the lightspeed brigade

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Sep 272007

Alex and his crew are moving along quickly now, and the first floor framing is pretty complete. He’s now framing out the second floor, and will be placing 3rd floor joists within a few days.

Here are some pics, showing details.


This is the underside of the 2nd floor, looking from the corner along the back wall of the left garage. The house and framing are square on the right side, but Alex had to make this special V-shaped frame to accommodate the back wall of the garage, which is not square to the rest of the site.

More fallout from the mistakes of the first GC. Fortunately, the 2nd floor back wall will be hidden behind a closet.

In the right picture, the central stairway, temporarily installed for construction. The number of stairs is correct, so we can feel how spacious and easy to use this stair will be. The real stairs will be wider, connecting to a center dividing wall with railing. We are building an altar area in the space below the upper stair, for a large marble buddha statue that we own. The space under the landing will contain the elevator machinery, for the elevator going into the shaft on the left.


Second floor, looking from the left bedroom toward the right bedroom. Alex, Nancy and Bob are discussing framing details.

That little wall with white plastic in the upper background is a problem… This extra wall needs to be removed. This is up on the shelf in the right side of the foundation, where the 3rd floor joists will go. The blue lines on the wall mark the location of the headers for the joists, and this little return wall is about 20” too high. We’ll have to cut it off, and use a pneumatic hammer and hack saw (for the rebar) to remove the part in the way. Otherwise, this would stick through the floor in the living room.

By the way, this wall is not really an error. We couldn’t tell ahead of time exactly where the foundation wall and this shelf would meet the slope of the hillside. This wall was put in place to hold the fill dirt in place when we rebuilt the slope behind the right wing wall. As it turns out, the slope meets the foundation just below the bottom of this return, so it’s not necessary.

I think Alex has made great progress over his first 2 weeks on the job. He and his team are working very smoothly, and the progress each day is exciting.

what’s that, wood?

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Sep 202007

Last Friday, Alex (our framer and also our landlord!) got his first delivery of framing materials, and he and his crew have been busy. After 4 days of work, most of the first floor framing is complete. It’s exciting to see the house start to take shape!

We’re using framing materials that are as green as possible. The floor joists are TJI’s (Truss Joist I-joists), a fabricated product made from wood chips, minimal actual lumber, recycled materials, and advanced adhesives. You can see an article about them here. TJI’s are lighter, stronger, straighter, and more ecological than standard 2×12 construction lumber.



The wood that we are using for studs, stringers, etc. is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, ensuring that it was responsibly harvested. This has added some extra cost to the framing materials, but it’s also in alignment with our vision to build a sustainable, energy-efficient and ecologically responsible house.

Framing materials are piled everywhere. Here are pics of the left garage, looking through the garage door into the center of the 1st floor, and a close-up of the stairway and elevator shaft framing in the center. You can see the pit at the bottom of the elevator shaft in the right-hand photo, bottom left corner. The platform in this photo is the landing for the stairs going up to the 2nd floor, and it is 6’ above the floor. By the way, the ceilings on the 1st and 2nd floors will be pretty high, about 11-1/2’.

Notice that the wall materials are fabricated out of wood chips also. This is another way to use recycled and low-impact lumber products. Like plywood, this wallboard is stronger than simple lumber…although it is really heavy and dense!

From the outside, you can see how each entry is full of framing materials. You can also see a steel box full of concrete debris, with cables up to…what in the hell is that?


This is actually the scene that greeted me when I arrived during lunch today. Brent’s crew is here completing the backfill behind the retaining wall. They’ve brought in a crane, which is roaring as it moves boxes full of rock, concrete debris, and dirt up behind the wall. The space behind the top of the wall is being filled in before construction of the v-ditch that will provide drainage, and a big space behind the right wing wall is getting filled also. This is yet another added expense caused by our original contractor’s over-excavation. Sigh.


Here you can see some details. Brent is using his Bobcat skip-loader to scoop up and dump dirt into the box, about 1 yard at a time. The crane lifts the box up onto the wing wall, and Brent’s crew unfastens the cables on the front side of the box. Then the crane operator lifts the box, tipping the contents into the space behind the wall. Of course, the crew then has to shovel all the material up into place, establishing the proper slope behind the wall.

Oh, by the way, it rained this morning. It’s early for the rainy season to start in the San Francisco area, but it feels like a warning shot. We may have a wet winter. Of course, we were blessed with a very dry winter last year while excavating the foundation, so we can’t complain. But we do have to hurry. The real rainy season usually begins in late October or early November, and we would like to have the drainage complete, framing done, windows installed, roofing complete, and exterior stucco finished before it gets really wet.

We have one other piece of good news today. The final mechanics lien on our property has been released, so our bank will go ahead and process draw requests against our construction loan again. Thank god. Our cash position was getting pretty scary.

(Learn from our mistake! A signed lien release does not release the lien. The holder of the lien has to provide a notarized, signed release to the agency where the lien was filed, and pay a registration fee to get the release processed. We had to hound our original contractor, make dozens of phone calls, have our lawyer contact their lawyer, and finally threaten lawsuit before they provided the release. I got it via FedEx this morning, and took it down to the County of Marin Recorder to register it myself. The legal mess with the original contractor has now been completely resolved.)

photo phun

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Sep 102007

In August, one of our neighbors asked if they could do a professional photo shoot using our property and construction site. We cheerfully agreed, and a few weeks later, Tanya Constantine ( spent a Sunday with her partner John and three models, taking stock photographs. Here are a few of the images. She’s good.



If only life were a movie. Perhaps we would look like this!

do we really have a foundation?

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Sep 052007

Last week, Brent’s crew removed the forms from the front wall on Wednesday and Thursday, and the results are finally visible. The foundation is finished! Except for a little touch up work, of course 🙂

On Wednesday, the left side of the front wall was exposed, and the rest of the formwork came down Thursday and Friday. The board texture looks great, the color (“French Brown”) looks great, and there is a bit of honeycombing (air pockets) that will need some filling. But all in all, we’re happy.


This gives you an idea of the range of textures. On the left, we got pretty nice and smooth board surfaces because 2”-thick boards were used. In the center of the front wall, the right side of this picture, you can seem that the texture varies more, because 1” boards were used for the forms. Some of this variation will be eliminated, because Brent’s crew is coming back with cold chisels to knock off the lips of concrete that squeezed out in between the boards. By the way, that’s our architect, Rich Dowd, running around with a big measuring tape.

Here is the inside of the right-hand garage, where some significant honeycombing occurred. This rough texture isn’t a structural problem, but we do want a smooth wall around the garage door. So Brent is coming back to apply a concrete slurry (with the right coloring) to the wall to fill in the air pockets.


The other thing you can see on this shot are the small holes left behind by the threaded rods and bolts that held the formwork in place. We’re going to leave those holes in place, since they are just part of the work, and they make a subtle geometric pattern on the face of each wall.

The whole thing looks “archeological”, as Brent commented. I’m surprised to see that concrete can have this variation in texture, and I think Brent was expecting a more even finish. Also, one wall bowed a bit, and is not perfectly flat and straight. We’re discussing ways of dealing with that, and I’ll have more details with my next update.

Ahhh, a foundation, at last. It’s taken 9 months almost exactly. Framing is starting tomorrow, and I’ve been busy lining up the next draw on our loan, plus an open account with our framer’s favorite lumber yard. We will need that to get the framing done.

By the way, Nancy and I just moved into an apartment, so we could be closer to the construction. We’ve been living with her parents for a year, far longer than we ever intended. By a very odd coincidence, we’ve ended up renting an apartment from our framer, Alex Rockas! So we’ve had the pleasure of meeting Alex and his wife Teri and their family, before we’ve gotten to know him professionally. Such a small world.