Thursday, September 24, 2015

Job One

There is an entry door in the back, off the utility room, that went completely unused. My idea was to seal it up, put a wall, or at best a window, in its place. Yet it's hard to remove a door that is already there -it's like giving up some power. Before we could decide fully what to do with the space, we had to excavate the situation -a situation that anyone with experience in these kinds of things could see wasn't going to be good.

The heart of the problem is a landing at entry level. It sits directly beneath an expansive roof valley that channels falling moisture from two roofs onto the landing at high speed, leaping over the gutter and dropping 8 feet, then splashing up onto a door situated on the cool, wet side of the house. The rust at the bottom of the door is clear, so is the rotting door jamb. The deck boards didn't look so hot and the railings were simply pushed over.

This is what it looked like behind the landing's framing. Not good. Moisture from rain and melting snow was channeled through the wall via lag screws anchoring the landing deck ledger board to the house. Well-designed homes do not do this anymore, particularly where construction methods make use of rim boards made of oriented strand board-like materials as was done at our place. They still penetrate the rim board, but more than a lag is required, but I digress.

"Engineered" lumber is extremely common, but it doesn't hold up to constant moisture and insects. Only the sill plate is made of a durable material -aluminum. The siding, joists, rim, and sheathing are all "engineered" products.

From above you can see that the rot extended under the sill and into the plywood underlayment, subfloor, and joists. On the right is the door framing that shows water penetrating from above the door -probably due to ice damming on the roof in winter.

The door removed, it then became necessary to remove the basement window. We never opened it and its light would not be missed. I also do not like the soil "framing" necessitated by below grade windows. It too was under the same valley that dumps water onto the landing.  Removing this window was one of the easiest decisions we've had to make. 

The window removed and the void studded and sheathed with treated plywood, we then set to remove the rot, what I consider the cancer of wood frame homes. Some carpenters leave rot if it will be covered by dry siding, but even these guys would remove this rot -it's too far gone.

We cut out the subfloor rot, the sheathing rot, the rim rot, leaving only the 2x6 wall plate and joist ends that, although blackened, appeared sound or that removing them would have been more problematic than their soft wood. I applied a bleach solution to all blackened areas. Underneath the cantilevered wall plates and the future door sill I installed supporting 2x10 cuts. To the left is a natural gas inlet pipe that had to be cut to remove and replace the rim joist. That is when we started hanging our laundry.

It was here that I confirmed what had already proved obvious -underneath the staircase to the left is a void with no insulation. The room above the garage had its heating vents closed and the stairwell uninsulated. We learned this when we stored water and my garlic supply there in January. Both froze overnight -the garlic never recovered.

We installed the new rim using a similar strand board lumber -at one and a quarter inches it is thinner than framing lumber, so necessary for the proper fit. We then removed the soil "framing" around the old window, filled the hole, and replaced the treated ply kick plate that surrounds the house.

We sheathed the framing with 1/2 inch treated plywood- possibly overkill, but then we had the material. The subfloor, under the door sill, was also replaced with treated ply.

For a month we went without a door, just a plastic tarp and flimsy plywood covering. This is when the cat learned about the outside. Time was running out, as I was nearing time for my trip to NYC, Vermont, and Boston. The evening before I was to leave, we crammed the new door into its pocket.

When I returned, over three weeks later, I began framing the landing. The 4x4 posts are ground contact treated and anchored to piers just below soil grade. I graded the soil along the house to drain water away from the building and so that no soil comes into contact with the posts where coarse gravel fills the void. The deck framing is treated as well, but the cedar tone stuff common to the box stores these days. The ledger is mounted so that the new deck boards rest a full step below the door sill and the lower level allowed me to lag directly into the foundation wall. I framed parallel to the house so that the deck boards would run perpendicular, allowing for easier flow of rain away from the house. The deck landing slopes away from the house at an eighth inch per foot.

Stair cuts are always a hassle. Here we decided to have a deeper tread than previous, although the rise is a common seven and one quarter inches. The stringer plate rests on a bed of coarse gravel.

I custom flashed the ledger with galvanized sheet metal after adding a layer of protecto-wrap tape. Flashing is one of the more complicated applications at door sills. The best way to think of it is like siding -work from the bottom up. I made sure our lowest flashing element protected the ledger lag bolts. I then installed the cedar riser trim and tread planks. The landing planks, posts and handrails had to wait until the siding was replaced and the gas line restored.

This was how it looked about a week and a half ago. The kick plate installed (designed to support the overhang of the aluminum sill), we were able to have the plumber redo the gas line. Fortunately I did not have to change the rail post placement, and it went in as planned. The door is not the standard box store item as the conditions of this location have only changed by seven inches. Its best feature is a plastic composite lower jamb that should resist the jamb decay that is at least partially responsible for some of structure's rot.

To the right of the landing I replaced the penetrations through the strand board siding with a scarf-jointed cedar plank, flashed above and drip-rabbeted below. The penetrations include the sump pump over-flow (black), the fresh air replacement vent (hooded) and the one inch hose sillcock which has yet to be soldered in.

To the left I have been stymied by the utility meters attached both to the sheathing and to the siding. It will cost a few hundred bucks to get an electrician to remove them so I can build a similar cedar plank plate for those to rest on. The lower four boards are Hardie cementitious siding because no matter what all the contractors say, I have a hard time, given the evidence all around me, that the LP brand strand board product can hold up to the moisture. Our siding hasn't lasted 20 years in places, so where it counts, where there is contact with other materials, I've put in Hardie.

This shirtless, burly guy was sent over by our trash hauler to take away our project waste.

Then a Craigslist ad provided a family to haul away the old playhouse. It took 4 hours, but now their chickens have a swanky bunk.

I removed a ton of horseradish that was growing along the wall, fully expecting it to return next year.

And the lilac I posted about weeks ago has been finally cut out of the soil near the foundation. I can only hope I got it all and I never realized what a weed they could be! In its stead will likely go the New Dawn climbing rose I brought from Brooklyn this August.

This is only a sample of the many projects that have gone on here since May. There are rooms inside with new Sheetrock, new lighting, we have a new well pump, there are bats in our belfry soon to be excluded, there's a new roof, and clearing for an outbuilding. We hired out some siding work to take the load off a little bit, but I am not happy with the craftsmanship. I'm likely too much a perfectionist, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Hiring people to do the work winds me up if only because I know that if I had 17 arms I could get it done and do it better without having paid them what I consider a lot of money for a couple day's work.

There is much more to do, including the front porch and door opposite the one shown here, rotting brick mould on several windows, siding replacement, and the house (and this new door) will need to be painted. The fleshy pink has got to go, but its replacement is daily in question.


  1. scarf-jointed cedar plank? drip-rabbeted below? It's a foreign language but you make it interesting.

    1. Thanks Ellen. Scarf joint is a 45 degree angle cut in this case to allow water to run down between two pieces. The lower piece has the rabbet cut which is a channel that slides over the top of the siding below


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