Tag Archives: carpentry

Longing for a library

Some dreams start early on. My dream was about books.

I grew up with books. My parents had a whole wall of shelves filled with books in each of the the two houses we grew up in. To this day my parents still have a book collection that fills a whole wall in their living room.

I always owned a lot of books, and with Cathy’s and my combined collections we can call ourselves the proud owners of a small library. For me, books make a home complete.

Back in 2009 when we bought our building, I walked into the 1st floor front parlor, looked at that large blank wall and had a vision: a wall of books. We fairly quickly began to refer to the front parlor as the library.

I looked at and measured that wall countless times as I developed the concept of built-in shelves that would liberate our book collection from their hidden existence in cardboard boxes and render them once again freely accessible.

Having the concept of built-in shelves at hand during our deep energy retrofit was very helpful and informed the remodeling process.

The shelves would sit along an exterior wall, which was also slated to accommodate a baseboard radiator. Because I did not want the radiator to end up behind the shelves, I framed out the bottom of the wall so that we could mount it in the same vertical plane as the front of the built-in shelves.

During one of my excursions to The Rebuilding Exchange, I scored an antique front panel of an old hutch with beautiful and functional doors that have the old drawn or rolled glass. I easily integrated this piece into the concept and it made for a beautiful addition to the planned shelves.

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Pot rack

Let me try something very different today: This is my attempt to write up a recipe using only leftovers.

We have a very nice and useful collection of cooking pots and cast iron pans, but they’ve begun to clutter up our kitchen. That sparked the idea for a recipe with left-overs. Here we go:


  • Salvaged old growth stud scraps (preferably close to a 100 years old)
  • Leftover 5/8 inch poplar dowels
  • Leftover wood glue
  • Leftover VOC free lacquer


Carefully place the old growth scraps on prepared saw horses and clean them (some people refer to this process in a rather rough and tumble way as de-nailing).

To assure the most delicious surface texture, I recommend rubbing the old growth studs with 60 grit sandpaper first, followed by 120 grit. For the gourmets among us, keep rubbing with 200 grit.

Core the cleaned and prepared old growth scraps at the desired intervals. For the best possible presentation, it is recommended to match the core size exactly with the size of the leftover dowels.

Next, chop the leftover dowels into the appropriate lengths. Shorter pieces feed into the old growth scrap connection. Longer pieces stretch across.

Carefully marinate the short pieces in wood glue and immediately insert into the prepared old growth scraps. Only marinate the ends of the long pieces and immediately place into the prepared cores.

Carefully clamp the ingredients and let rest for at least 12 hours.

Remove clamps and glaze with two coats of the leftover VOC lacquer. It is recommended to let each coat bake at room temperature for about four hours.

Et voilà, a wonderful pot rack entirely made from leftovers!


Provisional plywood

I had a knowledge gap – another big gap that invites driving rain – and plywood from the formwork that I can reuse. How do these voids and sheets fit together? Here you go:

Knowledge gap

Part of our back porch will be enclosed. That includes the roof access and the basement level. And there are some code issues I had to contend with, namely fire rated walls. The roof access enclosure requires two-hour fire rated walls. The basement level also requires a two-hour fire rated wall on the west side, and one-hour fire rated walls on the south and east side.


I’d never built a fire rated wall, so I had a little research ahead of me.

That other big gap…


… was the currently wide-open roof access. It worried me a little because it allowed driving rain to pour into the porch and part of the south elevation. I needed some level of rainscreen until I figured out how to build those fire rated walls.

From formwork to rainscreen

How convenient that I still had the plywood from the foundation formwork laying around. They were perfect for a provisional rain screen along the north and west side of the roof access. But I first needed to cobble together the framing that would support the plywood, and later the permanent fire rated wall.

No easy framing! Because of the curb on the north and west side, I couldn’t pre-assemble the wall but rather I had to insert it bit by bit.

This was not a perfect rain screen, but good enough until I got to the fire rated enclosure.

Reuse versus new

Not only did I reuse the plywood, but all the framing lumber came either from the foundation formwork or another stack that I had saved.

But I didn’t have that much luck on the door, which was a spanking brand new steel skin door. I had searched the salvage and reuse market for exterior steel doors for a while, but was unable to get my hands on the right products. When I found good matches, they were more expensive than new doors, which also happened to be on sale.

The more specialized or specific the items you need, the harder they are to find on the reuse market.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Angelo and Rubani for their help with the framing and rain screen. I sure was glad to have those extra helping hands!

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Porch roof level

Our new back porch needs a roof!

During construction, we got as far as the 2nd floor level when I had to hit the pause button. Several rows of loose brick needed my attention, followed by masonry repair atop the south wall.

Building the porch roof followed a now familiar pattern: getting stairs and landings in place, putting up ledger boards, installing joists, covering everything with plywood and installing the roofing system.

What was much more interesting was the staircase extension to the roof level, because it was about the devil and the details. I wouldn’t have minded a little break for the few neurons I have left – some mindless work. SOL!

Roof slope

The roof access extension has a south facing sloped roof. This will be prime real estate for solar renewables. Solar hot water panels should be installed at a 55 degree angle. Photovoltaic panels are more fussy. They like a 66 degree angle in winter, 42 degree in spring/fall and 18 degree in summer.

Now think about these numbers for a minute. This roof could turn into a really interesting art project, making Frank Gehry look pale. But I don’t have a minute, and my neurons are not firing right.

So, how do we determine the roof slope? Not through solar angles, but by the means of dimensional facts. We can extend the roof access by ten feet above the existing roof, and we need to make sure we have enough head room (says the tall German).


End result: A 28 degree roof slope.

Roof drainage

Drainage is following me around. It often dominates my professional life, which I don’t mind at all. And in a gravity defying stunt, it was following me all the way up onto the roof – which also has to drain. Surprise!

Whereas previously the entire south edge drained the roof, almost half of that edge is now blocked by the new roof access. I had to make sure we had a tall enough curb to direct roof runoff around the extension. The alternative was to have a waterfall feature cascading down the porch staircase … a charming idea with a lifespan of microseconds.

Redirecting the roof runoff by means of a two by eight, which we set on the roof deck between the two posts, sounded much less adventurous. Good – give boring a chance!


Roof access

Ease of access was another issue. The options my porch builder and I discussed all involved a rather tall door threshold. The thought of stepping six or eight inches up and through the door generated mental scenarios of tripping and falling onto the roof. That’s not a place where you want to trip.

So, we built a little square landing atop the roof framing to get us to an elevation where I could walk out the door with a normal threshold and step down onto the porch roof. That stepping down seemed less of a tip hazard. Subjective? It is.

This all took some tinkering, because the roof framing has a slope while the landing has to be level.

Finishing touches

Our porch builder finished his job by installing the gutters and downspout, and the last heavy duty hardware items. This porch is built so solidly, I could park my truck on it – if only there would be a way to get it up there.


This back porch is a head turner (just ignore the piles of construction materials). Cathy and I are very happy with the end product. Our porch builder, Espinoza Construction was very good to work with, easy to communicate with and Edgar and his crew were always thinking a step or two ahead. We are impressed with the quality of work they delivered. Not only that, but they also put up with me through the entire process, which is possibly their biggest achievement.

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Getting philosophical – and practical

A big essential question has been sticking to my back like burdock seeds to my dog’s coat: What do we want from the back porch?


Any simple answer to this question vanished down the rabbit hole once we started thinking about the potential use of this new space, now and in the future. But let’s start with…

…the past.

The old back porch was enclosed and had a full basement level. Originally, we had planned on another fully enclosed back porch, until it dawned on us that this may be more of a want than a need.

The now…

… is reflected in the permit drawings for the new back porch.

  • An enclosed basement level
  • An open 1st and 2nd floor level
  • A staircase extension to the roof level to access the future vegetable garden and solar panels

The future…

… could be as simple as leaving the porch as described above, turning the 1st and 2nd floor level into a screened-in sleeping porch for the dog days of summer, or enclosing each level with operable windows and converting it into an unconditioned three seasons room.

The devil is in the details

Take the enclosed and conditioned basement level, for instance. How do we heat the space, and more importantly, how do we insulate it? But more about that later.

Because the 1st floor porch level will start as an open porch, I will need some level of waterproofing. Simply put, I need a roof over the enclosed basement level. Not only that, I also need a roof over the 1st floor porch level, because I don’t know if, when and how I may or may not convert the 2nd floor to a sleeping porch or three seasons room.

The practical part

The first floor as well as the second floor level was built with a two percent slope away from the building. Once the plywood was in place, we installed a torch down roofing system. That took care of the “roof” we needed at each level.

To accommodate the deck, we installed sleepers that followed the two percent slope, with a depth of half inch at the house and two and a half inch at the opposite end. That provided us a level deck over the sloped roofing.

Any driving rain will drain through the deck board joints and then intercepted by the roof below and drained out to the face of the porch.

We applied the same principles to the staircase landing between the first and second floor, which will allow us to enclose the basement level as planned.

Back-porch-19 Back-porch-20

Typical open porches are built without the in-between roofing systems. In our case, it seemed a good future proofing practice to take this extra step.

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