Friday, August 7, 2015

Door and Floor

Of course everything took longer than anticipated. Installing the second layer of plasterboard and filling the joints took two of us over half a day, partly because we still had to patch in tiny bits of plasterboard (the door frame has a rabbet and that's just a bit wider than two sheets so we had to cut 2 cm strips). You can just see the wider white line on the left, that's where the narrow strip of plasterboard is.

To cover the narrow strips I put the second layer on sideways, that made the wall more solid but also meant more cuts, more waster and more joints. We also had to add a 10 cm strip at the top to avoid overlapping seams. Luckily we still had a leftover piece of greenboard I could use.

While we worked on the door my dad took the old beaten floor to the tip and when he returned the others left me alone to do even more shopping. The sleepers were spaced much too far apart so we had to add three new ones but we'd only found two in our storage (leftovers from when we renovated our own place back in the early 2000s).

Investigating a sinkhole near the window where the dirt had just disappeared showed that this isn't a dowelled log ceiling but rather a simple joist ceiling and where the floor boards meet the wall there's a gap. I slapped some flat pieces of brick down there and hoped that'd be enough. Ideally you'd remove everything and support new sleepers on blocks of wood or adjustable metal feet but that'd have been so much extra work we really didn't want to do this. In hindsight we'd have screwed a new floor on top of the old one instead of removing anything.
You can see in the pictures above how wonky the sleeper spacing was!

Adding the replacements involved digging trenches, then putting the new timber into the trench. checking whether it's level and if it isn't rocking it sideways to get some dirt out underneath until it's level and flush with the others. The trenching is usually annoying because only the top layer is fine sand or slag, underneath you hit larger pieces of broken bricks, pebbles and who-knows-what. The biggest piece I've ever found was nearly 3/4 of a building brick, that's a chunk about 6" wide, 8" long and 2 1/2" thick!
I got all trenches dug and two sleepers down by the time my family returned with the supplies so we put the final one in, back-filled with what we'd dug out plus some Liapor and paving grit.
Here I already have two sleepers down and the second one from the radiator is already mostly filled in. We ended up binning two buckets (10 litre each) of broken bricks that we didn't manage to bury again!
Then we started installing the floor boards. I'd been a bit wary about the screws as the last ones I bought from a certain DIY store were almost useless. The old-timers nailed down floor boards but these days there are special screws for the task that are supposed to be much better because they won't ever work loose. These special screws have tiny heads and the heads have rasp-like teeth so the screws can be counter-sunk without risking splitting the wood. Their tips are also shaped like drill bits and that's where the last screws I bought really lacked - they just didn't want to go into the wood!

This time I was luckier and we had a good start. Unfortunately it was pretty late so after only four boards we had to stop for the night. We then started moving stuff and only finished carrying furniture up to the third floor around 11.
On Wednesday we had an early start although work on the floor was delayed again because we needed to carry a desk. By noon we had around 2/3 down (all the way past the window) but I'd arranged to go swimming so I couldn't help any more. I definitely needed the break anyway, it was 30C and humid inside, we were quite literally dripping! We left damp spots on the boards every time we touched them!

After a relaxing afternoon at a lake I returned to the heat of the city, popped into Lidl's for some food supplies, grabbed a quick dinner at a newly opened Balkans grill place and was back to work a little past seven. We then finished the floor just in the nick of time at 8:30, just when the neighbour's kids had to go to bed! Now the floor has to be oiled (I think my brother will do that), some broken plaster has to be patched and we need something like skirtings. Real skirtings like you'd find them in the UK or elsewhere are fairly uncommon but in the fanciest houses (and this is humblest working-class bedsit-type) so we'll probably just nail down some triangular trim as they did back when the house was built.

While it isn't perfect it looks a million times better than the old floor and feels much more solid walking on it!

Next up: trying caustic stripper on the resilient paint I've talked about before.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Blocking a Doorway

The second half of the day didn't go too smoothly. We grabbed various additional supplied we had at home (like joint filler and screws) and set to work.

You're supposed to cut the steel studs using tin snips, that hardly worked at all at least with our tin snips - lots of cursing there. Once we had the U-shaped parts that go on the floor and ceiling cut I started to screw the first piece down. The screws we had, leftovers from a job my parents had done in 1987, were much too long and didn't really want to go through the steel so I first banged them in with a hammer and then used the drill to sink them. Once I had the first three screws in I realised I'd forgotten the foam tape - oops!
The picture is a bit blurry, my small camera has trouble focusing in some situations, but you can see how the U-shaped bit attaches to the floor. The C-shaped studs are then slid into these tracks and are supposed to be screwed together. That hardly worked at all, even if I managed to get a screw through the channel the stud just moved and bent. It's been a while since I last watched professionals build a wall like this but I seem to remember they used pop rivets rather than screws.
Installing the plasterboard wasn't much easier. The screws went through the board and that was it. Occasionally one went through the stud just like it was supposed to but most put up a big fight. Several times I was ready to throw my drill in frustration but chose not to although it might even have survived. With lots of cursing we managed to get each side boarded once, the fibreglass in without too much itching (including an emergency trip to the DIY store because we'd bought 100 mm insulation instead of the proper 75 and as it turned out we'd also gotten a type only suitable for ceilings. The stuff for walls only comes in MUCH larger packs, we hardly used a quarter of the expensive roll) and the joints filled. Tomorrow we'll add the second layer of plasterboard, fill and tape the joints and maybe paint (or just put some furniture there). Either way, once the filling is complete my work on that part of the project is done.

My brother got about half of the old floor out rather quickly but it was already late and around 8 a neighbour showed up and nicely asked us to stop so his kids could sleep. Tomorrow we'll remove the remaining bits and try to install the new floor down.
The construction of the floor was roughly what we expected and has some of the typical issues. For some reasons, probably mainly for sound deadening, the usual method for building floors back in the old days was a bit more elaborate than in most other countries. First they'd build a complete beam ceiling with 1" rough sawn boards or - for added fire resistance - entirely build the ceiling from logs  cut in half and hewn or planed on three sides, round side up. Since the logs are thinner than joists would be for the same span, those dowelled log floors are considerably more bouncy than regular wood ceilings.
On top of that they'd put a layer of some 10 cm of dirt, sand or whatever they had at hand, including broken bricks, pieces of china, tramway tickets, chicken bones from lunch etc etc. The actual finished floor is held by 2x3s floating in that dirt, not supported by anything else. Since the finished floor isn't really structural the builders in the old days skimped on anything you couldn't see and sleeper spacing is often a bit erratic and far more than you'd expect for 19 mm thick pine planks. In this case they were either pissed or one sleeper short or both as spacing varies from 55 to 115 cm. The largest gap is almost in the middle of the room and that's where the old pine floor was most damaged. Some of the tongues and grooves had actually broken because the floor was bouncy and not really supported by anything! So one of our fun tasks tomorrow will be to add one more sleeper by digging out dirt and somehow levelling the new timber.
Removing such a floor without disturbing the sleepers is tricky too because prying up the boards tends to pull up the sleepers too and then dirt seeps under them and they won't stay down. Today we worked as a team, some people just weighing the sleepers down to prevent that but we'll see how many people we're tomorrow.

Now I'm absolutely knackered and ready for bed!


I'm back from a 10 day family holiday that could have been more relaxing - lots of driving, terrible traffic (German railways have become a bit unreliable but they're still a lot nicer than the motorways!) and too much in too little time.

Plans around here change every five minutes and the most important change is that my brother isn't going to move downstairs but two of my brothers rented a flat some 15 minutes walk from here. That does have some advantages as we now get spare rooms here so we can shuffle around stuff while we renovate and possibly even clear out the downstairs flat completely but it means yet another project!

The wiring was just redone but the walls need to be painted at least in some rooms and the floors are in rather bad shape. The smallest room is the worst, narrow tongue and groove pine planks painted brown and in spots worn down right to the tongue! We also need to block the door that connects the  large bedroom and living room, while it looks nice it won't be used and lets a lot of sound through. Yesterday we went shopping for tiles (some of the godawful 70s tiles in the loo were damaged when some plumbing work was done, thankfully the tiles and repairs paid for by the landlady). I don't really have anything to do with the place but I'm the DIYers so I took my brothers to the various stores and offered some advice.

Today we rose early (at least for a summer holiday) for another extensive shopping trip. Knauf UW and CW studs (sheet metal studs for partition walls), 8 half-sheets of plasterboard (2.6x0.6 m), mesh tape, some kind of foam tape that goes between the studs/base and top plate and the door jamb, fibreglass and last but not least 5 packs of 19 mm thick pine t&g flooring, 4 m long. At that point we could barely move the cart any more and it became clear that we wouldn't be able to fit all that into the family van. The large DIY stores run their own van rental so we asked about that, only to be told they were all booked out until Saturday. Then we asked about delivery but that'd have taken at least two days and one of my brothers would prefer to move in today or tomorrow. So we paid for our stuff and set on to making two trips with the small van. Just as we were leaving the store we heard someone calling out for us - someone had cancelled an appointment for a van and we could pick it up immediately!

My dad completed all the paperwork and since we'd just shopped for more than 250 Euros we got the van for free. It was a medium-size Iveco with a tarp-covered bed something over 3 m long so the plasterboard fit just fine and the floor boards didn't stick out much, well below the 1 m limit (if you exceed that you need to attach a red flag to the load). Driving it was annoying, Ivecos are odd beasts and being rentals doesn't make them any better but we arrived safely. Carrying the plasterboard to the third floor was a royal pain and we still have to get the five packs of floor boards up. My arms are already numb just from maneuvering the plasterboard! The stairs are a bit tight so the sheets barely fit and the floor boards are much longer! We'll have to lift them up and over the banisters every time we round a corner.

I'll definitely NEVER plasterboard anything unless I absolutely have to or unless someone else carries the stuff up the stairs!

In a while we'll leave again to close up the door (yay, itchy fibreglass!) and remove the old floor. That'll be a bit tricky because some of the boards extend under the plaster on the walls.