Liberty Nature Preserve


A garage?  A cabin?  How 'bout 2 in 1?

Follow us as we build a garage/apartment at LNP


Outside is stop:  interior

We are tired of using a ladder inside to get up to the second floor.  A couple of our trips during last winter delivered some really lousy weather....perfect for inside work.  The stairs jump up to the top of the short-term priority list.

When I laid the floor plans out, I took alot of time trying to minimize the amount of room that the stairway would take up, both downstairs and up.  The killer is the height between the 2 floors.  The entire distance is just short of 11 feet.  In order to make that ascension, and to maintain reasonable stair treads and risers, the plan is laid out to utilize a landing between 2 stair runs.  My first construction attempt really caught me off guard when I gave it a dry run.

UH OH!  This was definately NOT in the plan.  This was a classic case of "back to the drawing board".  I cashed in this weekend's production, went home and recalculated.  When I returned, I proved out our recurring theme of "it ain't done right 'til it's done twice" .  I tore it apart and tried again.

We removed one step from the lower stair run.  This then extended the upper run a bit further into the landing.  The lost real estate is still within acceptable limits and we luck out.  It works!  Yeah, I had to replace the upper stair stringers with new, longer 2 x 12's, but that's the price of admission in my DIY world.  The following weekend, Donna puts the deck paint to it and we trade in our extension ladder for a stairway to heaven. 

There will be some "code restriction" details that need to be addressed (railings), but that will be taken care of further down the road...after we finish carrying all the big, bulky junk upstairs.  Things like fiberglass shower stalls, refrigerator, etc.  In the meantime, it's as close to an escalator as we are gonna get.  We'll take it.

Movin' on up...

Like every step of our progress, a multitude of construction facets are listed, considered, and given priorities.  Our team of 2 is the general contractor and all the subcontractors rolled into one (or is that two?), so planning is a never-ending process as we consider the next set of construction projects.  We are now moving into the colder temperatures; winter will soon come.  Yes, we will be working in insulated coveralls, winter coats, and gloves....but....the protection of a completed "shell" will be a constant reminder of just how far we have come.  Wind, rain, and snow will now be an "outside nuisance" as we enjoy the protection of walls and a roof.  The control of temperature will continue to elude us since we have no insulation installed.  Yes, we will use temporary heat sources in a feeble effort to try and create some improved level of comfort, but the result will only be more of a campfire kinda thing...a place to stand next to, warm our hands and roast marshmallows.  So be it.

Knowing all this, insulation moves quickly up the priority list.  We have already purchased the upstairs wall insulation and have it stacked and ready for installation (based on a good price at the home center and enough nickels in the till to afford it at the time).  We will have to save up a bunch more nickels to purchase the ceiling insulation, floor insulation, and the remaining wall insulation for the downstairs/garage area walls. 

There is only one major thing holding back the insulation installation.  We have to complete all the work that will be buried behind know, little things like electrical and plumbing.  OK, most of the plumbing is within interior walls, so that shouldn't hold up the insulation show.  Let's take a quick look at the short-term priority list.

  1. install bolts at upstairs exterior walls to mechanically lock them to the first story
  2. install the interior partition walls so we have a place to install the rough electrical
  3. run all the rough electrical and get it inspected and approved (remember this one; it's a key player).
  4. install the insulation

Let's look at #1

Have you ever seen the catastrophic film clips of houses in super extreme wind conditions (or even tornadoes) where the entire roof is lifted off the house framing and blown off like a leaf in the wind?  Not good!  This is typically the result of nailing everything together without and use of hurricane strapping or similar construction practices.  Today's homes are normally upgraded to include tying all the different levels of the entire structure together to minimize the possibility of uplift by extreme wind conditions.  We are taking the time to add these elements to the LNP project.  It is a type of construction insurance policy that you hope you never need, but should that situation arise, you're damn glad you have it.  Here's how we applied bonding all the elements together in our project.

It all starts at the foundation and moves up to the roof.  The first floor walls are all bolted to the top of the concrete foundation.  This is normal practice for any structure and is the first point of bonding.  The next point is whatever sets on the tops of these walls.  In our case, it is the 2nd floor framing (the matrix of I-joists and framing that creates the floor decking for the 2nd level).  The most common method of bonding at this point is strapping.  Quite simply, metal straps (galvanized metal strips, about 2" wide and about 18" long) are nailed on; 1/2 the strap is nailed through the 1st floor wall sheathing and into the studs, the upper half of the strap is nailed to the 2nd floor framing perimeter.  We achieved what we consider to be an even stronger bond  by taking lemons and turning it into lemonade.

Our first floor walls are 9 feet tall.  This means standard wall sheathing (at 8 feet tall) won't reach all the way to the top of the framing.  The cost for upgrading to longer sheathing is considerable and would have dented our budget.  This is our lemon.  So, we used the standard 8 foot sheathing and used it to make our lemonade.

This leaves about 12" at the top of the walls that will require more sheathing.  We finished the first floor walls this way, then installed all the 2nd floor deck framing on top of them.


 We then installed the next level of outside wall sheathing as one piece, tall enough to cover that last 12" at the top of the walls AND reach up and cover the outside of the 2nd floor deck framing.  A thick bead of polyurethane caulking is laid along the top of the 8 ft tall sheathing so that the next bonding row of sheathing "gishes" down and seals the seam between the two.  Lemonade complete.

OK, first floor is mechanically bonded to the 2nd floor framing.  What next?

Well, during our drive to get the entire shell completed and weather-proofed, we skipped bonding the 2nd floor walls to the work we just detailed above.  We did use construction screws to tie the 2nd floor walls down into the floor deck and framing, but never assumed that this would be enough for long term stability.  Let's put this transition on hold for now and move up to the next layer; the tops of the 2nd floor walls as they attach to the roof. 

This segment of bonding WAS completed during installation.  Actually, it was probably the simplest step and followed normal practice.  We used galvanized truss brackets.  They were installed along the entire top plate of the completed walls before the roof trusses were installed.  This accomplishes 2 jobs:  it establishes the exact location of those big ol' clumsy roof trusses (simplifying installation) AND it provides the mechanical bond needed to tie the wall to the trusses. 

OK, that ties it all together, from bottom to top.....almost.  This is where we backtrack to the missing bond between the 2nd floor decking and the 2nd floor walls.  What a shame it would be to have our roof successfully bonded  and hold on to the walls thru extreme winds, only to have it all sucked up and blown off leaving the first floor behind.  DOH! 

We elect to use 3/8" carriage bolts around the perimeter, bolting the base plate of the 2nd floor wall framing to the 2nd floor decking.  At the gable ends, this job is pretty simple since the 1st and 2nd floor walls are stacked up directly on top of each other.

(2 pics detailing the bond at the gable end of the structure)

The shed dormer walls were a bit different.  They also deserve alot of attention since they are the strongest player at holding onto the roof trusses that are attached directly to their top plates.  Since the shed dormer walls are NOT stacked directly on top of the 1st floor walls (design characteristic for gambrel structures), we are not able to simply bolt the top wall directly to the bottom wall.  In fact, the 2nd floor walls have only 2 elements to tie to; the 2nd floor decking they set upon or the engineering I-joists supporting the floor decking.  Since we do not want to compromise the integrity of the I-joists by drilling holes thru them (along with the difficulty of locating the hole), that leaves only the decking.  Since the decking is glued and ring-shank nailed to all the supporting I-joists, it is a reasonably stable anchor.  OK fine, but the decking is not all that structurally strong and a bolt with a washer could easily be pulled thru it's 3/4" thickness.  So....we decide to add a larger washer to spread out the resistance.  We use 14" long sections of 2 x 6 lumber as the washers beneath the 3/4" floor decking, adding a good layer of construction adhesive to bond the 2 x 6 to the bottom of the decking.


We are also adding more bolts to the tops of the 2nd floor gable end walls to tie the gable peak framing together, but that project is likely closer to overkill than necessary.  All in all, we are confident that we did a satisfactory job of tying it all together.  Moreover, we are in no hurry to find out how well we did.

Time to move some inventory...

One of the advantages of building this project one nail at a time is that it allows us time to think and prepare.  Having the ability to clearly sort out and line up all the steps sometimes baffles and eludes us, but we do pretty good overall.  This foresight includes taking advantage of good deals on all the products we will need.  In essence, we maintain a mental list of every item we will need to make this thing come together....every item.  Then, we keep constant vigil by watching and searching all the clearance areas of home centers, retail stores, and on-line stores.  We might not actually be installing something for over a year, but if the deal is good we will buy it and put it into storage.  Examples would be faucets, shower door, wall insulation, tankless water heater, bathroom vanities, toilets, kitchen wall oven and cooktop, blah blah blah.  The list goes on and on.  These items are then stored at our garage at home  until we are organized enough at the LNP project to move them there without getting in the way.  Well, the time has come for some inventory transfer.

We are entering the next big phase of our development; interior partition walls.  This is a pretty big jump and should create renewed excitement, but after some 17 months of plodding along on this project, we sometimes see the glass as half empty.  The thrill can often be somewhat muted, but we usually find the glass half full when we get into the job and actually see the results coming together. 

Since we will be installing permanent framing inside, we need to consider if it will hinder movement and installation of anything else....for instance, stuff like a big ol' 1-piece fiberglass shower enclosure (yeah, more of that "planning for future steps" stuff that is so critical).  Quite frankly, unless we have dropped the ball and missed something else, the only 2 items that we can think of that are bulky enough to create installation or movement problems after the interior walls are installed are the shower stall and the drywall.  We are counting on being able to bring in the drywall thru the picture windows by using a delivery truck with a cherry-picker crane, so that can happen later without issue (we hope! ).  The shower stall, though, is definitely something to deal with now, before we proceed.  That being the case, it's time to bring it to the show; a job for the utility trailer.  Heck, let's load up the trailer and bring a whole buncha stuff.  The trailer is staged with the Beverly Hillbillies look and we hit the road. 


This really opens up our garage at home (finally), to make room for more junk.  It also forces us to make the move we have dreaded; carrying that stinkin' shower stall up the stairs by ourselves.  I could write an entire chapter on this little mini-project.  It took a couple of hours, a few quarts of sweat, some cuts and bumps and bruises, and a fistful of ibuprofen.  In summary; it sucked.  Donna, like she usually does, summoned superwoman strength and stamina and we did finally get that bulky piece of molded fiberglass up to it's new home.  Stuff like the weight and bulk of the wall oven/microwave unit seemed like cake, comparatively.  Anyway, it's done and behind us.

Next step; interior walls 

The warm weather held up very well and quite long last year as we headed into winter.  This year, not so much.  Like so often happens in the midwest, fall weather seems to come and go with a blink of the eye as the warmth of summer quickly dissipates into the frigid temps of winter.  Well, it happens and we are now preparing for cold weather productivity.  The real blessing is that our work moving forward is underneath a roof and behind protective walls.  When that wind starts honkin' and snow flakes are blowing by horizontally, we take comfort that our worst enemy has been narrowed down to the frigid ambient temperatures inside the structure.  This is where our next set of planning steps come into focus.

Heat inside will really make a difference (as will air conditioning in the summer).  Without insulation, though, heat and A/C will be lost and rendered virtually useless.  This opens the door to our next set of goals.  I say "set of goals" because a number of projects must be aligned and completed to get us to an insulated structure capable of controlling the interior temperature. 

There are a number of critical components that must be installed before we can bury them in insulation.  We must run the rough electrical and get that approved by the inspector (this is no small chore).  Plumbing is not so much of an issue for insulating the walls since most all the plumbing runs through interior walls.  So....the focus is on electrical.  Since the rough electrical inspection will cover ALL the electrical within the structure, and since much of it runs within the framework of the interior partition walls, our electrical focus must go on hold until we complete interior wall framing.  OK; focus shifts to framing.

I spend a Monday night sitting at home and creating the next shopping list for the lumber needed to do the interior walls.  For now, we are going to stay focused on the upstairs walls only, since they are the most complex (compared to the simple walls required downstairs to separate the garage from the shop area).  At this point, we must now commit to the exact floor plan.  We tug and pull at the original floor plan, but there isn't alot that can be done with 1100 square feet.  Maintaining the basic premise that this is all about the view and the living space, the decision to keep the sleeping quarters on the smaller side is kept on the drawing board.  In the end, not much is changed from the original plan and the committment is made.

We hook up the trailer (again), grab our shopping list, and head to the lumber yard one more time to hand pick the arrows we seek.  The bunk arrives at the jobsite in good order and the fun begins.


The second floor is 1100 square feet of wide open living space.  As one large room, it feels like a small auditorium, but this will soon diminish as we begin framing in each room.  We begin by snapping chalk lines onto the floor to locate the bottom plates of each wall.  Since we have no laser capable of transferring vertically plumb lines and locations, we will use a good old fashioned plumb bob to transfer the floor lines we just snapped up to the ceiling rafters.  It goes slow, but the location transfer is dead-on accurate.  Many of the walls wind up somewhere in between rafters and exterior wall studs, so we have blocking set between the flanking members.  These blocks are also snapped with the chalk line.  The goal here is to have every wall pre-located with chalk lines and some pencil construction lines on the floor, ceiling, and exterior walls.  This serves 3 purposes.  First, it allows us to walk through and make sure we are comfortable with the room sizes, locations, and traffic flow.  Second, and arguably the most important facet, it allows time to evaluate the locations of plumbing.  We cannot have toilet or shower drains directly above a supporting I-joist.  Thirdly, it will make the framing process move along quicker since wall locations will be pre-determined and marked....kinda like color-by-number painting.  

  Having everything laid out leads right back to our old favorite; framing.  Before we proceed, much consideration was given to "how best to do it"?  The ceilings are a 3:12 slope that creates a peak height just short of 11 feet at the center of the room.  We are going to keep the ceiling trajectory intact throughout the entire layout, so all the walls must run up to it.  This means alot of the wall framing will require a different length for each stud.  The walls creating the hallway down the center (hallway is centered directly below the peak) will be a bit easier since each wall stud will the the same length.  But even then, each stud will have an angle cut at the top to seat correctly against the wall top plate. 

One very important consideration is flex and give.  You see, we designed this second floor to be supported by 28 foot long joists.  Each of these floor joists are only supported at each end; nothing in between.  As a result, the second floor is plenty strong by design standards, but it does have a minimal amount of "bounce" if you jump up and down near the center of the room.  We knew this would likely be the case when we had the engineers at Georgia Pacific lumber design the second floor framing matrix.  It is the payback for having no supporting columns or beams on the ground level.  So here is my thinking.  If the roof is stable and doesn't move (much), and the walls are framed in tight between the floor and roof, if the floor moves or flexes for even a moment, we may experience drywall cracks at the corners where the walls meet the ceiling.  Compound this potential with hot and cold temperature swings (since this is not a full time residence yet and I'm not gonna pay for heating and cooling when I'm not there).  OK, I know that there are special drywall tapes that do provide some flex.  We will use these products at these sensitive areas, but is there anything else we can do up front to be proactive?  Yes, there is....and it fits right in with my overkill attitude.  The decision is made to screw everything together and pass on nails.  The thinking here is that screws are more resistant to component separation thereby minimizing the potential for corner fractures in the drywall.  The upcharge to use screws is about $60 additional for hardware.  The real loss is the extra amount of time it gets racked up with the tons of extra time already expended to do the job a notch better.  Furthermore, since we are using screws and since so many of the walls are varying heights, we are going to set the bottom plates, set the top plates, then fill in each stud one at a time.  This will allow us to custom cut each stud to an exact length that fits snugly.  Yeah, it's crazy and if it were a bigger area to frame, I might reconsider this extra effort.  Instead, we go for it and find an immediate payback.  One payback was finding some errors in my location and dimensional we unscrewed it and fixed it.  No muss, no fuss.  The other payback, and this is huge, is the change in the floor stability.  It is absolutely tight as a drum.  The bounce is virtually gone.  In essence, what we have done is to tie the floor to the ceiling with a mechanical bond of wood and screws.  The end justifies the means.



To anticipate the question "what the heck is with the plastic at the tops of the walls?", I will explain.  We are going to use unfaced fiberglass insulation.  Kraft faced is junk for vapor barrier and I'll have nothing of it.  Instead, we will apply our own vapor barrier of 4 mil plastic sheeting to both the exterior walls and the ceiling.  Our goal is to not only stop vapor transmission, but to also significantly slow the movement of air.  Plastic sheeting, carefully installed, can perform both these functions.  Since the plastic cannot be installed until after the insulation is installed, it is normally done after all the walls are framed in.  This means that the plastic does not continue across the tops of the walls (or the sides at the exterior walls).  This is a weak link in the vapor barrier, so we pre-install short strips about 36" wide before we install the walls.  Then, when we are ready, we will fill in the open areas with the remaining vapor barrier and run it well over the pre-installed strips.  This, in of itself, will help to seal up the airspace.  I am not ruling out the possibility of taping the vapor barrier seams we have created....but that remains on the overkill list for the future. 

 In the meantime, we have completed the upstairs framing and all the blocking required to firmly screw drywall to every wall and ceiling corner.  The floor in these areas is now stiff and we are pleased with the final product.  Before we let this little chapter go, I took a 5 gallon bucket and turned it upside down right were the master bath throne will be placed.  This shot is the view from the throne.


Unintended as it was, this landscape view will be a subtle reminder of the months, no...make that years, that we lived inside that 120 sq foot love nest below while we built the throne structure.  Kinda fitting.

With the upstairs living area completely framed, we move back downstairs to the garage area.  There is a bit more framing within the garage to create a separation between the vehicles and a shop area.  The shop area is defined by the concrete slab that was poured with the pex radiant heat tubing embedded within. 

A quick reminder of the preparation performed some 19 months ago...

This area is 15' x 28' and will be sectioned off as a shop area.  When we laid out the framing and window location within this zone, we did our best to anticipate not only the best use of the view out to the pond, but considered the possibility that it could someday be converted to actual living space by splitting it down the middle to create a pair of 15' x 14' bedrooms (or something similar).

(another look at the shop area, pic taken from the parking side of the garage;  darker slab is shop)


An important facet of this smaller wall framing project is creation of a mechanical room.  It will be built around the incoming PVC chase pipe and the pex tubing bundle (covered by white plastic in above pic).  We want this mechanical area to be large enough to house all the HVAC stuff and domestic water stuff, yet allow elbow room for maintenance.  Our location of the window on the wall combined with the overhead door that is some 6 feet away turns out to be a questionable design feature and limits how wide we can make this room, so we steal as much real estate as is practical.  We snap chalk lines to locate the base plates and the top plates of all the wall sections, using a plumb bob to keep them perfectly vertical to each other.  The base plates are installed using the same sill sealer foam product that we used to seal the base plates of the exterior walls where they meet the top of the concrete foundation.  This seal is created at the interior wall for 2 reasons.  First, it creates a positive air seal to stop air flow and possible critter/creature flow between the garage area and a living space.  Second, and likely more important, the sill sealer will stop carbon monoxide fumes from idling vehicles in the garage AND unanticipated spills of flammable or caustic liquids within the garage side.  We will have to take similar "sealing steps" for the edges of the walls and along the ceiling, but those areas are only concerns for gaseous passage....not liquid passage. 


The base plates are green treated 2 x 6, bolted to the concrete floor with wedgit bolts drilled into the top 1-1/2" of the slab.  The top plates are regular 2 x 6 lumber.  We did suffer some anxiety as the holes were hammer-drilled into the concrete slab that houses the pex tubing, but felt (somewhat) assured that we would come nowhere near it since it is embedded at the bottom of the 5" thick slab and our holes only penetrated 1-1/2". 


We return a couple weekends later to finish filling in the framing.

The blocking is attached to create a place for drywall attachment at every corner.  This completes the framing portion of our show.  Sadly, we realize that there should be no more trips in the middle of our work week to hit the lumber yard and pick thru dozens, no....make that hundreds of pieces of lumber to select the arrows for our project.  This milestone brings a tear to our eyes....NOT.



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