JUNE - JULY 2007
June 2, 2007
We have completed making the final templates for the living room beams which we will turn over to the sheet metal artists. We had mocked them up earlier in cardboard, but the metal workers need something more substantial to work with so Greg made them out of "hardboard." You'll notice that the final pieces are lacking the pointed arrows at the bottom of the designs. That's because we will make that a separate piece in order to "hide" where we join the separate arches together and it also gives us some "wiggle" room to allow for slight differences in the dimensions of the ceiling.
Before Greg traced the shape onto the hardboard, he sanded the edges smooth and then bent a thin strip of wood around the curves to correct the shape of the arch. The piece was then cut out with a jigsaw.
The more complete the template that we deliver to the metal workers, the lower the cost. All these adjustments take time, and time is expensive. We're fairly sure we have it to the point where they'll be able to go right to cutting the metal. They'll make one complete arch to make sure we're on the same page, and then they'll cut out the individual components like an assembly line. We'll need 16 of the smaller arches and four of the larger ones. Plus all of the "arrow" pieces. This is very exciting. And I must say, I've never seen anything like it before! In fact, the metal workers like it so much, they want to make some arches for their own home.
We've thought of marketing this design. And who knows, maybe we will eventually. The problem is that every room is different: different sizes, different pitches to the ceiling. So unless we can find some type of computer program that would automatically size the templates, this may not be possible.
June 6, 2007
When we originally installed our windows, we had no idea we would end up adding our waterfall and pond. Our kitchen nook overlooks it. I had planned to use swivel, adjustable bar stools here. But after the waterfall was complete, we realized that the windows were a bit on the high side which didn't allow for viewing the falls - unless you were at the nook. So we discussed eventually lowering these windows in hopes of opening up the view.
We spent a lot of time today discussing this because it will be a lot of work and time for Greg to remove and reinstall them with the possibility of damaging the flashing.
We finally came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to lower the windows enough to capture the view we want. So the windows stay where they are. Actually, after putting all this thought and discussion into it, I'm not disappointed. We have other windows, especially in the living room, that give a great view. And really, when you're in the kitchen, you're working - not necessarily gazing out the window. Our time and effort will be better spent elsewhere. And besides, a view of the mountains ain't bad at all.
Meanwhile, with the warmer weather comes insects. For some reason there are flies aplenty at each interior window (not to mention mosquitos and the occasional wasp, hornet, or bee). But the most worrisome of all are carpenter ants which, as the name implies, can be detrimental to the wood and framing. They don't eat wood like termites, but they burrow into it to make their nests. Last year we bought dispensers and filled them with "gourmet liquid ant bait" that is supposed to attract the ants. They are supposed to take it back to the nest and feed it to all the others including the queen. And in a few days the nest is eliminated. It purposely takes several days for the poison to act because these things are so smart, if it kills right away, they won't bring it to the nest. At any rate, we didn't see any miraculous changes in the ant population. I called a local pest control company and asked them what they recommended for a building under construction. Their answer was to spray all the interior wood (studs, trusses etc.) with a pesticide that would soak into the wood up to a quarter of an inch. Of course, we'd have to move every single piece of equipment, every tool, everything out of the house in order to do this. I asked how long this would last and the answer was, "two years." The cost: $2400! And....this only kills ants that get into your walls or house. It doesn't prevent them from getting in in the first place. So we consulted trusty Google. The culmination of our research took us to the University of Washington entomology departments and we learned about a dust called permethrin which covers the ant's body as it walks through it, then they carry it back to the nest and groom each other and, voilá! Oh, and we asked the forester if there were any benefits from the ants. Answer: none. I don't even see the birds eat 'em. So far the ant population is considerably smaller. We also have on hand bags of diatomaceous earth - the stuff you put in your pool filter. Because it's made up of microscopic pieces of shells, when insects walk across it, it scratches their bodies which eventually kills them. We plan on putting down a layer of this at the bottom of each bay between the studs and sealing it up behind the drywall as an extra added precaution.
June 10, 2007
One of our neighbors flies his own helicopter and recently took some aerial shots of our place. Looking at what the property looked like before we broke ground certainly helps make our progress a reality. (The yellow box represents the original site for the house - shortly before submitting our plans, we decided to move the placement a little bit south which required reworking the floor plan.)
Here's what it looks like today. This shot was taken from the back part of the house. You can see the waterfall and pond on the lower right. We have literally pulled our house out of the ground.
June 11, 2007
The rest of the year will be spent finishing the exterior to be weatherproof/weather tight. That means we must complete the roof (boy, we will have to celebrate when that's finally accomplished!!!), finish the siding, and install all the exterior doors. But there are a few projects that don't necessarily push us forward. For instance, the five pairs of exterior shutters. We've discussed the design for several months. Early on we were going to go with "store bought", but then we realized that our "Craftsman Gothic" architecture required something visually more substantial. So we looked at books and did Google "Image" searches to come up with ideas. We've finally settled on inch and a quarter thick cedar boards of varying widths made to look hand hewn using lumber from an old-growth tree we found on our property and then had milled. The finished product will have large black rivets at the top and bottom of each board, with two strap hinges in between which will span about 3/4 of the width of the shutter. Instead of painting these shutters, we want to leave them out in the elements to "gray up." So we needed to make one set and see how long that process takes.
June 20, 2007
I have so many weeds, my weeds have weeds. It's making me feel overwhelmed and depressed. No kidding, I must have a acre of weeds I need to tend to. And I don't want to use herbicides if I don't have to and besides, with such a large area...well, it's just not an option. And it would kill all the plants I do want. Unfortunately, this clump grass or velvet grass or whatever the heck they call it, has taken over. And, guess what? It's been growing like a weed! It's higher than my waist and there's so much of it, it's about ready to go to seed and there's really nothing I can do about it. I thought I could just cut off the top of the plant and then go back and remove the entire thing just to avoid having the seeds spread, but even that is a daunting task. And to make it worse, the sun is out and I have a real problem working under the sun. Well, I guess I'll just take it slow and do what I can.
On the much brighter side, we got great news. Our letter to the Building Department explaining our hardships due to family matters with regard to our expiring building permit got us a two year extension! This will save us thousands - hopefully - if we can make that deadline. Only time will tell, so it's one foot in front of the other.
June 25, 2007
The installation of our septic system has now been completed. Our septic system is what is termed a "pressurized partial fill.". The simplest uses gravity but our ground didn't support that type. The company that constructed the septic system provided a sophisticated controller that monitors and tells the system when to pump to the drain field some 200 feet away from the vaults. The control box runs about $600 and since it could be installed on a separate electrical permit, Greg decided that rather than learn the hard way, he would have a local electrician familiar with the controls do the installation. The one local recommended electrician originally set to install the unit wanted well over $600 to do the job. I think he felt he had a captive audience in our part of the country. Greg has been using another local electrician for consultation and when he talked with him found he was familiar with the controls. Of course. Why didn't we think of that in the beginning! So our electrician consultant pulled the permit and made the installation for less than $250! When the electrical inspector came, he commented that we should go ahead and pull in our main electrical service! Wow, we had no idea that we could do that before a Certificate of Occupancy was issued. In California, the construction process always worked on temporary power and the final electrical turn-on wasn't allowed until all the lights and receptacles were installed just prior to move-in. So now we could pull our two 200 amp service runs from the meter socket pedestal at the street to the main service panels in the garage. A run of about 220' for each.
This, of course, will take Greg off the roof yet again, but at least it's still moving us forward.
As for my landscaping work, I've been itching to complete the final section of the dry creekbed, required by our drainage plans and as soon as Greg is finished roofing the portico in the weeks ahead, I'll be able to finish what I started last summer.
As much as I'd like to think that I'm strong as a bull, I have my limitations. So Greg and I got the brilliant idea of asking the local high school if there were a bulletin board where we could advertise for some help. Now I have a couple of boys who are helping me with my chores.
June 26, 2007
We are able to get the inspector out here immediately (never happen in a place like Los Angeles!) and our septic passed inspection.
June 27, 2007
Greg completed our first pair of exterior shutters earlier this month. We discuss the final finish and decided to let the cedar weather to a nice gray patina. I believe it will work well with the gray stone accents. We've placed the shutters in full sun and water them daily. This will speed up the "graying process." Ideally, the final product will look close to the saw horse which holds the shutter in the photograph.
June 28, 2007
Our neighbor just happens to be the one who designed our septic system and today he did the final programming of the septic controls. If someone had told me five years ago that I would live in a house with a septic system, I would have laughed. Life. What a journey.
The appliances we bought an incredible two years ago (!!!) are being delivered this morning. We hadn't anticipated the size of our project and the extra time it would require, so although the appliance store agreed to hold our purchases until we needed them, we had begun to wear out our welcome. But the timing was good because we have completed enough work on the unfinished structure to create a secure storage space.
As we detailed in the past, we used AirVent products for our soffit and ridge venting. We had attended a seminar in Seattle that was very informative and we got to see the products. On hindsight we got to see the products in small sections, less than a foot. These small samples didn't make any impression on us, other than how they seemed to be well designed to provide the best passive ventilation of all the attic spaces. Again, from our research, well done passive ventilation is the best method to properly ventilate the attic. We discussed our type of roof with the AirVent rep and were recommended the particular products to use which we ordered. The soffit venting worked fine in it's use and installation. The ridge vent was a three piece system. Greg painted these parts to match the color of our metal roof .
Well, once Greg began the installation, the trouble began. Let's just say that Greg was amazed at how thin the aluminum was - so thin and flimsy that it is nearly impossible to install without creating dents and bends. So flimsy, Greg wonders what a good hailstorm would do to it. This was a monumental problem for a craftsman like Greg whose mind works overtime to come up with solutions (just one more stress added to an already hyper-stressful project). It was by trial and error he learned to improve his technique as he completed each section of roof with the crowning ridge vent. Eventually he was able to devise a system that didn't look too bad but it was still wavy and extremely fragile. Just as long as it doesn't leak, is Greg's mantra.
Now Greg is down to just about 6 more squares left to install of this 50 square roof. When he realized he needed another couple of sections of the AirVent, a call to the supplier showed they had only three pieces in stock; so off we went to the big city to pick it up. Greg was surprised when the pieces were brought out: they were one-piece and much heavier in construction. Where was this when we ordered originally??? Apparently, this version is for a different application but Greg was angry that we weren't told about it from the get go. If there is one saving grace, it is that we will go through one more complete winter of rain and snow with the framing open to the roof. That way we can check for leaks with a 1000 candle power flash light during the heavy rains. Hopefully, it won't leak because getting back up there to repair will be a major project.
Another problem that seemed to have no solution involved the Tamko Stonecrest Slate roofing product we used. This is a superior roofing material. The instructions are a little weak but as luck would have it, Greg was able to drive down to California and help the West Coast rep install this same roof on his house for a couple of days (last May I believe). We were lucky he was able to pull off the job to take advantage of this training session, but it required 16 hours of non-stop driving each way because he had such short notice. But it was well worth it. There is nothing like on-the-job training to make sense of murky instructions (and most instructions are murky at best - no doubt about it).
This metal roof mimics slate and if you step on it too heavily it will crush the individual "tile" detail. Sometimes it will pop back on its own, but most often not. As has happened so many times on our project; once again we figured we can't possibly be the only people in history with this problem. However, when Greg called the manufacturer for advice on popping back the crushed tiles, the grumpy (and as radio's Clark Howard is fond of saying) "customer no service" representative had absolutely no feedback for a fix. In addition to the installation problem, we have parts of the roof that will have to be walked on in the future to wash windows, etc. Greg also asked if there were a method for padding below the individual tiles to prevent them from crushing. Nope, never heard of doing that, says the "tech". Well, sometimes you have to become the R&D Department and invent your own fix . To get the tiles to pop back, Greg placed an "X" of duct tape over the crushed spot. When attaching the duct tape he left a little folded-over tab on the tape to pull on. Then he really rubbed down on the tape to make sure it was a tight seal: a pull on the tape tab, and voilá it pops back. One problem solved, another to go. To pad under each tile, Greg made "sleepers", squares of 3/8" plywood covered by another layer of roofing felt. Once this was done, you could walk over these parts of the roof without the fear of crushing the tiles.
July 13, 2007
We have purchased a tractor. It's not exactly brand new. A new one would cost in the neighborhood of $15,000 or more. But Greg found a vintage 1939 Ford that comes with a bucket, a post hole driller, and a cement mixer for $2850. It may not be pretty but it runs, and we figure by the time we rented equipment to do these jobs, we'd at least be spending half of this amount. Not to mention the stress of the ticking clock for rental equipment. When we're done, we feel pretty sure we can sell it for almost what we paid. Who knows? Since it's vintage, maybe more. It'll help us move dirt and rock piles and mix cement. The cement mixer is a big plus and will allow us to make our own cement pads outside exterior doorways. In our research we found there are one hundred different implements available for these tractors. They're still used to this day and one reason they've survived this long is the uncomplicated simple mechanics. Greg was able to buy a reproduction of the owner's manual online.
July 15, 2007
I was organizing the mess that is Greg's desktop- a mountain of small pieces of note paper - reminders of any one of a thousand things he has to take care of: roofing, heating, wiring, plumbing, moisture barriers, phone calls, you name it. And stacks of research books. An overwhelming jumble of details to keep straight.
Yesterday, we began installing our electrical service. Hooking it up at this early stage allows us to use our septic system which means we have a working toilet. Quite a luxury on a construction site.
Seemingly years ago (when we broke ground on this project) we had trenched and laid in the heavy electrical conduits needed to provide electrical power from the transformer at the street to the house. Our electrical service consists of two 200 amp electrical service panels located in one of our garages. Because it's in the garage - and especially at the far end of the garage space - we were required to install heavy steel "bollards" or posts to prevent a car from accidentially lurching forward into the electrical panels or other sensitive equipment in this area.
Each electrical run for the two panels are in separate conduits about 220' in length and use a special wire called 2-2-4 which indicates the wire's gauge. (Most house wiring for lights and receptacles is usually #14 and #12 gauge - the lower the number, the heavier the wire.) Heavy service wire for this purpose is made of aluminum. You could do it in copper, but the cost would be insane. Aluminum service wire is approved, but you must remember to use an anti-oxidizing "grease" on all aluminum wires as you connect them to the various lugs at the street and the house panels. We bought a 500' roll of this monstrous wire very early on and that was a smart move because the cost of it has nearly doubled. Here our teenage helpers are rolling the huge spool to the transformer at the street out in position.
A word about our helpers. With two acres of land, I can't do everything by myself. We have friends whose properties are ten and twenty acres and I feel overwhelmed just thinking about it. So I am especially grateful to have found two teenage boys to help me weed. And Greg is finding them very useful for his projects a well.
The conduits are typically about four feet underground. We protected the exposed ends above ground by covering them with duct tape and if we're lucky there shouldn't be any water inside the conduits save normal condensation.
The first step was to complete the installation at the "meter socket" and pedestal at the street. The permanent transformer and temporary power pole were installed when we began our project to give us temp power to the job site so we could use power tools and have lighting, etc. Now we're completing the final meter installation. Our utility company provides handouts that define their requirements. No great mystery here, just purchase the parts called out for your particular type of power (e.g., two-200 amp service). In our case, we bought what is called a "meter socket" which is placed on top of the conduit sticking vertically out of the ground. Then the wiring is hooked up. After installation, the utility company will come and transfer the meter on the temp pole to this final meter socket and throw the switch. But before inspection, the 4" pad of cement must be poured.
Next we pulled the wire from the meter socket to the house panels. You can't just stuff the wire in from one end and push it through, especially when the run is over 200 feet and contains elbow bends. It requires both push and pull. Ideally the wire is attached to a special pull rope that's strong enough to stand up to the stress. But the rope is also rather thick and the first job is to get the rope through the entire length of conduit. Electricians use a "fish tape" or "snake" to pull wire through, and Greg has a 240' electrical "snake" he thought should work. This stiff metal "tape" or wire is contained in a plastic case that plays out the metal much like a measuring tape and is inserted into the conduit and "fished" to the other end. When running any conduit, the code allows the use of elbows and bends; however, the combined amount of bends cannot be over 360 degrees. Our two main conduit runs total about 270 degrees, so we're okay. Still, it wasn't possible to get the fish tape all the way through. In both conduits, the fish tape hit the last bend and that was it. Now Greg had to try something called "blowing a rope." To do this you need a powerful shop vac which is attached by using duct tape to the vacuum hose and then to the conduit. This prevents air escaping in order to get maximum suction. When you switch on the vacuum you should be able to feel a strong suction at the other end. The idea is to tie nylon construction string to a "flexible" plug, stuff it into the other end and let the suction pull it through. Well, first we used a balled up piece of paper for the plug and as soon as it hit some condensation in the pipe it expanded and sealed off the rest of the run. And when we pulled the nylon string out it was a tangled mess which required the better part of an hour to untangle. Take two: we balled up a piece of plastic bag and that did the trick. But then the string got soaked by the condensation deep down in the conduit and once again I must untangle the mess and I am sick to death of getting the knots out of this nylon string. Then eureka! We found some lightweight "curling" ribbon (the kind you use to wrap presents) which we used early on to define property lines and stake out our floor plan. With the new lighter weight string and the small plastic plug it flew right through. Forget about reusing the ribbon for the next run through - it's another tangled mess and easier to just use new.
Now we had a piece of ribbon in each conduit. Greg was worried that the more fragile ribbon wouldn't be able to pull over the pull rope, so we used the ribbon to pull over the pull string. Then the pull string to pull over the pull rope and now we were ready to go. (This is yet just another example of every little thing turning into a time-consuming project.)
Now we were ready to pull from the street to the house. This huge spool of wire was difficult to work with. In order to make the wire easier to spool off, we supported the spool ends of the roll to make it "spinable." Some will simply lay the wire in a straight line behind the point of entrance, but that could easily introduce a lot of dirt into the process and make pulling the wire even more difficult. There is a product that makes pulling a little easier and its got many brand names, but essentially it's "pull grease"; a water soluble, slippery subtance. Greg just squirted a good amount into a bucket, added a little water to make it pourable and funneled it down the conduit at the street. From the street side we were now ready to go. The pull rope was securely attached to the 2-2-4 and the grease was down the pipe. Inside the garage at the service panels, the pull rope comes up vertically and is then looped through a pulley to make the pull easier. Using a pulley allows more than one person to pull on the rope. Otherwise only one person could pull and they would have to stand on a ladder to do it. And we needed all the help we could get. To get things going requires good communication between the team at the street and the team at the house. Yelling through the conduit acted like an intercom. At the street, the rope/wire connection was slowly fed into the conduit. At the street end, Greg controlled the whole operation by shoving a foot or two of wire at a time into the conduit while yelling "PULL". Almost simultaneously the guys inside then pull on the rope. It was hard work and after several "catch your breath" breaks, it took about 20 minutes to pull in one side. This first conduit pulled all the way through with muscle power alone. The other pull stopped about ten feet short so we hooked up a "come-along" and racheted in the final length.
Once the wire was pulled, the two service panels in the garage were mounted and the wire cut and installed in the correct lugs. At the street, the wire was cut and installed to the correct lugs and the required ground rod. In our area, the homeowner also provides the wire that goes from the meter socket to the utility company transformer, the same type of wire we just pulled in. This connection will be made by the utility company and they will stuff the wire over from the pedestal to the transformer. After the utility company inspects the completed pedestal, they will "stuff the transformer" but nothing is hot yet. We must call the county electrical inspector who will sign off on our work and then the utility company will come back to fire it up. We were lucky and got same day service. Voilà, we are now on the grid.
July 16, 2007
A couple of our beloved larger trees aren't looking too good. It could be any number of things: disease, stress due to drought, insects. So we're taking preventive measures and today the arborist came to douse the roots with a beneficial fungicide. It will be months to see if it did any good, but at least we're doing what we can.
July 30, 2007
Our sheetmetal artists, Beth & Jerry, came by with the first section of the living room beams (mocked up here out of cardboard) for us to approve. It's looking real good. The only change we made was to reduce the width from 4" to 3" , a proportion which is more pleasing to the eye considering the lacey-ness of the piece.
We also discussed making custom corbels for the exterior. I have in mind a moon & planet design...but we'll see.
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