Progress Update: Carpenter Chaos & Taking Things Into Our Own Hands

As I mentioned in our last update post, the past few weeks had us feeling confused and honestly disheartened. We spoke with 3 different carpenters regarding our structural engineers suggestions (reinforcing the existing roof framing, adding a beam in the ceiling to compensate for the partially load bearing wall we want to remove) and they all had different and seemingly very complicated ideas. I want to specifically note that we asked all of these carpenters to speak directly to our structural engineer to clarify any questions. They all seemed extremely averse to this idea (only one actually did it), and it really made no sense to us why they would ignore this resource. 

Rich in phone books, but poor in roof reinforcement! 

Rich in phone books, but poor in roof reinforcement! 

  • Carpenter 1 - Felt that using purlins was unnecessary and came up with some wackadoo plan which was the drawing in the previous post. 
  • Carpenter 2 - Did not seem phased by the project, but also made many (what we found out later to be false) assertions regarding the difficulty of individual tasks & disappeared and stopped returning our phone calls before providing a formal bid. 
  • Carpenter 3 - Told us that it would be the same cost to remove the whole roof and rebuild as it would be to reinforce the framing. He hung in there for a while, but eventually lost interest in our project and never provided a formal bid on the work. 

At a total loss, we set up a time to speak with our structural engineer to see if he could help us make sense of the differing opinions we'd been hearing. One, 30-minute pep talk later we were feeling confident again and ready to give those contractors hell! 

First we discussed the overall plan and why everyone seemed to have their own idea of what to do. In the words of our engineer "It is very simple, if it sounds like they are trying to make it complicated, you should move on and find a new carpenter." In his eyes, it is as easy as:

  1. slap a 2x6 next to every 2X4
  2. add 2 additional purlins to support the roof
  3. brace everything
  4. remove the load bearing wall
  5. put a beam in the ceiling to compensate for partially load bearing wall removal. 

He noted that drywall is cheap and easy to remove and it would be silly to pay someone to do the removal. As an added bonus, with the drywall out of the way, the contractors should have a clearer view of exactly what is going on and how they can go about fixing it. A direct quote: "hang in there and start swinging some sledges". Ugh - just love him. 

And so we listened. The first step was to get on youtube an figure out how the heck you go about taking down drywall. Once we had a list of tools needed (mainly a drywall saw) we headed to Home Depot. And the rest is history...high off of the thrill of demo, we ended up taking down a whole damn wall. We took the drywall off of the load bearing wall as well, but we need to wait to remove the framing until the extra support beam is put in.

Wall before we got our tiny hands on it. 

Wall before we got our tiny hands on it. 

emowithsaw.jpg
After! 

After! 

Our structural engineer gave us the contact information for the carpenter he uses on his projects. We gave him a ring and we FINALLY had the experience we had been hoping for: 

  • Contractor 4 - Had a few questions about the project but found it to be generally straight forward. After inspecting the space he spoke with our engineer and confirmed his plans. From there he sent us a concise bid which was less than we were expecting to pay. We have all of our fingers and toes crossed that this guy doesn't ghost us. 

Tiny Rehab Lessons: 

  • Bringing in a structural engineer at the beginning of the project was the best decision we've made thus far (not counting the matching jumpsuits) and it is the gift that keeps on giving 
  • Do your research and have a plan. Do not rely on contractors to tell you what needs to be done. Your structural engineer and the city guidelines will be your guiding light. 
  • When life gets you down, grab a sledge and start swinging! 

The electrical and plumbing repairs are taking a back seat while we work to finalize our plans.. 

-EmV with contributions from Em O

Hot Mess Trash Disaster Foundation (Part I)

Professional foundation inspector reporting for duty! 

Professional foundation inspector reporting for duty! 

Our lil’ bungalow is currently sporting a pier and beam foundation system. We’ve been told by several reputable parties that in Austin, a pier and beam system can be more advantageous than a slab foundation.  This is due to the nature of the soil and it’s tendency to shift between seasons. A slab may just crack while a pier and beam system can go with the flow. That said, most foundations, regardless of type, need a tune up every few decades or so. Ours is in dire need of some TLC. 

After the initial inspection we knew that the foundation would be one of the biggest repairs we would be making on the house. The inspector pointed out some sloppily and cheaply done repair work (you will see this is a continuing theme as we work our way through the house). Many of the 4X6 beams had been replaced with 2X4s resulting in the beams sagging and rolling. He also informed us that the house was a few piers short of a full load. We would need to install additional piers and replace most of the beams. Those factors combined with shifting due to natural ground movement left our house feeling off-kilter. 

You can really see the rolling beam from this angle.

You can really see the rolling beam from this angle.

Before we moved forward with getting quotes from contractors, we brought in a structural engineer who specializes in pier and beam to take a look at the house and write up a scope of work for the repairs. He confirmed most of what we had been told to date and gave us a little physics lesson. I won’t bore you with that here (but also I don’t remember much of it, he was attractive and I was distracted).

The biggest advantage of having an engineer review your project is that you know exactly what to ask for from your contractors. Two contractors might quote you similar prices for repairs but could include completely different scopes. The engineer generally isn't there to "win the business" so they will shoot you straight on what is necessary vs. nice to have and what needs to be done tomorrow vs. what can wait. Especially for first timers, we highly recommend this step (not just for the views, heh heh). 

No crawl space here! 

No crawl space here! 

A good portion of the foundation repair cost is coming from the fact that the addition the previous owners added to the house, which includes the efficiency apartment and the 4th bedroom in the main house (more on this later), is just sitting on piles of cinder blocks. The addition also doesn’t have proper clearance to allow a crew to get underneath it and do the necessary pier installations. Our engineer told us that less accessibility means more $$$.

That brings us to our first tiny rehabber task. This weekend (weather permitting) we’ll be tearing up the floors in the efficiency apartment to allow the foundation crew to access the area and install the piers from above.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Em V.