With the new bathroom fully functional in the basement, it was time to start the major renovation on the main floor. The next two weeks focused on the hidden things that nobody will see, but that are crucial to a successful renovation.
The contractors spent Wednesday March 18 finishing up at another job, giving us an extra day to clear out the bedroom, bathroom and closets. Sure, this may sound like a simple task, but we are running out of places to put stuff.
Day 6: Demolition
Thursday March 19
The breaking begins. (Note: I am numbering the days that the contractors are doing work at our property. Weekends and days spent at other projects don’t count).
There were no real surprises with the electrical. I had already disconnected everything from the basement. And I already knew about the one hidden junction point that I could see under the floor upstairs. However, as we started tearing things apart, we uncovered something strange with the ceiling.
We were aware that the previous owner had removed a supporting wall. And we also knew that the ceiling had been lowered to hide the top plate of that wall. This was something that could be seen under the floor upstairs once some floorboards were taken out. But when we removed the drywall we exposed a bizarre framework that defied logic.
Trying to make sense of this mess
When the previous owner removed the supporting wall, he did not remove the top plate. So one would assume that the reason for lowering the ceiling was to hide the top plate. In order to accomplish this, he nailed two by fours around the perimeter of the room below the top plate. The new ceiling was at least 7 or 8 inches beneath the old ceiling, so there was enough room for the previous owner to beef up the structure had he chosen to do so. Instead, he installed a framework of 2x4s that did nothing more than support the new drywall ceiling.
The first ceiling came down easily enough, but the original ceiling was plaster over gypsum and was much heavier and more difficult to remove.
Once we gutted the room, it was easy to see just how much everything had sagged after the load-bearing wall was removed.
Friday March 20
The contractors completely gutted the main floor bathroom. Again, there were no real surprises, except for some water that had seeped under the floor tiles. I also got some validation. The repair that I had done to the bathroom wall using Barker Tileboard in the tub/shower had stood the test of time (well, at least for the few years since I did it). No water had penetrated the area that I had fixed. It’s almost like I know what I’m doing, sometimes.
Day 8: Replacing Structure
Monday March 23
After two days of destruction, not to mention the six years of my own de-construction, the house is finally being put back together. Not only have we erased the massive mistakes of the previous owner (at least in this area of the house), but the structure is better and stronger than it ever was. Hiring professional contractors is really paying huge dividends.
Load bearing structure, re-engineered
To quickly review: In the span of the space that was once two bedrooms with a bathroom in between. The walls of the original bathroom were load-bearing walls. The previous owner removed one of those walls to expand the bedroom.
The simplest solution, and the one that I would have considered as a DIYer, is to replace the structure, either by rebuilding the wall or by installing a beam where the wall had been. The problem is that this solution was not compatible with our design. Notice how I phrased this– it was the solution that was not compatible with the design, not the other way around.
The solution used in our renovation is a little more creative. A load bearing steel beam has been installed several feet away from the original location, and the other stud wall has been reinforced with new studs that bring the joists up to level. Brand new joists span between the two load-bearing structures, effectively making the old floor joists in this span obsolete.
The previous owner compromised the stud wall when he cut it in order to run the plumbing vent stack and put in a doorway to the ensuite bathroom. Now, in this renovation, more of it was removed and replaced with a header. This creates an “L” which becomes part of the new bedroom, serving as a dressing area with doorways to the walk-in closet and the main bathroom.
Day 7: Demolition and re-framing continues
In the bedroom area, at least, we have erased the handiwork of the previous owner. I would love to show him what we had to do in order to fix his mistakes, but what purpose would that serve?
I wonder how many house flippers have made similar mistakes….
Day 9-10: Laundry access, more framing
Tuesday March 24- Wednesday March 25
The contractors punched a hole in the wall for the entrance to the laundry room off the back landing.
The wall sat upon a block wall in the basement. The contractors built a small structure in the basement to support the joists.The joists had to be cut back for stairs and were no longer supported by the block wall. With the new support in place, they knocked out the top portion of the block wall, cut the floor and installed new steps.
The laundry room is now accessible two ways: from the master bedroom closet and from the back landing.
Also on these two days, most of the framing went up and the new rooms started taking shape. Additionally, the contractors nailed 2×2′s on all the exterior wall studs to accommodate R-20 insulation.
With the skeleton in place, it is easy to see how the space works. It is one thing to see a plan on paper, but it doesn’t compare to being able to physically walk through the space.
Thursday March 26
The hole in the old ensuite bathroom floor has finally been patched. Where the jacuzzi tub was sunk in the floor is now solid and level. The contractors also installed the plumbing for the new bathroom.
Day 12: Yet more demolition
Friday March 27
A few years ago,the contractor we hired to work upstairs had removed the chimney to just below the level of the second floor. That left approximately another 16 feet or so to go. Well… today it went. With surgical precision. Yes, apparently surgical precision is possible with a sledgehammer. Only one wall was opened up to gain access to the chimney and no other wall was damaged during the demolition.
It’s a miracle this house never burned down
When the contractors stripped the hallway ceiling, we became aware of the fact that there was inadequate support for the hallway above the stairs– just a couple of 2 x 4s. This was a relatively easy fix: insert a piece of angle iron to support the structure. Today, in preparation for the repair, the wood trim– a piece of 1×4 stained pine– on the underside of the 2×4′s was removed revealing 2 surprises.
The first surprise was the markings on the underside of the 2×4′s indicating stud locations suggesting that there was originally a wall here, and the stairs were added later.
The second surprise was the fact that this house never burned down. Not only was there electrical wiring tucked up between the trim and the 2×4′s, but there was also a junction point hidden here. Check this out:
And this wasn’t the only one…. In another area, under similar circumstances was another wire with a similar junction point. In that case, the wires were just twisted together and taped.
The first example, the one in the picture, was part of a circuit that I had disconnected a few years ago. The second example– the somewhat more dangerous one– had been live up until two weeks ago when I killed the circuit for the renovation. Yikes.
Day 13: More Structure
Monday March 30
Another area where there was insufficient structural support was in the basement. The main support beam stopped at the chimney. Between the chimney and the other supporting wall, there was a doorway to the boiler room which did not have a proper header, and the stairs going up to the main floor.
Now with the chimney out of the way, the support beam could now be continued to the stairs. A 2 x 6 stud wall supports the new section of beam, and joins it to the existing beam. And the new doorway to the boiler room has a proper header.
Day 14: Wiring heating duct work
Tuesday March 31
As the contractors roughed in most of the electrical wiring, and the HVAC contractors re-routed heating lines and air conditioning duct work, I roughed in the communications wiring. That’s five of us working in the same area of the house trying not to trip over each other. Somehow, we managed to stay out of each other’s way.
This is how things break down:
The laundry room has separate circuits for the washer and dryer. The overhead light and 2 plugs are on a 20 amp circuit. An Arc Fault Interrupter protects the circuit for the bedroom plugs and a hallway plug. Another circuit supplies power to the bathroom, with yet another one dedicated to the massage tub. The lights make extensive use of three-way switching, so that each light can be controlled from a couple of locations in each room.
Just as in my daughter’s room upstairs, I wanted to keep the potential layout of the master bedroom as flexible as possible. This meant running two Cat5e and two RG6 coax cables to three locations in the room. That’s another dozen wires terminating at the hub in the basement. And that’s a lot of tedious work with Quick Ports in the future.
With the steps to the laundry room now in place, the HVAC contractors were able to re-connect the hot water lines for the heat. They also ran the duct work to the new rooms, so we will have air conditioning in the bedroom, bathroom and laundry.
With all the rough-ins complete, we are ready for the insulation and drywall which arrived this morning.
Day 15,16,17: Insulation and drywall
Wednesday April 1- Friday April 3
The insulation was put in place on Wednesday and most of the drywall was hung on Thursday and Friday. But unlike professional sheet-rockers that we’ve seen on home improvement shows, these guys worked at a somewhat slower pace– probably not much faster than my speed. However, my back is thankful that someone else is doing this heavy work.
At this time, we are still waiting on the tub shower unit, which is delaying the bathroom. But everything else is coming together and looks fantastic.
Kitchen plans are now in hand
We now have the plans for the kitchen. The architect and his staff had tossed around a lot of ideas, from closing off walls to removing walls so we really had no idea what to expect from the first set of drawings. We received the drawings on Wednesday and I don’t think there will be any need to revise them at all. We are going to close off one doorway to create a fully functional U-shaped kitchen with loads of storage and counter space.
My wife and I came to quick agreement about the style and stain we wanted, and we had already picked out a floor tile. The only thing left was to choose our counter top and backsplash. So today, we visited a local granite supplier with the architect and chose our counter. Now we just have to get an estimate for the custom-made cabinets.
This post contains content consolidated from seven posts originally published between March 20 and April 5, 2009. Revised 2018.