We haven’t gotten a ton done on the house recently. Part of this is because we didn’t order our second floor windows soon enough to have them ready when we needed them, and part of it is because the windows are taking much longer than expected. I’ll get into that in another post. For now, we tackled the back gable peak, just as we did the front.

Getting started – hipped roof from the inside

The process for this was largely similar to the front, except that we didn’t have the advantage of the front porch serving as a platform and we didn’t have the advantage of Mike’s help. Instead, Sarah and I did it by ourselves, which meant that we made more mistakes and took a lot longer, even with the example of the front to help. First up, I put a piece of plywood on the joists at the back of the attic under the existing hip roof to serve as a platform and got the ladder onto it.

Roof removed

I cut through the roof from the inside and pulled in a section, from there the removal process was just time consuming, to get the shingles pulled back to a clean point, remove the soffit, and then cut back the plywood at right angles,s o we could cut and fit rectangles rather than triangles. We sistered up new attic rafters to the existing ones to extend the peak, and this is where we made our first mistake. I tried to match the angle of the existing rafter, which is good, but I neglected to make sure that the roof was flat one rafter to the next. As a result, there were dips and rises across only three rafters that I had to remove and re-cut. Because the existing roof has 1×6 boards across the rafters with plywood on top of the boards, I had to shim up on the new rafters to match the level.

Fitting new rafters

Before I put the roof on I needed to finish the new gable wall sheathing. On the front of the house, where we could put ladders on the porch, we fit one big triangle. Since the back doesn’t have a porch and even my 28′ extension ladder isn’t tall enough to reach the peak, I had to fit two smaller triangles from the inside. I nailed down toe boards on either side so that I could finish the exterior work in “safety”. I lifted out all the sections of plywood, test fit them, and then went out on the roof to screw them all down.

Somewhere in this process we left it overnight with a gaping hole in the roof, and the next morning while I was re-doing the rafters it rained on us (inside), but we finally managed to get the sheathing attached and covered with ice and water shield. Getting it shingled took another few tries, mostly due to time constraints. I didn’t think to put the bundle of shingles out on the toe board when I had a nice big hole in the roof, so I had to carry it up the ladder on the front, then shimmy down the length of the house at the peak (several times). Sarah harvested roofing nails from the existing scrap and I got it all water tight.

Adding ice and water shield

The last piece was removing the toe boards. I wound up prying up an edge while still standing on it, tying a rope around it, then pulling it up while perched on the peak of the roof. Then, with the other one still tied up in rope, do the same thing to the other one. I was worried my hammer would slip out of my hand, since I could barely reach the toe board from the peak, so I tied the rope around that too. Fortunately, that part went to plan and I got everything down safely, myself included. Another project is completed without a trip to the hospital and I didn’t have to put a ladder up against the back of the house to do it.

New peak

One of these days I’ll take down that satellite dish… and get the new windows in, redo the soffits, and take down the siding and finish house wrap, exterior insulation, siding, gutters, downspouts, the shingles I just put up are temporary until we’re ready to redo the whole roof… one of these days.

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We wanted to use the front porch ceiling as a platform. To do that we first put down plywood across the tops of the joists, screwing it in so it doesn’t blow away. Then Mike built some railings from scrap lumber to provide at least the illusion of safety. With the platform established, we started working on the front of the house, removing the layers of siding. We decided not to remove all of the wood siding, since we can’t put up the house wrap properly until the new second floor windows are in. Those are on order, by the way. We didn’t think of that before we’d started though, so we did put up house wrap on the sections we’d already done.

Since before we bought the house, we’ve been planning to remove the “hips” on the front and back of the roof. These are triangles of roof that are like folded corners on the peaks of the gables. I’m not a fan of the style, but more importantly we want to have the window in front higher than floor level and room for a door at the back of the attic for fire code requirements and the hips clip too much off to do that. First we cut off the existing hips, largely from inside the attic. Next we sistered in new rafters and vertical framing, keeping in mind the aforementioned new windows that we’ll need to re-frame for.

With the structure in place, we fit in new plywood and covered that in ice and water shield. The roof is basically comprised of 2×6 rafters with 1×6 horizontal boards, spaced apart an inch or two. Plywood was later put over this, tar paper, and fortunately only a single layer of shingles. The plywood is in good condition, so it’s probably fairly recent. We’re planning to redo the roof once we’ve finished all the penetrations (solar tubes and vent pipes) and we’ve found a shingle manufacturer that partnered with a solar panel company on an integrated mounting bracket. That way there’s no risk of compromising the roof when we eventually install solar panels. I’m still contemplating whether spray foam will be enough to insulate. I’m a bit concerned about thermal bridging with the rafters and 1×6 boards. One option is replacing the plywood with Zip system, but that would add a lot of waste and cost. We could add a layer of rigid foam, but I’m not a big fan of creating a roof sandwich. We could insulate on the inside, but we’d lose space and it’s not a huge attic (width-wise) in the first place. We’ll figure something out.

We ran out of time to cover the new gable peak with temporary shingles that day, but I put them up with Sarah’s help over the course of a couple weekend days. Of course it got absurdly hot at the start of Fall (95° on the ground, let alone up on the roof) which made that part of the project extra fun, but it’s done. We also had to cut back the plywood sheathing where it overhung the soffit on one side by about four inches. That was interesting. I wound up doing it from above with a circular saw (and a cheap blade that I didn’t mind using to cut through shingles) so I could get a straight cut. Even so I managed to get a bit of a wave in the last couple feet where I couldn’t reach from above, but we’ll put flashing up that will smooth up the edges. We still have to frame new soffit in the peak, do the same thing to the hip on the back gable, which will be interesting since we won’t have the porch roof to stand on, but both of those will wait until Mike can come back. He really helps move these projects along.

 

We’re plugging away on the porch. We enlisted the aid of Mike S to help move things along, and I took a couple of days off work to make some progress, since our weekends have been pretty busy. The first step was to put the ledger for the ceiling joists onto the house. Where that ledger wraps around the bay, we had the additional wrinkle of the original decorative siding. We ran into this when we replaced the first floor windows as well. This was probably beautiful when the house was new, but it had been covered up by the subsequent layers of siding and, like much of the original house, was too far gone to save. The challenge was that there was no sheathing under this, so once we removed it we were down to the wall studs. That meant before we could attach the ledger we needed to put up plywood and house wrap around the bay.

Mike came back the following week, but before we got back to work on the ceiling, he wanted to put in some stairs. We can’t put in the permanent stairs until I remove part of the sidewalk, pour a new footing, and figure out exactly how the hand rails are going to work so we can put the right lumber and spacing on the front of the porch floor. Instead of all that, Mike brought some lumber he had cut down from his pile of utility poles and we put together some temporary stairs out of that. This way if things like getting custom railings fabricated takes a while, we can get in and out of the house in the mean time, not to mention making it a lot easier to work on the porch.

With stairs in place, we moved on to notching the top of the three columns and putting the three sides of the ceiling beam in place, attaching to the house at the bottom half of the ceiling ledger. We used a ratchet strap to pull the columns back to plumb, since they’d started to bow and warp, then started putting in ceiling joists. We attached the joists to the ledger with hangers, then the other end rests on top of the ceiling beam at the front. I got the rest of the joists put in the following week, as well as the lag screws for the ceiling ledger. The ceiling joists that connect at the bay were particularly fun, since the angle is so sharp. The last part of this section of the project was adding the short, perpendicular ceiling joists on either end, since the roof will angle down to either side. We’re not putting the roof on yet, since we’ll now use the ceiling as a platform to work on the front of the house.

 

This was not my finest hour(s). The framing of the first floor of the porch consisted of a few steps: notching and putting up the three columns, adding the front beam, adding the side beams, then installing the floor joists. For starters, my original framing plan was bad. I bought a bunch of double joist hangers with the intention of putting the double 2×12 front beam between the columns on the front. Mike S said that the code requirement was to have the beam span across the columns, and used the back deck of the apartment a couple doors down as an object example of how it was supposed to be done. I was reluctant to do it exactly that way because I wanted the front of the columns to be proud of the deck for stylistic reasons. I eventually settled on notching the columns on the back side to the depth of one joist, then using brackets and through-bolts to hold everything in place. This required additional trips to the store for different (longer) boards, returning brackets, buying new brackets, etc.

Ship-lapped beam

Saturday, Mike (Sarah’s dad) and Rob came over to help me with the installation. I got the columns notched using a combination of circular saw and reciprocating saw. Next, after getting the three 6×6 columns stood up and putting the front beam on, we discovered the center column was closer to the house by a couple of inches, causing a banana effect. We took it back down and wound up cutting off the top of the j bolt embedded in the concrete, drilling in a sleeve anchor (which is not as strong) and securing the clamp much closer to the correct location. Apparently Sarah and I augered the footings even less accurately than I initially believed.

Aligning columns

With the center column back up and the front beam back on, we put the first side beam on and discovered my next mistake. I had carefully measured the height to notch the columns by using my six foot level from the top of the ledger to over the footing and the bracket and measuring with a tape measure. I was careful to have the level just break the line to account for slope away from the house. I somehow must have measured to the top of the level instead of the bottom, because the beam was actually over two inches higher than it should have been, meaning that it was sloping toward the house. At this point, we called it a night.

Columns installed (the first time)

Nicole and Rob actually spent the night so they could help us again on Sunday. We took the beam back down, took all three columns back down, cut two inches off the bottom of the columns (fortunately I hadn’t cut the tops down at all), put them back up, and put up the side beams. Sarah’s parents came back as well and we got most of the joists in place, however, there too we ran into some challenges. We were measuring the lengths as we went and fitting them snugly, apparently as we went it was actually pushing the column at the end out of plumb and a gap formed between the column and the side beam. We had to go back and remove several joists and cut them shorter, and get the column back to level. I went back to the store and got some more Spax screws which I put through the columns and into the side beams to hold them tight. I may add some additional bracing, since I’m still not 100% happy with it.

Rob installing joists

We put the joists on 12″ centers since we’re going to use composite decking and don’t want any flex. I ran into some issues trying to use the front beam as a guide for the top of the joists, since there was variance from one side of the center column to the other. I had to go back and adjust several joists to be higher or lower so that the level slides smoothly across the joists without gaps. Given they were already nailed with joist hangers, this was a bit of a hassle.

Floor framing complete

In short, this was a two steps forward, one step back project that took more time and effort than it really should have if I’d been more deliberate in planning. I want to thank Rob and Mike, as well as Mike S, for all their assistance.

 

We had one last ground prep step, which was to grade out the dirt under the porch, extend the trench we buried the drainage pipe in, and cover it in plastic. We extended the drainage pipe itself and its “sock” and finally covered the whole thing in crushed stone. We need more stone, this was leftovers from the drainage project last year, but it’s enough for us to continue work. We want to put the posts on the footings we just poured, but before we can do that, we need to be able to brace them with some framing. That means attaching the ledger to the house.

First ledger board

We’re installing two inches of rigid polyisocyanurate foam on the outside of the sheathing to improve the R-value, reduce thermal bridging, reduce the temperature extremes the wood has to endure, and as an alternative to making the interior smaller with additional wall thickness on the inside. However, this adds complexity to how things like windows and the porch are constructed. The porch is attached to the house with a “ledger”, a board that is attached directly to the framing of the house with lag screws or bolts. Because of the exterior insulation, we need to attach this ledger a bit differently.

I referenced this image from Green Building Advisor which covers this, but it suggested using blocking around the bolts with aluminum flashing over the blocking. That was a bit more involved than I really wanted to get, so instead I built up two layers of pressure-treated 2×10 boards, sort of a sub-ledger. I installed the house wrap over this, wrapping tight to the boards so that the foam can sit directly above them. Keeping this inside the house wrap ensures that the drainage plane behind the foam doesn’t trap water against the house and instead channels it down and out. Wrapping a solid board is a lot easier than flashing around a block protrusion at every bolt hole.

Ledger attached

Since the ledger was being attached to the 6×8″ rim board through 4½” of lumber and another ¾” of sheathing, I used 12″ Spax structural screws. Around the bay, there was just a regular 2×10 rim board with brick behind it, so I used twice as many 6″ Spax lag screws. Sarah’s dad, Mike, helped me install the 2×12 ledger. With the ledger attached, the next step is the columns and the floor framing.