Podcast 493: Settling Beams, Multizone Minisplits, and Fixing Stone Foundations
Andrew, Ian, and Patrick hear from listeners about porch conversions, sawing your own lumber, and pandemic remodeling before taking listener questions about noticeable settlement, multihead minisplits, and repairing a stone foundation.
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Marc updates on his bedroom addition. Tony shares his memories about sawing lumber. Mark shows us his pandemic improvements. Bob asks for help with settlement around a wide opening. A Fine Homebuilding forum member wonders if multihead minisplits are a good idea. Ruarri asks if he should rebuild his stone foundation or fix it with piers.
- Jeff’s brother’s horse-trailer bar
- Andrew’s college bar
- Ian’s formwork
- Patrick’s firewood cutting Husqvarna 460 and 445
Listener Feedback 1:
Marc writes: Hey guys, I emailed a while back asking what to do with a bedroom addition. I live in a ranch and the back half of my bedroom was a deck/screened in porch converted to living space. I insulated the entire space (the house was built in 1952 and there isn’t insulation in many places). The back half of that room has a flat roof and I re-insulated the ceiling under that part. The room was still super cold in the winter and I eventually ripped up the floor, partly to investigate but also because I was putting a new floor down anyway. I only have a foot or less of clearance under the floor joists and the aluminum siding outside was ran below grade to close off the area.
I ended up taking up the old subfloor, then cutting out and ripping up the decking and then putting R13 foam board insulation between the joists. Everything in the dirt under the deck was dry, nothing was rotting. Whoever built the addition put blown insulation in (the torn up newspaper kind). I taped the foam board with Zip tape and used spray foam for anything else that needed to be plugged. I ripped down some strips of wood to tack in to act as ledgers for the foam so it won’t fall down. After that I put a new subfloor down and then some nice pergo planks. Came out great. We will see how it all holds up. Thanks for everything.
Listener Feedback 2:
Tony writes: In Episode 479 Patrick asked, “What’s it like to be around a bandsaw for hours on end schlepping wood that comes off of it?” It just so happens I can speak to that experience. From as early as I can remember we had a sawmill on our small farm in southern Indiana. The first sawmill was an old Belsaw circular sawmill that my dad set up to cut lumber to build a new building that would serve as a workshop, tractor shed, granary, and corn crib. The sawmill was designed to be powered by flat belt and Dad started out powering the mill with the old Allis Chalmers WD45 tractor we had on the farm. He was comfortable with flat belt driven machinery, having helped operate steam engine powered threshing machines as a young man. The old 45 horsepower tractor was underpowered for the task, so he cut the left rear fender well out of an old 1962 Dodge Dart sedan, and rigged it up on blocks to drive the belt off of the left rear tire of the car. (I suspect he modified the transaxle as well to ensure full power was delivered to the left rear wheel at all times.) He rigged a throttle control from the sawyer station to the old car so he could throttle it up to make cuts and throttle down to cycle the log carriage between cuts. I was probably around 6 – 10 years old at the time and just thought this was normal. Doesn’t everybody’s dad have a sawmill, rig up cool stuff, and build their own buildings?
That old Belsaw rig cut all the lumber for the planned building, but was limited in the diameter and length of log it could cut. So in 1986 my family purchased one of the early Woodmizer LT30 sawmills. The mill did not have the hydraulic log loading features of the mill discussed by Andrew; only a 16 horsepower Kohler gasoline engine to power the blade and charge the battery powering the saw carriage and elevation adjustment motors. Everything else was manually operated. In addition to cutting lumber on the farm for furniture making and building maintenance, Dad and my brothers performed custom sawing for others in the area in the summer and on weekends year round. Eventually I became old and strong enough to help out with this as well, and so my experience “being around a bandsaw for hours on end schlepping wood that comes off of it” began.
Sometimes I would help my dad with custom sawing and sometimes it would be my next oldest brother and me. Mornings started early as we pulled the saw to the customer’s location, set it up, and got acquainted with our surroundings and the customer. Jobs ranged from days to weeks long. Typically, whoever hired us had a tractor or skid-steer loader available to load logs, but on occasion it was just brute force to get logs up the loading ramps onto the saw bed. My father/brothers eventually rigged a winch system to help out in those circumstances. My father/brother typically operated the saw, and I served as the off-bearer and assistant. I helped load logs, rotate logs into proper position for efficient cutting, clamped them securely, removed dirt/bark as needed (to extend blade life), removed slabs and boards as they were cut, helped rotate the cant as needed for the next cut, adjusted the saw throat, stickered lumber stacks, etc. There was a rhythm to the work and a process to be followed and, as you and some of your guests have discussed regarding construction crews, we got to the point where we knew what each other needed to do the work without even talking.
While it was hard and sometimes boring work, there was also the occasional excitement and fun. A large bandsaw blade breaking in the middle of a cut makes a hell of a pop and will definitely wake you up. Finding the occasional treasure inside a tree was fun…the saw would cut right through bullets and nails without much issue. Horseshoes…not so much. And certainly not glass insulators. And we learned that frozen logs didn’t cut so well either. Many a cold beer was drunk at the end of a hard day’s work, compliments of the customer, and there was frequently the occasion to sample the customers’ homemade wine (don’t tell Mom). Even some moonshine was said to have been sampled at least once, although I wasn’t there for it.
I have realized later in life that this act of working together physically in harmony to achieve a common goal, whether that was sawing lumber or farm work, was the primary form of bonding between my father and brothers and me. I suspect many of your listeners in the trades can relate. These days, when I hear others talk about having lumber cut by a Woodmizer (as your colleagues on the Shop Talk Live Podcast occasionally do) or smell fresh cut oak, pine, or other lumber in the pallet yard at the manufacturing facility where I work now, I grow nostalgic for those simpler days of working with the Woodmizer.
I’m enjoying the podcast, as well as the Pro Talk and Keep Craft Alive podcasts. Keep up the great work!
P.S. I’ve attached a picture of my father and oldest brother operating the Woodmizer and a picture of the house my brother built years ago, sided with oak bevel lap siding cut on the Woodmizer.
Listener Feedback 3:
Mark writes: Remodeling (mostly solo) during a pandemic was hugely challenging but rewarding. Your podcast has kept me company, as well as informed during the whole project. If I have learned anything, it is that each part of the project will need time to finesse when there are unexpected issues of fitment. All the landscaping, other than the 50 y/o tree, was taken down to the dirt. Two new bathrooms, new kitchen. Refinishing the original red/white oak flooring, and installing two rooms with salvage flooring to match. Two refaced fireplaces, new mantels. And repairing any and all surfaces. Swapping out all the outlets and switches to match for the first time ever. And many other things.
Attached is a photo my father took in the early 70’s before they put an addiction on. Early in the ownership of this house my dad met the original architect who said, “I still have those plans at my office, would you like them?” So, in a drawer there is a full set of the original 1940 prints.
Question 1: Should I be worried about drywall compression?
Bob writes: The front face of our house (yes, it’s out of season). The rear of the house is a 2005 addition to the original 1925 house. The issue is on either side of the beam that opens up the kitchen (part of the original house) to the great-room (part of the extension). You are seeing it from both angles. This area (expanded below on the left-most picture looks like compression of the drywall on that left side of the opening, which made me think something was settling. A structural engineer looked at it but didn’t think it was moving enough to be an immediate issue. What we’ve explored so far is that the structural engineering contractor (who did helical piers in the front of the house) doesn’t believe there’s any foundation movement in this area, and my doing some close inspections also didn’t reveal any foundation cracks or seams in the relevant areas.
However, since that time, we recently realized that on the right side of the beam (looking from within the kitchen), we have a similar, larger area of drywall compression. Given that this area above the light switch wasn’t noticeable until recently, it seems like we have a more urgent issue. We also have some cracking along the length of some of the drywall seams on the left side, as seen below. The core questions here are what does your gut tell you, and how would you go about getting a clear diagnosis. Feels to me like someone needs to open up the drywall in these areas, confirm what the issue is, and make a plan to remediate. Should I be asking for this from a structural engineer? A general contractor? We are trying to get clarity on a plan from someone who doesn’t have a conflict of interest.
Question 2: Would a 4-zone minisplit system make sense in a small, old home in a cold climate with humid summers?
sokolq55 from FHB forum writes: I haven’t had any actual calculations done and so I realize it may be difficult to answer. But in general, would a 4-zone minisplit system make sense in an old (1946) small (1100sft) home in a pretty cold climate (western NY) that has humid summers due to lake effect? Currently only have central heat; central AC would likely not cool upstairs effectively at all given the old ductwork.
One zone would be for downstairs and three for the bedrooms upstairs. Each bedroom is rented separately and mostly kept closed, thus my want for individual zones. One bedroom is 280sq ft, one 200, and one 120sq ft. The fourth zone would cover downstairs that is very open and around 550sq ft. Attic insulation is sufficient, but walls are probably down to nothing. New double-glazed windows.
Is there even a unit small enough to not over-size such a setup? Do multiple zones even make sense for such a situation? My main concern is with cooling during humid summers months, but the added benefit of zone heating would be nice. Perhaps there’s a more efficient way (besides individual window ACs) to cool the home that would make more sense than a multi zone mini split? Thank you so much for all of your expertise!
Question 3: What options do I have for rebuilding a part of my stone foundation?
Ruarri writes: Hello FHB Podcast, I have a 1860-ish cape style home a few miles from the coast in southern Maine that I have been working on this past year. It is a timber frame on a stone foundation, and for years there were no gutters, and the garden was piled up to the second course of siding, causing extensive rot to the sill beams and some posts.
I installed gutters, brought the grade down about 7-8 inches below the top of the foundation, and replaced a lot of the sill beam under an eave wall and rake wall with built-up pressure treated 2x8s. However, I discovered that the rake wall sill was sitting on nothing more than a layer of stone at what is the new grade. The crawl space immediately behind this is about 1-inch deep (and above the exterior grade) although the rest of the crawlspace is 4- to 6-feet, with proper granite blocks.
What are some options for rebuilding this part of the foundation? My attitude toward stone is “flaunt it if you got it”.
That side of the house is about 15′ long and masons are quoting upwards of $6K for a granite wall on a new concrete footer 12-18″ down. Alternatively, since I am already going with new sill beams, I was considering just putting in a couple of piers, and filling in between with stone to create the illusion of stone foundation. Are either of these approaches even correct, and is it possible to air seal with the infill approach? Maybe a layer of rigid foam behind the stone, sealed to the sill?
I am going whole-hog on the exterior, and will be re-sheathing the house with Zip system, adding continuous exterior insulation, air-gap, and siding.
Bonus question: With the dirt crawlspace, the humidity is being more or less controlled with exhaust fans. With lots of air infiltration last winter, the temperature down there was in the 40s. Am I crazy to rely on air-sealing to keep the temperature high enough to put a heat pump water heater down there?
Thanks for taking any or all of the questions.
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Members-only Aftershow Podcast 493: Patrick, Ian, and Andrew talk about provisions in the Inflation Reduction act that encourage the adoption of heat pumps, electric cars, and solar panels and provides money for electrical upgrades.
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