Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ode to the Joist Hanger

Probably one of the most underused items by the DIY-er is the joist hanger.  Most people just don’t understand why you need them and assume nails and screws are enough, which is true for some situations but definitely not all.  Joist hangers make a huge difference for anything that takes real weight (floors, decks, “plumbers boxes”) that does not rest on a plate.  This is a blog post dedicated to those mighty pieces of thinly formed metal that pick up all the slack that a simple nail cannot handle. 

Now let me start out by reminding you, our lovely reader, that our houses were all built in the 1920’s and 1930’s which means joist hangers didn’t really exist.  The joist hanger patent was filed in 1957 and published in 1962.   Because of this, I can’t really blame the original framing carpenters for any joist issues we had to fix. 

Disclaimer: The pictures you are about to see are very real and have not changed for the purposes of this blog post.  No animals were hurt in the jacking and fixing of the floor framing (although Teddy yapped at us through the door as he thought his life was in danger since we would not let him in the room with us while we were performing this work), and, of course, we were safe at all times (we both still have every appendage on our bodies ;)).

Let the story begin:  It all started about 2 weeks after we bought our Charlotte house.  I noticed a sag in the ceiling of one of the bedrooms. Neither Brooke nor I noticed it on the numerous walk-throughs of the house before we took possession.  There is a small half bath above the bedroom with the slightly sagging ceiling, so I immediately assumed we had a leak that was covered up by the real estate company for selling.  Whether that was or was not the case, either way we were going to have to figure out the issue and fix it.

Step 1: Find the problem:

I started out by Hulk-busting through the ceiling with my bare fist.  Hulk-busting sounds cool, right?   This made a hole big enough next to the toilet pipe so we could flush the toilet a few times and see if it was leaking or not.  
Matt hulk-busting through the ceiling to check for leaks
The toilet was actually not currently leaking, but we did find evidence of a previous leak that was quickly fixed and left there for the mold to grow and procreate and make evil spawn that would blacken the top of the ceiling around the bottom of the toilet.  Upon slowing tearing down the ceiling until no more mold was present, the real problem did become evident.  
Tearing down all dry wall with any presence of old mold
Old mold on drywall demolition
The floor joists for the second floor bathroom were sagging.  In framing for the upstairs half bath, the joist direction was changed to accommodate for the waste pipe of the toilet.  It quickly became obvious that all the joists that were a part of this framed area were sagging, so we opened up the ceiling to expose all sagging joists (which ended up being half the room).  
Joists changed direction to be parallel with toilet waste pipe 
Sagging joists 
Two (2) finger length of sagging joist to carrying beam (joists should be flush with each other)
Upon exposing half the ceiling, we also found a mostly rotted floor joist as well from the old toilet leak that was previously quickly fixed without treating any damage or mold by a previous contractor.
Mostly rotted floor joist from the old toilet leak 
Sawzall used to open ceiling efficiently
Half the ceiling exposed until no more joists were sagging  

Step 2: Remedy the problem – fix all damage and treat all mold:

Before we started jacking up joists, we first had to make sure we had a clean environment to work in.  We disposed of all the moldy drywall after demo and then treated all joists with bleach.
Treating joists with bleach
The solution sounds simple - re-level the ceiling and patch it up. What happened in real life was simple, but time consuming and fairly involved to do it properly and safely.  As most of the wood joists were in good shape (except the one rotted joist), simply leveling and adding the joist hanger was enough in most cases. 

The typical setup we have was this for each joist:
We placed a column jack in the basement first directly below the joist we were jacking on the second floor.   Then we used another jack post, and 2x4’s to raise the individual joist back to level.  Once the joist was level with carrying beam for that joist, we then installed the joist hanger with proper sized nails to fasten the joist in place. 
Jack post raising joist to level 
Two (2) 2x4's nailed together in a T shape for extra strength
Jack and 2x4's used to raise joist to level
***A few tips
1. Once the joist hanger is flush to all surfaces of wood as possible, the joist hanger has 2 small nailing points to tack the joist hanger in place (shown in picture below).

2. Make sure you put a nail in every single hole of the joist hanger, the company that built the hanger usually recommends the proper size nail based on hanger size.

3.  If you want to use screws and not nails, make sure you use the proper size and structural rated screws.  (We used Simpson brand for everything (hangers, nails, screws, etc.))***
Simpson double joist hanger
Galvanized 3" Simpson nails
Simpson joist hanger flush to carrying beam
Joists in tight locations. Although most applications to the joist were the same (move the jacks, jack the next joist up, nail hanger, and joist in place), a couple joists required a bit more work, due to the odd location.   In the hard to reach areas we used screws or a palm nailer as we couldn’t get enough leverage to nail with a hammer.  Mostly we used screws which involved getting creative with bits and extensions and drilling small holes for said bits and extensions to drive in the screws.
The 3 joists hangers in the right of this picture were in tight locations
Palm nailer used to nail in joist hangers in some tight locations
Rotted Joist. The last joist, the one that was rotted, we had to sister.  We did this by cutting a 2x8 to the proper length, then using construction adhesive we glued and nailed/screwed the rotted joist to the new joist.  Once everything was again jacked and in place we used a double joist hanger on this joist.

Dry fit new joist next to rotted joist 
Process of sistering new joist next to rotted joist
Using the Paslode after gluing the new joist to the old rotted joist.
Added double joist hanger after sistered rotted joist was level
 Another issue with a different joist was that there was a vent pipe that was notched into a joist.  We stiffened this weakened and cracking joist.  Again we glued and screwed a stiffen board on each side; however, we used screws that are made for laminating beams together (since we were 3 2x8’s thick at this point).  Did this really need to be done? Probably not.  But our thinking was/is that we might as well do it while we have the whole ceiling open.  Will I ever need to worry about this notched joist again in my lifetime? Definitely not.

Joist cracking that was notched for vent pipe 
Stiffen boards properly notched to be installed on each side of weakened joist
New stiffener joists glued and screwed level to notched weakened joist
Side note: We installed a new construction heavy duty fan box while we had the ceiling exposed.  Might as well fix everything and anything we can while we have the ceiling exposed!  We also had access from the attic to easily run new Romex to the fan since we removed all knob and tube wiring from the house.
We were able to install a heavy duty fan box while we had the ceiling open
We had access from the attic to run new Romex wire to power the fan
New wiring installed while ceiling was open

Step 3: Close ceiling back up:

After all the re-framing was done, we left the ceiling open for a month or so and used the toilet upstairs exclusively to make sure there were no leaks before we closed it up.  

Completed re-framed and level ceiling with joist hangers
When we closed up the ceiling, we used layers of drywall to makes sure the ceiling was nice and level again.  You can learn about patching drywall holes at How to Patch a Wall Hole.

Layers of drywall seen around fan light
We used 1" thick boards to lower the ceiling to reduce the weight of addition drywall from having to be installed.
Boards installed to reduce the weight of additional drywall layers
Drywall installed
Drywall mudding installed

Drywall mudding fanned out
Ceiling painted
All in all, the joist hanger is one mighty little piece of metal that is often underestimated. So this one’s for you, conquistador of the sagging ceiling, you may never know it, but you may just save a life from a collapsing floor.  I will raise my finest brew to you, the joist hanger!

Complete room - no traces of any renovation :)

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