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March 25, 2007
Nightmare on the 2nd floor (Part 1)

During our previous trip in February, Gail had spent some time trying to figure out what was wrong with the second-story floor

After our last trip up to the mountain (when our teenaged son Joss began asking to leave right after we got there), we have been apprehensive about coming back up with the two teenagers. This apprehension was compounded by multiple conversations with Cameron in which he said that he would prefer to stay home, but wouldn’t give any reason why. Gail finally had a long talk with both boys in which she worked out a compromise on how often they would need to go up and how often they could have a weekend at home.

Still, we had no idea what to expect when we brought both Cameron and Joss to the mountain for a two-night trip. Other than our step-brother Jim, who would be meeting us to go over electrical ideas, it would be just the four of us.

Gail and Joss drove up on Friday afternoon, March 23. Russell and Cameron didn’t come up until much later Friday evening. This gave Gail the rare opportunity to set everything up before Russell’s arrival. Arriving well after dark at 9:00 pm, Russell and Cameron were thrilled to see the lights on in the darkness and all of the beds already set up. This included some actual twin beds that Gail had brought up to assemble for the boys.

(She actually forgot to bring her entire tool box, and ended up constructing two beds using a picture frame clip as her only assembly tool.)

As part of our effort to keep the trips fun and interesting for two teenagers, we spent Friday evening watching episodes of “Lost” and “Heroes” before turning in.

Our agenda for the weekend was to begin a task that we have been fearing and dreading for several months. Having lived on the second floor for quite awhile, we have been well aware that the floor is uneven. Panels of OSB (oriented standard board) that make up the subfloor are warped. Panels do not line up with each other. The joists underneath are uneven. The entire floor squeaks when you walk on it.

Much of this is due to the fact that Topsider had delivered our house pieces in the rain, that they had sat in more rain before being assembled, and they had been exposed even more rain before the roof was completed, and they had been exposed to still more rain before the walls sealed off the second floor.

We have known that we would need to fix the second floor before we could begin building the second-floor interior walls. For the longest time, we simply didn’t know what to do.

(We had planned to go ahead and build the first-floor interior walls as a way to delay the ugliness of the second story, but we finally decided that we had to face the nightmare and just get it fixed.)

On our last trip up in February, we had spent the last day taking a very close look at the second-story floor to figure out what was wrong and what needed to be fixed. We debated the possibilities of replacing all of the OSB, planing down some of the joists, or shimming up some of the joists. We even toyed with the idea of putting a layer of cement mastic over the entire floor to make it even.

In the end, we decided that we would have to settle for “even” but not necessarily “level.”

We noticed that the worst problems were on the outside ring of floor panels – where the panels were uneven – and the inside ring of panels – where the OSB was warped.

When we examined the inside ring back in February, we discovered the root of the problem. Construction code dictates that joists must be 16” apart. For some unknown reason, Topsider had constructed the inner ring with joists 23” apart. It was this lack of support that had caused the OSB to warp.

Another Topsider mystery: the outer joists (upper left) are the required 16" apart... but the inner joists (lower right) are 23" apart, causing the floor above to warp

Job #1 would be to remove all of the OSB panels from the inner ring and construct additional joists underneath. Gail argued that additional lengthwise joists would suffice. Russell, every analytical, argued that additional cross-beams would be needed to make the structure stronger.

One consolation of our nightmare weekend was the beautifully warm weather -- we saw more than a dozen turkey vultures circling the sky

Russell and Gail were in the middle of the first of eight sections when our step-brother Jim arrived to consult on the electrical. The first thing Jim said was, “You know, you don’t need all of those cross-beams. Lengthwise joists will suffice.” Gail was redeemed and Russell was saved a whole lot of extra work measuring and cutting wood.

Russell created most of the new joists from scrap lumber (in this case, the crate that once held our sliding-glass doors)

Different flavors of floor: Russell's over-engineered cross joists (top), Gail's practical lengthwise joists (center), and Topsider's original erroneous joists (bottom)

Jim ended up spending all of Saturday helping Russell and Gail reconstruct all eight panels of the inner ring. (Jim had also brought a set of tools, which enabled us to actually do work.) Cameron and Joss helped sporadically, mostly enamored of Gail’s new electric plane.

The inner ring, "before" and "during" (that's Jim in the middle)

Joss uses our new electric plane

Simultaneously, Gail, Russell, and Jim walked the house and discussed electrical plans. (Jim is an electrician by trade. He has proposed having us do our own electrical work with him as a consultant.) We worked out various details and configurations, and decided that we would begin installing the electrical lines when the interior wall frames were up.

We finished Job #1 just about at sundown. After a typically-wonderful Gail-cooked meal, Jim departed. The family of four spent the evening watching two more episodes of “Lost.”

Sunday morning, we began Job #2: making different OSB panels level with each other. Gail has been working part-time at a homebuilding company, and she has spent the last several weeks picking the brains of the contractors. They recommended taking a long plank of wood, jamming it under the sagging joist like a carjack, using a sledge hammer to raise the joist, then bolting it to the adjoining joist to make them both level.

Another problem with the second-story floor is that many of the panels are not the same height as each other

Before tackling the entire outside ring, we decided to test this procedure on a couple of other joints where the joists were uneven. Sure enough, the procedure worked perfectly. After debating whether to use bolts, carriage bolts, lag screws or wood screws to fasten the joists together, we decided on wood screws.

Following a suggestion from Gail's contractor coworkers, we used a long 2x6 to "jack up" a joist that had sagged

By Sunday noon we had repaired two of the most uneven joists. Gail was elated that the procedure worked and that the floor was already feeling much more even.

"Even" but not "level": the floor still sags, but at least it now sags uniformly

Overall, the weekend was a great success. Cameron and Joss enjoyed being able to sleep in and having equal time for play and work. Our only casualties for the weekend were Gail smashing her thumb with a hammer and Gail stepping on a nail. Nevertheless, both Gail and Russell were happy to make some noticeable progress on the second-floor nightmare.

Cameron relaxes and reads on his new (real) bed


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