Front parapet re-built – 1st step

I covered in the previous post how we removed the old and crumbling parapet until we hit solid masonry. This post will cover the first stage of the parapet rebuilding.

I had to break-up the process into stages, because along the way, I had to repair the cornice that was attached to the masonry. I will cover that part in the next post.

We started the rebuilding from the solid masonry we had exposed, up to the level where the original cornice roof tied into the masonry. The new cornice roof, which we were about to install, will tie in at the same masonry course.

The parapet had a depth of three wythes. The cornice would only attach to the first wythe, which meant we could continue to raise the back two wythes.

Like most of the building, the core of the parapet used Chicago common brick. Working with common brick is a different process than working with modern brick products. It requires certain steps and a certain type of mortar to produce a lasting masonry system.

I have described the process and materials in a previous post (Mending more masonry + Bricks and mortar), and recommend that you look up that post if you plan a project that would use Chicago common brick.

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Front parapet demo

Did I mention that the front parapet was badly crumbling? If you wonder why, the answer is easy: bulk water infiltration into the masonry.

The cornice roof (a copper sheet) was supposed to shed water away from the building. Not only did the cornice roof come apart at the seams, it had bent inwards, allowing water to pond right behind the edge. To “solve” that problem, a previous owner had punched small drain holes into the copper sheet, allowing ponding water to enter the cornice interior and the masonry behind.

Some of that masonry had deteriorated so badly that someone put a layer of cement parging across it to prevent it from falling off. That, however, further aggravated the problem, because the cement parging trapped moisture and prevented the masonry from drying out.

We went around and peeled back the roofing membrane which was lapped across the parapet. Underneath that, we found rows of mostly loose brick, if we were lucky. Behind the cement parging, we found brick crumbles.

There was hardly anything to salvage. We scooped up all the loose material and slowly worked our way down until we hit solid masonry. That meant in many cases going down to the bottom of the cornice.

From this point on, we could begin to rebuild the parapet in stages, and along the way, repair the cornice.

As usual, many thanks to our skilled friends Augusta and Rubani who helped us in this adventure.

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Bracing for the cornice issue

Our house came with a beautiful cornice that was attached to and supported by the parapet behind it. It was constructed out of copper, but the bottom section had been painted, unfortunately.

It has terrified me for years. This was because upon closer inspection, the top of the cornice was in dire need of repair and we had water infiltration issues, which led the supporting parapet to crumble. And no matter who I asked, I never got a straight answer on how it actually was constructed, supported or attached to the building. It remained shrouded in mystery, leaving me to procrastinate.

With the looming solar array installation, there was no avoiding this any longer. I opened up the top copper sheet to get a visual on the inside and the attachment mechanism – or lack thereof. And the more I started digging the more terrifying it got.

The “support mechanism” was rotting pine boards, which were rotting either in the masonry or the opposite end. And the supporting masonry had deteriorated into loosely stacked bricks.

The crumbling masonry had to be removed and rebuilt. The bottom of the cornice was salvageable, but the top sheet had to be entirely replaced to prevent any further water infiltration into the masonry behind. Mind you, the job of the cornice is to shed water away from the building façade. Along with all this we needed a new support mechanism.

To save and reuse the bottom section of the cornice, I had to brace it before I could remove and repair any of the masonry or top copper sheet. The last thing I wanted was for it to fall off the building.

I managed to score a stack of reclaimed two by fours at The Rebuilding Exchange, which I used to rig up a solid bracing system.

Next step, taking down the crumbling parapet.

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The roof project

We were ready to get the solar PV array installed on our roof. We did our research on when a renewable energy installation makes sense and got ourselves familiar with the solar lingo. We went through the basics on how to size a solar PV system, and how it gets connected. And the timing was perfect to maximize the rebates available for a solar PV system installation.

That sounds pretty ready, right?

Yes, this was a trick question, and no, we were not ready at all.

You see, you don’t want to put a roof mounted solar system onto an old roof. You want to put it onto a new roof (or at least fairly new roof), so that the solar system has about the same life expectancy as the roof.

Not only did we have to address the old roof issue, we also had to deal with the desperately needed repairs to our front parapet and the attached cornice. Plus we had to raise the elevation of the side parapets, because we had planned to add insulation on top of the roof deck.

So what did our path to roof solar look like?:

  • Cornice bracing
  • Front parapet demo
  • Cornice repair
  • Rebuilding front parapet
  • Raising elevation of side parapets
  • Roof tear off
  • Insulation installation
  • Integration of solar system attachments
  • New roofing system installation
  • Flashing
  • And (drum roll) – installation of the solar array

Well, it is good to get all these items out the way and fixed up once and for all. If we were diligent about it, we knew we wouldn’t have to touch any of those items again for a few decades to come.

Stay tuned as I will keep posting about each of the steps and the decisions involved.

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Minisplit cooling pause

A typical summer in Chicago comes with heat and humidity that is every now and then interrupted by cooler spells with lower dew points. Those spells can be pleasant enough for us to stop running the minisplit in cooling mode and instead open the windows.

Once the heat and humidity roars back into town, we shut the windows in a hurry and power up the minisplit for that pleasant cool breeze. Except, there isn’t much pleasantness in that breeze, unless you enjoy a musty and mildew-drenched flavor.

If you abruptly stop the minisplit in cooling mode, the fins on the evaporator/condenser will still be drenched in condensate droplets. It is not easy to see in the above pictures, but believe me, the droplets are hiding in there.

And they will be sitting there for several days like a bunched up, wet towel in the corner of someone’s bathroom. If, after a few days, you dare to pick up that towel and give a sniff, you experience a similar flavor to that of the minisplit after it had been paused for a few hours or days. It is a death knell to indoor air quality (IAQ).

The good news is that this is an easy to solve problem. Rather than abruptly stopping the minisplit in cooling mode, switch it to low speed fan mode, and let it run for half a day or overnight. The fan keeps drawing air across the fins and will slowly dry them out.

It’s like taking your wet towel and hanging it up to dry. That towel definitely will smell a lot better – and so will your minisplit once you start it up again in cooling mode.

If you would also like to dry out the condensation collection pan at the bottom of the indoor unit, keep the minisplit in fan mode for a good day. This is definitely recommended at the end of the cooling season (end of summer).

And if you turn off cooling mode for a week or longer before starting it up again, you may want to consider cleaning the condensate drain line, as described in the previous post, just to be on the safe side.

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