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Archive for August, 2008


Roof B Gone


Friday, August 29, 2008

Today was going to be a mellow day. I did a dump run first thing in the morning then came back to the house to strip off some more roofing materials. It was hot and I was planning on starting the weekend early. Then Bert came by. Bert is so awesome. After working a full day and then having a midday surf session he came by the house to help out. I had already loaded up the truck to make another dump run so I felt a little guilty asking him to help when I wasn’t even going to be around. But… I guess I’m just a slave driver… so I asked him to take a crack at the newly exposed roof decking. On the drive to the dump I kept having visions of poor Bert dropping through the termite ridden decking down twelve feet and smashing head first onto the piano, er, workbench. 

By the time I returned Bert was still alive and the main roof decking was gone. He had singlehandedly stripped the roof! Well, that meant the game was on. Bert and Kari and I then went hog wild, tearing down the rafters, balancing on the ceiling joists and prying off whatever wouldn’t cause the structure to collapse beneath us. So fun. Luckily, I mean, thanks to keen planning, nobody lost a finger or an eye. We removed the entire roof, thus accomplishing the hardest and most dangerous part of the house demolition in one afternoon. We also got our demo permit just in time to stay legal. 

The termite damage inside the house was extensive. Some boards lifted right off the nails as if they were made of paper mache. A pry bar would easily penetrate 2×4 studs sending me off balance at the unexpected lack of resistance. See the gallery below for some of the more affected spots. 

Here’s a gallery of some recent pics from the project:

My Nail Gun Weighs a Ton


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Actually, it’s pretty light, all things considered. I’m pretty sure the whole “weighs a ton” thing was metaphorical unless Chuck D is really just super wimpy or Uzis are super heavy. I promised action shots of the gun and voila, here they are in glorious technicolor. 

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We Sheathed It Good


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sheathing just sounds like a dirty word. It’s a romance novel word I guess. Well, today we sheathed our tall, hard, hungry framing in a sultry, passionate layer of dry wall and plywood. Bert and I were on our own on this one and it started out a little shaky. I was nervous about things. Not the things I didn’t know, but the things I didn’t know I didn’t know. Like Donald Rumsfeld famously said: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” That’s how I feel when I’m looking at a job I need to do and I feel like there are a million little things I don’t know that are going to come back and bite me in the rear after I’ve finished. There is a name for this educational technique –  learning things the hard way – or LeTHaW.

Eventually Bert and I decided not to sweat the details and we just make it happen. My natural pace is very, very slow. I like to think it all out, get nervous, run to the bookstore, buy a new tool, call anyone who I think might know, and then, very cautiously apply everything I’ve just absorbed so that I can screw it up in my own, unique way. Bert’s natural pace is lightning mode. In all fairness, I think his approach is better because his gets done quicker. But I simply can’t go at it like that because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. As a team however, we make a good pair. Bert keeps the pace up and I fret about critical cuts or measurements. Today it worked out great and we managed to sheathe the shack (ewww) in half a day.

The first part of the day was spent capping the sewer line to the house. Sewer lines are awesome when they are empty. Ours is made out of something called Orangeburg. The only consistent information I seem to get about Orangeburg is that I should remove it as quickly as possible. It makes babies cross-eyed, attracts cats in heat, and is nearly porous after two years of burial. 

The lumberyard was next. I loaded up my truck beyond the capacity recommended by the lumberyard faculty and wheelied all the way home. 

Also! Our peaches are ripening. We sheathed our shack next to succulent ripening peaches. Ewww! And I have photos to prove it:

Something from Nothing


Saturday, August 23, 2008

I’m amazed at how much we’ve accomplished this week. Tuesday morning I was putting the finishing touches on a ditch in an empty yard and by Friday night the walls were framed. Kari has also begun planting in the back yard – we’ve got a tree fern, an elephant ear (esculant), a bougainvillea and a plum tree. Actually, the plum tree was already there but it seemed unhappy in the shady corner of the yard so Kari moved it to the sunny side. There is also a peach tree and an avocado tree in the back. Both of those trees look like they were cared for by blind lumberjacks, so Kari is working on pruning them so that they look like trees again.

Bert has been over every day, helping a ton and politely informing me of all the mistakes I’m constantly making. I’m like his adopted retarded son. Having people around makes the day and the work go by really quickly. Bert also has some serious skills when it comes to building stuff, so I really appreciate the additional expertise.

Framing is really hard compared to the concrete and floor stuff. Until Friday I thought it was the other way around – that concrete forms were really tricky and that framing would be a breeze. But a framer needs to be good with his tools, consistent, and smart about how, where and when things get nailed together. And it’s not always obvious in what order things should be built. Again, Reggie to the rescue. He’s very, very patient. Bert and I calculated that we were actually slowing Reggie down by being in his way the whole time. And of course I’m constantly pestering him with questions. But he’s a great teacher. Actually, he’s a real professor at San Jose State in the business department, with a doctorate and everything.

It seems like all of my building instincts are wrong. Today I was installing the sill (the board that sits under the window) for a window opening. First I forgot to support the header (the big wood piece that goes above windows and doors) with trimmers (2x4s that don’t reach the full height of the wall). Then I nailed the sill in without trimmers below that to support it. Basically, I’m stupid. But I think I’m getting less stupider. The whole point of building the shack is to learn how to build the rest of the house by starting with a more manageable scope. Still, I have high expectations of myself that I keep not meeting. Dang it!

Reggie brought his 6-year old son, Nathan over on Friday to help out. He found nails in the dirt with a magnet and located all the secret passages on the property, and eventually built a gate between the house and the back yard. He was pretty stoked on doing construction so he came back today and made a Nathan sign (photo below). He’s a really cool kid and based on what I’ve seen him build so far, I think he’s better at construction than I am. 

Also, I bought a nail gun. Don’t tell Kari. Nail guns don’t give you quite the satisfaction of manually hammering a nail in, but they sure make quick work of sticking things together. Too quick sometimes. Already I’ve hastily nailed boards together that shouldn’t have been only to have to pry 45 nails loose afterwards. I’ll try to make a video of the gun in action for all my graphic designer friends who think that a nail gun is some sort of pedicure device. 

Subfloor, Check


Friday, August 22, 2008

Yesterday I swapped my hammer for a power nailer. Those things are crazy. We laid plastic netting above the joists and then stuffed insulation in. The netting is stapled at both ends and supports the bottom of the insulation, keeping it from falling into the crawlspace. Then we cut 3/4 inch tongue and groove plywood and glued it down to the floor joists. Then we put about a thousand nails into the plywood, securing it every 6 inches around the perimeter and every 12 inches in the interior. Photos follow:

Hammer Elbow


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is “hammer elbow” a condition, like tennis elbow? If it is I think I’ve got it. Yesterday we installed the sill plate and framed the floor for the shack. Using a hammer properly is like swinging a golf club. Lots of people do it, but only a few do it really, really well. Reggie sinks every nail in two hits. If I sink one in four hits I feel like a smooth operator. Somewhere out there, there is a Tiger Woods of hammering who sinks every nail perfectly with one hit. He’s sponsored by Home Depot and he does the NASCAR circuit, demoing Stanley hammers and building eco-responsible show houses in 35 minutes flat. Bert Moulton is kind of a bigger, older, whiter Tiger, and he can sink a nail with the best of em. He came over to help after working a full day at his gas station. Thanks Bert! He and Reggie adding some blocking to the floor while I made a lumber run. On the way back he called and said, “Dammit Ed, there’s no beer! What the hell kind of working conditions you got goin on here?!” I pulled a u-turn and picked up a sixer of fancy Peroni Italian beer just to piss em off. 

Here are some pictures of the result of the concrete pour and yesterday’s framing work:

 

We have another inspection today and (don’t tell anyone) but some of my anchor bolts are a little too close to the edge of the sill plate. Hopefully he’ll let those pass. We’re gonna install some insulation, get the subfloor on, and maybe do some wall framing today. Hmmm, how many trips to Big Creek Lumber will that be today? Oh, speaking of which, Mary and Dustin over at Big Creek saw the blog! I guess they just stumbled upon it somehow and they told Reggie they saw it. How cool is that? I mean, c’mon, you think you’re gonna go to Home Depot or Lumberman and those people working there are gonna be stoked because they saw your blog? Thanks Mary and Dustin – you guys are cool!

It’s Pouring Concrete


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Today was a big day. We passed our first inspection, which was for the foundation. The inspector, a nice guy named Mark, said that the work looked really clean. He was thorough and efficient and also patient when answering my numerous pesky questions. In my mind, there were many, many things that could’ve gone wrong and I spent the night before imagining every one of them. The bolts aren’t long enough. The forms need another 2×4 underneath to keep the concrete from seeping out. The spacing of the anchors should be four feet, not six. In the end he looked at my plans, checked that all the details were correct, commented on the clean work, signed the paper and that was it. 

Yesterday I put a call into the concrete company, Las Animas Concrete, to arrange for a truck and a pump to deliver the goods. Earlier in the day Reggie coached me on what to say, but still, when I get on the phone with people the vastness of my ignorance could be easily unveiled with any simple question.  When ordering the concrete, the dispatcher asked what mix I wanted. Uh… Uh… It’s for a foundation. Silence. Then the dispatcher says, 4TX Mix Measure? (or something equally unlikely and unguessable) And I reply, Yeah, that sounds good.

The truck and pump showed up and some dudes got busy pouring concrete into our forms. Everything went really smoothly and I can’t wait to get to the house to pull the forms off and see how it all turned out. It’s like baking a five thousand pound cupcake. Reggie said that when he worked with a concrete crew back in the day the tradition after a big pour was to eat Mexican food and drink all the beers you could drink. That inspired me to post this boring video with a rough-n-tumble soundtrack by Uncle Tupelo entitled “Whiskey Bottle”. I’m actually having some dry Spanish cheese with a nice glass of Viognier, but… y’know, same basic idea. 

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It’s Alive!


Sunday, August 17, 2008

I thought video might be cool in the blog. Here’s one we made a couple of weeks ago after we had gutted the house. It gives a bit of a feeling for the condition of the old place.

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Dreams Do Come True


Sunday, August 17, 2008

After all that pining for a chance to dig ditches, I finally got what I wanted. Check out the photos for a visual recap of the last week. 

We got lucky and found another property line pin on Tuesday. That gave us enough info to stake out the edges of the lot and determine the placement of the shed. Reggie came over on Wednesday and we pulled strings to mark the property edges and the foundation lines for the shed. Staring at the string lines, it dawned on me that the new shed was in a different location than the old shed. It used to be about six feet behind the house and now it was only two feet. Hmmm. I looked at the plans. Then I looked at the strings. Then the plans again. After some head scratching I realized that I screwed up on the placement of the old house on the drawings. The end result is that our front yard will be smaller and our back yard will be bigger. Yay! That was actually a pleasant surprise. I nervously ran it by the planning and building departments, who didn’t seem to mind at all. 

Bert Moulton describes digging ditches very well (I’m paraphrasing): “The first ten minutes is great – you have energy and you feel like you could dig all day – from there on out, digging ditches sucks.” My ditch was for the foundation footing. It’s 16 inches deep and about 55 feet in perimeter. That’s a baby ditch compared to what I’ll have to do for the main house. The first ten inches or so of digging is frustrating because the soil is soft and it caves in on itself. But once you get down to about a foot, you start to form a nice, square trench, and that is quite satisfying. In places I’d sort of lose my focus, or maybe become overly focused, and dig down to twenty or twenty-four inches because the ditch just looked so damn good. 

Once the footing was dug, Reggie returned and we did a lumber yard run. I have an account at Big Creek lumber which is on Pleasure Point. The people who work there are so darn nice. They’ve been very patient with me and all my dumb questions and general ignorance of how the building trade works. Anyhow, Reggie rolls in like the president elect. By the time we walked to back of the lumber yard to pick out rebar he had exchanged pleasantries with three employees and two customers. Everyone was big smiles and shouting “Reggie!” from afar. That’s what walking past the point is like when you’re with Bert. You know there is something good about that person when nearly everyone that you see makes an effort to cross the street or stop their car to say hi or chat for a while. 

We bought rebar and a bunch of 2x8s for the concrete forms. After pulling the boards off the forms, the plan is to reuse them for the floor joists. We bought stakes. We bought nails. And I bought myself a hammer. We unloaded it all and in no time, Reggie and Kari and I had the concrete forms up and ready. For me, this is all new and interesting and amazing. But I think Reggie has done this a thousand times. I looked over once while he was holding a board with his knee and nailing it into a stake and I could swear that he looked utterly bored. Like someone 1200 miles into a cross-country road trip. It takes Reggie two hits to hammer a nail completely through. It takes me six hits. And it takes Kari twenty. Ha! Kari is so awesome. She was out there doing the work, hammering the nails, hauling the lumber. It makes it so much more fun and satisfying to work together like that.

Wait, Where’s My Property?


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I was hoping that I’d be digging ditches today. Perverse, yes, but that’s what home improvement will do to an otherwise sane person. Did I just say I was sane? We should probably leave that diagnosis to Kari. Anyway, we had all of our ducks lined up. The house is gutted. The debris that was piled up in the front yard is gone. The backyard has been graded and is now smooth as a Saharan sand dune. The plans for the office (which we’ve been calling “the shed”) have been submitted and approved. A portable toilet has been set up in the front yard and temporary power has been paid for and should be hooked up any day now. So I’m thinking, hey, gimme a shovel and a pick and I’ll start digging the ditches for the foundation footings. This will be an important moment since it will be the first creative act on the house. Most of what we’ve done so far has been destructive and the prospect of reversing entropy would be a welcome respite.

But then, alas, a snag. With a stake in hand I pondered the question: Wherefore to dig? The plans say that the footings should start three feet from the property line. That’s where the fence is right? Well, I know that our property is 40 by 100 feet. I measured between the fences and got 42 by 105 feet. Hmm. My neighbor surveyed his house when he built it last year and apparently the surveyors (as is the custom) drove metal stakes into the ground denoting the property corners. Theoretically there should be four of those – one on each corner of the property. After some tedious digging, much of it in the wrong places, I found three stakes. Two of them were in the same corner, not very near each other, in some disagreement. One was on the opposite, far corner. Apparently surveying is not an exact science. I heard that with modern spy satellites George Bush can read with some clarity your electricity meter’s dials. And yet my recently surveyed property is hundreds of square feet amiss. I discovered that the extra five feet in depth comes from the annexation of half of an alleyway that once divided us from our rear neighbors. The two extra feet in width is probably from poor research and diligence on the surveyors part. Nonetheless, our property line is in question.

I’ve called the surveyors to get a bid on how much it would cost to locate and mark our property corners. Theoretically we have enough information to draw the property lines based on the existing marks, but it would mean that our staked plot would be larger than it’s publicly declared size. I’m taking plans to the building department today for some advice on a few things and hopefully they’ll give me the okay to proceed with the existing markers. If so, I will finally get my wish and be able to dig that ditch I’ve been dreaming of.