30 December 2009

Framing, Take Two

It was still pretty soggy this morning, but it was no longer raining, and the mulch kept the ground from becoming a mud pit, so LOTS was accomplished today:

One of the framing guys told me that he expects to finish up the walls tomorrow. He also said that the roof trusses are being delivered Monday morning and will all be in place by Tuesday. Then there's sheathing, siding, trim, and then exterior paint.

On the subject of paint, I think we're beginning to understand why R requires selections so far in advance. It's because he's used to clients way fancier than us, who want unusual options that have far-ranging implications. For instance, the paint is only an issue to the extent that, if we were going to stain the eaves, trim, etc., that would have to be done before the boards are put up. Since we're painting everything, that preliminary stage is just primer. Likewise, things like obscure special-order hardware or imported tile would need to be ordered extra-early. We're looking forward to the day when he realizes we're not nearly that fancy and he adjusts his selection schedule accordingly.

29 December 2009

Out of Our League

It's great having such a fabulous builder, and we're so grateful that our house is small, straightforward, and easy compared with most of R's jobs, but we have found one thing difficult about working with him. (In R's defense, I'm sure this is typical of custom builders in general.)

When we need to select, say, a front door, we are expected to look online or perhaps in a showroom and find the one we like. Then, if we were typical custom home clients, we would select would be told how much it will cost, and we would either like the number or spend the next few weeks lamenting to friends how much we are spending on our (fill in the blank). Apparently that is what one does when money is no object.

This is not how we shop. We are used to having access to pricing information and being able to weigh all of our options before making a fully informed decision. This does not, of course, mean that we always choose the least expensive option. If we like one option 10% more than another option, but the option we like slightly more costs twice as much, then the less expensive option is the better value. On the other hand, if we like the more expensive option 50% more than the less expensive option, and the price difference is only 10%, then we would gladly spend the extra money.

Since relative costs are not apparent, it's impossible to make this kind of value calculation without bothering someone asking for the prices of many different options. So we're kind of inundating R with options, and he's very accommodating about it, but I'm sure he's wishing we were more like his usual clients, who like what they like and it costs what it costs.

Framing False Start

Yesterday, a tree company known locally for slaughtering trees dropped off a bunch of mulch (wonder where they got it...). R likes to spread mulch around the house so things don't get muddy. Just in time, too, because today was a pretty soggy day.

Fortunately, the mulch arrived before the framing lumber yesterday, so they got it spread under the lumber, too. This morning, before the rain chased the workers away, they made some sawhorses and redistributed some of the lumber.

Here are some of the LSL (laminated strand lumber) beams that will be used as window and door headers (for scale, you can see the size of the 2x4s they're sitting on). LSLs are engineered wood designed to be considerably stronger than regular wood. Plus they're recycled, in a sense, from wood chips left behind from other things.

Looks like they had just started laying out walls when the rain chased them away.

Tomorrow should be nicer. We're going to the symphony, though, so I may not get a chance to post new pictures.

27 December 2009

Happy Camper

I just finished a meal I usually only eat on Thanksgiving: mashed sweet potatoes, corn pudding, and my friend Yokko's delicious cranberry sauce. My tummy is extremely content.

The rest of me is pretty pleased, too, because this weekend we finally figured out our exterior paint color. To recap:

We knew we wanted something in the neighborhood of green. We narrowed it down to two Sherwin-Williams paint cards that had promise. Of those, I liked the one that had a little more blue, which was fine by Steve. Of that one, I liked the darkest of the light shades (Coastal Plain); he preferred the lightest of the dark shades (Privilege Green -- who thinks this stuff up?). I bought a sample size of Coastal Plain and painted some scraps of Hardi-board siding that R had given us. Here it is with our chosen stone (Antique Lueders), our trim color (Panda White), and our galvalume (silvery) metal roofing:

(Of course, monitors vary; while we have made every effort to bring you along on every step of our journey, the management of this blog takes no responsibility for how the colors appear on your monitor and cannot be responsible for any adverse reactions you may have if you don't like what you see.)

I liked this color, but Steve thought it was too light. (That was the sample that we used when we went stone shopping.) So I bought another sample size of a custom color halfway between Coastal Plain and Privilege Green:

It seemed pretty dark to me, but I was willing to give it a chance until I realized that the house is situated in such a way that the sun will usually be facing the back of the house, so the front (which, we agree, is the part that matters as far as aesthetics are concerned) will almost always look darker than its true color. At that point, we were at an impasse. We really wanted to be able to see the colors on an entire wall to get a true feel for how dark they are.

We pretty much wanted the color of R's other current Craftsman house, but darker, so we turned to him for help and learned that the other house is painted a color called Chatroom (at 150% intensity, so it's about halfway between Chatroom and the next darker color), which wasn't on any of the cards I had. This is R's other house; we were looking at the green part below the second-story windows:

So it was back to the paint store to look for Chatroom. Imagine my surprise when I found it on one of the grey cards! We could not believe that "green" paint is grey, but it was a few days until we could back there to compare the sample to the house. Once we did, though, we found that the grey Chatroom sample matched the color of the exterior but also (through some kind of magic) appears decidedly green when painted on a whole house. Here's a scrap of Chatroom siding:

This told us that our greens would look really, really green -- too green, probably. So we turned to that other paint card that we liked (the one that wasn't as blue) and again ordered a color halfway between the lightest of the darks (Clary Sage) and the darkest of the lights (Artichoke). That color was nice:

Then we took this sample to another house we like and compared it with the siding. (This house, which we first saw on the Parade of Homes in June and is still for sale, is so beautiful, my heart breaks a little every time I see it. But it costs about double what we could have paid and is on a postage stamp of a lot....) That house, too, had green siding that we really liked, but darker than we want for our house. When we compared our sample to this house, our newest sample seemed really, really green. Again, we found that the green siding was closer to the grey color card than to any of the green cards!

The logical thing at that point would have been to buy a sample of the grey shade between the colors of the R's other house and the darker house (called Hardware), but my brain wouldn't let me order a quart of grey paint when what I want is a green house. So we regrouped, went back to the paint store, and asked for a mix between our last color (halfway between Clary Sage and Artichoke) and a darker version of Chatroom. The result, which the paint store guys named "Sageroom," looks just right. (Steve would like to go a bit darker, but again, the front of our house is going to be shaded from the sun most of the day, so he sees the value of staying lighter.) So here is Sageroom, with our stone, our trim color (Panda White), and our galvalume roofing.

There are three pieces of Sageroom siding in this picture. By chance, each is at a different angle to the sun, so you can get a sense of how the color changes with the light. (The piece standing on end is reflecting the sun right at the camera and isn't as indicative of the color as the one on the ground and the one lying on the stone.)

Today, we happened to be out and about with our siding in the car and came across a model home that looked pretty close to our color, so we compared it. Pretty close in the sun:

And pretty close in the shade:

It was great to see how the color (or a very close approximation) will look on the whole house:

25 December 2009

The Bunny Room

We took the bunnies over to the house this morning. They had never seen it (although they've heard plenty about it). They were very pleased with what they saw. True to his name, however, Dash proved hard to contain to the bunny room.

Next Up...Plumbing

We went to the door hardware/plumbing fixture/appliance shop yesterday and went over lots and lots of selections. We're kind of in a holding pattern on the door hardware while we wait for them to get some samples in for us to see and touch (although we did run into the Emtek Arts and Crafts front door set in the wild today -- quite nice). We spent a lot of time on plumbing because there are SO MANY CHOICES to make in each bathroom.

The master is especially difficult since the bathtub and shower are separate. We have to choose two sinks, two sink faucets, a toilet, a bathtub, a bath faucet, a bath handle thingie, two shower faucets, and two shower handle thingies. The master is going to be the most modern room in the house, so the style is somewhat different, but we don't want it to look like it's from a totally different house, so we're walking a fine line. But I think we figured it out.

We haven't found the exact tile yet, but we have in mind a large limestone tile for the floor, shower walls, and tub platform/surround, like this:

To keep it consistent but have a surface that's easier to clean for the counter, we're thinking about this Silestone in a "leathered" finish (this is the only counter we haven't already bought):

As I've mentioned before, we fell in love with this very wide sink (the Kohler Escale):

Each sink will have this faucet (Price Pfister Ashfield) in satin nickel:

The shower will have Delta Dryden thermostatic controls (which means that there are separate levers to control the temperature and the water pressure, so you can set your temperature once and not have to mess with it again the next time you use it) and this version of the showerhead, also in satin nickel:

However, we don't like the Dryden bath spout (too cartoonish). We aren't wild about this one (the Brizo Vesi) but have it as a fallback in case we can't find anything we like better:
The toilet, which will be in its own room, will be the same as the other toilets in the house: the Sterling Karsten (a Kohler brand). It's low-flow and dual flush, so it's very water-efficient (like most of the other fixtures). I trust you know what a toilet looks like, so I will not bother with a picture.

24 December 2009

Craftsman v. Arts and Crafts

I think I figured our the door situation. We love the Soho interior door levers but not the front door set (too industrial). But I love the Emtek Arts and Crafts line, which Steve isn't wild about, except that we agree that the Arts and Crafts front door set (which I didn't show you last time but is shown below) is a better fit for our house than the Soho front door set. Since the interior door handles aren't keyed, they can be a different brand from the exterior doors without affecting the key count. So...Soho interior levers with the Arts and Crafts front door set.

(That's the outside part above; below is the inside part. Both will be satin nickel, which is shown below.)

Moving along...you may have asked yourself, what's this "Craftsman" and "Arts and Crafts" stuff they keep writing about? Craftsman and Arts and Crafts are styles of architecture that were common in the early 20th century in places like the Midwest but also appear in pockets across the western half of the country. (There are also Prairie and Mission styles, which are related, but I'm not going to get into that.) I'm no architecture scholar, but I'd describe the Craftsman style as having clean, simple features such as tapered wooden columns above stone bases, wooden brackets, and straight trim without curves or unnecessary detail. Arts and Crafts is similar but tends to be more ornate and includes more features that suggest that the house was built by hand. Lots of stacked river stone, more natural wood, exposed joinery, intricate carving and stained glass, etc., and often a heavier overall feel. The Gamble House in Pasadena is a classic Arts and Crafts structure:

Our style is definitely Craftsman. We love the clean, simple style. It's more versatile than Arts and Crafts -- can you imagine trying to incorporate modern furniture into this room of the Gamble House?

23 December 2009

Doors and Door Hardware

I take back what I wrote the other day about having selection fatigue.

Now I have selection fatigue.

It feels like I've done nothing in the last week but research selection options (both online and in person), compare options, talk with people about options, contemplate how certain options will look with other options,....


And, apart from ruling out options (out of an infinite world of options), I don't feel like I've gotten too far.

One area in which we have narrowed our choices is door hardware. This is a little backward (like everything else seems to be) in that we're not quite settled on the doors yet.

For the front door, we'd like something like this, with matching sidelights and transom (stained to match the cabinets in the kitchen and great room, which will be stained to match our coffee table):

On the interior door front, we've been searching for a couple of months for a nice solid core, single-panel Shaker-style door, to no avail (we know of one brand, but apparently it's so expensive, R won't even suggest that we consider it -- and I couldn't even find a picture of it on the manufacturer's website to show here).

Now that you have an idea of the doors, here is where we started on the door hardware (locks). We had Kwikset at the condo, which offers really terrific features (such as the ability to rekey the locks yourself with nothing but a new key and a tool that comes with the locks). But the style we had in the condo wouldn't be right in a Craftsman house, so we thought about this Kwikset Ashfield style (in a satin nickel finish):

But they seemed pretty plain and too curvy for Craftsman style (although the Ashfield would cost about 40% less than the other contenders). So we kept looking and stumbled on this Emtek Arts and Crafts style (which would also be satin nickel, as shown):

As lovely as these are, Emtek has nothing that looked right for the French doors to the back porch (neither did Kwikset), which means that we couldn't key all of the locks with the same key. Plus Steve isn't wild about the Arts and Crafts levers. While we were looking at Baldwin's selections for the back door, we found a good contender for all of the locks. The Soho isn't particularly Craftsman; it's a simple, modern-ish style, tending toward a more transitional style in the house (which is more appropriate given the very transitional kitchen and great room and the more modern master bath). The Baldwin option doesn't have a solution for the French doors, either, but I'm hopeful that they'll expand the Soho line in the future to include what we need.
The other down side of the Baldwin is that the front door set is more angular than I would choose (however, we would choose antique nickel for the exterior, which won't look quite so stark). Definitely more modern than I would like, and I'm not sure how it would look with the traditional Craftsman look of the front door.

So -- what do you think, dear reader? Ashfield? Arts and Crafts? Soho? Or some other option you saw somewhere that would be just perfect for us?

22 December 2009

The Other Side of Foundation Day

The trickle that we saw coming from the road around 1:30 p.m. on Friday had become a swiftly moving stream by 6, when the Austin Water Utility folks arrived to fix it. The irony of our super-efficient house causing the street to hemorrhage water wasn't lost on us.

Our neighbors are going to LOVE us for getting the water to the whole block turned off without any notice or explanation. I sure hope no one was in the shower with shampoo in their hair when it was turned off.

Two neighbors came out to watch for a little while. How does everyone not find this fascinating?

By the time they reached the pipe, it was a pretty big hole. Of course, the equipment used to dig the hole could have made it bigger. We'll never know. The white inside the pipe is 50+ years of calcium buildup, which the workers said isn't nearly as bad as it is in parts of town that are closer to 100 years old.

When they finally got all of the water out of the hole (using a vacuum that's surely known in the business as a "water sucker"), they put this big metal bandage on the pipe.

That's now the strongest part of our water main. I suppose we can look forward to other cracks and holes in the neighborhood in the coming years. I just hope I'm not in the shower with shampoo in my hair when it happens.

21 December 2009

As Promised...Foundation Pictures!

There's a lot to update from this weekend, but not much is scheduled for this week, so I'll try to get caught up over the next few days.

This picture is from the back of the lot, looking toward the street. I got hung up at work and didn't get to the house until they had already poured the main area of the house and were waiting on more cement to pour the back bedroom. The truck you can (sort of) see in the background is the pumper truck, which the cement mixer truck would pour the concrete into to pump to the far reaches of the foundation.

The concrete truck arrived (the white blob in the background), and they sprung back into action.

Here is the plumbing for the back bathroom, showing various stages of Termi-Mesh coverage. The pipe in the middle still has its Termi-Mesh exposed, the pipe on the right is halfway covered, and the pipes on the left already have the Termi-Mesh embedded in the concrete. Did I mention that we get green building points for Termi-Mesh because it reduces the need for poisonous termite treatments in the future?

Here they've finished pouring the back bedroom and have moved on to the back porch. Since the porches are lower than the main floor, they pour them last. The concrete sets really fast (even in cool weather -- it was about 60 degrees on Friday, which is pretty ideal for pouring a foundation). Within a couple of hours of pouring the main floor, they were able to remove the forms on the left, which held the concrete a few inches higher than the patio level and which needed to be removed in order to pour the patio. In this picture, the worker is pouring the concrete into the exterior beam, which goes close to four feet into the ground and about three feet above (because the ground is lower at the back of the house).

Here are the steps leading from the back porch out to the backyard. When we decided to screen the porch, we extended it by two feet (from 8'x20' to 10'x20') so that it won't feel cramped with separate sitting and dining areas (plus a designated area for the grill).

It got dark around 5:30, so the workers set up lights and kept on working. They paid particular attention to smoothing the surface in the garage and porches because those areas will be exposed when the house is finished.

Here's the finished foundation, looking from the garage. (Our cars won't actually have to clear that lip at the front of the garage -- it's to support the first row of pavers.)

19 December 2009

So Many Title Possibilities

This post could be titled "Don't Wear Cashmere to a Foundation Pour." Or "My Green House is Hemorrhaging Water." Or (this one is courtesy of Steve) "The House Looks More Complete with a Foundation."

Everything went pretty smoothly with the foundation yesterday. They started around 9 am and finished up around 7, then returned today to remove the forms. I took a long lunch to watch some of the work. When I left around 1:30, one of the workers had just noticed a slow but steady trickle of water coming up from the road in front of the house. R called the city to report what appeared to be a water main leak. While the construction didn't cause it, it's likely that the concrete truck put just enough pressure on the asphalt to cause the ground under the road to flex just enough to lead to a leak. Anyway, by the time we returned after work, a pretty fast-moving stream was erupting from our curb. We stayed for about an hour to watch the city's crew dig up the pipe and repair it with what looked like an industrial-strength bandage. Very exciting.

Today we went to a tiny town about an hour north of Austin to visit some stone yards. R needs our exterior paint colors soon, and in order to choose them, we need to figure out the color of the stone. We settled on a stone called Antique Lueders, from the tiny town of Lueders, Texas (about 250 miles from Austin). The stones will be cut fairly square in heights of 4", 6", and 8" and laid in a random pattern. R gave us some Hardi-Plank siding yesterday, and we picked up some sample paint to make a sample board to look at with the stone. Steve didn't like the shade of green I had picked out (Coastal Plain), so today we bought another sample (halfway between Coastal Plain and Privileged Green) and will see how that looks with the stone samples we brought home. (We both liked the white trim color, Panda White, which I'll admit I picked out in part due to the name.)

Pictures soon.

17 December 2009


Had to post a second one today.

The slab is going in tomorrow (Friday).

In preparation for that, R had Termi-Mesh installed today. This is a metal mesh barrier (which you can see just below the yellow tape) that goes around all of the pipes that will penetrate the slab (cinched with a metal clamp) so that, when the concrete is poured, there are no gaps where termites could sneak through. (Did you know that most termites enter houses through the tiny gaps around plumbing that penetrates the slab, not through landscaping touching the house or anything else?)

Termi-mesh is considered a green feature because it reduces the need for poisonous termite treatments that could pollute the ground and/or water. (The bottom few feet of the framing will also be treated with borate -- which I understand is a natural treatment, not harmful like pesticides are.)