Rebuilding My Green Home's Sunroom Walls For My Future Office
The shortage of construction workers was delaying the construction of new sunroom walls; generally, my sunroom makeover project had been moving very slowly.
Now that the roofline had been corrected, I needed the sunroom walls rebuilt and I was getting desperate.
For those workers who haven't yet moved to Alberta (an unfortunate situation which prevails here in the Maritimes), overwork is taking its toll. And so one day, the very contractor from whom I had been hoping to get a commitment for August phoned to say I should get someone else, as he was definitely booked until December, at which time he needed to take some time off for the sake of his health.
He gave me a couple of names, and luckily for me, one of them - Jerry - was going to have a free day soon. "Just one day," he said over the phone. Not even two days. Oh, well.
I asked for references about him around the village and all reports were favorable.
My Contractor For A Day
Jerry came to see me the very next day. I explained to him that the project was stuck at a very inconvenient stage. In order to be able to have the plumbing, electrical and insulation done, I needed: 1) new sunroom walls at the front (my future office); and 2) new walls at the back (my future kitchen).
I showed him both areas, and we agreed that the sunroom walls were the most urgent project; moreover, he guaranteed me that he and his men could do it in one day.
I liked Jerry right away; I could see he would be easy to work with. That's not always the case when you're a woman. Especially an older one like yours truly. Especially in this part of the world. Especially if she asks a lot of questions and - oh horrors! - dares to make suggestions about the renovations.
We agreed on a day and his price - $75 an hour for three men - seemed more than reasonable. I believed Jerry when he said, "Don't worry, you'll get your money's worth."
He was right.
The job involved two distinct areas of the house:
1) The sunroom / future office, which had already had some work done earlier: we had gutted it during the winter, and this had revealed a problem with the roof structure.
This structure was completely rebuilt earlier this summer, taking advantage of the fact that the roofing was being redone.
You can see the rebuilding process, step by step, at my Sunroom Roof page.
The four photos above show:
The house in its initial condition (sunroom is the front addition)
The sunroom interior in its initial state
The sunroom after gutting the walls and ceiling; and
The new ceiling and roof structure
On this new workday, the following was to be carried out:
Removing the siding, house wrap and damaged particle board sheeting
Removing the storm windows
Removing the entrance door with its frame
Rebuilding the exterior walls
Waterproofing the bottom part of the walls
Applying house wrap
2) The rear addition, formerly part den and part kitchen (and future kitchen/dining-room), had also been completely gutted earlier.
The photo on the left shows part of that east wall, as it was initially; below, the abundant rot that lay beneath the wallpaper mural.
(Note: The sunroom walls had the same kind of water damage, but not as much.)
On that same day, the rear addition east wall would become the location of the main entrance, requiring:
Cutting out an opening in the aluminum siding
Building a proper structure to receive a door
Installing the old entrance door with its frame
The Crew Arrives And We All Get A Nasty Surprise
Jerry phoned the night before to confirm their arrival time at the job site. That's the kind of professionalism that I appreciate.
I showed up early with my weed whacker to trim the grass around the sunroom's foundation.
Jerry and his men arrived at 8.30. They didn't waste any time getting to work.
Taking off the vinyl siding was quickly done. However, as I had noticed when I bought the house, that siding went all the way to the ground - and even beyond - which is something that should never happen.
And so when the men started digging, it soon became apparent why this is not a good idea: the sill plate was completely rotted out in some spots. You could scrape it out with your bare fingers.
I already knew that the particle board that had been used to build the sunroom walls showed some water damage - which was the reason for the rebuilding in the first place - but I had no idea that below that particle board there was nothing but wooden floor joists and a wooden sill plate.
This looked like it could be really bad and Jerry's first reaction was "Gina, we'd be wasting your money; get somebody to come and jack up the house and replace this before doing anything else."
This was a huge shock because I expected the sunroom walls to be all rebuilt that day, and besides, I didn't know anyone who could fix that problem.
My eyes teared up with frustration and despair.
Old Bricks To The Rescue... And The Crew Comes Through
Luckily, Jerry wasn't the type to give up so easily. He made his men dig all around the foundation. We discovered - as the photos show - that the sunroom walls were actually sitting on a nice concrete pad (and not directly on the dirt, as feared), and in one part the sill plate was indeed all rotted out, as well as the ends of the floor joists on which the floor rested, but in the other parts it was still intact.
I asked if maybe concrete blocks could be inserted as supports (I had a few salvaged ones around) but Jerry measured the gap and determined that concrete blocks would not fit in there.
He went to the back yard, where I had a pile of bricks that had been salvaged from the demolition of the back porch. Excellent hard bricks, high-fired, made from local clay in a former local brick plant.
There were two different sizes and by stacking one of the smaller ones on top of one of the bigger ones, the result was the exact size of the gap left by the removal of the rotten sill plate below the sunroom walls.
However, as it got nearer the center of the wall, the gap was too small, by a mere quarter-inch.
Ensued a discussion about how to jack up the wall there... in the end Jerry had to go and get some material, and he instructed the men to insert the bricks wherever they could between the floor joists and then he left.
I had to get some breakfast and check the mail, so I left as well.
When we came back, we got a fine surprise: in our absence the men had used a steel bar and some bricks to make a lever and they had lifted up the sunroom walls just enough to slip the bricks in everywhere that they were needed!
I was at once jubilant and upset that I had missed the best picture of the day!
Rebuilding the Walls, Finally
Once the old tar paper and rotten particle board were off, rebuilding the sunroom walls walls with OSB board was quickly done.
Notice how we kept the old windows.
A good crew and the right tools: the perfect combination.
As a bonus, Jerry straightened this window. If you look closely, you can see how it had shifted (check the bottom sill).
A few months after Jerry's brief but vital contribution to the project, I found a drywall contractor and a very good wholesale price on drywall, and work resumed on my future office.
Jerry Gives Me Some Homework
Jerry did remark, though, that the floor joists would have to be repaired from the inside. An easy job which he described in full detail, and which a helper and I could carry out, and for which I would get to use some of the valuable 4x6 lumber that I had salvaged.
Repairing the floor joists would also allow me to level the floor, which, due to settling, was tilting about four inches towards the outside at present.
Finally once the flooring is off, proper insulation can be put in to replace the thin rigid Styrofoam that's there now. This will greatly improve the sunroom's energy efficiency.
While I was watching this and taking photos, Jerry was at the back investigating the future entrance, and by the time I got there, an entire wall had been taken down - siding, sheeting and all - instead of just an opening for the door as we had planned.
Jerry said that the particle board was so badly rotten that when they touched it it crumbled into sawdust - which is what it was made of in the first place. (Particle board was never recommended for exterior applications, but people used it anyway.)
And so they had had to strip off the siding and now they were replacing some rotten two-by-fours with new ones.
Once the framing for the door had been built, the old door slipped right into place. (I hadn't yet decided if I would change that door, install a storm door and/or build a vestibule, but it wa a standard-size door and so whatever happened later wouldn't require any major adjustments.)
Here is what that east wall looked like at the end of the day:
And this is what the sunroom walls looked like, at the end of the day:
All's Well That Ends Well
I am grateful to Jerry and his team for their patience and for a job done well and with care. It's hard to find people who take pride in their work nowadays, and that makes all the difference.
I hope that this account will be of some help to you if you encounter unusual problems in your own green building project.
There's always a solution! The important thing is not to panic and not be afraid to think outside the box.
Don't be afraid to apply your own instinct and creativity!
The sunroom walls project was extremely reasonable. Total cost was $859.98, all taxes included, broken down as follows:
REUSING SALVAGED BUILDING MATERIALS: I was pleased that we were able to reuse some of the materials salvaged from the Deconstruction phase and also from last year's shed demolition.
From the former, we used two 36-inch pieces of 2 x6 lumber for creating the new door header and from the latter, those precious bricks.
However, we had to buy ten two-by-fours, even though I had several salvaged ones in storage.
In spite of the best intentions, it's not always possible to reuse those old two-by-fours. For instance, they can't be combined with new ones because whereas in the old days a two-by-four actually measured two inches by four inches, nowadays it only measures one and a half inches by three and half inches.
That's why the repairs to the sunroom walls and rear addition had to be done with new lumber, as you can see in the photo, above.
Those two additions are from the 1970s, whereas the main body of the house - whence most of the salvaged lumber came - was built in the 1950s.
OSB BOARD (Oriented Strand Board - a form of engineered lumber): My small village has only one supplier, and I was unable to ascertain whether this material contained any formaldehyde or not. Otherwise, this sheeting is much more eco-friendly than solid wood, because it's made of scrap material. That's why they often recommend it for green building projects.
MOVE THE STAIRS Moving a staircase? It's easy! Watch this step by step stair project how-to from top to bottom. (All puns intended!)
PILE ON THE INSULATION Looking for ways to save energy? Home insulation should be high on your list of priorities. Get the facts.
ANOTHER STAIR STORY We took out the stairs to the second floor, so now how do we get up there? A folding attic ladder supplies the answer.
TAP THE EARTH FOR WATER We prospect for water by ancient means and lo! water appears. See it happening, step-by-step.
DOWNSIZE YOUR LIFE Are you serious about reducing your impact on the environment? Start by downsizing your home! See how I did it -- and why.
LEARN ABOUT SOLAR ENERGY If you thought solar energy was only about solar panels, think again... and read this article by solar energy expert Michael Martinez.
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Dean Prague, Czech Republic
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Steve United States
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Candice Unites States
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Rajiv United States
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Marie United States
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Living here in Montreal, and the conditions aren't easy on a house and this site sure helped to answer some questions.
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Have to say I absolutely love your site. Really complete, well thought out, and has me clicking from page to page...
A few years ago, I bought this fixer-upper for $10,000.
It had been vacant for six years, had no water supply, needed a new roof, and was likely to conceal an unsuspected number of nasty flaws.