Category Archives: Framing, Drywall, Plaster, and Brick

Good & Plenum

One of the central elements of the redesign on the first floor is the bulkhead. It defines the dining/kitchen peninsula space and delineates the kitchen area from the good room. As noted in earlier posts, the bulkhead also serves a functional purpose as the east-west highway for infrastructure elements.

This post addresses the most intriguing feature of the bulkhead’s role in house infrastructure – serving as a plenum for return air to the AC.

The following series of photos documents the progression of the bulkhead from the early stages of framing to date:

In the photo below, the duct to the left is for AC supply; the duct on the right is for AC return in the rear of the house (there’s another at the top of the stairs). The plenum will serve to route air to this return duct.

The bad supply lines . . .

. . . and the good:

A plenum is a separate space provided for air circulation for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning typically provided in the space between the structural ceiling and a drop-down ceiling. In our case, the plenum will be an encapsulated space within the bulkhead to allow for flow to the return air vent, so we don’t have to put an unsightly, big-ass register in the ceiling (it would need to be 10″ x 10″). (The return air flow in this area will complement the return air register at the top of the stairs.)

Our plenum must be functional, but discrete, since it will be centrally located and we don’t want it to look like what it is. If properly designed, the plenum also will help to fulfill one of the design objectives of the bulkhead: define the dining space below by incorporating a raised area in the bottom of the bulkhead that provides visual interest and a home for pendant lights. This raised area would be part of the bulkhead regardless of HVAC needs and could be executed very simply in order to meet the design objective, but the return air flow function of the plenum gives us the opportunity to address both form and function goals with a single, elegant solution.

Here’s the plan that Natalie developed to meet the need, based on a design concept from the owner of the GC (who’s also an architect) one morning during a site visit:

The first step in executing on these drawings was to extend the return air duct and add a 90-degree turn, so it opened on the bottom. The next step was to surround the duct opening to create what would be the top of the plenum. Here’s how it looks at this point:

However, something’s clearly amiss. The pendant light junction boxes aren’t distributed equally, as a result of the location of the vent:

It turns out that the guys were, um, looking at the plans upside down when they started to built this (in the top-down view on the right side of the drawing above, the short end on top (west side) was mistakenly considered to be on the bottom (east side)). The vent actually fits perfectly between the second and third junction boxes if they’re evently distributed.

The problem was easily corrected – here’s the correct configuration (evidenced by the hanging electrical wires), after this has been addressed and after drywall has been installed:

The bulkhead is becoming less intrusive and more an organic part of the floor after the drywall has been primed and the wood trim has been added at this stage:

Now for the functional design details. The plenum needs to allow 100 sqare inches of air flow to allow the return to perform properly, but the “floor” of the plenum (which will be the top of the raised area of the bulkhead) needs to be attached to the already installed plenum ceiling, and we don’t want the return air functionality to be evident from the dining peninsula, so we can’t have holes in this floor. The solution is to have air flow around the sides to enter the plenum. To attach the floor of the plenum to the ceiling and still permit this flow, crenelated trim is used:

Here’s a better view to show how air will flow around the sides and through the holes to enter the return air vent:

To hide all of this, the sides of the bulkhead are trimmed out to 1″ below the beadboard, and the trim is turned on the bottom to extend 6″ into the center.

As a result, you can no longer see the sides that have to be left open for air flow, and the whole unit now appears exactly as it should from a design perspective. The dining peninsula will be directly below this raised area, which now conveys the visual interest needed for this element.

In the photo below, cellulous sound insulation has been shoved into every nook and cranny of the bulkhead around and on top of the plenum and the ends of the bulkhead have been sealed up with trim. Installation of crown molding also has begun.

As noted in the kitchen design post, cabinetry extending 24″ out from the party wall will occupy the area under the right side of the bulkhead in this photo, which will come within 6″ of the raised area. The dining peninsula will extend to 6″ to the left of the raised area, and the remaining space will serve as the passageway between the good room and the kitchen area.

Here’s a parting shot of the completed bulkhead after the contentious crown molding has been installed:


High and Dry(wall)

After the last of the insulation was installed, a horde of drywallers descended upon the house and worked non-stop for 5 days, completely transforming the feel of the house. We’ve been used to seeing the house in the context of exposed framing for a few months, so this step in the renovation had a dramatic impact.

Here’s a couple of photos about two-thirds of the way through initial installation in the master bedroom:

The skylights, ceilings, and framed walls in the bathrooms get the treatment . . .

In the guest room, old drywall on the top portion on north side still remains, but the bottom portion needed to be replaced, since the drywall behind the old radiator was never actually installed years ago – the homeowner simply stuck a piece behind it. Here, the new closet is being drywalled, as well.

Drywall has begun around the skylight in the stairwell, below. In addition to drywall installation, the crew also is addressing the plastering needs of the house on the exterior walls. Here, an initial coat of plaster has been applied at the left of the photo, where the linen closet used to be.

Drywall activities in the front part of the first floor focus on the east wall, including the TV niche, and the ceiling. The strip of exposed brick on the west wall, which was where the old dining room wall ended, is being plastered, as well.

Since the rear of the first floor is all new framing, this all got drywalled. Here’s the main kitchen area. You can see where outlets and under-cabinet lighting will be located, as well as the vent for the hood over the range.

At the front of the house, the closet and vestibule area take shape with the installation of drywall. Plaster patching has been performed all around the door and windows, to address the refurbishing of these components.

The master bedroom after completion of drywall activities (but before priming and application of more mud):

The little hallway area leading out of the master suite is shown below. The walnut floors have been installed, as well, but the area shown in the picture has issues, and needs to be redone (which is why it’s exposed, versus the protected floor in the master bedroom):

Guest room drywall complete:

First floor drywall and plaster is complete at this point (check out the west wall – the guys did a great job blending in the new plaster with the old). They guys are gearing up to install trim right after drywall, including crown molding, which you can see next to the table saw. This molding was the unlikely subject of intense debate (seriously) and second-guessing for about a week before final decisions were made.

Completed kitchen area is below. The wall under the bulkhead was the exposed, demo’d brick wall from the back of the house. All of this will be covered soon by kitchen cabinets, so we’ll never see it again, but the plaster repairs look great, nonetheless.

Looking north from the kitchen after drywall and plaster have been completed:


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.


The First Floor Takes Shape

As noted in the previous post (, the goal for the first floor is an open-floor plan with a list of specific design elements. The guys began framing the first floor to plan after the second floor was completed.

Framing for the entry vestibule and new stair landing has begun at this point (although, upon review of the plan, the landing wasn’t actually correct, as you’ll see at the end of this post).

A view of the opposite side of the vestibule, where the closet will go:

A view south from the vestibule area:

The guys begin construction of the west “wall,” which consists simply of the pocket door housing and the powder room walls.

As you’ll see in future plumbing posts, the powder room walls are constructed of 2×6 framing, rather than 2×4. They’ll serve dual purpose as dividing walls and a plumbing superhighway to route supply and drain lines from the second floor to the basement.

The finished product:

We’re still struggling with what to do with the brick walls. To get the black coating off and expose them properly, we’ll need to have the surface physically ground down, then the mortar repointed, which will required additional effort and incur additional costs. We’re waiting for a quote on this, then we’ll decide.

Looking north, so you can see both the powder room framing and the framining by the stairs where the AV niche will go. You can also see elements of the mechanical infrastructure, the installation of which we’ll cover in tortuous detail in a future post.

A view of the east “wall” from the north.

Overview of the framing defining the vestibule area. This will be complemented by the knee wall below.

The adjusted landing is shown below. The stair is supposed to come to the center of the newel post, rather than the end, so the guys ripped out what had been constructed and redid the framing and subfloor. They also removed the last tread and two last risers, as well as the cool round trim element that used to be on this side of the newel post. These should be the final portions of the old house that are removed . . .


Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Framing, Drywall, Plaster, and Brick


The Second Floor Gets a Little Definition

During the week of March 16, the guys focused on putting up the interior framing on the second floor. As noted in the first post on this blog featuring the before and after plans, we’re transforming a cobbled-together 2-bedroom, 1-bath arrangement into a more cohesive floor featuring a master suite with an additional bathroom and walk-in closet. This was made possible through a 5-foot bumpout to the south, in addition to building over the space that used to exist to the west of the old sleeping porch (which was an exterior alcove previously).

The before and after plan (with a few updates) is below for this floor. The top drawing is the new plan and the bottom drawing is the previous arrangement.

Framing up the walk-in closet:

A view from the guest room facing south:

A subsequent view from the guest room. Most of the framing has been completed at this point. Note the old bathroom skylight; at this point, the original, 1925 bead board shaft and pivoting “window” at the ceiling is still there. Unfortunately, this will change.

Looking south down the hallway (note the edge of the linen closet wall to the left).

A view from the master bedroom looking north.The framing for the closet and master bath pocket doors has been installed.

In the master bedroom looking north. The area along the east wall to the right will house the A/C air handler and washer and dryer.

The walk-in closet and master bath:

Another view of the master bath. As noted in “We’ve Been Framed!” the new, second-floor joists are now 2 x 10s, with one exception: the area under the showers. We’re installing curbless showers, and so a slope is needed in the shower area to drain the water. In support of this, we’re doing 2 x 8s under the showers, mitigating the need to rip down 2 x 10s, and making the sloping process more straightforward. You can see the change in the subfloor surface where the orientation of the plank text changes.

Looking south from the guest room after all interior framing has been completed:

Ah, crap! The original bead board shaft to the skylight is gone. We discussed with the GC installing a new skylight, since the original gable-style skylight may be beyond repair. The discussions were interpreted a little too literally, and the next day, they already had addressed the issue – with extreme prejudice:

Looking up through the original, gable-style skylight, perhaps for the last time. This structure stands on top of the roof as an independent element and forms somewhat of a cupola, which is pretty cool. There are vents (shown at the top and bottom of the skylight photo) that allow air flow. As noted earlier, they also allow a fair amount of willow oak leaves and pollen threads, which, frankly, is a pain in the ass. Nonetheless, we really liked the skylight and the character it conveyed to the upstairs bathroom (other than the old-school, chicken-wire embedded glass).

However, repairing the skylight was not feasible, and we’re now evaluating modern replacement options. The replacement skylight will still vent, but it will never be the same.

As alluded to above, and in “An Unwelcome Guest (Room),” the linen closet walls are an item of consideration. Below is a picture of their last days. We’ve now pulled the trigger on their removal to open up the stairwell, in concert with a larger skylight, to occupy most of the ceiling space above this area.

The result is shown in the video below of a walkthrough of the framed-out second floor with a remarkably familiar code inspector.


Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Framing, Drywall, Plaster, and Brick


Enclosing the Master Bedroom

Now that new joists and a subfloor have been installed for the second floor, erecting the exterior walls for the master bedroom at the back of the house was the next task. This was obviously a prerequisite for installing the roof deck.

This entire time, most of the house has retained its roof. However, because half of the master bedroom consists of the old sleeping porch (now demolished) and the other half is a new bumpout, this has been completely exposed.

The rear wall of the room was built first, sheathed, then erected:

Then, the east wall was built and installed the same way:

Exterior view of the new south elevation:

With the east and south walls installed, rafters start to go in.

View to the east:

And, view to the west. Why no exterior wall? The west wall on every floor is still waiting for resolution of the same property line connundrum that was delaying the pouring of the basement slab (details on this in a future post).

Because we’re not rebuilding our entire roof, we need to maintain the existing slope towards the back, resulting in a challenge in maximizing ceiling height inside, while ensuring that the roof deck slope is per code. Here’s the plaster wall-as-a-chalkboard on the second floor we used to evaluate the plan.

Property line issue resolved! West wall is erected and sheathed:

Ceiling beams are now scabbed onto the new rafters to provide framing for the ceiling. Roof decking begins:

And is complete:

Fully enclosed master bedroom looking to the east:

And west, much to our relief:


We’ve Been Framed!

As indicated in a previous post, demolition was completed in late February. This was the demoralizing valley floor in the topography of our renovation. We’re now climbing up the mountain of improvements, starting with the framing. Since the back of our house historically has been a veritable car wreck, structurally, it was great to have the old porch structure replaced with proper joists tied into the original house framing.

To support the new, north-south joists for the second floor, several large, glulam beams were installed. Two of them will become the bulkhead over the kitchen/dining peninsula, and will support the south end of the longest stretch of the new, north-south joists.

That’s right – POWER Beam. (Sure, it’s just a brand of laminated structural beam, but when you say it like a Monster Truck event announcer, the whole house seems cool – “POWER POWER POWER Beam!”)

Although the new joists will run parallel to the house walls, the bulkhead glulams supporting them are slotted straight into the brick like the old joists (only lower and larger). We’re oddly happy about this, simply because we thought the old-school joists-in-slots technique was so cool.

Two of the other glulam beams (POWER Beams!) are installed behind an original double beam to the north and next to the staircase to the east.

Holy crap! The house is starting to look like a Mondrian painting:

It’s a glulampalooza:

The second bulkhead mother gets installed. From a design perspective, the bulkhead will define the transition from the living room to the kitchen; from a functional perspective, it will handle routing of vents, plumbing, and hydronics.

The new, second-floor joists installed. During the last meeting with the architects and GC, we collectively decided to install 10″ joists instead of the unusual (for a modern floor) 8″ joists we had spec’d. The reason we spec’d the narrower joists was to be maintain consistency with the existing joists at the front of the house, which were approximately 8″, as far as we could tell, and to maximize ceiling height. When the plaster ceiling was removed, thought, we realized that it was much thicker than the drywall that will replace it, so we’d only loose a fraction of an inch in ceiling height, while gaining significant structural stability on the second floor.

Although most of the joists are 2 x 10s, the showers in the two upstairs bathrooms will be curbless, and have drains that require some clearance, so we’ll be installing 2 x 8s in this area to help with the tile angles.

View to the east of the new bulkhead framing.

New subfloors begin to go in.

Another angle of the bulkhead framing.

Subfloor installation complete for the original house section.

New framing where the old sleeping porch used to be:

Natalie, Lisa, and Mary discussing a new complication regarding skylight placement in the master bath. (There’s an original rafter beam that was revealed during demo that’s put the kibosh on our original skylight placement plan.)

The offending member (double), holding up a third of the roof’s rafters:

Yup, the skylight’s up there:

A few of the ongoing framing activities on the second floor.

View to the north of the completed bulkhead framing; new, north-south oriented, second-floor joists; and subfloor.


Indecent Exposure

One of the things we were curious about before the demo was whether we had decent-enough looking brick walls under the plaster to expose one completely in the renovated house. Many of the restaurants around town have done the exact same thing (including both of the best pizza places – RedRocks and Pizza Paradiso), and it looked awesome. We figured that, if you’re fortunate enough to have an older, brick-walled townhouse in Old Town, we should take advantage of it.

During the demo of the remainder of the main floor (in the “Mr. Gorbachev: Tear Down this Wall!” post:…down-this-wall/), we got a glimpse of the brick underneath the plaster. The picture below is of the area on the west side where the wall between the living room and dining room was attached. Sweet! It looked like our brick would be in good enough shape to expose.

The area we targeted for exposure was the wall of the new powder room on the east side. I asked Dave to see if some of his guys could remove the plaster in this area, and expose the wall, which hopefully would reveal similar conditions to the strip between the plaster on the west wall.

Huh? The bricks didn’t look quite the same.

The more the brick wall was exposed, the more we realized that the bricks had been coated with a black substance.

In addition, there’s a big-ass piece of lumber enmeshed with the bricks! (We understand that this was a nailer that had been installed during original construction to allow cabinets or other elements to be nailed in, through the subsequent plaster layer.)

So, here’s the entire wall exposed. It’s entirely coated in this black substance (paint? tar? who knows?). The brick color you see is simply dust from two new holes that were cut in the brick to support new structural members (which will be the subject of the next post). You can see the wood nailer clearly about mid-way down, to the right of the blob of white plaster.

One of the carpenters believes that the black coating was applied to help the plaster adhere to the bricks. This makes sense, since we’ve found it under the areas where plaster was applied, but it’s not on the bricks where there was never any plaster (see the first photo above, as well as the pictures of the wall behind the old bathroom in the last two posts on removal of the joists and removal of the bathroom). In all of the instances where an interior wall abutted a brick wall directly, the brick is natural; wherever plaster was applied, the brick is black.

We’re going to have the area above scrubbed with a wire brush to see if we can salvage the brick and the design idea, and are moderately hopeful, but not confident. If you see a fresh plaster wall in the powder room in the finished house, you’ll know the outcome .  . .


Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Framing, Drywall, Plaster, and Brick