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Stop! Thief!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I’m not exactly sure what’s happening. It feels like I just ran into a waist-deep lake of sludge. Things are progressing very slowly at the house. On Saturday, I was primed and eager to really start kicking ass on the siding when I was surprised to find one of our windows ajar. Now, I’ve been known to be a bit flaky here and there… on very rare occasions… but I usually don’t leave the windows open. And especially not this window, which is towards the back of the house and which, because of the clutter, would be difficult to access anyway. So, first I thought, hmmm. And before I could come up with a plausible scenario I turned the corner and saw the back doors wide open, fluttering in the light breeze. Oh snap! We’d been burgled. The robbers stole all the tools I was using to put up the siding – a miter saw, a compressor, a nail gun, and some minor hand tools. Being the love-thy-neighbor sort of person that I am, I tried to put myself in the robber’s place and think what might motivate them to steal from me. The most obvious reason is that they were jealous of my good looks. Additionally, they might be out-of-work construction dudes desperate to make a buck and feed their families. Maybe they’re on dope. And so a part of me thought, aw shucks, those poor guys had it so bad they resorted to stealing. And maybe in some weird way, they needed those tools more than I, and gosh, I feel fortunate to be able to do this project, etc, etc.

Then I noticed that my tool belt was missing. Oooooh, then my temperament turned. My tool belt? What kind of dirty low down golem worm takes another guy’s tool belt? You know how long it takes to make a tool belt feel comfortable and right? How long it takes to train your hands to mindlessly reach for the right pockets and to put your tape measure in the right place? To steal someone’s tools is generally regarded with the same contempt that one levels on a traitor or a snitch – kind of a lower-level sort of criminal. But then to add the insult of stealing a tool belt? That’s like a child molester or something. Okay, okay, stealing a tool belt isn’t as bad as molesting a child, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the person who stole our stuff ogles the underage.

The thieves used a crowbar in an attempt to pry open the back door. They were rebuffed there and then tried a window, where the expensive yet pliant nickel-plated Marvin clasp snapped apart like a fortune cookie. The door and window are significantly marred and will require the attention of some bondo. Overall the damage isn’t bad and I feel that if they had a bit more time they could’ve gotten away with much more. And of course we’re lucky they didn’t feel the need to vandalize the place.

But still. Thievery is low. I hope the court of Karma metes what is due.

We’ve since installed battery powered alarms that make a shrill frequency when they detect motion. Hopefully they won’t be set off by cats  chasing squirrels or the motion of the moon at night. Our neighbors were all very empathetic and most of them being contractors of one sort or another traded fantasies with me of what ills would befall the burglars if we’d have caught them red handed. It’s surprising what weaponization you can achieve with a tape measure and a caulk gun.

Don’t lose hope gentle readers. We have retooled and today we were back at the siding game. Our front door finally comes tomorrow and we should have half the siding up by sometime next week. At that point the front of the house will pretty much look like it’s final self. Many photos will be taken and beers will be peeled and toasted and upended.

Finally! An Update.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sorry folks. The good weather has incentivized us to work our tails off and we’ve been remiss about updating the blog. But there is a lot to tell you about and a few good pics to show off. Browse on gentle reader!

So in the last post we had sheathed but there was no roof yet. Since then we put plywood on the roof, then actually roofed it like a real house with asphalt shingles (see photos), and we Tyveked the exterior walls. And we got most of the windows in. And we got the big doors in the back of the house installed. And we added some window trim to the outside.

Roofing is tedious and unsatisfying work because after hours and hours of back-bending labor you’ve only applied a few rows of shingles. Kari and I did all the roofing ourselves and it was really fun to work together. She was the shingle cutter and layer-outer and I was the nailer. Roofing is really easiest to do when it’s hot. Which means that it’s easy to cut the shingles and position them because they’re nice and warm and soft. But it’s hot! We were up there getting sunburned and sweaty. But we were together and working hard and we loved it.

We chose a certain kind of window because we were after a certain feel and we didn’t want plastic windows or anything that looked fake. Our windows are all wood. This has advantages and disadvantages. Real wood means that they are real. They look like windows you’d find in an old house. But they are more susceptible to degradation because of the elements. And they are a pain to install. New style windows have a big flange made out of aluminum or vinyl. You just stick that in your window hole, level it, and then nail it in. The flange acts as a water barrier as well, making sealing the windows that much easier. But these wood windows are a different story. We had to attach metal brackets to the sides, shim every twelve inches and the carefully apply this wide, sticky-backed, ultra-thick plastic tape known affectionately as bitchethane. I think they call it that because it’s such a pain to apply neatly.

Bert and Kari and I had a good time applying Tyvek to the house. Tyvek is a vapor-permeable water barrier. That means that it lets water vapor escape from your walls, but it doesn’t let actual water get INTO your walls. Or so they say. I have a sneaky suspicion that all those fancy materials from Dow and DuPont are basically just wax paper. The Tyvek comes on 9-ft rolls and is a bit unwieldy to work with. One person needs to hold the roll and another person needs to climb up and down the ladder and staple. Covering the gables ended up becoming a mini-fiasco. We argued about which technique to use. Bert suggested pre-cutting the Tyvek. I thought we could simply roll it up the eave at an angle. We tried both ways and our keystone cop attempts bore unremarkable results to say the least. Reggie later informed us that the proper technique is to simply unroll the Tyvek below the gable, then push it up, letting the corner flop down. Then you staple it in place and trim off the excess. It’s funny how our minds will create such complexity given time to mull.

We ordered the siding on Monday and are expecting it next week. Once that is applied the house will look pretty much finished from the outside. We chose all redwood siding – the front will be painted and we’ll leave the back as natural wood. We’re going to have a small porch/deck/walkway that runs along the side of the house and meet the only natural redwood wall that you can see from the street. The idea is to have a wooden “runway” of sorts that invites people along the side of the house towards the front door. Kari astutely noted yesterday that we have visions in our heads but little idea how they will turn out when finally built. So…we’ll see! She also has some pretty crazy color schemes devised for house painting (red, blue, yellow??) which lead me to believe that she may be one of the few color blind women, or perhaps she’s just a tetrachromat who’s abilities are beyond all of us.

Well friends, I have been lacking in my blogging duties but hereby promise to keep you abreast of the latest, titilating details.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Here’s a quick vid of me chewing gum (sorry!) and giving a little tour of the house in its current state.

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The Metamorphosis

Saturday, February 21, 2009

At one point today, when I had a moment to pause and reflect, I looked around the house and realized that Holy Smokes! We’re building a house! Adding sheathing to the gables and fascia to the trusses has transformed our little construction project into what can clearly be identified as a house. Now from the street it is possible to see what our new home will look like. It’s strange because while we’ve spent endless hours thinking about it and drawing it out and imagining rooms and layouts, I don’t think we really knew what it would actually turn out like. 

We’re racing the weather trying to get the roof covered before the next rainstorm. Once the house is weatherproof we’ll be able to start on the electrical and finish the plumbing and install the insulation. After that we’ll put in the drywall and then the rough cabinetry. Then the floors and trim and appliances and some paint and we’ll be moved in! I keep telling everyone we’ll be in by August. I must be optimistic because that statement is invariably met with skepticism. Okay folks, start your timers…

Rainy Days and Sundays

Friday, February 13, 2009

Remember January? I do. That was an idyllic time. Sunny, mild afternoons, general dryness, lots of construction going on. February has brought an unending parade of dreary weather reports which seem designed to test my patience and which seem cruelly expansive with their rainy-day vocabulary. Chance of Rain. Probable Rain. Rainy. Wet and Rainy. Showers. Scattered Showers. Occasional Showers. Chance of Showers. Rain Likely. We’ve been sitting around a lot lately waiting for the likely probable occasional scattered chance of rain to stop. We’re nervous about that fancy WarmBoard we put down, hoping that it doesn’t buckle and warp, or at least get really bloated around the edges. And we’re not looking forward to the drying process once we actually get the roof on. The last thing we want to do is trap a bunch of wetness between our drywall and our siding. 

But alas, not all is lost! Today our trusses came. A very large crane carefully backed into our driveway, which is coincidentally the exact width of the crane, and gingerly lifted the trusses over the power lines and our neighbors house and onto our walls. In the middle of the delivery, while Reggie was balanced on top of one of the interior walls, a freak hailstorm arrived. We were pelted with pea-sized hail (turning the already slick WarmBoard into a Scooby-Doo escape sequence – like zoinks Daphne!). The crane managed to get the trusses to their proper locations in both the front and back of the house. No small feat considering the trees and power lines that crowded its path like a game of Operation. You’ll have to excuse the photos – I took them with my cell phone. They have a sort of desaturated LOMO feel to them. Ah the wonder of plastic lenses!

So the trusses are ready to be tilted up and nailed on, but we’re gonna need a dry day to do it. The 10-day forecast shows the next sunny day to be 10 days away. Hopefully that’s not a moving target. In the mean time, viva internet tv!

She’s Sheared

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We have structurally improved the shear performance of our house against lateral loads and seismic stress. In other words, we attached plywood to the outside of our house with a boatload of nails. I guess we framed the house too. It’s sort of sad that framing goes by so fast. It’s one of the most fun phases of housebuilding because you accomplish so much so quickly. But just when you feel like you’re finally getting something done and giving real form to the house, the job is over and it’s back to more tedious work like blocking and sheathing. 

Allow me to digress. The framing process is relatively straightforward but fraught with pitfalls. First you lay out where the walls will go in chalk on the floor. Then you cut two pieces of 2×4 for the top and bottom plates of the wall. Then you measure every sixteen inches along both plates to mark your stud locations. My stud location is on Castro and 18th, but that’s a different matter. Then you separate the plates and nail the studs in between them, forming a wall on the floor. Finally, you tilt the wall up, nail the bottom plate to the floor and brace it so it doesn’t fall on your head. With super-efficient framers like Reggie, this process takes literally minutes per wall. But with me involved it can take up to an hour. Anyway, in a couple of days your walls are built. 

There were snags of course. The beam we designated for over our big opening in the back seemed woefully undersized. But a bigger timber beam wouldn’t fit between the top of the doors and the bottom of the roof. So I hit the books (specifically the AF&PA Design Values for Joists and Rafters) to find out how to size an engineered beam. All that homework wasn’t necessary however because those nice folks at Big Creek lumber helped me select the biggest, strongest and best looking beam that would fit. It took four of us to lift it into place and luckily, as the shortest member, I was relieved of my labor as my aerie-nosed crew heaved beyond my reach. 

Also, somehow, and I take all the blame, we ordered a transom window that won’t fit into our wall. I think we made our front door taller and thus squeezed the window out of it’s spot. If anyone needs a fine, fine, Marvin all-wood transom, I have a deal for you.

This week has been all about the plywood. We tore through a stack of it, cutting out around our windows, doors and vents and generally nailing it a lot. The plywood stiffens up the walls by applying a rigid skin to the frame. Now the walls don’t move four inches when you lean on them.

One great thing about all this framing, and I never anticipated how gratifying it would be, is that we finally get to walk through our house. We finally get to see how big the rooms are and how wide the hallway is. We see how big our windows are and what our view looks like. With the tub in the bathroom we can imagine what it will be like to take a bath and holler into the kitchen for a clean towel. It’s also cool because we can give people tours. We had a constant stream of visitors last week and Kari and I traded turns walking them through the house and handwaving where the cabinets would go and where we’d have the tv. There is a great sense of community here and we really feel lucky that people are friendly enough to stop by and are patient enough to let us show off our labor of love.

The Rain of Error

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Really I can’t complain. We had an entire January without rain. And… I know, we need rain in this drought afflicted winter in California. But man! we were SO close to getting our walls up before this rainstorm came along. So I’m a little sad. But overall I’m happy that we got as far as we did. The WarmBoard is in place and all the tubing has been stuck in the little channels and routed under the house to the main manifold. We measured out all of the walls and they are ready to be nailed together. All we need now is a couple days of dryness to build them and tilt them up. Anyhow folks, here are some photos of the first walls going up along with some other shots of our WarmBoard progress. Now that it’s raining I’ll work on all those websites I promised y’all.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

We finally began installing the WarmBoard today. It was a bit more complicated than I anticipated because we had to make a lot of cuts to get all the grooves to line up for the different loops. I think the plan that WarmBoard provided me was probably the most efficient use of material, but not the quickest to install. Another great thing that happened completely by accident is that all the plumbing in the wet wall managed to avoid the tubing runs in the WarmBoard. I think the mathematical odds of this happening with or without trying to plan for it are just about nil. You can see in the photos where the pipes and the tubing runs manage to miraculously avoid each other. Had they intersected I would have had to get a router and cut special grooves around the offending pipes. 

Oh, I should explain what WarmBoard is and why I’m capitalizing it weirdly. WarmBoard is basically a thick piece of plywood that has grooves cut into it in a squiggly pattern. A sheet of aluminum is then pressed on top of the plywood and into the grooves. One then lays out these boards in a specially designed pattern and runs PEX tubing through it and voila – one has radiant heat! The aluminum is supposed to radiate the heat upwards as well as securely holding the tubing in place. Basically, it’s fancy. 

Paxton came over to help today and I’m sure that his hands are covered in construction adhesive. Both of us were falling through the joists today, accidentally stepping on insulation while trying to carry the heavy-ass WarmBoard panels and not step on tools and make jokes at the same time. And everything is covered in the heavy duty glue that is used to attach the WarmBoard to the joists. The tools, our hands, parts of my face and hair, etc.

Also of note, I think Reggie is beginning to succumb to Ed time. It takes me ten minutes to think about just about every single thing – from where I left my coffee cup to figuring out which end of the board to cut to determining whether I should drive to Ferguson or Orchard for copper ells. That’s thirty minutes to do basically nothing. In that time Reggie can frame a wall or rip 20 pieces of plywood. It must be maddening for him to work with the likes of me. Tranquilo man, tranquilo. That’s his new mantra.

Sexy Plumbing Photos

Monday, January 12, 2009

We passed our rough plumbing inspection this morning. To commemorate I’ve decided to post some hot details of the copper water pipes, ABS waste pipes and even some shots of galvanized gas piping. This is actually a pretty big moment because it means that now we can insulate and cover the crawl space with our fancy radiant subfloor. It also means that the real building begins. We’re out of the mud! 

After the inspection I was drilling some holes in the blocking to allow for the PEX radiant tubing to be routed under the floor to the boiler area, when I accidentally drilled through my leg. Whoops! The drill bit caught my jeans, tore right through them and dug a nice little slice just under my knee. I yelped, dropped the drill, cursed under my breath and immediately saw my near future flash before my eyes. Not being able to work at this moment would be a very sad thing. Luckily I didn’t tear my kneecap out or cut any major arteries. In fact I hardly bled at all. I ran to the shed and pulled out the first aid kit that Rudi and Steph bought for us last year and started rifling for x-large bandaids. I rubbed some alcohol on the wound and managed to secure a big bandage to my leg hair. Then I drove to the hospital and got stitches. If you ever are feeling sorry for yourself I suggest hanging out in the emergency room waiting area for a while. A steady stream of sorry sorts paraded in front of me while I read year-old Newsweeks (looks like Hillary is gonna win it!). One old man had lost a finger on a table saw. Another guy nearly impaled himself while fixing his deck. A college age girl came in with a harrowing panic attack and scores of other people were just slumped in their chairs, clutching their stomachs or staring into deep space with cold sweats. Well, after nearly five idle hours of last years news I got 14 stitches and a prescription for percoset. 

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll start putting on the subfloor. I’m especially excited for you blog readers because finally I’ll start having some pictures worth looking at. 

DWV and Copper

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

DWV is Drain, Waste and Vent. That’s the black plastic stuff where all your poo and hair and little ends of green beans goes after they hit the drains. I’m gonna upload pictures tomorrow, so for now you’ll just have to endure my lucid but verbose descriptions. We’re going to have two bathrooms in our house that are back to back. Some may think that’s weird but that’s because they don’t have fancy architecture degrees like we do. Anyway, the back to back bathrooms share a “wet wall” where all the plumbing for both bathrooms live. So, two toilets, three sinks, a shower and a bathtub all have their water and drains and vents running through that wall. Additionally we’re putting in wall-hung toilets (because their sweet-tuh) so that means that behind the toilets, hidden in the wall, are these big metal and plastic contraptions that hold all the tricky parts of the toilets so that the only thing you see is a bowl hanging magically off the wall. Minimal, small, and easy to clean. 

As it turns out, the trickiest thing about plumbing is venting. Venting is what lets the water go down the tubes without creating a vacuum of air behind it or a big pressure bubble in front of it. There are myriad building codes concerning venting and there are lots of little issues that crop up if you are not doing very standard style plumbing (like for instance if you installed wall-hung toilets). Also, the drains need to be angled downhill (because that’s which way poo goes) at a grade of one-quarter inch to the foot. The pipe needs to fall a quarter inch for every foot it travels horizontally. There is a bit of wiggle room there – you can go as steep as one-half inch to the foot – or in some cases as shallow as one-eighth of an inch to the foot. But you can’t go flat or any steeper than that range. If you go steeper, the pee will run faster than the poo and will flow over the poo rather than lubricating its timely exit from your castle. So just imagine all these plastic pipes, ALL descending very gradually and all having to hook up precisely so that each fixture is vented properly. That was a bear. It took two days of me just standing there looking at the joists and scratching my head and thinking and thinking and rethinking before I felt confident enough to actually start gluing the pipes together. The glue makes you high. It’s basically huffing. I’m high right now actually.

I must also take a moment to profusely thank George Williams. George is a master plumber who has graciously and patiently tutored me on the fundamentals of plumbing. He ordered all the copper, plastic and metal plumbing parts for me and even laid out how the plumbing would run in the house. You really don’t have an understanding for how much work that is until I show you one of his drawings. He makes these isometric drawings that detail every fitting, every bend, every corner in
exact detail. They must be seen to be believed:

So, thanks George, and I’m sorry for calling you every day at 1:15 sharp and bugging you with my daily question. 

The DWV stuff is done and today we did copper. Reggie and I laid it out and dry-fitted it and I started to solder it together. It’s pretty easy and fun to do. That’s what I’m saying now before I’ve tested it and found a million little leaks out of all my joints. Yikes! This morning I went online and found a ton of videos of varying quality that show you how to “sweat” copper pipes. Big Tony wasn’t the most informative, but he had the best style:

At this point we’re hoping to have our subfloor delivered week after next and then we’ll build the walls and install our roof trusses. We’ll tack plywood onto the outside of everything and then stick our windows in. We’ll wrap it in Tyvek and roof it with asphalt shingles and voila – we’ll have a weatherproof house that we can spend the next nine months fiddling with. If all goes well, we should be there by the end of February. Ha.