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January 15, 2007
Closer to closure

The challenge: how to get four large and heavy sliding glass doors up the stairs

We have talked about how strange the weather has been for the last two years. In January 2006, our mountain property experienced the wettest winter in more than 50 years, including a snowstorm that left the building site under several feet of snow. In November 2006, on the other hand, we were still having unseasonably warm weather, almost like a second spring season.

2007 brought the coldest January in almost 80 years. More than half of California’s citrus crop was destroyed in temperatures that dropped down as low as 19ºF, more than 10 degrees below normal.

In the middle of this cold spell, we decided to make a weekend trip up to the mountain to continue construction. Everyone had Monday (Presidents’ Day) off, and we wanted to take advantage of the long weekend.

Our first decision was to include just the four of us – Gail, Russell, Cameron, and Joss. Our second decision was to pack several cold-weather contingencies. Gail bought a propane-heater capable of 12,000-15,000 BTUs per hour. In case that failed, she brought an electric heater. In case that failed, she brought extra blankets and jackets. Our final contingency was that if the weather got too cold, we would simply pack up and go back home.

We drove up on Saturday morning, January 13, and arrived to discover that the plastic sheeting that covered the open doorways both upstairs and downstairs were torn off and shredded. These would need to be repaired before we could even think of spending the night.

In addition, we discovered that the freezing temperatures had caused the water pipes to burst at both the holding tank outside the house and the pump halfway down the hill. We discovered this in the middle of the afternoon when the pipes thawed out enough to start spurting water all over the place. Russell and Cameron rushed around shutting everything off. We would have no running water for the weekend.

The first thing we did was repair the upstairs plastic sheeting. The second thing we did was take the propane heater upstairs, turn it on “full” and leave it on. The third thing we did was get to work.

Joss tries to stay warm in front of a propane heater

Our last trip up had been very frustrating. We had been unable to install the front door, back door, or any of the four upstairs sliding glass windows. Back at home, Gail had picked up several planks of 1x6” lumber for framing the doorways, and she and Russell had spent an evening discussing how we would proceed. As a result, we were able to hit the ground running, and we proceeded like clockwork through the afternoon.

The first task was the front door. We ended up finding and restoring the original 2x6” footer that we had removed two months ago, and framed the rest with 1x6”s. The door fit easily and comfortably; and we had it installed in no time.

The front door... installed!
(Note funny hats)
(Note also, shims on both sides of the front door to make it square)

The second task was the back door. Again, we calculated that the original footer should continue to be used. Unfortunately, the original footer had been rasped enough that it was no longer usable, so we removed it and substituted another 2x6”. Again, we framed the rest with 1x6”s and had no trouble installing the door. We were finished by evening, just about when it was getting too dark and cold to continue work.

The back door... installed!
(Note sunset reflection in the window)

We actually had a very pleasant evening and night on Saturday. Gail and Joss went around stuffing insulation into every crack they could find. With the propane heater running, we got the upstairs interior up to a constant 54ºF, very comfortable with a jacket. We spent the evening watching the first three episodes of the new television series “Heroes” and getting completely hooked. At night, we turned off the propane heater (for safety) but left the electric heater on.

We decided that Sunday would be a lazy morning; that we would stay under blankets and covers until the upstairs got warm enough to actually move.

But we were clearly on a roll, so once we got going, we set ourselves upon the most difficult task: the upstairs sliding glass windows. We knew this would be the hardest task because we would first have to figure out how to even get these huge and heavy things upstairs. Based on an idea that Russell’s brother-in-law Matt had suggested, we discovered that we could lift both the sliding screen and glass doors off of their tracks and remove them. Russell and Cameron were able to carry them up the stairs.

After removing the sliding glass door from its frame, Russell and Cameron carry it upstairs

This left the large frame with the fixed glass pane. Although now lighter, it was still big, heavy, and unwieldy. It would barely fit through the stairwell hole between the first and second floors.

Plan A was to nail a large horizontal beam across the upstairs rafters, throw ropes over it, and try to haul the sliding glass door frame straight up through the hole in the stairwell. This plan did not work because the ropes pulling against the beam created way too much friction. We could not get the door frame more than a foot off of the ground.

Plan A: trying to lift the sliding glass door straight up

Plan B was to use our two block-and-tackle pulleys. We never actually tried Plan B, because we went directly to Plan C.

Plan C was to remove the railing from the stairs, lay the sliding glass door frame directly on the stairs, pad it, tie ropes around it, then simply drag it up the stairs. Cameron and Joss stood upstairs and each took a rope. Russell stayed downstairs and pushed from the bottom. Gail supervised from the top, making sure that ropes were pulled evenly, that the door frame cleared the hole and all obstacles, and that no glass was broken.

Plan C: using the stairwell as a ramp
(Note towels and blankets for padding. We have used Steve's quilt for so many tasks that we've even given it a name: "Pocahantas")

Plan C worked surprisingly well. By lunchtime, we had the entire door upstairs waiting to be installed.

We still had to resolve the issue of how to install the actual sliding glass door frame. Simple measurements told us that installation would be impossible unless we removed the 2x6” footer at the bottom of the doorway. However, Topsider had installed quarter-round exterior trim in such a way that we could not remove the footer without wrecking the trim. In addition, we would either have to preserve the flanges on the door frames (which would cover the trim) or remove the flanges.

Topsider installed the quarter-round exterior trim (stained dark brown) so that it butts up against the footer. You can't remove the footer without ruining -- and wrecking -- the trim

Gail made the decisions to remove the footer, remove the quarter-round trim, and keep the flanges. Ultimately, she would cover the flanges with additional trim wood when we finished the exterior of the house.

The doorway with the quarter-round trim removed

With the plan now set, it was simply a matter of carrying it out. The afternoon weather was sufficiently warm enough for us to remove the plastic sheeting from the doorway and proceed. We had our first sliding glass door installed by sunset, again quitting just about the time that it got too cold and dark to continue work.

Cameron uses a Sawz-all to remove the 2x6" footer
Joss removes one of the lag bolts that held the footer -- and the wall -- in place

We treated ourselves to another delicious Gail-cooked meal and three more episodes of “Heroes.” We were so comfortable with the insulation and retained heat that we didn't even leave the electric heater on that night.

Monday morning, we did not treat ourselves to sleeping in. We had hoped to install two sliding glass doors the day before, and had only accomplished one. In addition to packing up and leaving, we were determined to get another door installed today.

With the process now established for hauling a door up the stairs, we got door number two ready with no problem. We installed it so efficiently that we had time to haul door number three upstairs as well. Russell voted for moving the fourth and final door upstairs, but by now the boys were pretty tired and worn out. Cameron and Joss did succeed in installing the front door doorknobs and locks downstairs.

Cameron and Joss install the front door doorknobs
(Note omnipresent headphones)

All in all, it was a very successful and productive weekend. We have successfully closed off the entire downstairs with doors and windows. Upstairs, we have installed two of the four sliding glass doors -- the living room and Joss' bedroom -- and the third is all ready to be installed next time. (We still have four corner windows upstairs that are covered in plastic –- the apertures were manufactured the wrong size by Topsider –- but that will have to wait until spring to be repaired.)

Joss' sliding glass door -- installed!

Even more important, we discovered that we can come up and work even in extremely cold winter weather. With the house more sealed every trip, we will be able to create and retain heat much more easily and efficiently. All in all, we are much closer to closure.

Gail and Russell after a very productive weekend


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