Kitchen-Family Room Complete Rebuild (Part 1)

schicksalFebruary 13, 2014

Small disclaimer - we are about 8 weeks out from finishing the project, which the planning started for last May and demo on July 4th. I'll try and add a new update every day or two to keep things going.

When we bought our house in 2011 one of the things that we knew we were going to do was redo the kitchen. We also knew that we want to stay here, so the work will be done to our tastes and not geared towards resale like the kitchen I did in our old house in 2010 was. We're also in luck because we have a designer in our family who's willing to help out over email so we didn't have to go at it alone. As long as I can lift it, I'm the source of all labor. Our completely unrealistic goal was to be done by Thanksgiving (HA!).

Everything makes more sense knowing a little about the place. The house was built in 1959 and an addition (family room, M BDR, Bath, 1/2 bath) was done in 2002. It was once sort of MCM in style but all character was removed decades ago and the previous owners tried to make it look more Victorian. The kitchen had a major remodel in 1979 and cabinets were painted white, the floor tiled, and a second layer of formica added when they did the addition. Here's how the place looked before the big hammers came out.

View from the hallway leading to the bedrooms (dining room opposite the arched doorway)

Looking back from the arched doorway. The large opening was once a sliding glass door to the back yard and the empty corner of the room was an eat in area with a window.

Looking back towards the kitchen...

Awesome peninsula.

And another shot from the family room. The plan is to raise the ceiling in here since it's a huge room with only 8 foot ceilings, which makes it feel much smaller. At least it's no longer Barney purple like it was when we moved in.

This is the breakfast area. Previous owners had a full bar in the area and the reason the outlets are so high are because there were neon beer signs plugged in there.

Just for laughs, here's our first Sketchup model for the new layout. Let's just say it's changed slightly since then.

By the way, the floor felt a little funny in the kitchen but the inspector said that the wood down in the crawlspace was just dirty. This is my 6 foot level in the middle of the kitchen (a 12 foot span). I think something is going on down there...

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Well, that last shot looks a little worrisome. An adventure awaits?

Looking forward to seeing how this progresses for you...

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 12:41AM
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Post more Sketch Up drawings...those look very fun and worthwhile for the Layout Gurus to look at...

My old house was almost 11" out of level from one side to the other (CA earthquake country). The contractors fixed it, but the house will always be moving.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 12:52AM
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Wait - houses are supposed to be level? We have no straight walls, no 90° corners and no flat floors in this house. Where would the challenge be if everything was straight and true?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 6:33AM
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Cabinet pulls in the miidle of the doors?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 6:43AM
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>>Well, that last shot looks a little worrisome. An adventure awaits?>>

Surely it's nothing a little sistering can't fix. Muhahaha...
Luckily that part is about 4 months behind me now.

>>Post more Sketch Up drawings...those look very fun and worthwhile for the Layout Gurus to look at...

My old house was almost 11" out of level from one side to the other (CA earthquake country). The contractors fixed it, but the house will always be moving.>>

I went through numerous revisions on houzz and with the designer in my family, then a thread here after we thought it was done that shook the design up even more. The important thing is that even if you've fallen in love with your first new layout not to feel down when a flood of comments come back 5 hours later pointing out things you never thought of that don't make sense. Keep an open mind and realize that a lot of the time the experts do know what they're talking about.

There will be more sketchup pics though. It's kind of cool seeing the design evolve. This project was the first time I've ever used the program.

>>Wait - houses are supposed to be level?>>

It's amazingly level... the sills anyway. This is sag at the center of the joists. Did I mention that the tiles were popping loose and breaking?

>>Cabinet pulls in the miidle of the doors?>>

From the same decade that brought us airbrushed custom vans and disco. :D Maybe it's a regional thing. I've never seen it anywhere except for a few other '70s kitchens around here (Charleston).

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 7:18AM
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Charleston, SC? That's where I'm at! I've seen those handles too.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 7:58AM
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Barney? Beer signs? Cheesy fake Tiffany? Did a bachelor own the place? Maybe the floor's out of whack because of the pool table or water bed they never told you was in one place for years?

I look forward to seeing your progress, too. You do have a great space.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 9:50AM
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The outlets in my laundry room are high like that, too, but I think they did it thinking about ironing boards. You've given me a new idea for laundry room decor, however. Neon beer signs...hmmm!

Our last 40's house had a wooden floor in an upstairs bedroom with a serious hump in the center of the room. It was solid as a rock, so we called it character.

But sagging and tile popping...bad feeling in pit of tummy...waiting for the next chapter!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 10:47AM
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The previous owner's family bought the house in 1978 and I picked it up from their daughter in a short sale in 2011. I think she and her husband were maybe late 30s or 40? Her dad is an antique dealer in town and the place was PACKED with oversized furniture. I never was sure if it was good stuff, rejects from the store or something in between. The joists were permanently deflected where we have the round breakfast area table (they had a gigantic wooden, marble topped bar) and where they had a pool table in the family room. In addition to the full bar and pool table, the family room also featured a big dartboard niche and huge, fully stocked 2 level liquor shelf that pretty well trashed the drywall behind it when they moved out. They were also nice enough to remove and sell fixtures but that was taken care of at the closing table. :)

Before we started tearing things up we went through a few revisions of the design. The only things to remain the same were removing the wall between the kitchen and family room, which was the rear wall of the house prior to the addition and the pantry idea we had for the far end of the kitchen that was otherwise a waste of space.

Revision 1: We thought it was a great idea at the time...

Rev 2: Moved doorway to the dining room from the corner to the middle of the wall, spread the build in fridge and wall oven apart. Cooktop goes in between.

Rev 3: This one was big. The peninsula was previously only on the kitchen side of the wall, this has cabinets on the both sides. Remember the deflected floor under the breakfast area...? The project just grew to kitchen + family room and we're up to about 1,000 sq ft. The fridge is also all the way at the end of the cabinet run and the lone wall cabinet is gone.

Rev 4: Last of the big changes. The wall between the dining room and kitchen is opened up as wide as possible. This wound up being a VERY good decision. Otherwise it's similar to Rev 5, which shuffled appliances around some and pushed the wall oven + steam oven to the end of the wall. The big gray "L" in the family room is the sectional. I put that in to make sure we had enough space to walk around. Making the peninsula an island would have created an odd path to take to get from one room to the other.

Now that we have half a clue what we'll actually be building it's time to start breaking stuff. The empty half of the kitchen was once a breakfast area and it had paneling that was skimmed over. They did a good job - I never realized it wasn't drywall.

Pulling up the tile is easy enough when there's only linoleum and a 1/4" of hardibacker below. The linoleum was awesome green/yellow pebbly looking stuff and went with the plastic lights and medium wood cabinets pretty well.

There was one very ominous sign of things to come. Sometimes the pry bar would sink into the subfloor instead of popping off tiles. I found out immediately why but will save it for the next batch of pictures.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 10:42AM
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A cliffhanger! Hope we get the answer in the next post and not next season!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 2:58PM
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It'll be on Monday. I'm guessing at least one or two have run into similar problems based on search hits that came back to this site. I'm also trying to space things out a bit because we still have several weeks left to go before the reno is complete.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 11:10PM
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Placing my bet for Monday: leaky pipe, rotted subfloor and at least one rotted floor joist.

I didn't really know you could disguise the grooves in paneling that well. I wonder how hard it would be to find someone to do that nice a job? We have lots of painted and unpainted paneling.

Edited to add, good for you for making sure adjustments were made for fixtures they removed before closing. That's just not kosher.

(Toddles off to get popcorn during the intermission...)

This post was edited by mudhouse on Sun, Feb 16, 14 at 1:28

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 12:48AM
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The paneling really surprised me too, but it finally explained why my stud finder never worked well on that wall.

The seller's dad (her realtor) said that the only thing related to water that happened in the kitchen was that in 1979 the dishwasher leaked. Maybe it did, I found a square where the plywood was replaced underneath the dishwasher but that doesn't explain the whole kitchen. The answer is...

Crawlspace moisture and dry rot. I can explain the simple science behind it if anyone is interested. How bad is it? Mold grew into the thin set holding the tiles down. It's this bad...

As in, the linoleum under the tile was structural and it's possible to walk through the subfloor. Also some genius decided to notch a few joists for reasons unknown. It's cool, there's a whole 3 3/4 inches of "wood" left out of that 2x10. This one collapsed when I removed the subfloor.

The good news is, it's the easiest stuff in the world to break out and I got to this point after a day and a half. The bad, everything under the kitchen is rotten except for the sills and main beam.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 8:29AM
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Woah, I bet that wasn't in your original budget! The entire kitchen floor?

In a previous house we dealt with wood rot from failed plumbing (rotted the joists and partial sill) and rot on old thresholds that were improperly shielded from weather, and termite damage...but never dry rot.

Does that occur on such a large scale because the crawl space needed better venting? If they had used treated lumber in 1959, would that have prevented the dry rot?

Gotta love folks who decide to do big notches in joists for no reason.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 1:09PM
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Replacing all joists wasn't so bad from a cost standpoint, but only because I did the work on my own. I think in just the kitchen alone there were about 22 of them and each joist cost about $25 each in lumber (I put in doubles) and hangers. It was a huge hit to our schedule though. I also had to encapsulate the crawlspace and add a large dehumidifier down there. Threads here and at were incredibly helpful.

Crawlspace venting was part of the problem - having vents made things worse. In the hot and humid south the dew point will often be above the ambient temperature under the house. Humid air comes in and water condenses on cool surfaces. In this case it was the subfloor and joists because of thermal bridging. The a/c ducts used to be under the house and that only made matters worse. Having no vapor barrier for years didn't help either. Treated lumber may have helped but the subfloor was also rotten and eventually it would have failed.

It's at this point that the project became serious.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 1:41PM
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A failing floor? That would have been scary. I like following your progress. When we did our reno the kitchen floor and dining room floor were both falling into the wall separating the two. The builder had put in a too-short beam underneath for some reason. Fortunately it was easily fixed and was the only problem we found in a large reno.

I hope the rest of your process goes smoothly.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 2:04PM
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I wish it did, but there have been other surprises along the way and we went through 3 designs for removing the wall between the kitchen and family room.

The way it looks now, I just finished putting in the last joist between the kitchen and midpoint of the family room (~14ft span) yesterday, and am going to work on blocking, crawlspace cleanup and subfloor installation after work today. The new joists from 2002 were also rotten and bent from being overloaded and beyond span limits.

I think we are 7 weeks from cabinets and 8-9 weeks for the kitchen being done.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 9:50AM
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Oh my goodness......need to know what happens next.

So far, anyone can see that you're one courageous TKO!

(Toddles off to get coffee for a long intermission)

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 10:08AM
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Whoa, does that floor look familiar. Lucky you not to have rotten sills, though. Ask me how I know.

Quite the process but it will all be worth it to have a nice, solid floor.

(Man, I'm glad we're through with this part....)

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 10:27AM
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Looking at the dates on the pictures is a bit depressing because this was 7 months ago. For whatever reason the worst rot was in the area leading towards the bedroom hallway. There was always a small creak whenever someone would take the last step between the kitchen and hallway. This is how it looked after everything was removed. I have no clue how the previous owners got all their huge furniture out without falling through the floor.

The cut wires by the light switch were live, just sitting there where anything could touch them.. After a few days we were able to get it to the point where there was solid ground to walk on again. I also installed the dehumidifier underneath the house to end the humidity issues down there for good. We went with a Santa Fe Force.

I measured the height between the middle of the new joists and an old one and the sag was over an inch. It was easy to tear up everything at least. There was tile, hardibacker, linoleum, bits of 1970 linoleum, chipboard (now hamster litter) and 55 year old subfloor with all the strength of wet cardboard.

At this point we are 2 1/2 weeks in and now I'm forced to start taking out cabinets.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 1:17PM
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Last time I redid a kitchen the cabinets that were put in were from 1992 - the type that are made in boxes and held in place with a few screws. It took three of us no more than 4 hours to completely remove all of them without breaking anything and the whole room was donated to Habitat. I assumed that these would be quick and easy too. Let's just say I couldn't have possibly been any more wrong.

The countertop was nailed on with easily 50+ nails and for some reason I thought I was going to be able to reassemble it all and donate them. I had good intentions at least. We found a wonderful selection of wallpaper from 1979 but nothing else interesting.

We also got rid of the "decorative" columns in the doorway. The dog is not amused.

Not bad for a day's work, but now I totally understand why people use a great big hammer to remove site built. The odds are not in your favor for ever putting Humpty Dumpty back together again so don't even bother.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 8:23AM
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Four weeks in: We've reached the point where I have to take out the dishwasher, sink and oven. We're officially camping indoors.

It's also gotten much harder to remove flooring now because things are less rotten underneath the house and there are a lot of water pipes in this section of the crawlspace to watch out for. The last thing I wanted to do was drop a joist through one! It took 5 days to get from the last picture to this one

Now that the horrible demo and joist work in the area is done I could think a little bit about where to put outlets and how the two small appliance circuits would go.

This was a huge mistake. After I was finished putting in all the wiring I posted a question here about drawers that resulted in shuffling around the cooktop, warming drawer, microwave, 3 cabinets and a couple of other things and I had to reposition and rewire four outlets. Make your layout first, then post here and figure it all out again so you only have to build it once.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 9:33AM
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We entered a much more difficult phase at this point. Now that the joists are replaced it's time to take care of utilities, finish off the crawlspace in the area and beef up the structure of the place.

In order to make the floor feel much stiffer I put in double joists, and on top of that I decided to run a center beam underneath the room. Here's how that part came out

It took a month (minus a week for a business trip) to remove all the old ungrounded wiring in this entire section of the house, recalculate all the different circuits, and rewire that, then put in the new wiring for the kitchen. It all had to be done now, the old wiring was ungrounded 1959 Romex with animal damage, and all of it was undersized anyway. The kitchen especially made no sense because it had been changed up twice since the place was built.

With all that complete I was free to start experimenting with LED lighting and figure out how much we needed. FWIW the suggestions I got here tested much better than the other advice, which would have made the kitchen much too dim.

Here we are testing out one person's idea to just have a line of lights running through the middle of the room.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 9:17AM
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I missed some of your posts. I was dawdling in the lobby too long during intermission.

Wow, this isn’t remodelling a kitchen, it’s saving a house! You must have had more than a few bad moments as you kept discovering the extent of the rot problem. (Thanks for your explanation of the origin of the dry rot, in your earlier post.)

I hope you had another doorway into the bedroom end of the house, instead of requiring family members to leap across the hole in the floor, during those days!

Dh is approving of your double joists and center beam to give the floor more stiffness. His comment was materials aren’t cheap, but they sure are when compared to the kind of effort you’re expending in that kind of a project. I’ll bet it “feels” like a whole new house when you walk across that room now.

I really appreciated the photo of the site built cabinets with the countertop off, as that’s what we have also. In our case we’ll be eliminating an upper bank, and chopping the ends off another long cabinet run (while attempting to keep the rest.) We know it will be an adventure, and your photo confirms that. I so hope our counters aren’t nailed on with fifty nails.

It’s so great you could test your lighting to know what really worked well in the space.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 1:09PM
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Shicksal, this is like an epic novel! When doing a remodel, there's always something.........

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 12:09AM
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The rot is a known quantity now and it's nearly gone. I also took the time to do a side project in the formal living room (across the main beam from the kitchen) because it was also rotten. The joists were bad enough so that the cleats holding in the original 1.5" strip flooring rusted out. I was able to salvage, clean up and reinstall all flooring in there without any damage. For whatever reason the moisture accumulated at the subfloor and joists, and sills / beams were spared. All that's left are bedroom #4 and a full bath but those are smaller rooms where everything is contained in just that one area. That will be easy to deal with.

We have a cat that LOVES to explore underneath the house so at the end of the day I had to cover all holes with plywood so it couldn't get down there. The louvered door was the only path to the bedrooms but I made a new doorway to the master from the family room and haven't closed the old one off yet, so for now there are two ways in.

What I learned from getting countertops off is, try starting by knocking on them from below with a mallet and piece of wood, then you carefully start prying but not with too much force or you'll damage the cabinet. Never pry directly above a drawer because the wood is not strong there and it will come apart. Ours were 1.5" thick, made from two 3/4" pieces of plywood nailed together so they were really heavy. If you work from the front going back you'll end up working the countertop into the wall. Try starting at and end and work lengthwise instead. Your best bet is to try and rework the cabinets in place (without removing them from the wall). They don't go back together quite the same as they were before.

The room feels like it has a concrete subfloor. The goal was to have less than 0.05 inches of deflection and we're at about half that. I overbuilt it because we're used to being on a slab and the other half walks on her heels and it sounded like a t-rex roaming around. Even the dog would shake the tv. I'd love to have used I-joists but was unable to find a reliable supplier for them.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 8:40AM
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Thanks so much for your advice on removing the counter tops; that sounds like a good plan, and we'll use your tips. We agree with you, our best bet is to rework the cabinets in place.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 8:24PM
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Wow! We had some "not in the budget" surprises too! In our case it was electrical and ceiling/roof beams.

It is wonderful you could do the work yourself.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 10:46PM
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Thanks. I was skeptical about doing the work on my own until a couple of family members had big changes to where they live and the story was the same. Behind schedule, over budget and go backs because of mosaic tile and other details not done so well. Projects started off small and now there's this mammoth one. I'm hoping projects get smaller in the future.

Here we are four months in. I talked to a friend who's a builder and civil engineer about removing the wall and the plans on raising the ceiling in the family room. After some exploratory surgery we determined that it's not only feasible but quite easy. The only design change is that there needs to be a column underneath a point load but we can live with that.

At this point the kitchen structural repair is done along with most of the electrical work. Since the peninsula will be on both sides of the line between the kitchen and family room I need to tear out all the flooring in there and do whatever else needs to be done.

Removing hardwood flooring is easy. Set your circular saw at 3/4" plus a little and go at it. The wood needed to go anyway - the addition is only 10 years old but the floor is permanently deflected because of the gigantic bar the previous owners had here. It's also scratched up and the finish is terrible. It's also cupped, which is a huge warning sign that something bad lies below...

The addition is only 10 years old but brown rot also lives in here. Before the addition there was a raised, concrete topped patio. Instead of removing it when they added to the house they took only enough for the joists to fit. The wood was sitting 1/2 inch from bare earth.

It took a solid week of digging and finding creative places to hide the dirt to get rid of it all. Two feet down, 6 cubic yards. The only consolation prize was finding leftover debris from when the house was new. I now know the entire color scheme and materials they used back in the 1950s. Yay.

We also got great news from our friend the builder. The framers should be available sometime the next week to have a look at what it'll take to do the wall and ceiling work, then maybe get started the following week. Awesome! That means it's time to break out the drywall between the kitchen and family room. Apparently the dark and dreary corner of the kitchen where the pantry will go was once a nice eat in breakfast area with a window. This is our first taste of what the completed kitchen area will look like.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 9:48AM
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There's still a lot to do while waiting on the framers to come and remove the wall and ceiling and having real lighting was high on the priority list. There are a lot of recessed lights to do and I'm picky about things being level and lining up right so it took chalk lines and laser shoots to get everything exactly where it needed to go. Lights are Cree CR4s and dimmed with a Lutron Maestro C/L.

There's a cat hiding in one of these two pictures. Can you find it?

I also took our layout which I thought was done and posted it here. It wasn't as done as I thought it was... Also every time I though the framing company owner was going to come by they had to cancel. Might as well keep building... Once I got a few feet past the end of the old patio the joists were much less rotten.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 9:00AM
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Lol, did find the cat, but it took me a long time.

The lights look great. No random swiss cheese ceilings in your house...

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 9:36AM
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Thanks, spacing is about... 5' going lengthwise / 4' across the room. Something like that. The lighting forum here helped a lot with figuring it out. Lights were a night and day (lol) difference from before/after. Much better than the two plastic tiffany lights that were in here.

Another thing I learned about this time was, don't even bother trying to do subfloor on your own. Seriously, get help with it. The plywood has enough bend to it so that you'll only frustrate yourself trying to get the tongue and groove together. A second person can help push down a little in the middle of the plywood to keep it flat.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 9:45AM
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The funny thing about framers is, you never know when they'll be available. We went through two months of missed appointments and was told at that point that they would be in town for sure in three weeks, maybe four. There's a real shortage of that skill around here unless you're building tract homes and can provide a steady job for months at a time. Then I got a call that they would be here in two days. It's time to get rid of the 8' ceilings so I got to work. (ugly technical details at the end)

This is late January, by the way and there are now large openings into the attic area. Also there's this polar thing that the weatherguy keeps talking about and it's supposed to drop into the high teens at night soon...

That's a lot of insulation! I still need to figure out what to do with all of it...

Former rear wall of the house coming down. VERY load bearing.

Here's the new view looking towards the kitchen.

Kitchen looking towards breakfast area.

Breakfast area and kitchen.

Technical details
Of course, we worked with a civil engineer on this. A column was required because the old roofline is complex and a large beam running at a 45 degree angle stops there that we found during some exploratory surgery. I put in a pier with a 2x2x18" footer underneath it to take the load down to the ground. Once drywall was off we noticed immediately that the original rear wall was unable to support the added load from the roof of the addition. Studs were bowed pretty badly and the top plate had gone out of level. That was removed completely and ceiling joists are supported directly by the LVLs on the kitchen side. Everything was leveled out during the installation.

We were able to raise the ceiling because basically it was just a void up there. No trusses or support, nothing but 2x6 ceiling joists spanned up to about 16'. Rafters are also 2x6, and we had 2x8s sistered in to stiffen the roof and put the option of installing solar panels on the roof at a later date on the table. It was underframed anyway, and this gives us a level surface to hang paneling from.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 6:42AM
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