JUNE - JULY 2005
JUNE 1, 2005
Best laid plans....we had hoped to pour the slab today but the forecast was for thunderstorms. Of course, the rain never came. Actually some light rain would have been fine. In fact, a gray drizzly day is just perfect for pouring concrete. The longer the concrete stays damp, the stronger the concrete becomes.
Now it looks like we'll have to wait a day or so.
All was not lost though. We'll be using a product called Eldorado Stone on the exterior of the first floor of the house. The Lucera Hillstone style will be part of the mix of stones we'll use for the rustic look we're after. Cultured, or fake, stone has come a long, long, long way. In fact, if done right, you can't tell the difference. I have spent countless hours pondering which shape and color of stone to use and how it will be applied and grouted. The grout is an especially important component. Most craftsmen today like to use a standard joint. But I like what is known as "overgrout". To me, it gives it a rough-hewn quality. So, before we ever start working on the house itself, we've picked a small project to work out the bugs.
The swing we brought from California and installed here required being set on a small wall since that was the way it was designed to fit on the parapet walls of the garage. So, we've made this our test project. I worked with Mike and Greg to chose the mix of stones and give the call to add more and more grout until it becomes almost flush with the flatter stones.
In fact, I'm such a control freak, although I never ever thought I'd get this involved, I began to work with the grout myself (I believe this is evident from the expression on my face!). And I can tell I'll be working on the exterior facade when the time comes.
JUNE 3, 2005
A milestone has been reached. Today the slab was poured.
The foundation guys arrived by 6 a.m. and the trucks began arriving shortly thereafter. Ten and a half truckloads later, 63 yards of concrete later...voila - a slab was born.
The slab installation process generates a beehive of activity. The Agracat dumps the concrete over the previous layers of sand, gravel, foam, plastic, wire, and tubing. All the while, the workers are troweling over the pour to even it out. Eventually, the entire footprint of the house is covered in concrete. And finally, a polisher is used to even out the surface. It was a long day for our team. After the trucks left, there were several different stages of troweling and polishing still to be done. And after the foundation team left, we stayed behind until sunset flooding the slab to keep the concrete damp to ensure it cured nice and strong.
JUNE 7, 2005
Another milestone: our first wall is UP! Exciting stuff. Greg and Mike lifted it up into place with some effort since we're using oversized lumber and our ceilings are 9' instead of the more common 8' height.
In preparation for our first lumber drop, Les had more "reject" cement delivered and smoothed out a pad to stage the lumber. And just in time, because the delivery truck was there before we knew it. Greg used his eagle eye to verify not only that they had delivered all that we ordered, but also to make sure the quality was up to his standards, and it was. These truck drivers are excellent at unloading all this unwieldy stuff. He just lifted the truck bed up and plop! there it all was right into place.
Not sooner had that truck left, Greg and Mike were on it like white on rice.
JUNE 9, 2005
We have a new employee, Matt. He was an extra added bonus when my girlfriends from California decided to move here. Matt is Sue's son and has some framing under his belt. And it's nice to have someone in their twenties when it comes to this heavy lifting stuff.
JUNE 10, 2005
It's been a busy week with lots of "visual" progress.
Now that the foundation has been completed, we've begun to backfill the area around the pad which had to be dug out in order to build the foundation.
Greg has just been itching to begin the framing, which readily shows visual progress unlike other phases like electrical and plumbing.
Excavator Les has been incredible finding me huge boulders to eventually use in our landscaping scheme. Between what he's brought and all the rocks I've hand quaried off our property, there are rocks everywhere. Les' last find was a humongous granite boulder. When he delivered it, it was so heavy that his huge truck was listing to one side. You shoulda heard the thunder when this thing hit the ground. It must easily weigh 10,000 pounds. Don't know where it'll end up, but I couldn't pass it by.
Les also helped us load up all the old growth cedar logs we've collected, including the sixty footer for milling. Greg is having it taken to a local sawyer to have it cut into boards which he's planning to use as paneling in either the turret or his office.
Matt and Greg jumped right in to working together pushing lumber through the table saw. Greg wanted to shave off a skosh. He's a finish carpenter and so wants to make sure the lumber size is consistent.
And just like that famous photo of our men raising the flag on D Day, Greg, Mike, and Matt raise one gigantic wall.
JUNE 13, 2005
Another new employee has joined our team today. Justin is our contractor, Mike's, son and he'll be working for us through his summer vacation. I've already put him to work felling some trees in "The Woods" on the south side of the house. Now that the first floor is framed, I've been able to stand on top of the walls and for the first time get a real idea of the view. I've adamently held off taking down any trees up to this point, although there have been a few necessary exceptions. But now that I can see how the trees are affecting the view, I've made the decision to remove some here and there. Standing on top of the wall looking out from what will one day be the kitchen and dining room, all I saw was an uninteresting continuous wall of trees that lacked any depth. Taking out just a few has opened up the view. I was careful to mostly remove trees that were behind others - that way I gained open space but hardly miss the trees. ADD PIX
With any large expanse of concrete, there will be cracks. And so, there is some cracking in our slab foundation. This isn't a problem. Using a diamond blade on a Skilsaw, our foundation guy actually cut expansion joints at key points in the field of the foundaton in order to "guide" the cracking. Hairline cracks at the perimeter of the slab are also to be expected. Ever diligent about details, Greg decided he didn't want to be forever eying these cracks when he's working in his shop or studio; especially since we'll probably be using the bare concrete as .flooring. His solution: use 2x8 studs. Upgrading to this larger than required size was fairly reasonable at just over $500 for the entire first floor.
Every evening after our "team" has gone home for the day, Greg takes some quiet time to go over the project. This way he's been able to catch mistakes in the early stages and correct them the next day. And there are always mistakes. That is a certainty.
There are always more materials to buy and, of course, Home Depot is our first line of defense. We had another opportunity to save 10% - the clerks were giving away "thank you for shopping with us" coupons. We were able to get our hands on a few and went ahead and ordered items like our garage doors.
JUNE 14, 2005
Finally, after months of research and pouring over plans, we have ordered our windows. There were window companies that were much more expensive, and others that were much less so. In the end, we decided to go with a well-known company, Milgard, which just happens to be local here in Washington. Windows are an expensive and important element, and while we may have been able to shop around for better prices on this brand, we decided to order them through a speciality shop. There are a million ways to make mistakes when it comes to windows which is always costly. And we've found that every vendor has their own vocabulary - a great way to insure the probability of mistakes. Since Milgard is local, we were able to visit their showroom and speak with their technical advisors. The local lumberyard did give us a better price but there are so many details with windows: the way it opens, the type of hardware, the color, the material, the installation, coatings, decorative trim, and most importantly the rough openings. Using a shop that specializes in windows means we'll have someone who knows the product well, will give us personal service, and act as our advocate with the window company should there be any problems.
Many credit card companies are offering cash back when you use their card. It's another great way to save on our project, especially since we'll be running up very large sums. The trick is to use your credit card as "cash": you must pay it off every month. Like most people, we have several cards, and so I began making calls to find out which ones were offering the cash back rebate and found I had two cards I rarely use that had instituted this program. However, there are "caps" to the amount of cash back you can receive - either yearly or monthly depending on your credit card. So if you have multiple cards to choose from, do your homework and keep on top of the restrictions.
JUNE 24, 2005
As I've explained before, in order to push us up into the air to get the best view, we've made the unusual decision to live on the top floor; the bottom floor is only for the garages, shop/studio, and guest room. The studio is huge, about 1000 square feet. I'm sure over the years we'll find many different uses for parts of this space, but it was necessary in order to get the living space up as high as possible. With the studio being so large, it required special engineering which included support columns and a huge beam running the expanse of the room. Contractor Mike has worked alone for many years and has come up with some ingenious ways to deal with heavy materials. Here you can see his device which works like a car jack. Otherwise, it's just plain muscle that gets most of the walls standing. But finally, the last wall was lifted into place. Now the entire first/bottom floor has been framed.
JUNE 30, 2005
Today we began to "roll" the floor joists which form the ceiling to the first floor and floor to the second floor. Years ago, these joists were solid lumber; 2x12s. But now they have engineered wood which takes advantage of plywood, special glues, and wood chips to form mini I Beams that are stronger and straighter than the old Doug Fir "two by" material. Not only that, this part of the job goes much faster.
Les has again found more gigantic boulders. I ran into our landscaper at Home Depot and found he had gone by our job recently and saw what I've been collecting. He feels we have plenty of rocks to make a fabulous waterfall and pond.
JULY 7, 2005
Today we completed rolling the floor joists and sheathing the exterior walls of the first floor. Typically only certain walls are designated for this "sheathing" or "sheer panel" and we're doing the entire building to make it easier to nail on the Hardie siding we will be using later.
Not only did we order the sheer panel for this stage of the job, we also ordered all of the plywood we'll be using later on for the second floor as well as the roof. It's hurricane season in the east and lumber prices will skyrocket as a result, especially sheet lumber like OSB and plywood. So, make up your lumber list early and do what you can to plan ahead and order most of what you'll need before all the available supplies are sent to trouble spots like Florida and sheet lumber becomes scarce.
Another source of bargains is your local lumberyard's "boneyard". Often customers' special order materials are refused for a variety of reasons and the lumberyard is anxious to move them out. We were able to purchase all of our gluelam beams, headers, and truss joists this way and save about 20%. Boneyards may also contain windows and doors. Just make sure you research the manufacturer's storage requirements if you pick these items up long before you need them.
JULY 9, 2005
It's Saturday. Greg spent most of yesterday doing calculations for building the back staircase which comes up from the garages into the hallway/kitchen. Today he put in a long full day working on them.
The building code allows for only a tiny variation between the rise of each step, otherwise the probability of tripping is increased. Not only must you take into account the distance of the measurement between each floor, but you must allow for the finish floor coverings which can add another variation. In our case, the first floor is the slab, which will remain a slab, or be covered by a thin sheet-type flooring at some point in the future. The second floor will be carpeted, including the stairway. But underneath the carpeting is the subfloor, in our case made of gypcrete to allow for the radiant heating, which adds approximately an inch and a half. Plus the entire floor from one end of the building to the other is out of level about half an inch (a common circumstance). All this must be taken into account when making your calculations.
JULY 11, 2005
Today was a day I've been waiting for for well over a year. Today I was able to stand on the floor of the second story and look out at the views. Off in the distance to the North we can see ocean and possibly Victoria, Canada.
Coming up is making decisions on window placement, especially the height from the floor to the bottom of the window. And once the window openings are in, I'll be able to make further decisions as to what trees must be removed.
Lately, there have been some letters in Dear Abby about how custom to make your home. It seems a daughter was showing her mother all the special details, like custom height for counter tops, and the mother advised her against it because it would affect resale value. Well, we have made the decision that this house is F-R-P...Final Resting Place. And we're building this for ourselves and no one else. And that was the general concensus from the architects, builders, and interior designers that wrote in to chastize Abby for advising her to go the "safe" route. The professionals argued that by the time most people would sell a home, the new owners would be tearing out counters etc. anyway. But these are decisions only to be made by each person on an individual basis.
JULY 13, 2005
Last week the floor joist installation was completed. In just the last few years, there have been countless innovations in many areas of construction; especially framing. Joists, or rafters, used to be "hand made". Now, they come as a complete unit to be cut to size.
Today the subfloor on the upper story was finished and tomorrow they'll begin "snapping the lines" with colored chalk to mark the location of walls. In order to make the chalk lines stand out, we painted the subfloor white, which also acts as a sealer against the weather.
JULY 15, 2005
The framing of the second floor has begun.
After nearly a year and a half of constant work on our little monster, exhaustion is setting in...and it could'nt come at a worse time. The framing of this second story is extremely critical.
JULY 17, 2005
Greg begins work on the back staircase.
Building a staircase is a complicated procedure and requires complicated calculations. So Greg took this weekend, when no one else was on the job, to build the staircase at the back of the house which leads up from our garage. The height of the steps, width of treads, and width of the stairwell were all points of discussion. We made the stairwell a generous 4 feet in width to allow for bringing up furniture and large items. We made the treads 12" deep which makes negotiating the stairs very comfortable. There's nothing worse than a skimpy tread that does't allow for your entire footprint.
Up 'til now, we've been using extension ladders to get up to the second floor to work. It will almost be a luxury to use a staircase.
JULY 19, 2005
Framing is humming along on the second story. The "plates" have been nailed down and the first wall is up. Unlike the first floor framing which was completed before the sheathing was added, these walls are sheathed before being erected. The plywood is extremely heavy and unwieldy to place working from the outside of the building. As was done on the first floor, bracing the walls helps support them in place.
I have written before of a third-story turret leading to a room of approximately 200 square feet, which will bring the total height of our home to 45 feet. I've also written about a free-standing helix staircase leading from the entry/gallery area of the second floor up to the turret. In order to support the turret and the roof, the staircase will be surrounded by walls measuring 20 feet in height. And today they built the first 20 footer. This was quite a feat, especially with only four men to erect it. Mike, who usually works solo, uses a device much like a huge car jack to lift the walls into place. So, with four men and two wall jacks, the first huge wall (Use your scroll bar to see the complete image) was propped into place.
While the wall was lifted into place, I was busy working with Les on improving the view from the mountain side of the house. As I've said before, I was hoping to remove as few trees as possible. Therefore, I've waited until I could actually stand on the second floor and look out where windows will eventually be in order to make decisions about which trees to remove.
Although I hated to do it, I've ended up removing about a dozen trees. But after all, we have built a two-story home to take advantage of our view of the Olympic Mountains. It made me feel a little better when I saw that removing a dozen trees barely made a dent as we are surrounded by dense forest at every turn. And as you can see from this before and after picture, we've opened up the view considerably.
JULY 21, 2005
Our Milgard windows have been delivered... 36 of them, plus an extra to be added later on. We ordered them just over a month ago after spending countless hours discussing design, materials, color, openings, and cross ventilation requirements. We won't be installing them for several weeks, but we wanted to make sure to get our order in before any eventual price increases.
JULY 22, 2005
Besides working with me on opening the view, Les has been working on the backfill around the perimeter of the house. When the pad was dug out, hundreds of yards of dirt were removed. Now that we're progressing with building the structure, it's time to replace dirt up to the top of the footings which is just below the surface of the foundation.
Next, Les will work with me to dig our a drainage channel which is required to carry water away from the house. Although this requirement could end up looking very linear, I plan to "disguise" it as a dry meandering creekbed using rocks I've been collecting from the property.
JULY 24, 2005
Things are really getting exciting now. Day by day, the actual living quarters are taking shape before my eyes. Although I've poured over the floorplan and seen a 3D computer version, actually walking through the rooms will be a revelation. Soon I'll be able to think about where to display wall art, and we have plenty of that.
Now is the time to take all of our notes which detail each room regarding electrical needs, furniture placement, custom items like wall niches for artwork and other practical issues and put them into action. Here's where Greg's expertise really comes in: he's great at thinking ahead and it's at this stage we can allow for special built-ins. In my office where Greg will be building file cabinets, we've found space between studs to recess the cabinet so it takes up less floor space. I'm also on the lookout for places to build in special niches. For instance, I want to have an area to park and charge our cell phones, as well as a place for car keys, sunglasses, and items like outgoing mail. Now I can see there's a small wall at the top of the back stairs that will work just perfectly.
One particularly important issue is keeping ahead of our carpenters to make sure the plans they work off of show the most recent changes. On any job site you have several sets of plans scattered around. And changes are a daily occurrence. Communicating those changes to everyone can be hit and miss, so we have to make sure to remove obsolete plans and insure that plans on the job are up to the minute.
And in the midst of all this activity, I had a meeting to discuss the phone system for our house. When we moved into our previous home 15+ years ago, we installed a Panasonic "Key Telephone System" which is actually for use in an office. It had a fairly good quality speaker phone, ability to transfer calls, and intercom. It worked very well for us and we plan on installing a similar system at . At this point, we're looking at a system by NEC.
JULY 29, 2005
The framing seems to be going miraculously swiftly. As of the end of today, we have the entire outer walls of the second story framed. Now at last, it's beginning to feel like an actual home!
Earlier in the week, they erected the last huge wall. Before, the big walls were tall, but this one spans the length (Use your scroll bar to see the complete image) of the kitchen and dining room. The last and final outer wall was the final work for the day (Use your scroll bar to see the complete image). And since it includes the largest of our picture windows, it was decided to install this one window now and save a little grief later.
Also this week we placed our final orders for our metal roof, the Hardie siding, and the Eldorado stone - three very big ticket items. Putting these orders together took weeks, not only of research, but just trying to think of all the peripheral accessories that go along with it, not to mention correctly estimating the amounts we'll need. It's better to underestimate quantity since some of these items are special order and it's easier to order more than be stuck with the cost of extra pieces.
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