Rocking

It’s January and a spanking new year is under way! The sun shines brighter by the day. Winter and Spring are in a tug of war. I know who will win! Just to give ol’ man winter his due.  Here’s a song that I hum as I work:

 

All the winter long the trees are bare

Not a green leaf flutters anywhere

Winds from icy regions blow

Down the hillside drifts the snow

Crows and Squirrels ask for scraps of bread

One would think the river frozen dead

Yet the trees are dreaming as they stand

Rosy buds are ready to expand

When the breath of spring is felt

All the ice and snow will melt

Full of life the river will rise and flow

There’ll be food for squirrel and for crow!

 

We are hanging drywall, or “sheetrock” as it is known. “Rocking” is builder’s lingo for the process of covering ceilings and walls. My first, post- college job was to tape drywall in a school. “Rocking” is not for the faint of heart, but I’m getting ahead of the story.

November 2014 was a frantic and…um…a scary month! We used every available warm hour to finish the roof. Because roofing is dangerous we made good use of our scaffolding. We did not allow our subcontractors to climb on the roof, partly because we wanted the work done “just so.” This meant that Daniel and I had to install all vent pipe “boots” on steeply-pitched, intersecting roofs. At this time also, we drywalled parts of the garage, so that an overhead door could be installed. A cold spell hampered our work. And then something happened.

Taking down the scaffolding in the back of the bungalow, a tree branch caused me to loose my footing. As I fell seven feet, I instinctively tossed the iron scaffold frame to one side, and attempted to turn my body so that I’d land on my belly. That is all I remember. The mud imprint on my jacket reveals that I landed on my neck and head. I must have had a concussion. I came to my senses feeling groggy and disorientated. I knew I’d fallen, but could not figure out why and where.  Daniel found me sitting in the garage. Instinctively he knew something was wrong with his Vatti!  A visit to the local trauma center and a $25K bill later, I recovered rather quickly from skull and spine fractures. On the positive side, the accident could not have happened at a better time, because we were facing a slow-down, as we waited for the subcontractors to finish their work. The Christmas break worked in my favor too. A few weeks, restless nights and a bit of pain later, I am ready to “rock!” I know full well what could have been…sigh. So…um…here I am, “rocking” with my favorite co-worker; the one and only Daniel Jan!

Typically, drywall is hung and finished by specialists. These folks often are a bit rough-around-the-edges – a smoking, spittin’ gang of hard laborers. Daniel and I are more refined…well…at least Daniel is! I’m still the Paraguayan Jungle Boy, if you get my drift. We have many years of experience with both drywall and plaster work! In fact, we’ve developed our own very special methods of installing and finishing what we call pseudo-plaster. More information and photos can be found elsewhere on our web site.

Daniel and I were actually quite eager for this phase of the project to get under way! After weeks of fighting the elements and long hours doing now this and then that to enclose the building before, we were only too eager to have a few months of continuous, uninterrupted indoor work ahead of us. In the paragraphs that follow I shall try to provide the reader with a picture-laden ABC account of how we go about drywalling. First, though, I need to say a word about insulation.

 

Choosing the right framing method

On the right is a view of the standard corner-of-building framing plan. Notice the use of three studs on the corner. While this is structurally sound, the corner of a building is not fully insulated. Lumber is wasted! Convection loops may arise and wend their ways through wire holes drilled in the walls.


We chose what is called the super-insulated framing method (illustration upper left). Not only is it “green”, but it allows full-width batts of insulation to reach deep into the corners of the building. This framing scheme reduces lumber mass, a transmitter of heat and cold. This method, however, creates a slight inconvenience, for now only one drywall panel can be nailed to the inside corner. Drywall clips (barely visible in the illustration) are needed. I’ll talk more about this detail later.

 

Insulating is itchy work!

Our insulation of choice comes without the common craft paper backing. This allows us to fit the insulation snugly into nooks and crannies. Where wires run in the walls we “split” the insulation blanket. In hindsight it might not be a bad idea to have install an initial layer of R-15 insulation (3.5” thick) followed by another layer of R-15.


We use spray foam and caulk to seal all cracks. Absent craft faced backing, a vapor barrier is achieved using either 4 mil plastic or by applying two coats of alcohol-based BIN primer to the drywall. Normally we use primer, but this time we chose plastic. Why?  The primer’s fumes play mischief with one’s brain. I’m already loosing gray matter at an alarming rate!  The cost of alcohol-based primer has sky-rocketed; it is a budget killer! Installing plastic, of course, is more labor intense, but what the heck!

 

Insulating rafter bays is tricky

How does one insulate a 12” deep rafter bay while paying attention to potential moisture problems? More importantly, how does one keep moisture from accumulating above the insulation and degrading it? There are three common methods.  One can spray closed-cell insulation into each bay, achieving a very high R-value at considerable cost. Another method utilizes a combination of foam board, batt insulation and caulk to achieve a 2” sealed air space between the roof sheathing and insulation. A continuous vent system is required. A third method, shown here, packs insulation into the full depth of the rafter bay. A 4-mil plastic cover prevents moisture-laden inside air from rising into rafter bays and condensing there.



Why did we choose this method? Our bungalow, by design, has a “habitable attic” where many rafters can not be vented at their heels. Thus it becomes critically important to install an effective vapor barrier, and to make snug cut-outs at fixture boxes. The goal is to keep warm, moist indoor air from rising into rafter bays

 

Drywall is heavy!

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Our sheet rock was delivered to the front of the garage. From there, sheet by heavy sheet, we stacked them flat on the garage floor; sorted by thicknesses and widths. Our sheetrock comes in 1/2″ and 5/8″ thicknesses, and 48” and 54″ widths. We need 54” wide sheets because we have 9’ high ceilings! All sheets are 12’ long and weigh from 80 to more than 120 pounds. If you ever want to lose weight, this work will do the trick! We cover 16” on center framed walls with ½” thick drywall and 24” on center framed walls with 5/8” thick drywall. In most new homes only the ceilings require 5/8” thick drywall. Our bungalow is not “normal”!  We schlepp heavy, long sheets into the house…and up the flight of steps. It’s not as bad as it sounds when someone as strong and as fit as Daniel takes the lead end of each sheet. It helps to have some granola bars on hand…and some b…  never mind!

 

Tools of the trade

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I ought to say a word about our tools of choice. Let me be honest – cutting through 5/8 thick “rock” is hard on my wrists. To that end I bought a battery powered oscillating cutter by DeWalt (right end of photo), with a Japanese-style saw blade (by Bosch). We can cut fast, crisp clean lines! The battery runs several hours before needing a charge.  Our arsenal also includes a battery powered spiral cutter. 18V drivers make quick work of screws. Blocks of 2×4 material with washers and 3” screws attached, allow us to hang sheets of drywall on walls “hands free.” We stack our tools on a trolley, always keeping it out of the immediate work area. In the back of the photo one can see the drywall lift with its extension arms. It can raise a sheet up to 12’!


Measurements

We make many cut-outs for outlets, light fixtures, plumbing pipes, and ducts. There can be no errors, no missed fixtures! All cuts must be precise; within 1/8”! It’s not a good idea to make the cuts first and then hang the sheet. Instead, we jot down the centerline measurement for each cut-out. To ensure that we miss nothing, each fixture or duct is marked on the subfloor. We write down our measurements in feet, inches, and 16th of an inch. Thus, 4-8-12 means 4 feet, 8 inches, and 12/16th inch. Got that? It’s easier to commit whole numbers to memory, especially when dealing with several measurements at the same time….more especially when one is getting older. Now sheet rock is hung and nailed along the edges of the sheet. A few screws are placed near the middle of a sheet. We don’t place screws near fixture cut-outs as they’d “pop.” Next, we mark the center points of all fixtures on the hung drywall sheet. We make the initial plunge cut with a fluted spiral cutter and cut out the inside of, say, an outlet box (be sure the wires are pushed back before doing this). We follow up with the oscillating cutter, cutting just outside the fixture box. The result is a flawless, snug fit.


Light plays tricks! 

I am about to reveal a trade secret…but only if you promise not to tell! Promise?  OK…first, let me explain how natural light plays on a flat surface such as a wall. In the photo you see how outside light bounces off the drywall. Any slight imperfection on the wall will be made visible by this unforgiving source of light. This is why ceilings are usually finished off with a sprayed-on coat of texture. The uneven surface breaks the plane and hides minor flaws. Daniel and I hate the appearance of the conventional “popcorn” ceiling! “Knock-down” texture is better, but it does not complement our bungalow theme. We could use our secret “pseudo-plaster” technique, but it is labor intense! How then shall we achieve perfectly smooth ceilings and walls?


A field-made “beveled” joint

Take another look at the photo of Daniel on bended knee. No, I don’t think Daniel is kneeling in prayer.  Drywall comes with beveled sides and non-beveled ends.  Beveled side joints are finished with tape and “mud.” This process does not raise the plane of the wall. Light from the window will not reveal the long, horizontal joint!  However, end joints – butt joints as they are called – create a potential problem, because the application of tape and mud raises the surface plane at the joint and may reveal a “heave” in the wall. In subdued or indirect light, this is not a problem, but outdoor light is unforgiving.


To solve the problem we place our drywall butt joint near the center of a stud bay; not directly on the 2×4 stud. The sheet is installed and fastened in the conventional manner. Now a piece of 4” wide by 48” long plywood is coated with mud, held in place half way off the joint, and screwed to the drywall sheet. The other sheet is likewise screwed in place. Then I run a wet sponge on the joint, soaking it with water. Now I lay a short board on the joint and screw a 2×6  crosswise into adjoining studs. The pressure so applied causes the joint to be pushed back 1/8” into the stud bay, yielding a “beveled butt joint”. Isn’t that cool!  A day or so later we remove these “clamps” and the joints remains set. We pay attention to where butt joints occur, keeping them away from highly visible areas.

 

Drywall support clips 

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Earlier I mentioned the super-insulated framing method. It calls for a special drywall support clip. Look carefully at the photo and you will see that only one of the two drywall sheets is fastened to a 2×4 stud. The other sheet is held in place by a large support clip.

 

Sequence matters! 

We install ceiling panels first. Then we install wall panels, working from the top down. The lower wall panel is slightly raised off the sub floor, allowing for expansion and contraction. We do large areas first and small ones, such as closets, last. In this way we minimize waste. Installing drywall is inherently wasteful, because the work is affected by factory-bevel joints everywhere. One seeks to minimize the number of joints in a room. Waste is unavoidable – I anticipate a full trailer load! It’s not a good idea to join a bevel edge with a field-cut, non-bevel edge.

 

In our next blog entry we shall talk about taping and finishing drywall. Here again, we have developed “non-conventional” tricks of the trade.

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