Brunch with friends, dogs went swimming, and the garden project rolled along without me— excellent Mother’s day.  If you’re reading mom(s), we love you and can’t wait to see ya!

—Matt (and Kelly)

Mantel Photos

Starting at the end and working backward.  I finished building the majority of our mantel the other day.  I used Google’s free application, SketchUp, to crystallize the final design.  The original mantel looked like this:

Kelly came up with the idea to replace our old oil furnace with a highly efficient Mantis gas fireplace.  When we decided it was the right thing to do, we also rearranged the whole living room.

Once we improved the living room layout, part of which involved purchasing a flat screen, I proceeded to build a structure around the old brick chimney/fireplace. I didn’t mention it when I posted about building the structure how I tied into the wall framing and the mantle top.  I basically screwed 2x4 legs into the wall framing.  The legs each incorporated two 2x4s tied together in an L-shape with some 1/2” plywood to give me enough room to run 2x4 horizontals across the front of the chimney.  Then I built a couple of rectangles out of 2x2s so that any plywood facade could be tied into framing.  Here’s what I started with the other day:

Next, I used 18 gauge 1” nails (as I recall) to attach bead board and some finish grade plywood to the sides and top center of the mantle.  I had a good supply of bead board I had purchased during the summer for prototyping the exterior soffit (but then abandoned using bead board thus leaving me with a surplus of 1 1/2 4x8’ sheets) so I decided it would help distinguish the columns I was envisioning on the right and left.  Here are some links to the soffit project (my post; Kelly’s post) and looking back I see that we need to post the final caulked and painted photos because the finished version looks really good.

Taking down the mounted TV was a definitely a 2-3 person task but I managed to not throw out my back or make a $900 mistake when I brought it back down off the wall.  Ever since I had mounted the TV I had been a bit nervous about it not crashing off the wall so getting it down and knowing I was going to build a much stronger backing was a real motivation for getting this project underway.  Once the TV was down there was no going back because God knows we couldn’t survive another day without watching The Closer :-).

Here I have the 3/4” cabinet grade plywood fastened to the wall with screws and 12 gauge nails.  I’ve started nailing in the MDF 1x6” across the top of the mantle and on the base, 1x4” and 1x3” legs on the left column.

Before I attached the legs, I had to build out from the 2x2 and 2x4 structure at the edges around the fireplace flange so that I would have a single plane to attach the MDF.  When I previously fastened the plywood, I left a buffer of about 1/2” so that I wouldn’t have to cut the plywood perfectly so that it would be flush with the outside of the mantle and the inside (near the flange).  I ripped down (using my table saw setup) some MDF 3/8” strips to get me close to the plane I wanted.  This helped me get flush in three dimensions (with the plywood and into the fireplace opening with the plane of the 2x2s).  It’s hard to see but when your strips are very small, MDF splits pretty easy when you hit it with a nail so I switched over to staples.  One split I had to rip out and put in a small piece (Robert had a name for this practice/piece but I can’t remember it at the moment).  While my work wasn’t perfect, I decided it was good enough and pushed on.

Before remounting the TV I put 1/4” bead board across the breadth of the plywood backer.  I needed to cut one sheet into two 42” tall sections so that the beads would line up vertically and so that I could use the lap edging that adorns the long sides of bead board (the lap edging allows you to butt the long side of the sheets together so that the joint just looks like another bead).

If you made it this far… thanks!  Now go back to the beginning and hopefully you’ll appreciate the final (almost) product.  After I re-attached the TV mount, Kelly helped me get the TV back on the mounting arm.  Fortunately for me, she came home at the perfect time—all of the construction was done and I was starting to sweat bullets that I couldn’t get the weighty TV back on the the mount by myself.

To finish the project I need to run some more MDF vertically toward the ceiling from the top of the mantel.  In my mind this will carry the outside lines of the two columns up toward the ceiling and emphasize the chimney.  We also need to finalize how these legs will someday tie into crown molding: so there is a horizontal detail at the very top of the bead board (where it meets the ceiling) that still needs to be worked out.

Thanks for reading!


In between projects

Haven’t wrote about programming/development work I’m doing in a long time.  I’ll spare you the details but want to share a thought about the “in-between limbo.”  When you work on a project for say 8 months, it’s hard to finish it and it’s hard to move on.  This is especially true when it is R&D (but house projects, community projects, and others share much in common too).  For me, R&D generally means I’m presented with a problem, usually having to do with understanding how water moves on the planet, and then I must solve it, usually through scientific computing (programming). 

In the past, it was water and things in the ocean.  Nowadays, it’s water falling on, accumulating on, and moving over the land.  What makes it so hard is that there is always more that could be done.  And as you do more, especially things you didn’t envision doing when you started, the complexity and expansiveness of the project grows.  And then you have to write about it.  Fortunately I have a draft paper that I’ve polished several times. But it’s not finished.  Really, it can’t be: there are countless things I could do more of, better, and more thoroughly.

So now I’m moving on.  I have to.  My hope is that by diving into something new, I gain new momentum on the next thing I have to do.  At the same time, I think standing back from the old project will allow me to return to it with fresh eyes and the fortitude to call it “good enough.”  It would be great if the old project was done and I could never think about it again— but I don’t really see that as my job description and when I really think about projects having finite boundaries it kind of bores me.  All this helps me rationalize that I’m OK with imperfect completion and that productivity demands that I’m OK with it.

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Siding project: soffit

As far as the blog is concerned, I’ve basically skipped the siding project.  But fortunately in actual life, the project is coming to a close and the biggest remaining hurdle was how to replace the old soffit.  I’m not sure my solution is actually called soffit; a professional might say it is “wrapping” the rafters of the roof trusses.  To me they’re one and the same and I’m going to call it soffit.  Here’s how I did it.

4x8 foot 1/2” ACX plywood sheets (the A means that one face is basically free of knots and blemishes whereas the C means there are some knots).  The sheets had a smooth finish.  I primed them with Killz interior/exterior primer.

I made a pair of short scaffolds for working under the eaves from a taller scaffold I had built for working on the gable ends of the house.  I used a circular saw and my siding nail gun to build the scaffolding.  I didn’t worry too much about making it look pretty.  That said, the scaffolds needed to support my shifting wait so bracing the legs was important for giving the scaffold shear strength (to not collapse to one side or the other).  Siding nails don’t have much shear strength so they’re not dependable for weighty applications but I had a lot of them and they were good enough for some ad hoc scaffolding.

I inserted plastic soffit chuting between the rafters and then blocked underneath them.  The former creates a passage for air to flow from the attic to the soffit vent after more insulation is blown into the attic.  The latter, blocking, keeps insulation from moving into the soffit and blocking the soffit vent.

I did the layout by snapping a chalk line 5 inches away from the fascia and pulling the line taught between two nails at either end of the eaves.  Before putting up the plywood and venting, to keep small critters from getting through the vent slots, I stapled 6” screen along my chalk reference line.

You can see there is a pretty big gap between my plywood and the back of the fascia.  This is partly due to waves in the fascia, partly due to my lack of precision, and maybe partly due to harmonics (small waves) setting up the line as it was snapped and bounced off the rafters.  The finished product looks pretty good with caulking and if I were to make it perfect I’d still be working on it.  Definitely important in a project to balance perfection against time investment.  I loosely nailed the first run of plywood near the fascia to make inserting the venting flange under it easy.  I put up all of the plywood by the fascia, then all of the venting, then finished with the plywood near the side of the house.  As I slid the venting in I placed more nails in the first rung of plywood.  After I had all of the plywood up I thoroughly nailed everything with 15 gauge electro-galvanized (or galvanized or stainless—I can’t remember but I made sure they were rated for exterior use).

Here’s a close-up.  The butt ends of the plywood end at the rafters so they could be securely nailed.  I didn’t nail the soffit into the fascia at all because I figure some day I may want to replace the fascia and I don’t want to have to redo the soffit when the time comes.

CURRENT STATUS: I still have to finish the caulking.  Since getting the soffit put up I’ve been learning about painting the exterior of the house by watching YouTube, reading up on the web, and getting some quotes.  I’m going back and forth on whether or not I should save the money and do the painting myself or save the time and have someone else do it.


A New Jacket: the Insulation/Windows/Siding Project.

We’re deep into this project now.  Originally we were just going to replace our single-pane aluminum windows by cutting around them and kluging together a weatherizing solution.  Trim was going to replace siding around the perimeter of the windows.  But pretty much the day I was going to dive in, my subconscious thoughts must have decided to revolt and I proceeded to spend the day convincing Kelly it was time to actually insulate our house, replace the siding, and weatherize the windows properly.  I didn’t have to do much of a sell because I think Kelly had already concluded this was the best good option (at least she wanted me to pull off the siding to get the weatherization right).  For me, I was really looking forward to not creating lead dust everywhere. 

Here are some shots from early on.

Despite being outdated, the siding on the N/W/E walls was all in pretty good shape with the exception of the bit above the garage (not shown).  The south-side was looking pretty bad (darn, not sure if I have a picture of that).

Edit: I found a pic of the south exterior wall.  The siding everywhere else looked much better, but I’m still excited about having all new siding (and no brick on the front)!  -Kelly

I finally caved on tearing down the brick wall. Kelly always wanted it gone but it took some convincing for me to commit.  But once I did, the big pry bar and wheel barrow helped me make short work of it. 

And once I had it piled up in the front yard, it was practically just the next day by which Kelly had found a Freecycler to take it off our hands. Once I had the siding and builder’s paper off I popped out the window and covered it with plastic sheeting inside and out.  Later I decided that removing the soffit would allow me to really weatherize the windows properly.

Then I removed small sections of the sheathing.  I quickly realized I didn’t need to take each rung off in order to insulate.  But before insulating, it was clear that this was a great opportunity to decommission old outlets in the exterior wall and run wire for new ones.

Insulating went pretty smoothly.  The insulation came encased in plastic which serves as a vapor barrier.  For bays between studs that are 16” on center it’s a snap to get it in.  Smaller bays necessitate some trimming down of the pieces (there’s a better word I can’t think of right now) so that the insulation is a couple of inches wider than the bay.  My neighbor lent me a nail gun and compressor which made putting the sheathing back on go quickly.

Tomorrow I’ll get a shot of this wall with the new window and weather barrier/housewrap (Tyvek) on and will provide a good opportunity to get into the prepwork details that must be addressed before for the siding goes on.


Why wait until a current project is finished, start 3 more!

While Matt has been working tirelessly on the fence with Robert, and somehow finding time here and there to build some raised garden beds and do some other landscaping work, I have been researching and preparing to begin some other major projects this summer.  I spent a lot of my spare time last week and the weekend researching replacement windows, picking Robert’s brain about installation (which we are currently planning to tackle ourselves) and other details, and measuring our rough openings.  Soon we’ll order custom windows for our almost 60-year-old house.  Goodbye single paned aluminum, hello Energy Star and (hopefully) maintenance-free vinyl.  I considered wood, but after doing some research and conferring with our real estate agent, decided vinyl was more suited to the level of our house.  Higher quality materials don’t pay when they’re disproportionate to the overall value of a home.  I also wanted casement windows, which is what we have now, but Matt worried he’d walk into them around the house.  So we’re probably going with sliders, which I like second best because they leave a lot of viewing space when open or closed.  We almost bought them from Lowes to take advantage of a 20% off sale on custom orders, but the ones we were considering were rated “poor” by Consumer Report in wind resistance.  Back to the drawing board.  The good news is that if/once we are customers of the local natural gas company, they offer rebates on energy efficient windows and exterior insulation (if professionally installed - is it worth it? - maybe).  I also need to continue moving on the whole natural gas / new furnace / tankless water heater decision-making process.  Decisions, decisions.  Oh yeah, I have all the supplies to install the light/fan combo in the bathroom, and would like to get that done soon.