Monthly Archives: April 2012

Save the Bay(s)

As seen earlier (, one of the several dramatic steps to our renovation was our reluctant removal of the original second-floor joists across three quarters of the length of the house. The joists were pocketed directly into the brick exterior walls, and were perfectly sound, and so we really hated to remove them. However, the 1925 joists ran in an east-west orientation (from side to side in the house, rather than front to back). To route house infrastructure elements for our open floor plan design, north-south orientation was needed.

So, most of the old joists needed to go. They were replaced by the north-south oriented 2x10s that were supported by strategically placed glulam beams. The one area not affected by the new framing was the floor under most of the guest room at the front of the house. There’s no plumbing there (although there will by hydronic supply and return pipes supporting a radiator, as you’ll see), and we were able to develop a workaround to route the AC supply vents there ( As a result, leaving the original joists in place at the front of the house was a way to conserve costs (one of the precious few, we’ve come to realize).

Mechanical, plumbing supply pipes (copper, not PVC . . .), plumbing drain pipes, and electrical for the second floor all needed to live somewhere, and that somewhere would be the “bays” between the new joists installed during the renovation. This post provides a Cliffs Notes version of installation of the house infrastructure elements by way of the evolving bay landscape seen from below, on the first floor.

The picture below shows the joist bays after framing has been completed, but before any infrastructure elements have been installed. The triple beams and odd framing on the left side is there to support the showers on the second floor.

In the picture below, elements of the mechanical system begin to appear. One of the vents is orphaned in a bay on the far side of the bulkhead.

The vent is now connected to the AC supply line in the bulkhead, and has been joined by PVC drain lines.

In this view of the bays to the south, the mechanical and drain lines have been joined by copper plumbing supply lines. Note the framing to the right – the original beam arrangement had to be removed and reconstructed after the plumber started doing his thing, and they realized it would not allow pipes to be routed properly.

Electrical has now joined the other elements at this stage.

And what’s the electrical for? Among other things, the recessed lighting in this area, which has been installed at the point this picture was taken. The rearrangement of framing under the showers also solved a lighting design issue. With the original framing, we were not able to install lights in the locations called out by the plan. With the new framing, this obstacle was removed, and both plumbing and lighting could be implemented correctly.


How to Cope with Adjoining Houses

As pictured in a previous post  (, the bumpout in the back abuts our neighbor’s house and we need to install trim at their intersection. The challenge is that our neighbor has wood clapboard siding, and we don’t want to disturb it during our renovation.

The approach, which we discussed with our neighbor before we moved forward, is to cope the trim to match the clapboard pattern, so it snugs into place. Even better, the guys used a mammoth length of Azek trim long enough to cover the entire length of the abutment, which required no miss-steps with the coping, and which would provide a seamless edge when it was installed.

Here’s how the coping looked before it was installed:

These cuts just go on and on.

And here’s a few pictures of the end result:

That’s one long mother, and it fits great, too.

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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Exterior


Shedding Some Light on the Subject

The renovation plan originally included installing just one new skylight over the new master bathroom. However this changed twice during demolition, and we ended up installing three new skylights:

  • First, the original gable-style skylight over the upstairs bathroom (now the guest bath) was beyond repair, so this needed a new unit
  • Then, there was the epiphany that removal of the linen closet in the hallway over the stairs could introduce more light to the first floor, and we amplified the effect by replacing the existing skylight with a larger one to fill this space

Soon after the roof was replaced (, the skylights were installed. There were several stages before the installation and completion of these activities. First, the entirely new, originally planned skylight in the new master bathroom needed to be framed out and cut through the roof deck. Here’s how it looked after altering the rafters to accommodate framing (you can see the edge of the old bathroom skylight next door, as well):

The guest bathroom gable-style skylight has been removed, but the framing does not need to be changed:

Over the stairwell, the old skylight and drywall shaft that had previously been left untouched to watch over the destruction below (there’s a good shot of it about halfway through this post: have been removed, and the area framed in preparation for the new, longer skylight:

The membrane roof was installed before the new skylights arrived, and they just membraned over everything (which is as it should be . . .).

Here’s the guest room skylight. At this stage, trim boards have been added to the framed shaft, as well. Light the old gable skylight, which had louvers on the sides to facilitate ventilation, the replacement skylight here will open. Since the door to this room will open onto the little upstairs hallway that’s exposed to the stairwell air flow, this will help overall house ventilation.

Skylight packaging detritus adorns the back patio after the skylights arrive.

After installation, the results on light flowing into the house were immediate:

Looking west into the two upstairs bathrooms:

The master bath space looks much better with a hole in the ceiling.

Looking north through the stairwell skylight, to the willow-oak in front of the house:

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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Exterior


The Roof, the Roof, the Roof is on Fire . . .

During installation of the house infrastructure inside, activities continued on the exterior. One of these activities was replacement of the roof. Prior to renovation, our house had a standing-seam tin roof. Although a standing seam roof is great, the materials coating ours roof were decidedly not.

The roof originally had been coated with traditional, red paint appropriate for metal roofs. However, at some point before we acquired the place, an owner began to coat the thing with what those in the roofing trade call “alumination.” (Based on the appearance over time, we suspect that this is an etymological hybrid of the words “aluminum” and “abomination” . . .)

Below are some pictures of the roof at different periods during the last decade. Here’s a shot of “alumination” at its best, shortly after an application of the sticky stuff:

Nice, eh? In addition to the freshly coated standing-seam roof, you can also get a gander at the kick-ass chicken wire-embedded glass on top of our old gable-style skylight. We’re still in mourning over its loss. RIP, gable guy.

The photo above shows our old roof at its best: on school picture day, with all its blemishes covered up and cowlicks matted down. But it had another side, this roof of ours. Over time, it would skip school, start hanging out with the wrong crowd, get hooked on meth, and begin a steady, progressive decline toward utter decrepitude.

Below is a shot of the roof condition that would emerge 3 – 5 years after every application of the wondrous “alumination,” the unguent of the roofing universe. (To be clear, this crap was just a tar-based paint with aluminum flakes that would rise to the surface as it dried to provide a reflective quality.)

The old stairwell skylight is at left. The access panel to the roof that used to be accessible through the sleeping porch (and had been drywalled over inside only to be revealed during demolition) ( is at the right rear.

The old bathroom skylight at its crapulent worst makes an appearance in the picture below (I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, since we really loved this gable-style skylight from the inside, but just check out the exterior). At this point, the prison bus-style, chicken-wire-embedded-glass is sliding off the gable structure like melting snow on a pitched roof. We actually used to go up there occassionally just to shove that freakin’ piece of glass back into place to keep it from falling off completely. There was no clear way to secure it since the glazing was deteriorating, so it would just slide down again and this became an occassional, bizzare household maintenance item.

Household chores for some people entail activities like cutting the grass and trimming hedges. Us? We periodically head up to the roof to manhandle crazy chicken wire glass panels on top of our roof to prevent gaping holes from forming. Yeah – seems normal.

The roof coating would flake off over time, requiring another coat every 3 – 5 years. And, once you start down the path of using this coating, there’s no going back to normal tin roof paint, so were were stuck in this cycle. We could always tell when the roof needed another coating because the flakes would begin to appear in ones and twos in the backyard after it rained, increasingly accumulate, and finally achieve critical mass in little piles. Here’s a picture from several years ago (prior to the back yard hardscaping project), where you can see the this collection of the-roof-needs-a-new-coating indicator flakes in the center of the photo at the edge of the brick patio:

For what it’s worth, here’s a shot of the other houses in our block, which were all built at the same time and were all identical in 1925. Many have successfully pursued the sustainable roof paint route. You can see how things have evolved for each owner (the insides, of course, are more dramatic). Two original, gable-style skylights still remain.

Roof replacement was part of the renovation project for two reasons: one was to permanently eliminate the maintenance requirement associated with the roof coating; the other was to address the roofing need of the bumpout in the back. As part of the renovation, we’re installing a fully adhered membrane roof. In addition, the membrane is white, enhancing house cooling in the summer and reducing energy use.

The roofing sub arrives to remove the old roof and install a new one:

In addition to the roof, the old air compressor for the AC needs to go (which is actually a little annoying, inasmuch as it’s not too old – we replaced this in 2006). Such is life. Here’s a pic of it right as it was lowered from the roof while we were at the house for a site meeting:

By the end of the day, they had removed all of the old standing seam roof and filled a dumpster with the results, as well as other demo debris that had been accumulating. However, it was filled to overflow capacity, so additional conveyance was used:

A piece of the old roof:

Cram that baby full, boys!

In addition to the membrane roof, the sub also started to install the Azek trim boards on the top and side. What they do on the left is actually pretty cool, and will appear in a future post.

Here’s the new roof looking north. At this stage (this was taken a couple of weeks after the roof went up) the skylights have been installed, as well, which is the subject of the next post. You can see the copper lines from the air handler on the second floor, which penetrate the roof about half way up on the right to meet a to-be-installed compressor unit.

Here’s a closeup, per Sandy’s comment:


Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Exterior


Plumbing Supply Lines – The Good, the Bad, and the PVC

After the larger PVC drain lines were installed, plumbing supply lines started appearing. The problem was, these also were PVC, which caused us some concern. It’s not that PVC (or CPVC for the hot water lines) are bad, necessarily (they meet code requirements), but it wasn’t what we understood would be installed.

We check in on the house and check in with Dave and the guys every day, so we saw the PVC supply lines a day after they began creeping around the house like kudzu climbing an Alabama telephone pole (sorry – I think I’m channeling Ross Perot).

Here’s where these puppies first materialized, snaking across the main floor via the increasingly crowded bulkhead:

This was a puzzlement, inasmuch as we anticipated copper supply lines, like any self-respecting homeowners.

The response by the GC was, gratifyingly, pretty quick.

See ya, PVC:

PVC supply lines out, copper in:

This is either the cold or hot water supply line going to the master and guest baths upstairs:

This was only the start of installation of the pluming supply lines – more on the completed rough-in on this element in a future post.


Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Plumbing


Insane in the Main Drain

First, to Cyprus Hill: sorry about the title of the post . . .

After the mechanical went in, the plumbing drain lines were installed. Of the plumbing components, these are the largest, so they needed to be routed after the large AC vents, but before the smaller-diameter plumbing supply lines.

As noted in earlier posts, the 2×6 wall of the powder room serves as a house infrastructure superhighway – there’s going to be a lot going through here. Below is the starting point of drain lines (and associated drain vent lines) being routed from various bays between joists on the second floor, through the bulkhead, down the powder room wall; this culminates in a complex of piping shown at the end of the post:

The powder room itself gets prepped for installation of new fixtures. You can see the hole in the subfloor to the north of the old fixture for old powder room orientation (

Plumbing rough-in begins in the master bath and guest bath. This is a view from the latter, facing south. The two bathrooms will share the drain and supply lines that emerge from the first floor between the shared wall:

A view of the drain line plumbing rough-in from the master bath:

This is the utility closet on the second floor. In addition to the air handler, this area will also house a stacked, front-loading washer and dryer, so drain lines are also needed here:

Below, more progress has been made on both the drain and supply plumbing for the second-floor bathrooms:

Rough-in of plumbing for the wet bar has been complete at this stage (ignore the crazy array of electrical lines to the right – future post, eh).

And, plumbing rough-in for the kitchen sink (this is directly below the south windows on the first floor):

Powder room walls are getting filled up. Lots of stuff routed through this area at this point:

Down in the basement, these drain lines all terminate in a plumbing stack towards the south end of the house:

After the plumbing was completed, the guys tested the system by inflating a service balloon in the clean out port of the plumbing stack (the yellow item below). Our plumber rocks the house. No leaks on the first take (plus, totally elegant routing of both drain and supply lines, as you’ll see in future posts).

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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Plumbing


We Just Need to Vent a Little

The interior framing is complete, so house infrastructure installation is on deck. The infrastructure components include mechanical, plumbing, hydronics, and electrical. They get installed in that order, since the vents for the  mechanical are the largest component, then the plumbing drain lines, then plumbing supply lines, then hydronics, then electrical cables. It’s a lot easier to route 3/4″ copper pipe around already-installed 10″ AC vents than trying to fit these vents in between framing and plumbing elements if they were done in the reverse order . . .

The mechanical systems in newer houses typically includes an AC/heat pump that provides both cooling and heating through the same vents. Our house originally had radiators for heat (requiring a hydronic system to supply and return the hot water); separate AC vents and a mechanical system was added later to complement the radiant heat. Once you have a house with radiant heat, you never want another system – trust us. So, we’re replacing and optimizing this system. This post focuses on installation of the air handler and air conditioning vents. Future posts will cover the other infrastructure elements as they follow, in order of declining diameter.

The first thing to get installed was the air handler at the top of the stairs on the second floor. The guys from the mechanical sub started to set things up on a Tuesday:

Vent components on the second floor ready for installation. The insulated units go above the rafters on the second floor, where the environment won’t be conditioned, like the interior spaces. Although we’ll be doing foam insulation, which has a wicked bad R insulation factor, and a white membrane roof, the space above the rafters still will be hotter in the summer than the rest of the house. (Plus, code requires this, so, insulated vents it is.) The bare metal vent will be installed between the second and first floors to supply the first floor with conditioned air in the summer.

AC terminal units awaiting installation. These will branch off of the larger vent units shown above.

Insulated vents get installed in the master bedroom, awaiting registers during later stages of construction.

Venting in the master bedroom. This is routed directly from the air handler, so we’re hoping it won’t freeze us out in the summer . . .

Venting over the rafters in the guest room from the air handler to the south (right). Although the vent in the foreground serves the guest room, there’s another behind with black insulation that leads to a ridgid vent pipe in the northeast corner of the room.

The articulating, insulated vent at the back leads to a rigid vent which heads downstairs . . .


. . . to this articulated vent and opening for a register in the vestibule ceiling on the first floor. The reason for this routing is that, because we left intact the original, east-west oriented joists between the first and second floors at the front of the house, we can’t tie the AC in this area to the main supply line that you’ll see below.

This vent-o-vestibule is just a side show for the real venting process for the first floor. The supply vents from the air handler at the top of the stairs on the second floor immediately split into two major trunks. One heads up through the rafters and supplies the second floor; the other heads immediately down through the floor above the powder room and supplies most of the first floor. Here’s a view of the complex routing of supply and return vents above the powder room, as they penetrate the second floor subflooring into the bays between joists on the first floor. From top to bottom, you see the major return vent from the first floor, the major supply vent, and a branch line from supply to a register located in the ceiling between the powder room door and the stairs to the basement:

From the powder room, the supply vent has been installed within the bulkhead created by the glulam beams:

At this point, both the supply and return vents have been run through the bulkhead. The former will then branch out east and west through the bays between the joists to registers in the first-floor ceiling (ignore the drain lines, for now – we’ll deal with that bit of infrastructure in a future post).

From the major supply vents in the bulkhead run branch lines to openings registers in the kitchen. First the target openings:

Then the rigid vents connecting them to the trunk in the bulkhead:

The air handler on the second floor after installation. One return register will be located here, at the top of the stairs (you can see the opening here). Another will be located near the dining peninsula on the first floor (stay tuned for the specifics – could be interesting).

Here’s a view of the installed air handler from the south:

The cooling lines from the air handler head through the roof to the compressor, which will be brought in after the new membrane roof has been installed:

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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in AC and Hydronics


The Window of Inopportunity

Living in the historic district of Old Town has its benefits, but it also has its hassles – namely some of the restrictions on exterior elements when you’re renovating a house. As quaint as they are, the original windows of our house are coming apart and are about as energy-efficient as wax paper, so we planned to replace these with new windows that are identical in style. Same with our front door. No such luck.

Although neighbors up the block in our row of houses successfully replaced their front-facade windows and door during a renovation a few years ago, since then, the city has now seen fit to prohibit such replacements for any house built before 1930. We unfortunately fall into this category. The reason for the restriction is to preserve the historic, rolled-glass windows on the street-facing facade of houses. The rolled-glass technique results in slightly uneven glass panes that are characteristic of older houses. Preserving these windows maintains the historic nature of the houses in Old Town, but presents a challenge to homeowners who put a premium on energy efficiency.

In support of the required windows rehabilitation effort, the windows on the main floor began to be removed in late March:

Inside the house became notably darker:

In addition to the windows themselves, we also have original storm windows that hang from nails over each window and fit inside the exterior window frame – these and the top and bottom of the windows themselves are stored temporarily, before being removed for off-site rehabilitation. Since the windows have the iron counterweights inside on either side of the window (you can see the pulleys at the top of each window), these will need to be reattached, so the guys will need to take down the closet framing blocking the left side of the left window at some point:

By the end of the month, the second-floor windows had been removed, as well, and our house was looking like it had been condemned as part of an urban renewal program – we keep thinking that we’ll drop by one day to find a community of hobos inside huddled around a trashcan fire.

The depressingly dark guest room, now devoid of natural light:

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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in Exterior