Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Let's Review

For the last several years, we have been preparing for the big project, building our dream house. We began with a doublewide, a garage, and 40 acres of brambles and fenced fields. We have cleared about two miles of rusty barbed wire. Ed has poisoned about three acres of blackberry vines. We have built a beautiful barn, a henhouse, a garden, and as a preview for the house, a beautiful apartment over garage. The garage has been transformed from a standard three car garage with primered roll up doors, to a lovely apartment. The doublewide has been sold and moved out in preparation for the house construction.

It was killing Ed to finish detailing the interior of the apartment, because his brain was already building the foundation for the house.

He had the basement excavated several days after the doublewide was moved out, so the giant hole sat for several weeks before he could start forming the the footings. He and the neighbor, Taylor, worked out in the cold, bending and tying rebar together, putting out forming stakes, checking level, checking square, getting everything together.
Then everything froze solid. For days.
Who knew you could break a pickaxe on frozen ground? Or that driving steel forming stakes would be harder than prying a snickers bar away from a diehard dieter?

Now you can't pour concrete when the ground is frozen. Ed had to wait until the ground thawed. That's when two things happened: 1. Huge chunks of the side of the dig began to let loose and fell in against the footings, knocking them totally askew, and 2. Everything surrounding the jobsite turned into adobe clay soup. It was horrible.

By omitting the description of a lot of really hard work, and by a lot of frantic prayers, the footings finally got poured and finished. The next days the forms came off. It really felt like the first significant step toward the new house.

After a lot of thought and computer searching, Ed decided to go with the insulated concrete foundation (ICFs) blocks for the foundation walls. We went and talked to some folks nearby who are using them.
"They're just like legos!", they said. "Just stack them right on top of each other."
Well..ok..but at our age, we're more familiar with Lincoln Logs or an Erector set.

They came off the truck fairly easily and down into the basement pit without a problem. Ed and Taylor started stacking them around the perimeter. With a minimal learning curve, it started to take shape right away.

With the cold winter weather, Ed ran into a little lego problem he hadn't anticipated. Frost and ice formed on top of the uppermost row, inside the "teeth" of the ICFs, where the next row fits down, preventing a snug seal.

Any source of heat (heat gun etc.) hot enough to melt the ice also melts the styrofoam. Ed tried pouring hot water over the ice only to have it refreeze before they could get the next row glued and fitted. As a last resort, Ed and Taylor hand-chipped the ice out of each tiny groove prior to placing the next piece. It was cold, ugly work!

Once the fourth row was up, it was time to do some bracing and set up scaffolding. The basement walls will be 6 1/2 blocks high, which means for the last row, each block will have to be cut in half.

The weatherman says rain for the next two days, and New Year's Day is Friday, so we may not see cement until the first of next week.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks For The Memories

Now that Ed is home full time, things are finishing up at record pace. Even so, it seems to take twice as long to do any particular project as we think it will.
Two weeks ago, I finished the El Dorado rock without major mishap..except for that little thing about cutting a piece on the Skil saw without realizing Ed had changed out the blade from the diamond blade to a blade to rip wood..or hands or legs..whatever gets in the way. Who knew? Anyway no spouses were harmed in the making of this wall, so I felt pretty good about that.

Last week, during gale force winds (no, really) we drove over to the coast and picked up our wood stove, a Hearthstone Tribute soapstone stove. It was raining pretty hard and the guy at the store says "That cast iron probably shouldn't get wet. It'll rust." The stove was wrapped in thin plastic ,then in an open wood crate, and we had the truck. Ed says "I don't think I'll try to tarp it in this wind." So off we go. It got a little wet, but it dried off nicely. When we watched the news that evening we saw that the roof had blown off the courthouse in Seaside about 10 minutes after we left.

Ed spent part of the last two weeks installing the glass balcony rail. Once we had all the proper parts (another story) it went in fairly quickly. It looks great, enhances the view, and we both love it.

It adds a feeling of spaciousness to the living area and prevents that 650 sq feet from getting too claustrophobic. The deck has ample room for several chairs and a table..the perfect place for coffee in the morning or an adult beverage at the end of the day. I can hardly wait for the weather to cooperate.

Depending on the weather, for the last two weeks, Ed has been working on the wood trim. He thought he had enough wood prepared for the baseboards, windows and doors. but those doors and windows can be sneaky, and he spent more time than he expected ripping down spruce, planing, sanding, staining and sealing.

Last week we had a dry day. Ed called Taylor and asked him to come down to help get the wood stove up the stairs. The cooktop range and the fridge barely went up those steep narrow stairs, and the wood stove is a lot smaller than a refrigerator. Unfortunately, the wood stove weighs 318 lbs. Taylor and Ed got it on the dolly, and up about three stairs and realized they weren't going to make it alone. So as Ed held the dolly on the third step, Taylor jumped in his truck and ran for reinforcements. With two guys pushing and one pulling, the wood stove finally reached its destination.
This is the smallest wood stove that Hearthstone makes and it's amazing just how efficient it is. We build a small fire in the morning, and by 11:00 it is 68 inside. We let the fire go out and the soapstone continues to radiate heat into the room throughout the day. In the evening, we build another small fire and it is plenty warm for the rest of the night. Now, we're not in the harshest part of the winter yet, but because the apartment is so well insulated and because this little stove is so efficient, our biggest problem is going to be not roasting ourselves out of our living room.
I left for a week to visit family, and by the time I got home yesterday, Ed had the trim just about finished. Once we get the furniture moved in, it's home for the next several years.

So this is it..the final blog entry for the apartment. We started with a standard garage with primered metal roll up doors and now have beautiful shingle style craftsman lodge apartment. Except for the punch list and one piece of artwork for the last piece of window trim, a few exterior shingles, the work is complete. We have officially named the garage apartment The Crow's Nest.

The final piece of trim went up last week. I took a piece of sanded alder, and using some stained glass software, Rapid Resizer, I put together a banner. Then using old fashioned carbon paper, I traced it onto the wood. It was my first time using a router, but since it was a small one, it was fairly easy to control. I routed out the words, then the birds. We stained the board, painted in the words, and put on the finish coat. Then Ed nailed it up. I'm pretty happy.
Ed has mentally moved on to the next project and is already planning the foundation for the house. I wouldn't have it any other way. Like so many journeys, this isn't really the end, it's just the beginning of another one. The roller coaster starts over again. Keep your hands and personal belongings inside and tighten your seat belt, because we start the house in the spring. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Home Is Where The Heart Is

"Home is where the heart is,
And my heart is anywhere you are.
Anywhere you are is home."

It has been said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. In my case, that couldn't be closer to the truth. Recognizing that, Ed has been working diligently to pull the rest of the kitchen together.

He put the window trim around the kitchen windows and started on the granite.

We set out the granite tiles for a dry fit throughout the entire kitchen before cutting anything. Good thing Ed knows what he's doing because I would have just started cutting and gluing. We had to raise the level of the stove top to accommodate the plywood, wonderboard, mastic and tile. Later when the grout is in, we'll lower the stove down where it belongs.

Ten years ago we bought a cheapie tile saw from Home Depot. That little $39.95 saw is like the Energizer just keeps going and going. Ed took all the tiles that needed to be cut, and did (most of) them in one trip.

Going up and down the stairs a gazillion times is a killer leg workout. Of course, I'm up on the landing at front door watching. He's down there working away, standing at the edge of the abyss.

The tile fit like a dream, and we got the kitchen and bathroom counter done in record time. Ed put the wood trim around the edge, and the grout in. I'm really loving the way it looks. We still have
to do some fine tuning. There are a few plug covers to go on, and the stove top height has to be adjusted.

The original plans called for the kitchen counter to make a el, with the stove top and eating counter. I changed it to make the counter run the length of the wall, to include a small desk, and have the stove top and eating counter in an island. We are really glad we changed it because it seems to be a better use of space.

Ed wanted to get the refrigerator out of the garage and up the stairs. In case it slipped your mind, I'll just say that a refrigerator is really big, really tall, and really really heavy. We had two problems. I can't help him get it upstairs, and the staircase is about an inch too narrow. Ed was gathering tools to do violence to the rail, when I had an idea.

I was originally thinking of ways to reduce the weight..(somehow that's always on my mind).
"What if we take off the doors?" I mused.
I'm a genius...who knew? The problem of the narrow staircase was solved!
Thursday Taylor came down to rototill the vegetable garden, and he and Ed moved the refrigerator upstairs.

Finally... a real kitchen...but wait!

We need actual running water, and a working drain. Ed started putting all the pieces together and he says. "Looks like some kind of weird musical instrument."
"Give it a try," I said,"It can't sound any worse than my bagpipes." And guess what? It doesn't!
But we needed a drain much more than we needed a drain and kazoo band, so he went with Plan A and installed the pipes under the sink.
The wood stove is on order, a Hearthstone Tribute stove, and should be here in a week. Wonder if we can get Taylor back to help get that upstairs?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sticks, Stones and Sinks

Ed wanted to get the doors on before the cabinets came on Wednesday. Ah, the things we take for granted; true love, hot water, refrigerated food, flush toilets, doors on the bathroom.

For these things, we are grateful.

We bought unfinished fir three panel shaker doors, stained them to match the cabinets, and put on a coat of varethane. There are two closet doors, a bedroom and bathroom door, and a bifold door for the linen closet.

At 10:00 Wednesday morning the Peter and Tom, the cabinet installers, showed up. I was so happy I could have hugged them, but I managed to restrain myself. I won't bore you with a
bunch of pictures of them lugging those things up the stairs. Mostly because I was so scared while they carted them up, I forgot to take pictures.
See that upper cabinet? They brought that up as one unit!

There is a desk area to the far right under the window, and the island will have a 15" bar that extends out behind the stove top.

They installed all the kitchen cabinets, and an upper cabinet and vanity for the bathroom.

Friday I started putting up the El Dorado stone behind where the wood burning stove will go. This is my project, but I don't know how to use the Skil saw, so every time I wanted a stone cut, I'd have to catch Ed between trips up and down stairs to cut one. Either that or ask him to stop what he was doing to make the cut. Word of caution: Do not try to cut these stones with a tile saw. While the tile saw will cut them with no problem, it throws wet ground cement everywhere...shirt, hair, face (remember safety glasses) . There is no conditioner made on this Earth that will take care of hair dipped in wet cement dust. Finally by Saturday afternoon, I worked up the courage to try the Skil saw myself. It's a miracle! I didn't cut my leg off or anything!

We are using the China Beach Stacked stone, and acrylic mastic instead of thinset. Since I'm doing the stone, and I'm relatively clumsy with tools, I didn't want to worry about the thinset setting up too fast. I took several photos of the stone. One shows them more yellow than they are, and one shows them too brown. The true color is somewhere in the middle. By evening my back was barking at me, and I had used both gallons of mastic. I was ready to stop.

Sunday we went into town and bought 10 gallons of mastic, plywood and wonderboard to go down on the kitchen cabinets, and a kitchen sink. It's a Franke granite composite sink. I couldn't wait to see how it would look, so as soon as Ed made the cutout on the plywood, I just had to try it for fit.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wooden It Be Lovely

The last several weeks have been frantic. We ordered doors (unfinished) , ripped lumber for door jambs and window trim, ran those a gazillion times through the planer, then sanded, stained and finished them all.

We decided we wanted the interior wood trim and the doors to match the kitchen cabinets, so we got the stain from the cabinet company. The cabinet shop owner, Scott Selix says, "We use a lacquer based stain, then we spray on a lacquer finish." No problem, I thought, I'll just buy the stain from them and get lacquer finish at Lowe's or someplace. When it was time to start staining the wood, I opened the can and about fell over from the fumes. What the heck is in that stuff? After some investigation I discovered that lacquer is based on alcohol, naptha and ether. Break out the mask! The mask helped but a good north breeze was a blessing. We also decided to let the stain dry for 48 hours, then use varithane to finish it instead of a lacquer finish. So far, nothing has caught fire, melted, or blown up.

In our spare time, and on rainy days, we worked on inside projects, specifically grouting the tile and starting the hardwood floors. Ed did the hard part, applying the grout, and I did the rest, cleaning the excess and sponging.

After we got that finished, we started on the hardwood floors. Except for the part about being bent over a floor nailer for hours and hours, it's a lot of fun. But we're very happy with the result. We bought the Lumber Liquidator's house brand and are very pleased with the quality of the product.

This is Brazilian Cherry, and while this picture shows a lighter color than the floor actually is, the wood will darken over time to a fairly dark wood.

Then in his spare time, Ed built the shelves in the pantry. Of course they didn't stay empty for long. The things were barely up before I started putting stuff away. I think having no kitchen has been the hardest part of this entire process for me.

The cabinets come Wednesday, so yesterday afternoon, our neighbor Mike came down to help Ed get the stove upstairs. The stove cleared the stair rail by about a half an inch. I couldn't watch. And if you think that was fun, just wait until it's time to move the refrigerator!

But oh, the joys of installing a new appliance. We bought a Jenn-Air downdraft slide in range.
1. The screw for the vent hose is made with cheap metal and stripped out on the third turn.
2. The little pull ring on the aluminum filter pulled out with the first tug.
3. The vent grill is warped and doesn't sit snugly on the top of the stove.
4. The directions for programming the computer are a poor translation from whatever they started with, and you're pretty much on your own.

Given that we paid an exorbitant price for the darned thing, we were pretty upset. I was however pretty excited to see that the knob labeled "right front" actually turned on the right front burner.

This morning I finally figured out how to set the program from french to english, and to set the clock. Finally I figured out the timer. The rest I can ignore until later.

Meanwhile, Ed has begun moving in the door jambs. Soon we'll have a door on the bathroom. Wahoo!

Friday, October 9, 2009

That's A Mouthfull!

Entire electrical system, improved, updated and moved. Check.

Entire plumbing system, improved, updated and moved. Check.

Entire phone system, improved, updated and moved. Check.

All systems currently functioning. Check.

Monday morning, as promised, the excavator showed up at 06:30. I know there are excavators much bigger than this one, but I have officially named this one Digosaurus Hellatious, more commonly called One Hell of a Digger.

There is an existing pad of cement that went under the doublewide, and that had to go. But everyone was betting there would be no rebar, since the primary function of the cement was to make a managable crawlspace and get rid of a potential mudhole.


There was probably enough rebar in that thing to put U.S. Steel back to work. But that giant mouth of a bucket grabbed onto slabs of the concrete and slammed them around until either the rebar gave way or it was exposed for one of the workers to cut it with a metal saw.

As Robbie Ohrburg was running that excavator, he was spinning it around like a top, to the right, to the left, around in a circle, whirl around the other direction. I had to stop watching because I was getting motion sickness just looking at it. That guy must have eaten cafeteria lunches as a kid because anyone else would be queasy.

They wouldn't let Ed play with any of the big toys but they did let him be the stick-guy for the laser level
. It made me a little nervous to have him down in that hole, with the big bucket swinging around like a tether ball, but Robbie knew what he was about, and didn't smack Ed once. He really had amazing control and was able to move it very delicately. I told him later, "You could put mascara on with that thing!"

All the busted up concrete and all the dirt was carted down to the east pasture and dumped in neat piles. The pile is about six feet tall and about eight feet across, and I couldn't even guess how long it is..100 yards? It's like having my own personal Hadrian's Wall. Later, Ed will take the tractor down and distribute the dirt around to various places. It's mostly clay and rubble rock, that hasn't seen the light of day for a few hundred years.

By the end of the day, we had a basement dug. I can't even imagine how long that would have taken us with the tractor and the gator...months.

Sometimes it's just worth it to have the pros come out and do the job.

This morning, we had some sand brought in as a base, and to try to cut down on the mud. Of course, the cats thought it was the best sandbox ever!

Ed got out the tractor and started pushing the sand around. Sometimes I think he just thinks up these projects so he can play with the toys.
Once he has the sand spread around, he'll switch from construction hat to farm hat and take care of a few things he's been putting off.
The weather man says we're scheduled for rain next week and that means the blackberry vines have to be sprayed this week.
Next week we'll probably start some inside jobs.
The list is endless, but here are a few items.
1. Tile the coat closet and the pantry. Grout.
2. Lay hardwood flooring.
3. Run lumber for baseboards and window trim through the planer.
4. Rip same.
5. Stain and seal same.
6. Install same.
7. Install cabinets.
8. Tile counters. Grout.
9. Spoil Theresa rotten.

Needless to say, it won't all happen next week. Stay tuned.