Liberty Nature Preserve


The Shop Zone

Although the "shop zone" might easily be presumed to be be a page about our gazillion trips to the home center, it is more accurately the sum of all those parts that were purchased to get to this point.  We have stayed true to our original construction plans for this project, without making any major changes along the way.  The only significant change could arguably be stated that the 2 year projection to complete this entire structure was...well...severely understated.  We are just past the 2 year point and the focus of construction attention is set directly upon the workshop area.  Here's the deal.

The shop zone is more accurately described as a workshop.  It is an area sectioned off from the first level garage area that will ultimately be developed as an area for us to work on stuff.  If we were into rebuilding cars and motorcycles, this area would someday look like a mechanics shop.  That's not our goal.  Our interest will lean more toward woodworking and related projects.  I have managed to convince Donna that this would be a great, inspirational area to develop bird houses and all the related things that would serve her birdwatching interests.  I'm also nuts to believe that she totally buys into this line of bull.  She is fully aware that the ultimate plan is a man-cave for all MY woodworking needs.  Yes, she will have all the tools and facility necessary to build stuff for her feathered buddies, but she knows that it will likely serve my hobby needs more than hers.  In the end, I'm likely the biggest dope for not realizing this will also serve as my doghouse when Donna ejects me from the main living space when I'm bad....not that this might actually occur....I think.

Anyway, the workshop is a much more important goal for us in it's first life.  It will serve as our next stepping stone for living space at LNP as we continue to work on the garage-apartment project.  We have been living in the 120 square foot love nest for over 2 years now, and both of us are ready for just a little more elbow room.  The 400 square feet of the workshop area would be a palacial upgrade.  Armed with this renewed inspiration, we channel most all our efforts to develop this prized stepping stone.

Here's the plan.  We will take all the steps necessary to completely develop and finish off the shop area....almost.  I say "almost" because we will not be taping the drywall.  This decision is all part of the master plan.  I always say that there are 2 DIY projects that I do not want to perform:  taping drywall and putting shingles on a roof.  Since the roof was metal (and it's already installed), this leaves my only other hate.  I can tape drywall...kinda.  I'm one of those guys that spends more time sanding off the excessive mud than the time it took to apply.  Bottom line; I'm not that good at taping.  Knowing this, both of us agree that the better choice will be to hire that work out.  If we are going to hire out the taping, and we want it to be an economical decision, then the crew we hire should come in here to do it once...all of it.  So, the decision is made that we will install all the drywall and leave all the taping until the very end....for somebody else to do.

We've already done all the electrical work, so the next plan is structured wiring.  This is a new term for me.  Fortunately, it's very similar to electrical, but different types of wires.  We're talking about all the other wiring within a house to make it very liveable...stuff like phone lines, computer lines, speaker wires, coaxial cable for television, etc.  The only difficulty really comes into play when I have to think of all the places I want these wires to run to and which ones I want run to that place.  The easy part of it is picking the place in the structure where they all originate.  We have selected a centrally located stud cavity that will be accessible from inside the linen closet, upstairs.  Here is a pic of that centralized area after all the shop structured wiring has been installed.

Actually, this bowl of spaghetti will receive 6 more lines coming in from above in the attic area when we also lay in the siamese cable for hooking up surveillance cameras.  All the lines coming in through the bottom plate are from the downstairs shop and garage area.  The lines coming in through the top plate are servicing stuff in the upstairs living space.  Each line has a masking tape flag attached to it with an abbreviated location of where it leads.  For now, this is no big deal.  When the time comes to install the structured wiring cabinet and hook all these bad boys together, the deal will grow exponentially.

Here is an example of where some of the spaghetti leads to.  This is a box in the shop area, after the drywall installation.  The right side is 120 volts.  The left side is low voltage spaghetti.

Since the mechanical room shares some of the walls of the shop area, we will be insulating those walls right away.  This forces some consideration about how best to handle those mechanical room walls.  Our plan, without going into big detail, is to use this house during the winter, but not heating it until we are there (the hope is to someday install a smart system that will allow controlling the furnace and air conditioning from a PC at home....for now, tho, we will work with kicking that stuff on the moment we arrive when we do visit).  If we shut down all the heat in the house, the utilities will freeze; not good.  So, we will heat the mechanical room only.  That means taking great care to do a decent job of insulating.  We are going to use a redundent system of electrical baseboard heaters (two separate 24" units, each having it's own case one should fail).  The real fear is if we lose power to the house during a bad snowstorm.  If that occurs, we want whatever heat is in there to hang on long enough to protect the water utilities it houses to survive until the juice comes back on.  If power goes down while we are there, this is no biggie cuz we have the generator backup available and the mechanical room heat circuit was selected as one of the emergency circuits.  If power goes down while we are NOT there, the insulation has to be our hero.

So....insulating the walls that the shop shares with the mechanical room is vital.  We choose to follow our overkill methods and use spray foam to insulate behind all the electrical boxes.  If we only use the fiberglass insulation behind the boxes, those areas will be the weak points of heat transfer due to the thinner mass of fiberglass.  Foam should make up the difference.

There are 2 main facets of production in completing the shop area; the wall and the ceiling.  Since there will be no plumbing anywhere in either facet of the shop area, nor will any plumbing lines run thru here on the way to other parts of the structure, we can scratch that off the list.  There will be HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) ductwork, so that shoots to the top of the priority list, along with insulation.  Since HVAC is a big enough category unto itself, it will receive it's own webpage to keep it all together.  We will insert a couple of pics here as an overview with a brief explanation.

The first project, and this really isn't HVAC as much as just plain ventilation, is running a duct for the downdraft vent fan that is planned for the kitchen island cooktop.  We have spent some time upstairs dreaming and taping the floors with how we envisualize the kitchen layout.  Once we make a commitment to this layout, it's pretty much irreversible and we must stick to it.  The downdraft vent fan will surely make the island a "no turning back now" commitment. 

The exit thru the wall was a little tricky and required alot of nip and tuck to get it to be not only functional, but look halfway decent.  We are using a standard spring loaded loaded vent termination that we spray painted to match the siding trim.  This is when the vibrating multi tool cutter really shines (if you don't have one....get one!).  Measure, cut, measure cut, cut, cut, trim, cut, trim, nail, screw and caulk...done.

OK, a little bit on the actual HVAC

All the HVAC ductwork will be contained within the second floor framing; the 16" tall engineered I joists.  Yep, the same framwork that also contains all the main electrical circuit runs, the plumbing drains, and the plumbing pressure lines.  When subcontractors are hired to do each of these phases on a new house, there is friendly competition for who-gets-what-space to run their part of the job.  It can get dicey.  In our case, WE are ALL the subcontractors, so it all gets stuffed into my little brain to be sorted out and routed.  When we planned this project, we knew that having a 16" tall framework would be beneficial for negotiating all the utilities.  The HVAC was going to be one main trunk running right down the middle and all the vent branches would tap into it.  We laid in the sheet metal sectiions for the 8" x 18" main trunk when we started building the second floor.  The time has now come to snap them together (while in place) and permanently set the sections that are over the workshop.

Although we did not want to have to deal with the main trunk line feeds from the mechanical room, there was no way to avoid it at this point because they attached to the same sheet metal that some of the shop ducts connected to.  Long story shortened, the logistics dictated putting in the trunk feeds, also.  (this is a shot looking upward from inside the mechanical room; workshop is to the left)

OK, back to finishing out the workshop...

Before we get the insulation stuffed into walls, I have to satisfy another concern that I have for structural integrity.  We have taken great strides to ensure that the house will withstand extreme winds.  I am concerned, though, for the ability of the 44' long wall that has the two 10' wide garage doors on it.  The operative word for this concern is wracking (or is it spelled racking?)  Whatever; its the ability of the wall to withstand pressure from the end of it without folding backwards like a line of dominos.  The main structural integrity of a wall to withstand wracking is the exterior sheating that is attached to the studs.  The studs by themselve are useless for wracking stability.  Attach a sheet of plywood or OSB to them (or glue and nail them, as we have done) is everything to stabilize any potential wracking.  Every sheet that is attached adds that much more to the line of dominos that are the wall studs.  In our case, about 1/2 the wall length has no such exterior sheathing because of the 2 overhead doors.  This really bothers me.  I have one last chance to do something about it...and we do.

Just to show how close I came to blowing this facet off, we already had the insulation into the wall.  I kept telling myself "jeesh....give the overkill a break, would ya?".  And every time, the little angel on my right shoulder kept telling me "you still have a chance to do the right thing; don't blow it now".  The little angel prevailed.

We cut slots into the edge of each stud at the appropriate place and glued/screwed in a diagonal wall brace.  This 1 x 6 brace is set into the only true 20' long section of wall contains all the wracking resistance for this side of the structure.  In hind sight, we are very glad we have angels on our side.  This is a good decision. 

Back to the yellow cotton candy...

We weighed out the cost of using polyisoanurate spray foam insulation against fiberglass.  We did not get an estimate for this job, but some phone calls combined with acquaintance advice regarding their invoice for spray foam and other investigations made it way too expensive for our project.  Yes, we do realize that there is a significant payback over time of use, but our part-time use of this structure puts the payback so far out that it knocked it off the radar.  We are going to take our time and do a meticulous job of installing fiberglass.  We begin.

We had a leftover 16" tall laminated beam from the framing work (actually, it was rejected back to the lumberyard after delivery because it was cupped beyond best practice for application; they told me to keep it and replaced it with a new one).  Anyway, we cut in in half to 14' feet long for eventual use as workbench tops.  For now, though, it is a perfect work table for fiberglass insulation.

My mother's high carbon butcher knife finds new life as an insulation cutter.  It works awesome, but does require frequent swipes across the sharpening steel (I am certain that she is looking down from heaven and shaking her head....again).  Donna and I put on our face masks and get into it.

All fiberglass insulation will be installed as unfaced product.  A 4 mil plastic vapor barrier will be stapled to the studs and the boxes it covers will be carefully cut open and the duct-taped to the box perimeter to maintain the air stop. 

The fire rated entrance door is temporarily screwed into the framework to cork it up.  The inslated metal door for the mechanical room is also installed, but this is a permanent installation.  The room is now corked up.   It's pretty hot out there and the tiny old beater window air conditioner is working overtime to keep the temps bearable in here. 

We shift our attention to the ceiling...

The ceiling insulation is next

This is a pain for a number of reasons, but the first and foremost is the fact that the ceiling is just short of 10 feet above the concrete slab. This calls the expanding aluminum plank into service, stretched between 2 ladders. It goes slow, like most facets of this entire project.
The engineered I-joists that frame the ceiling/2nd floor are 16" tall. At 16" on center, this creates a huge cavity. This is a blessing for hiding all the wiring and HVAC and mechanical stuff. It's a curse for insulation. Why? Well, my original plan was to just use R-25 (8" thick) and call it good. After sharing thoughts and making a few phone calls to respected builders and engineers, I find that leaving an open air space in a cavity like that is less than ideal when it will separate a heated space (the upstairs living space) from a cold space (the entire first level which is comprised of the shop, and the garage). Furthermore, some sort of vapor barrier or retarder should be used close to the warm side. This would ideally be installed, somehow attached to the underside of the subfloor....or use kraft faced insulation and push it all the way up to the top of the 16" deep cavity. First off, I hate that kraft faced junk on insulation. It's a questionably effective method of controlling vapor transmission. At least that's my opinion. So now I'm worried about how to create a vapor block when it dawns on me that we used that Advantech subflooring across the entire 2nd floor. I called Advantech and their tech people agree that it will provide a decent level of vapor retardation. It is just slightly less than the vapor transmission of (drum roll please)....the kraft facing on insulation. So the tech guy switches me to the next level, their staff engineer. It winds up that his expertise is thermal engineering, amongst other techy stuff. Anyway, he agrees that the Advantech subfloor should provide suitable vapor retardation and recommends that I use plastic right on top of the subfloor in any areas that are carpet and hardwoood/laminate. This is great news and pretty much cures my need for a vapor barrier at the warm side of this huge cavity.
Next issue....
So, while I have this brainy thermal expert on the line, I describe the little twist that we plan; to live in the shop area for a little while, likely thru this entire coming winter. This will effectively reverse the entire plan by making the bottom side the warm area and the top side the cold area. This would normally dictate a vapor barrier at the bottom side of the ceiling cavity. He waves me off this idea for the obvious reason that it will create a trap for any vapor that might sneak into the cavitities. For the short amount of time that we plan to be living in that shop area, it is the lesser risk to use no vapor barrier in the shop ceiling. Besides, we use a dehumidifier in the shed where we are staying now. It will be used in the shop to help control any vapor during this "transition period".
OK, so that leaves the amount of insulation in those big 16" deep cavities. He has the same reaction as others that know...I really shouldn't leave an air space if I can avoid it. It's not a huge deal, but it will make a difference in performance to do my best to fill the cavity.
Wow; what a pain. There is so much junk up there with the HVAC and wires and stuff, plus it's 10 feet overhead. We considered blowing it in. Well, blowing fiberglass is nowhere near as good as cellulose when it comes to finding and filling voids. OK, then let's look at cellulose. I call the factory and talk to their tech people. The cellulose actually has some moisture in it and they waved me off of a sealed cavity (which makes me wonder about blowing it into wall cavities...?) Anyway, I have gone full circle and wind up back at fiberglass batts. Moreover, we decide to just bite the bullet and stuff the entire 16" depth of the cavities. Oh yeah, there's more. Since we are going berserk with insulation, let's consider that most of the HVAC ductwork is fairly low in the cavity and would have very little insulation protecting it at the bottom side. So, we buy a few sheets of 1-1/2" formular foam insul-board and use spray foam along the edges to seal it in. Yeah, I'm nuts that way.

Every bay that has some HVAC ductwork is protected with the R 7.5 foam on the bottom and the balance of the 16" deep bay is meticulously stuffed with custom cut and hand fitted fiberglass batts. Yeah, it took a long time, but in the end it is the ultimate cocoon. The other bays are just plain stuffed, working around all the wires. In the end, the shop ceiling is something like R 45. It's one of those things that cost very little (comparatively) and I'll never look back and wonder "what if".

Uh oh; Humpty Dumpty makes another appearance...

Along with the triumphs, there's always gonna be a few lost battles.  I have to share this little defeat...or at least a setback of sorts.

The aluminum plank that I lived on for the entire summer of 2010 during the exterior siding and trim installation was put to work on a much lower scale for this project. It was set about 4 feet above the concrete floor, stretched out between 2 ladders. I must admit that when I was 15 feet above the ground last year, I moved very slowly and calculated every step. Looking back, I am certain a higher power was watching over me cuz I got out alive. Now, at only 4 feet high, I am much less attentive. My bad. I fell....twice. Both times was the entire 4 feet, sideways down to the concrete floor. At 53 years old, I don't bounce like I used to. The first fall was the worst when the back of my head blasted the concrete and knocked me outfor a few seconds. Dski said the lump was the size of 1/2 a small egg, not to mention the bruises on my hip and elbows. I take a 30 min break, put some ice on my new egg, and hobble back up on the horse that just bucked me. The rest of the day went a little slower. The next day, I freakin' did it again. Worse than that, I landed on the same hip and elbow. This time I kept my head off the floor. I just don't get it...or maybe I do.

In the end, though, we suffered through the self-inflicted slings and arrows and got a great result in stuffing the ceiling of the shop with insulation.

Bring on the gypsum...

A couple of years ago, we purchased a pretty nice drywall lift.  It was used first to put the drywall ceiling into the 10 x 12 love nest (yeah, 3 sheets total), but the real use was for installing the drywall in the garage apartment project...and now is the time.

We also needed a drywall screw gun.  I have been watching Ebay and finally hooked up a used Milwaukee screw gun from some guy in California.  $18 delivered and it works great!

Finally, as I always do, I reached out to my pal Scott.  He is a retired union carpenter and has plenty mucho experience and exposure to drywall installation.  We are directed to use 1-1/4" long phillips head drywall screws for both walls and ceilings.  The ceilings will receive 5 screws evenly spaced across the 48" face of each sheet at each joist.  The walls will receive 4 screws, same practice.

Our local code dictates that garage areas that have living space above must be fire blocked by using 5/8" thick fire rock (type X drywall).  Our shop area is separated from the garage, so technically it does not need the fire rock.  The King of Overkill overrules and fire rock is also installed in the shop area.  The utility trailer is loaded and staged inside the garage.

Fire up the screw gun and let's get to work

Before we get too far into the drywall, I gotta share a little discovery I made for cool tools.

I am not much for drywalling, but I can do it. Cutting it and screwing it to the framing is no big deal, particular with the incredible boost that Donna gives by hanging onto the other end of each sheet. The drywall hoist comes in second, but is also irreplaceable for this 2-horse team.
The real bugaboo for me is cutting the holes for outlet boxes.
For those that are up to speed with drywall installation, the hot setup is a spiral saw, the most popular being RotoZip. I have a knock-off brand, but it works just fine. The tough part is actually using it. Compound that with the fact that we are using plastic boxes (plastic is much softer than metal boxes) and it gets a little more complicated. There is a special "guide point" bit that helps from cutting thru the plastic box, but it can still burn through if you don't have the right touch and experience. I really don't, but I'm getting better.
My problem is feeling confident that the hole I am cutting blindly is, indeed, right along the outside of the box. Sometimes I am sure I am right on the money, then I realize the bit is halfway to Phoenix and I just FUBAR'd a sheet of drywall. I need reassurance that I am still in the ballpark as I cut.  Somebody realized it and invented this thing. It's called Blind Mark.


Those round dots are super strong magnets. You place one of them right inside the outlet box. The "Locator" has the same magnets on the bottom side.

This example is actually a two-gang box, so I am going to use 2 "targets".



Then, lay up the sheet of drywall and screw it in with enough screws to hold it up, but keep the screws at least 32" away from the box (exactly the same way a Pro does it without using these cheater magnet things).
Rub the "Locator" on the sheet until the magnets "grab it"....and man, they do grab it. It will line up exactly with the target behind the sheet. Mark the outline.


Then, slide the locator over and it will grab the 2nd hidden target hiding behind the drywall


Given these lines, I now have the confidence to begin cutting.


Taa-Daa...almost like the Pro's....almost...


We will be using these little gems for all the electrical box holes in the entire structure.  Yeah, it does take a minute longer to line up, but it is far quicker than the old-fashioned method of measuring and using a jab saw to hand cut all the holes.  No measuring and 100% confidence; small investment with big return...check it out.  Blind 

Pro's would likely knock this drywall job out in a few hours.  We take a couple of very long days.  In the end, we are pleased with the results.

A little more help for the floor

We still have a good amount of concrete sealer left in the 5 gallon can that did not get used when we poured the concrete slab some 2+ years ago.  We clean all the drywall dust and roll on one more coat of the solvent based Kure and Seal product.

One more little insulation detail...

The walls are buttoned up, the ceiling is buttoned up, but what about the exposed concrete foundation wall around the perimeter?  Let's face it; when those cold winter winds blow, that 8" thick concrete wall is gonna be frozen...all the way through to the interior of the room.  It will become, for all intents and purposes, a frozen radiator all the way around.  Not good...we gotta do something...but what. 

Rigid foam insulation is the selected answer.  We buy a couple of sheets of the high density 2" (R-10) in sheets of 4' x 8'.  They are ripped to strips on the table saw and glued directly to the concrete using special glue made specifically for concrete-to-foam bonding.  A narrow space is left between the adjoining foam strips, including a gap at the floor and at the wall.  Window/door expanding foam is squirted in to fill all the gaps.  The foam also serves to bond everthing together to create a monolithic foam barrier from the wall and down to the concrete slab.  The dried foam is trimmed back and the resulting thermal barrier is tight as a drum.

(for the record, the yellow circles across the face are where we used a ramset nail gun to set and hold the foam strips in place while the glue dried.  We filled in the compressed hole with the same expanding foam to complete the entire barrier seal)



We must be gettin' close to bein' done in shop...?

Yeah, darn close I'd say.  We can now install all the outlets and switches for all the electrical.  There are alot of 'em, simply because we want plenty of options of outlets all along the walls of a workshop.  For a living space, it is severe overkill.  For a workshop, it is essential.  Since we have been very careful to seal up all the outlet box perimeters with the plastic vapor barrier that corks up the entire wall surface, the holes inside the boxes themselves are now the weak link.  We use a can of spray foam during the electrical work.  Just before we push the outlet or switch back into the box to screw it down for good, we give each hole in the back of the plastic electrical box a tiny shot of expanding foam.  Then, the wires and outlet/switches are pushed in and screwed down.  Once the foam expands and dries, we should have an air-tight seal between the living space and wall space cavities.

Another big improvement is a permanent heat source.  Let's talk a little bit about this plan.  We did install 4 vents into the ceiling of the shop area that will tap into the main HVAC trunk for the structure.  Someday, when we are done and the furnace and central air conditioner are installed and functional, these vents will be major players.  That day is still pretty far off.  Also, we did install radiant heat pex tubing into the shop area concrete slab.  Same story; still pretty far off.  So, in the meantime, we need a quick, down-and-dirty, cheap source of heat .  Enter electric baseboard heaters.

We prepared for this heating option from day one.  The room was wired for both the heaters and the wall thermostat to control them.  Now that the drywall is done and we are filling up all the electrical boxes with outlets and switches, we can also fill the boxes for the heaters and the thermostat.  Yeah, they will be a bit expensive to operate for heating simply because they run on electricity, but the minimal increase in the electric bill for weekend operation is tolerable and gets written off as the cost to build. 

There is one 72" baseboard unit at each end of the room that consumes (and puts out) 1500 watts each.  They were cheap and are very reliable.  Subsequent testing over the following months proves out their ability to heat the area and keep it toasty through the some very cold weather.  Another good decision.


We also take some time to temporarily hook up one coax for a TV feed of the satellite signal. betcha...we are going for creature comforts.  In fact, we are gonna go nuts at this point and make that huge step from living in a 120 sq ft shed with an inflatable bed and a porta potti.  Speakers for the stereo get mounted on the wall, and some real furniture is brought in.  The ceiling fans are installed, along with some kitchen essentials.  A REAL bed makes a debut; Donna quickly outfits it with an electric blanket and some nice linens.  Some of the metal wall cabinets are installed and one of the rolling shop work tables is built.  It may have an industrial look to it, but it is now our new home at LNP and WE ARE DIGGIN' IT! 




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