, I have few good things to say about the people who built this home.

So, all of this drama is rooted with this staircase.  And the trim** that covers the joists (between 1st floor ceiling and 2nd floor, uh, flooring was out of level by about two (2) inches.  I can't remember the exact number because my brain has opted to black out that portion of out-of-level-ness in the interest of my own self preservation and well-being.

Since I leveled the ceiling downstairs (which was out over 4"!) I was stuck with a tough detail where the new level plane of the ceiling hit the stairs.  Those of you who have re-leveled a ceiling, you know your new ceiling resides at the lowest point of the old ceiling (if you care about preserving every micron of your ceiling height).  Thus, at this point in the house, I had to make up about 2".  And, to make matters worse, this is the point where I tie the new moldings into the old [way out of level moldings].

Anyway, I pulled the old trim and came up with a whole new profile that slowly regained that two inches back.  I gained about 1" ripping the backs of the moldings and making at custom profile which steps up, and cut a few discrete tapered pieces and voila!  The whole thing came together pretty nicely.

Aforementioned detail.

Really, what I appreciate most about this detail is the say the 3-piece custom (sneakily stepped up) stair trim hits the crown molding.  The outer most piece of the stair trim has the same ogee shape as the top most profile in the 3-piece crown of the living room. It took a lot of planning to land that last full 16' piece of crown, make the return into the wall, while simultaneously seamlessly transitioning into the stair trim.

I know that its hard to visualize in words, and the picture above doesn't even show that transition that well.  But, I'm not easily impressed.. by anything... especially anything that involves me.  But this small detail in this house is noteworthy.

This concludes this evening's masterpiece theater.  I hope you enjoyed it and we will see you next time.

** Bonus points for who can tell me what the name of this trim is?  I don't even know the architectural name for this detail in a house. I'm at a loss.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Website Redesign: In Progress

I just updated the database and pulled over everything into the new one successfully.  Then added a little jquery pizazz to the menus, and changed the splash page.  I just squeezed this into the last few hours, so I doubt I'm even close to final.

This is a website, not a job site

Check it out and give me some feedback.  I realize that design-wise, I still have a long ways to go.  So treat this as a concept.

Revamping the website is sort of pointless now that I'm a full time carpenter again, but I want to add in my programming and design endeavors somewhere in this site.  At this stage in my life, I should probably start focusing on one single discipline to be an expert in. I'm too disjointed with my skills.

I also know that you, my loyal reader, love your mobile phone. I intend to optimize the site to be cross-platform.  I originally made this website in two weeks before I moved back to philly... having no experience in html, css, javascript, mysql, etc.  At this point, the whole thing is pretty dated.  The underlying portfolio pages need a fresh look as well, but overall, the indexhibit style is DIY and awesome so I may keep it in the same vein, with some slight tweeks and customizations.

Messing with image resizing is so annoying that I don't think I'm going to do this type of cover page ever again!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Dryer, Part 2: Wiring

A friend of mine was throwing out a dryer from a place that he rents out.  I helped him load it on his truck, and I asked him if he was going to try to scrap it.  He told me that he hopes someone just steals it off his truck so he doesn't even have to bother taking it to the scrap yard (if you've ever been to a scrap yard, you'll know why he said that).   He told me that the dryer actually works, but the old tenant before she moved out said that it didn't really spin at the full speed.  He told me its probably an easy fix, so I decided to move it onto my truck.  I figure, worst case scenario, I don't feel like fixing it and then I just leave it in front of my house with a curb alert for the scrappers.

I bring it home in probably May of 2014.  I start doing the venting and wiring December of 2014.  As you can see, I move pretty quickly.

Now, I really would rather have a gas dryer because they are much cheaper to operate and much more efficient at what they do.   However, I don't really like messing with the gas line, and the place where I would have to run a new line is under a basement window which makes the approach for the line kind of weird.  I don't know all the rules for gas lines, but I don't see them coming in low in below-grade basements.  I figure the top down approach is the generally accepted method, which makes my situation basically impossible for gas.

Anyway, before I start any wiring, I still need to finish this vent!

Working with ducts can be annoying, but most of the time its pretty satisfying.  I've grown to like it over the last year or so.  I think what sucks mostly about ducting, is the actual ducting; but rather, ducting through impossible small places or really disgusting crawl spaces.

As mentioned in the previous post, I had to run this duct through a pretty small space below the joists, but above the electric service.
Protrusion through the exterior wall --- sneaking past water pipe, service cable, and electric meter
Not bad for an 18" hole through brick right?  Because I was just using a hammer and pry bar to slam through the bricks, the inside had some serious blow out.  But it doesn't really matter. Just spray foam it and call it a day... for that part of the project.

The pictures don't really do this ducting job any justice, but I'm proud of myself for completing a pretty tough job.  I really had to ace this one.

Sneaking past the washer, under the electric panel and under a shelf that I built the same day.  I figured I already had the hammer drill out.
Duct terminating at dryer

Unfortunately, I don't have any action shots of me running the wires for the the dryer.  The code says that anything in a basement below the joists should be in conduit.  I through about doing conduit, but the cost effectiveness of me buying a conduit bender vs. using flexible conduit and running single wires inside it made it a no brainer.   So I measured out what I would need in 10AWG THHN wire and ran this through the flexible conduit. Then I wired in a new 4-prong electric dryer receptacle at the point of service, in a standard 4" metal box. At the panel, I added a new 30Amp double-pole breaker.  

Double pole breaker

Receptacle. Appliance already plugged in

I'm not entirely sure how the appliance consumes two phase power, but its something I was thinking about as I did the task.  I asked two other electricians to explain to me two and three phase power, and I didn't get any answers that didn't include the definition inside the explanation.

Occupy: How does two phase power actually work?
Electrician: Its two phase power because it works off of phase A and phase B at the panel.

I seriously got that exact same answer from two entirely different people with entirely different backgrounds in electrical work.

For some reason, new dryers require you to wire your own power cord onto the appliance.  I don't know why this is done.  Do people really hardwire dryers right to the panel? Is that even legal?  Sounds like something Smokey the Bear would strongly advise against.  Honestly, I think its just a ploy to get us to spend another $25 on this pieces of junk.

Here it is, in all its glory. 

I'm actually more proud of this.  Looks real professional, right?

If you look in the above picture, you can see another flexible conduit that come out of the panel and turns left.  I took the time while doing this little project to wire a dedicated receptacle for the washing machine as well.  It was on a temporary circuit for a few years that also includes the built-in lights.  So when the washer changes tasks (like from spin to rinse) it would make the lights flicker.  I found it annoying so I gave it its own outlet.
Also makes for a good ipod charger.  There aren't any person-height receptacles in the basement.. until I began occupying.

So, the dryer seems to work fine.  It looks like it spins slow, but it still did the task... not very well, but the clothes got dry... eventually.  Its a small dryer (24"), which is all I can fit down my stairs without taking one apart and reassembling it.  Thus, the small drum makes the clothing get cramped pretty fast. Obviously, this impedes its ability to dry.  And, because of the cramped quarters in the drum, its doesn't really solve the wrinkle problem at all.  I guess I'm just doomed to look like a raisin my entire life.

I am the guitar guy, looking dejected and playing the dryer blues.

I will say, I had a very proud moment when I turned that thing on and I ran outside and felt the hot air blasting out of the front of the house through the duct.  I honestly think it might have been the best moment I have had in renovating this house.  It felt like a true victory.

UPDATE: Victory is fleeting-- about three weeks into our twentieth century bliss (aka having dry clothes), the dryer started making some very disturbing noises and started to smell like burning plastic.  The clothes get hot, but I think the blower motor is fried because I can't feel any hot air blowing out the vent to the outside.  Supporting this hypothesis is the evidence of moisture on the glass when I run the thing (the hot water vapor has nowhere to escape, so it begins re-condensing inside the dryer.. however that is possible).

What is the end result? I have had the dryer in the basement laying on its side and in a bunch of pieces for about two months now.  This job site is like a casino: the house always wins.

House: 1... thousand
Me: 0

But hey, I have a sweet vent and a nice receptacle.  That counts for something, right?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Dryer, Part 1: The Vent.

The Vent.

About every year or so, I get out of my house to visit a friend.  Often times, I notice that a lot of folks seem to have this strange device in their basement that seems to spin clothing garments while simultaneously heating them up.  Also, I've noticed that when you walk through their basements, its not like walking through a hellraiser-like gauntlet of clothing dangling from the ceiling.

Occupy basement.. yours truly doing what he does best: silently sulking in the dark.

It turns out there is this thing called a "clothes dryer".  Upon completion of washing clothes, a person will move the clothes from the washing area into this device that will heat up and dry your clothing!  It also has the added bonus of removing lint and smoothing out wrinkles from your garments!

Excerpt from Broadway musical, Occupy Wolf Street:
Occupy: So, hold on...  Let me get this straight.  Other people don't have to iron all their clothes after they are done their laundry? 
1st World Dweller: No, not typically.  Usually its only used during an emergency ten minutes before you need to be at a wedding. 
Occupy:But the lint... surely people spend hours every week with a stupid lint roller and/or roll of masking tape trying to create the illusion that they are not complete dirtballs when they show up at work?
1st World Dweller:  Define the word "lint"? 
Occupy: You know, that gross white-to-grey fuzzy stuff that comes in clumps on your clothing... that schmutz on your clothing that is impossible to remove? 
1st World Dweller: Wait, is that the stuff I dump from the mesh screen in my dryer?

I think that sums it up.

Washing your clothes four (4) days in advance of before you will actually get to wear them starts to get old after 37 years of life.  Summer speeds up the drip-dry process, but the winter can be miserable at times.

I used to wear my "drip dry" merit badge with honor.  It was one of many badges I have collected and sewed onto my sustainability sash over the years.  However, like most of my "live simple" medals, they often come with cross to bear.  This cross takes its shape in the form of lint-covered, wrinkly clothes... or better yet, just no clothes at all because they are either all wet or all dirty.

At this time, I'm going to take a moment to air out some of my proverbial dirty laundry over the internet, pun intended.   I know this may come as a shocker.. but I hate wrinkles on my clothes.  Yes, you heard it right. I am a certified wrinklephobe.  Yes, its true. Even dirty low-lifes like myself have some standards.  And it starts with having non-crinkled clothing.

The largest barrier for entry for installing a dryer in one's house is figuring out a proper way to vent it.  Since the house is all brick and masonry, this is going to be a serious pain in the ass.  The only option: smash out about 18" of brick and stone from the front of the house, without damaging the facade much.  Seems easy enough, let's begin:

3/8" pilot holes, around an approximate center

The first challenge was finding a place to do this that's actually possible.  As you can see, immediately to the right of the hammer drill above is the 100 amp service cable for my electric panel.  That comes in and makes a sharp left, right below where my proposed hole is.  Then right next to that is my meter followed by electric panel.  Basically, I have to ace this hole or get fried trying.

Oh yeah, there is also a water line right there as well.

The basic idea here is simple: Pilot as many holes as possible around the circumference, then start wailing away at it with a hammer and cold chisel.

The good news is this: The 16" drill bits I have are not long enough to get through the foundation.  It seems like the foundation of the house is about 18" total.  Great.  Oh, did I mention that the hole is basically impossible to reach from inside? Its just shy of the bottom of the joists, but also above my utility sink and larger part of the footing for the party walls.

So I have no idea what the material is on the outside of the house.  Its sort of like stucco, but its really granular and has real stone on it.  Its shaped by humans, and is slathered on top of what appears to be granite.  This is going to be fun to chisel out.

Since I'm basically allergic to masonry work, I don't even own a cold chisel. So I'm just wailing on tis with a hammer and a pry bar.

Finally, the first coarse (exterior layer) of bricks.  These are the hard, but brittle ones

Going deeper, almostt through the second coarse of bricks (softer, malleable ones)

Are we there yet?

It appears as though we made it through.  Its still not wide enough to accept a 4" duct yet.  Straight ahead you can see a water pipe and an outlet I installed last year sometime.

Cleaned hole. Ready to be ducted.  Its getting dark outside and my hands are cold and tired from slamming out granite and brick all day.

Ta da!

I went with straight aluminum.  I can't have a piece of plastic on the front of the house.

Yup, that's a good amount of broken brick. I'm feeling it.

Stay tuned as we try to connect the other side with some duct work that actually bends around the electric meter, service cable, water pipes, romex, washing machine and utility sink.  I guarantee the fun does not end here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tub Area Leak

This is a back post from about two months ago, but in the interest of leak documentation...

Around midnight, I was in the kitchen washing dishes when I starting hearing some pitter-pattering behind me.  I thought it was some of our seasonal basement housemates (roaches), but I turned quickly and found no intruders on the walls or floors.

I kept staring and then I noticed that was lightly raining inside the house! Awesome.

Dorothy was upstairs running the shower for a little bit (to get it warm), so I ran up and urgently whispered "turn off the water!!"

Wet spot on joist, dead center
Good thing I've kept the ceiling of the kitchen open for the past four years! (My mind is a crossroads for laziness and impending doom... these avenues seem to intersect frequently).  At long last, my approach to life pays off.

Well, I wouldn't exactly call this a "pay off".  Maybe "pay back" for indiscretions in my past life.

Fortunately, I spend every evening giving my daughter a bath and was noticing the re-emergence of rotting caulk under the inset soap dish. I've scraped and re-caulked this tub like three times, but the tiles seem to be absorbing water up high somewhere.

Going into detective mode, I noticed that the shower head was pointed directly at the soap dish while being unattended for about five minutes.  It's definitely the soap dish.

Joists below tub in top notch condition, water surrounding a horrible spike knot, and dripping from romex.  Lovely.

Taking a picture down the far side of the tub through the access panel, confirms that the leak indeed originates approximately where the soap dish is located.

Thus, the next day, I scraped and re-caulked for maybe the third or fourth time.  This time, I also caulked and/or grouted any other suspicious gaps and took extra care with any grout joints around the soap dish.

Two months later, still no leaks.  I'll just have to keep an eye on this one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Muck My Life.

Loyal reader,

I have so many back posts to do. I aim to get back into the flow while writing this post.

So, last week, as my daughter's 1st birthday party was just starting, my recently renovated back bedroom had water cascading down from the ceiling and above the building.  Since it was a bit of a panic moment, please forgive the lack of picture documentation.

It was a strange 40+ degree day in the midst of a lot of snow and ice over the past few weeks.  Thus we had a rapid melt.  I could only assume that I was getting a ton of standing water on my somewhat sketchy roof.

Anyway, I was able to get up to the icy roof via an extremely scary ladder on my neighbor's house and walk over.  I brought up a shovel and broom and cleared most of the roof... at the back half of the roof since it was the problem.

The good news: I stopped the water pouring into the house
The bad news: I missed half of my 1-year-old's birthday party.

From what I can tell (and I knew this four years ago when I patched the perimeter of roof and white coated it), the roof isn't pitched right in the back most corner of the house.  The result is some standing water over some not-so-well done seams.  It sucks, because I basically need to re-pitch the roof in that area.  In short, I need a new roof.

I'm managed to punt this one for about 5 years now, so I guess I have no room to complain.

We had terrible weather for a week, but yesterday I was able to get up there to try to diagnose and muck and fabric some of the suspicious areas.  It wasn't great weather for roof work, as it was about 25 degrees.. but that is pretty warm lately.  I really have no choice.

Time to gear up for a roof day

The uniroofer, pre-manifesto era.  Free estimates for Oklahoma City only.

So, I stopped at my local roofing supply store and got two out of three roofer essentials.  Muck and fabric.  I decided to pass on the methamphetamines.

I actually don't even know what "muck" is.  I'm pretty sure its plastic roofing cement.  But, I'm definitely sure that the contents of the can are known in the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects.

Here's where the story gets weird and not even worth explaining.  My neighbor, without even asking me, went up on my roof last wednesday and mucked two of the seems in the back of the house with some muck that he stole from his boss last week.  He's a bit of a hustler and was obviously looking for a buck or two.  Unfortunately, he's not aware that's its customary to ask a person before you climb up on their roof and make permanent alterations to your house.  I could fill up at least two volumes about why I wish this person would vaporize from planet Earth; but, in the end, its not going to get him to disappear... so I'm not going to bother.

Anyway, here is his shotty work:

A+ roof job.

I guess its not typical in his industry to muck, fabric and then muck again... oh wait, yes it is.  He must not have gotten his full dose of meth that morning. I should be kinder.

As you can see, I have a bit of standing water/ice on the roof  (not nearly as bad as the ice skating rink I had last week).  The problem with this roof is that the back of the house doesn't have a consistent enough pitch to push water to the drain

East side

Looking north, along east party wall.

Looking north, along west party wall.

Looking south toward trouble spot in the back.

You can see the brown spots are where standing water has removed the white coat I put on about 4 years ago.

Some views, not really that great.

My access point:

That's a safe footing.. now I know why they use so much meth.

This is DEFINITELY a trouble spot along this seem.  Notice the faded grey spot where I get standing water right along the seam.  The drain is just to the upper right of that chimney thing (you can see my neighbors drain in the exact same spot right across the alley)

Below are some shots of the muck/fabric job I did 4.5 years ago before I white coated the roof.  My internet research says muck+fabric patches will last maybe six months; however, mine all look in great shape after 4+ years.

The drain.
To the left of the pillar before the drain there are some roof cracks that have water oozing out when I press.  I better hit this hard with the muck.

Well, its like twenty degrees and I already hauled this shit up here. I might as well redo the entire perimeter of the back of the house.  All of that area is currently a sustpeck.

A true craftsman.

Might as well empty the can on my really sketchy looking chimney.

Its sort of like frosting a cake. If you like your cake black and carcinogenic.

Oh awesome.  Some trash my awful neighbor left on top of my roof.  Let me just haul this garbage back onto his roof! 

Not bad for a days work.  Let's look back at our job.

Seams in the distance, twelve o'clock.

Small patches, for documentation sake.  This is in the small gap between my house and my neighbor's house

This is sort of above my bathroom.

The drain areas, mucked up.

Muck + Fabric = Terrible way to spend a Saturday in February.

If you look close, you can see the fabric. Its like mudding and taping sheetrock. One of my other most favorite activities

Here are the shots I intend to send to Fine Homebuilding magazine.

Beat that, Taunton Press.

Portfolio shot.


My roof is 100% mucked.

Well, its Tuesday now and the roof is officially enduring its 2nd rain and sleet storm in the last 48 hours.  I'm actually typing from the leaking room, and the muck job seems to be holding.

Let's hope this roof survives this winter.  In order to regain that pitch I need in the back of the house, I may be looking and tearing off the entire roof this summer.

2015 rules.