MAY - JUNE 2009

May 2, 2009
Today I assisted Greg pulling in wire for all of the security cameras to monitor the outside of the house.

Ever think about how they get wire from one end of a long pipe to the other end - especially when the pipe has bends?

It's called "blowing a rope". It's kind of a Rube Goldberg solution, kind of hit and miss. But eventually, frustrating though it can be, it works.

We took our shop vac and made a tight seal between it and one end of the conduit to maximize suction. Then we took a lightweight string, tied on a little bit of flagging ribbon and sucked it through.

Once we had success, Greg secured the string to the end of the wire. Now we could pull on the string and drag one end of the electrical snake through the conduit. Because Greg needed to get the cameras in as soon a possible, he didn't have much time to research newer technologies on camera wiring. We had purchased our cameras before we broke ground and at that time they used what is called "RCA cable". Since this type of cable is considered low voltage, it can be run without conduit and simply stapled to the framing from the control center to each camera. But in the little bit of research Greg did accomplish, he found that security cameras can use a variety of wire and the technology is always changing. So he wanted to be able to pull in a different wire later on if needed--thus, the conduit.

When I wasn't helping Greg with the wiring, I was on to landscaping...

May 9, 2009
Verrrry exciting day.

When we chose the Eldorado Stone to use on the exterior of our home, we miscalculated what we would need. And ended up with several thousand dollars of unused BIG boxes of the stuff. Each box weighs several hundred pounds and covers 110 sf (depending on how wide the grout!). The stone was installed in the summer of 2006, but we bought it a year before that (and ended up saving a lot of money because of rising prices).

Anyway, this stuff, about the size of a moving truck, has been taking up space in our driveway now for three years and we've been trying to sell it ever since.

We've placed ads in the local paper and on the local radio. We made signs that we put in our car windows. We've put signs up in various shops.

We ended up selling a few boxes, but the bulk was still here...taking up valuable space.

So, finally, just for the heck of it, we put it on Ebay.

This afternoon, a young family from two hours away came to take a look.


Cannot wait until it's picked up!

May 24, 2009
Another milestone met!

All of our exterior doors, all eight of them, are hung! The last two are doors to the deck, one from the livingroom and the other from our diningroom.

We purchased most of our doors at a salvage store. We have 9' ceilings and, in order to do it right, that calls for 8' doors. Those are expensive and can run an average of $1000 a piece! We lucked out, hit the savage store on just the right day, and came away with a dozen or so doors, some brand new Simpson Doors, at an average price of $200 each!

It sure is nice to have some milestone to reflect upon.

For the past several months, most of the work completed has been tedious and slow.

Now we should begin to see real (translation: visual) progress such as the upstairs radiant tubing and the related subfloor installation, plumbing, and electrical.

While Greg worked on the doors, I worked like a madwoman all day neating up the place.

Every time a project like hanging doors or anything that requires a saw for that matter is embarked upon, there are wood scraps, sawdust, wood shavings, and any number of other flotsam and jetsam to get rid of. And, too, we will have to have everything as clean as can be - when we begin laying the PEX tubing for the radiant heat - in preparation for the installation of gypcrete, the lightweight cementatious material that covers the tubing. In between my cleaning frenzy, Greg would have me assist him in hoisting the doors into place.

Eight foot doors are heavy and unwieldy indeed.

May 27, 2009
Yesterday, Greg began cutting out plywood to be used for our radiant tubing installation.

There are two ways to install radiant tubing in a floor.

One involves tacking the tubing to the subfloor and then doing an overpour of gypcrete - traditionally used to sound proof the second floor of residences. Today there are "special" gypcrete that enhance the thermal mass qualities of the floor and tubing.

If this gypcrete overpour is to be used, then the wall framing has to have a double plate at the bottom.

The bottom-most plate is treated lumber on which you install the wall framing, as usual. The overpour is 1-1/2" and comes even with the top of the treated plate and bottom of the normal bottom plate - if that makes sense. Once cured and dried correctly, the overpour can receive the floor covering. If using carpet, then the carpet installer must install the carpet tack strips with long screws - so that the tack strip is secured to the wood subfloor.

This is where you will hear the first grumbling from the "I'm not here to do it right, I'm here to make a living" crowd of contractors.

Some will say you don't need the long screws; they can just glue the tack strips down. Friends had there carpet installed in this manner and six months later the strips finally gave up and the carpet came up. So, 2 " to 2-1/2" screws should do fine. Get a bid from the carpet company for installation including the tack strip. Ask what is their hourly rate for any extra work. Once you have the price, then ask how long will they need to install the tack strip. (They won't know where you are going with this and will probably give you somewhat of a true answer.) Then, calculate this time with their hourly rate and tell them you will install the tack because of the screws (this will be the first time they've heard this!) and tell they they should knock off that amount from the bid.

Any day now, the "mother board" and tubing etc. will arrive and we will begin working together on that.

We want to schedule the gypcrete pour as soon as we get the tubes in, but there's a chance they might have a backlog and we're trying to avoid waiting in line. We need it to be completed before the weather gets cold. Otherwise, we could have a problem with curing.

June 2, 2009
For the past several days, Greg has been working on framing our shower and tub, again in preparation for installation of the radiant heat tubing.

One thing I'm excited about is having the tubing run behind the walls of the tub and shower....which will be a pleasure during the colder months and go a long way to keeping bath water warm.

June 3, 2009
Every once in a while, I try to just stop and walk around the place because things can change, flowers can bloom, critters could have dug new holes or made nests.

We're up 1000 feet above sea level and, of course, every area is its own bioclimate, so I'm finding things bloom here a bit later than what I see along the highway or in town.

Finally, lupine that I planted at least two years ago has bloomed! The Salal Corral bearded iris (I've given names to our "ourdoor rooms") finally made a showing; and these purple flowers I found out are geraniums...real geraniums. What people call the geraniums in their gardens are actually paragonium. At the back of Big Rock Meadow is a native Big Leaf Maple Tree that has at least doubled in size since we started building.

And, I took time to admire my handiwork creating the beach at the back part of our pond - which included bringing in all that rock, the tilted tree stump which I found buried in the salal, and a mound of branches for the brush pile I built as a shelter for birds.

Looking down the driveway, everything is green and full; but that eyesore: the huge stack of stone under a blue tarp, will soon be gone!

June 5, 2009
Greg has been working on framing our bathtub (see the curved plywood) and shower.

File this under: you can't think of everything!

One thing you have to guess at in the framing stage is window location and height.

Ask any professional architect and they'll tell you there's no such thing as the perfect house. (Something tells me I've preached this several times before!). Each house is one-of-a-kind in its own way and basically you're starting from square one.

We have two picture windows surrounding our master tub. When we talked about window placement, the view of our forested grounds is just what we wanted to see.

When we finalized the position, we didn't take into consideration that we were standing up! Now, reading this, it seems like a no-brainer. But keep in mind the immensity of this undertaking and the myriad of decisions, many of which have to be made concurrently. Bottom line: depending on how you look at it - the windows were too high, or the tub was too low, cutting off the lower portion of the view.

Solution: we will have to raise the tub to get a little more vista. That, then, will require raising the deck to the tub which will now require a step (or stepping stool) to help you get in. We will be investigating a hidden step stool used in RVs that we can possibly "hide" into the paneling surrounding the tub.

Getting the tub to the master bathroom was a comedy.

You should have seen Greg&I getting that bathtub from our rental house up the stairs. This bathtub is fairly huge - it will hold two people. Thankfully it's made of fiberglass. Can't even imagine trying to move a porcelain tub.

We used a sheet of plywood to help drag it up the front staircase - resting at every step. At one point I told Greg, "Why does the image of Laurel&Hardy (piano falls down staircase) and a piano (this is the whole short film - ends before it goes down the staircase) keep flashing in my head?!" But, as with so many other logistical situations, we came out victorious!

Meanwhile, I worked on beginning to prep our exterior doors for painting.

The quality of any paint job is all in the prep. So I am busy applying blue tape around the glass portion of the doors.

June 6, 2009
It's a messy job...and I get to do it.

Today I began a job I have not been looking forward to, but it's one of the few jobs I can do and leave Greg to using his expertise elsewhere. Well, that's not completely fair because early on it was Greg getting gooped on. Now it's my turn.

Thankfully I lucked out because we have just gotten over a heat wave and it was overcast. And working up in the ceiling area is just where all the hot air goes. And, as everyone who knows me knows....I do NOT do heat well.

One of the systems that goes into building a house is the fresh air ducting system that exchanges air or vents your bathrooms and kitchens. This is the HRV or Heat Recovery Ventilator . Figuring out where to put these ducts and how to configure them is a lesson in logistics because the ultimately necessary twists and turns the ducting has to incorporate in order to function efficiently is quite the undertaking. And any time you join two sections together, it must be sealed.

Most contractors use tape - mainly because if they charged for doing it "right" it would cost a fortune. Need I tell you that simply won't do for our OverKill Bill?! "Doing it right" entails a laborious procedure of gooping heavy mastic in and around each joint and then also using a special mesh tape to cover the big joints and then goop again.

So I've donned my coveralls and a shower cap and balanced on the rafters to work on this project (scroll right to see both images).

As it often the case, you begin a project and then have to pull off to do something else. Greg started this project over a year ago and so now we're finishing it up.

While I'm getting a big dose of mastic, Greg is on the roof making some adjustments to some permanent scaffolding (these are pictures from his earlier work on this project). Always thinking ahead, every time Greg builds something that will require maintenance, he asks the question, "How do you get to it to service it?" Such is the case with a spotlight for our turret, and also for cleaning the turret windows.

June 7, 2009
And another day in the mastic mines.

Greg worked alongside me for a while and managed to drill into his thumbnail while using the screw gun...DNA everywhere...all in a day's work. Actually, the gun "jumped" - something I learn that happens often with power tools.

I just happened to be around to witness the immediate aftermath of this latest injury. Ouch! There are countless injuries that Greg doesn't even remember to mention, and countless splinters..

Meanwhile, Greg works on a (what else is new?) custom screen for our front door.

As you know by now, Greg did a magnificent job of designing and building our massive front door.

Now we need a screen door for it. But not just any screen. Because the door is so massive, Greg will have to design and build this project too.

We are trying to build this house with enough cross ventilation that (hopefully) air conditioning won't be necessary. (But just in case, we are looking into a "mini" duct system - more on that later if that's the way we go). Anyway, that's a big front door and when it's opened, fresh air comes flooding in. Too good to pass up.

The screen door Greg has designed will be able to be removed during the cooler seasons. We certainly don't want to cover up this piece of art with a screen! So Greg will design the screen door frame so that it compliments the gothic architecture of the door.

Just as with the frame around our front door, Greg is burning the wood to give it some depth and detail. He uses a blow torch to accomplish this.

Any heavy door should have the framing beefed up on the hinge side, including the header. The weight of the door is going to be carried by that wall. This prevents doors sagging and not closing properly. Here's the Simpson strapping with blocking behind the strap that alleviates this problem. In addition, on the recommendation of an engineer friend, the header was lagged to the frame. A lag is a large screw. A bolt uses nuts. You don't have to drill a hole for a screw. Then "OverKill Bill", knowing that the top hinge would carry the most weight, bolted the jamb in that area through to the framing.

That door ain't going nowhere!

June 9, 2009
Greg continues work on roof planks.

I continue working on gooping on the duct mastic.

Our installers for our "hidden" screen doors come by to assess their upcoming installation.

June 11, 2009
Woooo Hoo! We have definitely sold our leftover exterior stone!!!

Experience has taught ain't over 'til the fat lady sings. Even though this lovely family put down a hefty down payment, I wasn't going to celebrate until the final check cashed...and the transfer company hauled it away.

Well, the fat lady has finished her aria.

Finally, we can complete our driveway turnaround.

June 16, 2009
After purchasing our screen doors at least three years ago...we have them installed. We learn in the three year's time, the cost of those doors has gone way up.

There are several companies that manufacture "hidden" screens. Ours is a Phantom Screen.

June 23, 2009
Yesterday and today, our friend Carol volunteered to help Greg&I install the subfloors for our radiant heat system.

There are three layers to the "dry sandwich" system. First a plywood subfloor, then a layer with cut-out channels where the tubing is installed, and then a third "cover up" layer.

At day's end, a truck came and delivered our radiant system. Remember, Greg found a company in Maine that not only designed our system, but built the control panel (main manifold). All we'll have to do is install it.

It didn't take long before we got into a groove and felt comfortable with the tools and procedure. And away we went. By the time Carol left, we had installed the subfloor in the kitchen and most of the hallway.

After the subfloor was installed, it was kinda exciting because we marked the outline of the kitchen cabinets. And then Greg&I moved on to the laundry floor.

June 25, 2009
We continue to work on the installation of the "dry sandwich" tubing for our radiant heat system.

One problem to avoid at all costs: having something puncture the radiant PEX tubing.

With every layer of plywood, we get out the shop vac to make sure there is no dust or debris to possibly nick the tubing inside the channels.

There is no such thing as a clean floor on a construction site! You could follow someone around with the shop vac wherever they went, and STILL there would be dust, dirt, nails, and sawdust.

So Greg made a template out of some leftover Tyvek (the membrane used to seal behind the exterior walls) and then used it to spray on the outline of the tubing on the final top subfloor. A lot of extra work, but you never know what problems could surface sometimes years later and this information would be key.

Also, Greg is having me make notations of stud location in our walls by putting up leftover caution tape. This will prove to be extremely helpful in the future because there are no end of reasons why you want to know what exactly is behind the drywall (i.e. plumbing pipes, electrical wiring, artwork). So our unused "Caution tape" comes in handy to mark each wall where studs are.

By luck, Greg stopped by a local building supply store and ended up purchasing some Densarmor drywall at a good price. Densarmor is drywall that is for use in areas that will receive moisture, i.e. your bathroom.

Mold is a big problem in homes today. Mold will eat anything...including the paper used for regular drywall. Densarmor is made specifically to eradicate mold by replacing the paper with a fiberglass skin. And, of course, it's expensive.

Our local building supply had about 30 sheets returned from a job and Greg just happened to hit it at the right time. After a little haggling, they sold it to him at the price of regular drywall.

June 27, 2009
Greg and I continue to work on installing the tubing.

June 29, 2009
Greg called for a "concealed wall" inspection on the walls behind our livingroom fireplace.

These type of inspections allow you to move on and cover up walls with drywall earlier in the building process.

We got the go-ahead.


And for previous house notes go to

to see what we've been up to lately

(the newest entries are always at the bottom of the page)