Ben’s Garage: Wall Day

by Ben N on November 25, 2016

While other folks were out buying their Christmas gifts at the Black Friday sales, we were busy building walls for the garage!

What’s it take to build a few walls? For starters, a crew. My Dad, Jim, and my brother, Wayne, came out today to build walls. Of course, the two of them are pretty experienced when it comes to construction. I’m mostly good at carrying lumber.

IMG_2324First thing, the lumber yard dropped off a pile of materials. The stack included 16′ 2x4s, pressure-treated 2x4s, pre-cut studs, and 1/2″ OSB sheathing.

IMG_2116Starting from the north-west corner of the garage, we marked out the location of the bolts already cast into the masonry wall on a pressure-treated 2×4. We drilled through those holes, test fit that sill board on the wall, and then pulled it back off. Next, we marked every 16 inches, which is where the studs will go. This line was also marked on a matching 2×4, which becomes the top of the wall. Between the two boards, we laid out 2×4 studs and put two nails into each end. And with that, we have our first section of wall built, although still laying on the ground.

Next, we rolled out a “sill seal” – a thin layer of foam that acts as insulation and sealer between the concrete stem wall and the sill of the wall. Then it was time to lift the stud wall up onto the concrete, lining up the holes in the bottom with the existing bolts sticking out of the concrete. After that, it was a matter of bracing the two ends of the wall and making sure it was perfectly vertical with a level.

The garage is 27′ by 29′. The long 2x4s are 16′ long, so each wall was built in two sections. These sections were small enough that three guys could easily build a wall section, lift it in place, set it, and brace it.

We repeated this until all three stud walls were up. Temporary exterior bracing was built by nailing together two long 2x4s to make a large triangle. You might remember that’s the same technique we used to lever the old garage to the ground.

IMG_2141Sheathing is the process of adding an exterior cover to the stud walls. In this was, we were using 1/2″ OSB (Oriented Strand Board.) The first piece is the most important, as it squares up the wall. Once the first piece is in place with everything plumb, flush, even, and square, the rest of the pieces go on pretty quickly. We slid a pallet knife between stem-wall and the sill plate as a rest and bottom alignment tool for each sheet of sheathing. I’d rest the bottom of the 4′x8′ sheathing on the knife, and Wayne would nail it to the studs.

Overall, the walls went up well and quickly, with very few irregularities. We did end up short two sheets of sheathing – must have miscounted sometime before placing the order. The other big thing is that we only built THREE out of the four walls. The reason why is that the entire south wall is MOSTLY DOORS! That’s going to be the two overhead doors for cars and a human-sized “man-door”. To support that side of the roof, we need a beam that will span all those doors. That’s a special “micro-lam” beam, which is custom ordered from the lumberyard. Also, it’s something we don’t have yet….

IMG_2139So, at this point, we have the three walls up. They are sheathed and braced, so no worries about wind while we wait for the beam. After we get that installed, it will be time to put up the trusses, which will be a feat in itself and will require some additional people-power, as the trusses are 214 pounds each!

I had no idea how much work we actually would or wouldn’t get done today. The time lapse video represents a 6 hour time period. Overall, I’m very pleased with the progress on the project.

My only regret is that the interior bracing prevents me from parking the car in the garage for the first time yet!

Until next time, stay charged up!

PS: You may have noticed that we didn’t frame in any openings for WINDOWS! That’s right, there’s no windows in the garage. My old garage had one window on each of the three walls that didn’t have the garage doors on it. I found that the windows just got covered by shelving anyways, and I would rather have had wall-space. Also, a plain wall without a window is cheaper, easier, better insulated, quieter, and simpler. Also, without windows, it’s easier to control lighting and sound for filming instructional videos. In the summer, if I want more light, I can just leave a garage door open.

The upstairs will have a window at either end for light and ventilation.



Remote Defrost

by Ben N on November 20, 2016


Winter hit yesterday. It was a huge overnight temperature drop, and we got a little snow. That’s OK, because it’s a great opportunity for me to show of one of my favorite features on the car, REMOTE DEFROST and PRE-HEAT!

Nearly every plug-in car has some sort of similar feature. A car owner can pre-heat their car on a cold winter morning, using power from the wall instead of from the battery. On many cars, this can be set on a timer, or controlled through a smart phone. In the case of my Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car, it’s pretty basic, just using an electronic key fob.

For starters, the car DOES have to be plugged in. To get the power from the wall, the car needs to be connected to it. Seeing as how nearly every plug-in car driver simply plugs their car into the wall every night, this is already done.

Some cars can also be programmed to do a pre-heat at a certain time. That’s great for a regular commute. For me, I’m self employed and my scheduled is different every day. I manually start the pre-heat as I’m finishing getting ready to leave.

On the fob, (from inside my warm house…)  I press the power button. The fob activates and shows the battery status and some other information. (Normally, this would show the battery being fully charged, as I typically do this first thing in the morning before leaving for the day. In the video, I filmed the fob after I had already been driving for the day)


Next, pressing the MODE button changes to the timer setting and then again to get to the HVAC mode. Selecting the side arrow buttons cycle through the DEFROST, COOL, and HEAT settings. In this case, I’m using the DEFROST mode. HEAT only directs the heat down to the footwell area. DEFROST directs the heat to the windshield and also actives the rear electric defrost. On my car, the trim level also included heated outside mirrors. Those also activate, and get warm enough to melt thick ice right off the glass.

Pressing the power button again on the fob transmits to the car and activates the pre-heat feature. The heat will run until the car is unplugged, or 30 minutes, whichever comes first. I’ve found diminishing returns running the heat for more than 10-15 minutes. 15 minutes is generally the longest it takes to completely melt snow and ice off the car, all without ever brushing or scraping.

wet windshield

Besides the advantage of melting snow and warming up the passenger compartment, the pre-heat also means that the car’s regular heating system is instantly hot. This car uses a traditional system of coolant cycled from a heater to a heater core, where air then blows through it. This is exactly like a gas car system, except that the heat source is an electric heater, instead of the engine. Of course, in this case, I don’t have to run an engine. That means no wasted fuel from idling and it’s also a major advantage when the car is parked in an enclosed garage – no carbon monoxide!

I love the pre-heat system on my car. It’s great to hop in to a warm car on a cold morning!

‘Til next time, Stay Warm!

PS: If you are considering purchasing a used iMiEV electric car, make sure the fob is included! I’m surprised how often these are lost or not included, and it is the ONLY way to access the pre-heating and timer features.

PPS: If you live in a hot weather area, the Pre-Air-Conditioning is a great summer feature! You can CHILL down your car before you hop in!


Trusses Delivered

by Ben N on November 17, 2016


While I wasn’t expecting it yet, the engineered trusses that will make up the attic and roof showed up today!

These trusses are HUGE! They will run north and south. The garage is 29 feet in that dimension, plus a one foot roof overhang on either side. That makes these 31 feet long each.

I also wasn’t expecting them to be as heavy-duty as they are. The bottom chord is a 2×10! It certainly makes sense, as these have to structurally support not just the second story, but also the roof and the solar panels. The other part of it is the engineering. I wanted the upstairs to be high enough for me to walk upright. We needed some engineering changes to get the 6-foot minimum upstairs while still meeting the height maximum imposed on us by local governmental regulation. That meant using some sturdier materials to get the needed strength while still leaving the middle of the trusses open.

IMG_1900The truck carrying the materials is HUGE. Since I’m on a corner property, it makes it that much more difficult to get big trucks in and out, but the driver did a great job. There were four stacks of materials on his truck, with mine being the middle two stacks. After the driver removed the first stack with his crane, he off-loaded the first of my bundles of trusses. There was just enough room between the truck and the pine tree to swing the boom and lower the trusses onto some scrap plywood that was already in position.

Once all the materials were unloaded, I helped check for traffic as the driver did a pretty amazing job of backing out my driveway, across the intersection, reversing direction, and taking off for his next delivery.

IMG_1932I looked over the trusses. The height of the upstair ceiling will be about 6’6″. Perfect for me as a 6′ tall guy. That space is just shy of 4 feet wide. At the floor level of the upstairs, it will be open for 14 feet, although only just under 4 feet tall at the knee-walls. That will provide plenty of lower storage space. It’s also about right for sitting position if I had a desk up there. Officially, the upstairs is considered storage space, and will be accessible by a drop-down stairs, similar to what many people have in their attic. I do plan to finish off the upstairs to make it usable for more than just storage. Will it actually work out well for, say, a home office space or blogging and video studio? I’m not exactly sure. Sometimes you really don’t know how usable something is until you use it.

No matter what, I will have SIGNIFICANTLY more workshop and storage space with the new garage, and look forward to continuing the build.

See ya next time,


Pouring the Slab

by Ben N on November 15, 2016


The Slab got poured!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see it happen. Luckily, my wife would be home, and I asked her to take some photos.

I left for work first thing in the morning (still dark outside) and wouldn’t be back until again after dark. In the mean time, the masons would be hard at work pouring the concrete.

IMG_1995When I finally did get home, I was able to take a look at the finished slab by the light of the moon and my car’s headlights. The concrete apron in front of the garage was even poured. I hadn’t expected that to happen until later, so I hadn’t even specified anything. For example, the man-door would need some sort of a step in front of it. Already done was a nice semi-circle sweeping from the man-door to the garage door. Overall, it looked really good!

Uh-oh. In a pile off to the side, I found that the tips of my angled foam had been cut off! All that hard work to make the fancy bevel, and the mason simply cut it off!

The next morning, the mason returned to mark chalk lines and then run the saw into the slab. This makes the relief cuts into the concrete so that the material has a place to pull from as it cures and shrinks a tiny bit. Should the concrete ever crack, it should crack on these controlled lines instead of randomly. I was assured that the cut is less than an inch deep, and my Pex tubing is on the very bottom of the slab, and on the other side of metal reinforcing wire.

IMG_1998I asked the mason about the bevel of the foam being cut off. As I thought, he said that the concrete would be too thin at that point, and would simply crack there. The pour was first thing in the morning and the trucks were all lined up, so the most timely thing to so was simply cut the bevel. That means that my 5-inch thick slab is only insulated on the perimeter for about 3 inches, and the top 2 inches are uninsulated, running all the way to the wall. When I spoke to the mason the last time before the slab was poured, I told him what I wanted to do with the insulation, but we were both in a little bit of a time crunch right then, and perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I could have been.

Looking back at this now, I would have just run the 2-inch insulation all the way up and square, have the concrete get poured, then trim away any extra and just later figure out how I would want to cover that 2 inch perimeter all the way around the slab.

Oh well. Live and learn. The upside is that the perimeter insulation is completely covered and protected. No worries about the foam getting damaged, being exposed to UV radiation in sunlight, or getting water or debris in there.

IMG_2009Speaking of water, I realized that where the Pex goes through the plastic bend into the concrete is unprotected from the weather. We’ve had some great weather lately, but there’s a chance in the forecast for some rain followed by freezing weather. I used a can of Great Stuff expanding foam to fill the inside of the channel into the concrete. This will prevent water from getting inside the concrete and freezing, and it also just insulates the Pex tubing.

On the next sunny day, I also thought to film some thermal video. Of course, the slab isn’t heated yet, but it would be interesting to see what’s going on with temperatures while the sun was shining directly on the concrete. The main thing that I noticed was that any VERTICAL surfaces (such as the north stem wall) REALLY soaked up the sunlight. Much of that concrete was 75 degrees F. On the other hand, the horizontal concrete slab itself didn’t seem to suck up much heat. The sun was just too low in the sky.

When I had the thermal camera in one certain position by the wall, I COULD see where the two inch perimeter insulation was. There was just enough of a temperature difference for it to show up. In this case, the concrete was being heated from the outside in, so the concrete in that last two inches was thinner (only 2 inches thick, instead of 5) and absorbed the heat faster. When I do eventually hook up the heat in the slab, it will be interesting to see how this outside two inches looks on a thermal scan.

IMG_2013As it is right now, the concrete is solid and slowly going from a dark gray to a light gray as it cures. I’m told I can park a car on it after about a week. In the mean time, I did just lay down on the concrete to soak up the sun for a bit. In my area, November is NORMALLY the cloudiest month of the year and usually depressingly dark, dank, and gray. It’s been nice to have a sunny and warm November.

My work schedule is beginning to calm down, and I hope to be able to start the real work of building the walls soon.

As always, I’ll keep you updated as the project advances!




Installing the Pex

by Ben N on November 14, 2016

Well, this was it, the big weekend – installing the Pex tubing to create a hydronic heating system for the garage BEFORE the concrete gets poured.

Last week, the mason plowed through the work of trenching, laying the block for the stem-wall, pouring and packing gravel, and then laying down the vapor barrier and foam insulation. It was my job to get all the Pex tubing installed  before the mason came back on Monday morning to pour the concrete.

IMG_1904So, when I was done with work Friday, I headed to the big box home improvement store to get my materials. I purchased four rolls of oxygen-barrier Pex tubing of the 1/2 inch variety. Three of the rolls were 250′ long, and the last was 300′ feet. I specifically got those sizes because I had run the LoopCAD software to design the layout. Using four loops kept the loops shorter on average. Only one loop exceeded 250′. The spacing for the system is 10 inches between each section of tubing.

I also purchased a Watts brand four circuit manifold. It was more expensive than a plain copper manifold (such as would be used for something like just domestic water) but was of higher quality, and had some nice features, such as including built-in flow-meters and temperature gauges. I’d also want to have the manifold handy so that I could pressure test the system BEFORE the concrete was poured. Heaven forbid that there would be a hole in the Pex tubing, but I would want to know that BEFORE it was permanently cast in concrete.

Saturday morning, Wayne (my brother and general contractor) got started early. I set up a plastic box for the tubing to run through centered on the west wall. The design was using 10″ spacing, so we snapped chalk-lines 10 inches apart to evenly staple the tubing down to the 2″ rigid extruded polystyrene insulation. When I was at the store, I also rented a stapler. Pushing down on the large D-ring handle inserts a plastic staple over the tubing and down into the foam. The plastic staples are considerably less expensive than the plastic clips that would be manually screwed down into the insulation. However, the stapler itself cost $250! Yipes!Fortunately, the store RENTED the exact same stapler.

IMG_1917Starting with the return end of the tube, we uncoiled a 250′ roll and laid it out over the chalk-line. I stapled the tube down about every two feet and also on the outside edge of each piece of insulation. When we got to the end of the row, the tube would need to bend 180 degrees, and continue back parallel to itself for the next row. The tubing itself is actually rather stiff, and pretty hard to bend into a 10″ half-circle. Planning ahead for that, Wayne had already made a jig from a piece of scrap wood. The jig includes three cut-outs for the stapler, and a half-moon shape to bend the tube around while stapling it.

The first circuit made three full loops, plus the send and return runs. We ran the second end of the tube through the plastic floor box and pulled out about six feet before cutting the extra off. I’m not yet sure exactly how high up the wall I want to mount the manifold. And without even having a wall in place yet, I have no convenient way to mount the manifold, so we felt it best just to leave plenty of extra tubing.

Pleased with our success on the first circuit, we repeated the unrolling and stapling for the next two circuits.

IMG_1924And that’s about when I ran out of staples. I thought I had a good estimate, but since we decided to staple the edge of every foam board, we ended up going through the staples 25% quicker than we thought. I was also having some problems with the stapler. It sure seemed to jam up a lot. Even a typical office paper stapler has a spring in it to apply some pressure against the staples. This construction stapler didn’t have anything like that. (When I later returned the stapler to the store, I looked closely at the box for the new tool they sell and saw that it includes a weight that sits on top of the staples. A weight that was MISSING from my tool rental!)

This was all right about lunch time, and Wayne had to take off for some other things he needed to get done. I headed off to the store. I also planned to pick up some more 2″ foam for perimeter insulation to go around the concrete to thermally break it from the stem walls. My Dad would be helping out in the afternoon. Also, Monica, the wife of my work friend, Kurt, wanted to come on out to lend a hand and learn about hydronic heat.

Once back home, I was now armed with more plastic staples, two more sheets of foam, and Kurt, Monica, and my father all ready to help out.

I showed the new afternoon crew how we were laying down the tubing. It was even easier having extra people power. Three of the tubing circuits were already laid out, so we only had to do the final one in the afternoon. I also installed a piece of tube about two feet long for a future temperature probe. I simply duct taped the end that would be in the concrete and left of foot or two above ground level. I also made sure to center the tube between a supply and return tube so that the the sensor should pick up the average temperature of the floor.

IMG_1942Next, we needed to install the perimeter insulation. The concrete slab would be 5 inches thick, and the mason had already marked a chalk line all the wall around showing where this would be. The slab would also have a slight slope to it, the thickness of the slab wasn’t just a simple measurement from the top of the stem-wall. To prevent having two inches of exposed foam all the way around the perimeter of the finished slab, I decided to cut the foam on a 45 degree bevel. The pointed tip of the foam would come up to just even with the top of the slab. That way, there would be a thermal break all the way around, but the foam would also be completely hidden and protected.

My father had is table-saw handy and made quick work of ripping 5″ cuts of angled foam. I had accidentally purchased the wrong length of concrete screws, so we instead used some lengths of aluminum wire to pin the insulation in hammer-drilled holes in the concrete wall. We really only needed to keep the foam from blowing away during the weekend and moving when the concrete was actually poured.

Working until sunset, (which comes way too early this time of year) we finished the insulation and got the tools all cleaned up.

The next day, Sunday, I worked on connecting the radiant heat manifold and pressure testing it.

The manifold uses compression fittings. These are easy to work with, as they only require a wrench – no special Pex crimping tool. Also, I found that it was easy to REMOVE the compression fittings. That meant that I could hook everything up, pressure test the system, then remove the manifold so that it’s not in the way while we build the walls of the garage.

I connected each of the eight tube ends to the manifold. Each one got a nut and ring slid onto the tube. Next, the fitting would go INSIDE the tube. The ring would slide up onto it. The fitting was inserted into the manifold and the nut would compress it in place. Overall, it was very easy to hook up the manifold. The hardest part was wrestling with the tubing, as it’s rather springy.

IMG_1963Next, I threaded a 100 PSI air pressure gauge onto the manifold. It included a a valve similar to a tire stem for me to connect my air compressor and fill the tubing with compressed air. I initially connected it to a garden-hose style connector built onto the manifold which is designed for filling. However, I couldn’t seem to get a good seal there and the built-in valve on the filler was awkward to work with. Instead, I went to the hardware store to get a 1″ to 3/4″ adapter and then connected the air gauge to one of the main connections of the manifold. That also had a nice easy to use ball valve right where I wanted it. Finally, I could put air in the tubing.

It took a while to do. The total volume of the tubing is something like 8 gallons. I put in 50 PSI, then closed the ball valve on the manifold. I listened for any hissing air leaks, but couldn’t find any. Looked like I did a fine job connecting the Pex to the manifold.

With that, all I needed was a few trucks full of concrete. Unfortunately, I would be working out of town all the next day, and would miss the fun of the actual concrete pour. I begged my wife to have her camera handy and take photos of it while I was gone.

So, how did the concrete pour go? To find that out, you’ll have to stay tuned for the next installment of my Solar Garage Saga.

‘Til Next Time, Stay Charged-Up!