This is a full recap of our beam replacement saga, written by Sitka’s leading man…Adam. (edited by Melissa because sometimes he rambles) It spans a 3 week process of forms, footings, inspections, and beam replacement.
When you’re buying a house, having it checked for any major structural issues is a no brainer. We did our homework and concluded that while needing a lot of work to make her pretty, our house was solid where its counts. However, being solid doesn’t mean that all of the structural elements were going to play nice with our plans to make the basement into a suite.
Once we moved in we started getting our ceiling heights in order. The first order of business was addressing the beam that would not pass ceiling height requirements for building code. We would have to replace the beam running down the entire centre of the house that holds up the main floor. This is one of those painful expenditures because its not like this was required to keep the house from falling down. The only reason the beam needed to be replaced was to meet ceiling height requirements for building code. Costly but necessary to make the house function the way we want it to.
The sole purpose of this major change is to make sure particularly tall people won’t have to mind their surroundings while dashing from the kitchen to the bathroom during commercial breaks. Why can’t we just make it mandatory that anyone over 6′ wears helmet when they come over? Do you know how many helmets we could buy for the price of replacing the entire backbone of our house!? (it’s like a thousand helmets). Unfortunately, the building inspector won’t accept our helmet solution so the beam must come out.
Let’s review what this job is actually changing so we’re all on the same page. The existing beam supports the floor joists from underneath. The new design requires all of our floor joists to be cut back and ‘hung’ from a new beam so that the bottom of the beam and joists will be flush.
Sounds totally easy right?! Oh…it doesn’t? Thats because it’s not. While not an impossible task (especially for pros) it ain’t as easy as building a birdhouse at the Home Depot kids workshop. Not only did the existing beam and posts need to be removed, but new footings needed to be poured in the slab to support our girthy new beam. It’s that awesome snowball effect that renovators love. New beam in the ceiling? Ok, well lets obviously get started by jackhammering up the floor shall we….
Before the new beam could actually go in a few things needed to happen, some of it by us and some by the contractors. Our job was to get all of the services (electrical, mechanical, and plumbing) that cross from one side of the beam to the other disconnected and moved out of the way. This included the gas line, about a dozen electrical circuits, and the pluming to the kitchen sink / exterior tap. We removed all non-essential electrical circuits and for the rest we spliced in junction boxes so that we could easily disconnect each circuit when it was go time. Don’t worry, all of these junction boxes will eventually be removed when we re-wire the entire house…more posts on that topic to come.
The hot/cold lines for the kitchen sink literally entered the floor directly where the new beam had to go, so me (Adam) and my F.I.L. (father in law) Len cut out the old copper and ran some temporary pex lines up to the sink so they wouldn’t interfere with the beam. We also had to cut the copper running to the exterior tap and replaced with pex in such a way that it also wouldn’t interfere with the new beam. We used a ‘sharkbite’ connector from Home Depot to go from copper to pex and it seemed to work quite well. With all of that done, the last thing to do was have the gas line disconnected, but we wanted to wait until the last minute to do this as it would mean no more hot water from that moment on. In case you haven’t been following our blog, we already have no heating so disconnecting the hot water tank was a ‘wait until the last moment’ task. Living without heat is doable, no hot water and no heat…less hobble. Did I mention its December in BC.
The contractors needed to install three footings in the floor where posts supporting the beam would eventually stand; one at each end of the basement and a third right in the middle. This involved cutting the concrete slab with a gas powered saw and breaking up the rest with a jackhammer. The guys arrived early and got to work cutting. Melissa was babysitting her nephews that morning so I was home to be around until she returned. (See Melissa’s post about the fun of renovations, footings, and full time Auntie life)
Just to quickly rewind for a minute, we had since ripped out all the old furnace ducts and cold-air returns in the house which left us with quite a few ‘vents’ (read: massive holes) between the basement and main floor. I had covered a few of the largest ones with paneling to keep small children, dropped phones and pets from falling into the reno-dungeon below, but all of the floor vents were still open to the basement.
Fast-forward back to the gas-saw firing up, which by the way is the love child of a chainsaw and circular saw. Within a few minutes our house is filled with a blue haze of hydrocarbons. It smelled, looked, and sounded like a snowmobile derby was taking place on the main floor. I immediately get out the duct tape and frantically seal up all the remaining vents between the two floors, cursing myself for not having done this sooner. By the end of the day we have three giant square holes in the basement floor, all containing a grid work of rebar and ready to be filled with concrete once they have passed inspection in the morning.
Coles notes for the next day: City inspector fails to come in the morning (see Melissa’s venting post about city inspectors) and by the time he as come and gone its too late to pour. The concrete needs a week to cure so while the following week was supposed to be ‘beam day’ its back to concrete day pushing the beam another week. This also meant we had to reschedule the gas line getting disconnected and rescheduling some vacation days as I wanted to be around when the beam goes in.
The day before the beam went in we had the gas shut off and disconnected. That night I disconnected all of the electrical circuits and cut out the gas line pipe that was in the way. I used my Milwaukee 18v Hackzall which continues to make various metallic and wooden objects it’s b***h.
With everything disconnected and ready there was nothing else to do but wait until morning. I went to bed that night feeling a slight twinge of that magical excited feeling I used to get on Christmas eve. Except the gift coming in the morning was a lot more expensive than anything Santa had ever brought for me, and I was paying for it myself….so not quite the same as that Castle Lego set of Christmas ’84.
The contractors arrived bright and early. Except it wasn’t bright, it’s still dark because its December (in case you forgot). It was hard to believe that by the end of the day our house would have a new backbone holding it up.
They got to work right away. Temporary walls were put up to hold up the floor while the original beam was removed.
While they were working on this we concluded that the drain to the kitchen sink was also too close to where the new beam would land so Melissa and I got to work on cutting out and replacing the 67 year old bacteria water-park that was our old drain pipe. It was horrid for the record. There was a capped off ‘T’ already in the original cast iron vent pipe next to the drain so we decided to completely remove the hold drain pipe and run a new ABS line into the T fitting. We cut out the old cast pipe lickety-split (Hackzall I love you). Then came time to try and remove the cap from the T. It wouldn’t budge with my pipe wrench on it so I took the section of cast drain pipe we had just cut out and reluctantly slid it over the handle of my pipe wrench for more leverage. Good news is I cracked the cap loose! Bad news is my pipe wrench handle had to enter Satan’s urethra. I quickly wiped off the handle trying to not let the contractors see what I was doing (which was looking like a total princess). I was feeling pretty good until I spun off the cap and found what basically looked like a giant turd poking its head out to say hi. With our gag-refelx’s activated Melissa and I snaked out the vent, clearing out years of sludge, telling ourselves it was just decayed food and maybe some leaves (so basically feces). With the vent clear and drain removed we got out of the way so the guys could keep working on getting the beam in.
With all the temporary support walls up they could then cut all of the floor joists which would create a gap for the new beam to fit into. Once this was done they cut out the old beam with a chainsaw. It was actually a pretty awesome piece of wood; a solid 6×8 cedar beam about 33 feet long. They had to cut it into a few pieces to get it out but we kept them to repurpose later on in the build. Now that the old beam was out, the floor of our house was kind of dangling in the air supported by the temp walls.
The guys then got to work on assembling the new beam which was made up of 5 individual layers of 2×12 LVL (laminated veneer lumber, like extra thick plywood). They would put up one ‘layer’ spanning the length of the house and then continue with another until all 5 layers were in place.
Between each layer is construction adhesive and every layer is nailed to the previous layer. Its like making a giant man-cake on edge. Once the beam was finished joist hangers were installed on all the existing floor joists so they were now hanging from the new beam.
The final step was to build and install the three posts that hold everything up. Once that was done we were able to remove the temporary walls and rejoice that our house was now supported by a new beam. We helped the guys clean up and they were out by 5:30ish. Pretty impressive for one day’s work!
Our day wasn’t over though as we still had a kitchen sink without a drain. So Melissa and I got to work plumbing in new ABS from the sink upstairs to the vent down stairs. Things went pretty smoothly and everything was hooked up within an hour or so. Before testing the drain we decided to get cleaned up and treated ourselves to dinner out. It was actually my birthday that day so it felt justified. When we got home we drained a sink full of water and with no leaks and a hi-5 we retired to the couch for some House of Bryan on HGTV before calling it a day.