Any time we publish an answer to a reader’s question suggesting that he or she might undertake a complex home improvement project, we hear from professionals offering a critique of our response. Many of the pros argue that the homeowner should not even try to do it himself. That’s not what we’re about.
We believe that with a willingness to tackle tough jobs and the diligence to pursue what often seems to be an impossible task, a do-it-yourselfer can accomplish a lot, save a lot of money and achieve a great deal of self-satisfaction.
A column answering a reader who wanted to know about an engineer’s recommendation that he retrofit his 1970s rancher with plywood shear panels provoked more feedback than usual. We heard from architects, engineers, building contractors and even an instructor at a local junior college, all offering suggestions.
Most of the suggestions were right on and were made in the spirit of pointing out details we appear to have overlooked. There were some common themes in the e-mails we received. Several readers took umbrage with our suggestion that the plywood shear panels be applied horizontally, suggesting that vertical application was the way to go.
Others criticized our failure to mention removal and replacement of door and window trim and the cost and time that would add to the job. Suggestions were made that this was a good time to install additional seismic retrofit hardware and insulation.
Finally, some took issue with our time estimate of three days to do the job.
In answering the reader’s question we zeroed in on the 1970s L-shape garage portion of the question. We did not make that clear and a number of readers were thinking in terms of the entire house — which means living space. So with these criticisms in mind, we’ll take another stab at answering the question — this time in greater detail.
Our reader did the first thing we recommended when deciding the scope of a seismic retrofit project. He got an engineer involved to evaluate the job. Every structure is different and although there are common fixes, each building presents its own set of variables best evaluated by a professional.
It was unclear from the question whether the engineer produced a report. If he hasn’t already, our reader should ask for clarification about size of panels, nailing patterns, recommended hardware and framing enhancements that the engineer believes are necessary for a successful project.
The first area that concerned our respondents was the amount of time we estimated for the job. We said two to three days with the help of a few able-bodied friends. Of course, time depends on the scope of the work. Two days is optimistic, but three days is doable if working in a standard 20-by-20-foot, two-car garage. That’s sheeting three walls, one with a 16-foot door opening.
Doing the demolition, cutting and nailing the panels and reinstalling the gyp board would be pretty straightforward. Cut-ins for electrical outlets would be minimal and door and window openings probably do not exist.
A number of readers questioned our suggestion that the shear panels made of 1/2-inch plywood be attached horizontally instead of vertically. They all made the point that a diaphragm is created when the top plate and bottom plate are tied together by the panel when all edges of the panel are fastened to a stud or plate.
This is correct. We neglected to say that a horizontal application requires blocking between the studs so that all edges of the panel can be nailed to a framing member. Use 4-by-4-inch blocking to ensure solid nailing through the panel into the block. Also, one of our respondents suggested that studs be doubled in the corner and at all vertical joints. We agree.
While the wall is open, it’s a great time to install seismic retrofit hardware. Rafter ties and tie-downs come to mind. The goal of a seismic retrofit is to tie the building together and to the foundation so that it can survive a substantial quake. Again, this is where the engineer comes into play. At minimum, and depending on the structure, the mudsill should be bolted to the foundation, the sill tied to the walls and the walls tied to the rafters. For a look at the types of hardware available to accomplish these things, go the Simpson Co.’s Web site at www.strongtie.com.
This is also a great time to add insulation and enhance the electrical system. Because the wall thickness increases, any existing electrical outlet or switch box should be moved flush with the new wall.
Another reader took exception with our time estimate to finish the drywall. He remarked that a day’s drying time for each coat of mud would wreak havoc with our schedule. Use fiberglass tape and “Durabond 90” made by the Sheetrock company to speed up the process. With this product you can recoat in 90 minutes. Three coats of mud can easily be applied in a day.
Obviously, time and mess increase exponentially when the scope of the project moves out of the garage into living spaces. Work areas must be isolated from living areas. Door and window frames, as well as electrical boxes, will have to be extended on walls where the shear panels are applied. New case molding and baseboards must be installed. The carpet must be refitted or replaced.
Perhaps most important, the homeowner would have to put up with living in a construction zone for whatever time it took to get the job done.
Kevon Cottrell, a contractor who responded to our previous story, presented us with a creative solution we think has legs. He writes:
“If the engineer could calculate the shear needed so that exterior corners and some 36-inch intermediate panels could do the job, stucco could be removed just at those areas and replaced with plywood (which could be finished, and faced with wood or be covered with new stucco). The breakup of the exterior plane would be a plus to the normally drab sameness of ’70s stucco.
“Vertical intersections of stucco and plywood (or new stucco) could be treated with battens of an appropriate width to provide even more style. Anything to not displace the people and ‘stuff’ residing inside would be my first priority.”
Good suggestion. We think that’s an option worth exploring. With the exception of applying the new stucco, it’s a project we think a motivated DIY’er could tackle successfully.