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Construction Week 1

This morning, the computer network at work was down so I decided to start working on the basement. The first thing I wanted to do was find the drain pipe that was plumbed in for the shower/tub. I knew that this is located somewhere under the concrete, and *should* be 40 inches away from the toilet plumbing, toward the middle bearing wall. (The toilet plumbing was sticking out of the concrete and capped off.) When I was building the swing set a few months ago, I had purchased a masonry blade for my Skil Saw in the hopes of using it to cut the concrete.

The process of cutting a hole into the concrete would probably produce a lot of dust. I wanted to go to Home Depot to buy some fir studs and the ductwork so I thought I’d do the cutting into the concrete first, then while the dust had a chance to clear, I could go do my shopping. However, I had another problem. We had already stored a lot of stuff in the basement and I thought we should protect it in some way. I moved everything into what will be the storage area and covered it with 3 mil plastic so that dust and debris could not enter. By now, it was about Noon and I was ready to start the demolition.

I switched the blade in my Skil Saw to the masonry blade (BIG mistake) and started the cut. I could tell right away that this probably would not work, as sparks went flying from the contact between the blade and concrete. Furthermore, it took me about thirty seconds to get the blade only about 1/16 of an inch into the concrete, and the look and smell told me it was burning the concrete instead of cutting it. I decided that I’d have to use another method to punch through and I stopped cutting. I rechecked the list of materials that this blade is supposed to be able to cut and I realized that concrete is not on the list (I previously thought that it was). Just then, the burning concrete smell set off the fire alarm. Because all of the fire alarms in our home are networked together, every fire alarm in the house went off and my wife and kids were startled. I went to the circuit breaker to turn the alarms off when they suddenly stopped. I guess that the air had cleared sufficiently (thank goodness). But now I had to figure out a new way to open up the hole in the concrete.

My best bet (and cheapest: free) would be to borrow the hammer drill from work and drill a series of holes around where the drain pipe should be, then use the sledge hammer to punch through. So, I went to the school, checked out the drill then went on to Home Depot, got a few studs (20 for now) and the materials that I needed to do the ductwork (I need to add four vents to the heating/cooling system).

It was early evening when I returned home and I hadn’t really done much. What a bummer. But now I was ready to return to (or should I say get started with) the shower drain project. I started drilling into the concrete, using a sledge hammer to break it out all the way. It is hard to use the hammer drill for that long – it wears on your forearms and back. But I finally opened up a hole about 7 inches by 11 inches. I had intended the hole to be 11 inches square, but I’m working very close to the bearing wall and I ran into the footing on one side. At any rate, I started digging out the dirt. I filled two buckets, dumping them outside, but could not find the drain pipe.

I shoved the trowel as far into the exposed soil as I could, both vertically and laterally. I kept getting nothing. Then finally, a muffled thud as if I came into contact with some sort of hollow conduit. I cleared away the dirt from underneath the slab, got the light down there, and sure enough – I found it! It was four inches away from where they said it should be and was 13 inches below the 4-inch-thick concrete slab. Normally, four inches is not a very long distance, but when you’re working one foot and a half below a concrete floor, and you don’t know for sure that it’s there, four inches might as well be across the country. I cut away more of the concrete slab so that I could easily access the drain when the time came and was glad that this part of it was over. I covered the hole with a piece of plywood so that I wouldn”t accidentally step into it. I then had another decision to make: continue or retire to bed at 9:00.

I had already purchased the ductwork and some studs. I know that I should probably install the ducts first but I wanted to do some framing because that’s something with which I am familiar. There were in fact two small walls that I could build, each just over 4 feet long, one perpendicular to the joists and the other parallel with them. I decided that I wanted to do this, before going to bed. One of the walls was tricky because it is located in the bathroom and so I had to make it inline with the drain pipe that comes down from the ceiling.

Framing the wall is not terribly difficult. I nail it together on the floor and then lift the entire unit in place. Because the joists already exist above me and the concrete is not perfectly flat, I build the walls about 1/4 inch shorter than the floor-to-joist height. This is ok because the drywall will eventually cover up this small gap.

Tying the wall into the concrete is kind of fun. I bought a manual stud driver for $20. You put a special concrete nail into the end of the muzzle and then put in a special .22 caliber charge. Press the nail against the bottom plate and hit the top of the nail driver with a hammer. The charge forces the nail right down into the concrete. This is a must-wear-ear-plugs tool. Here’s a picture of these fastened into the concrete.

Nailing the walls into the overhead joists is a different story. To anchor the wall that runs parallel with the joists, I attached it to blocking. The other wall could just be attached to the joists as it crossed each. Even so, I was having a very difficult time trying to do the nailing because of the angle. Furthermore, the pounding was tearing the top plate away from the studs (as I previously said, I have a space between the top plate and the joists). I decided to use screws instead and things went much more nicely. I could drill the screws into the top plate with very little effort and no destruction of my framing. The following pictures show connection parallel and perpendicular to the joists. In the first, you can also see the drain pipe fastened to, and in-line with, the wall.

So that was it for my first day. It seemed like a long first day without much progress. Oh well, I guess some days are bound to be like this.

Day 2

Today, I started doing the ductwork that I will need. I only need to have four outlets in the basement: two in the family room, one in the office and one in the hallway near the bathroom. Originally, I was going to put the duct in the bathroom but there were two considerations to make. First, the hallway extends along the outside wall so it should be heated and I didn’t want to heat both of them (all of our current bathrooms have the vents closed anyway). Second, I could not physically locate the duct into the bathroom without a lot of effort because there were no joist bays left.

Let me explain what I mean by a joist bay. The joists hold up the first floor and are spaced at 16-inch intervals. These joists sit on top of the outside walls, as well as the existing wall that runs across the middle of the basement (the only bearing wall in the basement). The joists are 9.5 inches tall, running perpendicular to the bearing wall. This creates a space where things like wires, pipes and ductwork can be carried over the bearing wall from one side of the room to the other.

I call the open space between two joists a "joist bay". Now, all vents must come off the mainb rectangular duct, which is located on the utility room side of the bearing wall. In order to pipe a duct off that main line and onto the bathroom side of the basement, the duct must go over the bearing wall inside a joist bay. The problem that I have is that there are only three full joist bays across the short bathroom wall and each of these bays already has something going through them. Therefore, it would be impossible to get a duct into the bathroom unless I ran it below the joists. But I can’t run a 6-inch duct below the joists because the ceiling is going to be across the bottom of the joists. If you can’t follow this, perhaps you should read detailed explanation on installing ductwork.

Now that I have that explanation, let me get to what I actually did today. In a nutshell, I spent four hours installing two ducts and vents. And these were the easy two. The first in the family room just came out the side of the main duct. The second came off the top and over into the bedroom. These were both relatively easy to install, but since this was my first time doing this (and I was pretty much teaching myself how to do this), it took me a while. I hope that tomorrow I can finish the ductwork so I can start the framing. The framing is what I will probably enjoy most and I’m really excited to get to that point. For completeness, here are pictures of the two ducts. Notice that there is tape over each. This is so that we don’t lose air through them right now when we run the air conditioner.



The last thing to report is that I received my first injury. Ducts are made from sheet metal and whenever you work with sheet metal, you should wear gloves. I know this and I had intended to do this. However, before starting my work, I had to carry the duct materials down to the basement (when I brought them home the other day, I had just set them inside the garage). My gloves were already down in the basement so I decided to just pick up the metal pieces and take them down.

That was a decision I will regret until my thumb heals. Yep, I sliced the thumb on my right hand. I didn’t need stitches, but My wife heard my "Arrgh" and came running in. I told her to bring a kleenex, as the blood was already starting to run. I went through about three or four kleenexes when I decided to just stop the bleeding using the direct pressure of two bandaids. That did the trick (after a few minutes). My thumb is not in danger of falling off or anything, but it is sore, especially when I have to use my right hand (which is all the time). The moral of the story is, I tried to save myself a few seconds and one return trip from the basement by not getting my gloves. Those few seconds could have saved me a few minutes in thumb care as well as a lot of pain and agony (ok, not *that* much agony, but still).

Day 3

I got a late start with the basement work today, but it was for a good cause. After work, I went to Lowe’s (I was on my way to Home Depot when I decided I didn’t want to go that far). I bought a lot of the studs that I will need to continue my framing. I figured that I should get done with the ductwork today and then I can start framing tomorrow. So, I once again took all the seats out of the minivan and drove it to work. I was able to pick up four 12-footers, for top and bottom of the walls across the windows (because of the windows, I wanted to frame those walls in a single piece to try making it as sturdy as possible). I got 12 of the 96-inch studs, for the top and bottom pieces of longer walls. Finally, I got 70 of the standard 92-inch studs for doing most of the framing. After this and then going home and eating dinner, I had quite a late start.

It took me three hours today instead of the four yesterday to do two ducts. However, today’s ducts were somewhat more difficult than yesterday’s. Yesterday, I had easy access to the main duct from both sides of the wall. Today, I could only access the ducts through the little 9×12 inch joist bay (remember, I defined this term yesterday). This is because on the duct side of the bearing wall, next to the outflow duct was the cold air return duct. It stops halfway along the wall, which is why it wasn’t in my way yesterday. At any rate, the rest of today’s log gives a detailed account on how to do this ductwork (or at least how I did it) for my future benefit as well as for anyone else that may be interested. I wanted to do this today instead of yesterday because I didn’t really have a "procedure" yesterday for doing this.

Day 4

Ah, Saturday. What a great day to do an all-day project. That is, if you have all day to do it. Because my wife teaches at UVSC on Saturday mornings, I did not actually start on the basement until after 1:00. Well, leave it to me to still figure out how to spend close to 12 hours on something. That’s right, I finished just after midnight. Although I’d like to, I don’t think my body can handle many more late nights like this.

Having finished the ductwork yesterday, and having bought more studs (70 now), I decided it was time for framing. I already spent part of the first day building a couple of small walls but now was time for the meat of this part of the project. As I describe these locations, you may want to refer back to the plan that is included on the first day of this log. I figured that I’d start with the two long outside walls. First, I’d work on the one extending along the bottom of the house from the end of the office through the end of the storage area. Second, I would do the wall on the opposite side of the house, along the family room.


I started with the section of wall where the hallway meets the doorway leading to the storage area and working back toward the office (the storage area is still full of stuff that I put there when I was tearing apart the concrete). This wall section only had one hitch: I had to notch the wall at the top left for a drainage pipe that comes down from an upstairs bathroom. That was no big deal and the result is shown in the figure to the right.

The figure below shows the complete wall section in place./



My original plan was to continue working along this wall, taking it through the office until I reached the corner of the house. There was, however, a slight snag. Drainage pipes from the kitchen (above this wall) run perpendicular to (and underneath) the joists. Because of these pipes, it would be impossible for me to tie the wall into the joists unless the wall was pulled further away from the exterior concrete wall than other parts of this wall that I was working on.

I was not sure what to do and I needed a break so I phoned Karl and asked to come down to get his opinion. I explained my situation and he suggested that I just pull the entire wall away from the concrete. In doing so, I would lose about 3.5 inches of space, but if I was concerned about the space, I could make some built-in shelves in some of the open locations where there was no drainage pipe.

I decided to go ahead and move the wall from the corner of the house to the start of the closet. The rest of the wall, from the interior of the closet to the wall that I had already installed, would be moved back to my original planned location. As I pondered my new design, I decided that it would be better to start at the corner of the house (inside the office) and work my way back to meet the wall that I had just installed. This is just the first of what are sure to be many design changes in the months to come.

So I built a single 8-foot wall section, the first full section with no special notches or considerations. It went so fast, I decided to build another section. The only other full section that I could do at this time is for the opposite side, along the family room. I went ahead and built one of these sections and was finished fairly quickly with a few minor problems. It seems that the nails did not want to penetrate some of the studs that I have. Either I was getting tired of hammering or I had a hard piece of wood or perhaps a little of both. I think that it was just certain sections of the wood because I would do great for a few nails, then come across a location that bent three nails in a row before I resorted to using a screw. At any rate, I finished the two wall sections and leaned them against the exterior wall, as shown in these figures.

I was about to install the first wall section from the corner of the house when I realized that would potentially cause a problem. The wall section perpendicular to this wall (the one with the existing window) would need to be wedged between the bearing wall and this new wall section. Because this section spans a window, and it was less than 12 feet long, my plan was to do it in just one single wall section. However, it would be difficult to install the wall section in front of the window if the walls on both sides were already in place. The bearing wall is already there but I should probably wait to install the side section after installing the wall in front of the window. So now I already had a change in implementation. I would have to set aside my two wall sections and build the window sections first.

For some reason, I decided to work on the wall in front of the Family Room window first. I don’t know why, and it was probably a mistake because it turned out to be very tricky (once again, leave it to me to start with the hardest section). In addition to having the window in the middle of the wall, I had another obstacle around which to frame. You may remember from when I did the ductwork that this side of the bearing wall has the main ducts running perpendicular to, and underneath the joists. I will need a notch in the ceiling about 12 inches in height so that I can cover up the main ducts. That notch needs to extend all the way to the wall in front of the window. Therefore, in addition to considering the window, I had to design the notch around the ducts, which meant that I had to design the entire ceiling drop covering all the ductwork.

Well, it took a lot of measuring and thinking, then more measuring and finally some cutting. This means that it took a lot of time. I didn’t check the clock when I started working on this wall section, but I must have been at it for at least three hours. This was a relatively large section of wall with details that had to be done right. Not only did the ceiling notch for the ductwork need to be in the right place, but the top, bottom and sides for the window opening had to match up with the existing window. I didn’t want to be doing this wall section twice so I took my time making careful measurements. I built the entire wall on the floor and when I was done, my wife helped me lift it into place. I crossed my fingers, held my breath while pounding it in place, and when I was done, voilƒ …almost. I did make a slight error.

The bottom left of the window opening was 1/4 inch too far to the left. Not a big deal since the error made the opening slightly too wide rather than too narrow. I was too tired to care, as it was just after midnight but I later figured out that although the window opening was square to itself, it was not square to the floor. This probably caused me to have an error somewhere or perhaps it was just too late to be doing this type of thing. It doesn’t matter because I’m not redoing it. Here are a couple of pictures of the ceiling notch around the ductwork as well as a close up at the window.

I did encounter a problem attaching the top plate to the joists. This wall was very close to the edge of one joist so I was just going to attach it directly to the joist. However, I had not anticipated this so my wall was slightly too short. To remedy this, I added a second top plate to which the joist could be attached. The figure here shows this double top plate. The wall also leans forward slightly (about an inch for the 8-foot height, a slope of 0.01) because I did not mark the bottom plate location directly underneath the edge of the joist. However, the leaning is not really noticible so it should be ok. I’m really not ready to tear out the wall for this.

With all said and done, here’s a picture of the installed window wall section.

Day 5

I have been very tired the last couple of days because I’ve stayed up way too late working on the basement. I decided to make a rule for myself that no matter how late of a start I get, I will only work until 10:30 p.m. I know that unless I enforce something like this, I will continue telling myself "I’ll do just a little more" until I’m in the wee hours of the night and I’m once again dead tired the next day. Hopefully I will be able to stick to this type of schedule while still being able to keep the work from dragging on for too long.

After Family Home Evening tonight, it was time for some more framing. I started framing my first long wall, requiring multiple wall sections. Each wall section will be 8 feet long. There are various ways that I can do the transition between sections. I’m not sure what will be the best way, and I probably won’t really know until the drywall (or as they say in Utah, "Sheet Rock") is ready to put up. Drywall is 4 feet wide. Studs at 16 inches on center allows one piece of drywall to cover the length of a wall across four studs. Of course, the drywall will not come for quite some time so it will be a while before I know if I took the correct course of action or if I am giving myself more work.

The method that I used along this wall was to space two wall sections 16 inches apart from each other, leaving a space between the top and bottom plates of each section. The figure to the right shows this space across the bottom plates. The concern that I have with this method is that there is no anchor for nailing in the baseboard. I will need to be careful not to put a seam in the baseboard at this location or it will pull away from the wall. Once again, of course, that’s something that is yet to come.

Here is a picture of the finished wall from tonight. I finished at around 10:40, so I was pretty close to my 10:30 goal. 🙂

Day 6

I was back at it again tonight after Isaac’s soccer practice. Tonight I wanted to get the second window opening done. The first one took me a lot of time, both because it was my first one and because of the duct work that I had to avoid. I didn’t think that tonight’s window would take as long, and I was correct. I learned some things from the first one that helped me when doing this one. Both windows are along the same exterior wall and are therefore built and anchored in the same manner.

These walls are so close to one of the joists that I decided to just anchor them directly into the side of the joist. When I built the first wall the other day, I made two installation mistakes. First, I didn’t make the original wall tall enough. Usually the wall should be shorter than the joists because you’re either crossing joists or crossing blocking that has been connected between joists. But because this wall was being directly connected to the joist, the wall should have been a little taller. I ended up adding a second top plate to the first wall to get it high enough so it could be directly connected to the side of the joist. My second error was that I did not line up my floor chalk line with the edge of the joist, so the wall actually leans slightly forward. It’s not really noticible, but it’s not level and when I figured this out, I had already nailed into the concrete – not something that could be taken out without destroying the wall.

I used that information to first figure out where the wall should connect on the floor and second to be sure my columns were cut at the correct height. Here is the finished wall, and I didn’t have to stay up until midnight to do it.

Day 7

If you have a broadband connection, you may want to watch the video. To do so, just click on the following image.

Well, I did it. I made my first major mistake. It could have been worse if it hadn’t been caught in time. Actually, I have my wife’s brother to thank. He asked if I had used pressure treated wood for the bottom plates and I told him I hadn’t. He said he thought the code required it. My boss at work didn’t think it did. I knew that people use it but didn’t think it was required. After talking to the city, I learned that, yes, it is indeed required. I therefore had to replace the bottom plate on each of my walls. This required taking each wall down, removing the bottom plate and then replacing it with pressure treated wood.

This actually wasn’t too bad of a problem because it is very early in the construction process. It would have been much worse if I had already started to run electrical wiring. As it was, I was able to do all of my existing walls this evening except for one of them. I probably could have done that one as well but I’m trying to stick to my self-imposed 10:30 p.m. end time. I’ll do the last one on Friday or Saturday. I’m not going to work on this tomorrow because BYU’s first football game will be on. Of course, if they start getting creamed…

Continue to week 2 – Framing the Outside Walls



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