Category Archives: house renovation

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.