Living Room Design

click to magnify The current (2009) disappointing state of the living room (2 photos).

We spent a little time discussing plans for the living room early in the planning phase of our house renovation, however we really haven't done much to the space apart from incidental work resulting from other re-building projects (and it shows). The plan we settled on isn't anything spectacular, although the result should be a simple, open space that's functional and comfortable. With the removal of the funky old floor-to-ceiling windows in the Southeast corner and entry door from the Southwest corner, the South wall will be occupied by a built-in media center and shelving units. We also decided to completely remove the partition wall between the living room and bedroom, since it's not a bearing wall and really makes the house feel a bit chopped-up. That wall will be replaced with four fusuma doors, and allow us to open the entire interior of the house. In order to create an area to store the sliding doors when they're open, we'll build a sort of "pocket door" wall section in the Southeast corner, which will also serve as the back wall of a tokonoma display alcove for the living room.

click to magnify The basic plan for the new living room.

The Homasote® ceiling will be removed and replaced with a framed wood panel ceiling. The existing ceiling joists are quite out-of-level, dropping nearly 6-inches along their length from North to South. As was done in the kitchen, we'll add furring strips to the joists to create a level ceiling plane for the new wood panels, with a finished ceiling height of about 7-feet. Ideally we'd install a ceiling of wide Cedar planks to re-create a proper Sukiya style room, however the cost of the Cedar we'd need to do that is pretty steep. We'll try the wood panels first too see how that looks "I'm thinking light-stained 1/4-inch Birch plywood with a dark Spruce trim". If we decide to change it at a later date, it shouldn't be a huge project if the ceiling's already level.

The existing linoleum tile floor will be removed, along with the of 3/4-inch plywood underlayment. We'll lay down a new layer of 7/16-inch OSB underlayment, then finish the floor with "click-lock" laminate wood flooring. We've kicked around the idea of installing a kotatsu in the center of the room, which is a small table that has the floor cut out underneath it so you have a place to put your legs when seated at the table. I really like the idea of building one, since we don't have a dining room and it would provide a decent place to have a meal. In order to get a kotatsu built into the space, I'd need to form and pour a concrete box under the house to support the floor joists and provide a waterproof shell under the table. I'd also need to splice into the existing radiant heat tubing in the floor so I could heat the box area — that would be a pretty serious undertaking, so it's not high on the list of priorities. We'll see…

Building the Living Room

click to magnify The ceiling goes away (1 photos).

Other than picking at parts of the room while working on other projects (installing the windows, stripping the paneling to use for the genkan ceiling, etc.), I doubt we'll spend much time working on the space this Summer (2009). I try to work on exterior projects when the weather is mild, and I'd like to finish the exterior paint and trim work this Summer. We'll likely go after the living room and bedroom soon, since we're both tired of living in the mess of a room that exists today.

Removing the Old Homasote® Ceiling: Winter 2017
In late 2017 I was contacted by a friend that's also working on a total home renovation to say he was getting a dumpster soon, and asked if I had anything from our project that we needed to get rid of. This sounded like a perfect way to make the old, sagging Homasote® ceiling from the living room go away. In exchange for a few loads of trash for his dumpster, he also asked if I could help him remove his upstairs ceiling he was planning to re-build. Sure thing!

I got to work removing the Homasote® from the living room and the little hallway outside the bathroom, as well as some bits of paneling that were still on a couple of the interior walls. We ended up with about two truckloads of stuff for his dumpster, then got started on his place. His ceiling was all 2-foot wide pieces of 1/4-inch Oak plywood in 2-foot, 4-foot, and 6-foot lengths. It was in pretty good shape, and held up by little screws with trim rings every 16-inches or so. It took a while to get it all removed (there was no construction adhesive used in the installation, thankfully), but it will make a perfect "underlayment" layer for the 1/4-inch Birch finish ceiling I intend to install so it was worth the effort. I figure if I staple the Oak plywood to the ceiling joists, I can then glue and screw the Birch finish plywood to that to ensure there are no sags. That will also provide a full 1/2-inch of ceiling material, so the recessed light can "lips" will sit properly in the ceiling. We got all the Oak back to our place, then I started cleaning up the mess from the ceiling removal. After lots of vacuuming up of cobwebs in the ceiling joistss, I stapled up some plastic sheeting to the ceiling joists to act as a temporary vapor barrier and called it good.

Replacing the Old Underlayment: Winter 2021 - Spring 2022
As detailed on the recently updated Bedroom page, we had an opportunity to use the same friend's dumpster after Christmas 2021 to get rid of all the old linoleum tile and underlayment from the living room and bedroom. Since we had to re-arrange all the furniture to get at the old underlayment, we also started installing new 7/16-inch OSB underlayment as we worked. To install the new underlayment I was planning to use the pneumatic medium crown stapler with 7/16 x 1-inch staples and lots of subfloor adhesive. We hadn't gotten too far along getting the bedroom OSB down, when a couple problems showed up…

I think it was the third sheet of OSB I was stapling down when the stapler just stopped working. I had purchased the Porter-Cable® MS200 stapler back in 2017, as I noticed after Black & Decker® purchased Porter-Cable® they had discontinued many of their pneumatic tools, and the rest we're lookin' to be not-so-great quality. I wanted to get the old metal-bodied style stapler to match the rest of my fine old Porter-Cable® pneumatics so I picked that thing up before they disappeared, but had not yet used it. Now I finally had a chance to put the stapler to work, and after a couple sheets it just stopped driving staples. I popped the air hose off the gun to investigate, and it turned out there was no air pressure — something had happened to the compressor. I parked the compressor out in the genkan while using it to help keep the noise down, so I went out there to see what was happening. I could smell some toasted electrics as soon as I got out there, and sure enough, the motor seemed to have had enough. The old "Job Boss™" oil-filled compressor was done. I looked online to see if I could find a proper replacement, and it seems no one makes portable, oil-filled, piston compressors any more (they're much quieter than oilless, diaphragm compressors, which is why I got that style in the first place). I checked the new Porter-Cable® portable units available at Home Depot, since I didn't want to delay the project while waiting for something to get delivered. They had a few little diaphragm units for cheap, but they seemed rather inadequate after having lived with the 3-1/2HP, 4-1/2 gallon beastie for years. I needed something now, so I found myself perusing Harbor Freight's site, and found what looked to be a decent replacement. They have a "Fortress™" series 5-gallon unit that looks identical to the old Porter-Cable®, but it has the same oil-free, diaphragm pump as all the rest. It also was a bit pricey just to get a slightly bigger tank and a couple tires. I ended up getting their 1-1/2HP, 4-gallon "Fortress™" unit for $250, and picked it up that afternoon. It's advertised as "Ultra Quiet", and much to my surprise, it really is much quieter than other oil-free, diaphragm pumps (and even quieter than the old Job Boss™).

click to magnify The new underlayment in the living room (1 photo).

The other trouble I was having while putting down the new OSB underlayment was dealing with cheap-o caulk guns. Neither the original underlayment, nor the old subfloor boards had been glued down when the place was built. That made getting the old underlayment up very easy, but it also meant the old floor was squeaking and creaking a lot. I figured if I shot a good amount of subfloor adhesive in the gaps between the old subfloor boards where ever they lined up over a floor joist, the adhesive would be forced in and around the old boards when the OSB was stapled over it. That meant I was using at least a full 10 oz. tube of adhesive (or half a big 28 oz. tube) per sheet, and getting that applied with a basic caulk gun was gettin' old. The installation project was slightly delayed as I was waiting for a couple new cases of floor adhesive to arrive after we'd finished the bedroom, so I started researching caulk guns thinking there must be a better way. Initially I looked into a Milwaukee® M12™ cordless gun, since I already had plenty of batteries to run it. The problem is it's pretty much only useful if you're applying caulk all day every day (like a siding or replacement window contractor might), and it's only available for 10 oz. tubes, not the big 28 oz. ones that I prefer (and it's $150). After a bit more research, I found what I think are the best caulk guns on the planet, from Tajima Tool opens a new window. It turns out Tajima Tool (now part of TJM Design Corp.) is Japan's largest hand tool manufacturer, started in 1909 (so they're the Stanley Tools of Japan, basically). I'd never heard of them, but everything I read about caulk guns put their guns near the top of the list. I also checked out the SolidWork German designed guns (their 10 oz. and 28 oz. models don't match, which is unacceptable, and they're really expensive), as well as the good old Red Devil® guns like Dad used to have. For not much more money than the Red Devil® stuff, I decided to try the Tajima guns and see if it really mattered. I picked up their Convoy® Super 18 models in both 10 oz. and 28 oz. capacity (yes, I spent $90 on caulk guns, but they match). Holy cow! That may have been the best money I ever spent on tools! These are outstanding in every way. The 18:1 thrust ration means a gentle squeeze is all it take to get the fairly viscous adhesive to flow, then whenever the handle is released the plunger automatically retracts 2mm which actually stops the flow from the tip. I went through two cases of 10 oz. tubes of subfloor adhesive and another half a dozen 28 oz. tubes of construction adhesive on this job, and it was a pleasure to use these guns for application of all that material. Like I said, money well spent!

With the new compressor and caulk guns on hand, I got back to installing the 7/16-inch OSB throughout the bedroom and living room. The bedroom was simple enough, but as I mentioned on the bedroom page, the living room offered a bit of a challenge. The problem was that the old floor was way out of level, and there was also a significant difference in floor levels between the old back porch and the living room (where the fireplace was located, long ago). I had no intention of trying to make the floors level, as there is nearly a 3-inch drop from the kitchen side of the floor over to the front of the house. My goal was to just get the floor even, with no little steps or drop offs. I'd been thinking of how to do this for a while before I started the project — using small, screwed down wood spacers, then spreading thinset mortar over an area and screwing the OSB to the spacers while the mortar was wet, or ripping long "shims" of 2 x 4 to put over the old floor joists, then filling the space with sand to remove any voids. It all seemed like a huge mess. The main issue I had to consider was that for the radiant floor heat to function properly, there couldn't be any air space between the subfloor (where the radiant heat stuff was attached to the bottom) and the new underlayment. With all that Oak 1/4-inch plywood I had from my friend's renovation project, I figured out another way: I could use the Oak ply to fill the low spots, then belt-sand off the edges to create gently tapered edges to transition back to the subfloor boards. I glued down the Oak ply with construction adhesive and a few staples, then remove the staples the next day and hit it with the old No. 40 scrub plane before belt-sanding it smooth. This worked pretty well for the low spots around the main floor support beam, however the small "step" at the old fireplace base and the drop-off at the kitchen floor tile needed something more.

click to magnify The "goofy shims" to even out the floor (3 photos).

When I installed the new kitchen tile floor I actually made that level, so that served as a guide for evening out the living room underlayment. With the old plywood underlayment and linoleum tile removed, there was about a 1-1/2-inch drop from the top of the tile to the subfloor near the fridge, tapering to a 1-inch drop near the bathroom. Most of the finish flooring we've considered for the rest of the house is just under a 1/2-inch thick (8mm + pad, or 12mm with pad attached), so I needed to get the new underlayment shimmed up to within a 1/2-inch or so of the tile. The old concrete fireplace mantle base was even worse, with nearly a 2-1/2-inch drop at the old porch floor. I needed something thicker than the 1/4-inch ply to fill these spaces (I had to save some for the ceiling, after all). Another project I've been kickin' around for years is to raise the attic floor a foot or so to provide more space for insulation. That means the existing attic floor of wide Pine boards will get removed, 2-by cross braces will be installed, then a new attic floor put on top of those. Since we had a truck available to bring a load of OSB to the house, I had also purchased an extra six sheets of OSB for the new attic floor. With the ceiling already removed, I had pulled all the nails from those attic floor boards, so we couild slide the OSB up between the ceiling joists into the attic (as there'd be no way to get 4 x 8 sheets up there if the ceiling was in place). That meant I had a bunch of 70-year old wide Pine boards in 10 and 12 foot lengths available from the attic. They all had a bunch of nail holes every 16-inches across each board, so it wasn't like I could do much with them. Those boards ended up as shim material for the living room floor.

To create the goofy floor shims I needed, I cut the boards into 4-foot or 6-foot lengths, then tapered them using the thickness planer. I'd start with the machine set to take about a 1/16-inch cut, then as a board started to feed and get planed, I'd crank up the depth setting (counting the turns) to take less material as the board continued to feed. When the board cleared the machine, I'd then crank the depth back down, add a couple turns, and repeat the process. This worked very well, and I was able to create 6-foot long "shims" less than a 1/4-inch think at one and, with the full 3/4 thickness at the other end. These long shims were then glued in place with a couple short screws to hold them while the adhesive cured over night. The next day the screws would be removed, and they'd get the same work as the plywood shims: rough them down as needed with the scrub plane, then smooth everything out with a 40-grit belt on the belt-sander. The work went fairly slowly (to allow time for each glued-down piece to cure over night, then figure out the thickness needed for the next piece the next day) but I made steady progress. After a couple weeks of this, all of the new underlayment was installed, glued down with plenty of subfloor adhesive, and stapled every 6-inches around the perimeter and every 8-inches or so across the sheet. My goofy floor shims actually worked, and the entire floor is very solid, with the high spots gently tapered into the rest of the floor, and no squeaks. Best of all, the floor was actually warm when the heat came on.

click to magnify Making the first ceiling joist level (4 photos).

Leveling the Ceiling: Winter 2022
Yes, it's been five years with a sheet of plastic for the living room ceiling. In the late Fall of 2022, with that miserable bamboo containment work behind me, I finally got around to making some progress on doing something about a living room ceiling. Part of the delay (aside from the bamboo work) has been trying to figure out a good method to make the ceiling actually level. I didn't worry about making the floor level — I just wanted to get it even, as explained above. I felt the ceiling should be level however, as the "plane" of the ceiling would be one of the first things you notice when entering the main house from the genkan.

The problem with the ceiling was that when the house was originally built, they spanned the entire distance from front to back with 26-foot long, straight-grained Douglas Fir 2 x 6 ceiling joists! Modern span tables don't recommend anything under a 2 x 10 for that span length, but apparently the price was right for the 2 x 6, so that's what they used (is it even possible to buy a 26-foot long straight-grained Douglas Fir 2 x 6 any more?). They did add some angled 1 x 4's between the ceiling joists and the rafters to help a bit, but that's still not much lumber up there. The odd bit is that the ceiling isn't lower in the center (because of sagging ceiling joists), but instead it's lower at each end of the joists. I don't know how they managed to make that happen, I mean, if the footings and foundation sunk after they were built (which is what it looks like happened), then why did the middle of the building not sink too? There were no supporting walls in the center of the house to keep the middle higher when the perimeter sank, but the 6-foot level doesn't lie — the joists are significantly higher in the middle of the house than at their ends. The only explanation could be that after they finished the roof sheathing, they jacked up the center of each joist a few inches as they nailed in those "sorta-truss" pieces between the roof rafters and ceiling joists.

Regardless of how it got into such a state, I wanted to make it level again. I've talked about various options with friends that are also doing renovation work, but didn't like the sound of their recommendations. Most said the easiest thing to do would be to add a new 2 x 6 to the side of the existing joist by leveling the new piece, and then glue & screw it to the old joist. Sure, that would be simple enough to do, but it would also add a lot of weight to the ceiling, and be fairly expensive to pull off. The living room ceiling area is roughly 12-feet by 18-feet with a joist every 16-inches, so that's a couple hundred bucks of new 2 x 6 stuff. Others suggested installing a drop ceiling, with composite tongue & groove ceiling boards that snap onto the drop ceiling metal grid. Again, a bit pricey and I'm not thrilled about the look. I'm leaning toward going with a finished ceiling of stained Birch plywood panels in 16-inch widths, and 2, 4, and 6-foot lengths. I finally decided to make more "goofy shims" that get glued & screwed to the bottoms of the existing joists to make them level. I've got a decent pile of old straight-grained Douglas Fir 2 x 4 studs from various walls that have been removed or rebuilt, so I'll see how much of that stock I can use up to make the ceiling level.

click to magnify Working across more of the ceiling (4 photos).

To get started, I needed to find the lowest spot in the room, which turned out to be the Southwest corner (the front, driveway side). The plan was to then clamp a 2 x 4 to the side of the joist and make the 2 x 4 level. Next, I'd trace the bottom of the joist line onto the 2 x 4, then cut to the line with the bandsaw and glue & screw the new "shim" to the bottom of the ceiling joist. That plan didn't last long. The first joist is an inch-and-a-half away from the wall (nailed into the gable end wall footer), so there's no way to get a clamp around the joist and 2 x 4. No problem... level the 2 x 4 and put a couple screws through it into the joist. Of course that only leaves an inch-and-a-half wide space to work in to scribe the line. Alrighty then... sharpen a pencil, then cut it off so it's an inch long. Success! Well, sort of... The drive belt on the bandsaw was old enough that it shredded the first time I turned it on (since I haven't really used the thing for a couple years). I ordered a new belt, then cleaned up the saw a bit and put on a fresh blade. With the new belt installed, I then sliced off my first shim piece. That 70-year old Douglas Fir sure cuts nicely. I then hit the thing with the Stanley No. 6 to take off any gross high spots, followed by a quick pass with the 60-grit belt sander to even everything out.

With the first shim installed, the plan was to then flip the cut-off piece around to use for the next shim section. Nope. The 2-1/2" wide piece wasn't wide enough at one end to sit level and still touch the ceiling joist. Most of these old studs are just over 7-feet long (the old ceiling was about 7-foot 6-inches high. Take away the double header and footer, and you get a 7-foot 1-1/2-inch long stud). The first shim went from nothing to about an inch thick, so the next one started at an inch, but was gonna need more than the remaining 2-1/2-inches at the other end — and I still had another 4-feet to go to make it to the kitchen ceiling. The idea was to cut the thin shim first (at the front of the house), then flip the leftover for the next shim. The ceiling was so outta whack that I couldn't get both shims from a single old stud. Ah ha! I could raise up the next shim a bit. When I installed the final ceiling it would still be level, with some little 3/8-inch offsets from one 4 x 8 area to the next. The trim would make that barely noticeable... yeah, that'll work (Nope, but we'll get to that in a sec). I made a little 3/8-inch thick block as a spacer, then was able to cut the next shim. The final four-foot length for the first joist was then marked with the same 3/8" off-set, and I had my first joist leveled from one end to the other.

With a level joist to work from, I then repeated the process on the next joist. Again, doing the same 3/8" off-set on the second shim. As I got the piece near the kitchen marked, it was looking like 3/8" might not be enough to have the 3-1/2" wide 2 x 4 do the job. It actually had enough material, but no way it was gonna work for the next joist. Time to revise the plan again... I gave it some thought and decided there was no reason to leave the off-set "step" for the finish ceiling. I could off-set the 2 x 4 however much I needed to have stock available for the shim cut, then just tack another piece of lumber to the bottom of the installed shim to keep all the joist bottoms at the same level. I milled some stock to 3/8" thick and glued that to the bottoms of the first two joists, then decided to just finish working along on each joist where it met the kitchen ceiling — this end of the room is where there was the biggest difference between the existing out-of-level joist bottoms and the new level joists along the side of the room, so getting a level end with three-foot long or four-foot long 2 x 4's all along the kitchen ceiling would give me a good idea of what I'd need to do for the rest of the room.

click to magnify The living room ceiling is level! (3 photos)

I worked my way along each of the 10 joists for the living room, and by the time I got to the last one near the bathroom door, I had to use a full 1-1/2" off-set to have enough material available to scribe a 2 x 4 for the shim (so yes, I'm adding an additional 5-inches of lumber to the bottom of my ceiling joists in that area of the ceiling). At least that's the biggest gap — everything from that corner and back across the rest of the ceiling will be smaller and smaller shims.

With the kitchen end of the ceiling set level with the joists along the entryway side, working across the rest of the room proceeded without difficulty. Every day I would get two or three joists taken care of, until I finally got the last one done the day before Christmas eve. That allowed us to get the tools put away and then get our Christmas decorations out on Christmas eve. Even though I had tried to keep everything level to the previous piece, I noticed a couple joists we're a little "off" here and there as I was putting the plastic vapor barrier back up. I had leveled from one joist to the next at the end near the front of the room when starting a new joist, then leveled each section of that joist to the next section until I reached the short bits near the kitchen. Sometimes there would be a little 3/16-inch step by the time I got to the kitchen piece, or it would be right on the money, but not perfectly level across a few joists. I doubt any of these little differences would be noticeable in the finish ceiling, but I still wanted to try and get everything as close as possible.

To finish the "ceiling joist leveling" project, I used the 6-foot level across four joists to see if any joists were low. If the level didn't "rock" from one joist to the next, I could move it along a couple feet, and check again. It seemed every joist was now level along the length, but there were a couple areas that "rocked", which meant something was low. Some of this was caused by a little twist in the joist — which meant the bottom of the shim had one edge lower than the other. A few light strokes with a block plane along one edge of the shim usually made things right, although there were a couple joists that were just too low along nearly their entire length. Taking an 1/8-inch or more of material off a 12-foot section of joist above my head was not gonna happen with a hand plane (I tried on one piece... Nope). A quick run to Harbor Freight tools and $50 later, I had a little power planer which preformed quite well at getting all the joists as close to level with each other as possible. That'll do.

Ceiling Lights Installation: Winter 2022 - 2023
With level ceiling joists to work from, we could now make some real progress on the living room. The next thing to address was the wiring for the various lighting fixtures, as well as the ceiling mount speaker locations and the fresh air duct for the heat recovery ventilator. That also meant I needed to head back to town hall and figure out how to get my building permit back in order. When a building permit is issued, if no progress is made for two years (which generally means some manner of inspection occurs for completed work outlined in the permit), the permit expires. I had gotten a building permit for all the interior renovation work long ago (which was mainly for electrical work, and re-locating the bearing wall between the bedroom and laundry room / closet), but the last thing that was "officially completed" on that permit was the living room wall plug wiring inspection, in 2009. I could proceed with light fixture installation and wiring, but I'd need a fresh permit (or try to get my old one "renewed") so the wiring can be inspected before putting in the finished ceiling and insulation in the attic.

click to magnify Back to the drawing board (3 sheets).

My original household re-wiring plans (see the Wiring Plans section of the Wiring page, with all plans available in the Mechanical Systems Data section of the Specifications page) had laid out eight, 6-inch recessed light "cans" for the living room perimeter, along with some manner of semi-flush or flush mount fixture in the center of the room. Now that it was time to actually get these things installed, it was obvious that there was no need for eight cans. We fiddled around with a couple of portable clamp work lights to get a better idea of where the lights should go, and decided six cans would do the job nicely. To work out the precise placement, it was back to the drawing board, literally, to figure out the correct positions for everything.

After looking over some of my old floor plan files and comparing their measurements with actual measurements in the room, it was clear a few things didn't quite match between the drawing and reality. Apparently when I did the foundation repair and rebuilt the Southeast corner walls of the living room, I didn't get things lined up very well and that East wall is a bit out of whack (the vertical wall near the center of the plans at left). I tweaked the plan to show reality, and it was clear that measuring from the East wall to the center of the ceiling wouldn't work. Based on the measurements of the space, it looked like the best way to proceed would be by starting with a couple centerlines, then measuring light positions off the centerlines. The kitchen ceiling/floor line is perpendicular to the entryway wall (at least until it gets to the part I rebuilt back in 2006), and parallel to the South wall — that line would work as the starting point to get things laid out.

With light positions worked out on paper, the next step was to actually get them in to place. That meant making accurate measurements from centerlines that only existed on paper, and there was no ceiling in place upon which to make marks. Time to finally get a laser level. Of course, my first stop to find a nice laser level was to check for a Milwaukee® M12™ unit. Sure enough, they have one, but it's $400 for the bare tool. Ouch. After lots of online research and browsing tool retailer's web sites, I ended up ordering a HiLDA® Laser Level link opens a new window from Amazon for less than 80 bucks. There were lots of recommendations out there for stuff from Huepar®, but it's two or three times the cost of the one I got, and I don't anticipate getting a ton of use out of the thing so I went for the cheapo (and I'm not gonna buy a tool that's lime green… or yellow, or blue. Yeah, I've got issues).

click to magnify Installing the lights (2 photos).

Wow, that laser level sure made things simple! I was very pleased with how well it worked, and I can now see putting this thing to good use for lots of upcoming projects. Anyway, we started by shooting a line onto the edge of the kitchen ceiling with a perpendicular line centered in the living room (measured over from the entryway wall). That centerline got marked on the header on the South wall and the ceiling framing at the kitchen, then we moved the laser to put the perpendicular line in the center of the entryway. Now it was a simple matter of holding the tip of the tape measure on the centerline, then measuring over to the position of the first light centered on the entryway line. The rest of the lights went up very quickly, with a minor tweak to the position of the lights over the future fusuma doors due to a ceiling joist being in the way (it's only a difference of a couple inches, which is barely noticeable). For the center light, we just rigged up a simple clamp-on worklight in the attic and moved the position a few times until we liked how it looked.

With all the lights in their correct positions, I then got busy connecting everything to the switches and wiring I installed back in 2009 and 2010. The recessed lights were connected to the Lutron® Caséta® PD-6WCL dimmer and Pico remote dimmer (with nightlight) I installed last year for the 6-inch recessed lights in the kitchen and entryway. The new center light 3-way switches were then swapped out for another Lutron® Caséta® dimmer switch and remote that are the same as the recessed light controls. On to the rest of the ceiling work… which is easier said than done.

"We can't because…" Winter 2023
That has been the answer to almost every project the home owner has asked about over the last 20 years of this seemingly never ending renovation project. Doing the demolition work to the original space happens very quickly, but putting it all back together just drags on for years. The rebuild work has to happen in a certain order, or it'll need to keep getting re-done to take care of things that were skipped. It started with stripping the walls back to studs. Okay, let's put up the new gypsum wall board (GWB). We can't because we need to get the wiring installed. So do that? We can't because we need the new electrical panel put in. Okay, panel and wiring done. Great! Let's put up the GWB. We can't because we need to remove the floor and put in new underlayment. Done. GWB? We can't because we need to remove the old ceiling. Done! GWB? We can't because we need to level the joists and install the ceiling panels. Okay, joists leveled. Ceiling panels? We can't because we need to install and wire the ceiling fixtures. Done. Ceiling panels? We can't because we need to add framing for the ceiling panels. So do that? We can't because we need to remove some of the bedroom ceiling. Okay, do that then install the ceiling panels? We can't because we need to build a header for the sliding doors. Great, do that then? We can't because we need to remove and rebuild the attic floor. Ah, so that's next? We can't because we need to install the rest of the Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) duct work. I see… so duct work, then ceiling panel framing, then attic floor, then ceiling panels, then GWB? Close, but we can't because we need to build the walls for the tokonoma… This is why we've had living room walls of plastic covered insulation for 12 years, and a living room ceiling of a plastic sheet with no insulation for five years. I'm as tired of looking at this pathetic mess as she is.

click to magnify More plans to make progress (6 sheets).

The good news is that all those little "We can't because…" project blockers are finally getting addressed as we move forward with the work. The items we can deal with in fairly rapid order are the header for the fusuma doors, then the HRV ductwork, followed by the framing to support the finished ceiling, and then the framing and wiring for the tokonoma . Naturally, this all starts with another set of fresh plans to figure out exactly where those doors and walls are supposed to go. While working on the plans I ordered all the HRV ductwork (thank you Home Depot for free delivery), and even managed to have a friend take me on a lumberyard run for a load of 30 2x4s for the attic floor, tokonoma framing, and door header. Progress!

I prefer to get things worked out on (digital) paper before I start cutting, as it helps me keep the proper "build order" in mind. The series of plans at the left start where the lighting plans left off, with the correct measurements for what parts of the room are straight and where the perpendicular centerlines are located. That gives me the correct position for the HRV fresh air inlet, the layout for all the "ceiling underlayment" (the 1/4" Oak plywood), the ceiling mounted Dolby Atmos® surround speakers, the finished ceiling (1/4" Birch plywood), and any additional framing the finished ceiling requires for nailers. Have a look at the plans for more information (also available as Ceiling Plans PDF), then head over to the HVAC page in the Mechanical section if you're interested in the details of the HRV ductwork installation. Once that ductwork for the living room fresh air supply is in place, I can get back to more of the living room ceiling carpentry work.

The Fusuma Doors Header & Other Ceiling Framing: Winter 2023
With the ductwork in the attic I wanted to get in place while the ceiling was open taken care of, the next thing to deal with was the header for the fusuma doors that separate the living room from the bedroom. The original wall between the living room and bedroom wasn't actually in the center of the house (the bedroom was wider than the living room by a few inches), so I needed to get the correct centerline measured and marked, then cut away a bit of the bedroom ceiling so I'd have room to work on that header. Some careful measuring at the kitchen end of the living room let me get a perpendicular centerline established with the laser lever, then I marked the cut line and sawed off a few inches of the bedroom ceiling tiles and strapping with the 5-1/2" Skilsaw®.

click to magnify Putting up the door header (6 photos).

To hold up the new header I added a couple of Simpson Strong-Tie® HUC Face-mount Concealed-flange 4x4 hangers at the bathroom wall top plate and the front wall top plate to hold up each end of the thing, then set about figuring out how to install an 18-foot, 1-inch long header into that space with pretty much no room to work. The only thing I could come up with was to build the header in two sections, then join them together with both pieces in their final position. Before I put the header in place, I also needed to get the nail blocks for the finished ceiling into that first joist bay next to where the header was going, so I would have room to get the nail gun in there and attach those blocks (again, getting all this figured out on the plans first ensures things go together in the right order). I ripped some 2x4 chunks in half on the bandsaw for the nail blocks and got those nailed into place, then built the header. The header was made of a 10-foot 2x4 and an 8-foot, 1-inch 2x4 glued and nailed together with a 1/2-inch thick piece of plywood in between. The front piece went in first, held in place with a FastCap® Third Hand, then the chunk at the bathroom wall went into position (with the 1/2" ply core spanning the joint) and the whole works was nailed together with the big framing nailer and 3-1/2-inch long nails every couple inches. To help support the header along its length, I then added some small blocks of 2x4 between the header and the nearest ceiling joist every 3-feet or so. These were tacked to the joist and glued in place, then a 6-inch long FastenMaster® TimberLOK screw was driven through the joist and block, then into the side of the header. I also added a cross support of 2x6 above the center of the header, nailed through a ceiling joist on each end, then ran another pair of TimberLOKs up through the header and into the 2x6. Ceiling framing was mostly done with the rest of those finished ceiling nailer blocks installed as needed according to the plans. I'll need to add some more material above the tokonoma framing once that's worked out, and that will make it ready for the first layer of plywood.

click to magnify The plan for the tokonoma (1 sheet).

Building the Tokonoma: Late Winter 2023
When we started this entire renovation project over 20 years ago, one of the goals was to emulate the sukiya style home design, with fairly simple wood and plaster interior surfaces and trim, along with certain key Japanese architectural components typical of the late Edo period. These elements include the engawa influenced back deck, the genkan of the main entry, and the fusuma doors and tokonoma alcove in the main room. With the header for the fusuma doors in place and the ceiling rough carpentry completed, it was time to work out the details of the tokonoma at long last. The troubling issue with getting a "formal" tokonoma into our space was that the tokonoma is actually part of a larger design component called a hondoko, and there simply wasn't enough room to make it happen. To have the fusuma doors "make sense", they would run from the bathroom wall toward the front wall, and fill 12-feet of that 18-foot long open space (with each door being 3-feet wide). That left us a 6-foot long section which would neatly hide the two sets of doors when they were all in the open position, which is where the problem comes in...

As mentioned above, a formal tokonoma is one part of a hondoko, which also has a shelving alcove (the tokowaki) to the right of the display alcove (the actual tokonoma, or just toko), and then a low desk with a window (the shoin) to the left and perpendicular to the display alcove. The shelf alcove is supposed to be the same width as the display alcove, which would mean we only have room for 6-feet of sliding doors — and that would put the couch in front of the alcoves, which would make no sense and look fairly silly. There are also "rules" about how high the cross bar for the tokonoma front wall is supposed to be (the otoshigake) relative to the height of the door header (the nagaoshi), and how high that's supposed to be relative to the ceiling plane, along with strict dimensions for the spacing of shelves in the tokowaki, and the height of the floor of the tokonoma relative to the room floor. We're not going to worry too much about most of those "rules" (and we can't do anything to raise the entire room height to meet those various relative height offsets anyway), so we just decided to try and make it work within the available space. This also works fine within the sukiya style concept, which is much less formal than the more strict shoin building style. The biggest difference between our tokonoma and a formal hondoko is that I re-located the entire shelf alcove to the usual position of the shoin (perpendicular to the left side of the toko), and there's no shoin as all (although the media cabinet and window above it will kinda-sorta look right). The other big difference is that both the display alcove and the shelf alcove aren't actually alcoves, but instead stick in to the main room – with the shelves sticking into the toko. I won't tell if you don't.

click to magnify Framing the tokonoma (4 photos).

With the basics of the layout decided upon, the next step was the usual time spent fiddlin' with a plan to work out the actual dimensions of the thing (see above). Based on the walls I knew were plumb and square, the first measurement was to ensure the thing would be deep enough to house the fusuma doors. After adding the depth of the little bump stops, trim, and a wall covering, that worked out to be 6-feet, 1-3/4-inches. Of course the front wall isn't plumb, and the floor isn't level, but I got it worked out to ensure the toko would be long enough and got busy framing the thing. Some of the dimensions were also determined by what was going to happen in the shelf area, which contains a set of offset shelves in the center (the chigaidana), then an upper shelf/cabinet with sliding doors (the tenbukuro), and a larger bottom cabinet with sliding doors (the jibukuro). The typical dimensions of "western" console furniture are basically 32-inches tall and 22-inches deep, so I used that as the size for the lower cabinet (as well as the height of the lower wall section at the right end of the toko). The upper shelves/cabinet were then set to half that depth, so 11-inches deep. To reduce some of the "bulk" of the walls, I also used 2x3s for the framing of the upper walls instead of 2x4s. After adding a fair amount of additional ceiling framing to provide something to attach the finished ceiling to, the last step was to get the 4-inch recessed can installed. Rather than center that light in the entire width of the toko, we instead centered it between the front of the lower cabinet at the left, and the end wall on the right. This will put the light nicely centered when we hang a scroll in the finished tokonoma. I also kinda hid the light switch on the inside of the right side wall, instead of putting it up in the middle of the back wall. We're quite pleased with how it's lookin' so far.

Installing the Ceiling "Underlayment": Late Winter/Early Spring 2023
After the tokonoma framing and wiring was completed, the living room was ready for a new vapor barrier followed by the installation of the first layer of the finished ceiling, which I'm calling ceiling "underlayment" for lack of a better term. The idea is to get to a 1/2-inch thick finished ceiling (since that's what recessed lights and electrical boxes are designed for), so we'll use 1/4-inch Oak ply as the first layer, then the finish layer will be 1/4-inch stained Birch ply. But first the new vapor barrier went up — which started with a fresh roll of 6-mil plastic, pulled tight then stapled every foot or so to all the ceiling joists. All the staple penetrations were then carefully sealed with tape, and the entire perimeter also got taped to the wall vapor barrier at the edge of the ceiling. An undersized opening for each light was then cut in the plastic, the plastic pushed around the edge of the can, then hit with a healthy layer of clear caulk. The living room ceiling was air sealed at last.

The 1/4-inch Oak ply then went up without much trouble. I started at the kitchen end of the room, aligning the ply to the edge of the ceiling at that end, then just started bangin' away every 8-inches or so with the medium crown stapler. I did have to adjust the stapler a bit and turn down the output pressure of the compressor, since the first couple staples just blew right through the plywood. Once things were adjusted properly the work progressed without issue, alternating the seams of the 8-foot long pieces and 4-foot long pieces as I worked across the ceiling. For the edges of each piece near the walls, I had to switch to the narrow crown stapler (with 7/8" staples) as the body of the medium crown gun was too big to fire a staple flush into the edge. The openings for the recessed lights were carefully measured then made with a 6-3/8" hole saw I'd purchased years ago for the recessed lights in the genkan, kitchen, and bathroom. I managed to get the entire ceiling done with the available plywood, although the last bit at the front of the house had to be filled in with some little 8-inch wide pieces — most of the ply I had been given was actually 23-inches wide and not a full 24-inches, so that difference added up as I worked across the room, which resulted in the 8-inch gap I filled in with cut-offs.

click to magnify The ceiling "underlayment" installation (3 photos).

We also noticed there were a few spots where the Oak ply was a bit bowed, which resulted in a small "step" from one piece to the next (you may notice some of these little "steps" in the first photo at the left). To ensure the finish ceiling didn't transmit these offsets, the lovely bride went into the attic with a handful of little chunks of 2x4 and a 6x6 block. I tapped on the ceiling from below so she could find the bow spot, then she'd span the seam with a chunk of 2x4 and hold it in place with the 6x6 to remove the bow, and I'd secure the 2x4 from below with the narrow crown stapler. It worked very well, and the whole ceiling appeared very smooth and even when we finished.

The only remaining task for the "underlayment" installation project was to get the ceiling mounted Dolby Atmos® speaker openings cut. The two pieces of plywood where the speakers were going to mount had been temporarily installed with a few screws rather than staples, so I could remove those pieces to the shop and cut the speaker openings. The problem was that the speakers I had initially selected late last year (a pair of Monoprice™ "Alpha" 6-1/2" Carbon Fiber 2-way speakers with 15° angled drivers) were on seemingly endless backorder. The were originally supposed to be in stock at the beginning of February, but every time I checked the site, the ETA kept changing to a few days later. I was not going to attempt to cut the speaker openings until I had the speakers in hand as I wanted to be certain the hole size was correct, since the speaker is held in place with little screwed "flaps" at the edge of the opening. They finally became available on the last day of February, so I immediately ordered a pair. The 6-1/2 inch speakers require an 8-3/4 inch opening, so now that I had the speakers I could determine exactly where to make the openings.

It turned out that the original planned location for the speakers just wasn't going to work — the 8-3/4 inch speaker diameter at that location put the speaker right next to where the attic truss boards are attached to the ceiling joist, and that joist bay on the bedroom side of the living room only has 9-inches of space available. With the 3/4-inch thick truss boards in there, there's just not enough room for the speaker. My first thought was to move the speakers a little closer to the kitchen (so they'd be centered in the finish ceiling panel there, rather than flush to one edge), but there wasn't enough speaker wire available to comfortably make that connection. They were going to need to move closer to the front of the living room, which meant the openings would end up in a piece of plywood that was already stapled in place. So be it. I removed the screws from the original location sheets and got those properly secured with the stapler, then fiddled around with measurements to find a new location for the speakers. I decided to move them to align on what will eventually be a seam of the finished ceiling panels, a little closer to the front-to-back center of the living room ceiling. I marked and cut the openings with the jig saw working overhead (which wasn't as bad as I'd thought), cleaned up the openings a bit with a rasp and sandpaper, then caulked the vapor barrier to the ply around the perimeter of the hole. Because the speakers can't actually be installed until the finished ceiling is up (the flange of the speaker presses against the finish ceiling, with the "flaps" screwed down for pressure against the underlayment), the last task was to add a couple TENMAT® recessed light covers in the attic to seal the speaker openings. These mineral wool "buckets" were trimmed and fit over the speaker openings, the speaker wire fed through the edge, then held in place with a liberal application of spray foam. The living room is now ready for gypsum wall board and finished ceiling installation. Progress!

More photos and updates to follow as work progresses…