2nd floor perimeter framing

December 4th, 2014
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Its not just a framing job, like it was on the 1st floor. This is a framing and insulation job at the same time.

Let’s look back at the 2nd floor insulation strategy.

insulation-section-11

Because the 2nd floor exterior wall consists of two wyth, rather than the three, we have a little more room for insulation. We air sealed the building with two inches of closed cell foam. Following the foam, we planned on two layers of rock wool insulation, one layer behind the framing and the second layer between the studs.

This assembly gets us to a R-value of 40 at almost the same cost of the R-28 insulation assembly from the 1st floor.

Back to the job on hand. I decided that I should try to install the first layer of rock wool together with the framing, to keep things simple. The question was, how?

For once, it turned out to be simpler than expected. We put the framing together as usual and lifted the sections into place, making sure the bottom plate was in its final position. We tilted the top of the framing section into the room. That gave us enough space to start stacking the first layer of rock wool between the framing and the closed cell insulation.

Once all the rock wool was stacked behind the tilted framing section, we pushed it into a vertical position and attached the top plate.

The attic, the space between the ceiling joists and roof joist, was a little more complicated because it is a tight space. But we followed the same principles.

What is left now is to install the second layer of rock wool between the studs.

Once it is all done, this will be a very cozy apartment!

Related posts:

1st floor perimeter wall framing

Double duty

2nd floor closed cell installation

Blower door test – before insulation

2nd floor insulation strategy

2nd floor closed cell installation

3rd layer – rock wool insulation

Insulation preps – plugging the 3” gap

Insulation preps – 3” thermal break

Insulation update

The insulation riddle is back

Following the control layers

Insulation riddle resolved

Insulation – how much is needed

Insulation – which material cuts it

Insulation – starts with moisture management

Insulation – lots of conflicts

Insulation – how it started

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Knock, knock – who’s there?

November 21st, 2014
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I don’t care! Stop knocking and let me sleep!

That would summarize my mood at the end of last year, just after we moved from the garden unit up to the 1st floor. I didn’t get much sleep, because something kept knocking, in the bedroom, right above my head.

When the heat came on, the knocks started in one- to five-second intervals and lasted for about one or two minutes. After the heat turned off, the knocking kept going for a while with a single knock about every five to 15 minutes.

No doubt the noise was coming from our hydronic heating system. My first thought was that I got something wrong with a deflection leg on the supply and return line to the bedroom radiator, which runs right next to and above my head.

pex-21

After two nights of sleep deprivation, I’d had enough. I checked the exact pex tubing location and then cut a hole into the closet ceiling adjacent to the bedroom, just large enough so that I could stick my head through and inspect the deflection legs.

It turned out that the deflection legs worked fine. But where the horizontal pex tubing turned a corner from the ceiling down into the wall, it was firmly pressed against the drywall. (Image below shows the tubing before drywall installation).

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The expanding or contracting pex tubing wasn’t sliding across the drywall. There was enough friction for it to jump in tiny intervals – thus the knocks.

I pushed a piece of cotton rag between the tubing and drywall, which stopped the friction, jumps, and knocking. I finally got my first good night’s sleep on the 1st floor.

The end of knocking?

With that fixed, is our hydronic heating system silent? No. We still have some knocking, although it is significantly less obnoxious.

Our steel radiators also have a certain expansion rate although it is significantly less than the PEX tubing. At the bottom of the radiators are offset bolts so that the they hang plumb.

radiators-022

Although the offset bolt is rounded, smooth steel, it again tends to have enough friction to jump rather than slide across the painted drywall. This is only a problem on the longer radiators. If it starts to bother me, I may take a small piece of thin fabric, such silk, and slide it between the offset bolt and the painted drywall.

Related posts:

Unruly tech talk

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Radiator connection preps

Baseboard radiator delivery

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Onset of nerdiness

November 14th, 2014
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Strange things happen once one embarks onto the deep energy retrofit road. For instance, a level of nerdiness sets in.

You don’t just turn on the thermostat in fall. You make a note about when exactly you turned it on. This year, it was the evening of November 1st.

Not nerdy enough? How about this:

Back in the day, when I was more than young – when I was a kid – a hybrid of joy and eager anticipation clocked in once a week, triggered by the release of the next episode of a science comic book.

Some may argue that things haven’t really changed that much, except that the comic book was replaced by the monthly arrival of our utility bills. I devour them almost immediately, and they almost always make for some interesting reading.

Such as our natural gas bill for last month, which claims that we used more gas in October 2013 than October 2014!

gas-bill-01

Therms 10/2013: 32.51
Therms 10/2014: 22.52

Average daily therms used 10/2013: 1.02
Average daily therms used 10/2014: 0.75

That seemed strange, particularly because this October seemed so unseasonably cold.

Well, let’s separate fact from fiction. October 2013 was cooler, at an average daily temperature of 50 degree Fahrenheit, compared to 51 degree Fahrenheit for October 2014.

That still doesn’t explain away the difference in natural gas consumption. Nor do the extra two days on the October 2013 bill, although they could account for as much as 2.04 therms. To get to the bottom of this, I have to turn to the Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV).

With an almost airtight house like ours, mechanical ventilation is less a choice than a necessity. It maintains good indoor air quality (IAQ) by removing pollutants and excess moisture, and as such protects us from what is known as the sick building syndrome.

The ERV doesn’t just ventilate the building, but it also has a built-in heat exchanger, the enthalpy wheel. This makes it an extremely useful piece of equipment, particularly during the heating season, as we get a supply of fresh air without the typical heat loss.

We had our fair share of ERV problems last year, starting in October. The air in the building got stale rather quickly, with no functioning mechanical ventilation. To maintain good indoor air quality, we fell back on the age old method of non-mechanical ventilation – opening the windows.

The problem for us was that there is no heat exchanger when you open the windows. We got plenty of fresh air – but is was cool October air. With that we had a lot of heat loss, which led us to turn the heat on about a month earlier than usual.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, probably explains the difference of 10 therms in the gas bill between this and last year.

If you find this remotely interesting, you have officially joined the club of nerds!

Related posts:

Blower door test – after insulation

Picking an ERV

Design workshop

ERV – keeping the heat!

ERV performance test

ERV croaked – Part 1

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Mr. Porch doesn’t talk

November 10th, 2014
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Communication makes projects tick. Well – good communication does. The lack of communication or “half-assed” communication tends to create tensions, discontent, and even conflict. Once that has happened it can derail a project.

I am sure we all have anecdotes of individuals or companies with communication skills or lack thereof. I consider myself lucky because so far I have had contractors working on our deep energy retrofit who kept me abreast, listened to me, coordinated with me, and returned phone calls in a timely manner.

It wasn’t just all luck. I did quite some research on our contractors, relied on referrals, and often informally interviewed them.

Well, no lucky streak lasts forever, despite research and referrals. Our porch contractor, Mr. Porch (yes, that is the name of the company) confirmed the schedule for the back porch demolition, only to not show up – and not even call to let me know or reschedule.

Back-porch-05

Another start date was confirmed – and that too passed without any action. Then a substantial addendum to the contract was e-mailed to me, with no meaningful explanation. I have been calling on an almost daily basis to seek clarification. All I get is voicemail, but no return calls. Mr. Porch doesn’t talk.

We are left in the dark and may have to postpone the porch project and start building it next spring.

Related posts:

The back porch project

Back porch preps touch-ups

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Back porch prep touch-ups

November 5th, 2014
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Although the plumbing connections to the sump are done, the back porch is still a hot mess, begging for some clean up.

Back-porch-04

I embedded the cast iron soil pipes (CISP) and cistern connection in sand. The pile of gravel that was sitting in the corner came in handy when I backfilled around the pipes and began to level out the porch floor.

I had set the elevation so that I still have room for a few inches of open graded aggregate, insulation and the concrete floor, almost identical to the system in the basement.

Similar to the basement interior, the parging on the foundation wall had to go. All it does is trap moisture in the masonry, which is bound to lead to long term problems.

Another touch up item was to remove the incredibly crooked concrete steps, leading from the porch basement level into the back yard. It turned out that this “touch up item” required a lot of muscle, sweat, and some brute force equipment.

I started with a sledgehammer and didn’t get very far. And those who know me also know that the sledgehammer and I are good friends. Still, I had to rent an electric jackhammer to get the stairs out.

That pretty much concludes my preparation for the porch teardown and rebuild. I am now waiting to hear from our contractor on when his crew will move in.

Related posts:

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Terminating the temporary

The back porch project

How to put is back together

Installing the aggregate base

Starting with the insulation

Pouring the basement floor

Raking, and no end in sight

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Finalizing sump-thing

October 17th, 2014
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I am working down the list of plumbing connections I have to make to the new sump pit. Those that require digging or moving soil are done.

The connection for the exterior footing drains is in place. I also have the interior footing drains connected, and so is the sump discharge into the sewer, although it is a temporary connection at this point.

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Plumbing per code

To turn the temporary sump discharge into a permanent one, I need to switch out the Schedule 40 PVC piping with Cast Iron Soil Pipe (CISP), as per the Chicago plumbing code requirements. I have to use CISP where the pipes are concealed, i.e. under the future floor slab. Once I am in the sump pit, I can re-connect to the already installed PVC pipe setup.

I got myself the right CISP pipe, fittings and gaskets, widened the hole into the sump to fit the two inch CISP pipe, and made the new connection.

Sewer extension

When we ripped out the old sewer to replace it, the City required that I separate the sanitary sewer line from the storm sewer line .

To extend that line, I bought a four inch diameter CISP pipe and took it all the way to the porch footing. Once the porch gets torn down and the footing is redone, I will continue to extend that line into the back yard.

I may never connect a downspout to that storm sewer line, as I have ambitious plans for sustainable and infiltration based stormwater management in the yard. Instead, that storm sewer line may be repurposed into a sanitary sewer one day — if we ever build a garage with a studio apartment above it. But those are distant dreams and warrant a whole new blog post.

Cistern connection

I have a couple of connections to go, and one of them is the future discharge connection to the underground cistern (see also graphic above). This requires another hole to be punched into the sump pit through which I can fit the pipe. Because this is not part of the sewer plumbing system, I used a Schedule 40 PVC pipe for the rough-in and will again extend it into the yard once we redo the porch footing.

Electrical conduit

The cover for the sump pit will be in the middle of a workshop area. I wasn’t interested in having power cords from the pit cover running across the floor; I’d rather avoid that kind of trip hazard. And I did so by installing a 1 1/2” diameter galvanized electrical conduit from the pit up to the basement wall. I can have an outlet near the top of that conduit, and thus circumvent the power cord spaghetti sprawl.

Related Posts:

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Connecting sump-thing

Thinking about sump-thing

Sump-thing pretty heavy

Digging for sump-thing

Terminating the temporary

Grease trap cleaning

Nail biter

Why that storm sewer?

Plumbing code variance

Trenching for a new sewer line

More sewer installation

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Sump-thing afoot…

October 9th, 2014
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… precisely, footing drains. The interior footing drains are now connected to the new sump. But I also have plans for footing drains running around the exterior periphery of the house. Now is a good time to get started on those – or at least get started with the connection to the sump as shown in the sketch below.

sump-03

The ground in the back porch is still a mess and needs to be leveled out. That gives me a good working platform. I blocked the hole I punched into the sump for the drain connection to prevent dirt from falling into the pit – and started digging the trench.

People have commented on what hard work it appeared to be, excavating the sump pit. That was actually not bad because with the long-handled shovel, I didn’t need to bend down too much.

Digging the trench, on the other hand, was hard work indeed, with a lot of bending down and slicing though stiff clay. Add to that 100% relative humidity and no breeze. I was soaking wet from the start. I’ve never sweated so much – not even in a steam room.


There are two more interesting things worth mentioning:

Did you notice that I always have water in the bottom of the trench? That is because of the rains we had saturating the soil. The advantage of having the water in the trench is that I didn’t have to measure the depth while I was digging along. The standing water acted like a level, and as long as I had the trench bottom barely covered, I knew I was at the right depth.

At one point the trench was full of water. That happened over lunch when we had a downpour and I had the sump pump disconnected. This reinforces the need I had identified for the “seamless transition” from the old grease trap to the new sump pit. I am glad it worked it out that way and thus we stayed out of trouble.

The trench digging was done, and so was my back. Still, I had to put some stone chip bedding down in the trench, level it out, place the rigid drain pipe, and cover it with more stone chips.

I stubbed the two drain pipe ends and will connect to them when the back porch comes down and we redo the footings and foundation wall.

My bones were hurting and I was in the mood for sump-thing soothing. Not sure if the Little Sumpin’ will do it this time round. But what about the Little Sumpin’ Extra?

Little-Sumpin-Extra

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Terminating the temporary

Grease trap cleaning

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Connecting sump-thing

September 30th, 2014
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I am done thinking. And I’m ready to get my hands on some pipe and start connecting sump-thing.

That’s easier said than done, because before I could get anywhere near the pipe, I was thinking again:

The old grease trap which we repurposed into a sump pit is still active. There is the sump pump, plugged in and running, discharging the water the pit receives from the interior footing drains.

sump-05

 

With all the rain we’ve had I needed a seamless transition — a switch from the old grease trap to the new sump in less than a day — or I would have had to deal with a lot of standing water. In short, time was the driving factor.

I punched a hole into the new sump, then disconnected the interior footing drains from the grease trap and re-routed them through the new hole into the new pit. Because I still had a trickle flow coming out of the footing drains, I needed to dismantle and fill the grease trap right away. In doing so, the flow couldn’t escape into the grease trap anymore, but rather followed the path of least resistance – through the drain pipe and into the new sump pit.

Before I could fill in the grease trap, I also had to disconnect and remove the sump pump. I was in a hurry to transfer it into the new sump pit and reconnect it, before things got too wet.

To keep things moving along, I opted for a temporary sump pump connection, using Schedule 40 PVC fittings. It is temporary because the Chicago plumbing code requires Cast Iron Soil Pipe (CISP) in all concealed (i.e. buried) locations … in other words, CISP all the way into the sump. Once in the sump, I can use Schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings.

The Schedule 40 made for a very quick connection and allowed me to have the system up and running again before the day was over.

That was quite sump-thing, giving me a thirst for a Little Sumpin’.

Little-Sumpin

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Terminating the temporary

What pipe material to use

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Grease trap cleaning

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Thinking about sump-thing

September 25th, 2014
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I’ve been thinking for a while … thinking about the sump plumbing. What do I need to connect to the sump, how should I connect it, and where should I connect it?

Sump plumbing should be relatively straightforward. So why did I have to think for a while? Because I also tried to build some future proofing into the system. Plus, I needed a seamless switch from the old repurposed grease trap to the new sump.

sump-03

There is the water draining into the sump. We had the interior footing drains routed into the old grease trap. Those will now need to drain into the new sump. There also will be exterior footing drains that I need to connect to the pit.

I also have to pump the water out of the sump. That means re-routing the existing sump discharge into the sewer from the grease trap to the new sump pit.

It is typical to pump the sump water into the combined sewer system. But it is not ideal, because Chicago’s combined system barely copes as it is. Adding more water is best avoided and I have little interest in contributing to combined sewer overflow into the Chicago River or Lake Michigan. Plus the water draining from the footing drains into the sump is ground water, a valuable resource that I could use for irrigation.

At one point we will have a underground cistern in the back yard, which should be fed by the roof runoff. But I also could increase the size of the cistern and, in addition to the roof runoff, feed it with the sump water. That should provide me with a nice reliable water supply for irrigation.

To pump the water out of the sump into the future cistern, I need to rough in a discharge connection now. Once I activate that connection, I can cap the discharge into the sewer, or I can keep it, put the pump on a timer, and use it to flush the sewer once a day.

Why would I want to do that? It goes back to the check valve functionality issues we encountered. Our low flow fixtures don’t generate enough waste water volume or velocity to flush solids effectively past the check valve gate. Using the sump water at around 50 gallons per minute (gpm) to flush the system would alleviate that problem.

Last but not least, I need an electrical conduit through which I can route the sump pump power cords to an GFCI outlet on the basement wall.

Related Posts:

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Terminating the temporary

Grease trap cleaning

Nail biter

Perimeter drain installation

Check Valve and low flow – functionality issues

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Sump-thing pretty heavy

September 16th, 2014
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Yes to a new sump pit. No to a small and cheap plastic, fiberglass or structural foam pit. We very much prefer a sump pit that lasts for evah, like a concrete manhole structure, 36 inch in diameter and 42 inches deep.

That sucker would weigh a ton – or probably more than that, and would require some heavy lifting. As it turns out, the real problem is not the weight but the size. There is no way to get a 36 by 42 inch concrete manhole into the enclosed back porch.

What to do when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? You start munching on smaller pieces, right?

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That is exactly what we did here. We installed the new sump pit in pieces … Three, 12-inch tall reinforced concrete rings with one 18-inch tall cone on the top. The concrete rings weigh around 525 pounds each and the cone between 700 and 800. That’s still a lot of heavy lifting, but the bottom line is that we were able to fit (roll) each piece through the back porch door and down the stairs.

Because I didn’t eat all of my breakfast, I didn’t quite manage the heavy lifting by myself, but instead got some help. And even though I say “heavy lifting,” a more descriptive expression would be “heavy sliding followed by carefully dropping.”

Nevertheless, we got the new sump pit structure into place, set to the right elevation and leveled.

Now I need a plan – a plumbing plan. What, how, and where do I connect to the sump pit?

Related Posts:

Digging for sump-thing

Terminating the temporary

Grease trap cleaning

Nail biter

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