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July 8, 2007
Interior walls: the first walls on the first floor

Gail measures the location of our first interior wall, between the downstairs bathroom and pantry

Normally, July 4th gives us a nice long weekend to go up to the mountain. With the holiday occurring in the middle of the week this year, the weekend after was no different – or longer – than any normal weekend. Nevertheless, Gail and Russell decided to make a trip up (without the boys). We drove up Friday afternoon and evening on July 6, and began work bright and early Saturday morning.

With Russell having mapped out the entire second floor, we were eager to begin installing interior walls. Oddly enough, our priority was to install the first-story interior walls, which Russell had not yet mapped at all.

One of the joys of our mountain house – and the main reason that we chose Topsider – is that almost the entire lower story is one large room, with 270 degrees of glass around the octagonal exterior. The only interior walls – aside from a closet below the stairs – enclose a small pantry and bathroom behind the kitchen. These are the walls that we would install this weekend.

The lower story only contains three walls, seen here in the upper right-hand corner

We had a number of chores to accomplish first. Our stacks of 2x4 and 2x6 lumber were covered with various things, and we had to clean them off (as well as clean up all of the mouse nests and mouse droppings that had accumulated over the years). In addition, Russell had to dismantle the OSB walls of the “private bathroom” that he had erected for Gail.

the 2x6 and 2x4 wood piles, before and after cleaning

The “private bathroom,” soon to be replaced by real walls

According to the various instructions that we had downloaded from the Internet on “how to build a wall,” we would need a footer, two headers, and upright joists every 16” apart. Everything except for the second header would be pre-constructed on the ground, then swung up into place. The reason for the second header is to give us more working room for the “swing up;” it is fitted into the remaining gap after the wall is vertically in place.

(During the previous week, we had investigated various types of nail guns, both electric and air-compressed. We even purchased a small air compressor and a hand-held “palm nailer.” After trying them out at home without success, we ended up returning them in frustration. Gail later consulted with her contractor co-workers, who told her that for the small number of walls we were installing, we were better off with drills and hammers.)

Our first wall would be a “plumbing wall,” using 2x6s instead of 2x4s so that pipes could run through the walls. Consequently, we had to cut grooves into the footer to accommodate the pipe stubs that had been installed when the foundation was first laid.

(We were pleased that the pipe stubs mapped out to exactly where they were supposed to be. After the number of Topsider blueprint errors that we were continually encountering, we had feared the worst. Rick Dietrich [the foundation guy] and Cliff Overmeier [the plumbing guy] had both done really outstanding jobs.)

We had to cut grooves in the footer to accommodate the plumbing stubs (another thankless job with the Sawz-All for Gail)
Russell uses a blank wall as a brace for nailing joists

With the footer now cut and grooved, we assembled our first wall. Russell used one of the only windowless walls as a brace against which to pound all of the nails for the joists. It worked beautifully. By mid-afternoon, we had our first wall in place – the plumbing wall between the bathroom and pantry.

Our first interior wall – successfully installed!

The next wall – the kitchen wall that would cross the plumbing wall like a “T” – ended up being much more problematic. According to the blueprints, this wall was supposed to extend so that the pantry and bathroom doors could both join at 90-degree angles. As she visualized this, Gail decided that she didn’t like it. Because of the octagonal angles of the exterior walls, there would be a very tight space in which to access these doors. She wanted to improvise more gentle angles, even though this would mean reducing the size of the kitchen.

As it turned out, we had to do this anyway. Again, we didn’t realize it until we were able to visualize it, but the walls as specified in the blueprints would actually run right into the glue-lam support beams in the ceiling. By using Gail’s angled approach and reducing the size of the kitchen wall, we would just clear those upper beams.

An unforeseen difficulty: the kitchen wall – as specified in the blueprints – would run right into the glue-lam ceiling beams overhead on both ends

We ended up spending hours working out the measurements and logistics that would be necessary to reconfigure the kitchen wall. We decided to construct it as another 2x6 plumbing wall, even though the blueprints didn't call for that. In fact, we ended up splitting this wall into two pieces as the only way to install it around the glue-lam beams above.

The solution was to shorten the kitchen wall at both ends, so that it just cleared the glue-lam ceiling beams. This would also mean angling the two future door walls – which Gail preferred anyway.

Gail didn’t think that we’d get the entire wall installed by end-of-day, but Russell was determined. We divided responsibilities – Russell sawed and Gail nailed – and worked well as a team. As the closing light of sunset streamed through the windows, we finished the kitchen wall. Russell’s last step was to re-install OSB boards so that Gail would once again have a “private bathroom.”

The kitchen wall re-installed – just clearing the glue-lam beams above – and the “private bathroom” restored (note the rapidly-fading sunlight)

On the “wildlife” front, we found a whopping four wasps nests of various sizes being built around the undersides of our second-story decks. We were glad that we had come up if for no other reason than to get rid of those.

We had predicted that our first interior wall would be a major milestone, and it certainly was. It was a terrific learning experience and an exciting accomplishment. Our next trip will involve bringing up the boys – we want them to have the experience of installing their own bedroom walls.

Our wood pile is already starting to go down!


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