SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2009

September 1, 2009
Greg is still working on the plywood "shell" that will house the tub and hold the radiant tubing.

In order to determine the exact amount of tubing he'll need for this project (including the shower and wall between as well), he uses ribbon as a substitute.

This way he was able to design the layout for the tub and shower, and figure out the length of the run at the same time.

September 2, 2009
First thing today, I did a good cleanup of the master bath and master bedroom to prep for the tube installation. We want to make sure no sharp objects like a nail or a staple, or even grit which could rub against the tubing, could possibly cause damage to the tube.

I also finished caulking all the plates I could get to - to prevent the gypsum underlayment from oozing "out of bounds".

Finally, we began installing the tubing in the master bath, working off the schematics provided by our radiant heat company.

September 4, 2009
We finish tubing the bathroom and begin the master bedroom.

Just like we did before the tubing was installed, now we are OverKill Bill with the protection of the tubing once it's laid down.

These tubes will expand and contract to some varying degree once they're sealed in the gypsum underlayment and in some instances the tubing is right next to plywood. So we decided to use a roll of foam sheeting Greg found in the roofing section of our local Home Depot to cushion the rough edges underneath the tube where it enters and exits the floor.

In addition to the tube attached to the floor, it must be run under the floor and between the joists to make its run to and from the manifold. It required both of us to complete this project. I held up the long runs of tube, while Greg nailed them in place. We also used that foam sheeting to protect the tube from rubbing against rough plywood as it expands and contracts with the hot water.(You can see pieces of that foam sheeting in the picture on the right.)

Greg always made sure to leave enough tubing to ensure there was plenty to make the connection to the manifold.

September 5, 2009
Today we worked on finishing the tubing in the master bedroom, and then we began prepping my office. This particular room is a big job because it's served as our office as well as the temporary electrical hub.

With all the tubing installed in the bedroom, we covered the window that exposes the tubing to sunight with some sheets of roofing felt. The manufacturer instructions warn not to let the tubes be exposed to sunlight any longer than 30 days as the UV rays can damage the tube's integrityy. Although we should be done in plenty of time, a stitch in time...

September 7, 2009
Greg and I continued the prep work.

Part of our prep was patching holes in the floor; for the same reason I caulked all the plates between the bottom of the studs and the floor: to prevent any gypsum underlayment from oozing out. Small holes can be plugged with a dab of caulk. Larger holes required a bit more work.

Greg used scraps of plywood, sheet metal, mastic, and a right angle metal clip to do the job.


This 5-image sequence
shows the steps.

For this larger patch, Greg first he remade the hole to a workable size and shape and then made a corresponding patch. He then attached the patch to a larger piece of plywood and added the metal clip as a handle. Then he applied mastic to the larger piece around the smaller one. He then pushed the entire piece through the hole and pulled it flush to the floor using the metal handle. He finished off the patch with a series of drywall nails.

September 8, 2009
We finish the big "tidy up" - clearing all the floorspace wherever the gypsum underlayment will be poured.

Then, Greg and I stay until dark on the hunt for tiny holes in the floor. In the evening hours, light from downstairs made the holes appear like tiny stars. There must be hundreds of them, created for a myriad of reasons over the past four plus years; and each one requires a dab of caulk.

September 9, 2009
We finished caulking the office and as we got into cleaning it up, we realized we now had to design the layout of the cabinetry as this would affect the placement of the tubing among other factors.

Greg had built a simply magnificent office for me in our previous home. We used to jokingly call it "Command Central". It was an exercise in efficiency and design with incredible storage. Even the printer and a trusty old-fashioned IBM Selectric typewriter were hidden away inside drawers. No wonder it took 9 months to build. Every nook and cranny had a purpose, and pesky office supplies like staplers and pencils were hidden behind tambor-faced garages.

We'll go into much more detail about this when we get to actually building (I hate to think, but that will be about three years from now!), but here are a couple of facts.

I had a total of 48 linear feet of file drawer space in my original office - and each drawer was filled to capacity. For the record, I run my household like a business. Any paper, i.e. warrantees, instructions, personal documents, you name it, are filed in folders. And you can NEVER have enough storage space!

The depth of each file drawer was increased by building it to the back edge of the stud. In my new office, the studs are 6"deep, so you can see how this adds up.

File drawers are boring, so Greg invented a system of picture frames for a mini photo gallery with the ability to change landscapes when you decide to change the gallery.

I cannot tell you how much I miss that office. And I think about how much more efficient I could be building this house if I were working in that environment.

September 13, 2009
Greg spent most of the day working out lots of details for the grypcrete pour.

September 14, 2009
Today we began laying the tubing in the gallery and powder room.

We realize we are lucky that our radiant company, Northeast Radiant Technology, Inc., is renting us a nail gun made especially for the purpose of securing the tubing - for a very reasonable price ($75/wk). We decided not to buy the tool when we realized the nailer costs in the neighborhood of $1000 or more!

Since we had no idea how long it would take to secure the tubing, Greg wanted to somehow lay it down before we began to pay for the rental. We hope to be able to complete the actual nailing in a couple of days instead of a couple of weeks.

So Greg designed wood blocks out of scrap wood. We had no idea how many blocks we would need and eventually we ran out. We needed to keep moving forward, and setting up to make these blocks again was a bit of work. So Greg found plastic coated romex nails would do the trick. Variety is difficult to find in our area, so he could only purchase so many romex nails with coating (last nail in previous picture). When he couldn't find any more of those, he used what he could find: smaller romex nails that had to be spread wider and cushioned with a bit of the foam sheeting we've been using to protect the tubing.

September 15, 2009
Today I finished applying the second coat of clear sealer on the garage doors and a little touch up since our automatic garage doors are sectioned because Greg had to use a utility knife to cut open the sections that became sealed with the paint.

September 18, 2009
Greg and I trudge on with the tube installation.

Today we worked on a relatively new area - the front door entry.

September 23, 2009
A few weeks ago, we had decided not to install tubing under our entry parquet floor. Well, now we will.

The more we work with the radiant material and the requirements of the system, the more comfortable we are with it: now we don't drive ourselves crazy when the tubing doesn't exactly follow the design created for us.

However, everything with moderation.

There are heat calculations involved; and changing the layout, and more importantly the length of runs, should be carefully considered.

Adding to the considerations, "Going green" by using left over pieces of glulam will require our parquet floor to be very thick. (See August 30 entry for more detail.) But if the tubing were encased in gyp at this area, then this subfloor would be too thick to add about 1" of parquet on top - as that would butt to the carpet for the rest of the entry floor.


So that's why, early on, we decided we would just not run the loop in this area and leave it unheated.

But now, a change of plans...after a conversation with Northeast Radiant Technology, Inc..

We realized heating at the front door is an important consideration.

So now it was back to square one with this section.

Our entry area was originally part of a larger loop - about 280'. That was to be covered by the gypcrete overpour. But now we are going to split up the loop with approximately 2/3 covered in gyp and the other 1/3 for the entry parquet. The properties of PEX tubing allows it to expand and contract. However, if it is encased in gyp, it can't expand - and so regular PEX can be used. In this case Mister PEX. A dry sandwich installation requires it to have very little expansion. That means using PEX-AL-PEX - which expands very little compared to PEX. And the wrong choice of tubing can cause squeaking or ticking noises due to excessive expanding and contracting.

To redesign this section of tubing, Northeast Radiant Technology, Inc. had to provide new heat calculations for the loop to allow for the dry sandwich installation. There are three loops in our livingroom; one in the far north corner - and it included the entry way run.

Now, out came all the tubing we had installed and up came the thin aluminum plates to be replaced by the thicker PEX-AL-PEX heavier aluminum-lined tubing and heavier aluminum plates.

Now it was necssary to go beneath the floor to get this new run over to the entry.

And we'll have to wait to finish this section until more of the thick plates have arrived.

September 24, 2009
The special nailer arrived.

After only a couple of hours, we had finally completed nailing down the tubing in the master bath and master bedroom.

This nailer has a handle that allows you to nail while standing up; similar to the screw gun Greg purchased earlier this summer to screw down the sheets of OSB that cover the tubing for the dry installation.

After using it for a while, we found it mis-firing and thought the problem was with the handle, or how the handle affects the position of the nail gun.

Meanwhile, our deadline for having the gypsum pour was looming - the longer it takes the cooler the weather - which could hamper curing.

September 25, 2009
We gave up on the attachment that lets you stand up, thinking it may be the problem and begin
nailing the livingroom. And now the gun was mis-firing more frequently than it worked at all. So often, it was impossible to use.

This was getting aggravating and Greg tried to see what the problem was and was unsuccessful.

It's a specialized tool and Greg didn't think the local tool shop would be familiar with it. And it was near closing time on a Friday. But I insisted he let me go to the repair shop and at least give it a try. We had nothing to lose - except time.

By the time I reached the shop, it was ten minutes 'til closing. We've done business with this tool repair shop many times so he knows us. I told him, "You have to be my hero!!!"

In no time Lowell had it firing properly. Seems it has a lot of mileage and hadn't been serviced in a long time. We'll arrange to be reimbursed for the $40 it took to repair it .

But at least we were up and running again.

September 29, 2009
Disaster!

We found that one of the first staples we used in our master bath went through the tube!!!!

The gun supposedly makes it "practically impossible" to misdirect the nail - but then one must always allow for Murphy's Law.

If I had a firing squad, I'd aim it directly at Mr. Murphy!

We discussed all kinds of "fixes" but realized we should just pull it out and start all over again. We can use the tubing we remove (minus the pinhole section) elsewhere.

So we spend a couple of hours making the switch.

If we had to have a screw up, this one was the least disruptive. The way the staple penetrated the tubing might not have showed up on the pressure test. It was a good lesson, so we got down on our knees and checked every staple!

Then we worked on re-installing the tubing at the entry where the parquet flooring will go.

September 30, 2009
Calling Mr. Murphy...again!

Boy, could things be more aggravating or what?

After learning about the change to our entry tubing design, we had to first rip out the "regular" tubing we installed. That wasn't so bad.

But we worked until 10:30 last night trying to get this new stuff in so we could call for inspection and keep to our "pour" date.

Good luck with that!

It's necessary to nail down the aluminum plates - whether they're the flimsy or rigid versions.

It's been weeks and weeks since we worked with this stuff and we forgot to leave one side of the plate without nails so it would allow the thick tubing to snap in.

So for over an hour, Greg was ripping out most of the nails he had just put in. And those suckers are in there real good let me tell you. It's late, he's tired, and he must've hit his thumb a dozen times. Plus, he's been battling carpal tunnel syndrome nearly from the very beginning.

And then we began to lay in the tubing - for the second time. The ends of the channels are sharp and getting the tubing to snap into place without nicking the tube proved to be extremely frustrating - we ended up using a metal file to smooth them out.


Now Greg had to
create new templates.

With the template, Greg cut out the radius pieces for these runs. This time he used a bulb shape to allow the tubing to make the tight curve a little easier. We had the tubing in within a day.

Add to that Greg had to cut these plates to fit and there were tiny metal shavings all over the place and it must have taken me 45 minutes to try and vacuum them up off the saw and off of anything that floated onto and out of crevices in the flooring.

What a long frustrating night! Grrrrrrr

October 1, 2009
Still more Murphy's Law.

Greg had planned to call for an inspection on our radiant this morning in order to get the inspection finished and keep on schedule for our pour on Tuesday.

Wellll....

He found yet another defective part in one of the manifolds! The radiant company is overnighting replacements. Although they have been very nice and attentive throughout this installation, we will have a talk with them about reimbursing us for shipping costs.

So, this could put our pour off until possibly the end of next week, or maybe the next.

Meanwhile, something worked in our favor...

It was just a lucky call.

Ordinarily Greg would have called for inspection tomorrow, Friday. And even though the inspection date is in jeopardy he thought he might set it up anyway - in hopes this would all work out.

He called the Building Department to ask a couple of questions and found out that due to budget cutbacks, they are closed on Fridays and he wouldn't have been able to call to set up the inspection for Monday morning.

So we're on for Monday....fingers crossed.

October 4, 2009
Greg worked all weekend testing the system and replacing defective parts until the air pressure test was a success.

Greg has worked so hard to get this finished in time to take advantage of warmer weather, his stress level is off the charts.

October 5, 2009
WOO HOO! We passed our inspection. All is on for tomorrow!

Kudos to Greg for his dedication and determination.

With the budget cutbacks, instead of our neighbor who is an inspector, the "big cheese" came.

This man has been very very good to us. He has understood what we're trying to do on our own and has extended our building permit twice! And we've invited him to see the place several times.

So, today he got to see. I couldn't be there but Greg said his comment was, "You've got quite a project going here!"

Still, he warned us we must get to the drywall phase (which means passing several inspections along the way, i.e. plumbing, electrical, insulation) by this coming April - or we must pay several thousand dollars for a new building permit.

October 6, 2009
HUGE MILESTONE DAY.

We had our GYP-SPAN Radiant poured!!! And only six days later than we had planned and hoped for seven weeks ago.

We were very lucky. We've mostly been disappointed wih the trades we've had to hire (with notable exceptions!). But GypTech Tech of Washington sent a crew that's been doing this for something like half a century combined. They made it look easy, but watching them I could see how - even if we could have attempted it ourselves - it would have been impossible.

The truck and equipment alone is overwhelming.

First, before the crew showed up, the sand was delivered. This would be mixed in with the gypsum.


When the crew arrived, we went over the job and they complimented our workmanship. Greg, as usual, had everything ready to go.

One thing we discussed in particular was protecting our front door! Too much blood, sweat, and tears went into this thing to allow anything to happen to it.

So Greg constructed a plywood shield that protected it from any possible damage.

As it turned out, or crew was very careful and paid attention to detail. But we would never have taken that risk without thinking ahead.

Greg also thought ahead when it came to his double helix staircase.

Previously he had worked out its exact location where the first step will begin within the room we call the Gallery. He created a series of monuments made from blocks of 2"x4"s to mark the space. The red duct tape will stop the overflow of the gypsum from covering up some installation details written on them. When Greg begins to work on the staircase, possibly in the next few months, these blocks (shown here after the pour) will be the support for a circular plywood base. Attached to this base will be the 24' 2"x6"s to make the form around which to bend the stringers (the sides of the staircase).

After we had gone over every piece of tubing to make sure the staples weren't restricting any movement to allow for expansion, we also checked that the tubing was stapled at least every three feet .

And sure enough, during our walkthrough, the crew explained we needed to make sure the span between nails was close enough to prevent the tubing from floating up in the gypsum. Although we gave it a good inspection, they found a span or two and Greg jumped right on it.

And then the big wait.

Not only is the sand delivered separately, but after the crew comes and sets up their hoses and looks over the job, then the mixing truck and pumper shows up. But there was a snafu with communication from the front office and we had about a 3 hour wait. The crew was nice enough to lend Greg some muscle on a couple of quick projects; and then we bought them all lunch. When the truck still hadn't arrived, we invited them to play on our extra-sturdy swing set.

Once the the truck arrived, it was all systems go.

You may remember we questioned the cost of this in comparison to the installation time. This process is "proprietary" meaning it isn't available to contractors.

But once they got going, although it looked like a piece of cake, the skill it took became obvious.

First, there's the equipment (truck, pumper, hoses). Then there's the proper mix of gypsum and sand. Once the pumping begins, one person aims the hose while another follows behind making sure the hose doesn't crimp or gets hung up. The mixture reminds me of pancake batter. Then, immediately behind the hose, another person screeds the mainly self-leveling goo. Also part of this process is determining just how much gypsum to pump to make sure it's the proper thickness (in our case 1 1/2").

After weeks of work, Greg was nervous as a cat.

But when they were done, we were left with a glassy wet floor.

They told us it would set up enough for us to walk on it within 90 minutes.

But we'll let it cure for a week or two before we begin moving materials and tools back into those rooms.

October 8, 2009
What a weird experience it is walking on our newly poured floors.

No longer do I have to stare at OSB floors covered with paint splatters and drops of glue!

Just raising the floor by 1 1/2" has a big effect on your experience of the space. And the visually seamless rooms go a long way to making this feel like a home. It gives you a feel for the room size and the flow of the floorplan.

A few weeks ago, while Greg was at a local building supply store, Thomas Building Center, he ran into a drywaller. This guy is our age which most likely meant he had many years of experience under his belt.

We want smooth walls in our home and finding an expert, especially in this area, is questionable.

Today, the art of applying a smooth surface to drywall, or finding someone who can make angled corners is all but lost.

Many people think the orange peel/splattered look is a skilled technique and rounded corners are "modern". But in reality, the orange peel is applied to hide seams and installation defects and poor taping. And rounded corners are easy to do compared to angled ones.

So this guy was a find.

We don't know what we'll be able to afford when the time comes, but we had him come to take a look at our job anyway.

October 10, 2009
We meet with another couple building their own home to see the drywaller's work.

It is the work of a seasoned pro.

October 11, 2009
Now that one monumental project (the gypsum pour) is complete, we still have more to do with our radiant heat; including buying the boiler and the indirect water storage tank. We've decided to hold off until we need it if we can as it's an expensive item, about $7,000.

Now it's time to move on to...plumbing.

And just like Greg had to do with every other system, he's back in school. Months of collecting information, participating in online forums, and researching websites have produced a small library of technical information. So Greg's taking a few days "off" to organize the material (and that's just the hard copies...there are websites as well).

As I was walking around our property I realized we can add something more to our "green building" list: the fact that we have left nearly every tree and natural flora on the property untouched.

October 14, 2009
Now that the gypsum pour is behind us, Greg sighs a big sigh of relief.

When you run and run and run, you don't realize how tired you are. Greg has done a lot of napping in the past few days. He's just exhausted.

As a reward, he's developed a stress rash.

Now, he's back to waking up in the middle of the night and having that far away stare as he gets deep into plumbing research.

Two things we've been looking into: fire sprinklers and an air conditioning system.

As for the A/C, we're hoping the extra oomph we're giving to our insulation will mean we won't need it, but then...who knows. So Greg began his research. He checked with the local HVAC company and found we would have to install a heat pump with the A/C function.  Since we've already installed radiant heat, it would be a waste of money to have two heating systems just to provide A/C.  So Greg embarked on yet another web search to find some type of A/C that would work for our house AND be a product that we might be able to install ourselves.

Greg doesn't remember exactly where he heard about the hi-velocity mini-duct A/C systems.  He thinks it was on
This Old House.  Anyway, this system is used to excellent advantage when remodeling an older home where it would be impossible to snake large metal ducts throughout the building.  

In conventional A/C systems, cooled air is propelled through fairly large ducts at a low velocity.  In the mini-duct system, the cooled air is driven through much smaller ducts, as small as two-inches, at high velocity.  It still requires an eight-inch main truck line from which the two-inch branch ducts are tied into.  But you can see that snaking a flexible, two-inch duct up through a couple of floors would be much easier than just
sawzalling your way up.  

There are two companies that provide this system.  One is Spacepak (
http://www.spacepak.com/) and the other is Unico Systems (http://unicosystem.com/).  With Spacepak you would go through a local "certified" installer who would provide the system design.  Greg contacted the local Spacepak distributor about the design fee for the system and found it would cost between $1,500 to $2,000!  Just for the design!  So scratch Spacepak.

Then Greg contacted Unico and found that you can send them your house plans, preferably in CAD, and they will design the system. For FREE!  Also, the parts can be bought on line.  So Greg is in the process of prepping our plans to send off.  

In a nutshell, this is how the system would work in our home.  The house is heated by radiant.  Thus, all the heat for the home is produced within the home -- no incoming fresh air via the heating system like a heat pump.  The fresh air is provided by the Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV).  The high velocity mini-duct system would be conditioning the air within the building.  This is a perfect fit for us, since we are about out of exterior walls we can poke a fresh air and exhaust air duct through.  

Greg's idea is to install the main unit in the first floor "reefer" room (a room that houses the heat recovery ventilator and will eventually house an extra freezer. Then the main trunk line would be attached to the first floor ceiling joists.  This area has nine foot ceilings but Greg is going to install a drop ceiling to eight feet. That will give him plenty of room for a spacious one foot raceway as well as any other runs that would otherwise be very labor intensive, i.e. require drilling holes.  Then the two-inch ducts would branch off to the various rooms.  Also, unlike conventional A/C systems, each room, especially larger rooms, could have three or four ducts.  

So we will explore this system.  We would hope to buy and install just the ducting to keep on budget.  Later on we can purchase the cooling unit.  

As for fire sprinklers, right now they are not a requirement for residential. But hold on to your hats, and your pocketbook. Because very soon they will become mandatory. Greg had only seen fire sprinklers on commercial and a few high end homes he worked on in the past. From that experience, Greg just assumed that if we wanted a fire sprinkler system it would have to be a stand-alone system installed by a local fire sprinkler certified installer. One of the biggest problem with stand-alone systems is that they only work when there is a fire. Otherwise the water just sits in the lines. This can cause not only stagnation but gunk building up in the sprinkler from the settled water. Think Legionnaire's Disease. Then they may not go off when needed. By the way, they don't all go off at once like in the movies. So with this stand-alone system, there would be a certain amount of regular maintenance to move water through the system and still keep it charged with pressure. This maintenance could be done by the sprinkler company. It is suggested that you tie in the furthest part of the main line into a toilet. When the toilet is flushed, water will flow through the line. But if you are using a "trunk and branch" system where a main line runs the length of the building with branch lines to the various sprinklers. Then you can see that the trunk would be purged but it may not necessarily "pull" water out of the branch lines.

So we have pretty much given up on sprinklers for a couple of reasons. In our state, installers and designers of these systems must be certified by the State. The State website gives a list of installers that have been certified. There were none in our area but several over three hours away. Now there are a couple of fire sprinkler installation companies in our local area, but none are certified and Greg hadn't heard gone things about them.

The design is submitted to the Building Department for approval. One of the main criteria for them with residential sprinklers is that at least two sprinklers must activate - one after the other. In other words, a fire starts and the sprinkler goes off but the fire overwhelms that sprinkler. Wherever the fire heads, there is another sprinkler that will activate and hopefully quench the fire. The spacing of sprinklers is every 12'. By the way, if you are not home and no one notices that a fire has started, the sprinklers will continue to run even after the fire is out. Greg was going to see if there is some type of alarm that would call his cell phone when the system activates. But now that we've decided installing sprinklers just won't work for us, the point is moot.


One big reason (besides cost): this isn't a DIY project. It requires understanding hydraulics, fluid flow, PSI, pipe sizing, coverage, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Greg felt was more than he wanted to tackle. And although he found free demo software for fire sprinkler design; still you had to be an engineer to understand the correct input.

A while later when Greg started to do his research for our domestic water lines, he made an interesting discovery. We are using Uponor (formerly Wirsbo) Aquapex for the cold and hot water lines. Anticipating the coming code change, Uponor has incorporated a fire sprinkler system that is part of the cold water line. It works like this: imagine your cold water line making a run from the incoming valve to the last fixture. Then the fire sprinklers are placed as designed. These special sprinklers have four ports. This allows water to come into or out of the sprinkler from 4 different directions. So a "spider web" is created where the sprinklers and plumbing fixtures are all interconnected. Each time any fixture is used, the system is purged. Also, no one sprinkler gets more pressure or less pressure than another, unlike the stand-alone trunk and branch where the sprinklers at the furthest end of the line could have less.

This Aquapex system seemed like the ticket. So Greg began his research. Here is the result.

The first thing you need to discover is the size of your water meter, the size of the water line from the meter to the house, and the PSI of that line. For us it was a 5/8" meter, an 1-1/4" line and about 60 PSI. For starters the meter was too small. So for no charge the county changed it out to a 3/4" meter. If we need to go to a 1" meter, the county contact said, "You don't even want to know how much that would cost!" So 3/4" it is. The water line size was excellent and couldn't be changed anyway as it runs 220' underground. If you are considering sprinklers on new construction, you should have the sprinkler design completed so that you can run the correct size line. Our PSI was a little low, so Greg upped it at the meter to 70 PSI. Typically when the water department installs the meter on new construction, they set it at 40 PSI.

Now to plug in those numbers with the designer. The same distributor that does the mini-duct design also does the sprinkler design. Rather than have them go through the design, we provided them with these amounts, included the length of the line to the furthest fixture, square footage of the area to be covered, and the height from where the water comes into the house to the highest sprinkler on the second floor.

Suffice it to say, we didn't have the minimum numbers to make at least two sprinklers activate. We could overcome this with a pump at an additional cost of about $1,200 or so. Not cost effective. So sprinklers were definitely off the list. When the mandatory sprinkler installation becomes part of the code in 2011, I wonder how our situation and many others with even less numbers will be handled. I can't imagine that in order to comply with the Code, they will force builders and folks building their own homes to add thousands of dollars to an already stretched thin budget - especially with what's going on with our economy.

So, with this decision made, now Greg can focus on the domestic water installation.

October 22, 2009
Our local radiant heat system spokesperson recommended an excellent plumber and today he began work on installing the main control board for the radiant heat. This control board was pre-assembled by
Northeast Radiant Technology, Inc. who supplied all our radiant materials.

Now that some time has passed to allow the gypcrete to set up, we set about putting things away. Or at least in the places they will stay through the rest of the building process - especially after we move into the downstairs guest rooms and then begin the finish work on this, the primary living floor.

One of my tasks is to scrape the gypsum off the plates; the horizontal 2"x4"s at the bottom of each wall. The gypsum covered the bottom-most plate (there are two stacked at the base of each wall), but the top plate is exposed. This is necessary so that it doesn't create bumps when it's time to install the drywall..

October 24, 2009
Greg had a lot of plumbing prep work to do so the plumber could proceed with other phases of the hook up to the radiant system. The type of boiler and indirect water heater were called out on the radiant plans. The plumber wasn't familiar with this type, Triangle Tube, as his experience was with Buderus boilers. But it was no problem and we ordered through him. This is an area where Greg didn't want to buy these items on line to save a few dollars. He felt that if he was using a licensed plumber to make the water and gas hookups, then he wanted to have him provide the materials from his certified distributor so that he was now responsible for the install and the material warrantees. Also some companies will void their warrantee if the work was not done by a licensed plumber.

Once the boiler and related parts were ordered, Greg began to design the domestic water system based on his research. He went over the design with the plumber, made some small corrections and was able to have him order the Uponor tubing to begin the installation. At $75 per hour, we wanted to keep our plumber working on those things Greg didn't want to tackle or would void a warrantee. We didn't need him drilling holes and pulling the tubing. We can do that.

While Greg was busy doing more prep, I had my own project.

As I explained during the gypcrete installation, the product is mixed with sand and a huge pile of sand was delivered on the day of the pour. When the work was all done, we were left with a small but formidable sand mountain. And it had to go somewhere. So I muscled it into the wheelbarrow all afternoon and spread it all over what will eventually be the concrete pad just outside our garages.

I look forward to doing such physical activities...ever since we began building, any thought of a regular workout program (like the one I adhered to in my "previous life") is a thing of the past.

However, I can see there are going to be problems with this solution, especially in the winter. Sand is sticking to the souls of our boots and getting tracked all over the place.

Every solution it seems creates another problem.

Well, it was great while it lasted...

Looks like we'll have to install a series of OSB sheets as runners. And our back stairs will have to be protected. The edge of the steps are beginning to wear down and this sand will act like sandpaper over time.

October 25, 2009
One more milestone!

Our first "official" sheet of drywall has been installed.

Part of preparing the area for the main manifold is installing the insulation in the "manifold room" - a portion of one of our garages. Basically, it's a "pop out" to the side of what will be Greg's garage. In addition to housing the manifold, it will also contain the source of the central vacuum system.

You may recall we purchased a drywall lift from Home Depot Rentals. We regularly checked in with the rental office to make sure we didn't lose the chance to get a deal, and after months of waiting we bought one for about $600. The PanelLift is manufacured by Telpro Inc.

We had no idea how well this thing would work. And we had a tough test case: hoisting a 12' tall 5/8" thick board (thankfully most of the other dryway will only be 9') to go on top of the sheet nearest the floor.

I'm pleased to say it worked like a charm! To help hold this heavy sheet in place once we pressed it to the wall with the lift, Greg previously screwed on two small pieces of wood at the top edge of the bottom sheet of drywall to act as a ledge. This gave us a place to rest the heavy piece; then we just had to push it up above the bottom sheet. And while I held it in place, Greg screwed it to the wall.

As a result of this first foray, we made some decisions about the drywall for the rest of the house. Greg always likes to use the 5/8" because it's just beefier and looks better. But we realized we don't have to be busting our butts working with such heavy pieces to cover our ceilings. And also for very tall 22' walls like the ones we have in our Gallery where the double helix staircase will be built; because most of it will be covered in framed wall art. And that in itself will save some money.

For the last couple of days we've been on a fine-tuning reorganizing rant.

In order to put things "away", we've had to mastic down some portions of the OSB on the floors with the dry sandwich system. That way, once we've put things in place, we won't have to move them again. It's not necessary to mastic all the other areas for now; that can wait 'til later.

Greg helps me with the real heavy stuff, but then I'm on my own while Greg works on prepping for the rest of the work for the plumber.

October 26, 2009
Whenever we travel out of the area, we make sure to go to places not available to us where we live.

Today was such a day. So we visited a plastics store to have a piece of colored plexi cut for the window in the door next to the garage that goes directly into our mudroom, . That "window" will eventually get a grate to match the "lights" (the proper name for windows in doors) like the ones at the top of our garage doors.

Since the doors have sections of copper (paint), a white window just didn't look right to me. Even though the large piece of glass will be broken up by the grate, I wanted to "mellow" the starkness to the frosted glass - used for security reasons - and so we're putting a sheet of colored plexi on top of the glass and behind the grate. And I may even do something similar to the lights at the top of our garage doors.

We also went shopping for tile for the interior of our master shower.

It seems like years ago...and it was - that we bought two large slabs of green and "copper" onyx that will be used in our master bathroom in addition on the noncombustible surround of our livingroom fireplace.

Onyx is very expensive - certainly on par with granite and possibly a bit more. In fact, I just saw a 12" square piece in a showroom display and they wanted $36 each!

Although the aesthetics of the shower is important to me, I can live with something less exotic than onyx and certainly less expensive than granite or something similar.

Greg will be using a relatively new system for sealing the shower called the Kerdi Shower System by Schluter . This system makes the shower enclosure completely waterproof to prevent mold and mildew. The old school method was to install a mud bed at the shower floor and mud the walls, much like stucco. Then the tile would be installed over this dry pack. But every time the shower is used, water migrates through the grout and then into the mud and stays there, never getting a chance to dry out. With the Kerdi System, there is no mud next to the tile. Instead a special waterproof membrane is installed over the dry pack mud on the shower floor. The membrane is then installed over drywall on the shower walls. Yes, I said drywall! Sounds crazy, but this product is getting great reviews - if installed properly.

So by using the Kerdi System, Greg feels we won't have a problem tiling the shower ourselves. Another way of saving a lot of money. If you are considering this system you would do yourself a big favor by visiting the John Bridge tile website. Here you will find forums that discuss all phases of tile installation. On the main page you should order both the Kerdi Shower Book and Tile Your World. These two books will be all you need to do your own shower installation.

So we went on the hunt for 12"x12" tiles of some sort. We found a "discount" tile store in Seattle (Tile for Less) and found that even there, tiles can be pricey. From granite to porcelain they ran from $15 a square foot tile to about $4 a tile.

I was trying to find something in the green family that would blend in with the onyx (although you won't see it unless you peak your head into the shower).

I found something I kind of liked and we bought a couple of pieces to take home and think about. We saw some other tile places as well, but the sample I found for $4 each was definitely the best priced.

We also went to a Lowe's where I found other tiles - especially one that was a dollar less than the one we found earlier in the day. Although it's a special order, they said they always carry it, so we'll discuss it later.

October 28, 2009
Another day with the plumber. And Greg worked right alongside him. They're on the same page which is such a pleasure.

Greg's rash from the tension of the gypcrete pour is still in full bloom.

Remember that huge bandsaw we bought last summer? Well, it's been sitting in our trailer since the day we bought it. At 600 plus pounds, it's no easy matter unloading it.

So today I rented a palette jack and Greg successfully unloaded it into his garage. Only problem is, it's still on its side. Greg will have to rent some kind of hoist to stand it up. And he said he wants to build some kind of roller base so he can move it where he needs it.

Greg always has a way of figuring out tough projects. Getting this thing outta the trailer was a duzy. So first he built a ramp.

October 29, 2009
Again we had out-of-the-area errands and we took the opportunity to go to
Lowe's. They generally have a much wider selection than Home Depot, and Greg was looking for a set of wheels to use for the rolling platform for his big saws including that band saw. I'd seen that these industrial wheels can be pricey so we were pleasantly surprised to find them for $5 each!

While Greg was looking for wheels and plumbing pipe that he couldn't find locally, I again went to look at tile. Although this was a different store, we had decided to go ahead and order a sample of the $3 tile we found at Lowe's the other day. It seems each Lowe's (as well as many other chain stores) have different inventory for each location, and this one didn't have the tile I was interested in - even in a display. But it turned out to be an opportunity because I began looking at their regular selection and found a tile I hadn't seen at the the other store. It has a mix of greens and warm hues that look like they'll blend with the onyx...and it was on sale. And in addition to that, we had a $35 coupon. So although we won't be installing it for the better part of a year, Lowe's has an excellent return policy and so we decided to buy it right then. And we got it for an unbelievable $1.57 a 12" tile! And, unlike the other tiles we were looking at, it also had bullnose pieces as well as 6"x6" tiles which we needed to tile the floor of the shower (you don't want to use large tiles because it will be difficult to make the floor slope toward the drain to force the path of water).

It's difficult to get a true representation of the color of these tiles here; the color variations are much more subtle in person, but here's a shot and on top of them is the color chip - a cactus greyish green for the bathroom walls (third up from the bottom) and an image from a mail order catalog with onyx vases that approximates our onyx. Also in this picture is a sample of what amounts to copper "formica" that will be used in the cabinetry and a small sample of the copper ceiling tiles.

I am very pleased. I've been wondering what this shower would look like for a long time.

October 30, 2009
Let me tell you, a box of 12" tiles weighs about 55 pounds, all concentrated in one little package. Loading all that tile into the car last night was no easy task, and the back of my little compact was looking mighty low.

It took at least an hour to unload. First we used a dolly to carry some of the boxes from the car to the bottom of the back stairwell. Then Greg made a wooden "stretcher" (here leaned up against a wall) with small wood strips made into "dams" so the box couldn't slip off. And one by one we brought them up stairs and stacked them in a corner of the master bath.

And there they will sit for many months.....waiting for their turn.

Great news: Greg's brother will be coming out to visit his son in Seattle in January or February and he's offered to work with Greg at .

Steve is one of only three people Greg would trust to work on our home because they all worked together in the Hills of Beverly.

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