Step 10 – Frame the Second Floor

You can see how I’ve been trying to keep the OSB flooring dry with a tarp but with the walls going up it is difficult.  Luckily, I spent some extra money on Weyerhauser EdgeGold OSB subfloor and according to their reps they are perfectly fine to get wet for a few weeks as long as they are given time to dry out.

Framing the second floor is not a whole lot different from framing the first.  Whereas on the first floor, the sill plate was pressure treated lumber, this isn’t necessary on the second.  Also, the bottom plate was bolted to the concrete foundation on the first floor, but on the second we simply nail it to the rim joists as you can see below.

Before raising the exterior walls, I toe-nailed the inside edge of the bottom plate to the floor boards.  These nails help enure the wall stays in position and doesn’t fall off the house before it gets nailed into place.

After going up and down the ladder many times cutting pieces for the walls I decided it was time to build something permanent.  The finished house will have a large spiral staircase but it would get messed up pretty quickly during building (as well as annoying) so instead I just threw together a makeshift ladder from some scrap wood.

Whereas the first floor walls were pretty simple, things got slightly more complicated on the second floor with the master bathroom as it has walled off areas for the shower, toilet, and two walk-in closets.  Several of these walls are angled, and one of the master bedroom walls is actually curved! 

Creating an angled wall is pretty simple.  You can see I have two walls meeting at a 45 degree angle on both the left and right side of the picture.  All you do is miter both top plates and bottom plates at 22.5 degrees so that when they fit together they create a 45 degree angle.  You can see how the studs meet on the inside wall and the small gap on the outer wall will be covered with a metal corner bead under the drywall.

At the center of the pic above I actually have three walls coming together in the shape of a ‘Y’.  For these I mitered the two arm walls with 45 degrees and joined them to a straight wall.  When it came time to add the top plate I had to do cut a special piece to fit with a jigsaw.

To build the circular wall, I had some 3/4 inch plywood ready.  I created a makeshift compass to get the right radius for the wall and transfer it to the plywood.  Then I drew out a second radius exactly 3.5 inches smaller than the first for the inside of the wall plate.  Sandwiching two of these pieces together, I ended up with an equivalent to a ‘curved’ 2×4.

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The one thing about a curved wall is that it uses a lot of studs!  The far side of the wall will curve right around the spiral staircase when it is installed. (I haven’t cut the opening completely yet for safety)

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Step 8a – Utilize Advanced Framing Techniques

To an experienced framer, the work I have completed over the last couple of days would seem wrong.  It is quite possible they would never have seen a house framed the way that I am framing mine.  A few might even claim that I am violating building codes in not following “standard practice”.  The fact is, I am utilizing a method of framing created in the 1970s in a collaboration between the U.S. Deparment of Housing and Urban Development and the National Association of Home Builders Research Foundation.  Their goal was to reduce the amount of wood used in construction, not only to save the lumber, but more importantly, to create more space for insulation and save on energy usage.  All of these small changes work to ensure the house will be net-zero!

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As you can see above, in traditional framing you have a single sill plate at the bottom of the wall connected to a series of studs spaced 14 1/2″ apart from each other (16″ on center) which are then connected to two top plates sandwiched together.  Additional shorter studs called “jack studs” are used to support headers above window and door openings.  Even more studs are used to anchor interior walls to the exterior.  All of the wood used are 2x4s, leaving 3 1/2″ of space between the studs for insulation.

In advanced framing, on the other hand, only a single top plate is used, studs are spaced 22 1/2″ apart (24″ O.C.), and metal “header hangers” are used instead of the jack studs.  On “gable end” walls, no headers are needed at all! (see below) “Ladder framing” is used to anchor interior walls and 2×6 lumber is used, leaving 5 1/2″ of space for insulation (obviously that’s the part of the wall that looks like a ladder in the pic)

The advanced framing system is cheaper because it uses 5% to 10% less lumber, and it is faster because it uses 30% fewer boards (although they are a bit bigger and heavier). More importantly, every single year more money is saved on energy costs because over 60% more insulation can be filled in.

This is a gable end wall, meaning it will extend all the way to the peak of the roof without slanting. Because of this, you can see I don’t have to use headers above the windows. (And yes, that is just a very light dusting of snow)

Okay, so what’s the catch?  If advanced framing was added to the building code over 40 years ago, is cheaper and faster, and reduces the energy bill every single month, then why isn’t it standard operating procedure for builders?  How could I possibly be telling you that most builders don’t even know about it?  While I could devote several pages answering that very question, I’ll do my best to sum it up quickly.  Building a house is difficult.  There are very few people who have the knowledge to do it all themselves and I may very well fall flat on my face in trying.  For me, that challenge is exciting, even if it is frustrating at times.  Because of this fact, the vast majority of houses are built by a massive team of “contractors” that under normal circumstances communicate very little with each other, if at all.  These tradesman are managed by a “general contractor” who uses building plans that were probably drawn up by an architect and edited by an engineer.  Although I was able to sum up the advanced framing techniques in a couple sentences, the small changes affect every single one of these workers.

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The architect and the engineer must design the house from the very beginning so the floor joists and studs stack up within an inch of each stud (see pic above)  This puts a sort of limiting factor on the architect in regards to wall lengths and window placements that many are resistant to.  Next, the general contractor must be open to training the contractors under him because many of them will be unaccustomed to the framing.  The framing crew will be working with a different length of wood due to the single top plate, and have to frame completely differently than they are used to.  The electrician has fewer studs to attach electrical boxes to.  The drywall crew has fewer studs to nail the drywall to and may have to hang it differently.  The small changes ripple right on down the line and affect every single person that works on the house.  As contractors are paid by the job and not by the hour, they aren’t too keen on taking time to learn this new technique.  The fewer that learn it, the fewer that are available to teach it, and the cycle continues…

As I’m building solo, I have none of these issues.  I designed the house myself from the very beginning with advanced framing in mind.  Thanks to my mentor, who introduced me to advanced framing, I’ve never built any other way.  I saved money on lumber and nails.  I saved time with fewer studs to nail together.  I saved trees because of using less lumber (I’ll be using dense packed cellulose in the spaces where the studs would have been which is made of mostly recycled newspaper and denim).  I will save money on my energy bill each month (or be able to use a smaller solar array).  I even save time building because with the larger spacing between studs I can jump in an out of the house anywhere instead of using a doorway.  If you really want to save sustainably, advanced framing is the way to go.

 

Step 8 – Frame the First Floor

After spending the weekend spraying the new slab down every hour or so, it was finally time to get the walls up!  This process of “wet curing” concrete can add up to 50 percent more strength when done for 3-7 days because it prevents the water inside the concrete from evaporating.  While many contractors immediately begin framing the house the day after the concrete is poured with no problems, I played it safe and waited until the 3rd day to get going.

The first step was to “snap lines” (see pic above) where the walls would go.  This will help me to ensure the bottoms of the walls stay straight and square to each other.  I took several measurements of the footings, including the diagonal measurements from corner to corner, to decide where to start.  The footings came out really good, but not perfect (this is my first solo build, after all!)  There will be a few small areas of concrete that stick out a bit or don’t come out far enough.  This is no problem at all structurally and visually it will be covered up by the siding, but in taking these measurements I was able to position the walls to minimize it as much as possible.

Here you can see where the concrete sticks out a half inch

The exterior walls will be framed on 2×6’s, so the first lines I snapped mark where the inside edge of the bottom plates will go, 5.5 inches in from my starting corner (for those not in the know, a 2×6 is actually only 5.5 inches wide on average)  Snapping lines is done using a chalk reel, which is basically a spool of string inside of a metal casing.  The casing has a sliding door so that you can fill it with chalk, that way when you pull out the string it gets covered in it.  I would put the end of the string on my mark on one end of the footing and weight it down with my sledge hammer, then allow the chalked string to unroll as I walked to the other side.  By pulling the string taut against the concrete and then lifting it just an inch, the line snapped back down leaving a neat line of chalk behind.

Once I had marked all the exterior walls, I grabbed the first sill plate from my pile of lumber and cut it down to 20′ (most lumber yards give you an extra 1/2 inch or so).  I lined it up on my line and marked out the anchor bolt locations, and then drilled them out.  (Remember that the bolts were embedded in the concrete footings so just the top part is sticking out)  Then I placed it over the bolts and made sure it lined up just right.  I repeated the procedure all the way around each wall until I had all 4 done.  With the placement of the exterior walls now set, I was able to measure out the locations of the interior walls and snap those lines as well.  It will be much easier to mark them now and serve as a sort of map to where my interior walls will be going.

I had to call a friend over to help me carry the 32′ long LVL top plate from the lumber pile over to the slab, and we set it on edge next to the bottom plate, which I had also turned on edge.  I used some clamps to hold them together perfectly lined up, and then used a tape measure to mark out the stud locations every 2 feet.  I had ordered the studs precut so that saved me a lot of time.  I just had to carry them over from the lumber pile and then inspect them and “crown” them.  Lumber being a product of nature is never perfect.  Sometimes they have significant bends or waves in them and I will save those for later.  The straighter ones I will use now, but even the straighter ones have a bit of a curve or “crown” in them.  I lined the crowns up all going the same direction which will make it easier to straighten them out later in the build.

 

 

 

Once all the studs were laid out on my marks it was just a matter of nailing them together.  Building codes offer several different ways to satisfy nailing requirements, and the one I chose will be 3 16D nails to connect each stud to the top and bottom plates.  I took my time and carefully aligned each stud to ensure that it didn’t stick out on either side of the top plate.  It is situations like these where even with my lack of experience I can guarantee I put together a better wall than 90% of the framing crews since they are focused on speed over quality.

For the window openings, a larger piece of lumber must be used to carry the load from the opening that is missing a stud to the studs on either side of it.  Again, building codes dictate several ways to satisfy these header requirements, and for mine I chose a single 2×10.  I will also be utilizing some metal hangers to carry the weight of the header instead of shorter studs called jack studs, although you can see that I did use jack studs for the entry door in the pic below.

The jack studs are the ones that are shorter than the regular studs on either side of the door opening

Once all the lumber was nailed together, I unrolled some “sill gasket” and placed it over the footing where the wall will be hoisted.  I also nailed some long 2×4’s to the top of the wall.  As we raise the wall, these boards will swing out and brace it.  The wall was very heavy but with a few friends we were able to get it airborne with ease.  Once it was vertical, I staked down the bracing boards and then screwed the nuts down over large square washers on the anchor bolts.

If you look closely you can see the white sill gasket underneath the bottom plate

Within a couple days I was able to finish the remaining 3 walls and raise them into place as well.  It’s so much fun to see my vision becoming reality!

The long 2x4s in front forming an ‘x’ are the bracing pieces I was talking about