Return to Attic and Roof Renovations: Converting an Attic Space into a Kids Bedroom and Bathroom

Part 2: Demolition - Uncovering Past Mistakes

Demolition Time


Demolition started March 5th, 2016, working by myself for a couple hours each night after the kids were put to bed, the initial take-down of drywall and plaster took 6 days and was finished March 11th. With the help of a friend's son for five hours on Saturday March 12th, and my parents for a couple more hours on Sunday March 13th, we carried out all the debris - down two-and-a-half flights of stairs - and deposited into a bin in the back yard. (Provided expediently by Omar's Bobcat & Container Service).

I timed the removal. On Saturday we averaged 7 round trips every 10 minutes - 210 trips total, each. Every trip involved carrying 30lbs of debris down 2.5 flights of stairs, and then the return back up 2.5 additional flights of stairs. That's over 1000 flights of stairs in 5 hours, or roughly equivalent to climbing the height of the CN Tower and back down again three and a half times, while carrying two pails of cement.

We didn't remove everything, I took down the layers of drywall and plaster covering most of the attic, but left the insulation, the boards holding the insulation in place, some of the plaster on the flat center of the room, and supporting walls on either side of the attic. The reason for not completing the demolition (aside from having filled our bin to the brim) was what I discovered beneath all those layers.



The Pink Wall. Seemingly out of place, centered among the overwhelming navy-floral motif of the attic, was a rather inexplicable pink wall. Serving no purpose, save for providing a structure for the 4ft-wide, 12in-deep, and 18in-high unpainted drywall cubby located at head-height (continuing a theme from elsewhere in the house of wasting space by constructing tiny useless structure-compromising cubbies) the very existence of the pink wall baffled me.

Removing it did provide some answers. First: the pink wall was (relatively) new, no more than 20-30 years old. It was constructed with modern drywall, the structure was haphazardly built from lumber that was still fresh in appearance. The mudding was done seamlessly across the planes of the drywall itself, but poorly blended at the corners where they butted up against the older floral wallpaper and where the stippled ceiling extended beneath the new structure. The pink wall was also constructed on top of the carpet. Left un-anchored to the floor joists, the entire wall structure was literally hanging from the roof joists and wedged into place with the 2x4 base plate simply resting on the carpeting.

The next discovery was that the (now obvious) reason for building the pink wall, was to conceal the significant water-damage to the roof valley it was built around. The wood falling apart from rot, sections blackened with mold were simply hidden away behind newer construction to disguise the unsightly nature of the damage. But that's not all. The very truss that the wall was 'hung' from had rotted completely through. A full foot-long section near the middle was completely gone, and in an effort to brace the collapsing roof, a double-thickness 2x4 (except it was cut in places to ensure it lacked structural integrity) was hung from the decayed truss using four 6-inch lag bolts.

If you examine the upper picture closely, you can see the lag bolts holding the new beam in place, and where the beam has been attached below the existing (finished) ceiling.

But that's not all!

Due to the rotted truss, the weight of the south-facing valley and the weight of the snow that accumulates there was no longer supported adequately along its top edge. All of this weight was subsequently transferred to a shearing force on the outer wall. As a result, the base of the outer wall has become separated from the floor by several inches, bowing outward to the point that it has become hazardous.

The Knee Walls. Rather less interesting than the pink wall, the Knee Walls were also added later on the western side. The evidence suggests that the attic was renovated sometime in the 1960s (which is responsible for the floral nightmare). The wood is aged to a darker yellow with a harder, waxy texture (as opposed to the darkened wood of the early 1900s), and although the sloped parts of the roof are done with batt insulation, it is wrapped in waxed paper in addition to a poly vapor barrier, and the drywall is that odd pink-colored gypsum that you only see in older homes. The knee walls were built after the drywall had been installed, but they were wallpapered continuously with the rest of the attic, and the carpet was added after.

Order of photographs: North-west corner, North-east corner, South-east corner

There is evidence that the current knee walls replaced existing original ones, as the northeastern corner retained some of the original vertical structure and well as plaster (though it too was wallpapered), and at a later date - likely coinciding with the construction of the pink wall - the southeastern corner had its knee wall removed entirely to be replaced with a much lower one (roughly 12in high) with new timber and modern pink insulation.

The Plaster. The attic space ended up being a mish-mash of new drywall, old drywall, and plaster - sometimes all three at the same time. The eastern slope, as well as the south face, and the stairwell (on the north side) were all done in rather ancient lathe and plaster. Part of the eastern slope and the north face also possessed an additional layer of vapor barrier and 60s era drywall. The southern valley and the western side, and the northeastern knee wall were all done in the same era of drywall - but only drywall - and lacked the additional original plaster. The pink wall was done in newer drywall. And every surface - new or old - was held together by wallpaper.

The ceiling was a different story.

The Ceiling. It was an onion - an archaeological mystery of its own. The bottom layer consisted of stipple on top of the same 60s era drywall found in other locations. Beneath the drywall was a vapor barrier. Then half-inch wooden strapping to which the light and electrical wires were secured. Beneath the strapping was 2 layers of vapor barrier. Then came a layer of crumbling plaster on top of decayed lathe. Which in turn was secured to rotting trusses and filled with blown-in sawdust for insulation.

Ironically, the sawdust is likely the reason there wasn't more water damage than there already was. Blackened with rot, I'm sure it absorbed must of the moisture that was coming through the roof itself - for if you examine the lower photograph in the Pink Wall section above, you can see a piece of blue sheeting. This is where the roof deck itself has rotted away completely, exposing the outermost asphalt covering that was used on the flat section of the roof.

Had I taken the photo during daylight hours, you can actually see the light of the sun shining in through the roof. 

The Insulation. In addition to the various layers of insulation already mentioned including different grades and eras of pink batt insulation as well as sawdust - hidden behind the insulation in the north-east knee wall we discovered a hole cut into the roof deck itself - leading into the attic space above the second-floor addition on the eastern side of the house. Now, this wasn't unexpected - the construction crew must have cut the hole in order to access the attic space when they were building the addition sometime between the original construction and the 60s when the attic was renovated.

What was interesting - is the complete lack of any kind of insulation in the space. When I poke my head in, I could clearly hear the traffic outside - there was certainly ventilation in the space as you would expect. But underfoot, just joists and drywall. Nothing. We knew the addition was cold, during the winter the walls and floor were icy - to the point that frost would form on the interior surfaces. We spray-foamed the floor from beneath - taking down the porch ceiling and insulating it as best we could - but we had not suspected the ceiling as the culprit.

Mystery solved.

Part 3: Engineering - Overbuilding for Dummies