Bargain Basement

Our exterior doors arrived as scheduled. The delivery truck backed up to the front of the house and we ran the ramp right through to the first floor. We’ll install them sometime this week, the last pieces to the puzzle of a fully dry enclosure.

Carson and Terry unload a door.
Carson and Terry unload a door.

On the first and second floors we continued to build insulating walls and frame around windows… but for the most impressive progress since I last checked in, I turn to the basement. Sitting forgotten for a month and a half while we chugged along above ground, the basement needed a good sweep to remove all the sawdust and bits of foam and spent hardware that collected there, and Kiara and others cleaned up down there admirably. Next, the floor slab needed some TLC to fill in the low spots, which on rainy days retained puddles even after we built the floors above. Colin and Terry did most of that work yesterday, mixing up several batches of Quikrete and taking great pains to trowel and screed it smooth and level.

Once we finish the basement floor, no one will ever see that the patch is a different color.
Once we finish the basement floor, no one will ever see that the patch is a different color.

Today the new concrete had set enough to commence interior wall-building. Terry as always took charge of chalking layout lines, and he did that so efficiently it was hard to keep track of the steps. One thing is for certain, though: you need to be good at unrolling a tape measure dead straight without any guide. At one point Terry came upstairs and worked out the location of a laundry chute so he could transfer it down to the basement laundry room. (“This is my first laundry chute,” he explained. Aww.)

Terry and Colin built enough walls downstairs that several rooms are taking shape, particularly the bathroom and the mechanical room. They also built a plumbing floor: an array of floor joists raised one step (7½ inches) above the slab that creates a space underneath for running pipes. I didn’t help to install the plumbing floor, and I can only marvel at how nicely it came together. Eventually the plumbing floor will extend over about half the basement footprint, not because the basement contains a lot of fixtures but because the owners don’t want lots of random steps to go up and down. Reasonable enough… the ceiling is plenty high so even I won’t have to worry about headroom.

Plumbing floor all framed beneath the downstairs bathroom.
Plumbing floor all framed beneath the downstairs bathroom.

Wall to Wall

I’ve mentioned before that Colin designed this house to be as energy-efficient as possible. In particular, we will maximize insulation by building the exterior walls 11½ inches thick. Structurally, it’s a double wall: 2×6 construction on the outer wall, 2×4 construction on the inner wall, with a 2½-inch space in between. (How does that add up to 11½ inches? See this post.) We built the 2×6 walls long ago, since they support the floors and the roof. Now we’re going back inside to build the 2×4 walls.

Top view showing the double wall configuration.
Top view showing the double wall configuration. It’s almost like building the house twice!
Here's what the double wall looks like as built.
Here’s what the double wall looks like as built.

We found a clever way to ensure the 2×4 walls went up in the right locations, a constant 2½ inches from the 2×6 walls. Colin cut a whole bunch of scrap plywood into 2½-inch spacers, and we nailed them to the floor and ceiling. To ensure a strong connection, we installed the second top plate directly to the ceiling, then raised the rest of the wall to squeeze between the floor and the plate. We made our lives even easier by nailing blocks to the second top plate, which helped guide the wall into place.

Carson installs spacers on the ceiling. To his right, part of the 2x4 wall has been raised already.
Carson installs spacers on the ceiling. To his right, part of the 2×4 wall has been raised already.

The crew raised the first 2×4 walls before installing any windows. To make the windows fit more easily, Terry suggested leaving out the rough opening lumber and just building the layout studs (16 inches on center) at first. Then, once we put the windows in, we measured the window frames and their locations relative to the top and bottom plates. Those measurements allowed us to cut and assemble the headers, sills, jack studs, cripples, and king studs to fit neatly around.

This sequence leads to a lot of interesting situations. I find in some locations that the layout studs were built less than 3 inches – the thickness of two 2x4s – from the window frame. Therefore I can’t fit both a jack stud and a king stud next to the window. I need to leave out the outer stud, so to make up for it I extend the header and sill to frame directly into the layout stud. Cripples need to be toenailed into the top and bottom plates, often at funny angles because access is so limited. Most frustrating, sometimes the window frame isn’t quite square to the wall. All the windows are perfectly level – we checked – but apparently the 2×4 walls are not. The challenge is assembling the rough opening large enough to fit around the window at the tightest spots but not so spacious as to hinder the installation of drywall and interior trim later.

The window on the right has a 2x4 frame around it. The windows on the left... not yet.
2×4 frames built to fit around the windows.

Plan for the week ahead is to finish the double walls and as many interior walls as possible. Now that the house is dry, we’ve begun to schedule subcontractors for plumbing and wall-finishing, and we need to get the interior ready for them. Also, the door delivery comes tomorrow!

Windows of Opportunity

Close up of a window, fully installed.
Close up of a window, fully installed.

Over the last few days we’ve installed windows galore. As with many components of construction, there’s a definite sequence of steps we must take to secure each window correctly, including a few optional steps we’ve added to make life easier or improve the efficiency of the complete house.

Step 1: Unwrap a window. (You can determine if it’s the right one by a code on the packaging.) Measure the rough opening dimensions and check that the window is about 1 inch smaller both ways. We learned from building the Barn not to frame our rough openings too small, because the windows can jam on their splice plates during installation. If there’s a mistake, plane down the studs or sill plates to enlarge the opening before any further preparation occurs.

The future living room, all filled with wrapped-up windows last week.
The future living room last week, all filled with wrapped-up windows.

Step 2: Remove screens and sashes to lighten the window frame (it’s unwieldy with the glass but quite light without), and take off the lumber skid.

Step 3: Prepare the window opening. If there’s a roof just below the window, install flashing to protect the sill from splatter. For all windows, install half-inch plywood spacers on the sill, taking care not to interfere with any mullion locations. (The mullions are built with metal splice plates that hang below the rest of the frame, and spacers ensure they don’t get in the way.) Cut back the Typar house-wrap one inch around the rough opening perimeter, then put a bead of silicone caulk around the perimeter.

Colin sticks an Ice & Water Shield barrier on the sill. (It folds over and down the outside wall.)
Colin sticks an Ice & Water Shield barrier on the sill. (It folds over and down the outside wall.)
Neo protects a fully prepped rough opening, with Typar cut back and a bead of silicone caulk.
Neo protects a fully prepped rough opening, with Typar cut back and a bead of silicone caulk.

Step 4: Prepare access outside by setting up a ladder (or two, for a large window) just below the rough opening.

Step 5: Maneuver the window into place. We used two main methods: pass the frame out the opening, or hoist the frame up the ladder. Both methods required some fancy handling by the person on the ladder, and careful alignment by the person standing inside, while both supported the frame’s weight.

Carson and Terry nail a window in place.
Carson and Terry nail a window in place.

Step 6: Check that the window is level and centered in the opening, then tack-nail the bottom edge of the trim. Check the diagonals for squareness, then tack-nail the top. Do a final check that the window’s location is perfect, then finish nailing around the perimeter.

Re-installing the glass. Sashes pop in easily if they were taken out right.
Re-installing the glass. Sashes pop in easily if they were taken out right.

Step 7: Put the sashes back in, and complete the 2×4 framing for the inner portion of the double-wall (which was left out so the frame would slide in easily).

Step 8: Air-seal around the frame. On the outside, Zip-Tape between the wall and the window trim. On the inside, fill around the jamb extensions with expanding foam.

Colin unrolls Zip Tape around the perimeter.
Colin unrolls Zip Tape around the perimeter.

We got into a nice groove (as usual) and installed windows rapidly, learning how to complete several steps in a row to minimize ladder movements. What a relief to have all the windows in. All that remains is to carry through Steps 7 and 8 for every window. We had a bit of a challenge finding a foam that will expand to fill the gaps around the rough opening without putting pressure on the jamb extensions… but we’re never ones to back down from a challenge.

Recent view of the front façade. We just installed the three second-floor windows on this wall, too.
Recent view of the front façade. Since taking this picture we installed this wall’s three second-floor windows, too.