House energy retrofit project 17

If you've read this far, you've either got admirable attention-span stamina or I actually managed to make it all interesting enough to keep plowing through. This is the last page of the main insulation retrofit, but then the fun continues in section 18 and onward with the roofing sub-project and spray-foam and a whole bunch of other wrap-up. And this was all before any real energy-use stats began to get collected, most of which would have to wait until cold weather.

I found it interesting, in a somewhat eye-opening way, that so much of the retrofit project centered around the over-roof and trim work -- but obviously it all has to be done, with good attention to detail and integration with everything else. I suppose that's what makes a house a home. When you think about it, they were almost building a whole new house around the old one, and that's how I was telling friends about it -- the old house sitting somewhere inside the beer-cooler.

[Click any image for a larger version.]

    Day 18

Light block This is a light block, a fairly robust vinyl piece designed to adapt to siding and give a solid surface for attaching exterior lights to and bringing wires out to them. First time I'd seen one where I was actually paying attention, not having examined vinyl siding jobs in any particular detail before...

Starting east-side siding The block got mounted on strapping over the door where the old electric fitting used to be and the wire brought through the foam to it, but neither they or I had anything to actually put on it yet. My intended motion-detect/alarm hack was still a long way from being put together.

With two sides of the house sided and the trim mostly finalized on this door, it was time to side the other two sides, as it were. They set up the cutting station and got a good start ... but look very carefully to the right and left of the door. Ut-oh...

Breaking and exiting They had left the staging cranked way up, and to bring it down it was easier to head to a window upstairs and commit "breaking and exiting" than get out a ladder.

Fixing east-wall oops They shortly realized that the siding was misaligned, and pulled off what they'd just put on. With the interruption of the stoop, there wasn't an easy reference on the right-hand side for the starter strip so it got mounted at the wrong height and the error propagated from there. But it didn't take long to correct and build back up to where they'd stopped.

Siding over door Then the siding courses could meet correctly over the door, incorporating said light-block along the way.

Sealing details around electric penetration This is a detail from a different project, one that actually had *drawings* that builders could follow, for air-sealing around an electrical penetration and light block. None of this was done by the guys here, but I managed to mostly take care of the exterior end of it later. This is also a nice plan-view representation of a retrofit wall section, showing the original structure and new foam and how the correct screw lengths interact with it as well as how any penetration is supposed to get sealed. Main strapping screws should reach into original studs, and those holding extra strapping to support exterior items should only poke through the sheathing and not get loaded quite as much. This is why they had so many different screw lengths, and hopefully they chose the right ones for every location especially after the electrical oops upstairs.

Siding up into rake angle Here we see an interesting counterpoint to the shot of the exposed old cedar-shake siding from the first demolition day. Yes, plenty of site cutting is needed to fit siding to angles. The guys in the air generally called what they needed down to the cutting station, but sometimes small adaptations were just done on the fly with snips.

Sorting out foam scraps A couple of guys were tasked with sorting out all the remaining foam pieces, to save some of the larger chunks they figured might be usable on the next job. They were going to simply *throw away* the rest, load it all into the dumpster ... but I intervened, immediately thinking of a bunch of things the foam might be useful for. Instead of tossing what they didn't want, I helped them make a second "keep" stack at the edge of the backyard.

Frankly, I'd seen enough waste come out of this supposedly "green" project that I was a little dubious that the GC was actually keeping that sort of thing in mind, but at some point the line has to be drawn on the overhead of extra materials handling.

Starting to pack up Sorting hundreds of stray screws
Several other project-wrapup activities started today as well, since the end was indeed near. They boxed up most of the remaining caulk, and spent about an hour sorting out all the stray screws by length into the appropriate buckets. Yeah, they'd gone through quite a few of those, not to mention throwing away a number of perfectly reusable ones along the way.

Closing up top soffits Peak metal mismatch
More trim work was finished up around the roof, and they bent up a couple of new pieces to fix various length mismatches rather than try and just patch up gaps. On one hand, nice attention to detail; on the other, all the fascia and rake trim was left open to the sky at the top. More on that issue later.

In the process, the "water kicker" fascia attempt that had still been up along the back was replaced with the simple hemmed L-bend.

Rick with the rake The crew had a running joke about "Rick with the Rake", which my best guess on is that raking the yard is considered a task for the more junior/inexperienced guys but he, as one of the more skilled crewmembers and often the de facto site foreman when the PM wasn't around, did his share of raking too. So when several guys were snapping some pix at the end of the workdays the fun part was to have him holding a rake in some of them. Well, here he's got the rake *on* the rake, so I guess it all fits together.

Side stoop dug clear After they'd left for the day and I considered that the side door was close to done, I figured it was time to really deal with the side stoop which as far as I knew was my responsibility to finish up. There was still a big mound of dirt under it which I spent a while recovering and storing in a separate pile to use as wall backfill later, and as I dug out around whatever it was sitting on I discovered that it had a couple of hefty concrete footings underneath and wasn't just sitting on the ground.

Stoop is definitely not level I got the big 5-foot level out of the basement and started eyeballing what needed to happen. The stoop was decidedly out of level front-to-back, and basically flat with no pitch away from the house. So the two goals were to get it level to the door, and get water landing on it to move in the right direction.

Jacking the stoop at rear The hi-lift jack was applied again, and I found that raising it was quite a bit easier once the legs of the precast were all dug out.

With nothing but the jack holding up a large unknown mass, I was definitely using a chicken-stick for clearing out underneath it instead of my hand.

Jacking the stoop at front To try and establish pitch away from the house, I also needed to apply some lift to the front so the bottle-jack and Mighty Screwdriver to crank it made another appearance. Various blocking kept it from slipping off the slanted lip and it was just enough to help get the whole inboard side of thing thing raised to the right spot.

Side stoop re-leveled Then it took *hours* of farting around to find all the right-size materials to block the thing up so it wouldn't *teeter* once let down again. I wound up using a wide assortment of stuff at hand -- bricks, slabs of concrete from the front-stoop cutting job, rocks, even some bits of my grey sheet PVC as "squish" elements. I wanted to make sure this would all be evenly supported and *stay* level long-term as any subsequent settling happened.

I think I finally got it right, as it wound up stable and quite level with respect to the door sill and with just the right pitch outward. The whole unit is actually crowned just a little on top, so it's basically level right next to the door [some of which area is under the new overhang and doesn't even get wet from straight-down rain] and starts sloping off more the farther away you get.

Front step pitch I was grateful that the front stoop already had a pretty nice outward pitch, because the only way to fix that would be to pour new material on top.

    Day 19

Big pile of backer rod A certain amount of interior work was needed, and they'd left this for last. Remember all those gaps around the old windows and doors, and halfhearted attempts to insulate with newspaper? This time it would all be done right with respect to the new windows, finalizing the airtight shell we were after.

These builders eschew using spray-foam for that, even the low-expansion stuff, as they've observed it to move oddly and actually *form* little air gaps past itself as it cures across small openings. Instead they favor caulk, and pre-stuffing larger gaps with backer rod or even thin cuts of XPS where needed. To this end, they appeared to have bought out the entirety of the supply-yard's stock of "Frost King" because they came prepared with an awful lot of it.

Air-sealing windows Caulked window
The more experienced guys showed the newer ones how to fill and caulk around an installed window frame, stuffing the gap where needed and simply using a finger to form a nice fillet at the joint, and turned them loose on the rest of the house. For the most part, they did a good job but naturally the leader went back to inspect all the work afterward.

Bad caulking job There were a few spots that hadn't been thoroughly filled in and left some little air holes, particularly in corners. The guys tasked with this *know* that sealing means closing all the holes, and it was puzzling where misses like this would even come from. It all got carefully fixed, because this would be the last chance to do so before interior trim went in.

They weren't worrying about gaps under the blue or black flashing and next to the backdam and sub-sill piece, as those spaces were *in theory* already sealed off to the exterior by how the flashing layers met up with the foam face. We didn't find any problems with these where windows were concerned, but in later testing we found it likely that the same sort of little sub-pan channels near corners might have been an issue for the doors.

Starting front-door sill The front door still needed its sill and jamb extensions, and they'd brought along a generic oak sill piece to adapt in.

Trying azek trim Metal over azek, why
A kick board of Azek went in at the lip like on the side door, and then they bent and applied some metal over that. Later there was some differing opinions on the metal part and it got pulled off again. Metal on kick boards would definitely get dinged up more easily than Azek [like, for example, when a homeowner shovels snow off the stoop], so it made sense to not use it there.

One-legged carpenter At one point I popped out the front door and beheld this, which was kind of amusing.

Patching final grace holes The one-legged carpenter was due to the fact that he was up there patching some remaining cleat and bracket holes in the roof Grace.

Bikini truck wash Every so often the guys were entertained by what became known as the "bikini truck wash" across the street. Basically whenever this gal would make an appearance, usually heading in or out in the truck or on her motorcycle, every head on the jobsite would swivel around. [To the tune of "Call Me Maybe", possibly...]

The truck seemed to be her real pride and joy, and received a good wash-down every few days so this was a fairly common occurrence. At the risk of mild voyeurism I shot this one with better zoom and detail than they could with their smartphones [and yes, they were trying], and mailed it to my picture-correspondent on the crew as sort of a thank-you for getting me his construction pix from earlier.

We don't know anybody else who plays with vehicles as a hobby, do we... nope, none at all. *cough*

I had another one of those last-minute design phone calls with the PM that morning, as they hadn't decided on a type of interior trim wood to bring. They were apparently going to default to some awful primed-white stuff, where they hadn't quite internalized the idea that "matching interior style" pretty much demanded bare wood. The PM asked "you mean like clear pine with no knots? That's going to raise the costs" and I said no, generic pine, like plain shelf stock, and a few knots here and there are fine -- not to the extreme like "knotty pine" which would incur higher costs too, just plain ol' *wood* and that's how it would stay as it got turned into window jambs.

Another type of conversation I was hoping to not need, but he later rolled in with the right thing strapped to his truck rack so it was all good.

Ripping down trim boards They brought a smaller but higher-precision table saw, and after the window air-sealing was done it was time to start cutting jamb boards.

Jamb dimension notes One of the guys was working from notes he made on a stray piece of trim metal, taken from a bunch of measurements inside. It's funny how builders often scrawl dimension notes on anything ready to hand, although guys on the ground doing a lot of cutting on any particular day usually kept little paper pads handy.

Building a window jamb box It doesn't take this many builders to construct a window box, but as our lead guy here had switched from rough framing and jumping all over rooftops to a "fine cabinetwork" role, there was general interest and it was clear that he loves doing this kind of work too. The trim boxes were all put together as pre-built units, that would then basically drop into each place they needed to be.

Jamb and trim ready to install A box all built and ready to take inside. The casing flanges were made from the generic "clamshell" trim type I'd specified, about the simplest possible shape you can get. As the previous trim in the house had been a total hodgepodge of different styles and finishes, I picked the least complex type as an example for all the new stuff. And I'd asked for simple picture-frame type trim, without the "stools" that had actually been annoyingly in the way on the old windows. The jamb extensions themselves would be plenty of sill-area.

If you look close you see a tiny "reveal" around the inside corners; this is on purpose and Rick [of the Rake] explained it to me: it's almost impossible to put all that together flush and actually have it line up perfectly. By backing the casing out a quarter-inch around the box itself, you get something that's far more forgiving of minor alignment errors and adds a little bit of visual interest.

Window jamb fitting guides He had this fairly ingenious way of setting up guides to support the boxes in just the right place. Since he was getting all the measurements from the windows anyway, he could sink screws at both lower corners like this at just the right depths to guide the box in perfectly without having to re-measure or really even look at how it was meeting the window. Made the actual installation process as easy as insert the box and sink a few trim nails around the opening with the Bostitch finish nailer.

First jamb box installed He slid the first one in and pfft, pfft, pfft, pfft, ... done. By the time I was looking it over he was already running out for the next one.

Bostitch trim brads The trim-nailer brads are basically big single-ended staples weakly glued together the same way. The finish nailer is a little different from the framing nailer in that it sinks the tee-shaped head a precise depth *below* the target surface and all you see left is a small pit. No need for manual nail-setting on finish work like back in the day.

They'd sent the air hose in my bedroom window here, and ran all over inside the house from there.

Cutting back interior paneling One or two of the windows needed some extra fiddling to adapt the trim to the cheezy old paneling. On this one he decided to cut the paneling edge back a little, telling one of the other guys "better get that vacuum cleaner in here, I'm gonna make a mess..." Most of the paneling in this place is over old 3/8" drywall, so there's friable stuff underneath. Another strong reason to *not* try any dense-pack cavity-fill on these walls.

Ripping down oak sill piece Shaving sill extension a little
The oak piece they brought for the front door sill needed a bit of trimming and reshaping, and a thin layer shaved off so it would match the height of the existing frame's sill piece.

This is how the sill will extend Here's how the sill piece would fit in ...

Sill extension fitted up ... and here it's installed, with trim already over the ends hiding the fasteners. A healthy bead of Liquid Nails also got run between the two pieces, effectively joining them together as one if you ignore the color difference.

Another piece of Azek was cut and put in to match this, which became the new kick board.

Kitchen window box is a little special Soon enough the last of the window trim was getting put together, a somewhat special box for the kitchen window.

Kitchen window jamb *just* fits in Kitchen jamb done
The problem here is that the sink's backsplash is *right* up to the window opening, leaving no room for the clamshell along the bottom. He wound up cutting a special board for the bottom, and sized the rest to slide exactly between the cabinets even if that technically made it just a little too narrow. He specifically asked me if it was okay that the corners didn't match up precisely with the 45-degree seam bevel of the window frame itself -- this was bugging him a lot more than it was me, but I assured him that *I* didn't care and that it was great that he did such a beautiful, precise job of handling this tricky spot.

All twelve windows got their trim that day; it went surprisingly fast.

Finishing shed-dormer trim The day wrapped up with a little more roof trim. It seemed like there was *always* more roof trim to do. Again, they hadn't sided the cheekwalls on purpose -- that would have to wait until the roofing was on the strips below there.

Basement looking much clearer Other guys were doing a whole lot of gear-schlepping and truck loading toward the end of the afternoon, and the basement was already looking quite a bit emptier.

Compare this to the old shot of the same area with the coal bin and all my junk in the way, and it's another nice before-n-after illustration of project endpoints.

It was almost kind of surreal to realize we were nearing the end of this part of the job. I had been referring to the ongoing project to friends as "a month-plus of burly guys pounding the crap out of my house, and I haven't freaked out yet -- well, except for the night the roof was leaking". Well, even that turned out to be relatively minor and fixable -- still very important, as one downside of this type of assembly is that unknown leaks could remain hidden for *years* before becoming evident, by which time extensive damage might already be done. Much would depend on the roofer's eventual performance, but obviously everyone needs to do their part in getting the critical details right.

The whole set of screens Since I had come up with a numbering scheme for the windows during removal of the storms, I thought it might be prudent to number all the new screens the same way. As I started gathering them up I found that I didn't have as many different sizes as I thought -- the GC had come up with such a uniform set of windows that it really wasn't necessary. Even the two big front ones, which I thought were fairly different units right vs. left, turned out to be the same size. The only remaining problem is that Serious had OEMed these screens from somewhere else, and a few of them were really difficult to fit where they were supposed to go.

The little bit of reflective material hanging above the screens was an early experimental test of a better way to shade.

Reflectix window shade concept To generate a uniform set of blinds for all the windows, I had landed on the idea of using a type of mylar-coated thin bubble-wrap called Reflectix. I found it at Orangeco in various size rolls while just browsing around the insulation department seeking further education and something to take my mind off the fact that mainstream window-dressing is *stupidly* expensive. After a little experimenting and fit-figuring I came up with a method to make the same kind of shade for every window, and the more I worked on it the more I liked the concept. About halfway through the build process I posted a message about it to the homeowners' list. Once they were done I could gleefully huck all those old ratty drapes and curtain-rods I had taken down right into the dumpster.

    Day 20

Finishing side door sill extension With the front door finally !theoretically! finished attention turned back to the same issues on the side door, where sill solutions attempted to date hadn't really worked out.

Side sill caulked joint The answer turned out to be getting the extension piece independently attached in the right place and continuing the correct outward/downward angle, and simply running a fat bead of caulk between them. Maybe it would even break the thermal bridge that all that aluminum would otherwise create. The edges were also caulked to the trim metal to try and keep water out of the perennially vulnerable cracks there, and I went back over that with a heavier bead later on.

Eventually this would get a storm door too, which would mitigate a lot of the potential water issues anyway.

Vacuuming the lawn Project wrapup continued, and in keeping with the thorough cleanup these guys generally did they even vacuumed the stray sawdust out of what I laughingly call the lawn. There was a lot of it right here under the canopy where they'd usually put their general cutting station.

Pressing the pick They started taking down some staging, and I reflected aloud on how some of the guys would seek help carrying the big "picks" around and some others insisted on being a hero and wrangling them alone. They're pretty heavy, maybe 100 pounds, but not completely unmanageable by one person and have plenty of handles; I had found a while back that I *could* lift one and move it around but it was fairly cumbersome if for no other reason than it's 24 feet long. The discussion inevitably led to a manliness contest of sorts, with this guy doing four or five standing presses with one of them and a couple of others giving it a try. Including me. I got the thing up around chest height but determined that if I was really going to make more effort on it that I'd probably crush the camera hanging around my neck, and gave up -- but actually got it higher off the ground than a couple of the other guys had.

No, we didn't spend a lot of time on this male-bonding silliness...

Scrap pieces to save They started bringing the rest of all the scrap toward the dumpster, but left it for me to sort out what I wanted to keep or chuck. More plywood rips, the boards in better condition, bits of coil metal -- I had tentative plans for quite a bit of it and didn't want to see it go to waste.

Foil-face corrosion When I pulled up couple of pieces of the half-inch foam that had been lying on the ground for a month I found that persistent dampness *does* start to corrode the aluminum. My thoughts went back to those tape fishmouths on the walls...

    Day 21

Wrong slope of J-channel There wasn't much left for the guys to do at this point -- side up the front, and do interior trim on the doors. As they started prepping for the siding they put some J-channel around the stoop to frame it around the cut edge in a typical fashion. I don't think anyone was really sure how to finish this part off, other than to make it look reasonable, and I hadn't thought too hard about water-management details around here or how to integrate, if at all, with the stoop. Where was water going to go here, would J-channel be enough protection especially with the big new overhang keeping all this drier? I still wanted to make sure water couldn't get down between the stoop and the foundation wall at all, but I figured I'd solve that later.

Front siding Siding continued rapidly up the last wall, bing bang boom. Another light block for the feed wire was accomodated.

Finishing front siding And with a few more courses of vinyl added, the silver cube was gone.

Cutting down storm door hinge Last thing to attack today was my old storm door to go back onto the front. With the new sill arrangement the hinge was a little too long and had to be trimmed down, but it went on relatively easily and suddenly it was nice to have another big *screened* opening so I could leave the front door open and not have bugs sailing in and out all day.

Interior trim ready They cut the interior trim to fit the doors but then discovered that everyone had cleaned up so thoroughly and already driven enough loads of stuff away that they'd forgotten to leave quite enough *caulk* behind to finish the air-sealing! They did as much as they could but had to leave the trim off over the weekend until they could come back with a few more supplies.

Potential caulking screwup With leisure to examine how they had started to caulk the door, I saw that to get a true seal between the doorframe and the structure the caulking couldn't just go against the old drywall. It would have to go deep in the crack, against the new flashing. Some of the old stuff was in the way here [use the big picture to see this better.] I broke away a bunch of the overhanging drywall to reveal the big cavity behind, to make it easier for when they came back to seal the rest and have the air barrier land in the right spot.

    Day 22

Only two guys showed up the following Monday because all they had to do was get the door casings finished up, and I didn't even bother to get any pictures that day. The important thing was that the main part of the insulation retrofit was finally over, with roofing yet to come. The rest of the crew were already on a new job in South Boston somewhere, which is great because it meant that another home was about to start using far less energy.

Next section   (18)

_H*   121207