presto! instant house

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Mar 312008

The four-day transformation is complete, and we now have walls. The picture above is the same part of the house from last week, before sheetrock. What a difference! I think I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.


Living room, with folding doors, the deck, and the top of the stairs. See the soffit over the stairs? Nice detail, Nancy! The right photo is looking from the bedroom toward the living room, past the same soffit. The window at the end overlooks the big oak next to the house.


Living room corner, with the EcoSmart fireplace, and a recess for a flat-screen TV. When we can afford to buy one 🙂 2nd floor bedroom, with door going out to a small deck. The douglas fir windows look really nice next to the light-colored walls.


By the way, sheetrock is really messy. Here is the living room last Friday, before clean-up!

And finally, a few exterior shots. We now have retaining walls on either side of the driveway, which is graded and ready for paving. The extra dirt and rock is back on the slope behind these walls, which we will build back up to bury as much of the retaining wall as possible. And the exterior of the house is pretty much the same, ready for stucco, which is starting today. The skiploader and backhoe are gone, and we are working to clear out everything behind the fence.

Next week, the elevator goes in. And I’ll paint the garages, so the garage doors can be installed and we can seal up the house.


picking up the pace

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Mar 192008

After 3-1/2 months of infrastructure work, we’re starting a few weeks of radical change. There will be walls and ceilings soon, and the place was swarming with teams yesterday – plumbers finishing drains, Tony & Mauricio tending framing details, a crane delivering tons of sheetrock, and two teams installing insulation. Plus some of Brent’s concrete crew working on the driveway retaining walls. Add two owners, the architect and the general contractor having their weekly meeting, and the place was crowded like a disco. And just as loud, with diesel engines and power tools thrown in 🙂


Drywall delivery at 7:30am yesterday. We now have neat stacks of it on each floor, weighing, what, 30,000 lbs? Sheet rock guys arrive on Friday, so rough walls should be in place in a week.

This fellow is spraying foam insulation onto the underside of our roof deck. The spaces between these joists are not ventilated, and will collect condensation. So foam insulation is applied to eliminate any space for dampness to accumulate. After the foam expands and hardens, another guy saws off the excess to make a smooth surface for drywall.


Of course, this leaves a gigantic mess. At the end of the day, the third floor looked like a foam snowstorm. And the walls and ceilings are almost completely stuffed. We have R-30 to R-60 insulation levels everywhere, so the house should stay very comfortable all year ‘round.


As I write this, I am sorry that we didn’t manage to use fully renewable insulation materials. Shredded jeans apparently make a great product. I’m concerned about out-gassing from from the foam, for instance. But none of our contractors are comfortable with renewable insulation materials, and there are some places where we have to worry about condensation. I’ve just got to trust the professionals.

a maze of twisty details

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Mar 142008

There was a computer game in the ‘70’s called “adventure”, where you could get lost in “a maze of twisty passages, all alike”. I’ve felt like I’m lost in a maze of twisted details, but today I stumbled out and found the gold nuggets. After several weeks of hard work by everyone, and dozens of issues to resolve, our house passed the “rough in” inspection today. We are installing the insulation and sheetrock next week. Pardon me, but…YEEEHA! Kudos to Bob Hartwell, Tony Mowers, Rick Hayward from Lackett Electrical, Craig from Peter Levi Plumbing, and Brent Harris’ crew. They’ve all worked hard.


Some of the details keeping us all busy: besides the alcohol fireplace in the living room (go to for details) we added framing and conduits for a home entertainment system, blocking for hanging pictures and towel racks, conduit for telephone, cable TV and yard lighting, forms for the small retaining walls and curb around the driveway, and completed the drainage system. And the plumbers and electricians completed their work. This pic shows a concrete driller cutting one of the 4” holes in our garage wall for the 2nd floor deck drains. Next are shots of the conduit and drain pipe in the front of the house, and the retaining wall forms.


Here are details I’m personally proud of. We needed to make a slot opening in the curb for the 6” drains from behind the house and wing walls. How were we going to convert the 6” PVC pipe into a slot shape? I got a bunch of foam, and carved it by hand to form the shape we needed, 6” round on one end, 3 x 9” rectangle on the other. Then I wrapped it in black duct tape. You see it here, stuck in the end of the drain pipe, fit into the form for the curb. When we pour the new curb, we’ll add extra concrete around the foam shape and the 6” pipe. Then we can reach in through the opening in front, and dig the foam and tape out, leaving the drain slot open.

We also completed the final telephone hookup, asked several glass vendors to bid on our glass rail in the living room, picked up the last kitchen cabinets, got the copper gutter on the roof deck shortened so there is enough room for stucco around the ends, and of course, continued painting the railing and spiral stair. All railing now has the first coat on it, and if the weather permits, we’ll do the second coat this weekend. And, my friend George finished putting clear coat on all doors and windows.


Here are some of my sketches (thanks to Google SketchUp, a great freeware tool) of house details. I work on these late at night, in my spare time 🙂 This is our master bathroom vanity, surface-mounted sink with LaCava Waterblade faucet and lighted mirror. On the right is a side view of the skylight tower over our stairwell, showing the roof deck across the middle. I used the Golden Ratio to size the bottom opening, giving balanced proportions. The skylight had to be mounted 36” above the deck to meet code.


This was used to get bids on the glass railing around the top of the stairs, next to the living/dining room. I drew the 4 x 8’ beams underneath the floor, to show how it will be mounted.


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Mar 032008

No, not that kind of railings. Well, maybe a little 🙂

I took some vacation time from my job this week, so I could work on the house. The railing system arrived a week ago, and someone needed to install it. Everyone on the construction team is feverishly working towards the “rough-in inspection”, which should be happening within 10 days, so I nominated myself to do a bit of construction work. Also, these rails are through-bolted into the house, so if there are any water leaks around them, I only have myself to blame. I think Bob was happy to let me do the job.


First of all, you should know that steel is heavy. Lugging all the parts up to the four different decks took effort. I also got a first-hand view of how important it is to be organized. Tony & I measured size and counted the of bolts we would require TWICE, yet I still had to make a three trips to the hardware store to exchange bolts and return extra washers. All of the hardware is 5/8” galvanized steel, which we chose because it holds a paint finish well.

The roof deck post mounts are attached with 9” bolts, right through a beam (top photo). This area is at risk of leaking the most, so I put Sikaflex goo in all the holes, around the bottom of the mounts, under and over the washers, and under the bolt heads. I’m enjoying doing this.

The 3rd floor deck posts are side-mounted, again bolted right through a big beam. Tony was great to work with — much easier with 2 guys. You can see the nuts on the inside of the flashing in the picture above, also carefully covered in Sikaflex. The right-hand picture shows a deck on the second floor, with 4-1/2” concrete bolts drilled right into the front concrete wall. These rails are amazingly rigid, they don’t move at all when I tug on them.

Then of course we get to paint everything, including the new spiral stair. Nancy and I invested our whole weekend in this project. It took a full day to touch up the primer on all the rail posts, and prime all 140 or so nuts and bolts and washers. Today we started on the bronze enamel finish coats.

Working up on a scaffolding is a bit scary. We’re logging a lot of time there.