Garage: Doorway to the House

One of the annoyances of the this portion of the addition has been accessing the build site. The opening for the door into the house had to be delayed until the garage doors and exterior door were installed. As much as we enjoy the potential of entertaining bears, we decided it was best to wait until we were secure before breaching the wall between the house and the garage.

The process of breaching the wall was not for those who lack gumption. The poured concrete portion of the wall was 8 inches thick and reinforced with rebar (the foundation of this house is the one thing that was done correctly on this house; discovered during the wall breaching process). Fortunately for the project, Dave has gumption to spare.

Dave started by using a gas powered wet saw (Home Depot, rental department) to cut around the perimeter of the doorway. The saw blade only cut 4-5 inches deep. The idea was that once the cut was made, the wall would be weakened significantly and the doorway would open with a few hits of a sledge hammer. Unfortunately, this hypothesis was quickly proven false and a new plan was hatched.

Being the stubborn man of Scottish descent that he is, Dave took his impact driver, attached a masonry bit, and started drilling along the cut lines to further decrease the walls structural integrity. The DeWalt impact driver did its best, but the motor burned out. In further tribute to his ancestry, Dave replaced the motor on the impact driver. Realizing the tool was too small for the job at hand, a heavy duty Makita drill was rented (Home Depot, where else?) along with masonry and hammer drill bits. The perimeter was drilled and the sledge taken to the concrete wall. It still refused to budge.

Simple math was then employed and it was determined even if the entire section of wall could be knocked out in one piece, it would weigh over 1500 pounds and destroy the new concrete floor. So Dave decided that breaking the doorway into 8 sections would be the best option.

Dave continued to drill holes in the wall creating the 8 sections. When rebar was encountered, he drilled holes and chipped away at the concrete around the rebar. Once it was sufficiently exposed, Dave was able to cut the rebar with a grinder. This process was long, but ever so slowly the concrete wall came down.

Even with the concrete removed, the process was not over. The door height was in no way legal unless you happen to be a hobbit. The next process was to cut out the top plate and a course of logs.

The challenge of removing the logs was the long pins between the courses to hold the walls together. The pins would definitely provide serious harm so care had to be used when going through the undersized door.

Compared to the concrete portion of the doorway, the top plate and logs were rather easy to remove. The laser level was employed to ensure that the doorway was cut square. Dave used a chainsaw to make the initial crude cuts and did the fine work with a saws-all. This was done quickly and soon enough there was a full sized door opening leading to the new garage!

Difficulty level (skills): low moderate – the tricky part was making sure the door opening was lined up properly with the stair landing and large enough (rough opening > finished opening). But if you can run a saw and swing a sledge, this job is in your wheelhouse.

Difficulty level (labor): extreme – this job was truly back breaking. The concrete was 8 inches thick and reinforced. We should have contracted this one out, but by the time that realization hit, Dave was far enough through the wall that he didn’t want to give up.

Pro tip: don’t engage Dave in a battle of wills.

Garage: Insulation, Framing, Exterior Doors

After a long excavation, jockeying for concrete, and getting the roof structure up, it was a relief to move on to interior work. While we weren’t completely weather tight since the roof membrane had not been installed, it was close enough to continue. The other relief was to have the pad poured and to be working on a flat surface. Setting up a ladder on gravel is not the most pleasant business.

All exterior walls received a layer of 1″ thick foam board, adhered with construction adhesive. This would seem like a simple task, but all the raised imperfections on the concrete walls had to be chipped away. Somehow, a piece of concrete debris always finds its way in behind one’s safety glasses. The end result of this step was a giant box that looked like it was papered in aluminum foil.

Once the insulation was up and taped (so it would function as a vapor barrier), it was time to start framing. The framing was relatively quick and easy because it there was only a single door to worry about. The front wall had already been framed to support the roof structure.

With these steps complete, the pile of construction supplies dwindled significantly. It was a rather bittersweet moment for the golden mantled ground squirrels because we removed their artificial habitat. However, we were pleased that we could move on with rough electrical. This occurred just after the roof membrane was installed.

With rough electrical completed and inspection passed, we moved on to insulating the rest of the garage. The roof received approximately 7″ of spray foam (R-value ~49) and 2-layers recycled fiberglass batting (R-13) was installed between the studs and on the low roof.

Additional progress was made when the garage doors were installed. We went with Clopay Modern Steel garage doors. The R-value was one of the highest we could find (R: 18.4). The modern style may seem a bit odd for a log home, but we are hoping to capture a modern rustic aesthetic. American Garage Door in Wheatridge, CO was the closest dealer. Seth was fantastic and was very patient as we tried to find the closest Sherwin Williams paint color to our preferred Benjamin Moore color (North Creek Brown). We didn’t quite nail it and the doors had to be repainted. A minor inconvenience for a really good looking door.

For the level of expertise – section was contracted out after we got the rigid foam board up. Spray foam is a bit of an art – if you put it on too thick it won’t cure right. If you are doing walls, you may have to shave it down. Better leave spray foam to the experts. They have the equipment and PPE. Installation of the garage was included in the price an the pros will get it done faster than we ever will. It was nice only having to worry about scheduling.

Garage: Front Wall, Roof Trusses and Decking

With the concrete walls set for the garage, it was time to build the front wall and get the roof trusses in place. . We were dreading the placement of what we simply dubbed, the “big truss”. Big truss is a 300 pound triple truss coming in at 26 feet long. The smaller trusses are singles at 26 feet long, and only weight 95 pounds.

It was key to ensure that the front wall was built properly – it supports the trusses. If the front wall height is incorrect, the roof will not slope properly leading to water drainage issues. Dave used his laser level to sight the wall heights and then ran plumb lines to ensure that everything as built to the appropriate height.

Dave and excavator Dave used his mini backhoe to move big truss into the garage. Big truss was so long, it could not be orientated properly in the build site. Dave and excavator Dave had to move the truss to the shared driveway, orientate it properly, and move it back to the build site (Jess was fortunately not home for this escapade). The escapade Jess got to witness was the lifting of big truss into place with the mini excavator. We are most definitely not a OSHA job site.

After big truss was secure, we used a materials lift (rented) to position the remaining 15 trusses. The materials lift was a back and lifesaver. The trusses were lifted and positioned 16 inches on center on the top plate of the front wall and rear concrete wall. Dave had pre-marked the top plate so the trusses could be quickly placed. Once the truss was in position, a nail gun was used to toe-nail the truss in place. The truss was then secured to a 2 x 4 running horizontally across the top to ensure that it remained 16 inches on center and perpendicular to the top plate. The tricky part to this step was the last two trusses – both had to be lifted to the top plates and secured to big truss. The reason for this was if the penultimate truss was placed, it would have prevented us from using the materials lift to get the last truss set.

Once all the trusses were in place, the materials lift was used to get the decking sheets (Advantech) onto the roof. The first two sheets took the longest because they had to be secured in order to create a platform to place materials and work from. Construction adhesive and screws were used to secure the Advantech sheets to the trusses. Since the sheets are 4’x8′, it was key to have all the trusses 16″ on center to ensure that all the seams were located on a truss. Once the roof decking was on, the entire system was very sturdy.

Upon completion of the roof decking, Dave went on to build a parapet to hold the green roof material and the roof for the window well. To build the parapet wall, roof’s slope was taken into account. The wall is 4 inches high over the garage doors, increasing to 10 inches high to the rear of the garage.

Garage: Footers, Forms, and Floors

One of the hardest points of a construction project is right around the end of excavation. You’ve written checks for architect and engineering fees, variance fees, permit fees, and paid deposits. You are already over projected budgets and time lines, the bank account is depleted, and the credit cards are carrying much higher balances. And all you have to show is one flipping giant hole in the ground.

And then comes mud (concrete), glorious, glorious mud. It’s amazing how just getting footers in can offer a bit of hope. And then the wall forms. And before you know it, there are walls.

Footers pushed us a little further behind schedule. It has been a cool, wet spring in the mountains and that means concrete takes a wee bit longer to set up. Throw in the fact that everyone has been waiting for the good weather, the concrete plants are running at capacity and are struggling to keep up with demand.

After getting the front wall framed and the roof decking installed, it was time to lay radiant flooring (3/4 inch PEX tubing on top of 2 inch foam board on top of 4 inches of crushed stone). Through meticulous planning, the radiant tubes are direct below unused air intakes in the existing foundation wall – no need to drill new holes. (It was really dumb luck, but we’ll take it.) After the tubing passed a pressure test, we were good to go for our pad pour.

With the concrete plants still running 24/7 to barely keep up with demand, we weren’t certain if we were going to be able to pour on Friday. This was key to allow us to do interior framing on Sunday. The framing needs to be done so we can keep on track with electrical rough in and not miss the inspection window. (Missing the inspection window just means more delays.) We found out on Thursday that mud was coming Friday at noon. The small things that help keep us on track.

Some fun info about concrete – it can be mixed at different consistencies. Thicker consistency is used for walls and footers (generally) and sets up quickly. The quick set up time results in a heat quickly and helps prevent the concrete from freezing before it sets in cold temperatures. Thinner consistency is used for floors (need to be floated) and sets up slowly. The heat is released more slowly. Why does this matter? Apparently on a hot summer day you need a mix that is thinner than normal. Otherwise the concrete sets too fast before it can be properly floated. We hired a great team of concrete guys, but they were working hard to make sure things were right before the concrete set.

Garage: Excavation

With winter somewhat behind us, we started our garage project. Summer seemed like it was in full swing when we began our dig, but a cold snap showed up a few days later. We kept on chugging through – summer is short in the mountains. (For the big picture of this renovation click here)

The first couple of days of excavation were promising. There was more top soil than we expected. Fingers were crossed that this would keep up. We had local sources who wanted the fill coming out of our job site (saving lots of money not trucking the fill down the canyon). Over the next few days we hit rock. Nothing the backhoe couldn’t handle, but the going slowed down. Then we hit the hard rock. Our excavator had to bring in his rock breaker, things really slowed down, and costs went up. But the hole got dug.

Check out the time-lapse videos below for some digging fun. We didn’t get every day, but you get the idea.

Initial Estimate (time, fill to be removed): 4 days, 250 cubic yards of fill

Final Estimate (time, fill removed): 11 days, 450 cubic yards/658 tons of fill

Day 1 – started capturing images a little bit late, but we are off to the races on this project.
Day 2 – more digging.
Day 3 – Dirt continues to be removed.
Day 4ish? Yes, that is snow . . . at the end of May. We might post the video of the summer solstice snow we received . . .

Alex’s Playhouse: Finishing Touches

Alex’s playhouse has been done for almost a year now, and this post is finally going to see the light of day.

Doors, windows (plexiglass), and soffets were added. An area rug was purchased as a floor covering to keep splinters out of little feet were purchased. A toy kitchen was also added. Alex did express disappointment that it didn’t have running water or power. He didn’t appreciate Dave telling him it is powered by imagination. We also added a swing.

Critical Tools: Bubble level, nail gun, circular saw, square, measuring tape, impact driver

Process (Simplified):

  1. Build and install doors
  2. Build and install windows
  3. Install slide and swing



Alex’s Playhouse: Flooring, Framing, and Sheathing

With the support posts up and the flooring joists installed, progress on the playhouse can continue. Next steps were to add flooring, framing, and sheathing. The flooring was easy since the the dimensions of the playhouse are 8′ x 12′ (3 sheets of plywood laid next to each other).

The framing was a more complex situation with the introduction of doors and windows. These had to be planned out and properly framed. We opted to build the east and west wall frames on the floor of the playhouse, sheath, and raise into place. This option was much safer than framing the wall in place and then trying to sheath it. Some safety concerns included the height we would be working off the ground and the hillside resulting in less than stable ladder placements. The south wall was the easiest to deal with since the deck could be used as a work space. The north wall was also easy to frame in place because it is only a few feet off the ground.

Critical Tools: Bubble level, nail gun, circular saw, square, measuring tape, impact driver

Process (Simplified):

  1. Place floor decking on joists and screw into place
  2. Build walls – not in place but using the floor decking as a work space (framing and sheathing)
  3. Raise walls and secure

Process (Gallery)

Skill Level: Intermediate

Tip(s): Don’t put up pre-sheathed walls with a stiff wind blowing by yourself. Have a friend or two there to help.

Sizing the playhouse to be 3 sheets of plywood made it simple to install the floor decking – no need to cut plywood down