Friday, January 15, 2016

Before & After: The Earthquake Retrofit

Note: B and I decided to spit up the duties in hopes of keeping disagreements to minimum. This division of labour worked fairly well. B was responsible for the outside of the house (goals like foundation and porch) and I was responsible for the inside (plaster walls, sanding, painting). So all the work you're about to see was B (and Cruz), with just a few occasional assists by me.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the previous owners had begun the work of earthquake retrofitting. Although the actual foundation of the house was in pretty good shape (especially for being 110 years old) the lower wall of the house had termites and water damage due to the fact that the original crib wall touched the soil.

Therefore, we needed to take off the siding, pour a concrete footer, build a support wall in the basement, knock out the existing crib wall, and replace it with a new pony wall and crib wall. This whole process had already been completed on 1/3 of the house, but 2/3s hadn't even been touched.

This was B's first challenge.

He began by digging the trench that would become the concrete footer.

It took B a couple days to dig the trench to the right depth. There were three rosebushes along the side of the house and he carefully transplanted them to the backyard, in hopes we wouldn't lose them. He also went through three shovels, though luckily, the hardware shop was only five blocks away, so this wasn't too much of an inconvenience. Halfway through the second day, he had a finished trench and he was off to purchase bags and bags of concrete.

My dad happened to stop by just as B was unloading the bags. He began to laugh as B explained his plan of mixing the concrete in a bucket and then running to pour it into the trench.

Instead, my dad advised, get a friend and use pre-mixed cement. This was a sage piece of advice. The next day, my dad, B's good friend, Cruz, and B slaved away in the hot sun pouring concrete. By the end of the day they were successful, but B assured me it would've never happened without them.

The next step was to expose the original crib wall and begin ripping it out. Cruz offered to come help during this process, as it would be necessary to again use concrete when laying the blocks and B had already learned how important 4 (or 6) hands was in this process. He gladly accepted.

Cruz and B worked hard to get all the blocks laid across two days. It was especially time consuming because every block had to be laid perfectly parallel to the ground and at the exact same height across. It looked like an exhausting job, but in the end, it was perfection.

The next step was to put in the crib wall. Construction had been flying along nicely and B and I decided to celebrate with a night out. We came home pretty late and fell asleep on our air mattress in the living room. Just a few hours later there was LOUD knock on the front door. We both leapt up, unsure about what was happening. B rushed to the door and spent a few minutes talking to a man who was practically yelling, by the time B returned to the room, I had heard the whole thing. We had been red-tagged.

B and I had not done our homework and not pulled the proper permits for all the work we had been doing. The building inspector had noticed and we were now officially warned. We could do NO work on the house until all permits were granted - this could take weeks. We were properly bummed.

We spent the rest of the day applying for permits and hoping the inspector would come and sign off on the work. No dice. Days stretched into a week and we began to get really worried. Our plan had not included a week-off due to permits and the end of summer was quickly approaching. We absolutely needed to have the house closed up with a solid, supporting crib wall, before we flew back to Kuwait.

B filled his time as best he could. He helped me with chipping plaster, power-washed the siding, and built a gorgeous dining room table out of the scrap wood he had ripped from the house. He checked in with the inspector (still no word) and went mountain-biking for 3 days, just to escape the waiting. Finally, just when we'd both begun to give up hope, the inspector came. He quickly approved our plans, accepted our payment, and we were back in business.

B's next goal was the porch. He had finished the crib wall, but before replacing the siding, he needed to straighten and secure the porch.

In order to do this, B needed to take all the pressure off it. His solution was a bit unorthodox and involved two bottle jacks, four 2x4s, two 2x8s, and a huge bit of luck. He bolted the 2x4s together to create two 12-foot struts, he then attached the struts to two 2x8s that were nailed to the roof of the porch. Finally, he drilled little circular holes into the bottoms of both the struts so that the two bottle jacks would sit snuggly and then he slowly used the jacks to raise the attic off the porch. He was successful.

Over the next 3 days, Cruz and B continued to build the pony wall and crib wall around the base of the porch. During this time, I had to be very careful working in the house, as they were in constant fear that the struts would snap or the jack would tip over and the whole thing would crash in around (or on) them.

Eventually, all of the support and walls were complete and B moved onto the final steps: sheer wall, tar paper, siding. He moved quickly through these, racing the clock, and, just one day before we flew out, the base of the house was complete and our porch was secure.

It looked (and felt) awesome.

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