Every place I've ever lived has been designed for that "average American family," with lots of bedrooms, living room, dining room, family room, etc. The problem was that I was a single person, not an average family. I needed space, but for hobbies, not people. And because I'm over 6'2", bending over to use sinks designed for children was a constant frustration. Over the years, I collected a list of things I would change if I could have my dream house. As I approached retirement, I realized time was running out for that house; it was now or never.

Dreams are not always perfect, however. I could never afford my dream house, a spacious Southern California home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But I could afford a modest ranch house, with a 20-mile drive to the beach. It was a very long way from perfect, but it had potential.

This blog documents the process of turning that small average house into something that matches my lifestyle. It will be as close to my dream house as I can make it. I'm doing all the work myself to stretch my resources. By not hiring contractors, I can afford high quality materials, and I'll know the job is always done right. The remodeling will be my primary avocation for a few years, even as I try to fit in my writing and other hobbies.

It promises to be an interesting journey, and a challenging one!

Friday, September 7, 2018

New Shingles — Part 1

My house is not all that big, but it's a single-story house, so it has a lot of roof area — pretty much the same roof area as a two-story house with twice the square footage.  But I've put new roofs on four or five houses over the course of a lifetime, and it's not a very difficult task.  But a lot of work!

The good thing about putting on a new roof in southern California is that there is generally no rain from April to October, so no worries about leaving the stripped roof uncovered (although I have a big blue tarp from my last roofing job).  The bad thing is the very intense, hot summer southern California sun, so I have elected to limit mid-day work. 

And it's just me doing all the work.  The result is that stripping the old shingles and applying the new is taking a long, long time.  So this is Part 1, just because I'm feeling the passage of time. 

So on with the show!

First, strip the old shingles.  Many people leave the old ones on and just nail the new shingles on over the old.  To me, a very bad thing — bad to the bone!  I have a special shingle-stripping shovel that can get under the nails and lever off the old shingles, and I started using that.  But the old shingles on my house were stapled on (another cheap trick), and I found that I could just pull off big hunks of shingles with my hands (wearing gloves).  That proved to be the most expedient. 

I'm not going to explain in detail how to put new shingles on, as there are lots of youtube tutorials by shingle manufacturers and contractors that would do a better job.  This is just a tale of my roof, and some of the challenges I found. 

With the roof stripped, I needed to patch a few holes (that I had not already taken care of).  These were holes for gas appliance chimneys that I had removed, and I also relocated a wind turbine ventilator to a new position (plug the old hole and cut a new one).  The basic process is to screw a piece of wood around and across the hole to the underside of the roof plywood, and then screw a plywood patch (the size of the hole) to the new wood structure.

In this photo, the plywood patch is on the left of the hole, and the structural wood piece is on the right, ready to slip in on the underside and fasten with screws from the top of the plywood.  

Looks like this when done.

With the roof stripped and patched, I covered it with roofing felt, then applied metal drip edge along the eves (bottom edge) and rake (side edges of gable roof).  This is the top of the drip edge.  In the past I used 3" wide brown drip edge, but only white was available, so I use bare (galvanized) metal this time, 2" wide — the building customs out here on the west coast are not what they are on the east coast. 

This is what the drip edge looks like from the side (there was no drip edge at all on the roof of my house as originally built — just the shingles hanging off the edge, unsupported — scandalous!).  I will paint it to match the fascia.

In the past I've always used the cheap 3-tab shingles, but I found that when purchased with the volume discount, the thicker architectural shingles cost just a little more.  With 3-tab shingles, you cut off the bottom half and use the top part for the "starter course," needed to ensure the water does not leak through the first course.  With the thicker shingles, that have no slits, I elected to use a specialized starter course, which is a shingle-type material that comes in a roll.  The bottom is covered with plastic, which is pulled off during installation, exposing an adhesive coating that sticks the starter course to the underlayment.  In addition, there is a strip of adhesive along the front that sticks the starter course to the underside of the first course of shingles.  Here's what it looks like installed over the (also black) roofing felt.

At this point, you start nailing on shingles (and I was absolutely going to use nails, and certainly not staples).  In the past, I used a hammer, pounding in the nails one at a time, as well as my fingers.  Because I was saving thousands of dollars doing the new roof myself, it was easy to justify buying a pneumatic coil roofing nailer — an absolute joy!

With that, let the shingling begin!

Adding the porch roof introduced a complication to the shingling — to wit, valleys, where different slopes of the roof intersect.  There are perhaps three methods of dealing with these valleys.  I elected to interweave them, which is described as the most foolproof (read waterproof) of the methods.  Some people say it's good for the thinner 3-tab shingles, but not appropriate for thicker architectural shingles because it can look bulky where the shingles overlap.  The manufacturer of my shingles recommended another method, but said the interwoven method was also acceptable. 

Now that the singles are on, I did not notice any bulkiness in the valleys. 

I also used special matching ridge shingles from the same manufacturer, made of several layers of shingle material, so they sit thick and proud.  (With 3-tab, I just cut the three tabs apart, and use each of the tabs as one ridge shingle.)

I expected difficulty at the intersection of the porch roof ridge with the main roof, that is, the shingles not bending flat over the odd shape.  I was planning to make a fiberglass shingle with glass cloth and epoxy resin, molded in place, but the special ridge shingles worked okay, with screws used (with wide plastic tops), to hold it down (and black roofing adhesive to seal the holes). 

After that, having only to deal with a big flat roof, progress would come faster. 

Like this.

As it turned out, I couldn't run right up to the ridge, due to an element where the back roof over the pottery studio intersected the main roof.  There was a wide slot of sorts in the eve. 

The shingles on the back roof have to first come up to the intermediate ridge, and ridge shingles applied in the slot under the eve on the upper roof.  Then the main roof shingles cover that ridge.  When I get to that point, I'll take photos to make it clearer.  I plan to use thin 3-tab shingles for this short portion of hidden ridge; they won't be visible. 

All of this means I have to reshingle this smaller back section of roof before I can continue upward on the front main roof.  So back to stripping off shingles.

And applying roofing felt, drip edge, starter course, and shingles, as well as step flashing where the roof intersects the wall. 

There is a big bit of flashing where the roof connected to the chimney, to route rain water around the chimney, but as you may recall, I removed the chimney.  So technically, this bit of flashing kit isn't needed, but as it's solidly attached to the wall, I'm going to leave it in place.  Won't hurt. 

As I'm writing this, I've actually applied several courses of shingles up from the bottom of this section of roof, but that will be included in Part 2.  Not so much work, this small section of roof.  Can't say that about what's over the hill . . .  (the right of the photo, over the ridge)

It's another big section of roof, but has the benefit of being a simple big rectangle.  The (unusual) complication is that the south side of the house has cathedral ceilings inside, with the space between the roof and the ceiling tapering from the center of the house to the side.   I was able to add more insulation to the upper part of the roof (from the inside, the attic), but was not able to insert needed insulation into the outside half of the space. 

It desperately needs more insulation.  My solution is to remove the roof sheathing after the shingles are gone, and put more insulation in place from above.  This could be a huge challenge, or it could be reasonable.  Nothing's simple.  :-(

Friday, August 17, 2018

Porch Roof — Part 2

Home Depot quickly restocked the shingles I wanted, so I had those delivered along with the plywood I needed to finish the porch roof.  The first piece to go up was a piece of T1-11 plywood for the biggest part of the ceiling.  I used my pneumatic nailer and 2-3/8" hot dipped galvanized ring shank nails to attach the plywood.  The nails are also coated with an adhesive that is activated by the heat from driving the nail in, so this ceiling is not going to fall down.  

To get the plywood for the roof deck up on the roof, since I work by myself, I leaned my extension ladder against the edge of the roof and pushed the 0.6" plywood up.  It worked well; I will use the same technique to get the bundles of shingles up on the roof (except maybe I'll pull those up the ladder with a rope).

Here are the two sheets of new plywood I used, nailed in place; the rest was recycled from my old concrete forms. The final small triangles of plywood would soon be in place.

The fascia on the front of the porch looked too bare and wide, so I added pieces of my usual PVC baseboard to the top, upside down, to give it some interest.  The before:

And the after:

With the rest of the ceiling installed, I started adding the soffit.  More T1-11.

With the soffit finished, I just need to add some trim strips to hide some edge gaps, and some other decorative trim around the base and top of the posts.  But I'm going to do that later.  What I really wanted to see was what it would look like with some color.  The remaining house trim paint I had didn't go very far, but it did make the visualization easier. 

Here's a closer wide-angle view.  Almost done.

Now I need to start on the shingles.  Still hot here, so planning to take my time . . .

Friday, August 10, 2018

Porch Roof — Part 1

So the idea was that this post was to cover the construction of the whole porch roof, but it was not to be.  I went to Home Depot to order truck delivery of the construction lumber and plywood I would need, but they had discontinued the bargain $20 delivery charge using their small truck (they will still rent you the truck, but that was less attractive because of the logistics and dogs).

So anyway I decided to buy the needed lumber and bring it home in my car in a couple of trips spaced out (I can fit ten-foot long 2x6s or whatever in my Honda CR-V).  I will have to pay $80 for the big delivery truck (with the forklift hanging off the back) when I buy the shingles; I can just add the plywood at the same time.

I need 80 bundles of shingles, but they didn't have that many in stock, so I need to wait (don't want to pay for two deliveries).  So the completion of the porch roof will keep until Part 2.  So be it.  The weather has been abnormally hot in any case, so I really don't mind not having to spend more time on the roof for another week.


The design of the porch roof called for 4x6" columns at the front corners, and I had placed anchor bolts for those when I poured the concrete.  Initially I thought I would tie the supports for the house-side of the roof into the house structure, but there was no good (strong) way to do that except to use another two separate columns for the back two corners.  These columns were fastened to the house with big lag screws.  Since I have documented all my remodeling work with photographs, I went back and found the photos of the exposed (drywall off) inside parts of the house that I would be drilling for screws to ensure I would be screwing into multiple studs.

Then did a test fit and drilled holes.

The existing fascia boards had to be cut away, as well as some other structure at the top of the wall.  I wanted the top of the beams (including added top plates) supporting the porch roof to be at the same level as the top of the house's stud walls.

The porch roof would be supported by a basic structure of four posts, and 2x8" beams between the posts (sides and front).  The strongest way to transfer the load into the columns was to use lap joints.  I cut away a half-inch from both the columns and beams, giving an inch overlap.

To make the columns more attractive, I used a heavy-duty router and a round-nose bit to machine fluting into the column sides, and also routed a bevel along their edges.  You really have to do this before you put that structure up.

Here's what the basic support structure looked like, assembled with three-inch screws.  I also gave them a first coat of solid stain while they were sitting on saw horses. 

The 2x8 beams are strong enough, but I wanted a timber-framed look, so I added spacers to the inside of the beams, and then 2x6s on top of the spacers (2x4s on the front).  This also made the structure even stronger, and much stiffer.

I had decided on a closed-in porch roof, with a front and a ceiling.  The front will be covered with stucco to match the rest of the house walls, and therefore needed plywood.  Installing the plywood now had a couple of advantages.  First, I could layout the proper angles (22˚) on the plywood, which would then provide a guide for the next steps, and second, the plywood could be used to support the ridge beam.

I used precise scale drawings to get the geometry right, and transferred those measurements to the full size construction.  This also told me a ten foot 2x6 would work for the ridge beam.  I set it in place and adjusted it in and out until it was level.  I also installed the joists that would support the ceiling at this time; it would be difficult to fasten the joist hangers if I waited until after the 2x4 top plates were fastened to the beams. 

Now the rafters could go on.  I had used the plywood front wall as a guide to cut out the first rafter (with its angled cut at the top and notch).  That rafter (after a test fit) would be used as a template to cut out the rest of the rafters.

Next were the rafters on the back part of the porch roof.  While the front rafters were cut from 2x6s, the shorter back rafters were cut from 2x4s (all on 16" centers).  The main house roof was framed with trusses spaced on 24" centers — no snow loads here in Southern California, although I still would have use 16" centers.  All the angles for the pieces on the back part of the porch framing were determined by getting up on the roof and using straight edges and magic.

Framing done:

Next step was to apply the 1x8" fascia boards.  These extended above the edge of the framing by the thickness of the plywood I would use, about o.6".  This way the fascia ends up being flush with the top of the plywood, and therefore protects the exposed edge.  It also makes it easy to sit the plywood in place — the fascia boards form a tray for the plywood to sit against.

Oh, did I say I don't have the plywood yet?  Well, I happened to walk by the forms I used for the garage extension concrete foundation, and saw that the plywood was still in good condition, and the correct thickness.  Not enough of it to do the whole roof, but a decent part of it.  Will still need to buy a couple of new sheets.

The fascia board is 1x8" and went on over the 2x6" structure.  With a 0.6" overlap on top, that left an almost 1.5" overlap on the bottom.  A soffit will be installed to cover the underside of the eves, using T1-11 plywood (19/32"), which has a rough surface and grooves to simulate tongue-and-groove boards.  I will also use the T1-11 for the ceiling.  But back to the fascia overlap, the soffit will therefore be recessed almost an inch below the lower edge of the fascia — as it should be.  Part 2 will reveal photos, no doubt.  But here is the lower overlap.

So this shows my recycled plywood on, the first part anyway.

And this gives an idea of what the grand entrance will look like when finished (need to use your imagination).  Better than just a door in the side of a long wall. :-)

Until next time . . .  and then afterwards, shingle time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

First Test of Pottery Studio!

I had thought this post would be on the new porch roof, but the weather has been hot, so I spent more time inside working on the first test batch of pots (actually they are all bowls of various descriptions).  As I write this, the kiln is almost cool enough to open to reveal the final product.  It’s always a surprise since I layer glazes, and it’s impossible to predict how they will combine.  The glazes were brushed on, so the thickness is variable, and that has a lot to do how the glazes mature.  And it's a new kiln, so I can't predict how the heat will compare to the results from the commercial firing services I've used in the past.

First of all, this post will describe the steps in making a pot, but will not attempt to offer instruction on how to do it.  There are much more accomplished potters who have lots of youtube videos online.  The best I’ve found are by Tim See in upstate New York.

Tim See's YouTube Channel

He has recently updated a beginner instruction video which is excellent!  18 minutes long and well worth it.  The instructor in my first pottery course taught centering by demonstrating it, without any explanation.  She put her hands over the lump of clay, seemed to hold it there for half a minute, then pulled her hands off the now-centered clay and that was it.  I spent the whole course not being able to center clay.  This is MUCH better:

Beginner Throwing Lesson

So, to begin.  Clay comes in 25-pound bags of clay (two bags to a box):

Start by forming a ball an putting it on the wheel-head, usually on a disc called a “bat.”

It’s been seven years since I last did any serious “throwing” of pots (that is, forming a pot on a pottery wheel), so it took some time to regain my muscle-memory and technique.  So there were a few flops:

I was also reminded that if the wheel spins too fast and you're using a soft clay, the sides will be thrown out into a flying saucer shape 😦  That will go into the recycle bin.  Even though it has dried, as long as it hasn't been fired, it will revert to soft clay if water is added. 

I made ten bowls, using two different types of clay: a very stiff stoneware clay called Moroccan Sand, and a soft porcelain/stoneware mix.   I will feature one of the bowls, step by step.  This is the one — a cereal or soup bowl — with the “throwing” complete.

When that is done, the piece is generally covered loosely with a plastic bag (so it dries more evenly) and left to dry until it is “leather hard.”  At this stage it is ready to be trimmed.

As you can see, the bottom is quite rough (unfinished) and too thick.  The lower part of the pot has to be left a little thick so that it supports the weight of the wet clay without collapsing.  But once it is partially dry, it can be thinned with clay cutting tools as the wheel spins (like a lathe).

This is the bottom of the feature piece trimmed, with a foot/base shaped.  Looks better, huh. 

After trimming, the pots are left to completely dry before they get the first ("bisque") firing.  If they're put in the kiln while still somewhat wet, they will explode as the steam seeks to escape.  Not good.  The bisque firing chemically converts the clay to a ceramic; the clay shrinks and becomes much harder and stronger.

Loaded into the kiln for bisque firing:

The bisque firing took almost 36 hours, from start to maximum temperature, and then the slow cooling.  The temperature ramp (heating and then cooling back to ambient) is slower than the final firing.  I started the firing late afternoon, so by the time the kiln started to throw off a lot of heat, it was night and cooler outside.  I ran the ceiling exhaust fan all night, left a window in the studio open, and closed the door to the rest of the house.

When the pots are out of the kiln, they are ready for the application of glaze (various chemicals in a water solution, that when heated hot enough become glass).  In a commercial studio or school, glaze is in five-gallon buckets and the pots can be dipped.  It's quick and evenly coats the pot with glaze.  In a small private studio, that would not be feasible, so I use pint containers of glaze and apply several coats with a brush.  My glaze wall:

Here's the featured bowl with glaze applied (seen on a heavy metal banding wheel, that you can spin to facilitate applying glaze or underglaze stripes, etc.).  Glazes are not the same color as they will be after firing, which adds to the art.  The glaze companies have photos of what the glaze will look like after firing, but it rarely matches the results of mere mortals, and often looks very different.  Experience required.  Sigh.

I glazed ten bowls (but only was able to fit nine of those in the kiln, due to a shelf issue).  Before this, I numbered all my pots (wrote number on bottom while clay was soft), and recorded all the data for the pot in a notebook (date, weight and type of clay, glazes used and how applied, etc.).  For this test batch, I didn't do that, and wasn't terribly careful about what glazes I used (they had all dried up, and I had to add water and re-hydrate them, so aiming for a final effect was secondary, if even that).

So this is what they looked like with random glazes applied (only nine fit in the kiln):

When the kiln was opened, this is what I saw:

And then out on the counter (including the red one that did not get fired; it would have looked something like the one just to the lower left of it):

So the result?  I was not really happy with any of them.  There is a usable soap dish, and two needed and usable cat dishes, and a usable dog water bowl  (right front), but the soup/cereal bowls were a disappointment.  They shrank more than I remembered pots shrinking.  The glaze on some did not fully develop (should have run the kiln hotter or longer).  The clear glaze tended to craze; I could hear the tinkling after pulling them out of the kiln, perhaps too soon, as the glaze shrank faster than the thicker clay body.

I won't be getting any more of the Moroccan Sand clay, and will likely mix the rest of it with the porcelain blend — see how that works.

And throw the pots BIGGER, so when they shrink, they will end up the desired size.

Sigh.  What makes it so compelling.

For next time, the porch roof.  Work is proceeding (but more hot weather ahead).  So we'll see.