AUGUST - SEPTEMBER 2005
AUGUST 4, 2005
Today was another milestone reached. Now that all the walls are up, we can now deal with the roof, and so we set up a meeting with the "truss" builder. Roof framing is either "stick built", meaning the framing is built in place, or trusses can be prebuilt which is usually cheaper in the longer run - especially when it comes to labor costs. When you're building a custom home, it's much more accurate to measure for the roof trusses after the walls are up. No moss grows under these rocks and so today was the day.
The ceiling and roof details of this house will be unusual (what else is new!) because we've designed this place from the inside out. It was more important for us to have the floorplan we wanted than to spend a lot of time worrying about the roofline. So, there will have to be some creative solutions found to smooth out these details. Since our roof is complicated, Greg built scale models for visual aids. The trusses should be delivered in about two weeks. Then we sheet the roof with plywood.
Although this might be difficult to make heads or tails of, here's a look at some of the framing: from the diningroom to the kitchen, from the master bath to the bedroom, from the master bedroom to the bathroom, standing in the entry/gallery looking toward the vestibule leading to the master bedroom, and my office.
File this under lessons learned: no one will watch your budget like you! There are a myriad of ways to spend unnecessary money and waste supplies. Most contractors aren't used to working alongside a homeowner who actually has intimate knowledge of what building a house is all about and understands the type and amount of materials needed for the job, as is the situation in our case. And young workers who are just learning the trade haven't developed the ability to think ahead - another way to see your budget skyrocket. That's why the ability to think ahead is literally priceless.
Greg has to be very diligent to insure lumber supplies are used conservatively. For instance, a small portion of a stud might be needed. If you're not on top of it, a long piece of lumber will be cut up and the next thing you know, you're buying more lumber for that tall wall. That's what the "boneyard" is for: saving usable "scraps" for future use.
You can tell a quality jobsite by how clean it's kept; and keeping the jobsite clean is a never ending job and an important one. This week we made a run to the city dump to drop off all the debris that's piled up so far. I'm forever picking up "spent" nails, sweeping up sawdust, and gathering discarded lumber. And many times I've found pieces that should have been saved for the boneyard.
We broke ground on April 9 and now that all the walls are finally up, I can actually walk through our home and dream. I'm spending a lot of time visualizing what the finished product will look like. I'm lucky to have the ability to close my eyes and assess what will or could be where. I'll sit in a room (on the bare floor of course) and in my mind I'll walk through that room in our old place, mentally looking around and taking note of what art was hanging on the walls or what items were perched on tables or shelving - all the design details. That way I can make decisions as to how I want to work with these elements now. And somehow, it all begins to come together.
This process ends up allowing us to make creative changes in framing at a time when it's easily (and inexpensively) done. I'm finding places for niches for special figurines and art glass, as well as for practical needs. For instance, I'm having Greg build a recessed station between the studs at the top of the back stairwell. This area is where we'll leave our car keys, eyeglasses, outgoing mail, cell phones and chargers - anything we'll want to remember to take with us when we go out. It's thinking ahead to all these specialized needs that will make this house sing.
One thing I want to improve is Bud's litter box. In our old place we found some unique solutions to disguise it by enclosing the box at the bottom of a cabinet. And since it was next to an exterior wall, we had a vent to the outside and even put in a tiny exhaust fan! But one problem we didn't solve was litter being tracked all over the place because it gets stuck between the cat's toes (but they're sooo worth it!!!). This time we're going to build in a little hallway hidden inside the laundry room cabinetry and accessible by a small opening in the main hallway. Bud will have to travel down this little walkway to get in and out of his litterbox. The hallway will be carpeted and the plan is the extra-long approach will help "walk off" the majority of the litter.
Another customized feature will be the file drawers for my office - one of the many features added now that we can actually stand in the rooms. My office is smaller than the one I had before but will be plenty big for what I'll need to do - especially since Greg will have is own large office downstairs. In order to maximize the room size, we're recessing the file cabinets into the wall which should give me another 6 inches of floorspace. Changes like this require special framing using headers and we're lucky Greg understands this and can do it himself. And we saved money by scouring local lumber yard boneyards for the headers. Making changes like these after the drywall is up would be costly.
Another think-ahead project: hanging artwork. How many times have you wanted to hang a picture (especially a heavy one) and you drive your nail through soft drywall? We have so many pieces of wall art, we like to hang them "salon style" meaning the entire wall will be filled. In areas like this, we're backing the entire wall behind the drywall with sheets of OSB. For some walls, plywood sheathing (otherwise known as sheerpanel) is a code requirement. If it's not a code requirement, you can use cheaper materials like thinner plywood or OSB - a sheeting product made from wood chips. When it comes to installing handrails and towel bars - notorious for being loosened from use - we're backing the area behind the drywall with strips of lumber to insure there's a way to secure these items solidly to the wall.
Greg comes up with some creative ideas during this phase too. Our front door will have a gothic arch like a church window. In the hallway directly in line with the entry door, Greg has designed a ceiling detail for a small portion of extra-tall hallway to mimic the gothic shape as seen from the entrance to continue the theme. He's already made templates with pieces of plywood from our boneyard. Now we'll have another custom element and all that will be required is his time.
Now that the entire house is framed, we'll be doing "framing pick up" - finding small problems or unfinished projects and adding the final details. This will probably take the better part of a week. Pick up is the tedius part; completing details required by the engineer or inspector. Also this is a great time to just walk each room, talk about the final look, and make sure there's backing for that 200 pound art piece.
When there's nothing I can do to help around the jobsite, I find a million ways to keep busy. Although I'm keeping the surrounding flora as natural as possible, I am doing a little selective pruning. There's an cedar outside the bathroom window. Cedars are interesting trees; they'll often grow in convoluted configurations. This particular one had these curled branches, so I pruned a little to reveal the structure.
AUGUST 9, 2005
Greg begins work on the front entrance staircase which will take you up to our front door. It too will be curved (like the double-helix staircase he'll build in the entryway) and requires detailed calculations; and so he's begun drawings to lay it out on the living room subfloor which makes a great workspace.
The "stringers" or curb to which the balusters will eventually be attached must be formed first.
Greg uses powdered chalk to do this. Powdered chalk comes in several colors for different uses. The chalk is loaded into a small "chalk box" that contains a long rolled up string. The string, loaded with chalk, is pulled out and stretched across the floor and then "snapped" by picking it up with your fingers. What's left is a straight line used as a guide for laying out walls and such. These drawings help Greg work out the serpentine shape of the staircase. In the initial layout and calculations, Greg uses an erasable chalk. When doing complicated calculations there are times when the chalk line has to be erased with a push broom, and then resnapped. Once the final calculations work out, then another chalk box loaded with indelible chalk which resists sweeping, rain, etc. is used to snap out the final lines.
The "run" and "rise" of the steps is calculated by measuring the height between "finished floors". The "run" is the width of the tread, and the "rise" is the height between each step. Not only is the height of the rise a code requirement, but it's an important safety issue. The mind automatically calculates the height of steps and any irregular variation can easily cause an accident.
The stairs will begin at a cobble stone pad at ground level and then finish at the front door on decking fabricated from Trex. Trex is a man-made wood substitute that is impervious to rot and insects. The next phase to building a staircase is creating the "stringers" which support the steps. Once the steps and stringers are in, then the balusters and handrails can be installed. Since this is a radius, or circular, staircase, a temporary wall is built that matches the radius of the finished staircase. To this temporary wall, the stringers are created by laminating layers of half-inch treated plywood forming a stringer that is 2.5" thick. Our staircase is 5 feet wide, so three stringers are necessary to give it support and three temporary radius walls are built to attach each stringer build-up. Since this is an exterior staircase, a two-part epoxy glue is used between layers. Here Greg works on the temporary radius walls. Later in the day, the walls are almost completed - just the middle temporary wall is missing at this point. The treated plywood will be skinned with cedar for the finished stairs.
AUGUST 10, 2005
The Hardie Plank was delivered today. This is the siding we'll be using on the exterior - along with Eldorado stone for the first floor exterior. Hardie Plank has been around for 100 years and is made of cement, so it's virtually indestructible from water damage and insects and is practically fireproof. I'm guessing 97% of houses in the Pacific Northwest use this material. In the past it's been painted, but recently they've developed translucent stains that play up the grain and give the illusion of actual wood.
Our budget is a big concern and having this stain pre-applied is very costly - almost doubling the cost of the siding. So I'll be getting lessons on how to use an airless paint sprayer and the large studio downstairs will be converted into an on-site spray booth. Greg has come up with a system that should allow me to get a production line going.
AUGUST 11, 2005
Our roofing material was delivered today. We spent months last summer researching roofing choices. No matter which material you end up using, your roof will be one of the most costly elements of your home. At the modest end is the composition roof made of asphalt shingles. Higher end choices are metal, shake, and slate. Metal and slate roofs will likely last forever, however, slate is the most costly and is extremely heavy which adds to the cost because it requires a beefier structure. We have decided on a metal roof. The most common metal roof is "standing seam" which looks like ribbed channels and has a more contemporary feel. We found a metal roof that simulates the look of slate shingles. And we'll be installing it ourselves to cut down the cost. We got a bid on materials and installation of $60,000! We should be able to install it for less than one-fourth of that price. But we have a steep roof and safety is a big issue. We 've already bought safety harnesses and we'll make sure there is scaffolding nearby as another precaution.
AUGUST 12, 2005
It took most of the day, four pairs of hands, lots of epoxy, and three dozen clamps, but the stringers for the first section of our radius exterior staircase are complete.
AUGUST 13, 2005
A word to the wise: forget about having a life....
As you've read this house-building diary, you've seen the over-whelming amount of work that goes into taking on a project like this. We are fortunate enough to not have "day jobs" to go to and so building our house is our job - and it's been 24/7 since we began the research and designing stage almost a year and a half ago. It's hit the ground running every single day. There is no stopping this downhill boulder - stopping costs money. In fact, stopping isn't an option at all - once you set the process in motion, it takes on its own momentum.
Of course, the business of daily life must be attended to. But adding that responsibility to the project is truly crazy-making. There is just no downtime. We are weary. And sleep deprived. At least I'm able to get away during the day to run some errands, but usually marketing is done on the way home and by the time we do get home, put things away, check phone messages, and tend to other necessities (that weren't done in the early a.m. hours before we leave), it's easily 10 p.m. before dinner is served. And then it starts all over again.
I suppose it's like having a baby. You eventually forget the pain. And at least for us, we feel we had no other option but to do it all ourselves - being the control freaks that we are. Suffice it to say, that after reading this journal you may just decide it's all just too much. But at least you will have made an informed decision.
AUGUST 16, 2005
The Hardie Plank, our exterior siding, was delivered a week or so ago. Months ago Greg and I went to a big home expo in Seattle and we stopped by the Hardie Plank booth. There we found out about a new technique of applying a translucent stain to the siding that gives a pretty good facsimile of real wood. Only thing was, it tripled the price of the product. I really wanted this look but it didn't fit into our budget. But with a bit of research, we found we could do it ourselves. But there are well over 900 pieces to paint which would take forever. At one of our earlier "Home Depot 10% Discount" excursions we bought a "professional" paint sprayer (which we'll probably sell, along with many other tools, after we finish building). But where to do all this spraying? Then, of course, Greg came up with a great idea. We have this huge room downstairs which will eventually be Greg's studio. In the meantime, it will serve many purposes and in this case, it will become a spray booth. Greg tarped the entire room, including the floor, and nailed up sections of wood which were then routed out with grooves. The grooves will hold the siding into place without leaving unpainted areas visible since the point held by the groove will be covered by the overlapping of the individual planks. This set up should work very well as a production line. We had hoped to begin painting earlier in the month but unfortunately there were so many other projects going on that it's had to be postponed. We're now hoping to paint in the middle of September when things slow down a bit.
Greg and crew worked on gluing up the last sections of stringers for the front exterior staircase. The process takes every hand on deck and required almost two dozen clamps because the glue is a quick-setting two-part epoxy. Once the first section was glued, Greg cut the stringers to create the platform for the stair treads. The three sections of stringers, which include one in the middle of the tread area, will give the staircase sturdy support and eliminate creaking noises.
AUGUST 17, 2005
While we're waiting for the roof trusses to be delivered in a week or two, there's lots of "pick up" to be done - smaller projects and corrections that must be complete by the time we eventually call for our framing inspection. One of these projects is beginning the framework and installing the footings for the exterior front stairs.
AUGUST 19, 2005
Our crew has taken to calling Greg "OverKill Bill" (with homage to Quentin Tarantino) because he takes every precaution when it comes to insuring the integrity of the structure. That's OK, he can handle it!
One of his biggest concerns is eliminating moisture problems. For instance, Greg has seen so many homes under construction here where windows have been installed incorrectly. The opening must have the window flashing installed per manufacturer's instructions (which are printed right on the window!) so water won't end up seeping into the walls. It seems many production builders gloss over these finer details and the homeowner is none the wiser. Years later when the problems begin to appear, the homeowners don't realize that poor installation was the cause. Greg's research on this particular item lead him to use a product called Grace Vycor for flashing around our windows as well as other places where wood touches wood. Worry about moisture problems is the reason why we're trying not to install skylights. Any time you make openings in your roof, you invite the possibility of leaks - and they can be extremely costly and frustrating to remedy.
We've started to build the back deck that leads from the livingroom and dining room. This was a project we had originally decided would wait until after move in, but we've found that having some type of platform here will be helpful for hoisting supplies. Since it will be used during the building process, we'll sheet it with plywood for now - no need using the good stuff only to have it trashed.
And here's where OverKill Bill has taken precautions to head off some wood rot problems: there's a large beam that supports that back deck which butts up against an exterior wall; and here Greg made sure to use Grace Vycor between these two points for moisture protection. He also added metal flashing too boot.
AUGUST 22, 2005
Now we've begun to frame the turret, the third floor - which tops our wedding cake structure. When completed, the turret will reach a height of 45' and have a 360º view of the Olympic Mountains and Canada.
I've climbed up the scaffolding structure to the top of the platform and although it's an awesome sight, I know it's scary for our team to be up so high.
Getting the huge beams up to this height is one big logistical problem which was solved by hiring a boom truck. First Greg and Mike laid out the beams and determined where each specific one was going. These truck operators are very skilled at what they do, and once they got going it didn't take long to begin placing the beams. Because architectural plans here are not required to include much detail, Greg's expertise comes in mighty handy when it comes to figuring out things on the spot. Then, he's actively involved in the placement process.
Once the beams were in place, they began to sheet the floor of the turret.
AUGUST 23, 2005
I think I've mentioned before that we've decided to install a grey water system to use for our landscaping. The system will catch rainwater from the roof via the gutter system. Who knows where the cost of utilities will go in the years ahead? The cost of this system will eventually pay for itself. We've been told that a good 20 minute rainstorm can fill one tank, so we'll be using two side-by-side 1000 gallon septic tanks connected together. But first we must dig the holes for the tanks. We'll use the dirt from the holes to build up a nearby area where we plan to build a waterfall so we can enjoy looking out on the backyard while we eat our breakfast.
Besides digging the holes for the tanks today, Les used some boulders to create a retaining wall near the tank area. Stacking boulders made of basalt is relatively inexpensive and much less labor intensive than other choices. This wall supports a small roadway next to the house where equipment can access the backyard. Once Les placed the rocks, I did some pruning and clearing and created a small walkway which will eventually lead to the trails in the nearby ravine.
AUGUST 24, 2005
The grey water tanks require a bed of gravel to insure they're level and avoid any cracking. Next, the tanks were delivered. The extra dirt from the holes will be used to even out an adjacent area where we're planning to build a pond.
AUGUST 25, 2005
There are so many details that are involved in building our particular house that we're putting out fires constantly. I asked Greg why there seem to be so many glitches and his answer was, "Because we're building a custom custom custom house." When someone tells you they had a custom house built, it's a very misleading term. Most of the time it usually means they went to a builder or architect and picked through their plans, made a few changes and upgrades, and voila. But our house has dozens of "out of the ordinary" elements. The people helping us with our house have never ever done a project like this.
Greg is very skilled about giving detailed and understandable instructions - he's a born teacher. But no matter how hard he tries, they still have problems "getting it" and mistakes are made. Case in point, a hold down - a metal bracket with bolts - needed to be welded for use on the turret. Greg explained what he needed done and our contractor left early to go home to do the welding. Next morning he arrives with the welded piece only to find it was done incorrectly. Home the contractor goes to make the correction. Or, one of our younger helpers ran over the cord of the saw he was using, but before he realized what he'd done, he ran over the cord of another nearby saw (in the same cut!)! Meanwhile, the payroll clock is ticking and the tool-repair budget is growing.
And poor Greg, with all of this on his mind, and working on the extremely complicated turret project (including that double-helix staircase) - has made mistakes too. It doesn't make it any easier when he's constantly interrupted for other reasons - a delivery, or another question - that takes his focus off the project and then.... well, as I said in the very beginning, there will be mistakes - and there certainly are. Hopefully, we'll be able to "punt" and work around them or make lemonade out of lemons. But still, it's taking its toll.
Another factor adding to our problems is the length of our workday. Our contractor has an annual hunting trip in September and in order to bank hours so he'll have the equivalent of a paycheck while he's away, he's putting in 10 hour days for a 50 hour work week. It's one of many concessions we've made to keep the work force happy. It's counter productive to deny requests - you've got to choose the hill you're willing to die on. That said, it means we must be there too. Which means we're getting up before 5 a.m. (since we live 45 minutes from the construction site). So it's hit the ground running from 5 a.m. until after dinner which usually isn't served until 8:30 or 9 p.m. We are so very very tired.
We've detected a problem with our Milgard windows. It seems the factory caulking sealed in the "removable" window screens. We found this out when we installed the window in the front entry a few weeks back. So we had the Milgard rep come out and let them know about the problem. Since we won't be installing the rest of the windows for several more weeks, we don't know at this point how many windows are involved, but at least Milgard has been notified.
AUGUST 26, 2005
We are fast closing in on finishing the framing for the entire house (minus the trusses and roof sheeting). It took a lot of muscle and a few scary moments, but the first turret wall is up.
AUGUST 29, 2005
Today's news is all about Hurricane Katrina. This journal is not meant for personal comments such as this, but the devastation is just too terrible to think about. I'm embarrassed to even make this point but I feel I must because it's all part of building this house: as we pointed out earlier, we thought ahead and bought all of our sheet lumber early on before hurricane season. Last night we were in Home Depot and caught a glimpse of the price of plywood, and prices have increased dramatically.
And now the final walls of the turret are just about up and should be completed in the next day or two.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2005
I must say I have NEVER lived in such disarray and unkempt conditions in my entire life as we are forced to do now. I say "forced" because that's the way it feels. Keeping up with the demands of this project have left precious little time for such luxuries as housekeeping - it's enough just to be able to get to the grocery store. Preparing dinner after twelve-hour days, thinking ahead and preparing lunches, paying bills, doctor's appointments, and then life's little emergencies...there are only so many hours in a day. It is just too much to do it all. Plus, our rental house has hardwood floors. Greg and I are shaking our heads why this is such a popular choice for flooring. At least with wall-to-wall carpeting there is something for dust and pet hair to cling to. With hardwood, dust bunnies are everywhere and we find ourselves sneezing constantly. Then, too, if you drop something on hardwood, chances of it breaking or at least being damaged are great - with carpet there's a cushion.
SEPTEMBER 2, 2005
Since I wasn't at the jobsite for the last two days, Greg had a birthday surprise for me today - a day early. The front porch is up as well as the first section of exterior staircase! For the first time we're able to stand outside the front door.
There are two sections to this front staircase, forming an "S" curve with a platform (a code requirement) in between the two sections. Looking down from the front porch, the curve is evident. The materials being used for the stair treads are just to get us through the construction stage, but still they're beefy and sturdy.
For the rest of the day, Greg and team continued to work on this staircase. Greg cut out the stringers for the second section. Later they began attaching the stringers, first hoisting them up to the platform to begin positioning them, then fine tuning the position in preparation for the footings at the base of the staircase.
And, the turret walls are up and sheeted - all eight of them.
SEPTEMBER 5, 2005
Greg has "finished" the serpentine front staircase. At least the structure is in which will save us from having to go to the back staircase all the time to get upstairs. These stairs won't be completed until after move in - they're serviceable for now and that's all we need. Besides, no need doing detail work that would only get damaged during the building process. However, we do need to install a cement pad at the base of the stairs for structural support.
SEPTEMBER 7, 2005
Sometimes things just work out right.
They're building a house on the lot next to ours. This one is being built by a local construction company with dozens of employees. They started two months after we began our house and will be moving in next month! Can you spell "jealous"?! But, theirs is not a custom house and is a much less complicated project. At any rate, the cement truck showed up today for their driveway. Greg happened to mention that it would be great if there were just a little left over cement because we could use it at the base of our staircase and save us some time, money, and hard labor. I went next door and inquired with the truck operator. He wasn't sure there'd be anything left over (especially on a production house like this one where every piece of material is precisely estimated). But we lucked out, and he had just enough for our pad. The driver didn't want to take any money; but we gave him a $20 bill and said to have a nice lunch on us. That saved us at least $250, if not more.
In the evening we attended a class given by the local Health Department: Septic 101. It's everything you need to know about your septic system. And just in time because ours will be installed tomorrow.
Septic systems consist of septic tanks and a drainage field to break down the waste material. They're very common once you get away from big cities where city sewer systems are easy to install.
There are several different types of septic systems, depending on the soil you have. The big question is: does it perc? Meaning, will the liquid percolate in the ground. The septic system designer usually digs several large holes on the property to locate the best possible conditions. A system that percs well will be less expensive. Septic systems can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 including design, permits, materials, and labor.
At first we couldn't find an optimum situation and we were going to install a "mound" system which means the drainage field is above ground. It would have been about 70' by 30' and approximately 2' tall. As our contractor said, "You can put a tombstone at one end that reads: Here Lies Moby Dick" - cause that's just what it looks like. Luckily, our excavator found a good patch of sand, the optimum condition, and we were able to do a redesign and install a pressurized system which has a drainage field level with the ground; although it still takes up a large area. It's a good thing our lot is over 2 acres - we were able to have the field on the far side of the lot away from the house. However, the septic tanks themselves must be located near the house and require three round plastic lids to be visible above the ground. Nothing much you can do about disguising that I'm afraid (you can't plant anything on top) but in time shrubbery around it will make it less noticeable.
At Septic 101 we learned that a septic system is a "living thing" with bacteria and other organic matter that breaks down the contents. There are three layers to the contents of a septic tank. Oils (called scum) float to the top, the effluent - mostly liquid - is in the middle, and the bottom has sludge. Putting the wrong things down the drain can "kill" the system and end up costing you thousands of dollars. There are obvious no-nos: chemicals and bleach, but also powdered detergents and chopped up food - especially vegetable matter - which doesn't break down well and stays forever floating, disrupting and clogging the drainage field. That's why compost piles are very common. Another interesting bit of info: you would think you'd want to use a toilet paper that dissolves, but the very opposite is true. Toilet paper that dissolves will stay in the effluent layer and be pumped into the drainage field, but the fibers will eventually clog the field. Using the correct type of toilet paper that doesn't dissolve, will become part of the bottom/sludge layer and will eventually be pumped out during maintenance. To test your toilet paper to see if you're using the correct type, put a square in a jar of water and shake. If it dissolves, find another brand.
But if you maintain it properly, a septic system is safe and clean and works like a charm.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2005
They began installing the septic system today. First they prepared the drainage field. Of course, this was a big opportunity for me to gather more rocks - but that's another "neverending" story. It took most of the day to prep the field which entailed digging up the area and leveling it out. By the end of the day that had put in two of the three channels of perforated pipes that will disperse the treated waste. They'll finish up tomorrow.
SEPTEMBER 9, 2005
Today was one of the busiest days we've had since we began building. Three different trades were here at the same time. The septic system was completed. The roof trusses were delivered. And the pump for our grey water system was installed.
The septic installers completed work on the drainage field, buried the perforated piping, and smoothed out the ground. Since the field is on the far side of the property, I'll just let nature take its course and let the natural groundcover take over again. Then the workers began digging a deep hole to house the two side-by-side septic tanks. The size of your septic system has to do with the number of bedrooms in your house and not the number of bathrooms. This way they estimate usage figuring two people per bedroom.
We've been eagerly awaiting our trusses. We had hoped to begin installing our metal roofing before the weather began to turn. Of course, everything takes longer than expected and we couldn't order the trusses until all the framing had been completed. After the trusses are installed, then we sheath over the trusses with sheets of plywood and next add the underlayment for the roof. So as it looks now, it won't be until late October or early November before we begin.
A huge boom truck delivered the trusses which were grouped together according to room. Later, they'll all be spread out into position along the roofline. The operator worked with us to place the bundles on top of the rafters. Otherwise we would've had to hire a boom truck (at extra cost) because there is no way manpower alone could get these massive trusses up to the second floor. It took everyone working together with the boom truck operator to place the trusses precisely where they needed to be. Greg, as always, was involved in every aspect.
Our livingroom will have 16' tall cathedral beam ceiling on top of 9' walls. Although they haven't been set up, you can get some idea of the scale from this photo.
As for the grey water system, they explained it's actually a gutter run-off system. We'll just be catching rainwater to use for our landscaping. Grey water would catch every bit of household water including shower, bath and laundry water and depending on area may require involvement of the health department.
Lessons learned so far (#8193): Most companies offer technical help with their products. At least that's the idea. But often you find you have a question that throws them. Again, Greg is very detail oriented and thinks ahead. So many times he'll want to know how one product will react with another. We've learned that not all technical support is as knowledgeable as you need them to be. Or you might get conflicting opinions. At this point you just have to throw up your hands and hope for the best. You can only do so much.
Lessons learned so far (#8194): Your builder is only as good as his last job and his sophistication. In our neck of the woods, not every aspect of the construction process is inspected. That's why, we're finding out, so many products can be installed improperly. There just isn't the manpower to watch over everything. Just like a doc, your contractor needs to keep up with technology - if he's conscientious. So ask him if he's familiar with an excellent magazine, Fine Homebuilding, or if he's making use of the vast information via the internet.
Lessons learned so far (#8195): Well, Greg had thought he'd be able to work on other projects while our contractor was busy doing things he was more familiar with such as installing our trusses. But it seems that this house is so custom, Greg must get involved with every aspect to catch, or in many many cases, correct errors. They say, the mark of a good carpenter is how they correct mistakes...Greg is an incredible carpenter.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2005
Today we began spray painting the Hardie siding. We're going to use the siding on all areas of the exterior that doesn't have stone. The Eldorado stone will be installed basically on the front facade of the building, with Hardie Plank above it.
A little refresher because I'm sure I wrote of this before: Last summer we were at a big home show in Seattle and saw a unique treatment for Hardie siding products. Almost all siding is conventionally coated with paint (it comes primed), but we wanted something that looked like natural wood.
Why not go with natural wood in the first place? Because it's a damp environment and wood will rot eventually or at least need frequent repaint due to weather conditions. Plus Hardie Plank is made of cement and is, therefore, insect proof and fire proof, and holds paint well.
The product we discovered is Mason's Select Woodperfect Series Semi-Transparent Coating. It's expensive, especially if you buy the pieces "pre stained" which just about doubles the cost, so we're going to do it ourselves. And I think the extra cost is more than worth it for such an aesthetically pleasing result.
SEPTEMBER 20, 2005
It's taken us a few days of spraying to work out the kinks and develop a production line procedure that's working best for us.
Prep: When the material was first delivered, we stacked all of the pieces into piles inside the house and covered them with tarps to protect them from rainwater and construction dirt. Before we begin painting, the first step is brushing down each piece to remove any marks or dirt. With three or four adjacent piles, I'm able to prep several boards at a time. I found using a stiff dry plastic-bristle brush is working well for this task. If there are any stains on the pieces, such as foot prints or water marks, they come off fairly well with a bit of water and scrubbing with another brush or a damp rag. I say "with another brush" because you want to use a dry brush to insure the boards are dry before painting.
After the boards are loaded, I go back with my bristle brush and knock off any "fuzz" or ragged edges on the bottom edge of the plank. Then, beginning with the top board, I lightly dust each board off to remove bits of "fuzz" material, making sure to push the piece back into rack while I "dust" to avoid loosening its grip from the rack (otherwise you'll have a mini disaster because if a board falls it will fall directly onto the one below. So far our mini-disasters have all been salvageable).
With every layer of 3 or 4 prepped pieces, we then begin loading them on the racks. Greg's rack system allows us to spray as many as 70 pieces at one time. Now that we're into it a bit, we see we're painting approximately 100 12' pieces with two coats per 5 gallon bucket of product. As we're loading, any planks with damaged edges are the edges that go directly into the rack as this portion of the plank will be hidden by the one above once it's installed.
Constructing the rack: The racks are simple enough to make using 2"x2"x8' "half" studs which come in bundles from the lumber yard. Group three 2x2s and screw them together with a piece of plywood. Cutting the grooves: set your saw for a depth of 3/4" and cross cut grooves into the 2x2s. The width of the groove is 3/8". It's a straight 3/4" square cut, not angled. We discovered that the square cut held the plank better and reduced dripping because the board was flat. The grooves are cut in every 2" to give you some options: we found this allowed us to create a densely stacked drying rack to hold boards that hadn't dried long enough when we weren't able to complete a full load the day before.
Spacing: when you load the boards for painting, begin one foot up from the bottom for the first board and then you can stack 4 more boards spaced at 14" intervals. You'll need to keep the gun parallel to the Hardie siding, so the spacing between each board on the rack will accommodate spraying in between boards. The top row works only if you're tall, so keep that in mind.
You'll notice that I'm wearing a good respirator and not a dust mask. Wearing a respirator is very important, not only for use during the painting process, but to filter out any dust created from brushing the planks. Hardie Plank is made from a cement-type product and like many building materials is capable of lodging tiny airborne particles in the lungs.
After loading all the pieces, we begin to spray. We bought a semi-professional airless paint sprayer at our local Home Depot for about $600. We'll probably keep it for a while after we move in but eventually will sell it and any other tools we find we won't be using any more. There is a definite learning curve to using the sprayer, especially with our first batch. So we've culled out any boards that we weren't pleased with and will make sure they're used high up or in the back or side of the house where they won't be evident.
Painting: First Greg hits the sides and bottom edges of each board. And because the top row is a little too high for me, he's been spraying those. Then I take over. It takes a while to get a rhythm. The sprayer must be moving before you squeeze the trigger, otherwise you get too much paint in one spot when sections overlap. You need to keep your strokes equidistant from the plank during each pass. Lately I've found that if I begin my next stroke along the board slightly ahead of the last one, the overspray sort of fills in and avoids putting too much paint in one place. After each section of rack is sprayed, we go back with a paint brush and spread out any area with too much paint and spread it toward areas with too little. Once that's done, we go back with a long brush stroke across the entire plank to smooth it all out (usually this takes three passes, one below the other, to get the entire width of the board). Then we hit the under side of the edges with the brush to catch any dripping paint or if need be, wipe the edges with a cloth. After we've sprayed all the planks, we go back and look for any drips from the board above. (As we've gotten better and better at applying the paint, the dripping has nearly stopped).
We're getting a very good result with just two coats. We apply the first, wait two hours and then apply the second. All in all, it takes an entire day to complete one batch; each step taking about an hour. We must first stack the completed boards from the previous day, clean and load the next batch, spray, wait the two hours between coats, and spray again. The coating dries hard and is not prone to scratch. Once they're dried overnight, we can stack them one atop the other. I must say applying this product is very forgiving and most mistakes are "happy" ones that just make it look all the more random and real.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2005
Today they began to roll the trusses. We had hoped to get some extra help but it ended up to be Greg and our contractor and helper to muscle these huge pieces into place. They were able to install the livingroom trusses by the end of the day. As with most things, it's the prep that takes the time. This can be dangerous work, so lots of time was taken to construct safe scaffolding. Once that was done, it took approximately 15 minutes to place each truss, one by one.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2005
Now that a couple of rooms have been trussed, we're getting a feel for how the roofing will work. As I said before, we designed this house from the inside out - it was more important to get the floorplan we wanted than to worry about the exterior. Now it's time to "worry about the exterior" and there are a myriad of details that need to be decided upon and worked out and invented on the fly.
For instance, the eaves (the part of the roof that overhangs the exterior walls) seem to be covering the tops of windows and exterior doors and the soffit which covers the underside of the eaves is adding to the problem. Greg is trying to come up with a "new" design that solves this problem and he thinks he has one that would involve omitting the "box" type soffit. That would help the budget because installing that type of soffit is very time consuming.
And now that we can stand under the ceiling in the rooms that have trusses, we are beginning to revise some design ideas, especially in the entry/livingroom/solarium/gallery/diningroom area. These particular areas are a jumble of different ceiling heights. But as Greg always says, "If ya cain't fix it, feature it!" With the exception of these areas, all other rooms will have flat 9' ceilings, the diningroom included. The entrance to the diningroom is on an angle and we had envisioned a cased opening with small return walls. And architectural columns are to be placed in front of the return walls. But now we stood in the diningroom and looked out toward the entry. (In this photo you can see the thick beam above the cased opening, the small return walls supporting the beam, and the high ceiling just beyond.) If we leave part of the diningroom ceiling open and remove the cased opening, we get a dramatic view of the cathedral ceiling in the entry and the columns will serve more of a purpose "announcing" the entry to the diningroom.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2005
Today I took a Native Plant Fieldtrip given by the County. Since I want to do as little formal gardening as possible, and also attract and keep wildlife, I want to learn about what they like to eat and what's good for the environment here. The fieldtrip lasted for three hours and was very informative. I find it very difficult to identify plants, especially trees, because so many of them look alike. Differentiating one species from another is all in the fine details: leaf shape, bark, etc. I've also signed up for a Natural Landscaping class through the County and the local college. By coincidence, part of the course is another fieldtrip - hopefully, the second time around the info will stick.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2005
The trusses were completed today. Yahoo! All I can say is, this is one interesting abode. The confluence of ceilings in the entry is something to see. I'd include a picture, but because it's just a bunch of sticks, it's difficult to imagine what it will look like once the drywall is installed - which, unfortunately, will be months from now.
SEPTEMBER 28, 2005
We finished the first half of spray painting the siding today. It took us about 7 working days to paint the 400+ pieces of the Hardie Cedar Mill. The Cedar Mill is the long board of siding that we'll be using on the sides and rear of the building. Greg has to do a little "spray booth" remodeling to set up for the next and final painting phase: the staggered edge Hardie Plank which we'll be using on the front of the house. The staggered edge looks like individual shingles and has an uneven, handcrafted look. I wanted to work on the "not so prominent" pieces first and perfect my spray-painting technique before I tackled the staggered edge. Because our painting was "hand done" as opposed to buying the pre-stained boards, to our eyes it looks more random and real. My plan is to try and give that random and real look to the individual shingles of the staggered pieces too.
And Greg came up with another nifty invention. It takes us about an hour to "unload" the painted boards and stack them. With Greg and I working together, it's a one-at-a-time thing since they're pretty heavy for me. So Greg made a stretcher to carry multiple boards. With me on one end, we can only stack four at a time - but at least that cuts the time down by one-fourth. With two men, I'm sure they could easily load on 12 or more boards per trip. Greg will also use the stretcher to transport the boards to the various working sites when it comes time for installation.
We had our phone service hooked up to the house today. Although it'll be months until we actually live here, we wanted to get hooked up so we could connect to DSL. That way I can bring my laptop with all my construction files to the jobsite and bypass the ever-frustrating dial-up modem I'm forced to use at our rental place. It won't hurt to be using less minutes on our cell phones either.
SEPTEMBER 29, 2005
Well, today certainly didn't play out like we were expecting it to. It was supposed to be just another "work 'til we drop" day but then we got a phone call.
A little background: The ridge caps that are manufactured for our roof turned out to be incompatible with the ventilation system we'll be using. And, like so many other fine details, you don't realize these things until you've already bought something. So I contacted the company that supplied our roofing materials and was told we could return it; but we'd have to pay a 30% restocking fee, pay for shipping, and before that, provide photos of the boxes to make sure the items we'll return aren't damaged. So, we took the pictures and sent them off email. This morning we get a phone call from the roof company sales rep who needed to be filled in on why we were requesting the return. The phone call came while we were on our way to the job.
Long story short, Greg not only taught this sales rep a thing or two about roof ventilation theory, but got an invitation to assist with an installation. And since our roof seems to be very rare in that no one here has ever installed one; and since Greg and I will be installing ours, we felt this was a good thing to do. Although the company website includes video of a roof installation, there are always special circumstances, tricks and shortcuts. Only trouble was, the installation is happening nine hundred miles away in Santa Rosa, California! It was either fly, which would entail at least two stop overs and whoknowswhat else, or drive 15 long hours in two days. Greg opted to drive. So, we reworked our day and Greg left in the evening to arrive in time for the Saturday morning installation. It's a hassle and only adds to his exhaustion, but it should be very helpful in the long run.
Our house sounded so interesting to the sales rep that the roof manufacturer may want to photograph it when it's completed and use our house in their literature. I don't know if there's any pay involved in something like that, but anyway I'm working on them waving the restock and shipping charges. Will let you know how that turns out.
While Greg went home to prepare for his long journey, I went to the first class of my Natural Landscaping course. I found out, too, that the county conservation district which offers this class will send someone out to our property for free to do a site evaluation. I have a long list of questions, including getting info on how to properly install the pond and I can't wait to get them out there. But I think I'll wait until the end of the course which runs through October - that way I might get some answers or think of further questions.
DON'T FORGET to KEEP CHECKING BACK at
to see what we've been up to lately
(the newest entries are always at the bottom of the page)