Category Archives: exterior

Let’s Build A Shed, Part 1

Last spring (in 2015), I was browsing online and for some reason was thinking about a shed, so I looked online and saw some plans for one. I showed them to Mary, and she immediately said “Oh, I can help you build that!” I’m pretty sure that you have already deduced what happened next.

On Facebook, I like a page for a magazine called The Family Handyman. Each year they build a different shed and share with everyone the construction plans and materials list so you can build it yourself. This is the shed that we chose, with a modified exterior to more closely resemble the house. It is 12 x 16:

The construction plans include very detailed information, making construction relatively straightforward:

Our plan was to build the shed over the summer, so I had about a month to prepare everything – work the materials list, get quotes for everything, haggle over said quotes, etc. In addition, last summer my oldest nephew Tyler (12)  was coming to visit us for a few weeks as well from Austin – we asked him if he wanted to build something from scratch, and he was pretty excited (he was going to get to use the air tools, after all), so we now also had a project to work on too.

Aside from working out the materials, I also needed to prepare the site. We placed the shed roughly on top of the location of our 2014 pig roast pit,  and I had to grade the soil a bit. After looking up foundations (and understanding the tax implications of each), we decided to build a floating 6×6 foundation on crushed stone. There is a tax trick here – if you build it on, say, a concrete pad, the shed becomes a “permanent structure” and gets added to your property taxes. A shed that is not attached to the ground (technically movable) does not.

We got the site prepped and the foundation\floor built in the weeks before Tyler arrived – I ordered about 9 tons of crushed stone, leveled that out, and then laid out the 6×6 framing and used large lag bolts to pull everything together and squared it up. Once this frame was built and resting level, I filled the inside with additional stone. For a floor, we used a 2×2 concrete paver laid directly onto the stone and tamped down until it was level and no wobbly. Mary helped with this, and Stephen got his hand in for help as well. Even our neighbor Bob stopped over periodically to do some of the heavy lifting work. The advantage to this floor style is that it is not particularly susceptible to frost heaving, and any water that gets on the floor simply runs down through the crushed stone.

Once Tyler arrived, he and I went and picked up the materials from Home Depot (after some negotiating and back-and-forth between various home centers for the business) and the three of us got to work. Tyler was a big help, and by the time he left in two weeks, we had built the four walls and begun to put on the base sheathing.

Here are the progress pictures – watch for Part 2.



Up On The Roof

Finishing a story that began in our last post, we needed to put a roof on the house this spring. When we moved in we had the roof evaluated, and knowing that the existing roof was put on in 1994, we felt we would have about 7-9 years before we had to replace the roof ourselves. But, that’s the fun of owning a house – not everything works out as planned.

To recap from the last post: This winter we started getting significant spots on the living roof ceiling, indicating that water was leaking. At one point, there was water running down the outside of the large living room window as it would run down the rafters, then drip out of the soffits. One of my neighbors owns a Real Estate office and does some property management (and happened to have his roof replaced six months earlier), so I asked him for some recommendations. Ultimately we chose to use a father-son duo (Struble & Son Construction) with about 20 years experience and a specialty in roofs who was also willing to work with me on my plans for insulating the ceiling structure. When we looked in the attic, it was apparent the problem was pretty significant and not a quick fix, so they put a tarp on the roof to stop the existing water infiltration, and then when it got warm in April, we started to do some work.

With a warm week in April, the work got started in earnest. The first step was peeling off the roof and bad roof decking over the cathedral ceiling area to get access to the attic space. The cathedral ceiling allows a lot of heat to percolate up to the roof deck, which causes the snow to melt, leading to ice damming problems. It also meant that we were losing heat (or cool) through that ceiling. I wanted to fix both of these. Originally, we thought that once we opened the roof deck up we were going to find the existing insulation was wet and would have to be trashed. But fortunately, that turned out to not be the case. (Yay! Saved $400 in insulation cost!) We did, however, have to pick out quite a bit of blown cellulose in certain spots, which was contributing to the problems in the roof by preventing proper airflow. In the pictures you can see how damaged the roof decking was in these areas. With the roof deck opened up, and once the cellulose was removed (not fun), we cut 1 inch foam boards to fit on top of the existing fiberglass insulation and then completely air sealed them into the cavity using canned spray foam. This approach lets me guarantee that there is a space above the ceiling and below the roof deck for air to freely flow across. It also ensures that no air from the living space can seep upward to the bottom of the roof deck – so, the ice damming issues should be resolved (we’ll know next winter for sure.)

Because I’m that kind of guy, I was not just supervising this work, but doing most of the insulation work with the contractors. I’m a stickler like that, and I like knowing what actually happened before things get closed up. While the roof was opened, I also took the time to run a wire to add a new sputnik light to the entryway of the house, too.

As we moved through the project, one other thing we were really trying to figure out is what exactly failed with the old roof. Most people point to the chimney – but it was clear from the water pattern and from taking things apart that water was not leaking at the joints in the chimney. The only logical candidates were a general failure of the shingles from old age and an issue with the ridge vent that let water filter underneath the roof. For us, that’s good news in a silver lining way – it meant that short of what we were doing to replace the roof, there was likely nothing else we could have really done to fix it aside from replacement.

The whole project took two and a half days, and I feel the shingles really complement the look of the house now that they are installed. For our project, we chose to use IKO Cambridge AR shingles in the “Patriot Slate” color – this is a mostly dark gray shingle with flecks of red that are the same color as our brick. We added ice and water protector about 8 feet up the cathedral ceiling roof just in case there are any issues in the future as well.

Once this project was completed, next was to get back inside the house and repair the water-damaged living room ceiling (fortunately this is a tiled ceiling using Armstrong Grenoble 12×12 ceiling tile, and to add a new small sputnik light from Practical Props. More on that work in the next post.

Here’s a set of progress shots of the roof, and a before\after:

Our House Has a Poncho

Continuing the story of unexpected homeownership expenses – we are going to be getting a new roof this coming week.

The roof on the house is the second roof, my grandparents had a full tear off done in 1994, so this roof is 22 years old. I had it inspected before we bought the house and the shingles were in good shape, looking like another 10 years of life. Even now, the shingles are in good repair and have another 5-7 years of life in them, but we have a different problem – somewhere above or around the chimney area of the roof, there is a leak. This has always been a problem in the house, one my grandparents tried to address in the past too, but something was missed.

We knew there was at least a small leak somewhere, as every few years we would get a very small water spot on the living room ceiling that needed to be addressed. But since it was so infrequent and inspection didn’t reveal anything, we just rode it out. Unfortunately, our luck ran out this winter, as the leak became acute. Just a regular rainstorm would lead to an excessively wet spot on a ceiling tile and\or water running down the front of the house as it ran down the rafters to the soffits. Inspection in the attic showed that there was clearly a problem that, left untreated, was going to get out of hand quickly (mold, etc.)

To prevent things from getting worse, I had the roofers stop by and put a big tarp on the roof, to make sure that the water intrusion stops and give a healthy amount of time for any wet areas to thoroughly dry out. In the meantime, our house is wearing a poncho.

As with all projects around here, there is a “while we’re in here” project to be addressed – properly insulating the cathedral ceiling. In short, this ceiling has never been correctly insulated, leading to ice damming issues, etc. So we’re fixing that too. And I’m going to add a sputnik light to the entry space. You know, while I’m in there and all.

This weekend I’ve been buying the supplies needed to do the insulation project and coordinating with the roofing contractor about how to get it accomplished. If the weather holds out, we should have a new roof, tightly insulated ceiling, and new sputnik light by this coming weekend.

New Sewer Line

Our fall and winter has been filled with some exciting “joys of homeownership” issues. In November we noticed that we were having a problem with the sewer line, which started to drain very, very slowly. Fortunately, since we live on a large sloped lot, this didn’t really result in any disaster for us, but it clearly had to be corrected. About halfway down the backyard hill, we suddenly had a very green area of the lawn, even into late October. In our house, the sewer line comes out the back of the house, and runs approximately 100 feet to a manhole on the edge of our property.

A quick call to our local plumbing service to check things out led to us having an excavator dig the potential problem area up as we couldn’t successfully snake out the problem. This revealed…a whole lot of nothing, except that the line was terra cotta tile. Usually this means that the clay tile has either collapsed or become clogged with tree roots somewhere, but we weren’t entirely sure exactly where that was. Mary and I made the call to have the whole line replaced – replacing only part of it would have been technically cheaper, but there is the possibility that the remaining parts of the line would have required service at some point in the future. Since we already had paid for the excavator and the time, replacing the whole thing with new SDR 35 (PVC) pipe and never worrying about it again seemed like a good choice. SDR 35 pipe has a gasketed bell joint – each piece fits together tightly and securely – so it effectively stops roots and other problems before they start.

I lent a hand to the crew, becoming the “third man” they needed on the job (which saved a few hundred bucks.) This work isn’t particularly bad, since we’re laying in all brand new line, which took 1.5 days. While I was at it, I had them dig a trench for electrical wiring to a new shed (more on that in a future post.)

When digging the line up, we found two things: first, halfway down there was a cleanup buried in the ground. If we had known that was there, it may have been handy. Second, the upper half of the pipe was terra cotta, but the bottom half was cast iron pipe. (the roots had grown into the cast iron section very close to the manhole.) This leads me to believe that my grandparents possibly replaced a portion of the sewer pipe, possibly in the 1970s or 1980s. Unfortunately that’s a detail I can’t really find out currently.

Of course, we’re coming into spring and I have a new challenge: getting the backyard cleaned up. An excavator digging a giant trench across your lawn leaves a heck of a rocky mess to clean up.

New Sidewalk

I have a handful of old slides, they are mostly from the 60s, from around the house. From those slides, I knew that originally there was a sidewalk from the driveway around the garage to the back patio. Here are snapshots of a pair of them, from 1965 – I don’t have a good slide copier quite yet, so the quality isn’t that great:

The sidewalk was made of concrete, and as such it broke apart over the years. I’m guessing it was taken out sometime in the early 1980s by my grandparents when they replaced the original concrete patio with bluestone pavers, but am not certain. What I did know was that I a sidewalk was not only eminently functional, but also looked really nice – it provided a natural border around the perimeter of the house for planting, etc. In the summer of 2014 I did a lot of work on the front landscaping, so this would be a good chance to finish the landscaping around the entire house.

Before I could begin, I had to do some prep work – there was a raised bed against the back wall that had to come out, and it was filled with a lot of bearded iris that I wanted to move elsewhere. Once these were done, I also had to parge the rear foundation wall to get it back into shape.

With the prep work out of the way, I turned out to be in luck elsewhere – our new neighbors down below were pulling up a bluestone walkway in front of their house to put in a larger multi-level concrete patio. It turned out that the stones were generally 2ft x 3ft stones…exactly what I was laying for the new sidewalk – for a tidy savings of a few hundred bucks. I picked up the rest of the stones needed from a local building supply shop and set to work. Each stone is thick and heavy – 2ft by 3ft by 1.5 inches thick, weighing about 80-90 pounds each. They are mostly just set into the clay soil with some sand to ease leveling. It took about two weeks to get the whole walkway finished up, but the end results came out well, especially once I got some basic landscaping in place. Here are the pictures: