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January 31, 2010
Two LVLs are better than one

A second nine-foot length of LVL is cut and ready for installation.

The way our friend Dirk describes it, he is watching a race to win an occupancy permit for our mountain home. On one side is Gail, racing to finish drywalling the interior walls. On the other side is Russell, racing to finish the interior stairs.

At the end of the year, Russell thought he had taken the lead. He had finished all three flights of rough stairs, as well as a new landing on the second floor. He was already looking ahead to the finished treads and risers.

The elation was short lived. Shortly after we posted our last web update, we got an email from Dennis, our building inspector. Russell had made two mistakes in his construction of the main landing beam that would not pass building code.

The first problem was that Russell had constructed the beam using a single nine-foot length of 2 x 14” LVL (laminated veneer lumber). Dennis informed him that the landing edge needed to be constructed with double beams.

Problem No. 1: The edge of the landing is constructed with a single LVL. It needs to be a double beam.

Russell would need to add a second LVL beam. Unfortunately, the current LVL was bounded by the stair flight on one side and a set of floor joists on the other. One of these would have to be disassembled. Not only would it be nearly impossible to disassemble the stair flight, but could not be moved to accommodate a second beam. Russell would have no choice but to take apart the floor joists.

The second problem was that Russell had supported the original LVL by notching it over the structural glu-lams beams to create ledgers at both ends. Dennis informed him that ledgers cannot be cut into more than 25 percent of the wood. Russell had taken a 14-inch piece of wood and cut away nine inches of it. In other words, he had basically converted a 2 x 14 into a 2 x 5.

Problem No. 2: The LVL uses notched ledgers, but the notches are not allowed to cut into more than 25 percent of the beam.

Dennis offered two solutions.

One, Russell could support the soon-to-be double LVL beams with joist hangers. The disadvantage: Russell would need to find and purchase custom joist hangers for double 14” x 1.75” beams set at a 22.5º angle. (Simpson makes just about anything, but the question is: how much would they cost?) In addition, the joist hangers would be visible in the finished house.

Two, Russell could create new ledgers that did not cut more than 25 percent into the LVLs. The new ledgers would be 2x4s with a minimum length of 12 inches. They would be secured to the glu-lam beams with 3.5-inch SD (strong-drive) screws.

The disadvantage: the double LVLs would need to be notched to accommodate the new ledgers. In addition, the new ledgers would be visible in the finished house.

After some consultation (with Dennis, Gail and Dirk), Russell opted for the new ledgers. He decided it would be easier than trying to find custom joist hangers. Even so, Russell and Gail had huge difficulty finding 3.5” SD screws. We ultimately ended up getting 4” screws.

Russell went back up to the mountain on Friday, January 29. He was actually preceded by Gail, who drove up during mid-week with Dirk to install more drywall. When Gail drove down, Russell drove up; we met for dinner in Lockeford. Dirk remained on site to help Russell with the stair landing.

Dirk’s help ended up being greatly needed. Removing the old joist hangers and cutting the joists was difficult enough. Cutting notches in the old LVL was even more difficult. Getting the second LVL in place was most difficult of all. We had re-cut the beam five times to get it to fit. Every time we adjusted, the beam had to be removed then brought downstairs to be re-cut. Every time it was dropped into place, we had to knock the disconnected joists out of the way to wiggle the beam in. Needless to say, this took the efforts of both men.

The LVL with the new, second ledger notch cut.

In addition, Russell had to install the new ledgers. Even after pre-drilling the screw holes, he succeeded in cracking both pieces of wood. The second try went better, and we ended up with some good looking ledgers that won’t look unappealing in the finished house.

At Dennis’ suggestion, we cut the ledger to be flush with the LVL. This makes the whole thing look asthetically more pleasing. (There is a third set of SD screws in between the two LVLs.) We left the original ledgers in place for added support.

When he wasn't helping Russell, Dirk continued his electrical wiring work. He installed a dedicated outlet for the water heater in the pantry, as well as a dedicated outlet for the heat tape on the pipes outside the house. He also started wiring the house for future internet access.

The repair of the landing took all weekend, up to the time that we departed on Sunday afternoon. As Russell remarked, on the positive side, the stairs now look exactly the same as before we came up. On the negative side, the stairs now look exactly the same as before we came up.

The finished landing, with two LVLs and shortened joists.


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