As promised yesterday, here are the details on my weekend home-improvement project.
As it turns out, dismantling a cold-air return and repairing a hardwood floor are much easier than they sound. Hard work, to be sure, but not particularly difficult or scary once you get into it.
(Details of the project are after the jump.)
Per Dad’s instructions, we went to the lumberyard and got a couple of quarter-sheets of half-inch plywood cut into 14-inch-wide strips — just wide enough to slip between the floor joists without sticking — and a couple of 2x4s cut in half so they’d fit in Ron’s car. (Sometimes I really miss Gretchen.)
I also picked up a box of inch-long drywall screws and a box of 2-inch, star-head deck screws.
I cut the plywood into manageable pieces and drilled holes in them three inches apart. I also cut the 2x4s into manageable pieces and drilled two or three holes in each one.
The worst part of the floor was right over the cold-air return for the HVAC system. The return consists of a long sheet of galvanized metal that spans three joists and is attached with rusted-out nails. Running just below it are umpteen water lines, cables, and conduits full of Romex, some too close to the joists for me to pry the entire thing loose and take it out as a single sheet.
To work around this problem, I loosened all the obstacles as much as possible, then used my hive tool, a large screwdriver, and a claw hammer to pry off a section of metal, which Ron and I cut out with tinsnips. It wasn’t an ideal solution, but at least we had access to the floorboards.
With the space opened up, I found a rickety spot and laid one of the plywood pieces against it, lining it up so the holes were in the centers of the boards. I attached the plywood piece with the one-inch screws, then used the deck screws to attach the chunks of 2×4 to the joists, pressed flush against the plywood to secure it.
I continued like this over the entire area we’d cut out. In a few spots, I had to remove caulk and/or shims a previous owner had used in a failed attempt to quiet the squeaks.
When I finished reinforcing the floor, I had to replace the metal. The sections I’d removed were pretty chewed-up from prying them off the old nails and cutting them with the tinsnips, and I was a little afraid if I tried to put them back up, one of those sharp edges would nick the insulation on some of the wiring while I was trying to wrangle it into place, so I went to the hardware store and picked up a $10 roll of 20-inch aluminum flashing. It’s not as sturdy as the galvanized tin that was on there before, but it’s cheap, easy to work with, and since the return is carrying air, not current, we figured the type of metal probably didn’t matter. (Never, ever use aluminum for a wiring project. You’re liable to burn down your house.)
To make the metal easier to remove in the future, I drilled holes about two inches apart in the ends of the flashing strips and used some of the leftover drywall screws to attach them, adding a couple of screws in the middle for reinforcement and overlapping the ends a bit. (You can take a closer look at this process — and get an idea of the obstacles I was dealing with — in the top picture.)
When I was all finished, I sealed the seams with aluminum duct tape, which I think makes this the first time in recorded history that I’ve used duct tape for its intended purpose.
Finally, I came upstairs and handled one last issue: a board in the weakest spot had developed a small split. I repaired this by gently lifting up the split part, squirting a bunch of wood glue under there, and pressing it back down until excess glue squished out around the edges. I wiped off the excess with a paper towel and fashioned a makeshift clamp from a pair of cast-iron skillets and a concrete lawn gnome, which I left sitting on top of the split area until the glue dried.
This project was a lot of work for something nobody will ever see, but it took a huge load off my mind, and I’m kind of proud of myself for getting it done.