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Here’s Mud in Yer Eye

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We have reached a major milestone. The house is sheetrocked and mudded. Dudes came in, covered the walls with sheetrock and then applied a layer of joint compound, aka mud, (white goop that dries hard) in such a way so that the walls will appear to be smooth. It took about two weeks for all that to happen and man I’m glad we didn’t do that ourselves. It would have easily taken us two months.

The crazy thing about the sheetrockers is that they specialize. There are hangers – the dudes that attach the raw drywall to the studs – and then there are the tape & texture men. I’ve heard that even the tape & texture job is broken into two specialties. The tapers use what is called a bazooka to tape the seams between the drywall boards. The bazooka is a rather elaborate and heavy device which applies tape and then covers the tape with mud and then smooths over the tape for a clean finish – all in one pass. It has a bicycle chain and it feeds like a cash register and it holds a reservoir of mud somehow. It looks like the kind of thing where if it jams, you have to take it to a bike shop and then a plumber. Anyway, it works like gangbusters. It even does the corner where the wall hits the ceiling, somehow folding the tape and smoothing both the vertical and horizontal edges.

The texturers then come along with more mud, and large trowels and smoothed out all the uneven surfaces. We had the option to texture our walls or to go for a smooth finish. Every drywall sub we talked to urged us to go for a texture that is somehow universally known as “old world.” I don’t know what organizing body decided on this term, but it’s probably the same one that decided that “Tuscan” means “orange stucco” and “contemporary” means “nickel plated and curvy.” They wanted us to go with “old world” because it makes it easier to cover up unevenness in the walls. Turns out smooth is a real pain the bazooka. At one point, just as the two days of sanding was commencing, the dudes had powerful lights pointed askance at the walls to reveal any scratches or valleys that might be revealed with our eventual interior lighting. Oh and stilts. I guess it’s too much work to keep moving a ladder around, so they use these aluminum stilts that allow them to walk around the house as 9-foot tall mud slingers. Rad. See photos.

While the interior of the house was being squared away, Reggie and I framed the front and rear decks. Framing is fun. But preparing the concrete forms for all of the support footings is not. I’m finding through this project that I’m not really mentally cut out for concrete work. It’s too seat-of-the-pants. I like things to be a little more exact. Our forms were resting 5 inches off the ground at some places and I’m thinking, man, the wet concrete is gonna gush out of those seams and look ugly. Apparently that’s okay because nobody is going to see it and the concrete will pile up pretty quickly and y’know, don’t worry about it, we can deal with anything bad when we’re pouring. Ich. That kind of stuff makes me lose sleep at night.

I’m very, very excited about getting past the sheetrock phase. Actually the interior painting phase. At that point, we move to all the detail stuff like trim and the kitchen and electrical stuff and the bathrooms. And finish means almost finished!

Speaking of finished, we also managed to paint the outside of the house. And by we, I mean Kari and Bert. They toiled for days spackling and sanding all the nail holes and gaps in the trim. Then they applied two coats of a grayish-greenish paint. Kari did the bottom half and Bert did the top half. They did a great job and they spoke near fluent English and were super cheap.

Thank You Inspector! May I Have Another?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We passed our rough inspection. That sounds slightly dirty, but it just means that the city inspectors have approved our framing, electrical and plumbing work. This is a BIG deal. It means that all the work we’ve put in since finishing the foundation has been approved. The next major inspection is the final. That’s the one that will allow us to legally move in. And really, the final is more of an i-dotting, t-crossing thing than a real inspection. The rough inspection is the one where they check the bones and guts of the house before you cover it all up with insulation and drywall.

When the inspector showed up, I was suffering from high anxiety. Literally months of work was being examined. It seems so strange that they let people get so far without checking their work. The day before the inspection I called the building department and asked them what I needed to have ready. They told me that our plumbing system should be full of water at city pressure and that the vents and waste pipes should be full of water as well. I hadn’t counted on that. So I hung up the phone, freaked out, mumbled incoherently and ran to the hardware store to buy stuff. I think that was some sort of Pavlovian response to building stress, since I hadn’t really evaluated what stuff I needed to buy. I walked aimlessly around Orchard Supply for about 10 minutes before snapping out of it and returning home.

In order to test the water system I first attempted to pump it up with air. If the system can hold 20lbs of air without losing pressure, then it will probably hold water. Unfortunately I couldn’t get 1psi of air into it. I ran around the house looking for leaks but couldn’t find any. My heart started thumping and I sensed pieces of the sky beginning to fall. Major leak. Major, unfindable leak. Major, unfindable, costly leak that will take days to repair. I called Bert, my voice trembling, asking him to come over to help. I figured I could pump in the air and he could run around listening for where it was escaping. After hanging up I realized that I had simply forgotten to look behind the fridge where we have pipes that lead to the outdoor shower. Hadn’t plugged those. Doh! Never mind Bert! Sorry! After that, (and after a few more unnecessary freak outs concerning maladjusted valves and a couple more spazzy calls for Bert’s assistance) the system pumped up fine. After days of soldering copper pipe together, I figured there had to be some leaks somewhere. Hundreds of joins are involved here. Either we got lucky or there’s gonna be a surprise water slide in the hallway a couple days after moving in.

Next were the toilets. They are installed in such as way as to make testing slightly difficult. Ditto for the way I had set up the washer dryer. Oh and I had forgotten to link the hot and cold water sides of the plumbing for testing. Oh and did I mention that this was the morning of the inspection? So at 6:30am I had three hours to fix all these problems before the city man showed up. Running. Running. Actually, normally I’m a fairly level headed person, even under stress. Sometimes too calm in fact. But that wasn’t the case this time.

The inspector showed up while I was hooking the hose up to the water system. I had to slowly flush it before applying full pressure. So while he walked around counting roof trusses and matching them to the engineering drawings I filled up several buckets of water from the ass-end of the system. He would ask me about whether we were planning any additional counter space, and then I would run out and see if the water was sputtering out or flowing out smoothly – showing that the air had been fully evacuated from the pipes. He knocked on the vents to check that they were full of water and walked around looking for any leaking water. He checked the bolts on my hold-downs (metal brackets that keep the shear walls from distorting). He told me he was going to make a list of all the things he wanted me to fix in order to pass. I asked if he would return the next day to check. He said I should call him when I’m done fixing things and he’d return to sign off on the inspection. In the end, there was no list. He wanted me to move one of my grounding wires over a few inches so that it was more protected on the wall. After signing the permit sheet he said that he almost never passes anyone on their first attempt. I thought I was going to pass out at that very moment. In the end I didn’t finally relax until the next day.

We’ve got some insulation dudes coming to insulate our house on Wednesday. Why are we hiring that out? It turns out that hiring people to do your insulation is cheaper than buying the material and doing it yourself. Weird, but true.

After that is drywall. This is also being hired out. Because hanging drywall sucks. And taping and texturing it is hard. Every single person I’ve talked to about this has strongly recommended getting a subcontractor for this.

Hopefully we’ll have real, non-see-thru walls in a couple weeks. After that… man… we start a new phase of finish work – installing the radiant system, kitchen cabinets, hardwood floors, interior doors, trim, and painting. And we gotta wrap this baby up before the real baby pops. Um… wish us luck – we’ll need it.

Electric Boogaloo

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Two posts in one day! Your eyes are wilting and your expectations are soaring. I think part of the reason we’ve been so lax about our posting is that we simply haven’t had much to say. The last couple months can be summarized in one painful word: Siding. Ah, but now the hounds have been unleashed and the hunt for December is on!

This week we’ve been wiring the house for electricity. This is one of those teach-yourself areas that have life threatening consequences if improperly self-instructed. Unlike plumbing and framing, we haven’t had the luxury of a wise and patient tutor. So we struck out alone with our three wiring books and nightly visits to the internets with google searches like: “wire sizing 100amp feeder subpanel” and “dimmer low voltage magnetic transformer” and “title 24 kitchen.” As it turns out, wiring a house is pretty easy and I think for the most part electricians are overpaid. That is, unless they are troubleshooting a problem. Right now, we’re just wiring away without a care in the world. We’ve planned our little circuits and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. A couple months from now, we’re actually gonna turn on the power and flip that first switch and then we’ll see if we ever had any clue as to what we’re doing. Then we may have to hire some electrician to come in and figure out what we did wrong. And man, that will be a tough job.

Kudos to Kari for being a naturally gifted electrician. I myself have been reading DIY electrical books and watching DIY youtube videos for months in preparation for this stage. And yet I barely can figure out how to wire some of these circuits. To be fair, some of these outlet boxes are crazy looking with eight cables and 20 wires sticking out of them. Anyway, yesterday Kari came over to help “make-up” the boxes. This is sort of a pre-wiring step that is done before the actual switches and outlets are added – it makes that final step easier by dealing with all the splices and joins that need to happen that aren’t directly connected to the switch or outlet. I showed Kari how to do one or two (basically stumbling through the process since I barely knew how to do it myself) and she then proceeded to make up the rest of the house. Awesome! Hopefully she’ll have the same natural talent for laying down wood floors.

So, a couple of things worth mentioning…

First, it takes a lot of circuits to wire a modern house. I mean, you can go with the minimum, and that will probably work, but it seems like everything you plug in nowadays pulls 1500W. That’s basically half of what a normal circuit can handle. Go look under your toaster oven or your electric kettle or your coffee maker and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Indeed, the state of cali makes us install dedicated circuits for the microwave, garbage disposal, washing machine, kitchen countertop outlets, bathroom outlets and other places where the load is likely to be heavy or doused in water. Our little house has almost 30 circuits. That means lots and lots and lots of wire running all over the place. And it’s hard to keep track of. One little wire connected to the wrong color and you can kiss that circuit goodbye. Well, it’s not that dire – but you’ll have to start poking into every outlet and light fixture trying to figure out where your electrician screwed up.

Second, the State of Cali Title 24 requirements make my face hurt. These are building codes that force to you to be energy efficient and I wholeheartedly endorse such efforts. They would be much easier to love if they didn’t suck so bad. Here’s the example that is really getting under our skin at the moment. You are required to install high-efficiency lighting for at least half the wattage of your overall kitchen lighting. That sort of makes sense right? But what if someone invented a light bulb that used only 1 watt, yet produced light equivalent to a 75 watt incandescent bulb. That would be awesome right? And being the eco-organic-unbleached-hemp-stroller type of person that you are you’d buy a bunch of them. Except… they cost a fortune. So at great expense, with mother earth smiling upon you, you’d do half your kitchen in them. That would be 4 watts. That means you have 4 watts left for non-high-efficiency lighting. Let’s say you wanted to add three halogen spotlights for your kitchen island. That’s 135W. Okay, so here’s the messed up part. Right now you’re not complying. Your 135W are way over the limit. Your whole kitchen only uses 139W, but you don’t comply. In order to keep those spots and still comply, you’ll need to add 131W of highly efficient fluorescent lights. Now you’ve got 270W of lighting in your kitchen and you meet the requirements. Bottom line: 270W is okay and 139W is not okay. Only the government could produce that sort of logic. I went to the city of Capitola to plead my case – basically that our kitchen uses 200W right now, and that in order to comply, I’ll need to add another 150W. The inspector gave me this weird look and said, you must comply to the law. Aaarrggh. I kept reiterating the point that I was complying to the SPIRIT of the law and he kept pointing to this stupid worksheet that told me I needed to add more wattage to our kitchen in order to meet the efficiency requirements. Okay. I need to calm down. Here… look at these pictures:

Certain Skillz

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Being a graphic designer pretty much adds zero value to the process of house building. Sure there are the moments when nudging a piece of trim with the back of a chisel can seem oddly akin to the left-arrow pixel nudge, but for almost every other activity all of my professional skills are, well, worthless.

Until now! Kari and I are starting to think about house colors. Actually, Kari has been thinking about house colors for about a year, but now we’re getting to the point where we can actually go to Sherwin Williams (best non-environmentally correct logo ever) and buy paint. And choosing colors is a doozy! Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just try painting your house with various colors until you found some combos you liked. And wouldn’t be cool if you could do it instantly with the flick of a mouse. And wouldn’t it be cool if your contractor had some Photoshop skillz and could save a couple of quickly lassoed selections for the siding and the trim and maybe change one wall magically into redwood to just for comparison’s sake?

Click on the pic for an biggie version… I should note that in the spirit of Martha Stewart style color naming, we’ve come up with monikers for the themes below – clockwise starting from the upper-left: Republican Supreme Court, Terra-istLegalize It and Jonathan Ive

Purdy Colors

Also of Note…

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Yes, Kari is pregnant.

Redwood on the Side

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Of course, every blog post which is preceded by months of silence must be qualified with the following salutation: OMG, I’m so sorry for being such a slacker-blogger – I totally SUK! Okay, my conscience is clear… let’s move on.

The previous several weeks have been a march of incremental progress. Such progress hardly engenders enthusiastic bragging. The building process seems to move in alternating periods of quick achievement and plodding preparation. A couple of months ago I was estimating how long the siding would take. Lessee here… 6 inch boards, prime em, nail em up, boom boom, should take a couple weeks maybe three. Ah, those were magical days of imagined efficiencies. Turns out that priming siding takes a long time. So does staining siding. So does nailing up furring strips. And cutting the siding so that it fits neatly around basement vents, windows, electrical outlets, hose bibs, etc. – that takes time. Then there is trim, which needs to be installed at the corners and around doors and windows. Let’s just say that siding the house takes a long time.

But we’re at the point where we’re throwing up the redwood siding and it’s looking pretty nice and it’s going pretty quickly. Spirits are high.

I’ve been looking at the house as a series of stages. Each stage culminates in a simple statement like: “The foundation has been poured.” or, “The roof is on.” The current stage culminates with, “the exterior is done.” And by done, I mean, pretty much done. After the siding goes up we’ll move to the inside and start installing the electrical wiring and the plumbing parts that feed water and gas to the fixtures and appliances. After that comes insulation and then drywall. So the next stage will end in, “the drywall is up.” At that point we’ll have a house with interior and exterior walls and we’ll need to install our kitchen counters and interior doors. We’ll add interior trim and then finally install the wood floors. Did that sound like I was itemizing a list to myself? Cuz I was.

Another exciting thing that is happening is that our electrical, gas, cable and telephone service is being run underground. This involves digging a 4-foot deep hole across the street, laying various plastic conduit in the hole and then waiting patiently for PG&E to arrive, inspect, approve and connect the utilities. Each of those things happens on a different day, usually weeks apart. So much to the chagrin of our neighbors, we’ve had those steel plates covering the ditch and slowing traffic on our street. Occasionally tractors or dump-trucks come and move gravel around. The contractor we found to do this job has been really nice and patient. His name is Ed, which is a cool name, and he is harried because he’s also digging ditches and paving roads at the new Whole Foods a few blocks away. I think he gave us a good deal because he figured he’d already be down the street and our project is one hundredth the size of the other one. One important thing I’ve discovered is that men never lose their childhood awe of tractors. When a backhoe comes down the street and starts moving gravel or digging holes, a crowd of men inevitably forms standing around in a sort of disinterested manly way. Inside each of these men, and I am one of them, is a boy who is basically thinking, “COOL! – LOOK-AT-THAT! – A BIG TRACTOR! I WISH I COULD SIT IN THAT BIG TRACTOR. VRRRRMMMM”

Check out the gallery below and stay tuned folks. Now that the stages are flying by we’ll be posting quite frequently!

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.

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!