My friend Dean came back last Saturday to help me work on the house. We spent some time sorting through my scrap metal pile, getting all the copper, brass, and aluminum separated and pondering what to do with the remaining near-worthless steel and iron. Then we started work on framing the opening for the first floor stairs.

Stair opening

Planned stair opening (not actually green)

The new stairs will be several feet further back in the house to increase the front bedroom size (currently 8′ x 7½’). This means the existing opening between the first and second floor needs to move. In addition, because we’re adding steps to the attic, the opening will change shape, from an L to a rectangle. One advantage of this design is we can put a solar tube in the roof above the stairs and a light well will allow natural light all the way down to the first floor.

Dean putting up the wall

Dean putting up the wall

After adding some blocking from below between the first floor joists to bear the wall, we put down a sill plate board and used the laser level to position a sistered double joist directly above it. Getting the joists into position proved the most difficult part of the process. We were able to frame the wall on the floor and tip it into place. The laser level proved accurate: once it was aligned on the sill and joist, the wall was perfectly plumb.

Sistered joist on opposite side

First sistered joist on opposite side

Sunday I positioned the sistered double joist on the other side of the stair opening. This set the boundaries of what need to be removed and what needs to be filled in. Last year when we demoed the old stairs, we also demoed the middle bedroom we were using as an office so that we could make way for the new stairs. Last December we filled the room back up with debris from the attic, so Monday evening I cleared it all out, dropping the boards straight down into the basement and then piling them for later use. Tuesday evening I pulled up the hardwood floor (which was good enough to come up in sections still attached to the furring) and the subfloor.

Dean sistering joists

Dean sistering joists

Sunday morning Dean returned, bringing his old but compact jigsaw which fit between the floor joists. This allowed me to cut out the joists over the new stairwell and give them to Dean, who put them back up over the old stairwell, sistered to the existing partial joists. Then I put in a new joist down the length of the opening directly above and flush with the beam.

Opening finished

Opening finished

Once again, we’re very grateful to Dean for his assistance! This felt like a big step forward toward getting the stairs in and the first floor framed out. It’s pretty amazing how big the space is. On one hand it feels like a bit of a waste, since we’re losing almost a hundred square feet out of the second floor, but in exchange we’ll get two bedrooms in the attic, so I think it’s a worthwhile trade.

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