Friday, August 24, 2012

Step 24 - Blown Insulation

There's not much to say about Step 24, but you can't cross this task off your list until the drywall has enclosed the attic. 

You can rent the equipment to do this yourself and I think nearly all hardware or home improvement stores have these rigs (see light blue box in photo below)  on site for customer usage.  This is a two person job from the beginning.  You need two sets of hands to get the machine in and out of your vehicle, but most importantly you need two people to get this job knocked out; one person feeding the machine on the ground and the other in the attic controling the hose. 

Insulation Blowing Machine w/ Bags of Insulation

There are jobs when it's more practical for me to use batt insulation in the entire house, but when we have blown insulation in the attic, I typically make this part of the agreement with my insulation contractor (see Step 22 - Insulation) and all it takes is a phone call. 

This is an important part of any project, but the cost is minimal.   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Step 23 - Drywall/Sheetrock/Wallboard

Drywall is the same as sheet rock which is no different than wallboard, just like soda is a soft drink, but also called pop.  It's all the same, but it's also regional terminology that varies from one part of the country to the next.  As some are overly insistent that a carbonated drink has one correct nickname, there are folks out there that will debate that plaster pressed between paper in 4' x 8' (or 12') sheets is called drywall or wallboard or sheet rock.  I'll just suggest, that if the people in your part of the world call it 'wallboard' then call it that and if the construction community around you say it's 'drywall' then latch on to that label.  They may even call it gyp-board, durorock, plasterboard or some other comb-derivation.  Just go with the flow and keep moving ahead. 

After insulation & before sheet rock
With that out of the way, let's talk Step 23 and understand I'm using all these tags for plasterboard interchangeably.

The day after the drywall is complete is one of my favorite days on any rehab or new construction project.  It's so great.  Everything takes shape in a matter of a few days.  What I've imagined and seen in my head is suddenly a lot closer to reality.  Sure we're not all done yet, but on these mornings, it feels like we've made a gigantic leap toward the finish line. This is such a huge payoff day for me and I meander happily for a while from room to room.  Back and forth between the kitchen, bedrooms, and baths.  Up and down steps and hallways.  I see how things look and take in how they feel with me standing inside them.   All my projects have been very different, but this satisfaction after the drywall is the exception since it's always the same.  I love it.  Those who've been in this position know what I mean and if you're heading this way get ready to enjoy this moment when the wallboard has been hung.   

The same window on the left.
The sheet rock phase goes through a couple stages of it's own before Step 25 - Flooring.  The drywall gets hung.  Then the tradespeople tape, bed, and skim the joints.  After that they come in to sand before any touching up is done.  It's not uncommon for these three different parts to be knocked out by three completely separate crews of workers.  My sheet rock contractor is awesome, they run a well-oiled operation, and I've gotten really comfortable with the way they do things.  (Perhaps they've spoiled me.)  However, I've had to work through some not-so-great drywall teams that made Step 23 more difficult than trying to build a house without a tape measurer.  So, let me encourage you to be grateful when you get hooked up with a good contractor and, as I've said before, don't keep that appreciation to yourself. 

Painting can inadvertently accentuate dings, dents, and wallboard imperfection.  Our drywall contractor always gives us a 30 day window to trim/out and paint before calling them back for touch-ups.  I should also say that every job is different and this touch-up arrangement can get navigated/negotiated slightly depending on the project.  However, even though it's never been a major issue on my houses, I know sometimes this can be a contentious area between general contractor (homeowner) and drywall sub so be ready to do what's needed to work your way through this touching-up issue to get the finished home you want.

Finally, while the drywall team does their mud work and sanding, have the attic blown with insulation - Step 24 (if you didn't insulate the ceilings with Batt in Step 22) and start gearing up for the flooring that has to be done before the cabinets and counters get installed in Step 26.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Kitchen House at Sutherland

I love renovating extremely run down homes (aka Pig's Ears), but I also get pretty jazzed about other people doing the same thing.  The Kitchen House at the Sutherland Mansion (Petersburg, Va.) is a great example of a building that was brought back from the edge. 

The Kitchen House at Sutherland - Condemned

Sutherland is a Civil War Homestead built between 1860 and 1862.  Like many other homes of this era, the big house construction included outbuildings which are also referred to as dependencies.  The Sutherland Mansion had two:  an attached carriage house (lost in the tornado of 1993) and a detached brick structure that originally served as the summer kitchen.  In the mid 1980's, a devastating fire made the 950 square foot Kitchen House inhabitable.  Vacant and abandoned, it began to decay.  City officials condemned the building and put it on the demolition list.   

I don't know Walt and Roberta Purcell, but I am a fan.  They resurrected the Kitchen House into a charming home that's now a work of art.  They saw the dilapidated dependency full of rot and debris (as well as birds and squirrels) and they took on the challenge.  The Purcells realized the building was too special to overlook, understood it's potential, and made the most of what had stood the test of time. 
After - What a gem.

Well done Roberta and Walt...a thousand times, well done. 

The Bedroom - Before

The Bedroom - After.  Excellent

The Kitchen - Before
The Kitchen - After.  Same fireplace on the left.  More brick w/ shaker style cabinets & soapstone sink.


The Bathroom - Before. 

The Bathroom - After

Living Area - Before

Living Area - After 
(After pictures by Patricia Lyons, Styling by Sarah Hurst)

Floor plan by Ian Warpole

As I've written before, you can turn a pig's ear into a silk purse.  It's not easy, but it is possible

The Sutherland Mansion is owned by Roberta's son Greg Werkheiser and his wife Marion.   

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Step 22 - Insulation

Insulation gets put in after the rough-in inspections are passed and right before drywall.  Seeing the insulation in place is a payoff similar to completed sheetrock (yet not quite as rewarding.)   Consider the conditions on a renovation before the insulation is installed.  Old dark wood and bright clean lumber are oftentimes nailed in the walls next to the new framing material that's clean and bright.  Running through all this structural framing is yellow, black, and white electrical wire mixed with red, white, and blue plumbing and silver duct work.  Seeing the uniformity that comes with installed insulation brings a change to the interior and a hint that the finish line is out there.

A couple things regarding insulation that may be off the radar of someone who's never renovated or built a home before.  First, the two most common types of insulation are batt and blown.  Batt insulation is what comes in rolls and looks like pink, yellow, or white cotton candy backed with paper that faces the heated space of a building.  This goes in the walls, under the floors, and can go in the ceilings.  Blown insulation is the stuff that looks like fluffy snow (but also can be gray or pink.)  It's used in attics most frequently, but in older homes where insulation is missing on the exterior walls, blown insulation may be the best way to insulate the vertical walls as well.  I saw an episode of Rehab Addict where Nicole Curtis and her team put plastic inside over the laths and then blew insulation from the top down through each cavity on the home's perimeter.  Also, I'll add that I heard Mike Holmes (Holmes Inspection) singing the praises of spray foam insulating the entire home in lieu of batt or blown.  SFI has never been the way for us to go on any of the renovations or new homes I've done.  We use SFI in the holes left after rough-in and for any small cavities, but this is to keep insects and lizards from coming inside.  This material comes in a can and is minimal, yet effective the way we use it and a routine part of Step 22.

Batt Insulation

Thick blown insulation with baffles running up through the roof joists.

VRPF Insulation - bathroom.
In the bathrooms we always use vapor-retarder plastic faced insulation shown in the picture on the right.  However, you can also install plastic as a vapor barrier that will keep moisture in the bathroom from becoming a mold issue inside the walls around the bathroom. 

Also, I want to point out the need for roof ventilation baffles.  These are Styrofoam materials that feel and resemble Styrofoam egg cartons.  They can be stubbed out (as shown in the photo with the blown insulation above) or in the case of a sloped ceiling covered with drywall they may run a longer length between the roof sheathing/planks and the insulation. These baffles are significant because they insure air flow from outside vents up and out through the attic.   Without them, the attic will be hotter than it needs to be in the summer and the roof will have a shorter life than predicated by the manufacturer's warranty.   

Although, I have taken on the insulation scope on a couple of my jobs, I've veered away from that on the majority of my projects because I have a dependable company here that does a great job for me.  They're efficient and highly reputable and have never failed me or the local inspections we're required to pass.  Along with that it's cost effective because they always knock this work out for me in one day whether I have a small project or a large house that's several thousand square feet.  They do it all; the batt, the blown, the spray foam of the cavities, and the baffles.  If you have a company like this in your area and they can do it for you for the same cost as you doing it yourself, I'd encourage you to use them.

After the insulation is complete prepares the home for one of my favorite times of any project:  Step 23 - Drywall/Sheetrock/Wallboard.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Step 21 - Soil Treatment for Pest Control

After the crews are done with their rough-in and before the insulation and drywall teams cover things up inside,  I make sure to squeeze in the soil treatment for pest control. 

We live on the fringes of South Carolina's Lowcountry.  Not only are we miles from the Atlantic, but we have areas that are near or below sea level.  Basements are rare here and most of our houses are built on slabs, crawl spaces, or above drive under garages.  The homes I've taken on have been on crawl spaces 18" - three feet high or a combination of slab and crawl space.  So, as I talk about soil treatment and pest control, keep this in mind.  Where ever you are, you should still be mindful of treating your property for bug infestation, but you may just knock this out at the end, when the rest of the work is complete.

I call for the soil treatment after the rough-in because at this stage, the R/I crews will be done with any necessary digging.  My pest control guy has periodically reminded me that it's best to treat the ground after it's done being disturbed, so that's why we have this work done after the rough-in crews have moved on.

Pest control is another example of a scope in which you have to do your work ahead of time so that when R/I is done all you need to do is make a phone call, stay out of the way, and then pay up.  Now, when I don't know anything about something, I start talking to people who do.  Then I ask plenty of questions so I can make a wise decision.  Like with other trades on a renovation, you may just need to work the phone (and the mouse) to get smart on what you need to do regarding soil treatment and pest control.  That doesn't mean just getting multiple prices from contractors, but understanding what you need and what you're responsibilities are before it's time to make a decision and enter into an agreement.   

After the soil treatment, a vapor barrier (6 mil plastic) goes down in homes in which the crawl space has been treated.  This really doesn't have to be done until the very end, but I like to do it after the pest control and before insulation.  The insulation crew will appreciate it and it makes things easier for me when I check behind them.  Just like soil treatment is a necessity in our area, this plastic is not for comfort.  It's integral in Lowcountry buildings because it helps control moisture under the home.

After the soil treatment we're ready for Step 22 - Insulation 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Step 20 - Some Like it Hot, Some Like it Cold

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) rough-in follows the electrical R/I on my projects.  For me, the rough-in for the heating and air usually comes down to unlocking the door and getting out of the way.

On one hand, I'd like to tell you this is just luck.  However there's a little more to it than being fortunate.  In Push Hard to Get Quotes I described how important it is to get multiple estimates. The HVAC part of the job is a good example of where this time and due diligence will pay dividends.  When I talk to the HVAC contractors who visit my houses before they give me a quote, I really make an effort to pay attention, ask questions, and listen closely (and maybe scratch down some notes).  These walk-thrus are interviews and I'm always mindful of the big question:  "Can this contractor do this job for me?"  It's not solely about price.  I have to bring someone in who's qualified, experienced, licenced, insured, organized, and well-managed.  More simply put, I need someone who can deliver, perform, and stand behind their work over time.  Heating and air conditioning R/I day is not the time to figure this out.

Finally, I should mention that as the owner/general contractor on my projects I am expected to have a place prepared for the HVAC crew to set their units and it's my job to make sure these areas are accessible, ready, and all theirs when they arrive.  For the most part, they'll have first dibs on the space under the house or in the attic to set their equipment and to run their trunk lines and duct work.  In addition, they may have some cavities/chases designated just for them or may work some ducts through the floor joists.  However, I may also need to have a platform built for them beforehand, but when this is needed it's discussed and understood ahead of time.  Either I build what's needed myself or I have the framing crew do it.

So, if you do your part, HVAC rough-in will be pretty effortless (for you) because you won't have to do much other than standing clear and being ready to write a check after the crew passes the R/I inspection.

See Step 17 - Bring in the Reincarnation of Einstein (Plumbing Rough-In)

See Step 19 - Pulling Wire:  Electrical Rough-In

Monday, August 6, 2012

Step 19 - Pulling Wire: Electrical Rough-In

Before insulation and drywall, the rough-in needs to be complete.  As I mentioned in my description of Step 17 (Bring in the Reincarnation of Einstein), I prefer to stagger the crews roughing things in with the plumber leading the way.  However, if the home is large enough or you have a super-tight schedule, all three trades (plumb., elec., HVAC) could be working inside the house together at the same time, and rough-in can be knocked out in a week (if not a few days).

The way I manage the plumbing and electrical scopes are similar in that I supply the fixtures for both trades.  However, the electrical part of the renovation is a little different than the plumbing because of the "see and touch" guideline.  With plumbing, I buy and hand over everything that people will lay their eyes and hands on, but this rule of thumb doesn't hold true with the electrical scope of work since they supply quite a few things that are part of the finishing/trim-out phase.  The switches, receptacles, and wall plates are an example since they're all part of the electrician's quoted scope.  If I want something special like a dimmer switch, I'll supply that with all the light fixtures, ceiling fans, dishwasher, built-in microwave, smoke detectors, water heater, etc.  They also supply the breaker box and circuit breakers as well as the meter can/box, HVAC disconnect/shut-off, and weather proof receptacle covers on the outside.  I don't have anything to do with any of the electrician's wire either.  They know what they need, where to get it for the best price, and they furnish and install all of that as well. 

As I just mentioned, I supply the fixtures the same as with the plumbing and just like I need to have the shower valves on site before the plumber starts, there are a few items I have ready for the electricians on their first day of R/I.  Number one, they're going to need any recessed can lights.  Secondly, the wire pullers are also going to need the ventilation fans for the bathrooms.  The third thing I have ready for them on day one is the door bell.  In some circumstances these things can be installed with other things at the finish stage, but it's so much easier to do it when the walls are open and this also makes it easier to make sure things end up where I really want them. 

If there's anything special as part of home entertainment, a computer network, or a security system this is the time to discuss and/or coordinate the details with the electrician.  I typically don't get too elaborate in these areas and what I do for TV, telephone, and Internet are most often considered standard.  However, like the dimmer switch, if it's special or unusual, I'll be prepared to provide it and maybe pay the contractor a little extra for doing something they don't do on every job.  In addition, they're required by code to install the smoke detectors throughout, but if I wanted something extra like carbon monoxide detectors, in our part of the country it's not required by code and could cost a little more to have done (but probably not).

Copper is expensive so all the wire is not cheap, but still, I don't pay the electrician until their R/I is completed and OK'd by the local building official.  This way, if something has been overlooked, the electrician is motivated to get back quickly for the required corrections.  I can pay them before the inspection and any licenced electrician I hire will come back to make things right.  However, we're all busy and the electrical contractor will figure out how to get back a lot faster (and with less phone calls, e-mails, or texts) if they aren't getting paid until the inspector has signed off on their part.