28 January 2010

Not Much Going On This Week

This has been a slow week. The electrical work started (sort of), and some of the ducting went in for the bath exhaust fans (see the silvery tube in the middle of the picture), but not much else.

Today the master window arrived. It's a huge three-piecer made of a picture window between two large double-hung windows:

And the bathtubs arrived:

The master bathtub is in this box. It's HUGE. 5.5'x3.5', I think.

The highlight of this week is that we found a tile that should work really well in the master. We took it to the granite yard and compared it to our Zodiaq, and it's a match!

Last, R told us about a framing issue that is going to involve tearing out a bunch of the front porch. It's not structural, and I don't think it's necessary, but he feels strongly that it should be redone. The only part that I agree needs to be done is that one of the window openings in the picture below needs to be recentered between the columns (which were moved slightly when we decided to shrink them by 3").

Because we started construction two weeks ahead of schedule, we're still technically on track, but I hope we don't have another week like this.

24 January 2010

Millie and Mildred

This is Millie.

Millie was named after the owner of the house we tore down, whose name was Mildred. (I don't have a picture of Mildred. I wish I did.)

Mildred was the original owner of the house, built in 1963. From what we've heard from neighbors (some of whom have also been there since the beginning), it wasn't the happiest of families. Mildred, who was 85, was widowed several years ago and had since suffered some kind of injury that impaired her mobility. Apparently she had not left the house in quite some time. As an elderly woman, she was also very security-minded and had installed burglar bars on all of the windows. Late at night last January 17, a fire started in her kitchen. She was not able to get out of the house, and the burglar bars impeded the firefighters' access to her. Once she was rescued, Mildred was taken to the hospital, where she died of smoke inhalation.

Since we signed the contract to purchase the the house, we have learned everything we could about Mildred. There was an estate sale in the backyard shortly before we closed on the purchase. We bought a few decorative items that we thought should go back into the house -- platters, a vase, a piano bench that we will refinish and use as a small table. (I also bought a pair of vintage pink gloves -- so cute.) We saw that Mildred collected salt and pepper shakers (hundreds of them), among lots and lots (and LOTS) of other things.

The day we tore the house down, we went in one last time (we had been inside perhaps three our four other times). Steve found a rake, which we have since used several times, and I found a huge heap of shoeboxes in the garage. I think the estate sale people had moved things around a few times before and after the estate sale and forgot some of the shoes in the garage. Mildred had hundreds of pairs of shoes, many of which had never been worn, but the estate sale company took care of all but these 58:

Most of the boxes were sooty, so I organized the shoes in larger boxes (mostly by style; she was quite a fan of slingback sandals) and am donating them to Goodwill tomorrow.

And we are so glad we are able to create a happier home this time around.

21 January 2010

Columns! And Trim!

20 January 2010

It's Finally Starting to Look Like the Rendering

Today one of my readers referred to the plan I explained yesterday for the front bath, with its black and white tile floor, as "daring." Apparently I didn't adequately explain the look of that bathroom. This is the tile:

The bathroom will look pretty much like this, but with a white cabinet:

And something like this for the vanity light (chrome double light):

Yes, this is probably the most traditional room in a very traditional house. Nothing "daring" about it.

19 January 2010

Slowly But Surely

Lots of work is done every day, but the exterior seems to be taking forever. I'm realizing how much detail there actually is on the exterior. Today the attic windows went in, the first of the board and batten siding went up on the gable over the front porch, and more trim and siding went up. Hopefully the exterior will be painted soon, and then the metal roof will go on.

The back is shaping up, too, although the back porch (on the left side of the picture below) still hasn't gotten siding.

As unfinished as the exterior is, though, it's a lot further along than the interior, which looked like it was vandalized today (vandalized by someone with a very keen sense of what framing work remains to be done, but still...).

This bathroom is just off of the great room, between the front and middle bedrooms. It's hard to imagine right now, but it's going to be so pretty. This is the bath with the Carrara marble countertop, white subway tile wainscot, and black and white hexagon tile floor.

18 January 2010

Spent More Money Today

That could be the subject of pretty much any post I've ever written....

Today was a holiday for me (but not for Steve). I started the day at the granite yard, hoping to find a solid surface material that looks like stone for the master bathroom. Our previous choice turned out to be too expensive because we were going to have to buy a 45 square foot slab for our 19 square foot job. We ended up finding a remnant very similar to what we wanted, from where someone else apparently bought a 45 square foot slab for about a 19 square foot job, leaving more than enough for our counter at a pretty steep discount. (This also put us in pretty good shape to find a much less expensive tile for the master bathroom, so it was a good change all around.)

While I was there, I also had them pull out the remnant of Carrara marble that I had bought a while back, sight unseen. I had wanted Carrara and found a piece that looked big enough, so we bought it based on what I could see of the underside poking out between other remnants. Today I wanted to measure it to see if we had enough for the front bathroom instead of the back (guest) bathroom, so they dug it out of the stack. What we found was a major crack, but they agreed to substitute a piece from their current stock. And since the piece we had paid for turned out to be just big enough to work in the other bathroom, a huge design dilemma we'd been trying to figure out for the last couple of months was finally solved! (More on that on another day, when there's less on the current events front.)

After the granite yard, I headed to the house to meet the security company (whose name is, confusingly, Granite). We had gotten a bid for them to install the security system, but it was so much that Steve decided he would do the wiring himself, until we learned from another electrical engineer who did his own wiring that it's not worth the effort. (We're doing the phone, internet, cable, and speaker wiring, but security is best left to the professionals.)

Then Steve and I had lunch (Tex-Mex around the corner from the house) before he went back to work and I headed to the lighting shop to get some pricing on the first of our lighting selections (and, as it turned out, to make an appointment to meet our lighting guy at the house on Friday to walk through some of our decisions). Then I went to the tile shop (I was last there three days ago) to revisit some of our options in light of the new granite selections.

Then I was home for about an hour, while I waited for the workers to finish up so I could go back with my ladder and my (borrowed) saw-on-a-stick to put in some more time on the neighbor's tree that reaches out over the back bedroom. The second biggest branch in the pictures below, which spans the length of the pictures, is actually behind the house and wouldn't land on the house if it fell, so I'm not worried about it (plus it might provide some nice shade in the summer). The biggest branch, which goes diagonally toward the top left, is what I'd like to remove completely. Here is the tree (above the back bedroom) on Friday, before I started:

Yesterday, after I had finished the first round of cuts (mostly getting used to my equipment):

And this evening after I had finished round 2:

Out of concern for my loved ones, I won't say how far above the ground I was when I did this, but you should know that I exercised great caution. Tonight we ordered a much longer saw-on-a-stick so we can reach a lot higher (without actually having to be any higher).

17 January 2010

Busy, Busy

Lots of windows (almost all of them are in), and lots of siding:

We spent a lot of time at the house today. On Friday I got an estimate to prune our neighbor's 50-year-old tree -- several large, high branches are directly above two of our bedrooms. It was more than five times as much as I wanted to spend, so I implemented Plan B and took to the branches myself, cutting everything I could reach with a ladder and a 12-foot pruner I borrowed from our neighbor. I'm perhaps halfway through what I can safely reach, and then I'll get another bid on the rest.

We also revisited the exterior paint color. We're set on Divine White (a shade creamier than Panda White) for the trim, but there was still time to change our minds about the siding color. We painted each of the green sample colors on a few boards of installed siding to get a feel for them "in the wild." Here they are:

Coastal Plain -- too bright, too blue

Privilege Green -- darker version of Coastal Plain, darker but still too bright, and a frighteningly elitist name

Clary Sage -- too light?

Sageroom -- custom color that's a combination of Clary Sage and Chatroom, which is a much greyer green. We were settled on this one until I thought about the fact that it's almost an exact match to a volume builder's model home. That's when I realized that this color is just too safe.

So I went back to all of our previous colors and decided to try a darker version of Clary Sage. The first sample I had gotten was 150% (50% more pigment than regular Clary Sage), so I though I'd try it at 175%. It's subtle, but if you look carefully, you can see that the right half is a little darker. That's the 175.

We painted a bigger area at the back of the house, and we still like it, so it's a go. This picture also shows the little awning roof over the back bedroom window. Since the window faces south, the awning will help block the sun and keep the room cool in the summer.

We also did some wiring. The electrical work started this week when the porch fans and recessed lights were roughed in so that the tongue-and-groove ceilings could be installed (these attic areas will be completely blocked off from the sealed attic, so we won't have access to them any other way once the ceiling is in). We were planning to put in speakers on the back porch, and today was our last chance to put in the wiring and boxes. As you can see, it got dark before we finished, but we had come prepared with plug-in lights. (It took me right back to ten years ago, when we spent about a week of evenings wiring our condo for speakers and internet.)

The speaker boxes are the ones all the way on the left, in line with the ceiling fan boxes. The boxes will come out when we put the speakers in; they're only there to ensure that holes will be cut in the ceiling so we can find the wires.

15 January 2010

Pictures Tomorrow

It's been a rough week. Today's torrential rains are the least of it (the electrician managed to run the rough electrical for the recessed lights and the ceiling fans on both porches despite the weather).

Most of the windows are in, though, and much of the siding is up. And we continue to make progress choosing appliances, tile, plumbing fixtures, and door hardware. Oh, and we got a coat of sample paint (three colors) up outside before the rain started. Still undecided on that.

13 January 2010

Spot the Differences

The first picture was taken at noon today; the second was taken at the end of the day. Look closely (you'll probably want to click on the pictures to zoom). What's different?


Apart from Steve having gone back to work (and the workers having gone home), there are the following differences: (1) they installed the front door frame (with sidelights and a transom -- or placeholders for sidelights and a transom) and most of the windows. (2) They also took down the column framing they had installed at the left end of the porch last week. The framing foreman thought they looked too big, so he framed one up early so we could make a decision. R agreed with him and modified the drawings to show a 21" wide column instead of 24". We decided to go with the 21" columns, which will be framed another day. And (3) the first two pieces of siding are up to the left of the front door (you get extra credit if you spotted that one). Here's a close-up of the front porch area:

More windows and siding went up today on the side of the house:

11 January 2010

Some Unexpected Surprises

The roof decking is almost finished.

While I was at the house today, two cars drove up. One was my friend Ursula with little Schaefer. It was fun to show them around. Schaefer seemed pretty interested in all of the construction -- as Ursula said, he knows all about it from the books they've read.

The other interesting car belonged to a super-fancy architect who is pretty much the local expert on green design. (We'll call him P.) R had invited him to check out our SIS (that blue sheathing) that I guess they're thinking about using on an upcoming project. I talked with P at the beginning of our process, and it quickly became clear that we were not meant to work together. I don't think P remembered me, but it was surreal to have him at our house to learn about green products.

10 January 2010

It's Like a Real Winter Around Here

It was unbelievably cold last week (for Texas, I mean), and one day was even so windy that no work could be done, so it was a pretty slow week. On Friday, the roof decking started going up. (Decking is the layer of plywood that goes under the finished roof material. Once a house is finished, you pretty much only see the decking from inside the attic. Our house is an exception because the rafters will be exposed instead of being enclosed within soffits.)

Two types of decking are being used, as you can see in this shot of the garage roof.

While the main areas (which you can see only from inside the attic) will have plain old wood decking, the edges are being decked with a product called T-111 (plywood with grooves cut into one side) that will make the eaves look like tongue and groove planks.

For a fancier look at the areas where we'll be spending time, the porch ceilings will be honest-to-goodness tongue and groove planks:

This is one of those things made it impossible to compare R's bid with the others. Although R's was about 10% more, he added touches like this that he is used to incorporating into his much more upscale jobs. It's almost as though he doesn't know any other way. (He does, of course, but he won't stand for anything that doesn't meet his quality standards, and he's pretty picky about aesthetics.) One of the other builders we considered suggested T-111 on the porches, but R took it a step further when he included real tongue and groove planks on the porches and T-111 on the less conspicuous eave areas.

09 January 2010

The Master Bathroom

I've been having so much fun with the lighting. Plumbing fixtures are still a challenge, especially in the master bathroom, where we're mixing in more modern elements than anywhere else in the house. We like more squarish shower components, which coordinate nicely with our chosen sink:

The challenge is making them work with this faucet, which has a much more old-fashioned feel:

And we found this very Zen bench at Bed Bath and Beyond that we might incorporate into the bathroom (we bought it for the mudroom as a putting-on-shoes bench, but it may be a tiny bit too wide, and we like it for the master bath, too):

We have a definite vision for the tile on the floors/walls (although we're still trying to track down just the right tile):

And limestone-looking Silestone for the counter:

I expected the lighting to be just as tricky as the plumbing fixtures, but it wasn't! We found these for above the sinks and love the combination of round and angular elements:

And this for over the bath/shower area:

(We've nicknamed it "the cupcake.")

And we're back to the Arts and Crafts levers throughout, so that's what will be in the master bathroom, too:

06 January 2010

Why Our Green House is Blue

The sheathing went on the walls today. R is using Structural Insulated Sheathing (SIS) instead of wood. SIS saves trees and adds some insulation value to the walls (R-3). Plus it's easier to work with, and I have to think lighter building materials put less stress on the foundation.

The construction fence also went up today, as you can see at the bottom of the picture above.

SIS is cool.

Other green building materials already in place include finger-jointed studs. These studs look like a cheap patchwork of useless, ratty scraps of wood, but in fact they are stronger and will remain straighter than solid wood studs (and consequently, they actually cost more).

All of this talk about green building has made us more conscious of making earth-friendly choices in the rest of our lives. Now that we live in a real house, we have regular city garbage and recycling service. Our recycling bin is at least twice as big as our garbage can (the smallest the city will give us), and it takes us a while to fill both (and since we take all organic matter to the house to compost, the garbage doesn't get stinky). Between our manual garage door being a pain to open and the general goal of not creating waste, it's become a game to see how long we can go without taking out the garbage. We are pleased to report that tomorrow's pickup is our first since October!

In case you're wondering, we don't separate our recycling because the city has "single stream" recycling. They're still working out the kinks, but basically everything gets sorted at the recycling center, so we just throw everything into one bin. It's so easy! The hardest part is remembering that the recycling doesn't go in the green bin.