Chapter 10 – The Apartment
Since it was obvious by now that this project was going to take considerably longer that we had initially anticipated, we decided to make the daylight basement into a comfortable living space while I finished the rest of the project; after all, it already had a toilet! After living in an 8 by 12-foot shed, the 800 square foot living area of half of the basement looked huge. To weatherproof the basement we covered the deck framing with 2x6 tongue and groove pine boards. A layer of tar paper and then rolled roofing nailed to the deck surface made a temporary weatherproof flat basement roof. Considering the torture that this roof had to endure in the coming years before the frame got “dried-in”, it served its purpose remarkably well.
I learned my first lesson in buying materials locally when I ordered 140 16-foot long 2x6-inch tongue and groove pine boards for the decking. It would be two weeks before these boards could be delivered. I had already become used to having all the materials that I needed readily at hand. So, for the next two weeks, using the materials at hand, I started the basement apartment.
With the main water line already installed, a toilet prominently perched it the middle of the living space and all the stubbed out piping for a sink, tub, floor drain and vent stack, it seemed logical to build a bathroom and finish the rest of the plumbing. The first error that I realized that I had made was having the main water line enter the basement through the back of the foundation in the east wall. This placed this important feature behind the tub wall. It would have been much better if it had entered the basement through the south wall at the east end where I had planned for a small utility room. I wanted to keep the plumbing as minimal as possible to save on plumbing costs as well as having short hot water pipes from the water heater to the spigots. Since the main floor kitchen and bathroom were initially designed to be next to each other in the southeast corner of the house, the water heater, main water line and basement bathroom were all placed under these water-using rooms in the southeast corner of the basement. The 6x8-foot utility room is just big enough to house a water heater and any other plumbing devices that might become necessary such as a pressure pump and tank or water filters. Linda hadn’t decided whether she wanted laundry facilities upstairs or in the basement so I decided to plan for them in the basement outside of the utility room and if she wanted them upstairs, I would plumb them into the basement plumbing when I got there.
I didn’t actually design the basement bathroom; the plumber did that based upon where I told him that I wanted the vent stack to be and where the septic tank, by code, needed to be located. The open area south of the foundation made a good drain field site, so the septic tank went between this field and next to the house foundation. The main house drain then had to lead from the septic tank to the vent stack. The bathroom was designed so the toilet drain would be within the code dictated distance from the main vent stack. In other words, the drain field, septic tank, main house drain and basement bathroom arrangement was all decided by the plumber and the plumbing code based upon where I planned to put the vent stack.
Deciding where to put the vent stack was one of my major house design problems. Hiding this pipe, as is customary in a stick built house, inside walls would not work well. I think that aesthetically, walls within a timber-framed house should conform to the major framing timbers. Therefore, pipes within these walls leading to the roof, would need to pass right through at least one major timber. I considered drilling 4-inch holes through major structural timbers for the vent pipe to be a bad plan. Like a pathway through the frame for a chimney, the frame was designed to provide an open pathway from the basement main drain to the roof. I decided to sacrifice a corner of the kitchen as the pathway for the vent stack from the basement to the first floor. Above this space was an open loft. We considered putting a bathroom in the loft above the kitchen to provide a place to hide the rest of the vent stack without going through any frame timbers. However, three bathrooms, one each level, seemed more than the two of us really needed. So I decided to put a jog in the vent stack in the corner of the kitchen and run the rest of the pipe in the east exterior wall to the roof. This jog had to be somewhere if it was not going to run through the middle of the loft space or a timber since the main drainpipe is within the basement walls and the house exterior walls are on the outside of the foundation wall. The only other solution that I could think of was building some sort of box around the pipe in the loft that would have looked like a box to hide a vent stack. Linda thought that we could paint it brown and add some branches and leaves to it so it looked like a tree. I didn’t think so. For the moment, since there was not going to be a frame or walls above the basement for some time, the vent stack simply ran straight up through the decking and terminated in the corner of the kitchen. Having some leftover redwood for wall base plates and many oak 2x6s, I got some PVC piping and fittings and framed out the space defined by the drain and vent piping that the plumber had installed.
In the middle of the plumbing project, the excavation guys returned to backfill the foundation and complete the loop driveway around the backside of the house.
With the bathroom plumbing and walls roughed in, I next installed the 200-amp service box in the basement directly below the electric meter stand. The 2/0 wire aluminum wire needed for this connection runs through the gray conduit at the top of the service box, through a 1-inch hole in the sill beam, and into the same kind of conduit to the base of the meter stand and into the meter box. Nine other wires also run up the wall and are routed through two holes in the sill beam, ready to enter the sill chase that would soon wrap around the outside of the sill beams. Two of these wires are #6 wires that serve two ETS (Electric Thermal Storage) heaters on the daylight basement exterior wall. Another is a #10 wire that leads to the sub-panel that would eventually be installed on the east exterior wall of the main floor bedroom. This sub-panel will provide the circuits for the main floor and the loft. Four other wires serve the baseboard heating system on the main floor. The other two wires serve dedicated electronic equipment circuits. The three holes in the sill beam are sealed with foam insulation. The rest of the wires that serve the basement circuits are routed around the inside of the basement on the 1-inch wide ledge that was created on the inside of the foundation by the redwood sill plates.
The day after the driveway was completed the decking boards were delivered and dumped behind the deck on the new driveway. It was time to drop the plumbing and electrical projects in the basement and start building the main floor deck that would also be the basement roof. Since the decking needed to extend beyond the frame to support the exterior walls, I needed to build the exterior sill chase framing first. My dad, wanting to participate in this grand project, volunteered to build the sill chase while I installed the decking. He arrived on August 15th with his radial arm saw to cut 2x4s for the sill chase and his lathe to make 1 3/8-inch diameter oak pegs. We began the decking project the next day.
The sill chase is the same height as the 10-inch sill beams, an upper and lower 2x4 connected with alternating stubs on the inside and outside edges. The inside stub is nailed to the sill beam and the outside stub provides nailers for the boards that will cover the chase. This arrangement left plenty of room for wires to run inside of the chase framework.
The edge of the 2x6-inch tongue and groove pine decking is nailed even with the outside edges of the sill chase. While installing the decking, I left 8x8-inch holes for the sites of the future frame posts to sit directly on the sill beams and the steel straps that would bolt to the outsides of the frame posts. In the center of these square holes I drilled 1 3/8-inch diameter holes completely through the sill beams. I then pounded in the 1-foot long, 1 3/8-inch diameter oak pegs that my dad had made on his lathe. I cut these pegs off even with the decking so that they not only joined the sill beam joinery but would also serve as pegs for the bottom of the frame posts. These post bottom pegs may not have been necessary since the 1 1/2-inch thick decking would surround the bottom end of the posts but since I was pegging the sill beam joinery with them anyway, it seemed like a good idea. The only significance to the 1 3/8-inch diameter peg size is that I wanted to use something larger than a 1-inch peg and the auger bit that I use for drilling 1 1/2-inch mortises is 1 3/8-inches in diameter. These square post-holes, precisely located where the posts needed to stand adjacent to the protruding 26-inch long steel straps, were filled with a redwood block with a peg hole in the middle. These redwood blocks filled the hole and were easily split apart when they needed to be removed to install the frame posts.
I surface nailed each deck board with two nails into each joist starting from the outside edges and working toward the middle. This scheme allowed me to use the outside edge of the decking to clamp the deck boards in place to keep them tight. I could have used cleats to do this but I didn’t want to put any more nail holes in the floor than necessary. This idea was really silly considering that the next step was to nail tar paper and rolled roofing onto the deck, but again, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
After the decking was nailed in place and the wires were installed all the way around the frame, I covered the chase with pine boards. I eventually replaced these pine boards with redwood boards because I eventually trimmed the house with redwood. I also installed 1-inch foam boards inside the chase at the corners and at each scarf joint to help seal any future cracks that might eventually appear.
Once the decking was finished, I went back to my basement apartment project. I was running out of time, Linda was due to arrive in six days and I wanted to have enough done to inspire her confidence! She tells me now that she has never had any doubts or lack of confidence, so perhaps I simply needed to convince myself that this grand plan was going to work! Still stuck on the garage idea for the daylight basement openings, I walled off the back half of the basement, installed a door in the stairwell opening, and put a big window in each of the two walls. The rest of the plan included an interior wall to create a bedroom space directly under where the first floor bedroom would be, a small living room with an ETS heater along the back wall under the future bathroom, a sink and tub in the bathroom, a water heater in the utility room, and a sink and counter top in the kitchen area. Linda was convinced that with the addition of a stove and a refrigerator, we could move into our apartment! In January of 1999, a bit more than two years later that is exactly what we did.
On September 16th, Linda arrived to admire my handy work. Somewhere in the course of my basement project, I tried to turn the one person shed into a guesthouse for both of us. The single bed was never going to do and a double bed would never fit, so I built a bunk bed. After spending a few days in the guesthouse, Linda too was thrilled by the amount of potential space in the basement.
We spent the next few days walling off the stairwell and dreaming of our apartment to be. It didn’t take long for visions of a kitchen and some furniture to start dancing in her head. After covering the daylight basement exterior wall, Linda and I heading back to Pennsylvania on September 25, 1996.
I spent the winter of 1996-1997 in Linda’s uninsulated garage cutting the timbers for the central stairwell of the first floor framing. I also did a little more consulting for my old employer and helped Ed a few times. I set up the space in the garage to replicate Ed’s shop, complete with a huge wood stove to burn scarps and keep warm. Keith had provided enough raw timbers to work with that I kept in a big pile in the driveway covered with tarps. Using Fred’s cart, I wheeled a collection of appropriate timbers into the garage to thaw out and whittled the joinery for the stairwell sides. This way, I was able to assemble small sections of the stairwell and verify my plan and the fit of the joints. When a side was done, I stacked the parts against the wall and started the next side.
By April of 1997, the stairwell part of the first floor framing was finished, but Keith did not yet have the 16-foot long beams for the rest of the first floor framing ready to be delivered. Since the basement was sitting in Colorado waiting to be converted into an apartment, we decided that I would go work on the apartment for a few months while we waited for the rest of the timbers. I loaded up a U-Haul trailer with the furniture that we wanted to have in the apartment and some oak boards and tools and made another trip to Colorado.
After removing the T1-11 covering that we had installed seven months ago, I inspected the condition of the sealed up basement. I realized that we had made a small error by not providing some sort of ventilation. Though nothing was overly wrong, it was obvious that it had gotten very humid in this closed basement space; the bright yellow oak joists were now a chocolate brown. Fortunately, we had not left anything inside that would have suffered from high humidity.
The first thing to do was get an electrical system installed. After building a dividing wall for the bedroom, I installed the 220-volt lines for a water heater and an ETS heater and a breaker for the long heavy wire that powered the shed. Then I created the three GFI circuits that I needed for a kitchen and a bathroom, a separate circuit for outside outlets in the open front half of the daylight basement for power for woodworking tools, and the necessary outlets for the inside walls to pass an electrical inspection. Although the electrical inspector was a bit confused by our strange building plan, I did pass the final inspection for a finished living space in the basement.
Next, I needed some plumbing. For the moment, all I was interested in was a functional bathroom and some hot water. I knew that Linda would want a functional kitchen sink as well, but a counter top and some complicated plumbing would be necessary so I decided to postpone that project for later. I also knew that a plumbing inspector would have a fit about my vent stack terminating a few inches over the top of the deck so I decided to forget about him for a while.
Finishing the basement also afforded the opportunity to try out some of the options that we could later use to finish the upstairs. Walls could be directly under beams or aligned at an edge of a beam or not be aligned with a beam at all. When walls are not aligned under a beam, the wall surface has to either stop at the bottom of a joist or wrap around the joist and continue to the ceiling. When walls stop at the bottom of the joists; a gap between each joist is left at the top of the wall, but pipes can then be in the wall and continue upward to the next floor level
When a wall follows a joist and passes under a beam, the top wall surface wraps around the larger beam. The top edge of the wall that turns the corner also needs to be kept at the height of the bottom of the joists. Running walls under joists leads to problems if the joists are not all exactly the same height. The problem gets worse as the joists age and begin to shrink and twist. When walls are aligned under the center of beams, the wall surface can now stop at the bottom edge of the beam all the way across the wall. The adjoining wall becomes an independent surface and the post becomes large corner molding. When a wall surface continues past the edge of a beam to the ceiling surface above, the joists on either side of the wall surface eventually shrink leaving cracks between the wall surface and the joists. Interior walls work best when they follow the major beams. The next best option is to follow joists. The worst choice is a wall that reaches the ceiling and must be fit in between joists and beams.
Later in the basement-finishing project, I experimented with other finishing techniques. I tried different door and window molding styles and sizes, different styles and sizes of baseboards and molding at the tops of walls and around posts and beams. I eventually got to the building of bookcases and doors for the bathroom and bedroom, trying different techniques that might eventually be used upstairs.
In late June, Linda came to see our new apartment and we both took a well-deserved Fourth of July vacation to the San Jaun Mountains. Linda added many girl touches to my handy work that improved the homeyness of the apartment, and by the end of the month, we were back in Pennsylvania to organize another flatbed truckload of timbers to ship to Colorado. On September 6, 1997, the truck was loaded with the precut stairwell framing and the rest of the first floor timbers and I once again headed back to Colorado. This time I had a nice comfortable apartment to live in and a covered workshop in which to continue working on my masterpiece.