Attic Office Addition Part 4 – “bring in the troops”

Once I had the structure and walls sorted out, I decided I really didn’t want to get out on the roof and I was already 8 months in on this project. So I cheated.

I hired professionals to cut out the roof and build the shed dormer. Basically they finished the framing for me. They also completely dried in the structure, did the vapor barrier, shingles, and siding. While they were doing all that I found a “slider” window that met egress requirements and i had it delivered for them to install.

These guys knocked out in 4 days what would have taken me another 6 months to execute poorly and possibly with a lot of broken bones.

Really good wood. They had this delivered from a lumber yard. A lot of this was graded better than the No2 southern yellow pine which is about all you can find at Home Depot.

Attic Office Addition – Part 5 interior work, Ceiling joists and HVAC.

Once the exterior walls were done and dried in, finishing up the ceiling rafters was relatively easy.

One of the biggest challenges was navigating a heavy LVL into position on the ceiling by myself. In retrospect two 2x10s nailed together would have carried any load just fine but I went for overkill from a safety/strength standpoint.

Speaking of safety…I only dropped it once while on the ladder. …yes dear everything is ok up here. The secret to getting a really heavy board 8 feet above you by yourself is to put a ladder on each end and lift it up to the next step going back and forth until you get to the top of both ladders instead of trying to deadlift with your back and arms.

Putting in the HVAC was something I did twice. Ugh again! If you have never worked with HVAC, tapping into an existing duct and hoping to condition an entire room is pure fantasy. You need to go all the way back to the main trunk and put in a “takeoff boot” with a “damper” for each vent. Otherwise you are robbing one room to pay another and neither has good flow. I originally tried adding duct booster fan which sounded terrible and would need to be controlled with the AC which is doable with a 24 volt relay to the air handler and thermostat control. …but all to have a really noisy fan while I work in my office. I tore it back out. Of course now there were screw holes in it from mounting it to the ductwork so forget returning it. Just doing it right the first time would have been so much better. I know a lot more than when I started.

The other item you will need is a return air path. I put in a grille on one side of the room and the air travels up through the plenum gap between the studs and out another grille on the new office addition side. This is called a High/Low transfer plenum. I did this in an attempt to keep the noise down. (Instead of just having a straight through grille from room to room)

Given the size of the addition, this was not moving enough return air so I also removed a weather strip on the bottom of the existing insulated attic door whigh has now become the new office door. The limitation of the high/low setup is the width of the studs (2×4 at 16 inches on center) can only pull so much air though them where as a direct pass through is only limited to the surface area of the grilles on both sides.

The high/low transfer working together with the undercut of the door now create adequate negative draw to pull the return air back to the system.

Room to room high/low return air plenum
I used a trim router to create a windowsill out of a thin piece of wood I had. Use the best wood you can find for smooth trim results as you will need to patch and sand any imperfections. Or use barnwood and tell everyone you were going for a rustic theme.

Still more to come…Electrical, Drywall, Paint, trim, insulation, floor, final inspection…

Attic Office Addition Part 1- Lofty Ambitions

Visions of coffered ceilings, bespoke wooden panelling, perfectly smooth flowing walls, and greatness all filled my mental space at once as I stood on a 3’x3’ plywood square left atop the kitchen ceiling joists in our unfinished attic space. I mentally breathed it all in like a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Yes…this was truly going to be the best office ever.

I did not know it at the time but I was about make the biggest mistake ever of my DYI career.

In complete disillusionment this project really seemed straightforward enough to me. Henceforth, I will admit that I am a dreamer and have often lied to myself.

There would be just a few ceiling joists needing a little height adjustment by adding some wood to raise it to the level of the adjacent rooms, plywood put down as a subfloor, put up a few walls, put a ceiling on it, drywall, paint and done.

A few thousand dollars and a beautiful new spacious home office would be mine in a few weekends time. After all, 2×4’s aren’t that expensive and that’s most of the project right?

Had it only been that simple. Of course, each task individually was of a magnitude monumentally more involved than I could could have ever imagined. Pros will let you know right away that attic additions are loaded with structural challenges and one of the worst places to start projects if you lack experience.

My disaster was about to begin.

Our home was pretty spacious to begin with. The builder had put in wide doors everywhere including the unfinished attic. So getting materials up here to get the job done was going to be a snap. In my head the job was almost already done. Just get started and the rest would come together over the next few weekends.

A quick semi-cautionary thought flitted through my brain. Maybe, just maybe…there might be a the littlest tiniest detail about how to do this project that I actually did not know. Maybe I did need a plan?

I quickly looked at our original home plans and there were some schedules and notes about potentially using the attic space as “light storage” but cautioning against “live loads greater than 20.”

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Well, we weren’t going to put a pool table up there or use it to store a piano collection.

If the space could be used for light storage that was similar to an office right?

I looked at the house blueprints one last time. Almost the same as having a plan right?

After a full weekend of clearing out most of the blown fiberglass insulation from in between the kitchen ceiling joists, it was time to get to work. I’m red and itching everywhere. Wow! Did that take a lot longer than it should have? Well, hopefully there won’t be any more of this time consuming detail work. Let’s get on with the project.

Once again, I decided that careful planning is simply for people who have no idea what they are doing. Rubes. So scratch that. I’m going to Home Depot to get supplies before anything else slows me down.

Yes..here is pretty much the office I envisioned building. (Note all the awards on the shelves!)

Read part 2 here > https://suburban-trenches.com/2020/02/12/attic-office-addition-part-2-mistakes-were-made/

Pool pests

Installing an inground pool may have more of an ecological effect on your property than you think. There are many biosystems we do not notice around us.

By digging up dirt and binging in rock we expose areas of earth that have potentially been untouched anywhere from decades to millennia.

By adding tens of thousands of gallons of water right outside our homes, we add a virtual oasis for everything that drinks. Birds, bugs, possums, skunks, etc.

In the last few months I have run across at least 3 dead mice, a live mole, a crayfish, a huge chipmunk running around inside my autocover pit, lizards under the hot tub stairs, snakeskins on the pool deck, wolf spiders, deer…this list goes on.

Now these guys have surfaced in droves on the pool deck…they look like worms until you get up close. Then they look like some sort of blood sucking evil from a horror show…and they are everywhere! I spend half an hour yesterday with my gas powered leaf blower and maybe got rid of 50% of them!

Tipula Leatherjackets. Yuck.
Tipula Leatherjackets everywhere!

As best I can tell these are tipula leatherjackets which is a larvae stage of the crane fly. Crane flies are those things that look like giant mosquitoes that don’t bite.

According to my Googling there are many pesticides that just don’t work on these guys. The reason being they have tough skin and no absorption of the chemicals hence the name “leatherjacket”.

I’ve got some powerful stuff to try coming too. Supposedly you need an “imidachlorpid” to get rid of these guys. Amazon has just the thing too. How can you go wrong with something called “Dominion” from “Control Solutions, Inc.?”

Control Solutions Inc. – 82002506 – Dominion 2l – Insecticide – 27.5 oz

If that doesn’t work, the Flowtron BK-80D 80-Watt Electronic Insect Killer, 1-1/2 Acre Coverage (arguably the worlds best bug zapper) will get the crane flies when they mature.

Update: its pretty wet out and the directions on the dominion say not to apply wet as it needs to soak in the ground to work. I’m trying Spectracide Triazicide Insect Killer For Lawns Granules, 20-Pound, 2-Pack granules around the outside of the pool deck as a next step.

Little Giant Pool APCP-1700 cover pump and “Cover Blaster” review

If you have a built in recessed cover on your pool you have to get rid of the water on top when it rains or your cover will eventually end up damaged or at the bottom of the pool.

There are many auto sensing pumps on the market but the Little Giant APCP-1700 Automatic Swimming Pool Cover Submersible Pump, 1/3-HP, 115V that came with our system is “top notch.” It’s ~$147.99 but a small price to pay for peace of mind for your cover when it’s pouring outside.

Simply place on top of your cover and aim the spout away from your pool & house and leave it plugged in. When the unit senses about 1.5 to 2” of water, it sprays a plume of water about 20-25’ away from the pump and automatically shuts off until the water height comes back up.

Oh you need one of these cover blasters too!

The Cover Blast attachment connected to a Little Giant pump.

The Little Giant APCP-1700 Automatic Swimming Pool Cover Submersible Pump has some really great specs and performs day and night, hot or cold, rain or shine (…especially rain).

The “Little Giant” cover pump with cover blaster in action

https://littlegiant.com/products/outdoor-living/pool-cover-pumps/automatic-pool-cover-pumps/apcp-1700/

Things I really like about this pump….

  • 25’ power cord – gets the pump right near the center of our cover
  • 1700 gallons per hour. Keeps up even in the most torrential downpours!
  • integrated filter screen
  • Integrated handle
  • Only 13 lbs. easy to carry.
  • Heavy duty / wells designed for outdoor environment. Will withstand weather for a long time.

Note: the pump de-rates to 500 gallons per hour if using a garden hose on the output side due to friction losses.

In our application somehow all the water finds it’s way to the pump and within a few hours after a strong rain the cover is almost completely dry again with just a few wet spots like nothing ever happened.

Please note: “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

Installing a “hangman” style furniture anti-tip safety bracket

These are really easy to install and there are a lot of reasons to choose this option for anti-tip safety.

The hangman concept is to prevent heavy furniture tip over by securing a solid bracket to a stud and a second bracket to the furniture and connect them to each other with two pins and an aircraft cable.

  • I like the sturdiness of the construction of these brackets & aircraft cable. They are metal not plastic.
  • Pullout is rated at 300 lbs.
  • They are temporarily able to be disconnected if you need to move furniture to get something that is behind a dresser.
  • They install fast & hide well behind furniture
  • Widely available. You can find these at various home improvement stores, Walmart, Amazon, etc.

I found a kit of 2 generic but almost identical ones on amazon for $8.99.

  1. Mark the height of the furniture on the wall. You want to ideally have the bracket at a high center of gravity to stop the furniture from gaining any acceleration in tipping.
  2. Find and mark a stud on the wall. (Use a Zircon StudSensor e50 Electronic Wall Scanner / Edge Finding Stud Finder) Remember the best spot is the center of the stud so identify both the left and right edges and mount to the center. Mount the wall bracket parallel to stud direction (vertically / lengthwise up and down) so both screws will attach to the stud. IMPORTANT Note: Do not secure these brackets to a drywall anchor as this will defeat the purpose!
  3. Each bracket comes with 2 sets of screws. Use the longer ones for the wall bracket. Mount so the top of the bracket is below the highest point you marked on the wall in step one for aesthetic purposes.
  4. Mount the second bracket to the furniture. use the remaining shorter screws for this. I had some longer screws and the furniture would allow the longer screws without any splitting or cosmetic damage. I prefer screws to be as long as possible for less chance of “pull out”.
  5. Connect the aircraft cable with the included pin to the furniture on both brackets.
  6. Pull cotter pin all the way through the connector pin
  7. Test.
  8. Put furniture back against wall

Take care when staking trees

Today I got a close look at some evergreens that we planted a few years ago. They have grown like crazy. I remember when we bought them at the nursery and we stuffed a dozen of them “root-balls and all” into our SUV with the kids shoehorned in between. Today there is no chance you would fit a single tree in the car, let alone handle it without a large bobcat or tractor.

About 9 months ago we had some rough weather. A few of these trees were planted softer soil near a ditch at the end of our yard. While they are large trees now, they were blown a bit crooked and I decided to stake several of them temporarily. I used some paracord and steel fence posts to get the job done.

It is pretty amazing how quickly the tension can cut into the soft exterior of the tree bark. Even more amazing was the speed at which the tree began to grow around the obstacle.

I had a really tough time with a knife and pair of pliers extricating the offending cord which embedded under the tree bark in a thick layer of sap.

I think either one of two things would have eventually happened without intervention. Either the rope would have become “part” of the tree and somehow sap and nutrients would have travelled through the cord in capillary action. (I have my doubts). Or the tree would have eventually snapped the offending string but not before creating a point of weakness in the trunk.

I’m glad I caught this in time and the trees can continue to grow (hopefully even faster now).

In recent home projects and research i have found wood to be one of the most amazing materials and it is all thanks to trees. It is plentiful, extremely strong, yet also exhibits flexibility and readily yields itself to a builders tools.

There are many wood varieties each which exhibit specific characteristics based on growth rate and environment. Next time you look at lumber in a store notice there are markings on it which tell about the type of species and moisture content. This can play a critical role in its applicability for use or limitation when building a structure.

Trees grow a cell at a time and can break concrete as its root system searches for water and nutrients to continue growing.

Wood remains stronger than steel when being burned in a fire for quite a while. It can span incredible lengths that seemingly defy physics as a cantilevered beam without breaking.

Don’t do what I did. Please, take care of your trees.

Here’s a nice stake solution. I like the wide straps as they have less opportunity to dig into the tree trunk >

DeepRoot Arbortie Heavy Duty Anchoring Kit for Anchoring Trees +

HORTtie Tree Tie Staking & Guying Material, 40 feet, Commercial Grade USA MADE!

H500FDN heat exchanger inspection at 9 months

Yesterday the heater seemed to be lacking in output… and who wants to swim in frigid 79 degree water?

I decided to look at the heat exchanger this morning to get a glimpse at how well the unit is weathering the outdoors.

While the design is “ok” it could use some improvements. It seems that rain routinely falls directly on the vent and a plate has been put in place to keep water and debris from falling directly into the heater. However some sort of runoff channel would be an improvement as the plate is already quickly corroding / rusting.

Corrosion at 9 months from direct rain collecting on the H500FDN vent shroud plate

Pulling off the top cover to fully expose the heat exchanger we see some elements of copper aging / corroding.

H500FDN heat exchanger corrosion at 9 months post install.

I vacuumed with a soft brush tip on my shop vac getting rid of any loose particles. Will have to see if there are any non corrosive protective spray cleaners available.

To further note: this heater seems to have all sorts of ways for water to enter and destroy the internals. While Hayward says they have ruggedized the control/display box, there are all sorts of opportunities for water to flow in and wreck the main control board and power supply. I went ahead and sealed the surface between the display box and heater exterior with “LEXEL Clear.” This is a low price to pay for no problems with water inside the control / electronics side of the unit.

H500FDN display sealed with LEXEL clear to keep water out of the heater electronics.
Another photo of the H500FDN display now sealed. The plastic exhibits signs of warping indicating it was torqued too tightly at the factory. Possibly an attempt to keep water out!

Another thought. Pool heaters clearly don’t last forever. Probably advisable to put a union on any hard gas pipes near the heater so you can replace the unit without a lot of difficulty.

Link to in depth discussion of pipe unions. http://www.pipingstudy.com/union.html

Reflections on commercial quality office chairs.

I just got done tearing apart one of my Haworth home office task chairs in hopes that I could transfer the gas lift spring to my other office chair. It has lived in at least 3 offices that I am aware of and has seen hard cubicle farm duty since it was manufactured in 2000 as a seating device, ladder, dolly, and step stool.

This chair gave 20 years of service. I estimate at least 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week. Yet it still has almost pristine upholstery, a solid cushion, strong counter-springs, and a good gas shock. The only things I don’t like about it are the plastic elbow rests and a lumbar tilt that I never really cared for that has gotten finicky.

As I disassembled the chair I really began to notice the quality of the build. No expense was spared in providing a massively thick steel frame and unfortunately a welded gas shock! So no way to pull this apart and swap out the shock.

Sturdy metal frame in Haworth office chair
Huge Haworth seat tension spring

Anyways…kudos to whoever bought this. As best I can figure 8 hours a day equals ~8 to ten 1 hour sitting sessions per day x 5 days a week is 50 sits per week times 52 weeks a year x 20 years comes out to 52,000 1 hour sitting sessions. Haworth comes in on the high end these days at ~$500 per office chair. That comes out to $.0096 CPS (my made up acronym for “Cents Per Sit”.)

Conversely, my ~$150 office chair from office max was never comfortable and lasted 3 years before I couldn’t even look at it anymore. 50 sits per week x 3 years only came out to 7800 uncomfortable “sits” of useful life at about .019 CPS. Roughly 200% more expensive in terms of cost per use.

Almost perfect fabric and cushion on 20 year old Haworth task chair
Proof it is really 20 years old!

My last thought on the matter….

An office property manager gave me this chair free during an office move. I would have never spent $500 on a task chair.

Having bought several home office chairs that never felt comfortable at all with prices usually between $100 and $200 that seemed to self destruct within a few years, it’s not that quality could not be found, it’s just that I didn’t have the long term view to look at the more expensive models at twice the price that would have lasted a full decade and a half more.

RIP…Haworth MHB824871. You served your time well.

https://www.haworth.com/home is still making great albeit expensive office furniture today.

Bad Boy Zero Turn Elite Valve cover leak repair

Over the last mowing season I began to notice my riding lawnmower always smelled like oil and there was always a sheen of oil around the muck on the base of the engine. A closer inspection of what was “wet” revealed the left side valve cover to be the most likely origination point for the leak.

Wet “sheen” of oil on bottom of chassis.

So I’d decided to further confirm my theory by removing the covers to take a close look.

Removal of rear shroud. Note hydraulic tanks must stay elevated to keep from leaking.
You can see on the bottom left screw hole where the gasket was leaking. There is a charred / stained area from the leak.

Clean off any remaining gasket material from both the engine and valve cover mating surfaces with a soft bristle brush.

Check “flatness” of removed valve cover mating surface by placing it in glass. If you can’t slide paper under it you can reuse it.

Make a new seal around your valve cover and then follow the torque instructions on the sealant package paying special attention to the cure time before final torque.

In using my torque wrench for the first time in a long time I was pretty surprised by how gently these cover bolts needed to be torqued. It would be very easy to over tighten this warping the metal and causing more leak points.

Reassemble.

I put the mower up for the rest of the season but just got it out last weekend. I mowed 3 acres! No leaks! Another one done. Next time I think I’ll do both valve covers at the same time while I have everything apart.

Note engine manuals are pretty awesome documentation. Find yours online and save a link to it in your smartphone.