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Wall Framing

Okay, I’ll admit it. What we’re doing with the exterior walls may seem a little odd. Since the house is structural masonry there is no easy way to insulate the exterior walls, let alone add electrical outlets or light switches. We’ve opted to fur out the walls on the interior to provide space for insulation and utilities.

Framing these walls, however, posed an interesting problem. On the one hand we want to keep the new framing separate from the brick wall to prevent moisture wicking into the wood. We also want to use the smallest dimension lumber possible maximize the space for insulation in the walls and to stay within budget. We’re insulating the walls with spray polyurethane foam insulation (SPF), which is great at filling in small cracks and works well when the substrate is uneven (in this case a combination of plaster and exposed brick). It also provides some added strength to the wall by “gluing” the components together. SPF is a combination of two liquids that when combined rapidly expand, similar to shaving cream. Unlike shaving cream, it’s rather forceful and can actually bend, twist, and bow wood. So how do you install 2x3s approximately 1 inch off from a brick wall that will be insulated with spray foam?

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What’s Green?

It seems like everything these days is striving to be “green.” It’s hard to avoid advertisements and TV commercials publicizing green product features. Some of these claims are genuine and based on third party verification, but many are questionable at best and fraudulent at worst. Is a disposable coffee cup green because it contains 10% post-consumer content? Should we believe an insulation’s claim to be “green” without any proof?

The growth of questionable environmental claims has led to a new dictionary entry, “greenwashing.”

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Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. From: http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/

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Porch-to-Bathroom Conversion

A significant element of the Green on Gift renovation is the conversion of the enclosed porch into a second bathroom. At some point, a previous owner converted the back porch, accessible through the living room, into a storage room. They likely did this to increase the square footage of the house, but the transformation was incomplete–an exterior window remained looking into the second bedroom, and the floor became uneven over time.

Left: The original bedroom window was removed and the opening converted to a doorway. Right: The enclosed porch pre-renovation.

I decided to convert this unusual porch/storage room into an en-suite second bathroom. Early in the demo process, we created small holes to see if the walls were insulated. The wall on the left was, but the back wall was not, so both walls will be insulated with spray polyurethane foam insulation.  Read more

The Joys of Demo

To help reduce costs and get a better understanding of how the home was constructed, I opted to gut the house with myself and a cadre of great friends. We were able to peel back the layers to see how it was updated over the years, revealing a lot of shoddy craftsmanship and lessons in what not to do when renovating a home. Since the previous owner used the house as a low-cost rental, the maintenance and updates over the years were poorly implemented, to say the least.

My favorite example of this is the living room window. One of the great mysteries of the house is odd shape of the windows; they almost seem like afterthoughts, and the sizing isn’t consistent within the home. These non-standard sizes require custom windows, which the previous owner clearly did not want to pay for. Instead they simply installed one that was too small for the opening and blocked off the top with plywood and spray foam (photo below).  In addition to looking cheap, this is not a durable solution since the spray foam will degrade over time from exposure to sunlight and rain.

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Instead of ordering a custom replacement window, the previous owner installed one much too small for the opening and blocked off the top with plywood and spray foam (right window in photo).

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