Sunday, July 31, 2005

Walls, Plumbing and a Stoop

Things are moving ahead, although not as quickly as I'd like. I think I've reached the "just get it done" phase.

Vern and I finished the interior framing and managed not to kill each other in the process. Actually, we had fun deciding the what and where of everything and thinking about what the finished spaces will look like. I can't imagine having to try and communicate what we wanted to a hired crew...we would have driven them crazy.
We're tentatively planning on ceilings only in the bathrooms, media room, kitchen and pantry, so there was some thinking to be done about whether we wanted to close these off completely by framing all the way to the top of the deck or framing these spaces to a height that would allow one to see up and over the top of the "roof" of these rooms. It's going to be fun to see how everything takes shape with sheet rocking.

We hadn't really realized the effect of only two structural walls in the whole interior (the garage walls) before we got to framing. Not only is this a beginning framers dream since nothing we did had to hold up anything else, we'll also be free to reconfigure, move or knock down walls whenever we feel like it in the future (which, honestly, is an odd parallel to our lives).

The Hardipanel siding has been delivered and awaits painting, drilling and hanging. I'm also waiting on some Galvalume and flashing to go along with this, and I have 2000 screws and washers at the ready.

The plumbers have finished the waste and venting work and have started running the water lines. The core drilling for the toilet vents on the upper level was completed without incident. The pictures and meticulous notes we took of the PEX installation came in very handy, but even this wasn't enough to keep the plumber from freaking out on me about it. I was rewarded with the head plumber/owner throwing a a temper tantrum when he refused to trust my three way documentation and diagramming of the location of the PEX in the upstairs bathroom floor.
I'm a little frustrated with these guys overall. Despite my proactive efforts, they communicate scheduling very poorly and then freak out when I'm not on site the minute they show up and have a question, and continually refuse to take me seriously. They were making plans to core drill through the garage walls in two places to tie in their waste and vent stacks when I pointed out that knockouts had been placed for specifically this purpose, but they didn't seem to believe me until I went and cut holes in the foam myself. That they seem to work in fits and starts doesn't help, and the ironic thing is they were one of the more expensive bids, but I hired them because they were they were extremely professional and helpful during the bidding process.

This is the kitchen wall with the pantry/laundry room (right) and master bathroom (left) behind.

The nice bookend left from core drilling the toilet stack. This is done with what amounts to a floor mounted drill press,a $600 diamond bit, and lots of water.

I've been waiting for the gas line and meter installation since April. It's getting a little ridiculous, and every week I call them and get an alternating series of excuses as to why the work hasn't been done. Hopefully they're getting as sick of me as I am of them and they'll get around to getting it done before I have to get crabby.

We're still waiting on the two frosted glass doors for the front and side entrances, as well as the two eight foot sliders for the south wall. That these items are missing is becoming more and more of an inconvenience, since we're at the point where we really need to start leaving/installing things that could easily be stolen, and we can't lock up. It's also going to be inconvenient to try and put up the siding without these doors so I'm hoping like heck they show up this week.

I've been waiting on our electrician for over a week. Wiring was one of the things I called in a favor on from one of my family members, so I can't complain too loudly, but I haven't got a lot more time to wait around and I'm getting a little nervous about him coming through. I'm going to be pretty pissy if we continue to be at the bottom of the priority list since I've spent countless days and hours designing and working on fabulous interiors in his house and gave him more than fair notice about our schedule.

I installed our first doorknob :) It was just the utilitarian one for the garage-to-shop double door, but I was celebrating it as a milestone. I'm waiting on the much more exciting Omnia ones to be delivered from

The cabinets have been ordered along with the remaining plumbing fixtures, kitchen sinks, etc. etc. I'll be ordering appliances this week which is pretty unbelievable. I've been dreaming about the "new house kitchen" for what seems like ever and putting in that appliance order is going to be CRAZY exciting.

We finally got our front stoop. You may recall that the original form had been built by the sub of the contractor from hell, and that they failed to finish the job. Although the resolution to this is likely to involve us becoming the plaintiff in a legal proceeding, I'm SO glad that it didn't get done as planned. Our new concrete guy critiqued the original form work and explained to me that since two of the three steps weren't supported by the footing and only tied to the main stoop by a thin section of concrete, it was a good possibility that they would break off when the ground under them met with freezing and thawing. He ended up tearing apart most of that form and rebuilding it to bear entirely on the footing, and then spent a very early Saturday pouring and finishing for a very reasonable price. This is the same guy who showed up with a great crew and did an amazing job on our lower level slab, and he's definitely worth his weight in gold. We'll ask him back for a forth time when we're ready for patio, parking pad and sidewalk.

Based on the very limited number of line items left on our SCS, we must be getting down to the end of things, but it sure doesn't seem real. I keep telling myself that I'll believe that we've made progress when we accomplish "X",but then I seem to forget to give us credit once it's done and tend to keep believing that we're months and months away from the end. Maybe we need to start a "guess the closing date" lottery :)

Monday, July 11, 2005

The roof we thought would never happen and other exciting developments

After what seems like FOREVER, we've got a roof. Ironically, it's also stopped raining.

The new roofing company we hired has really been great. Not only were they extremely easy to work with and very professional, they showed up and got the job done when they said they were going to. We almost couldn't believe it was happening after the fiascoes of the last couple of months.
All that's left of the roof chapter now is the scupper flashing, parapet cap and downspouts, which they'll return to install as soon as we have our exterior finished up.

Please pay special attention to the plywood on those parapet walls. Vern and I hauled all 23 sheets of that stuff up there by sliding it up ladders a sheet at a time. (Exhausting and hot, yes.) This was necessary to provide a surface for gluing the roof membrane, as the adhesive and the EPS foam of the ICF block are not compatible. As I've said before, we intend to turn the upper roof into a garden/greenroof/outdoor living space. These greenroof materials will also act as ballast to hold the roof membrane in place instead of it being mechanically attached (which would have been redundant and was also cost prohibitive due to the thickness of the roof insulation).
Unfortunately, time and money prevent us from installing that system immediately so we've just done the absolute minimum at this point which amounts to putting a few hundred dollars worth of concrete stepping stones up there until we're ready to dig into the entire greenroof project.
I chose a plain, gray 24"x24"paver that I think will work great with the future garden. As an added bonus, they were cheap ($7.65 ea.) and are the ideal roof ballast in lieu of gravel. I'm already dreaming of all the cool stuff I'll be able to do up there.

Since we're now dry and puddle free thanks to a roof, we've been able to start on the interior framing. As house-building activities go, we're finding this one of the less exhausting and most rewarding, since the results are instantly visible and we're finally getting a glimpse of what the rooms will be after all these months. We're almost done with the upper level and I expect to finish the lower level in a day or two. Once that's done, we'll work on the exterior while the plumber and electrician work inside.

Here's the first of the framing completed...the view looking out from what will be my new studio. I'm silly with excitement, especially since it's going to have a sink!

Sunday, July 03, 2005


The events of our past month can prety much be summed up in four words: still not dried in.

Windows: With Herculean effort, we got all the window openings roughed out and the windows installed in about a week and a half. As I suspected, those up-high big ones turned out to be monsters, but their placement went surprisingly well considering there were only three of us and we were working with some pretty simple equipment.
We ended up rigging a rope and pulley hung over the parapet wall with a steel "U" bracket (well, actually it was an old hose hanger from Vern's parents house, back from those long ago days when things were well made instead of disposable...). Anyway, it was the perfect size to slip over the top of the parapet and had a hole on one end we could slip a carabiner through to attach the pulley.
We put a strap around the window frame and a friend on the ground hoisted the window into place while Vern and I, on extension ladders on either side of the window, eased it into the opening and removed the strap. Then, while Vern held the window from falling out of the opening, I would run down the extension ladder on the outside of the house and up the ladder on the inside of the house to shim, level and check plumb, and then he fastened. I wish I would have been able to take a few pictures but I was too busy, and the sight of a ~250lb window dangling from a rope 20 feet over our heads had me too freaked out to think about much else.

Roof: I fired the roofer, aka, The Contractor from Hell (yes, the same one). When I fired this guy from the flatwork, I informed him of the length of his leash and my expectations with perfect clarity. He assured me up and down that there would be no problems, that the roofing crew was ready and waiting, and that they were experienced and professional. Not surprisingly, that story lasted about two days, and then we were right back to the different day, different story routine. He screwed around and hemmed and hawed for two weeks. Then, when he did finally set a start date for the work and I called him two days later on a Friday to confirm for the following Monday, he played his usual denial-that-it-was-ever-agreed-upon game and tried to change his story and delay another week. Furthermore, his "experienced, professional crew" had now turned into "his (one) guy" meaning the same loser flunkie that he's got doing flatwork by the hour who turned our roof slab into the work of a fourth-grader, and who, it should be noted, has zero roofing experience.
If I hadn't been so freaking frustrated, it would almost have been trying to work with a hamster running around clueless in one of those little wheels and never getting anywhere, and just so damn predictable.
The best part was that he had the gall to blame ME for the work not having been started by saying that I "keep changing things again and again". HA! That was the end of my patience for idiot contractors. I decided he needed to be fired on Monday and turned the whole thing over to Vern to settle the issue of him having been paid for around 2K worth of work on our front stoop that hadn't been completed.

CFH and I had worked out the details of this previously and agreed that he would finish the stoop in lieu of him returning our money, and now, with the very generous and patient Vern, he agreed again, of course with several changes to the story and us now paying for part of the concrete. Again, this was extremely generous of Vern, IMO, and done in good faith with the desire to just get resolution. We could have just as easily (and perhaps more sensibly) demanded he return the payment, threatened to sue, etc. etc. etc., and we didn't under the apparently false assumption that we should all be able to settle our business civilly. Anyway, he scheduled the work, committed to a date, canceled TWICE and tried to change the agreement (again) about five times. Finally, he scheduled the work and then didn't even bother to call and cancel, he just didn't show and didn't answer or return our calls. What a scumbag.
I've filed a complaint with the state Dept. of Commerce and if that doesn't produce anything, we'll have to decide how much time and effort we want to put into recouping our lost $.
Needless to say, I'm pissed that I gave the guy as much patience and time as I did and that he got ANY of our money, much less got a bunch of it for nothing, because everything about working with him was and is a big, irritating mess, including the quality of the work.

After all that, I had to waste another week soliciting and gathering roofing bids, and I'm now waiting on the second and so far vastly more professional roofing company we decided to hire to begin work. Let's hope for the sake of our sanity that attempt number two goes better.

Doors: We're still waiting on the doors because our supply company forgot to order them. Not a huge deal, since they can't be installed until things are watertight from above anyway. We're getting sick of dragging equipment like the table saw and compressor back and forth, so it will be nice when we can finally lock thigs up.

The never ending painting job: The weather continues to be a problem, with rain for at least a few days of every week. In between storms, we were able to work on painting all of the interior steel.

I've nicknamed that the Hell Suit. Temperatures of 95 degrees and 90% humidity plus respirator, goggles, and hooded Tyvek suit makes for one miserable day (or six days, in my case) of work. Add in holding my arms over my head for six or eight hours straight and being 20 feet up on scaffolding with nothing to hold on to and walking on a little platform while craning my neck upward and you have the task in a nutshell.
Actually, I forgot to mention being next to steel that's below an uninsulated, baking in the sun all day concrete slab. Make that temps of 110.

Since Vern is a notoriously not-good painter, I did 98% of the painting while he played gopher, rolled me around on the scaffolding and did the prep work. Fortunately he was great at that. We owe a huge thanks to one of Vern's relatives for letting us borrow the scaffolding, as we couldn't have done anything without it and rental fees would have added up very quickly. BTW, the painted steel looks great in it's new, neutral gray eggshell.

We thought we'd have our existing house on the market by now, but because of the roof-related delays, we've held back on listing it. I'm not sure exactly when we'll do this yet, but it's probably going to be soon and I'm not looking forward to adding that complication to the mix.

We're planning to start on the exterior finishing next, so I'm now under the gun to make a decision about colors and material placement(which is about the only way I'd be able to do it anyway). I also need to decide if we want to make the effort to paint the exterior window frames now or at a later date. I know I want it done, but I think I can live with them white for a while in exchange for focusing on what needs to get done to get to occupancy.