Category Archives: house renovation

Carriage House – episode 2

In May I went back up to Kentucky for a couple of weeks to continue renovating the Carriage House so that we can live in it while we renovate the Big Brick House. My ever-loving wife, “Doreen” (not her real name), ditched me on that trip claiming she had to go to work because she had a job. (Some people take their jobs too seriously, in my humble opinion. I find that a job cuts into my day too much. But maybe that is just me.)

My plan was to have some fun and build some walls according to the new floor layout we had worked out. Well, that was the plan.

The back steps of the Carriage House go up to a deck where you can go into what used to be the kitchen. The door jambs (the boards on each side of the door) had dark blotches near the bottom of the door that stood out because the door and the jambs are painted white. Although I was tempted to just repaint the jambs and the door, I decided the grown-up thing to do was to take a closer look and see what was going on.

Water was obviously the culprit because the black stuff was right in the bottom corners of the door. It was probably due to a poor job of caulking and some fresh caulk followed by repainting would do the trick.

It is always best to clean out any loose caulk or other gunk in the crack before applying new caulk. So I took a pry bar and poked around where the jambs meet the threshold. I didn’t feel much resistance. The pry bar was poking more into air than wood. By the time I had cleaned out all of the rotten wood I had a hole big enough to store a large carrot (though I wouldn’t advise actually doing that). The other side of the door was the same.

A little bit of digging reveals major rotting and missing wood. Ew!
More rot. No caulk anywhere to be seen. Even the flashing was sliced through.

Furthermore, it wasn’t a case of a poor caulking job–there was no caulk at all! The door frame was just sitting there with a couple of nails holding it up and absolutely nothing to keep out the rain. When I pulled out the door frame to reinstall it, I also pulled up the plywood subfloor in front of the door and discovered that the rot extended down into the floor joists. So now we aren’t talking about just a couple of door jambs that need to be repaired, we are talking about the whole floor rotting out.

Even the plate under the door is rotted out.

Needless to say, if I had just painted over those dark spots and called it good we would have had a big expensive problem down the road after a few more years of rain did even more damage. Doreen would not have been amused and my main “job” is to keep her amused.

After digging out all of the wet, rotten wood, I cut some replacement pieces for the joists out of PT (pressure-treated) lumber and fastened them in place along with some pieces to wedge into the carrot-sized holes in the jambs. Then I caulked (what a concept!) around the door frame and the joint where the jambs meet the threshold and then nailed the door frame into the wall and caulked some more.

New bottom plate to replace old one.

After sliding in the aluminum threshold under the door and flashing and caulking it (of course), I cut and installed a new piece of plywood for the subfloor.

3/4″ plywood for the subfloor makes it level with the original boards.

With the door frame all spiffed up, I could get back to building some missing walls and my full-time job of keeping Doreen amused.

Carriage House – episode 1


The Carriage House behind the Big Brick House in Paducah, Kentucky, is two stories with a total of 1700 square feet. It originally had room for four carriages–each with a large door in front and a small service door in back for the groom. Two of the four large doors have been bricked in.

The Carriage House

My ever-loving wife, “Flora” (not her real name), has for many years wanted an older house that we could completely remodel exactly the way “we” wanted it. A blank slate, as it were.

When we bought the aforementioned property, both houses were stripped down to the studs. The slate was as blank as it gets. Flora was thrilled.

The lower level of the Carriage House will become my permanent workshop and base for renovating the Big Brick House. The second level will become a one-bedroom apartment where we can stay until the Big Brick House is livable.

The top priority is to renovate the second floor of the Carriage House into an apartment. We started by ripping out the old flooring in the kitchen, which had multiple layers that were either glued or stapled or nailed.

Top layer of kitchen flooring has been pulled up. Three more layers to go.
Flora attacking the flooring with a hammer and pry bar.

We found that no one method or tool was able to pull up the flooring. We used combinations of a short pry bar, a medium size pry bar, a large crowbar, a regular hammer, and a 5 lb. hammer. When we got down to the nailed oak flooring, I used the circular saw to cut it into 24″ wide chunks so that we would be prying up a manageable section at a time. The saw was set to the depth of the oak flooring, which was 3/4″. The embedded staples that had held the previous layer of vinyl stuck up and made it hard to hold the saw straight and level. I considered hammering the staples flat before sawing but decided to just plow through.

Flora standing up straight on a well-deserved break.

A previous owner had partially installed a tub surround in what would become part of the new kitchen, so it had to be removed …

Old tub surround had to be moved out of the new kitchen.

… and carried down these steps. This staircase will be removed and the floor extended to form the walk-in closet in the master bedroom.

Stairs to lower level that will be removed and covered over. Notice on the top step the lovely vinyl tiles that were removed from the kitchen floor.

With the tub gone I could take down the walls for the old, tiny bathroom. Contrary to what you see on TV, you do not start by swinging a sledge hammer and breaking things. The first step is to remove any wiring or metal pieces in the walls. Then hammer in the points of any nails that are sticking all the way through the studs. It is a lot easier to pull nails out of a stud while the stud is still attached to the rest of the wall. Pulling some of the nails out also makes it easier to knock the stud itself out from the wall. When the stud is free you can take out the remaining nails and stack the studs out of the way.

Studs from the old walls stacked up and ready to be used to make new walls.

I pulled the studs one at a time from the old bathroom walls but left the studs at the ends to hold up the top plate.

Kitchen floor stripped down and most of old bathroom walls removed.

Although you can’t see it in the photos, the top plate was about 18′ long and since I was working alone, I used some old wiring to tie up one end of it while I worked across its length knocking it loose from the ceiling joists.

One end of the top plate tied up so that the whole thing wouldn’t come crashing down when it came loose.

Scaffolding on wheels is really helpful in situations like this.

The next task was to support the sections of brick where an overzealous worker in days of yore had removed way too many bricks to make room for the plumbing stack. I think many of the adjacent bricks were held up with nothing more than friction. I stood a couple of studs on a sturdy spot and propped up the unsupported section of brick.

Somebody removed too many bricks.

I did the same for the other side of the “slot” under the window in the picture above.

The next project was to replace the wall between the kitchen and the dining room with a 14′ beam. The helpful engineer at the lumber yard calculated that I needed either a pair of LVLs or three 2″ x 12″ boards nailed together. Since the LVLs cost twice as much as the 2″ x 12″ boards (and I was working alone) I went with the boards.

Before you install a beam to support a load (the ceiling joists in this case) you have to have a temporary wall to support it. I was fortunate because the wall was already there and I wanted to put the beam just a few inches away from the old wall.

I installed a jack stud on each end where the beam would ultimately rest and moved the scaffolding next to the wall. I rested one end of the first board on the top of the scaffolding.

First 2″ x 12″ leaning on scaffolding.

Then I climbed up on the scaffolding and pulled the board into position so that the ends were resting on their respective jack studs. A strap held up one end while I wrestled the other end into its place. Since the right hand jack stud was on an outside wall there was no room to slide the board to the right to provide clearance for inserting the left end. But there was plenty of space to insert the left end of the board first and push it on through to make room to swing the right end into place and slide it over its jack.

After the first board was positioned left to right there was still the issue of ensuring that it didn’t have any bow in it, which would make the beam curve a little. I put my new laser level on the floor and aligned the endpoints of the laser line with the ends of the board such that the laser line should ideally run along the edge of the board the whole way. It didn’t, of course, but a clamp pulled the board straight and I put a couple of nails through the ceiling joists into the board to hold it.

A clamp pulls the board straight so that the laser beam runs exactly along the edge.

You could use a string or a chalk line but a laser is way cooler.

The second 2″ x 12″ board was lifted into place similarly and nailed to the first in a zigzag pattern spaced about 12″ apart. Same for the third board.

14′ beam in place supporting the ceiling joists. The temporary wall behind it is no longer needed.

After the beam was all nailed together, I doubled the jack on each end so that they were 3″ thick and plenty strong to support a heavy beam.

Since we are keeping the oak flooring in the dining room and the board ends are “ragged,” i.e. not lined up, I used the bottom plate of the wall as a guide for my circular saw to cut a nice straight line in the flooring where it will butt up against the new kitchen flooring.

Then I took down the old wall separating the kitchen and dining room by removing as many nails as I could that were used to toenail the studs to the bottom plate. Old nails tend to come out easier than modern nails because they have a slick coating on them rather than the cement coating used in modern construction, which melts as the nail is driven it and then bonds to the wood. If you can get the claw of the crowbar under the heads of the old shiny nails they will pop right out.

A few taps of the hammer at the bottom of the studs knocked them free from the bottom plate but still nailed to the top plate.

Old stud wall between kitchen and dining room. Notice the bottoms of the studs have been knocked free from the bottom plate.

When the studs are hanging from the top plate like that, they can be rocked back and forth until they slip off the nails and come free. This means you can stay on the floor for the entire operation. After pulling up the bottom plate I brought the scaffolding back around so I could knock the top plate free from the ceiling joists. As you might expect there were lots of nails in the top plate to pull out.

The beam really opens the place up.

Open concept kitchen and dining.
The old wall between the kitchen and bathroom is gone. The new wall will start between the windows where all of that brick is missing.

Next time I go to Paducah I’ll take down a few more little walls and start building the new walls right where we (and by “we,” I mean Flora) want them.