Furniture Upgrades & Building Stuff

Engineering, Electricity & Geometry, Oh My!

If those three things don’t sound like a great time, then I don’t know what does. Amiright? Anyway, we’ve shared a few peeks at the ceiling progress in our sunroom, but have yet to explain how we got there. Hold on to your hats and break out your graphing calculators!

Just kidding about the calculators, because we actually left the engineering part of this job to a professional. The pro we referenced in this post was the builder we’re working with on the show home. He offered to pop by to give us his expert opinion, which boiled down to “those cross beams aren’t supporting the roof, they just created the framing for attaching the ceiling.” That’s exactly the news we were hoping to hear.

The news we didn’t want to hear were the tedious instructions that he gave for removing them and reinforcing the rafters up top (since the ceiling we were removing wasn’t load bearing but the rafters above it were a few decades old, a few additions would make it a lot stronger). It involved adding a lot of new hangers, ties, and bolts, which meant lots of nailing and drilling and ratcheting. Totally doable, just time consuming.

He recommended that we call one of the contractors that he uses a lot and get an estimate, just to weigh what it might cost to have a pro do the work (it would be faster since they’re more well practiced and already have the right tools). That contractor, David, said he could come by the next day and knock out the job with a second guy in 2 hours for $200. Um, SOLD. So within a few days of posting this update, this was happening outside our living room window.

The difference was awesome. The room may have only gained about 4 feet of height on one side, but it feels so much more open compared to the before. Well, except for those dang fan wires ruining the view.

So we put a call into our favorite electrician and got his crew to not only extend the wires so they could be attached to the new/higher ceiling, but also to turn our one fan box into two so we can stay cooler in there (and to hopefully bug the bugs enough that they won’t want to fly into the room at all). We haven’t received the bill from them yet, but we’re guessing that it’s in the $250 range.

Going into this lofting project, we assumed it could be around 1K if we needed to make structural changes (like enforcing things with more beams, getting a permit, etc) not even including any electrical work that we might need to hire out – so it was definitely a lucky break to find out the ceiling framing was just cosmetic and wouldn’t require any extensive restructuring or even a permit to remove it. And getting those two pro-worthy jobs knocked out for around $450 while doing the initial drywall removal ourselves, as well as our plan to re-insulate, hang the fans, and install all of the ceiling beadboard ourselves means we’ll hopefully save a good chunk of change when this is all said and done.

The funny thing is that we realized a few months after moving into our second house we embarked on another outdoor project (laying our stone patio) which came in around $1,200 when we were finished – and with the cost of the tile and the beadboard added onto the expenses out here so far, it looks like this project could end up being right in the same ballpark. Dare I call it an exterior project tradition?

Anyway, with those two tasks taken care of, we could finally turn our attention to rebuilding our exposed ceiling. We decided to start with the two empty triangles on either end of the room, which we opted to cover with plywood that we could paint to match the rest of the room (since the rest of the space is framed out with plywood already).

Dealing with a triangular space sort of sent me into a mathematical tailspin. My brain immediately grasped for every bit of 9th grade geometry I could remember and I found myself furiously measuring angles, calculating hypotenuses, and trying to decide if I needed to remember what a cosine was.

But soon enough I realized I was waaaaay over complicating things. All I needed to know was a few length measurements and I’d be fine. Since my plywood piece was only 8ft long (i.e. 96 inches) I knew I’d have to cut two pieces to fill the space. So I measured the height of the gap at one end (against the brick wall – 40.5″) and 8ft away from that end (17″), which you can see in my sketch below.

Since those two measurements went all of the way to the ceiling (and I didn’t need my board to go all of the way up thanks the beadboard ceiling that would eventually polish off the edges) I trimmed 3″ off those two numbers and marked them on either end of my plywood sheet. Then I snapped a chalk line to connect them.

And just like that the angle of my cut was determined for me. Time to break out the circular saw.

To cut the second piece, I took advantage of the fact that the “scrap” side of the plywood featured the same angle as the good side. So knowing that it needed to match up with the 14″ side of the first piece, I marked that on one side and drew a perpendicular line from there to the angled edge.

Once cut, I had my two pieces ready to be hung.

Well, not totally ready. First I had to build out the studs a bit so that my new pieces of plywood would sit flush with the existing wall. For this I just cut up a spare piece of 2 x 6″ and screwed them into place.

I was a a little nervous when it came time to actually test the fit of my board (such a big piece of plywood wasted by a bad cut would have been a big bummer).

But luckily it went up like a glove (victory!) and I was able to temporarily nail it into place with some brad nails before going back and hammering in some more heavy duty nails by hand.

So here’s one side up (after having put up the small triangle too). You can’t see it here, but it’s not 100% seamless. There’s a line where the new plywood meets the old wall, along the bottom, which we plan to caulk and then cover with trim. And I’ll probably use Bondo or wood filler to try to make the small vertical line where the two pieces meet less visible too.

As much as I wanted to celebrate my geometric accomplishment, I had another side to take care of. Back to the drawing cutting board.

So here’s the other side done. It had the slight added challenge of having to cut a hole for an electrical box (something the electricians had to install to corral some of the wires and, for code reasons, it needs to be visible and accessible). Fortunately, once the plywood gets primed and painted white, we think it’ll blend in pretty well.

It’s amazing how much more open the room feels now that we’ve removed the doors and popped the ceiling. It doesn’t even feel like the same room.

Now that the boring/mathy part is out of the way, we can finally turn our attention to the light blue beadboard ceiling that we’ve been psyched to install. It’s going to involve pricing a few things out, measuring, priming, and painting before it’s ready to hang – so we’ll probably be back with an update on that early next week if all goes well. What did you guys work on this weekend?



Building A Garage Or Carport Pergola

Parking our car got a little more scenic this weekend with the completion of our carport pergola. Or, cargola (pergolaport?) if you will.

Last week we talked about dressing up our carport with the help of some pergola plans from Workbench Magazine. The plans took a lot of the guesswork out of it, but there was still plenty of actual work. All-in-all it took about 4.5 days of work (the half day was spent picking up the materials, which we talked about here) but I’m gonna boil it down to one simple post. So here we go. What you need to know is that there were four main parts to this building project: 1) the column, 2) the braces, 3) the joists, and 4) the lath.

Most attached pergolas don’t have the column in the equation (they just attach to the walls beside or above a garage door or a french door), but because our carport only had posts on the left side (see below) our first assignment was to add one on the right to add symmetry and create a place for the pergola to attach.

To attach a post to our concrete floor, we used this post base which is built for situations like this. And I got to break out my hammer drill to make a pilot hole for the concrete anchor, which was a good time. I bought the hammer drill back when I was starting the deck, but never ended up using it, so I’m glad I had it around because I needed it’s drill-plus-hammer motion to get through the concrete. Then I hammered in a wedge anchor and tightened the nut to keep it in place.

I attached another metal post base on the ceiling (this time just using heavy-duty screws) so that we could slide a 4 x 4″ post right in there and nail it into place.

Since that post is neither very attractive or big enough, we used the same method as we did when we beefed up our porch columns. They didn’t sell any pre-primed pine in long enough boards, so we primed and painted the two 1 x 6″ and one 1 x 4″ boards before hanging them. Here I am using our nail gun to attach the boards in place and give the column a chunkier look.

After we caulked the seams and added some touch-up paint, our first of four steps was officially checked off the list. And I should add that this took me the better part of my first day (with occasional “hold this with me” and “take a picture of this step” and “help me paint while Clara naps” assistance from Sherry).

The other part of day one was spent getting started on my braces (or “knee braces” if I’m feeling formal). These were by far the most complicated of all four steps, since there were four sub-step when it came to building each one.  We originally hoped to purchase these pre-made, but we couldn’t find any in the size that we needed. In the end, I’m glad I made them because it was much cheaper.

Some of the braces that I saw online were going for $50 – $100 a piece, depending on the size. Each of mine were made from one single 12 ft piece of 2 x 6″ and a few bolts, making mine about $22 each. So the first step was to cut my 2 x 6″ into the lengths that my plans called for. Burger double-checked my work.

First up was what I’m calling the “base” (the part that rests against the column). They were pretty straightforward. I cut some decorative notches on the bottom with my miter saw and then used some hole-boring bits to make a few places on each side to countersink my bolts. Again, my plan took a lot of the mystery out of what to do, but it was still a bit tedious.

The next pieces I tackled were the “beams” – the parts that would stick out from the base at a 90° angle. They were really easy, which was lucky because I had to make four of them. I actually clamped two together when I made the cut so that I’d be sure the beams that got paired together on the same brace were absolutely identical.

With the easy stuff out of the way, I turned my attention to the “arch.” Yes, a dreaded curved cut. Cue the dramatic music. To mark my curved line, I tapped some temporary nails into the wood at both ends and at the middle/top of my curve. Then I used a thin piece of scrap wood (a small piece of PVC works too) and bent it over my nails to create an arched shape. That held long enough for me to mark the curved line between my two nail-points.

Next was the challenge of actually cutting that line. Since I don’t own a scroll saw, I had to rely on my jigsaw. It did the job okay, but since it’s sometimes hard to keep the blade perfectly vertical, my arch had a couple of wonky spots (not majorly wonky, but wonky enough that I noticed them) so we sanded the heck out of it to try to smooth things out.

After some vigorous sanding they were a lot better looking, and some primer further cleaned things up (we primed all of our brace pieces together once they were all cut out).

Then we had to assemble them. It was a tricky system of clamps, temporary nail gun nails, and balancing on scrap wood pieces to get it done, so don’t even try to make sense of this picture (it’s upside down, if that helps).

Basically we had to get both of the beams and the single arch piece aligned (and centered and level) and then screw them to the base using some 3″ lag bolts. It took a bit of finesse to get it all done without attaching something slightly crooked, but eventually we got the job done.

Then we had to drive some bolts through two beams (and the portion of the arch that sat between them). It sounds very straightforward, but the process took me a while and the rest of the day was spent rerouting a gutter and outdoor light fixture. So by the end of day two we had built two braces, but I couldn’t call this step complete since they were neither painted (that happened the next morning) nor hung (which also got done the next day).

Hanging them took some finesse too, mostly because one of us had to hold the weight of it while the other checked that it was level and temporarily nailed it into place. There’s no way brad nails would support the weight of it over time, but they kept each brace in place long enough for us to drive a lag bolt into the top and bottom of each one, which secured it for the long haul.

By noon on day three we were finally ready to move on to step 3.

Step 3 was the joists. You know, those two long pieces that would rest on each of the braces. These were again made from 2 x 6″ board and again they required a decorative curved cut (marked below). We did the curve on just the left side since on the right side they’d butt up against the side of the house.

Once they were cut, we hoisted them into place and marked the exact spot where they rested on the braces.

These marks showed me where we needed to cut notches in the joists so they’d sit tight on the braces. And while we had them down, we also primed and painted them.

While the paint dried I got started on step 4, so it wasn’t until the next morning that we could actually hoist them into place. As for how we screwed them into place, we basically drilled a long pilot hole through the top of each joist and used a long drill bit to screw right through the top of the joist and into the brace’s beam below.

The last step was the lath, or the small strips that create the rail across the top. Since we were going to paint ours I couldn’t use the pre-cut pressure treated 2 x 2″ pieces that they sell pre-cut for deck railings (they say pressure treated lumber should be allowed to “dry out” for a number of weeks before paint or stain traps the treatment’s moisture in – and we wanted to paint things right away). So we bought regular 2 x 2″ boards that were 8 feet long and cut them down at home. This ended up being substantially cheaper, but we needed 50 of them (including a few just-in-case extras) so cutting and sanding them took me a good two hours. It was not exactly fun, but it was nice and mindless. Then came priming and painting all. those. pieces.

We had to cover all four sides of them since they’d all be seen, so thank goodness the paint had good coverage and it only took one coat (it’s Benjamin Moore Exterior paint leftover from the previous owners). Once everything was dry, we could start putting the lath into place on top of the joists.

This was the point that we both started to get giddy because the pergola was actually starting to look like a pergola. Oh and we cut a few 3-inch wide “spacers”out of scrap wood to help us keep our gaps even so we could screw them into place as quickly as possible (see the two longer unpainted boards in the picture below?).

By the end of day four, step four was 100% done.

And with that, we could step back and enjoy our gussied-up carport. How YOU doin?

We’re both crazy happy with how it turned out. We were nervous (well, I was nervous) because it wasn’t the most conventional spot for a pergola – but it really is a huge upgrade. Suddenly that parking space tacked on the end of our house has some character. It has actually turned two anti-carport people (remember we almost didn’t look at this house just because it had one) into carport lovers. Well, cargola lovers.

Despite being a bit tedious, none of the labor was really that back-breaking. And the DIY price can’t be beat – especially when we heard that custom attached pergola kits are being sold for over 2K! Here’s where ours wound up:

Oh and if you have a carport that already has two columns (or a garage with outside walls to rest the braces on) and you buy the braces instead of building them it would be about 50% easier (and should cut out around 2 days of work). So that’s an awesome option for anyone who wants to instantly cut four steps down to two.

I feel like the new pergola gives our house a bit of “quaintness” (if that’s a word). We especially like how it frames the view of our street, which is currently blooming like crazy. Either way, it definitely adds some nice dimension to our flat ranch.

So yeah, between this and our beefed up porch columns, we’re falling in love with the front of our house all over again. And can you just imagine some flowering vines growing up those posts and across the top of the pergola? Holy charming, batman.

What’s on your outdoor agenda these days?

Psst- We’re so excited by all of the activity, sharing, and advice-giving that’s been going on over on Young House Love Forums, so here’s a quick summary of a few updates we made for you guys.