New Sill Plate and Joists

It was one of those weeks when the responsibilities of homeownership left us pining for the carefree life of an apartment or condo denizen. And I’m gonna have to resort to all caps to tell you why.

I spent the last few days replacing a rotten sill plate, the horizontal piece of wood that lies between the foundation and the floor joists. Said job leads to the following all caps admonition: PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT POUR A CONCRETE PATIO ABOVE THE LEVEL OF YOUR FOUNDATION! When that patio cracks and fails, please do not pour another one on top of it. If you attach a deck to your house please hire a professional to make sure that it’s attached with carefully considered and properly installed flashing. Do not allow dirt to pile up against your house. Remember that water has a tendency to move in unexpected ways while simultaneously feeding an army of termites. Out of sight and out of mind, the wood in your house will rot out while you enjoy the high life of barbecues and cheap beers on your crappy concrete patio.

Speaking of professionals, if you live in Southern California be aware that all the well trained tradesfolk are working on Barbara Streisand’s Malibu mansion and are not interested in your tiny bungalow at least until the next, overdue, economic meltdown arrives. The professional I contacted for the sill replacement told me that he was busy for months and proceeded to tell me to do it myself, which is why I found myself wielding two car jacks and a sawzall for the past few days. He also suggested sistering the joists which took up another day that I could have spent doing the things that normally take up the time of glamorous urban homesteading bloggers in the big city such as pondering avocado toast recipes or dehydrating loquats.

After much all caps thinking, I came to the conclusion that we need a kind of time traveling Dr. Who character whose sold mission would be to stop misguided remodeling projects in the past. He’d spend a lot of time in the 1960s and 70s halting bad patio pours, stopping popcorn ceiling applications, preventing stuccoing, and outlawing drop ceiling material.

I’m sure you, my dear Root Simple readers have a few bad remodeling anecdotes to share . . .

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  1. I feel your pain! But in the future you will look back and be proud of your hard work. It reminds me of a house I bought where the floor joist had never been fastened to the support beams and being an older home had a garage under the back portion of the house. Lots of Simpson ties later it was secure and just in time for a major earthquake. Fortunately I found someone to crawl around and take care of it. Good Luck!

  2. It was a good idea to use treated lumber for the sill. There are definitely signs of termites here, so get it professionally treated.

    I’ve ranted before about the moronic stuff done by ignorant simpletons who think they can do construction work without bothering to find out the proper materials and techniques to use. However, two useful things to know are:

    (1) Concrete is not waterproof. Even if coated in asphaltic goop, it will eventually let water seep through.

    (2) Keep wood away from concrete by use of some impervious material like a sill gasket. Under no circumstance embed wood in concrete because it will rapidly rot out and you’ll be left with a wood-shaped hole in your concrete full of termites.

  3. Previous owners of my house remodeled and took out a load bearing wall … in 1918. I thought the plaster was sagging, but, no, it was the joists. A carpenter friend told me that old houses sometimes stand up just due to memory, and it lasted that way for 90 years. The worst part was that someone replaced the floor of the room above (which must have been sagging awkwardly), leveled the floor with 2x4s and ignored the dangling joists. Lucky that no PO went in for waterbeds.

  4. This house was built sturdily and correctly in 1902 by a guy who owned a construction company that is still in business. Things went downhill from there. I know it was majorly altered in the 1050’s. We bought it in 1977 and hired someone to do some major work. Over the years I have found things he did wrong. Just last month, I made one more discovery.

    I have figured that people remodel or repair the cheapest way possible and have the attitude that it will last as long as they live or as long as they own the property. However, as many times as the problem is expediency, some people are just ignorant.

    When I needed something done a few years ago, the cheapest guy told me that he could do it “good enough. I paid four times what he asked to get it done right. THEN, the plumber sent from the company I hired did it “his” way because it was cheaper and easier to do. I was fit to be tied and left with another problem!!!

  5. Let’s see. Recently, when I tried to replace three pendant lights with three new pendant lights, I found that the wires had just been stuffed through a hole. No can. No box. So, I had the electricians out to fix that. During which process with found out MY FIRE ALARMS WERE HARDWIRED WITH A SPLICED OFF ORANGE EXTENSION CORD. And that was kind of just the beginning of the scene that happened next.

    Two months and $5,000 later and I am still in all-caps mode over that one.

  6. Send the time traveler back even earlier and have them prevent the use of asbestos in nearly every building material known to man, too. Concrete, roofing paper, insulation… did you know that some wax toilet rings were reinforced with asbestos? (Also, cigarette filters and toothpaste for a brief period.) Can we send modern engineers and tradespeople along as companions?

  7. A commandment from the time traveling contractor bitch-slap-o-matic:

    Thou shalt not pull toilets to replace flooring in bathrooms (especially upstairs bathrooms) without replacing the wax seals. The punishment to the new owners for lack of $15 of wax from the hardware store will be stealth minor leakage of every flush to the downstairs, until 6 months later the ceiling below starts sagging with piss water, leading to $6k in mold remediation/water damage/repairs that homeowners insurance won’t cover because it was a “slow leak”.

    • …and with a bonus that the homeowners insurance drops you, not for even filing a claim, but for even ASKING about one.

    • I made a version of this mistake myself. I did a poor job of installing our toilet a few years ago. Thankfully our plumber caught it and fixed the problem. I’m surprised the damage wasn’t worse. From this point on I decided to stick to woodworking and leave any plumbing and electrical work to the pros.

  8. My ex once owned a house built on a steep hill in northern California where some cracks were beginning to appear in the foundation. Turned out that the previous owners, wanting to move the water heater out of the house to reclaim some closet space, had just poured concrete into the lowest corner of the basement until there was a platform big enough to stand a water heater on. Not surprisingly, this huge wedge of concrete eventually started to slide down the hill taking the corner of the house with it.

  9. I hear you on the trouble getting contractors to the house. When we lived in Paso Robles, a couple of hours up the coast from you, we had a minor roof leak and could not get a contractor over to fix it, as we were not a winery and it was not a large roofing job on a multi-million dollar mansion. We have since moved to Oregon and have no problems getting contractors out to fix our home, as they’re happy to make money wherever they can!

    • I bet those contractors are more talented too. There’s a lack of attention to detail here in SoCal.

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