AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2006
AUGUST 1, 2006
While I tried to figure out just how in the world to build this creek bed, Trev, our mason, begins the ledger - a decorative ledge of stone at the top of the stone wall which will allow the Hardie plank to finish to the top of this ledger.
AUGUST 2, 2006
Today Trev began to apply the stone!
Until we're "on the same page", I watched Trev as he placed the stones. Not only do I want them widely spaced, I want to stay away from the brick-shaped ones. So after he did a large section, we "eyeballed" it together and removed some that seemed out of place.
Meanwhile, I've spent the last three days laboring on the dry creek bed. After staging the rocks along the path of the bed, I've begun placing them - a trial and error process. A natural creek bed would have larger rocks on the edges. After I arrive at a placement that looks right to me, I then dig holes to "plant" the larger rocks, giving the appearance they've been there for years, as with Jill's. I could have lined the bottom of the creek bed with landscaping cloth to prevent weeds from growing up through the rocks, but I thought better of it because it would make it very difficult to plant the larger rocks.
Word to the wise: make sure to explain to all your friends and family that once you begin a monumental project like building your own home, they shouldn't count on you for...anything! You are entering a vortex with blinders where time and obligation no longer exist. I can't tell you how many times we were supposed to call to wish someone happy birthday or anniversary...or attend a party...and either forgot or were late. Hopefully, you have the kind of relationships where they understand the immensity and all-consuming nature of your endeavor!
AUGUST 3, 2006
And now for the grout, the most time-consuming stage.
I want a particular look and it's one that doesn't fill stonemasons with joy. It's called "rustic joint" and to some looks like poor workmanship. To a professional mason, the less grout you see, the more skilled the job. The rustic look requires a wide grout to give it the feeling of antiquity. Hard as it is for Trev to do, the customer is always right and this is the look I want.
Since the rustic grout is so visible, Trev and I also worked on the finish. After some trial and error, we ended up using a bit of burlap sack to give it a rough even look.
AUGUST 4, 2006
We've made a big decision...to have our first get together at and it's BYOE (Bring Your Own EVERYTHING) - a requirement since there's nothing there but the pond and waterfall and dirt. With the summer weather, I figured if I could make enough progress on the landscaping to satisfy me, we could invite people over for a pond side picnic and a "prolonged tour". Aye, but there's the rub. I've now put a lot of pressure on us to finish up several projects. If we're lucky, they'll all come together just in the nick of time.
A new day worker started yesterday and he's back again today. Finding a good day laborer is difficult. Even though they're not the highest paid person on the job, what they do is very important. Dennis is helping me finish off some projects I need completed for our party. One of those is sifting the natural sand and using it to pad under the swing. (Use-what-you-have note: the small pebbles and rocks that are sifted out are used to smooth out the potholes in the driveway) Unfortunately, the sand is all the way at the end of the driveway and the swing is all the way to the back of the property. I'll have to remember to ask Les to stage the sand in the backyard next time he's here.
Meanwhile, I worked on another section of creek bed.
AUGUST 6, 2006
It's another trial run and the stone lady seems to be working well.
I continue work on the creek bed and now I'm working near the base of the front door steps. I'm determined to keep moving forward on this which means I find one way or another to move the larger rocks. At 55 I don't know how I'm doing it, but most of the time I can pick them up. (I always try to remember to hold in my stomach muscles - it helps to support your lower back.) Yes, almost every one of those larger rocks in the picture were carried by me into position. And if one boulder is just too big and heavy, I've been known to use a crowbar to "walk" it onto a dolly and kind of spill it into place and then push it around to it's final destination. If all else fails and there's someone around, I'll bat my eyelashes and see if I can't talk them into using their muscle. And once I was lucky enough to have someone with a truck and some heavy equipment just happen to be visiting our stonemason and he was nice enough to place a large boulder or two.
When the creative mood deserts me or the sun gets too hot, I find something else to do. Now that more areas of the landscaping are groomed, I've got plenty of compost to add.
AUGUST 7, 2006
The larger rocks are in place. The next step is to add the smaller rock to complete the illusion of rushing water.
Green rocks are what I'm after to line the edges of the creekbed, so I'm continually hosing off the rock pile to bring out the colors and pick the most interesting ones. I've been very luck because for some reason this property has had hundreds of green rocks buried under the surface.
AUGUST 11, 2006
Trev has finished the grout on our first stone wall! He's probably cussing me out under his breath because I know this wide grout was particularly labor intensive and his arms and fingers must be aching. The keystone and lentil detail over the window adds to the feeling of solidity and permanence and, for me at least, this is a very desirable element of the exterior of our home.
Greg is still trying to get back to installing our roof, but something always seems to take precedent. It's very worrisome because we must get this roof on before the rainy weather begins.
One project taking precedent is freeing up a scaffold that belongs to our framer. He left it here months ago for Greg to use to install the siding and it's getting near the time where he'll be needing it himself. So Greg pulled off the roof job and is working on the Hardie plank. I was able to assist Greg putting up the JumboTex, a thick black paper which goes behind the siding as a moisture barrier. Early on in the building process, Greg decided to use a very popular product called Tyvek. Since then he's learned through research that Tyvek isn't all that great. Good old fashioned black paper is still the best, so he's going over the Tyvek with this product, in some cases with two layers, which is relatively inexpensive.
AUGUST 13, 2006
Another very very busy weekend for me.
I had my laborers work like slaves on landscaping and we're accomplishing alot. They smoothed out the area next to the compost pile which up 'til now has been a burial ground for logs. One of those logs worked perfectly as a garden element which made them happy as it was one less heavy thing to move far. They also removed some dirt mounds our waterfall designer had put in at the falls area that just weren't working - it left too little area for people to gather. Taking advantage of our use-what-you-got plan, the dirt was added to the base of the nearby retaining wall. I also had them move and place some pretty big boulders by pure brute force, fill the creek beds with drainage (small) rock, stage compost where I needed it, and as a brief vacation from my list of chores, they poured a cement post for our backyard deck for Greg. But I didn't stand idly by. I, too, was shoveling and placing drain rock. The drain rock not only goes down the center of the bed, but also gets placed between and around the larger rock. It's when you add the smaller rock that the creek bed comes together.
The physical toll of building this house is considerable...our bodies are literally disintegrating. Bruises? Too many to calculate; mosquito bites ditto, tendinitis, sore legs, sore joints, sore fingers, sore wrists, sore hands, sore knees, platar faciaitis, special orthotics for our shoes. pulled muscles - everywhere. But hey, it's worth it...really! Each one of those aches and pains probably represents tens of thousands of dollars in savings.
AUGUST 16, 2006
The front yard creek bed is done! I gotta say I'm pretty proud of the results. Every single rock was hand picked and hand placed. Although I wet down the rocks to show off the color, you really can't tell from the photo the beautiful variations. Now I only have about 400 more feet to do!
AUGUST 19, 2006
I've begun to tackle the pond area creek bed. This section is particularly deep and so I've been using some of my "mongrel" rocks to build up the space.
AUGUST 23, 2006
While I'm on landscaping duty, Greg's been grabbing opportunities to work on the roof and he's just about completed the section over our kitchen and dining room. This is a steep roof, but the next one over the livingroom is a doozey - 12/12 pitch. Those wood planks are all part of the safety system, giving him something level to stand on. Spending hours with your ankles at an angle is painful.
I guess taking pictures while up on the roof gives Greg a little diversion. This photo of the front yard was taken by Greg looking down from the turret window. Usually you don't do landscaping until after move in, but we never do the usual anyway. I simply took advantage of time and circumstance. And this shot gives you another vantage point of our waterfeature which now includes the dry creek bed. Since this creekbed intersects many of the social areas around the house, we're building a series of bridges. These are just temporary, and again make use of materials we already have, old palettes and plywood.
AUGUST 25, 2006
Rocks, rocks, rocks! I have more rocks than I know what to do with. Every rock that's been uncovered by our excavator has been set aside by me for projects just like my creek bed. But not every rock is a specimen and I'm afraid I have literally tons left over.
Timing is everything! My neighbor is fixing a water problem and needs lots of rocks to fill a hole, and two friends have projects - one's building a rock wall and the other is filling ditches. And it just so happens I have plenty of rocks to give them! At $160/ton, it's a great score for them and helps me out greatly so I can clear the land and finish off landscaping.
As for my neighbor, I picked through my pile and tossed what I didn't want into a pile on his property. As a result, I've developed a hell of a pitching arm! My friends came over with trucks and helpers and while I made sure none of my precious green rocks were lost, helped them load what ended up being several truckloads.
AUGUST 26, 2006
Les, our excavator operator, was finally able to give me three hours' work today. I've been waiting for a month! He works fast and so we're able to accomplish alot and I've got lots for him to do. I have three green boulders I wanted placed at the bottom of the front staircase. He's so skilled, he can work with me to position the boulders exactly where I want them to be. After that, I had him smooth out the meadow where we planted the snag, moved the natural sand to the backyard to make it easier and quicker for my worker to prep and deliver to the swing area, consolidate a truckload of bullrock, and smoothed out last spring's burnpile behind the snag meadow. And when that was done, I found still more boulders to place. Quite a lot of work accomplished in three hours.
Later in the afternoon Jarret and friend showed up to work for the weekend. Greg and Jarret rented a truck to pick up some cedar logs to create a "snake" fence. They'll build it tomorrow.
AUGUST 27, 2006
Our snake fence isn't meant to keep anything out or in, simply an architectural detail. The object was to make the fence look as if it had been there for years. It took a total of three hours to build three separate sections. At $3 per log, it was a bargain.
Jarret knew he'd be working on this project a couple of weeks ago and was very excited about the opportunity. He spent some time thinking about just how he was going to put it together. Jarret's kind of a jack-of-all-trades and Greg let him run with it. So when it came time to actually put it together, it went quickly. And, too, a snake fence is very simple to make.
After laying out all the logs, they began to stack them. Because each section of a snake fence forms an angle, the logs are held into place by the interlocking design and a couple of long, well-placed nails. When completed, we had built three separate sections of fencing on the side of the property opposite from the house. It's a vast area that contains the meadow with the snag, the drainage field for the septic system at the far back of that side of the property, and an area near the street at the driveway.
When we began to build it, I didn't know how many sections we'd have or where exactly to put them. The last section at the far back in the drainage field turned out to be the perfect focal point to draw the area together.
The day didn't end there. I had lots more projects to complete. One of them was moving what was left of the compost pile, that's been sitting in the front yard for months taking up space, to a less conspicuous area. After the compost pile was gone, they smoothed out the area and now I was able to plant seeds.
All this work in the sun has given me a "farmer's tan". My upper arms covered by my t shirt sleeves and my hands covered by gloves are lily white, while my forearms are brown as a berry, despite my mandatory daily use of sunblock. Word to the wise: the effects of the sun are cumulative over your lifetime and skin cancer has quickly become a high ranking killer.
AUGUST 29, 2006
Bye bye Sanikan...we now have a gen-u-ine toilet! And just in time for our guests next weekend.
AUGUST 31, 2006
I've now completed the two creek beds at the front of the property on either side of the driveway and planted the newly composted areas. Throw in the fencing, and all it will take is time for things to grow and make this look like it's been part of the landscape for years.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2006
Our stone lady fountain and the wall that holds her is just about done. We had a copper hood custom made by some metal crafting friends of ours. Our first thought was to patina the copper to turn it that lovely verdigris green. But the effect was too jarring - drawing your eye to something that's meant to hide the water spout. So I got out my trusty rusting kit.
SEPTEMBER 2, 2006
Just under the bell, the swing sand project is complete.
And Greg was able to install a couple of our exterior light fixtures for the party (for looks only). You can see how unobtrusive our custom-made escutcheon looks behind the fixture. And the custom keystone I think is a great improvement.
SEPTEMBER 3, 2006
Our party was a success and, just like I predicted, all the projects came together just in the nick of time.
SEPTEMBER 6, 2006
After the big push for our BYOE party, I got the chance to step back and take a good long look at the fruits of our labors.
After removing eyesores like that 6 foot tall mound of rocks in the backyard (thanks Lisa & Melissa!), long awaited changes are done. Although the corbels aren't up, or the shutters in, this back door wall of the house has the place beginning to feel like a real home. The stone lady fountain has taken its place among the field of stones on our garage walls. And the front porch is looking like the castle entrance I've been dreaming of.
And still, Greg works on his roof
SEPTEMBER 8, 2006
Our stonemason, Trev, is working his way under the front porch and around the front of the house to the final stages of his work..
SEPTEMBER 9, 2006
Not only are we creating this house building diary with the hopes of helping others, it's proving to be therapeutic for us as well.
If you haven't gleaned it so far, Greg is mighty concerned about his lack of progress on this roof and worries constantly about the change in weather and how that will affect it. So we took a look back in time to a year ago and we were able to see just how far we've come. From the clothes we were wearing and the relative lack of rain, he got an idea of the weather and that's helping take off a lot of pressure.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2006
Just as we did with lumber, we also have a roofing "boneyard" - just another way to keep costs down. This roof is considered costly, about $160 per square (and our roof has about 55 of 'em). It requires cutting the sections to fit the space. If you just keep reaching for a new piece every time, before you know it you have run through several boxes and there goes your budget.
From the beginning we've tried to look ahead to save money. As a result, we have lots of materials sitting around. Storing them properly is a necessity. We learned an inexpensive lesson with a few bags of cement recently - they got a bit damp and now they're no good for anything but doorstops. Well, you can't be on top of everything all the time. But Greg, being the carpenter that he is, he always makes sure to stack wood properly so it remains flat and allows air to circulate.
SEPTEMBER 15, 2006
Our gallery where that double helix staircase will one day occupy is waaay up there...about thirty feet or so. The window at the top of it occupies a difficult place to get to, inside as well as out. Greg took advantage of the scaffolding he's using for the roof and did a little window washing.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2006
There are many steps involved to installing this roof and Greg has had to come up with some creative solutions to deal with them.
For instance, many a time when Greg was working on the mansions of Beverly Hills, he would see where the drywall installer was left with the task of correcting faulty framing that caused the drywall to be out of kilter in some way. Same thing with our roof. Somewhere in the framing, the roof sections weren't "in square" so Greg created a system using tape measures to help him correct it.
SEPTEMBER 25, 2006
Greg is now working on the section of roof that covers my office and he tells me this is one of the scariest sections to work on - mainly because it's awkward.
He's taking every precaution for safety that he possibly can. As you can see, there's a lot of equipment and tethers there to help him. For this particular section, he's bought several ladders and laid them against the roof for added accessibility and maneuverability. He's also made a slip-proof platform out of a plank of wood which he's covered with lath to give him added traction.
He's also found out that although the manufacturer tells you their roofing product has a memory...it' seems it's got a little dementia to go along with it. Because of the way the roof must be installed, you can't help walking on sections you've already put down. Greg has found several instances where it just isn't popping back into shape. So he came up with his own fix by designing "sleepers" - small pieces of wood inserted just under the roofing to prevent dents. He also came up with some other clever ideas.
He even came up with a way to remind him of some basic installation requirements. This type of metal roofing, installed piece-by-piece, requires repetitive notches on the back side of each roof section at all valleys. Greg got so frustrated by forgetting this step from one row to the next that he came up with a metal post-it that he positioned on the next uninstalled row to remind him of that step when he came to that next row. Just another creative way to get around short-term memory loss.
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