27 February 2010

Why Does it Seem Like More Work Gets Done on the Weekend?

Today was another work day at the house. Today was different, though, in that we finally started finishing wiring projects. Steve spent the entire day (10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.) at the house; I had a brief break when I ran out to pick up a pizza.

We did have a few minutes of leisure time when visitors dropped by. First our friend Nelson, whom I worked for at Legal Aid during law school and who lives around the corner, stopped when saw us out front as he was driving by. Then R came over to heckle the roofers a bit and to show us glass samples so we could make a final decision on the sidelights and transom to go with the Poppy door (we chose vecchio, a fairly obscure seeded glass). Then a random neighbor from a few streets away came by to check things out (I had met her once before, while I was gardening before construction started). Last, a couple from (coincidentally) our current neighborhood a mile and a half away popped in because they were struck by how much our house looks like the remodel they're currently working on. We run on their street sometimes, so we'll check for ourselves the next time we pass by. It's great to hear our friends and even random passers-by tell us how much they like the house and how excited they are for us. And it's such a wonderful, central neighborhood that we always seem to have visitors. Work weekend 1 brought Ursula and Schaefer Sunday morning; work weekend 2 brought landlord friend Jeff, followed by our old neighbors (three blocks away) Joc, Yokko, and Asia. Hopefully the visitor train will continue after we move in -- we'll be much more gracious hosts in a few months!

And now...picture time.

This one is of the garage attic. This attic won't be air conditioned like the main attic will be, but it's still a large space (8'x20' or so) and will be great for storing outdoor gear that won't fit in the garage. What's especially nice about this attic is that the decorative window over the garage will actually provide light for the attic. The window over the front porch is purely decorative, as the porch attic is cut off from the main attic. (The porch attics, like the garage attic, are above unconditioned space, so including them in the main attic would force the air conditioning to work harder.)

This picture shows lots of things.

The big sticker on the window shows its efficiency ratings. (I don't know all of the details, but these are very good, efficient windows. Click on the picture to enlarge if you're interested in reading the sticker.)

The other stickers denote that this window is tempered glass. A code requirement says that windows within a certain distance from stairs or doors or something have to be tempered. In our case, it's silly because it's just the door from the screened porch to the outside, with two steps down, and the window is probably five feet above ground level, so it would be pretty much impossible for anyone to fall down the stairs and into the window. But code requires it. Unfortunately, this room has two windows, and the framers put the tempered one in the wrong place. They were going to simply swap out the moving pane (closer to the ultra-hazardous steps, and the only one that needed to be tempered), but then R realized that the windows as drawn and as installed were too high to comply with another code provision, so he called the framers back to move them down 4"...and traded the tempered for the regular at the same time.

The picture above also shows, in the background, our screened porch, all painted and ready to use (minus lighting, fans, and the actual screens). We bought patio furniture last month and are all ready to set it up and enjoy brunch out there.

The last thing you can see in that picture is the borate termite treatment R just had done. See the white spots all over the window pane? That's the borate that was sprayed on the studs (and everywhere else) to supplement the Termi-Mesh that was put in when the foundation was poured. The idea is that if you keep termites out using the Termi-Mesh barrier system and use a natural treatment to make the wood unappetizing to any termites that manage to get in any other way, we'll never need to use dangerous chemicals in the future.

I will leave you with one last picture I took today, which I titled "Man Walking on Fairly Steep and Very Slick Roof."

25 February 2010

Progress...and Not

The roof is almost finished. The house looks a lot more complete with the roofing.

Until you go inside.

R had a grand plan to do the rough electrical and plumbing, then put the spray foam insulation in the attic, and then do the HVAC work. (Apparently spray foam makes quite a mess.) He thought he had coordinated everything with the city (since his plan diverges from the usual order of inspections). But then it fell through. So he talked with someone at the city and everything was back on. But then the inspector came out, found everything not done (as R had arranged), and it fell through again. So we're doing it the usual way, at a cost of about two weeks. Argh.

In other news, I finally found a workable tile plan for the back bathroom. We swapped the granite in the "east wing" bathrooms, so this is the one that will have the granite I wrote about here. Buying granite first makes things hard! It's a big change from the direction we had been heading, but we're satisfied that it will be the look we want. Instead of a dark, Old World look that would be a huge departure from the rest of the house, we're going to use light neutral tiles from other parts of the house. I was starting to get worried that the time would come to order tile, we would order something just because we had to, and then we'd be stuck with it forever. So it's nice to have this settled. R told us today that it would be time for tile in about two weeks, but I'm not sure if that was before the week delay. In any event, it's going to be time to order tile soon. We're meeting with the tile folks on Monday to hammer out the final details on grout, etc.

Yes, grout. Don't tell me this isn't the most fascinating blog you read.

23 February 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

A rarity in Austin:

It managed to stay just above freezing all day, so it's a minor miracle that any of the snow stuck, but overnight it may freeze...before getting back up into the 50s tomorrow.

While no roofing work was done today, the electrician and plumber finished up some odds and ends, including installing the main service panel (not really an odd or end, I suppose):

R is planning for inspections tomorrow, foam insulation in the attic Thursday, and HVAC on Friday -- which probably means the cellulose insulation will go in the walls next week, and then drywall! It's going to be another long weekend running wire....

Today R also brought us the cabinet finish samples -- which turned out a little darker than we wanted. And because he's a full-service builder, while he was at the cabinet shop, R also picked up our coffee table so we wouldn't have to drive all the way down there (he knows we're not fans of long drives, especially to places that don't have weekend hours). We got new cabinet drawings and a new quote yesterday, so we worked on (what we hope are) the final changes so that they can start building the cabinets. R also brought us mortar samples for the stone on the exterior and the fireplace. And we continue to make progress toward lighting and door hardware selections, as well as paint colors.

22 February 2010

Recycle Day

The construction recycling people came today. It was a bigger operation than I guess I expected. They separated everything in the big scrap heap -- wood, cement board, etc. -- and were chipping the wood into mulch when I was there.

It took me a while to figure out that this bin is for garbage. For the longest time I thought it was for recycling, and I couldn't understand why there was so little in it. Turns out that's the trash -- can you believe we've only made this much waste so far?!

Actually, that's probably not entirely true -- I'm sure other things have been hauled off -- but most of the extra wood was either returned to the, uh, wood store or is being mulched, and, for the size of the project, we're send remarkably little trash to the landfill (remember that we also recycled much of the house we tore down). That's a big issue in green building -- the City of Austin won't give you above a three-star rating if you don't recycle your waste (we're shooting for the top score of five).

20 February 2010

More Up-to-the-Minute Coverage Than the Olympics

You'd never know it was Saturday on our street. The painters are finishing up, and with the eaves painted, the roofers finally got to start on the metal roofing.

Plus the low-voltage sub is doing some more wiring and conduit work, although they (we) broke their (our) drill and had to take a break to get a new one.

19 February 2010

I'm Just Going to Say It

It's the most beautiful house ever.

And I'm totally awesome at picking paint colors. (I hope that carries over to interior colors.)

17 February 2010

That Is NOT How the Color Looked in the Store

I drove by this morning and saw the painters at work. It looked like the house put on pantyhose. Not really the look we were going for.

Thank goodness it was just primer. This afternoon I saw the real color:

It's hard to really get a feel for the color without the trim. Not to mention the still-nude-tone columns, which will be white. There will actually be a lot of white trim breaking up the green paint. Hopefully we'll get to see that tomorrow. (On a related note, R told us that he negotiated with the painter and got us eight colors on the interior, instead of the usual five. I've been working on paint selections and was stuck at six colors, so the flexibility of eight will be great.)

The electrician also started today. R's second-in-command, R2, says that if the electrician is working on your job, they're lying to someone else about planning to be at their site. Which is better than the alternative -- saying they're going to be on your job but actually working somewhere else. Apparently they're swamped with work right now. Since the HVAC work has been waiting on the spray foam in the attic, and the spray foam has been waiting on the electrician, we've lost some time waiting for the electrician, but at least it's finally getting underway.

More little things have been going on, too. I'm not too sure how to describe the subcontractor who applies fiberglass to the shower recesses (the fiberglasser?), but he came and did that to the master and mudroom showers. In the master bathroom, the fiberglass goes up the side and onto the tub deck because the tub base is open to the back of the shower -- there won't be any glass or anything between them.

13 February 2010

Weekend Update

This has been another week of nothing big, but perhaps more small things than I realize.

The roofing material arrived...

... but it's been sitting in the front yard all week because the roofers are waiting on the painters. R likes to wait until the soffit/eave area is painted so that the roof won't get overspray, and it rained enough this week that the painters couldn't get started. Two guys from the painting crew were finally able to do some work today. They spent the whole day at the house -- not painting, but rather caulking all of the seams that needed to be filled in before the painting starts. Regular lap siding (the kind you see on most houses, with horizontal overlapping pieces) doesn't get caulked, but the vertical board and batten siding on the front gables and the back porch needed to be caulked to keep rain out...and all of the seams between pieces of window trim, etc., also needed to be sealed.

Each white line at each intersection between pieces is caulk.

It's no surprise that it took them all day.

Meanwhile, we spent most of the day working on the low-voltage wiring (audio, network, etc.). Today was mostly a planning and shopping day, but we did get started on some actual wiring:

In working on the wiring, I got my first glimpse at the attic space. It's going to be great to have so much (semi-conditioned) space for storage:

Last, I did some more work on the tree. Unfortunately, the tree exacted its revenge this week when a falling branch broke my pole saw...but I quickly fashioned a fix and got back to it today.

On Monday I'm meeting with another tree guy to give us an estimate for finishing the job...and hopefully this estimate will have fewer digits than the last.

07 February 2010

The Interior Design Department

Over the last several months, we have accumulated lots of catalogs and samples, plus all of the binders I've put together to organize all of the paperwork in this process. We've arranged the books on the edge of the stairs and the samples along the wall below:

Along the floor, from left: tubes of house plans, nine paint sample quarts, three door samples, about 25 tile samples, sample door/window trim pieces, granite and solid surface countertop samples, a maple flooring sample, and a cabinet wood sample.

There's also another (smaller) exterior design department in the garage.

I really, really hope we're getting close to the end of the road on choosing stuff.

05 February 2010

The Pinstripes are Not an Aesthetic Choice

The roofers had a long day putting these wooden strips on the roof. The strips will raise the metal roof covering up about an inch, creating a space between the roof decking and the metal surface so that when the roof warms up on a hot day, the heat that radiates through the metal can rise up and out through these channels, keeping the roof and the attic space cooler -- and saving energy cooling the house. It's kind of like putting soffit vents and ridge vents on a house with a traditional attic, except that the venting is a few layers farther out.

The neighbors have seen some unorthodox construction techniques on this house, but I'm pretty sure this one looks the weirdest. Will they realize that it's because there's a metal roof on the way, or just think we're lunatics?

04 February 2010

The Poppy is ON.

I love it when you find something you like so much, you'd pay a lot more for it than it ends up costing. (Buying the house was like that.) Somehow, the poppy door was actually one of the more reasonably priced of the doors we considered. Since there's no matching transom or sidelights, we still have to figure out what kind of glass configuration to use in the sidelights and transom, which will surely compensate for the price of the door, but that's okay.

Things are starting to move along inside. It looks like the plumbers finished the rough work today...and then cleaned up with a nice bath.

The laundry plumbing is kind of neat. There's actually a lot to it. The silver box along the floor is a DryerBox, which makes it really easy to attach the dryer to the vent pipe (which goes out through the foundation) and also push the dryer all the way back against the wall. Note the recess in the foundation in case of leaks (instead of the typical plastic pan that would barely hold any water).

The framing crew put in the tongue-and-groove ceiling on the screened porch yesterday:

It's the closest room to complete -- it's pretty much just missing paint, screens, lights/fans, and (out of the picture) the screen door to outside:

Last, the bunny room door frame went in. It was nice when it was totally open to the great room; now there's "just" a four-foot opening for the two (glass) pocket doors. It'll still be nice to have Millie and Dash so close to the action.

03 February 2010

Remodeling Already?!

Yesterday R and the gang tore the front porch apart to fix some of the detail work. Here it is when they were about halfway through, before they finished the columns:

To recap, here's where we were last week:

And after they finished today:

The difference is subtle. They extended the front gables (the big triangle with the window in the middle and the smaller triangle over the front door) down four inches, putting thicker trim at the bottom, and added a more interesting trim detail at the tops and bottoms of the columns. Plus they recentered the window that was off center after they changed the position of the columns, and they built a box that goes around the porch ceiling, finishing it off. I initially argued with R about the fix, not thinking it was worth the effort (or his money), but now that it's done, I see that I was wrong.

Yesterday they also finished the siding on the outside of the screened porch. The parts without siding, at the corner and in the middle, will have stone "columns."

I took this picture to memorialize R having a serious conversation with the framing foreman, M, through the master bedroom window:

Remember last week when I posted a picture of the really big master bathtub (well, the box it came in)? I wished there had been something or someone in the picture for scale. The next day, I ran into R at the house and asked him to get in the tub so I could take a picture.

He refused.

But he did take this picture:

02 February 2010

You Know What's Weird?

Knowing how much each thing in your house cost is weird. From the framing, which cost about as much as I make in a year, to the $3.29/square foot tile (which we chose over a similar tile that was $12.50/square foot), we have access to pretty much all of the pricing information. Some of it, like the tile, was a choice, while other parts are simply line items in the contract. Either way, it's weird.

01 February 2010


Building a custom house is a bit like...well, like something that needs a 12-step program.

For many of the cosmetic items, R calculated our contract price using allowances (estimates of how much we might spend on things like tile, door hardware, and appliances). He was very reasonable -- even generous -- in his estimates, but our tastes have apparently become fancier as we have started making selections, and most of the pricing we've been getting has exceeded the corresponding allowances. Not to mention the additional cost we incurred when we decided to go for the geothermal heat pump (which increased our outlay by roughly the cost of a new Kia).

For the last couple of weeks, I've been on a quest to bring the overages down. If we have a choice between two similar items, the less expensive one has generally been winning. This has been going pretty well and has helped us to bring some of our allowances back in line with the figures in the contract. One day last week, we learned that we were able to save at least $500 by eliminating the back porch grill vent hood and also that we are getting an unexpected $500 for an insurance claim from UPS. That was a good day for the budget. So the last couple of weeks have been good in that regard.

Until today. Today I fell off the wagon.

I had to choose a new master tub spout (our first choice turned out to be too short to reach into the tub). I was successful in finding one that would work, and the plumbing shop even offered to swap the new one at the (lower) cost of the old one. But then, while I was there, I decided to revisit the toilets. Leaning toward a less expensive version of the same toilet, I started looking up reviews online and was persuaded to go for the brand that everyone in the toilet world agrees is the best (Toto). Which will surely cost more.

And then R e-mailed me a quote for our front door unit (door, sidelights, and transom). I had asked for this quote because I thought it would be less than the two other door units we're considering, but it wasn't. So the fancier stained glass options were back on the table...and then I started poking around the Simpson website and found an even fancier option, which I absolutely LOVE:

It's called California Poppy, and we would pair it with a simple transom and sidelights. It'll probably be too expensive to work for us, but either way, today was definitely a bad day for the budget.