Part 2 of the construction project, Sept 2006 - Dec 2007

Back to main page.

The pace of progress slowed substantially once into weekend-only mode. So slow, in fact, that we often felt that there was no progress to report. As such I am writing this portion more than a year after the first portion and am relying on my feeble memory to document events.

Our first order of business was to get the building closed in so we started shopping around for the double doors fore and aft. We were unable to find (reasonably priced) 8x8 double doors so finally settled on 6x8 (six ft wide (thus each door is 3 ft wide)) doors. They had to be ordered since Home Depot didn't keep them in stock and it turned out that the manufacturer was having raw material supplier problem, so our rear door got an upgrade from metal to fiberglass at the cost of a couple of month delay. We were finally able to get the doors and installing them wasn't too difficult and finally we had locks on all the doors. In the mean time we worked on siding, started to put in the gutters (only got 1/4 done before it started to rain, never got back to work on it since) and I rented a Bobcat to do the grading.

I thought the grading would be a piece of cake (like I always think things are going to be until reality rears its ugly head), but we kept getting light rains which made the ground very slippery. I did manage to get a lot of the dirt moved from one side of the building (the long side adjacent to the septic tank) though. I had to dig nearly 3 feet of dirt out as the top of the dirt had to be at least 6 inches from the top of the cinder blocks, then drop another 6 inches 10 ft from the edge of the foundation and the dirt was actually above the top of the slab in places. That created some awkward drainage situations and I would love to have thought to build the foundation up even as little as an additional foot. When I rented the Bobcat the guy said that all the machines were out except for this single one that had glass doors. I wasn't sure why he felt that mentioning the glass doors was important, but I found out later. It turns out that everything is connected to the glass, so when you manage to break it (as I did), you can't use the damn thing any more! After that we decided to leave the grading until after we were finished with the interior (at this point the ground did slope away from the house in most cases, though not enough to satisfy the inspector).

We got some of the siding installed on the long sides. Putting the first 4-5 feet up wasn't that difficult and actually went fairly quickly. While I don't particularly care for the look of vinyl, it is inexpensive and I later learned it won't burn by itself (tried to burn a bunch of scraps and the only way they would burn was if there was something else already with a flame) and it goes up quite quickly. It is also fairly easy to redo if you screwed up or had to come back later to put in electric outlets or hose bibs as we did much later on. We were also able to get about 10 ft of siding on the front and back side after we got the double doors installed. Not complete protection, of course, but covers the points most hit by weather. Of course the eves were still wide open resulting in bird poop all over the place. Even had a bat or two (or the same bat several times) make use of the place.

We thought that having the doors and windows in place would allow us to work through the winter, but as there was no ceiling on the bottom of the trusses any traces of heat quickly vented itself and despite the walls and windows the 6 ft overhang acted as a big scoop and would funnel bone chilling breezes into the building. We did take a week in January to work full-time when Eliz' parents were here (Mama watched Dondon and Papa helped Eliz with the siding). However, I wound up being sick most of the time, then side tracked myself with incorrect assumptions on the layout of the walls. Instead of getting some or all the walls erected as I planned, we wound up with none. I did manage to put up screen along the inside of the trusses along the exterior walls. That would server two purposes. Initially it would reduce the avenues for visitors to enter, later it would act as a baffle for our blown in cellulose insulation.

One thing I did discover was the drain pipes for the shower pans were in the wrong place, at least according to my expectations. We had not picked out the shower stalls prior to the plumbing rough-in (obvious that we should have in retrospect) so the plumber just took his best guess. Because he left a box around the shower stall when they poured the concrete I was able to replace the location of the drain close to where it needed to be, but one of the bathrooms (the common one off the kitchen, if I recall correctly) wound up having to have its walls adjusted to fit the shower stall (the shower stalls have to be in place before the walls are built, doanchano, since they are too big to fit in the door). Because our kitchen is only 8 ft wide (before we put in drywall and cabinets) we didn't want to lose even the couple of inches so decided to build 4 inch walls along that side of the kitchen (all the other interior walls are 6 inch just like the exterior). After this we decided we were not going to attempt to do any work for the rest of the winter, it was just to damn cold.

Eliz and Papa were able to complete the siding on the septic side (it was out of the wind and on the sunny side, so they were often able to work without jackets) and even get the soffit done. We initially opted to install the soffit parallel with the wall, though the look was unsatisfactory as the small installation variations were very, very visible. We also had problems with the final strip coming lose since it was not secured with nails anywhere. We plan to redo it after we move to match the other side (more on that later).

After winter finished we started to go back on the weekends. First we had to fix a lot of problems that happened while we were gone. The biggest was to rebuild the canopy over the trailer. Since I foolishly ignored strengthening the quickie anchors I put in when we initially installed the canopy, during a typical winter windstorm the entire canopy, frame and all, blew away. Fortunately, through a combination of events, none of the canopy structure damaged either the trailer or Kenny's RV parked inches away. The force of the wind was so great that the canopy frame was driven into the trees with such force we needed to pull it out with Kenny's truck! We were able to get replacement pipes from a fence company and got a replacement canopy (it was torn into several pieces) for a relatively modest amount of money. We got help from Loyn and Mitch (as well as Mano Caloy, our stalwart friend) to put the canopy back up and found ourselves triply amazed that just Eliz, Mano Caloy and myself got the original up ourselves. This time, probably in over reaction, I put a mobile home anchor at each leg (10 in all) and ran mobile home anchor strap all the way over the top of the frame. I am quite confident that the canopy will rip to shreds and the trailer topple over before the frame moves. Something I learned that might be useful to anyone attempting to duplicate our efforts: put a flat cinder block under each foot before you assemble the frame. As I tightened up the strap I wound up driving the legs into the ground, in some places more than a foot. Also for those of you thinking to follow our lead, pony up some extra cash to get a trailer that has an intact roof! Initially I was quite reluctant to spend the around $4K on the trailer, but knowing what I know now I would cheerfully spend twice that. Though we only got the canopy because we got a trailer that had a leaky roof, I strongly recommend the canopy because it keeps the sun off in the summer and the ice and snow off in the winter. By the way, after the canopy blew away we had to get a giant tarp to cover the trailer and had to go through several iterations to build something to hold the tarp down in the winds. The thing looked very ugly!

Also, now that it was spring, we had to make a decision about the grass. The previous year we only mowed directly around the trailer and any additional mowing was done by Mitch for his personal amusement. I was happy to leave the rest to grow as before, but Eliz wanted to have a nice mowed lawn (all 7 acres of it!). So we purchased a ‘cheap' riding mower from Lowes (more than $1K) and were just able to get it into the Suburban after taking the steering wheel off. I put about 2 years of wear and tear on the thing the first weekend. Had to replace the blades several times (can't see the rocks because of the tall grass, doanchano) and deal with flat tires. Ironically, a week after we purchased the mower we found that Mitch's brother Neil (who works as a mechanic at a golf course) had a commercial mower he could sell for less than a grand. Since our little Lowes mower was taking a beating we decided to get the other mower (its cutting width is about twice that of the cheapie from Lowes). It wound up being a couple of weeks before we got it, so it is probably just as well that we got the first one as it would have been very difficult to cut the grass with the big one after it grew up. I was eventually able to get the lawn mowing down to about 4 hours, but that, plus work on the electric fence and the inevitable trips to Home Depot managed to fritter away most of each Saturday and we didn't seem to be getting anything done (also, Dondon started to get very clingy and wouldn't stay alone in the trailer any longer, though we eventually worked out a solution that had him playing in the building with us). We were very happy when Kenny moved back from Georgia (he went to stay with his friend Danny for the winter) and volunteered to manage the mowing.

I believe it was early June when we decided to do a week full-time to get the interior walls erected (and I foolishly predicted we would also have the electric wires run and might start on the insulation (what an optimist!)). Other than taking longer than expected (as usual), the walls went up pretty much without a hitch. The biggest issue was that since the center of the trusses sagged about a half inch (all normal) we had to make the walls a bit shorter in the middle. I also added shear walls on the interior walls (a 4x8 1/2 inch sheet of plywood on the interior wall perpendicular to the exterior wall; there are 6 total) to reinforce the long walls. Over engineered (I think it nearly qualifies for California seismic codes), but the incremental costs are quite trivial for the extra support and while rare, the region does occasionally get earthquakes and tornadoes. We did get started on the wiring, but that turned out to be massively more work than I had anticipated.

There are nearly 4,000 feet (nearly 3/4 mile) of wire in that building! The most expensive, by far, is the wire running from the disconnects (you are required to have a fuse/breaker within 3 feet of the meter and I wanted our distribution panels distributed) to our sub panels. I believe it was more than $5 a foot! And we needed a lot of feet (more than 300)! Due to a miscalculation (I forgot to add the length of the neutral wire) we had to make two purchases to get what we needed. Because there is typically a significant discount when purchasing an entire spool (500 ft) we probably would have got a full one if I had done the calculations properly and then had some left over for future projects. We got copper wire (as opposed to aluminum) because the wire is all routed through the attic and I was concerned that the thermal rating of the aluminum would be inadequate (for 0000 wire, that is). The wire was also very challenging to work with. It was deliberately coated with a slippery sheathing to make it easy to pull through conduit and it tended to act as if it were alive and trying to kill you. We wore bicycle helmets when working with the stuff and I recall a couple of bonks that were laughed off as a consequence.

I kept sending the inspectors office emails asking about various interpretations of (primarily) the electric code. After a couple of weeks of this we got a call offering us a courtesy inspection. At first I was convinced that this was because the inspectors were worried that we were a couple of morons and the house might need to be condemned, but later I came to realize that since we hadn't had any inspections for over a year that we were obligated to be inspected to keep our permit active. In any case it was a huge relief when the inspector came out and looked around and voiced no complaints.

Around this point we took about two months off. First we went to Oregon for a family reunion, then we went on a vacation to Hawaii, then a bit of a reunion for Eliz and her high school classmates in Las Vegas (I can think of much better places to visit than Las Vegas in August!). Fortunately we had Kenny cutting the grass for us so didn't have that to look forward to when we were finally able to get back to work. For the next several months of weekends it was all wiring, wiring and more wiring. We kept running out and having to buy some more (silly me, I though 1,000 feet would leave us with leftover). Finally we felt we were nearing the end and could think about scheduling the initial rough-in inspection. Of course we still had to put in the plumbing, but most of that was already done under the concrete, so that really did only take a couple of weekends.

I decided to use PEX plastic for the plumbing because I thought it would be easier. Well, in a lot of cases it was easier, but particularly the 3/4 inch pipe was very difficult to manipulate. I learned a valuable lesson in sequencing: do the waste drain/vent pipes first, then the water pipes and only then the electric wire (as opposed to reversed like I did). I wound up having to shove the electric wires around a lot because they were in the way. The exterior hose bibs on the long sides were easy as we got the type that closed off interior to the wall and drained out, thus the actual valve was a foot into the building. Because I put the hose directly where an interior wall intersected it worked perfect. However, on the short end walls that didn't work and it seems the manufacturer doesn't make these sorts of hose bibs that are only 3 inches long. As a consequence I had to put a shutoff on the inside so I could drain the water out of the hose bib for the winter. The vast majority of the PEX clamps worked perfectly the first time, but I think my clamp started to wear out as the last few started to leak and I had to replace several. Overall, though, I think the PEX thing is easier than copper (I have done a lot with copper over the years) and will probably stick with it even though it is a bit more expensive.

Stubbing in the waste pipes was mostly about putting the vents through the roof. It was fairly painless, though it turned out that several of the holes were not cut correctly initially and I had to carefully enlarge them without ruining the rubber boot. All in all the plumbing pretty much met my expectations (though it did take a couple of days longer, like everything else).

We took another week off (in November shortly before Thanksgiving) to get inspected and (we hoped) start the insulation. Instead of getting inspected a week or twain before we took the week off (it included Veterans Day, to save a little on vacation) we didn't get ready until the Tuesday of that week off. Eliz was very nervous about the inspection, but I felt pretty confident. The main thing we screwed up was that we have to have the shower stall valves and shower head in place and that wasn't done. There were several minor electric issues to deal with, some a bit less minor structural issues (when framing the AC openings (which we wound up deciding not to use anyway) I didn't have the headers supported properly) and a few places where we needed to have wider plates protecting plumbing, but the inspector allowed us to proceed to the next level (he could re-inspect all the problematic issues later) and start insulating. It was a huge relief to have that inspection done (next is the insulation, after that is the final) and know that no major faults were found.

The weekend before we got inspected we worked on the soffit on the other long side of the building. We (or rather Eliz) decided that we would go with the soffit being perpendicular to the wall (rather than parallel like on the other side). That necessitated ripping a bunch of 2x4s to use as furring strips so we would have something to nail onto. Since we were putting them in I decided to go with 16 inch on center to have better support (the 24 inch OC on the other side looked saggy). It went fairly quickly and I was totally amazed at how well it blocked the wind from blowing into the building. We also worked on completing the siding on the front side of the building, though needed to take the day before Thanksgiving off to complete it (it was a beautiful sunny day in the 70s). This included putting in the window in the attic. We were able to find a stock window that was almost what I wanted (my plan was to be able to remove the entire window, this one has half fixed in place but I can still reach out most of my body if I need to). Since the majority of the wind hits the building from the front and side away from the septic, having the window as well as the soffit in place made a huge difference in the amount of wind flow.

Once we got our conditional pass on the electric we were able to schedule the hookup of the permanent electric to the building. It took a couple of weeks, partly because of the Thanksgiving holiday, but we were finally able to do away with the wires running across the ground from the temp electric pole.

With the permission to start the insulation in place we first started to put 2 inch pink extruded polystyrene sheets on the walkway. Initially I had planned to put spray foam on the bottom of the decking, but the cost was quite high compared to the polystyrene. We wound up with 6 inches of the foam board on top of the deck and had to put a layer of 3/8 plywood on top to protect it (I had planed for that 3/8 plywood for the soffit, but Eliz didn't think that would look good so it was surplus). The main problem with it is, as it is unsecured, it cups as the humidity changes and walking up there can be a challenge. Six inches of R-5 per inch gets us the code minimum of R-30 and we have the opportunity to blow some cellulose underneath (there is 5 inches of space) to up that some more.

For the attic insulation we placed the 6 mil plastic on the ceiling to hold up the cellulose we would blow in. It was relatively straightforward to put the plastic in place, though I started to get careless with the stapler and finally smashed my finger with it. Just having the plastic in place made the building warmer because whatever heat that was in place now had to conduct through the plastic instead of just convecting through the roof, plus it totally eliminated any breezes. It was important to get the building insulated ASAP as now the pipes all had water in them. We had a cold snap where the exterior temps got down to 12 F (what happened to global warming?), but the interior stayed slightly above freezing (I think it stayed above 35). We spent Thanksgiving weekend doing the cellulose blowing and it took all of two days to get it done. It was one of the most boring jobs I have done so far as it required just enough intellect that I couldn't go to sleep. I had to wear a mask because of the huge amount of dust and because it was cold my breath condensed in the mask and eventually I started to suffocate. The plastic held the cellulose quite easily, though it was easy to see where the plastic wasn't stapled properly because there were piles of cellulose on the floor. Even though the walls only had small patches of insulation (Eliz worked on that when I was working on other things) just having the ceiling insulated (we tried to get R-49; above code like I try to make most of the construction) kept the building much warmer. We got a portable heater and kept it on its lowest setting and the building was staying above 40 when the exterior temps dipped into the 20's.

After the attic insulation was done we just had the wall insulation to finish. Already it was comfortable enough in the building for me to work without a jacket. No wind and when the sun was shining the building could get to the mid 50's. I had also put cheap ceramic lights where the ceiling fans are to go. Each had a bulb splitter so we had 2-100 watt bulbs in each. Working at night became simple, it was bright and warm with no wind. I am pleased to report that my 3-way switch wiring all worked perfectly the very first time. Now that the ceiling was insulated Eliz and I worked together on the walls. I cut the insulation to the right size and she would fit it around the wires. Where there were no wires I would put the pieces in myself. It took us two full days to get all the walls done and we decided to stretch that over two weekends to avoid some Friday traffic on I66. We finished just before Mama and Papa arrived for their winter visit and decided we would take the next few weekends off and probably get back to work in mid January of 2008.

The next section will be on dry walling, putting in cabinets and flooring. We hope (I fantasize) that we can be done with the work by late spring or early summer 2008, though any move will have to wait until the house in Silver Spring is sold and now is a terrible time to be selling a house.

Back to main page.