Remodeling Features: Structural – Foundation cracking and separating

After nearly 50 years, this foundation just had ‘enough.’ The foundation wall was showing serious signs of stress but the owner didn’t know exactly what the problem was, or how it could be repaired. First thing: assess the damage and get the structural engineer involved. After he looked at it, we talked through the options for repair and came up with the following:
1. dig back the soil from the wall and chip away any bad or loose concrete;
2. sandblast the concrete to clean it up (also done under the home in the crawl space) and better see how much of the reinforcing steel was left intact after years of corrosive action of the rainwater;
3. epoxy in steel reinforcing bars and tie them together;
4. form and pour an exterior covering of fresh concrete;
5. cap the top of the wall with a ‘Z’ flashing that runs up over this new concrete covering and behind the siding of the wall above;
6. install new French drain line, yard drains and redirect the downspouts into this system, and direct that water out to the street in front of the home.
So the work started, and this is what it looked like.

Stay tuned for more
Remodeling Features!

Posted in Crawl Space, Home, Moisture Damage, Remodel, Remodeling Basics, Remodeling Your Home, Structural, Whole-house Remodeling | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remodeling Features: Structural – Damage from moisture in the crawl space

This particular project arrived through my plumbing contractor, and would have been entirely avoidable. The plumber had been called in to replace a sump pump under the floor of the living room so that the subsoil area could be pumped ‘dry’; then the pest company could continue to do their work: repairs of rotted materials and treatment to prevent future issues. What he found was that he could not even access the area where the pump was because of the standing water under the home. And, on top of that, the pest company was already over their heads in structural work that they were ill-prepared to do.

So, here’s the process we went through: after the room was emptied out of furniture, carpeting and some of the built-in cabinets, we built a barrier around the fireplace surround; next we opened the floor system, then the floor system below that from the previously sunken living room (that system should have been either removed or opened up for ventilation by the last contractor only 10 years earlier during a huge remodel and addition project to the home). Next we started to remove the damaged framing structure of the lower floor system. The next step was to determine the extent of damage so we followed it into an adjacent dining room, and up into the walls of the living room. The damage turned out to be pretty extensive. The owners were very understanding of the need to remove all damaged materials and start fresh.

Complications included: 1-the original sunken living room floor system also had a sunken subsoil area in the crawl space to maintain the required clearance under the floor framing members (that meant the area under the living room became a pool of water throughout the rainy season, causing a lot of damage from moisture/vapor rising up and carried into the framing and sheathing of the walls and floors of the home); 2-the exterior front wall of the living room had a brick facade that would be best to leave intact (requiring repairs be done from the interior side of this wall); 3-the fireplace’s sandstone hearth and mantel is more delicate than many other materials used and was actually built on top of both of the floor systems; 4-the soil the home is built on is a highly expansive clay.

First we removed all of damaged materials, and supported the perimeter exterior walls of the home while we replaced the lower framing with new pressure-treated Douglas Fir members. We dug a perimeter trench under the living room’s floor area and laid in a perforated drain that terminated into a sump at the exterior of the home’s foundation where the water could be pumped out and away. We found other repairs that needed to be done within the walls that were affected by moisture. Once that was done we insulated the floor and sheathed it. Then we closed up the walls, textured, and installed miscellaneous electrical and plumbing items. Last we installed the built-in cabinets and carpet. (The owners did the painting work.)

Before we closed the floor, the owner hired CleanCrawl to install a fully sealed barrier and sumps/pumps to ensure this would not happen again. This barrier was done underneath the entire home. Then we put the built-ins back in and the carpet. The finished rooms look basically the same as they did before the work, but now the cancerous issues are gone.

When we were close to done with the living and dining rooms, the owners discovered mildew behind the refrigerator, so we dug into that next. We had to run new electrical circuits to the large sump pump we installed outside and to the pumps that CleanCrawl installed under the home.

This was a very unfortunate situation for these homeowners as they had not that long prior done an extensive remodel and addition to this home. The previous contractor should have done all of this repair without additional cost to the owners, but did not bother to even keep his appointment with them to look at it.

Here are some photos of the work as it progressed, starting with the ‘Before’ and ending with the ‘After’.

Stay tuned for more
Remodeling Features!

Posted in Crawl Space, Home, Moisture Damage, Remodel, Remodeling Basics, Remodeling Your Home, Structural, The Crawl Space Below You, Whole-house Remodeling | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oakmont Home – gets a Fresh Start

This home was nice enough before but needed a bit of freshening up, and some more touches that reflect the current owners.
The scope of work consisted of the following: changing fixtures and trim in the two bathrooms; adding an on-demand hot water system; remedying some poorly done electrical; changing out, and adding, some ceiling fans and lights; a facelift for the fireplace; new paint throughout.
Both bathrooms got entirely new showers, with frame-less heavy glass doors, new bath accessories and a few other items.
And, for the kitchen: opening it more to the adjacent dining/living room spaces; changing the ceiling a bit (got rid of daylight fluorescent ceiling lighting in favor of new recessed LED lights); adding a skylight across two truss bays; new concrete counters; a few modifications to the existing cabinets; changing the wood trim; new sink and faucet.
Then, the interior was painted and the carpet was replaced throughout. Original photos first, then photos of remodel.

More projects to come!

Posted in Remodeling Your Home | 4 Comments

Remodeling Features: getting the Hot Water to where you want it, when you want it

I recently did some research on some different hot water circulating systems for a home remodel that I have been working on. Here’s a comparison of what seem to be the most common features, approximate costs for each, as well as some of the drawbacks.
Things to know about each type of basic hot water circulating system . . .

1.    On-demand circulating systems:
Installed cost: possibly the least expensive once installed, usually around $650+/- (because there is no return piping required)
Pump location: often placed below the farthest faucet away from the water heater
Return line:  none is required to be added; the existing cold water line is used as the return line (and can therefore take a moment to give you cold water at that location after you’ve received the hot water as it is back-fed slightly into the cold line)
Activated by: manually – by pushing a button at the point-of-use to get the hot water to the farthest faucet (and, therefore the other faucets along the path to it), which also means you may also need other ‘remote’ buttons near other locations where you use hot water – eg. second bathroom, a kitchen; pump shuts off as soon as the hot water arrives at its location; we found that a standard door bell button works for additional locations, although you have to disconnect any little lights inside as they will cause problems otherwise
Temperature of water: close to that set on the water heater’s thermostat as it’s just been pulled and delivered to you, if the hot water pipes are insulated
Timer: none
Thermostat: none>
Pump/control: these parts range from $350 and up; doesn’t need thermal by-pass required in next option below, as it’s part of the pump/control system at the farthest point
Remotes: anywhere from $100/ea and up, at each location where you might need hot water – depending how the remotes work, and the type of construction of the home, could be expensive to add remotes in other locations
Electrical requirements: – Ground Fault receptacle is required and usually not located near where you need it (in cabinet under sink) – unless the kitchen is the farthest point from the water heater; then you might already have a receptacle for the pump (if it’s not already filled with dishwasher and disposer plugs)
How this system works: Metlund D’Mand System Installation Video  specifically at 1:40-2:10 minutes

2.    Automated circulating system – with the pump at the water heater and no return line installed:
Installed cost: likely just a bit more expensive once installed, usually around $700+ (no return piping, but a thermal by-pass valve is required)
Pump location: at or near the water heater
Return line:  none is required to be added; the existing cold water line is used as the return line (and can therefore take a moment to give you cold water at that location after you’ve received the hot water as it back-feed slightly into the cold line)
Activated by: timer activated, in conjunction with thermal by-pass valve opening as water cools down at farthest point
Temperature of water: approximately 100 degrees is how the thermostatic valve is set; when the hot water gets to the valve at the farthest point, it shuts off and the pump stops running at the water heater
Timer: on pump/control
Thermostat: none on pump/control as the thermal by-pass valve is the thermostatic control; it is pre-set and not usually adjustable, and it is placed under the sink at the farthest point from the water heater
Pump/control: range from $200-350; also needs thermal by-pass, cost up to $100
Remotes: not needed as it has timer
Electrical requirements: – Ground Fault receptacle is required near water heater
How one such system works: Watts Hot Water Recirculating System  Click through the ‘Features’ and ‘Installation’ videos

3.    Automated circulating system – with the pump at the water heater and with a return line installed:
Installed cost: initially more expensive to install, usually $1,000+ (requires return piping)
Pump location: at or near the water heater
Return line:  required to be added; cost easily $500 and up, depending on a number of factors
Activated by: timer/thermostat
Temperature of water: close to that of the water heater’s setting, if is has run very recently, and depending on the user’s selected temperature setting
Timer: on pump/control; completely controllable by user
Thermostat: on pump/control
Pump/control: range from $200-350
Remotes: not needed as it has timer
Electrical requirements: – Ground Fault receptacle is required near water heater
How this system works: (images from

Typical hot water system before a recirculation pump.
Common circulation pump installation.
Close-Up of pump installation.
Pump return line can be run into the drain of the water heater or into the cold water
supply pipe at the top of the water heater (where I like to return it).

This is the one I have used a few times: Grundfos UP 10-16B5/ATLC

Grundfos UP 10-16B5-atlc

And, now I’ve tried this: Metlund STS-70T-PF

Metlund STS-70T-PF

Stay tuned for more
Remodeling Features!

Posted in Bathroom Remodeling, Kitchen Remodeling, Remodel, Remodeling Basics, Remodeling Your Home | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Energy Saving Solutions – Active: Photovoltaic (Solar) Panels

Amazing return on investment here!  This is a project that we did at our home a couple of years ago now.

RP4200 Picture

Layout of PV panel system

At the back of the property is a ‘shop.’  Really it’s a storage build more than a shop.  So, after being contacted about having an energy converting solar photovoltaic panels system installed, we started to think about the benefits.

RP4200 Picture

Support post for tracks that support panels

The price-tag is not low for this, but the payback will be only about 10 years and then it will continue to produce for the next maybe 15 to 40 years.  We are told that the converter has a shorter life of maybe 10 years.  Our system is on the west-facing slope of the shop’s roof.  There are 26 panels for this system.  In the middle of winter, with essentially no sun, it still produces about 10 kilowatt hours per day (kwh/d).  We use about 13 kwh/d.  In the summer time we get about 50 kwh/d from the system.  On the hottest days of summer it is slightly less.  They don’t produce as well if they get too hot.

RP4200 Picture

Statistics plate on a PV panel

The first full year of use of this system we had a total electricity bill of about $444, plus the $4.50 monthly maintenance fee.  So, the total was about $500 for the year.  Doesn’t sound all that good until you realize that the previous yearly amounts averaged about $3,400 (that’s $280/month).  This made us net consumers (using more than we produced).  Pretty good return so far.  At that rate our payback on this system will take about 12 years.  It gets better here!

RP4200 Picture

Clip attached to track

This past year (having learned more about conserving energy) we are so far looking like we will easily be net producers, meaning that we will feed more electricity into the local power grid than what we draw out.  This means we will receive compensation for the extra electricity we produce.  The rate of savings so far looks like the payback will now go down to less than 9 years, even with the first year being less return.

RP4200 Picture

Track being assembled

The real catch is that the price of electricity will continue to climb so our payback will continue to get better everytime the price goes up.  Our system has the Solar World panels, which carry an amazing 25 year linear warranty.  I believe they are also the only ones being manufactured in the US at this time.  Though the warranty is 25 years, they fully expect the lifespan to be about double that.  Since the panels are the pricey part of the system, my guess is that by the time they’re failing we could have saved ourselves easily over $70,000, if the price of electricity doesn’t change at all.  Of course, I don’t think I will last that long.

Inverter Stats

Inverter Statistics

This site has some great little things to educate yourself on the benefits of these systems: Solar World  There are also pictures and photographs of the systems to look at.

RP4200 Picture

Long story here – an interim array of panels

More Energy Saving Solutions Coming!

Posted in Energy Savings, Home, Remodel, Remodeling Basics, Remodeling Your Home, Whole-house Remodeling | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Energy Saving Solutions – Parabolas and Double-Shells


Simple parabolic energy collector

My own introduction to this field of Energy Saving Solutions . . .
began in 1977 when I worked for a company that was testing and manufacturing parabolic solar collectors in northern California. These collectors used water as a heat collection medium and were designed to track the sun’s travel throughout the day while receiving its radiant heat.  The system was simple enough: the parabolic shape was created by making up two matching sides that were placed opposite of each other to form the parabola.  These were made of plywood frames and fastened together using a set of hinges at the center of the shape (the hinges allowed them to be handled more easily and shipped in the folded position).  When assembled for use at the site, the open side of the parabola was held at a fixed distance apart by metal brackets.  The reflective surface of the parabola was created by using sheet metal that was fastened to the frame after it had a reflective sheet laminated to it.  The parabola was then focused onto a flat radiation collection tube made of copper, which was suspended in the center (at the ‘focus’ of the parabola).  This was specially manufactured with a ‘puffy’ waffle pattern for the water medium to flow through it (like a car’s radiator) and the outside surface was coated with a nearly 100% absorptive black paint.  Water was run through these collectors and then into a collection system.  The water temperatures easily went up to the boiling point and had to be mixed for domestic use, besides allowing for the expansion of the liquid.  The units used simple motors to move them in accordance with input from sensors.  The assembled units were mounted on pivot support frames to accomplish the rolling necessary to track the sun.

PS dbl shell house exterior

The exterior ‘work wall’ of the home

Laundromats seemed to be the industry best suited to this type of system . . . partly because of the high initial cost of installation and partly because of the tremendous need for lots of very hot water especially during their busy daytime hours.  The ideal shape for a collector of this type is really a partial ellipse (because an ellipse has two specific foci – one being the sun, the other being the collector that receives the sun’s radiation from the reflective shape created around it), but the reality is that the size of the sun and its distance from us makes the precise shape less relevant for this particular use.  A parabola is more-or-less the same shape as the shiny reflector that you find in any common flashlight – it focuses the light from the bulb in a particular direction.

PS dbl shell house graphic

A couple of sections of the double-shell system shown in the article

That was where I ‘cut my teeth’ on the idea of energy conservation.  Since then I’ve tried to incorporate at least some form of energy conserving system into most of the projects that I’ve been involved in constructing.

Here are a couple of articles that I have located which show that even the ‘newest’ ideas aren’t really that ‘new’ after all.  The Popular Science magazine referred to happens to be one that I’ve had in my library since it first arrived in my mailbox back in 1979.

This article is from the Dec 1979 Popular Science.  It’s a Double-shell Solar House (see pages 54 and following – pull the button on the far right of the screen downward and watch the page number change in the upper right at the same time until you get to p. 54): Double-shell ‘Solar House’  Note the cover picture as it’s a cut-away of the home and shows how it works.  And, in the body of the article note the preconditioning tubes shown in one photo and two of the sketches.  These are used to pre-warm the winter air, and pre-cool the summer air, before it is introduced into the home as fresh air.  They work because the ground is a ‘heat-sink’ and doesn’t change temperature more than a few degrees from summer to winter, although the depth of that more-or-less consistent temperature may be quite deep depending on where you live on the planet.  Where I live it is only a few feet below the surface of the ground.  So, . . . in the winter the very cold air is given a boost in temperature by the warmer ground around the tube, while in the summer the hot air looses some of its heat to the ground.  The crawl space in this type of home becomes a conditioned space (i.e. treated much like the living space as far as temperature and air quality) and the perimeter outside of the concrete foundation is shown insulated to help keep the temperature more constant.  The ground under the home is  usually sealed and is used as a heat sink to keep the temperature more even while the temperature outside rises and falls.

ORNL roof system

Oakridge National Lab’s roof system

And, this is from a News Release dated September 10, 2012:
Oakridge National Laboratory: Roof & Attic Design

Though the system is not really new, it definitely has a newer techno-look to it, and it can be retrofitted to many other homes than what is practical with the double-shell system of the older article.

One question that comes to my mind is: How do you go about maintaining and cleaning the spaces that you can’t get to after the construction is completed?  I’m seeing a new ‘niche market’ here . . . anyone?

More Energy Saving Solutions Coming!

Posted in Crawl Space, Energy Savings, Home, Insulation, Passive Energy Saving Solutions, Preparing for a Remodel, Radiant Barrier, Remodel, Remodeling Basics, Remodeling Your Home, The Crawl Space Below You, Whole-house Remodeling | Leave a comment

Remodeling Features: Other Fun & Interesting Items

These photos are a collection of some of the miscellaneous things I have done over the years that you may find interesting or inspiring.

Some other items that can add interest without adding a lot of cost are: crown molding, baseboards, shelves, bead-board, wainscot (this is a fun one as it can make a ceiling appear either higher or lower than it really is), decorative door and window casings, lighting, plumbing and electrical fixtures and trim. Other ideas are using products and materials where you don’t normally find them: exterior siding on a ceiling (see photo), artwork in a garden, old materials instead of new, re-purposing things to do something different, hidden cubbies for valuables, ramps to the front entry door of a home, exterior accent lighting. What others can you think of?

We ‘re-purpose’ a lot of things in our family.  (We used to call it ‘recycling,’ then ‘re-using.’)  The kids are all very creative at doing this and will bring home some amazing finds.  It’s been fun to see what we can do with what we find.

Stay tuned for more
Remodeling Features!

Posted in Home, Remodel, Remodeling Basics, Remodeling Your Home, Woodworking | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments