Tag Archives: house renovation

Things (About my House) I Never Wanted to Know

FOUNDATION-TO-FLOOR BEAM CONNECTIONS:  … and other things I could have gone my whole life without knowing and never missed it. Here’s the scoop: A sill plate is a lining of pressure-treated wood that is secured to the top of a foundation wall before a house is either build up (most scenarios) or lowered back down onto it  in the case of a house elevation. It looks like this:

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Sill plate: the little piece of lumber atop the foundation wall.

PRECISION FRAMING: Ideally, your house would be level and square all the way around, providing a seamless transition between the house, the sill plate and the foundation.

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Good: Foundation – sill plate – house frame all secure without any gaps.

SHIMMING THE SILL PLATE: If the house is uneven (not ‘square’) there will be gaps between the house and the sill plate as shown below:

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Bad: All kinds of wrong

If the house is supported in some spots, but not in others, that’s not good. Enter the shim …

Shims are used to fill in any gaps. It’s a common practice and can be applied successfully. They should be made from a strong material such as metal or pressure-treated wood. Using whatever is handy at the time, like a scrap of wood or a crumbled up receipt from your pocket, is a big no-no. Anything marginally soft will be crushed by the house like a fat man sitting on a fragile chair and shifting will occur.

WHERE THINGS GO WRONG: In the picture above you can see where shims were installed in the back corner – see how the house is pushed up in that area and not sitting on the sill plate? My kitchen sits right above this area and the floors, cabinets, granite counters, etc. are all bulging out or pulling away from their frame. Ugh!

Could a proper calculation on the part of the masonry team have avoided this issue? Maybe. Was jamming random scraps of wood into any gap a bad idea? Definitely. The “fix” will require a slight re-jacking up of the house in this location to properly shim it.

Useful tips about your home that will come in handy the next time you elevate your house or lack witty banter at your next cocktail party.

Giving Thanks this Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving 

WEEK 25: GIVING THANKS THIS THANKSGIVING: There are many reasons to be thankful and I appreciate the simple luxuries of life everyday. Things like hot water at the turn of a handle and fresh coffee every morning. I’m ever thankful for my family and friends. But this year has been a bit unique.

The Top 5 Reasons I’m thankful this Thanksgiving are not the sort of things that have ever made my list before:

1. I”m thankful to have an apartment rental with unbelievable flexibility! It took away all the  worry of where we would live month-to-month.

2. I’m thankful my house did not crumble or come apart during the lifting phase of my house project.

3. I’m thankful to be wrapping up this seems-like-it-would-never-end project and to be moving back home soon.

4. I’m thankful for being able to make lemonade out of lemons – at least most of the time. For example, “Hey, kids, this apartment adventure will be just like a long vacation.”

or “I was in the mood to change all the paint colors in my house anyway,” (after realizing most of our walls sustained cracks and would need to be repaired and painted).    

or “I’ve always wanted to get to know some of the public officials in town and now I do!” (the building inspector, the city attorney, the city manager, the city planner, all the members of the zoning board and all the members of the architectural review board. I even had a change to talk to the head of FEMA for the state of New York – good times).

5. But most of all, this year I”m thankful that when the waters crept higher and higher today, I had no fear of flooding. That. Is. AWESOME!

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Near flood level – note the car in the parking lot.

The above picture is the same brook that floods my house periodically. It was taken at a location down stream from where I live and although it did not breach its banks today, it came close. Had my house not already been elevated, this would have been a watch-the-weather-all-day event while tactically planning how to move items out of harms way if indeed the rain continued.

For that I give many thanks!

Chimney Chase Remodel and Design

IN THE BEGINNING:  One of the first steps in this house elevation project was to remove the chase of a superfluous chimney. As all of our mechanicals had already been relocated to another area of our house, well above the threat of any flood, this chimney was no longer needed. As such, it had to be removed prior to elevating our house.

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Furnace Chimney prior to house elevation.

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Chimney removal for house elevation

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Chimney demolition is complete

CHASING STORAGE:  As the chimney extends from the basement to the roof, it used to be hidden away behind our walls, minding its own business. But it did create an unfortunate bump-out in our kitchen that broke up the visual flow of the room, as well as taking up valuable real estate:

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Chimney tucked neatly behind the bead-board.

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Chimney removed – space opened up. Note the plaster walls.

We’ve since ordered new cabinets to fill this void and will have a butcher block installed merging the two counter top pieces. The butcher block will help to break up the monotony of a long run of granite as well as make it appear more inherent to the kitchen rather than an after thought add-on. While we wait for the cabinets to arrive, we’ve prepped the space in anticipation:

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Former location of chimney, the space is prepped for cabinets.

THROUGH THE ROOF: On our second floor, we created a linen closet. As an old house, closets are not its strong suit. I don’t know what people used to do with all of their stuff because they sure couldn’t hide it away behind any closet doors. Maybe in that bygone area they didn’t have any extra stuff to squirrel away anyway. In days of old I’m certain the children didn’t have toys spewed everywhere, either. I guess if you have to whittle your own toys out of a hunk of wood, you’re probably not going to have heaps of them.

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Former location of chimney chase. This will become a linen closet.

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AFTER: New linen closet where a chimney chase once existed.

The picture is not deceptive, it IS a small closet, but a closet none-the-less. Can easily store sheets, blankets and beach towels like a champ in this captured storage space.

 

Staircase Transformation

WEEK 20: Fresh on the heels of last week’s set-back, we’ve made some steady progress this week, albeit not nearly enough for my liking. The majority of the work effort has been restricted to the new front staircase. It’s great to see the transformation, but what I’d really like to see is a beehive of activity on my house. You know, like they show on TV where an extensive renovation takes 4 or 5 days on a shoestring budget. But, this is hard-core reality here, definitely not for those with weak inclinations.

JULY: Back in early July, while we were busy celebrating the Declaration of Independence, the front of our house looked like this:

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House elevated and separated from the foundation – July

AUGUST: By mid-August, our construction crew had nearly completed the new foundation walls:

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House lowered onto newly built foundation – August

SEPTEMBER: About six weeks after the above photo was taken, the crew began to construct what would become our new front staircase:

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Frame work for new front steps

Of course there was a lot of work that went into the formation of these steps including digging a sizable trench, forming the underground footings, and building the majority of the rest of the staircase out of cinder blocks. But by the end of the month, we had a front staircase:

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Front staircase framed, poured, and cured

OCTOBER: Nearing the end of October, the stonework has been added to the front staircase. Missing, however, is any semblance of a railing. At this point we’re not sure whether we’ll go with wrought iron or natural wood. Likely which ever gets us back in the house sooner.

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Front steps having stonework applied

The picture above also shows other key updates. The front left corner of the house show a new gas meter. That was a hard-earned element of the project and we’re happy to have it behind us. Also the new “basement” windows have been framed out and shingles have been added to this side of the house replacing a damaged white border.

Sure beats what we were doing a year ago – riding out the effects of Superstorm Sandy.

Root Heaving & Concrete Footings

WEEK 6 UNFOLDS: Wouldn’t it be great if your renovation project came with an “Easy” button like the one in the Staples commercials?

That was easy!

As anyone who has ever undergone a major renovation project can tell you, there are only two safe bets: the project will take longer than expected and cost more than anticipated. Our lift endured a one week delay due to heavy rains that kept the lifting company on their previous job. A week sounds tiny – but it has ramifications. Our construction team still believes they can have us back in our house on schedule (3 months from now).  Fingers crossed!

PORTION OF THE FOUNDATION MISSING: So far, only a couple of quirks with the house itself have been uncovered: there was not a proper foundation built under the renovation the previous owners added (one will now need to be added) and some of the foundation stone work from the 1920’s, when our house was built, is falling apart and will need to be rebuilt. Not major work – just more work. More work usually means more time …

Framing out a new footing that had been missing.

Framing out a new footing that had been missing as well as removing a giant root ball.

Fresh concrete: clean and neat

Fresh concrete: clean and neat

AND ANOTHER THING: Unrelated to our project specifically, we learned yesterday that our sewer line is chock full of tree roots, a different tree than the one causing the backyard impediment,  and will need to be power blasted in order to rectify the flow of the line – ca-ching!