Patio Pergola Project - Extend an Elevated Concrete Deck

Problem - how do you extend an elevated concrete deck? Ours was not square, and had a huge notch in one corner. And - the steps were settling into the earth because they were installed without foundations below the frost line.

One of the most extensive projects we undertook at the house has been a patio refurbishment. The back patio off our family room is an elevated concrete slab with concrete sonotube columns supporting it from below the frost line. A very rugged structure that does not appear to have moved since construction of the house from 25 years ago.
Demolition of steps underway

Also - very unattractive. Epoxy paint peeling. Massive 20' long concrete step was constructed on grade, and was settling / heaving with the frost. The shape was not rectangular, it had a large 45 degree corner cut from the shape which precluded the erection of a shade structure. And - it was not square to the house - it was square to the yard and pool.

Elevated Concrete Patio - Steps settling into the ground, shape not rectangular, corner cut at 45 degrees
After much thought, we decided to keep the elevated concrete patio, but demolish the steps, square off the rectangular shape and make it a bit wider, and install a smaller set of concrete steps with foundations below the frost line. 
Demolition of Steps Underway

Demolition Complete
With demolition underway, design of the concrete extension begun. I had engaged a concrete contractor to perform the work. They offered to perform the extension, but would not engage to produce any drawings or sketches. This posed a problem for building permits. I discussed the situation with our municipal planning department - they advised me that if I ever planned to construct a permanent structure on the patio, such as a sunroom or extension, they would require a structural design stamped by a professional engineer. So - I sought and found a civil / structural engineer that would prepare the extension plans - and I'm glad that I did. He recommended changing the extension thickness from 4" to 6", adding some additional screw piling suppports, and some additional rebar from what the concrete contractor proposed. Work then continued with the screw pile installation, selected to eliminate the requirement for large excavations to perform sonotubes and footings below the frost line.

Screw pile installation.
The pile is literally screwed into the ground by the
hydraulic drive head installed on a mini-excavator. 

Completed screw pile, which will support the squared corner of the patio. Note the special head designed for supporting pour in place concrete.
With screw piles installed, formwork and rebar began.

Formwork completed, ready for Rebar

Formwork detail for steps
Rebar installed, note top plate of screw pile in foreground

Rebar epoxied into existing concrete for shear protection
With formwork and rebar completed, the concrete was supplied by a mini-mix truck and left to cure for 15 days before removal of formwork. It was important to keep the concrete moist during the period so that it had sufficient water to support a strong cure. 

Fresh concrete

Fresh concrete steps

Finished, cured concrete


So - project virtually complete and ready for the shade structure. Just one step remained and that was to seal the joint between the old and new concrete with epoxy crack fill - to ensure water would not be able to penetrate the joint, freeze, and separate the concrete. More posts to follow on the Pergola and the ceramic tile installation.

Sources and Links

Cimentech was the concrete contractor. They did good work and I'm satisfied with the results. Vistech performed the screw pile installation per the engineers recommendations - and I'm quite happy with their work as well - arrived when expected and performed the work very well. Michel Kim was the civil engineer that prepared the structural drawing and documents for the building permit. He was a very practical engineer, and I think he was a big factor in improving the quality of the project. 


Quickjack Portable Car Lift - Rubber Feet upgrade on Hydraulic Pump Unit

I picked up a Quickjack portable car lift for the BMW turbo replacement project, and really took advantage of it. Very solid, good lift height, quick lifting and descending, very convenient. The only nitpick I had with this was the rubber feet on the hydraulic pump unit - they clip into holes in the base of the pump frame - and any little movement and those feet would pop out. I quickly lost one.
Original rubber foot on right (note tab), and upgraded rubber foot on left. 

Hydraulic Pump Frame with the rubber feet that pop out easily
 This got annoying pretty quickly, so I got online and purchased some replacement rubber feet for the hydraulic pump frame. I was careful to size the hole in the new rubber foot so that it would be compatible with the holes on the pump frame. The optimal hardware size was 5mm (about 3/16 of an inch).

5mm Stainless Steel Hardware with Upgraded Rubber Feet


Simple project, quick and easy, no more running after the rubber feet for the pump frame.
Upgraded rubber feet installed on the Quickjack Pump Frame with 5mm Stainless Steel Hardware

Sources and Links

I have some spare hardware from this project so I'm selling some of these as kits - if you're interested, you can purchase them on eBay here: Listing 173979355180

Tap and Die Organization Using Plano Half Height ProLatch StowAway Utility Boxes

I've had an inexpensive tap and die set forever. I bought it from Canadian Tire, came in a blue metal case - and I'm sure there's hundreds of thousands of these out in garages everywhere. Mine got to the point where the plastic organizer started coming apart, and, there is no space for expansion when you purchase new taps and dies.

The completed reorganization - Taps and Dies, One box for Metric, One box for Standard, Plano ProLatch StowAway
I don't use these regularly enough to really do much about it, until I got into a turbo replacement project on my daily driver and had quite a few threads to clean up. I was also annoyed that the metric and standard taps and dies were mixed together, it just slowed things down when trying to find the right tap or die quickly. So - a new project was born.
Mastercraft Tap and Die Set - The plastic organizer had reached end-of-life
I did a bit of research, and the idea of a machinists tool chest was quickly ruled out - I don't use these very often, and I want the storage to be as space efficient as possible. I organize all my hardware in Plano Prolatch storage boxes - super convenient, and I went to see if I could find something suitable for the taps and dies. I found that Plano makes a half height Prolatch - the 2-3601 with 21 adjustable compartments. Here's how it went.

Plano ProLatch StowAway 2-3601 Utility Box 
 This was quick and easy. Separate metric from standard, and organize taps and dies from large to small - outer corners towards the center. I double stacked dies - this works well because you can pair the fine and coarse threaded dies of the same size.

Metric Taps and Dies, with enough space left over for the tap holders, in the Plano 2-3601 ProLatch StowAway
I know that taps shouldn't be stored where the tap cutting surfaces can rub against other taps - I'll have to look into sleeves that I can use to protect the thread cutting surfaces a bit better, but I don't think this should be a major issue for me. If these were rattling around the back of a service truck, it would be a different story.
Both sets - labelled. Plano ProLatch StowAway 2-3601
I've bought a few more of these Plano boxes - they're quite space efficient, and will fit in my hardware rack nicely. Here's a photo of how I store all my hardware in the regular height ProLatch StowAway utility boxes:

Plano ProLatch StowAway utility boxes arranged in Ikea Kitchen Wall Cabinets - Good Fit

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States.


BMW E61 Turbo Replacement Project - Cleaning Intercooler, Radiator, Power Steering and Transmission Coolers

I made the decision to pull the engine and transmission out of the front of the car when doing the turbo replacement project. I was using quickjacks which give me about 24" of lift - and don't have a 2 or 4 post lift to be able to drop the engine and transmission out of the bottom of the car. One thing that really impressed me about this car was there are 7 heat exchangers / coolers around the front of the car: radiator, AC evaporator, power steering cooler, engine oil cooler, charge air intercooler, transmission fluid cooler and coolant / transmission fluid heat exchanger.

Charge air intercooler - lots of grit came out of the fins.
 It was pretty impressive the quantity of road grit that came out of virtually all the heat exhangers, particularly the intercooler, power steering cooler, and transmission fluid cooler. The AC evaporator, engine oil cooler and radiator protect themselves somewhat because they are stacked behind the transmission fluid cooler. The AC evaporator is quite exposed to grit and debris coming through the kidney grille at speed, blasting the paint and flattenning the fin material.

Halo of grit from flushing the intercooler. 
This car is winter driven daily - and exposed to road salt and grit all winter. The intercooler was about 30% blocked with grit, the power steering cooler about 50% blocked with grit, and the transmission cooler was the worst off - almost 100% blocked with grit.
Transmission cooler - almost completely blocked with road grit.
 Through trial and error - I found that the best method to clean all these aluminum parts was to initally flush with soap and water, and try to get as much grit removed using a high flow / low pressure water hose to avoid damaging the fin material. Once that was done, I used aluminum wheel cleaner - sprayed to soak into the fins as much as possible, and then flushed with water within the prescribed time (a few minutes of application only). This remove a good amount of grit. Then the third stage was to clean out grit using a dental pick set - I needed to do this with the worst heat exhangers only - and since these parts cost between $300 and $700 each - it was worth the time doing a few evenings of dental picking to rehabilitate these parts.
Front end during disassembly - note the sandblasting of the AC evaporator - leaving the kidney grille shape with two lines from a cross brace. 

The transmission cooler is the lowest cooler on the car - and the most packed with grit.

Transmission cooler - almost completely blocked with grit.
During the dental picking, I also straightened and lifted any folded fin material - it's time consuming, but for me it was worth it.

Radiator after cleaning with aluminum wheel cleaner. 

AC evaporator after cleaning with aluminum wheel cleaner. 

Intercooler during cleaning - all the metal and fins were in good condition without any pitting at the hose mating surfaces.
One final thing to note - I replaced all the o-rings / sealing rings at all the hose interfaces to help ensure I wouldn't have any leaks at startup. Now that the car is on the road, running, and AC system charged - I can state that it was worth the effort - no leaks at all from any of the systems - cooling, power steering, transmission cooling, engine oil cooling. All good.
Front end with all the coolers replaced. Shop dog hanging out the garage. Not easy keeping the dog clean....
I'll post some additional articles with lessons learned from this project, hopefully it can help others out when doing similar work.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. Turbo parts were supplied by Turner Motorsports. Other parts were supplied by Pelican, BMW Park Avenue in Brossard, and eEuroparts.


BMW E61 Turbo Replacement - Engine Subframe Powdercoating, Steering Rack Rebuild

In order to pull the engine out of the front of the car with the transmission, the subframe needs to be dropped in order to allow the oil pan to pass over the steering rack. With the subframe on the floor, it was pretty easy to clean it up and check the condition of the subframe and steering rack.

Here's the subframe. Carbon steel construction, with one engine mount, 2 heat shields and steering rack attached.
The engine subframe on the BMW E61 is fabricated from carbon steel, painted or powdercoated black in the factory. My car is 9 years from the date of manufacture, and has been operated in Toronto and Montreal its entire life, subject to Canadian winters and road salt. What's interesting is that there is virtually no rust anywhere on the steel and aluminum body components. Most of the underbody structural and suspension components are made from aluminum - like the rear suspension frame, and the front suspension arms. There are a few components which sufferred from corrosion - the subframe, some of the aluminum heat shields, particularly at attachment points to the body, and one driveshaft tunnel brace also made of steel which I decided to replace.

The subframe was the one component of the car showing the most significant rust damage
Once I had a look of the extent of the paint bubbling and corrosion on the subframe, I decided that I didn't want to invest the time to try to clean it up and treat the corrosion myself - I had lots of other things requiring attention, like getting the new turbos, head gasket, oil pan gasket, etc on the engine and get the engine / transmission ready to replace in the car. So I decided to strip the subframe, remove the steering rack, and take the subframe to a local powdercoating shop to have it sandblasted and coated.
In preparation for sending out the steering rack - I measured the tie rod locations precisely for setup on reinstallation.
I found a local powdercoating shop that normally does industrial work, and the owner was a bit of a car guy and accepted to do my subframe for $150 - which was a great deal in terms of how much time it saved me from cleaning this up myself.
Subframe back from Powdercoat - beautiful.
He did a great job of sandblasting out all the rust, you can see in the powdercoat finish some of the pitting in the steel which was now overcoated, this should help keep the car on the road for another 10 years. He also protected all the studs and weldnuts from powdercoat - I didn't have any threading or tapping to do - which also saved time.
You can see some of the rust pitting in this photo - right hand motor mount area.

And some of the pitting here.
For the steering rack and axle half shafts / CV joints - I took them all to Axle Automotive (Capital Dominion Radiator) on Gladstone Avenue in Ottawa for rebuild. The rear axle half shafts were both spraying grease, and the fronts were fine but I had them repacked with new boots as a preventative measure anyway. They stripped down the steering gear, cleaned it, replaced the rod seals and boots, and the steering gear seals. I had the option of having the rack painted black - I opted to keep it natural aluminum. It turned out really nice - and now with the car on the road I can report that the steering feel is excellent - rack is performing like new. The price for the rebuild was very good - better than I could find at any shop in the Montreal area.
Front axle half shafts and steering rack - back from rebuild with all new boots. 

The aluminum body of the steering gear shows some oxidation - purely cosmetic and something I can live with. 
One thing to note is that all the bolts holding the subframe to the car front frame are torque to yield type fasteners that need to be replaced when loosened or removed. I did purchase new fasteners for the subframe.
Subframe prepped with heat shields, steering rack, left hand motor mount and power steering lines ready for the motor.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. Turbo parts were supplied by Turner Motorsports. Other parts were supplied by Pelican, BMW Park Avenue in Brossard, and eEuroparts. Capital Radiator in Ottawa did the steering rack rebuild.


BMW E61 Turbo Replacement - New Head Gasket, Oil Pan Gasket and Oil Level Sensor Gasket

So this is the point where your spouse really begins to think that you're crazy, and wonders when you're going to get out and get a real job....

Since we're this far into it, by this time I had made the decision to switch out any suspicious seals, gaskets, o-rings, and try to do a proper job of this. I separated the head from the engine. You need to remove the timing chain from the VANOS camshaft gears. In order to remove the camshaft gears, you need to lock the camshaft into position using the camshaft lock tool - part of the camshaft timing tool set for the N54. Procedure is as follows - move the engine to top dead center cylinder one - and you can make sure you're in top dead center by looking for the laser engraved part number on the camshafts - just behing where you insert the camshaft locking tool. If you can't see the part number - you're 180 degrees away from top dead center and won't be able to remove all the head bolts. 
With camshaft in TDC position - grooves in the camshaft allow access to the head bolts underneath
Unbolting and torquing the heads - you're going to need a set of long hex sockets to access the fasteners. I kept the camshaft lock on the head the whole time the head was off during cleaning. 

Head split from engine. Note the camshaft lock tool (black).
With the head off - it's time to get everything cleaned up. I used brake cleaner and very mild abrasive scouring pads to gently remove the oil and carbon deposits. It worked well.

N54 engine block with head removed. No major difference in carbon buildup on the pistons. Note the zip tie holding the timing chain to the timing chain guide - this prevents the timing chain from falling off the bottom sprocket.
 The head gasket has factory applied silicone sealing rings applied. With the old head removed, I could see some places where oil had started weeping past the head gasket.

Front of the block - oil weeping past head gasket - timing chain cavity
 When I got down to cleaning the engine block - I cut fingers from vinyl gloves to block the coolant passages and help prevent debris from getting down into the coolant and oil passages. Very important - make sure you remove all this before you reassemble the engine for obvious reasons.
Vinyl glove pieces used to seal oil and coolant passages from debris during cleaning.
With the block mating surface clean - now is the time to check that the block is flat using a machinist straightedge.

Engine block cleaned, ready for head gasket and head.
 On to cleaning the head. This took quite a bit of effort to get the mating surface clean. When you factor in the time required to clean the oil from the intake passages (walnut blast) - in retrospect - I would have had the block taken into a machine shop for disassembly, cleaning, and a cleanup cut off the head surface. For the money I would have spent - it would have saved 40 hours of work in my garage... live and learn. I'll do a post on the intake valve cleaning and the problems I ran into there.
Head cleaned, ready for inspection and verification of flatness. 
 I had three places in the head where there was very minor erosion of the aluminum surface. Best option would have been to take the head into a machine shop to have a cleanup milling cut done. I cleaned the erosion the best I could, then applied a very thin coat of copper gasket maker to the eroded surfaces in the hope it will improve sealing of the head gasket. Time will tell how well this works.
Copper gasket sealant on a few eroded surfaces of the head. There was no erosion anywhere on the block.
 The assembly of the head to the engine was straightforward. Make sure you use new fasteners - they are all torque to yield fasteners and can only be used once. Torquing those fasteners is a bit tricky - you apply an initial torque with a torque wrench, then a defined turn in degrees. Make sure you follow the manual for your car for your torquing instructions.
Plastic valve cover, aluminum oil pan. Cleaning up for reassembly.
 Initially I thought I could get away without replacing the seals on the oil level sensor, so I left it in the pan and set about to cleaning the mating surfaces. Same procedure as for the heads - brake cleaner and scouring pads.
Mating surfaces cleaned on the oil pan - ready for reassembly with new gasket. 
 The aluminum oil pan gasket fasteners are aluminum torque to yield type. They take a very small initial preload - I used my 1/4" torque wrench from my bicycle repair kit to do the initial preload.
1/4" torque wrench on aluminum oil pan bolts. 
 To apply the 60 degree turn following the intiial preload, I did a wrap of vinyl tape around the torx socket - and made two marks 60 degrees apart. Makes measurement of the final angle torque application very easy.
 I followed up with a new magnetic drain plug.
Magnetic drain plug and sealing washers. 

Oil level sensor port - very dirty. Ended up having to purchase a new O-ring and clean this up properly.
Oil level sensor port cleaned up - fair bit of minor pitting, but the o-ring sealing surface wasn't too bad. 
I cleaned up the sensor instead of replacing it. Much gunk inside, came out nicely with electrical contact cleaner (safe for plastics). Looking at this - this is another good reason not to try to push oil change intervals on a turbocharged aluminum VANOS engine - you can see the effect that running high mileage oil has on internal components.
I used electrical contact cleaner to flush out the inside of the oil level sensor - worked well to get all the old oil out. 
A little copper silicone gasket sealer on the o-ring surface to help ensure a good seal of the level sensor despite the pitting.
I'll try to get a few more posts done - lots of lessons learned with this project that I want to share.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. Turbo parts were supplied by Turner Motorsports. Other parts were supplied by Pelican, BMW Park Avenue in Brossard, and eEuroparts.