Diversion: A Weekend Project in Massachusetts

My parents hired me for a small handyman project at their home in Massachusetts. They wanted me to patch a gaping hole in their laundry-room wall, a relic of the house’s original construction for utilities to pass through. The hole allowed heat to escape in the winter and apparently provided an entry for unwanted animals. I was all too happy to help them out and practice the skills I’ve picked up working on Colin’s house.

The numerous utilities challenged me throughout the project. I began by installing lumber around the edges of the hole to screw drywall into. Ideally one should put nailers around the entire perimeter, but I had to settle for skipping some spots where various outlet boxes and pipes poked through. Those same obstacles, coupled with a lack of convenient studs nearby, forced me to toe-nail the lumber in at awkward angles.

Nailers installed and rigid-foam insulation stuffed into the airspace.

Nailers installed and rigid-foam insulation stuffed into the airspace.

I had to deviate from best practice again when I cut out drywall to fit the hole. Ideally one should cut out a single sheet, minimizing the number of joints. I tried to use a single sheet, but whiIe I attempted to cut around one box of outlets a skinny section broke off. I resorted to a configuration that puzzled together four rectangle-ish pieces of drywall.

Before I could hang it I had to insulate the space… an empty wall doesn’t keep heat in, it only keeps rabbits out. My dad brought a sheet of rigid-foam insulation for the job. His rationale was that rigid pieces would be easy to remove in case they ever have to reopen the wall (he thinks of every contingency), but I had to saw it into smaller pieces to squeeze it through all the pipes and stuff into the wall cavity. I also needed to unscrew and rotate the dryer outlet, which had been installed inexplicably facing into the wall. No electrical know-how needed here, just the brains to switch off the circuit first.

Drywall installed.

Drywall installed.

After all that prep work, hanging the drywall turned out to be reasonably straightforward. I secured the pieces by screwing into every nailer, then I unrolled drywall tape along all the joints and troweled on joint compound mixed with a little water. Industry standard calls for three coats of mud. You’re supposed to wait 24 hours between applications so the mud can dry, but I cheated a little and applied my second coat the same day. (I’ll return to Massachusetts another weekend for the final coat.) I’m not thrilled with how it looks – the new drywall is nowhere near flush with the surrounding wall – but my parents like it and I guess their washing machine will pretty much hide the finished wall from view. The utilities definitely made this project tricky… good practice for next time, whenever that is.

Tape taped and a coat of joint compound applied.

Tape taped and a coat of joint compound applied.

It was wonderful to practice my skills in the absence of a master, and my months of experience definitely boosted my confidence. On the other hand, I found myself longing for Terry’s equipment. A nail gun probably would have helped installing those awkward nailers, and I really tortured myself by cutting lumber with a hand saw. (Only when I was almost done did I discover my dad owns a circular saw… oh well.) Yes, power tools are my friend.

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