Long Term Home Remodel Project

Phase III - Remodel the Living Room / Raise the Ceiling


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While planning this project, we visited a lot of new construction to get ideas as well as structural pointers. The old cathedral ceilings of the 1970s seemed to be out of favor for the most part. Pan ceilings were in as was a new idea I had not really seen before. That is for the ceiling to follow the roof line for a few feet from the walls then level off at a foot or more above the wall height for a flat ceiling above that. This works particularly well for the current building trend with the high-pitched roofs. And, although not as logical with my low=pitched roof, the idea solved at least two problems for me. It allowed me to raise the ceiling for a more modern look and feel and it allowed me to tie ceiling joists from another centered, similar beam to the rafters creating positive triangulation for the roof, over the 30 foot span, to help hold the walls in. This was another serious shortcoming of the original design and construction.

The original wiring was also very questionable although one of the contractors even Old joists had his electrician crawl around the attic to evaluate it and professed it to be sound and not in need of any updating. I later found one box hidden over the living room ceiling with 11 cables in it and uncovered where code would allow 4 and none of the wiring was grounded, I decided to rewire everything. This is just a sample of what I actually found. One of those wires hanging down was hot and bare. The photo also shows the ceiling joists running perpendicular to the rafters so as to no supply any additional support for the roof. The easiest way to rewire it all and insulate walls was to remove all the sheetrock to get access to everything. Since I still hoped to eventually add a backyard shop, this was the ideal time to upgrade the electrical service from 100 to 200 amps. Years ago, we upgraded from the original 60 amps to 100 when I added a home office in 1978. In order to facilitate future expansions, the electrician added a 125 amp subpanel in the garage with a jumper from the main, which is outside. The code, at least at that time, allowed me to extend any existing circuit so I paid the electrician to make the initial circuits then I did all the additional outlets, lights, switches, etc. Although IU am not an electrician, I can read and understand the codes. My electrician examined some of my finished work and proclaimed it at least as good as his guys would have done. Everything in the living, kitchen, den side of the house is completely modern now. Everything is properly grounded, the lighting is on redundant circuits, the kitchen has dual GFCI circuits and the outside circuits are also GFCI protected. Before, activating any three appliances in the kitchen would trip an outside breaker. Now that never happens. The bedroom wing is still to be done as of December 2011.

Wall insulation Besides the thin insulation in the ceiling, most '50s houses had none in the walls. Ours was no exception. While the sheetrock was out, we brought all the walls up to R-13 then added R-30 in the flat parts of the ceilings. The sloped ceilings following the roofline only had space for R-19. This rather dim photo shows a newly insulated wall. It also shows the original top plate at 8 feet and the 18 inch extension we added above Sheetrock installer it to raise the ceiling. That same construction boom mentioned earlier made it almost impossible to find a sheetrock installer willing to take on my small job. Fortunately, my electrician had a "buddy" who agreed to do it but only if Saturday morning was all right. That being acceptable, he estimated the materials, I ordered and he appeared Saturday to start. Here he is hard at work on a wall panel. I guessed it would take me at least three weekends (I was still employed at the time) and renting an expensive sheetrock jack to get the job done. He did it in less than a day although he did have a helper for the ceiling.

When it came to tape and mud, that was a different story. Our installer called a few finishers he knew and finally found one who would do it except Judy insisted on smooth walls, what they call "wallpaper ready," instead of textured. That seemed to be a deal killer for everyone. Finally, we had to tackle it ourselves. There is nothing really hard about the job but it is time consuming for us amateurs. Working overhead on the ceiling gets pretty painful pretty soon too.

Gable framing Insulation I digress a bit now to discuss the most unique feature of the room, The new window and its surroundings. The window is 8 feet tall which would open into the attic. A better solution was to open up the ceiling under the new gable. There is, of course, a large header beam over the old window. Being structural, I decided the effort and expense to remove it was prohibitive. Also, being impractical to remove the three old rafters under the new gable, we elected to box them for balance and to look like beams. These photos show the work-in-progress of the solution. First is the actual structure. This Studying the gable was difficult to construct such that it could be covered with sheetrock. Next it is insulated. On the left is the new window and the old header is on the right. Then the Beams sheetrockers are studying it, trying to figure out how to cover it. Finally, here it is finished and covered in baltic birch veneer with a cherry stain to match all the woodwork in the room.

Termites Next was to finish the floor at the extension for the new window. With all the new ceramic tiles available today, there is no natural slate in this part of the country anymore. The slate tiles are really beautiful but just don't match what we have. The answer was to order more from Vermont. The shipping cost more than the materials. I don't have a photo but here is a related one. It's a long story but our slate floor is laid over a wood subfloor. I was assured that would be fine and it was. That is, until a crack developed in the slab to let the termites in. They ate the subfloor from under the slate in places. The bare area shown here is one of those places. Also, the slab is poured separate from the stem wall, allowing further access along the edges. We decided, in a preemptive move to remove this section of slate and about 2 feet wide all along the adjacent wall, across the front wall and back down the west wall. After removing what was left of any exposed subfloor, we replaced it with cement board then relaid the original slate plus the new extension. That is a total of about 190 square feet.

I had long wanted one of those freestanding, spaceage looking cone-shaped fireplaces from the hippie 60s and wished we had bought one back then when they were $200 or less for a really nice one. Well, they apparently are no longer in vogue and not to Fireplace be found anymore. We finally found a manufacturer in California that would still make them but the price was about 10 times that of the 60s. After ordering it, I set about building a raised hearth in a corner of the room, not an ideal location but the best Living room I could come up with. Here it is finished and decorated for Christmas. I'm still satisfied that it was well worth the money even though we seldom use it. After a few Dining room gallons of paint and moving all the furniture back in, the living/dining room was finished. At this point, we were about $10,000 into the project. About half what the contractors wanted and we had the fireplace and extended front with a gable and new window that they did not even bid on. Here it is finished, first looking from front to back then from back to front.


. . . A Few Years Later . . .


It wasn't in the plan when all the above work was done, but later, when planning the completion of the den, it seemed to be a good idea to bump out an alcove for the piano. The process is described here.