31 March 2010

Another Surprise

I'm sure it surprises no one that I went by the house after work today to see how much more wood flooring had gone in (the front and middle bedrooms, plus the hallway to the back bedroom). I expected that the great room would be totally empty in preparation for the arrival of the cabinets tomorrow. Instead, it was packed -- because they arrived today:

Ursula and Schaefer also came over. While they drive by every day on their way to Schaefer's school, it's been forever since they've seen the interior. (They're moving to England soon, so we're trying to squeeze in all of the extra hugs that we can.)

R is itching to order plumbing fixtures, but he's also super-conscious that we're not making any selections that we're going to regret. Earlier in the day, I went to the plumbing supply shop to verify for him that the three different brands we're using in the master bathroom will look okay together. This picture technically violates the "no pictures until it's in" rule, so I won't tell you which faucet is ours (although if you've been paying attention, you can probably figure it out).

Tomorrow the cabinet installers will get started, the wood flooring should finish up by Friday, and the tile installers and trim guys are starting next week. In my estimation, it will look like a real house in a couple of weeks!

30 March 2010

Red Devon

My botanical skills are so bad that I literally gasped -- out loud -- when I saw the first Red Devon at the back of our (new) yard today:

And that was a mere half hour after gasping out loud when I saw that these Princess Irene tulips had started to come up:

I was back there (where we had planted bulbs a couple of months ago, so it should have been no surprise that they were starting to grow) because our landlord just finished up a project at their old house next door to our temporary house, and I saved these medium brownish bricks from the landfill:

When I heard workers cleaning up the last of the debris, I made the snap decision that we could use the bricks (about 180 of them) to make raised beds in the backyard, so I asked if I could have them and then stacked them in my car and hauled them over to the new house.

As a side note, my car has been quite the workhorse through all of this. During the wiring extravaganza, we would routinely pack it with two ladders, a toolbox, several other cardboard boxes full of tools, spools of whatever wire we thought we might use that day, and bags containing extension cords and miscellaneous items. It's not a huge car, but it's really versatile, and I don't know what we would have done without it.

Will and his helper finished flooring the great room/kitchen today (they have also done the bunny room and two halls). Tomorrow will probably be the master, followed by the other bedrooms the rest of the week. Thursday the cabinets are arriving and installation will begin in the kitchen and great room.

29 March 2010


With our new "no pictures until it's in" policy, there may be fewer photos to share, but you can be sure that we're super excited about anything we do show.

Case in point:

Since we never wear shoes inside, it pains us to walk across the floor in shoes, but it turns out that our shoes are sort of the least of it. The adhesive (which, like most of our paint, is low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs)) is a dark maroonish color, and it has gotten all over the installed floor. It will sand out, but for now the flooring doesn't look quite as great as it should. Here's a nice, clean patch:

As a special feature, we asked the installer, Will, to put a "threshold" piece at the entry to the bunny room, which is just off of the entry and will be open most of the time. So glad we did:

If I were a more dedicated blogger, I would finish off this post with a close-up of us smiling in excitement at our new floor, but we're in no condition to be photographed, so just know that we're super excited.

28 March 2010

Wood Flooring

This week the wood flooring work began. The process of deciding which flooring product to use was almost as lengthy and complex as the water heater selection saga. We knew we wanted natural (unstained) maple, at least 3" wide, but that left a lot of options. We started out thinking about pre-finished engineered wood and site-finished solid wood. Site-finished wood looks so wonderful, but it's expensive, and really wide solid planks (4-5", like we really wanted) don't do well with humidity changes. Engineered wood is more stable because it's made by taking thin layers of wood and laying it in different directions, making it a better choice for wide planks, and the price is right...but because the finish is applied to each piece before they're installed, not to the whole floor, it doesn't hold up as well, and we really love the look of site-finished floors. Fortunately, R introduced us to another option -- but unfortunately, R's options are rarely less expensive, and this time was no exception. Site-finished engineered wood with a 1/4" solid wear layer is the best of both worlds...and the price reflects that. So we were back to the other options. After looking at lots of brands and styles and going back and forth, we saw a prefinished floor at a new condo downtown with a finish we really liked. It was very reasonably priced, but we had the same concerns about how it would hold up over time. We were torn. Then Steve got a sizable bonus at work, which covered the price difference between the prefinished wood and the solid-on-engineered site-finished wood.

The flooring arrived this week, and it's perfect. Here you can see the solid layer on top of the engineered layers. Since only the layer above the tongue can be sanded and refinished (even on regular solid wood), solid-on-engineered can be refinished as many times as solid. It will last a hundred years (maybe longer, since we don't wear shoes indoors and won't need to refinish it as often).

Once we settled on this kind of wood, we still had the option of second grade (with the most darker pieces and flaws such as knots and dark streaks), first grade (lighter, with few flaws), or clear. The installer, Will, didn't think the clear was actually any better than the first grade -- they're just the names different brands use -- but Steve wanted to spend the extra for clear anyway. When the time came to order, though, the company that made the clear was out of business, so we were left with first grade (which saved us more than enough to go from 4" planks to 5"). Steve was concerned about the appearance of the first grade, though, so Will agreed to lay out a few boxes before starting the installation so we could see the range of pieces. On Friday we went over for a peek (this is not the final layout):

While we were there, Will mentioned that we could go through some boxes over the weekend and pull out any pieces we don't like. I suspect he made this offer not expecting that we would really do it. He doesn't know us. We spent a couple of hours yesterday and most of the day today going through about 1500 square feet of flooring, separating it into "great room" (best), "other rooms" (pretty good), and "closets" (the weird pieces). Here's the sorting station we set up in the dining room:

We had no idea we'd be spending yet another weekend at the house. We had been looking forward to a relaxing weekend, including a neighborhood watch meet-and-greet at a neighbor's house, which was lovely. Also in attendance was the family across the street, who have been so excited about the construction. The mom, Natalie, told us that one of the girls commented last week, "The garage door is on. They must be living there now!" If only....

25 March 2010


R usually tells us what's going on at the house (or sends us pictures, as he did with the green building sign). Today we knew that the wood flooring installer was getting started. We didn't expect the garage door to be installed, nor did we expect (although we chose it) that it would look this great:

The stone mason also came back to put up another sample with darker brown grout. When it dries in a day or two, it will be lighter than it appears here:

Moving inside...we now need a key to get into the house. R put temporary locks on the (temporary) front door, the garage side door, and the door from the garage into the house, so it now takes the gate combination and the lockbox combination to get into the house. (R gave us our own keys 'cause it's, you know, our house.)

On the wood flooring front, they brought the material into the back (guest) bedroom:

And filled in the low spots in the floor with leveling compound:

This is the far side of the exercise room. To the left of the closet is a nook where we will (eventually) build in a desk. I must reiterate that the periwinkle walls are not the final color.

24 March 2010

Whole Lotta...Something

A whole lotta nothing happened at the house today. (R expected that the painting would take a day longer than it did, so when the painters finished up yesterday, no one was scheduled for today.) However, we do have some progress to report.

We finalized our tile selections yesterday. This was the end of a loooong and sometimes tense process to explore options, get prices, and deal with the tile shop's illogical measurement and pricing policies (they charge the installed price on all of the tile, even though we had to order probably 15-20% more than would actually be installed). Still seems totally wrong to us, but the timeline sort of backed us into a corner. Plus, R swears by that shop's installer, and his work really is impeccable. Anyway, R gave us very reasonable allowances (Steve would say "realistic"; I would say "generous"), and we ended up coming in only $3 over on tile, despite adding a pricey layout option at the last minute (which I can't wait to show you). We're over on most of our allowance items, so being close is a huge success -- especially since we really feel like we found the right tile.

We also finalized some other choices, including ceiling fans. You probably wouldn't think of ceiling fans as fun, but the ones we chose really are! At this point, I've made the executive decision not to show pictures of any other components until they're installed, so as much as I'd like to give you a taste of what a fun ceiling fan looks like, you're going to have to wait (just a few weeks, I hope).

The last big thing that happened in the last few days is that R got us a supercool Austin Energy Green Building sign:

He may have been planning to take this sign with him to use on the next green house he builds, but his plans have been derailed by our plans to keep it. We are planning to hold an open house for our neighbors to show off the house and its green features, and we may apply to the Cool House Tour for green homes, so this sign could be handy in the future.

22 March 2010

These Are Not Our Colors

The painters primed the interior today (the second round of primer), and they used tinted primer so the paint won't need as many coats when it goes on in a few weeks. I guess I expected tinted primer to look more like our chosen colors...but no. The bluish-grey color in the mudroom and exercise room looks lavender:

And the greenish-beige color (Herbal Wash) in the master and great room looks like pistachio ice cream. (The bunny room and office are green, so they had the same primer -- and that's a lot of pistachio.)

We've been having some trouble getting the geothermal pipes buried far enough below the surface. Hopefully they'll come back and dig the trench a little deeper before they bury the pipes. In any event, here's the trench (coming straight out from the corner of the house).

The pile of debris on the right side of the picture above is the ground up drywall. This weekend we were planning to assemble our new utility cart (like a wheel barrow on steroids) and spread the drywall across the lot so it can start getting worked into the soil, but it was just too cold to get much done. We have clay soil, which is terrible for landscaping, so the drywall (gypsum) is supposed to help break up the clay and improve drainage.

21 March 2010

Another Week...

This week the drywallers finished up. After taping and floating the seams, they primed all of the walls with white primer and then sprayed the texture (which is called "light orange peel").

Tomorrow the painters will start with their priming. Yes, there will be two layers of primer -- one under the texture, and one over. The second layer of primer will be tinted with the color of each area. After primer, the ceilings will be painted the final color (light beige, which took many, many tries and ended up being a custom formula). While the rest of the painting won't be done until May, R decided to paint the ceiling before the flooring (scheduled to start on Thursday), trim, and cabinets go in to save the trouble of protecting everything later on. (The walls would get bumped and scuffed if they were painted now, but the ceiling is mostly out of the line of fire.) I think this is another first for him; let's hope it's more successful than his "spray foam before HVAC" experiment, which didn't pan out and cost us a lot of time.

Also last week, the geothermal guys dug the trench to bring the pipes from the three holes to the house. No pictures yet, although we really should take some so we will know where to avoid during landscaping.

The utility company finally sent out their contractor to replace the utility pole in our backyard. When we put in the order to bury the lines from the pole to our house, the city apparently decided that it would be a good time to change out the old pole (I can't say I understand why). This picture shows the vehicle that's been parked in our backyard all week, as well as the two poles. They put up the new one, transfer the lines and equipment to it, and then remove the old one. I don't remember if the old pole (the one on the left) was leaning before they started working -- if so, that could be why they decided to replace it -- or if they dislodged it when they dug the hole for the new one.

Hopefully they'll finish up soon and get that weird truck out of our yard. We've started thinking about landscaping and need the space to start clearing out the piles of dirt, mulch, and branches. On a related note, this week I went to a college alumnae lunch and reconnected with a classmate who is now a landscape architect, and we may hire her to put together a landscape plan. And in other happy landscaping news, the bulbs we planted a couple of months ago have started to sprout. I can't wait until the Red Devons bloom!

Last, we locked in an interest rate for our permanent loan, and it's FANTASTIC.

13 March 2010

Inside and Outside

The drywallers were back at work today, which was great, but the day's big developments were what we saw outside.

We transplanted a redbud tree a couple of months ago when our landlord friends needed to take it out of their new yard. It ended up being a lot bigger than it had appeared, harder to dig up, and more perilous to drive (in his truck) from their place to our house. We were exhausted by the time we got there, and it was starting to rain. The hole we dug wasn't really big enough, and our arms got tired midway through covering it with dirt, so we didn't even cover all of the roots. In short, it was an extremely unprofessional tree transplanting job, and we were sure it wouldn't survive -- so we were shocked to see it sprouting lovely, tiny, pink buds today!

Now that the bunny room has taken shape, I decided to get down to bunny level to see what Millie and Dash's view is going to look like. It turns out their window perfectly frames the wonderful 50-year-old live oak tree across the street!

12 March 2010


Yesterday the drywall workers arrived bright and early and began putting up corner bead on the outside corners of walls, such as this half wall at the kitchen. Maybe this vinyl corner bead has become standard, but I thought it was pretty fancy. It's bigger and more flexible than that awful metal corner bead that tends to chip and pull away from the corner.

They also dropped off a whole bunch of drywall compound...

...which they have been applying, waiting, and sanding, and then applying some more...

...and will hopefully come back tomorrow for some more (it takes lots of rounds to get everything smooth).

The tray ceiling in the master bedroom is shaping up nicely. (The hole in the ceiling closer to the corner is for the smoke alarm. We tried to get it moved out of the tray, but apparently the fire code requires it to be at the highest ceiling level...which makes sense, I guess.)

10 March 2010

It Has That New House Smell

The drywall finished going up today. R is using a new drywall sub and was really, really pleased with their work. I'm really, really pleased that we're moving along. Tomorrow they will start taping the seams and "floating" (filling in the seams and nail indentations with drywall compound, sanding, and repeating).

This picture was taken from near the front door, looking back across the great room toward the dining area, with the kitchen to the right behind the half wall. The doorway to the left side of the picture goes to the front two bedrooms and the bathroom between them, and the hallway behind the dining area goes to the back bedroom and its bathroom. (Thanks to Lenny in Naples for suggesting that we move the patio doors to the right so the left door would fold back on the wall and not protrude into the back hall. Doing so also created the perfect space on the back porch for the grill, and we put in a gas line there to fuel it.)

Yesterday the stone mason put up a sample of our stone...but with the wrong mortar (grey):

Today he came back and did another sample with the correct mortar (buff):

That's definitely the right mortar (it will lighten a little more as it dries), although since the only stone he had to work with was yesterday's leftovers, the pattern is a little off, the pieces aren't the prettiest, and it doesn't have the stone cap at the top. Imagine the first sample with buff mortar.

I will leave you with a picture of our garage. Everyone tells us that it's huge. Our next door neighbor said he's jealous of it -- apparently garages have grown since the sixties. (The door on the left goes into the mudroom, and the open door on the right goes into the storage (and water heater) closet. There's also a closed door on the right wall, which goes out to the side yard; it will have a combination deadbolt so we won't have to take keys with us when we go out for a run.)

09 March 2010

Making Up Time

The geothermal drilling finally took place yesterday, and like the job that pushed ours back, it took longer than expected. They started around 10 am and estimated 3-4 hours to drill the three 275' deep holes, but they were still working on the last one when we left the house around 7 last night. They left all of their equipment overnight and cemented the tubes into the holes this morning.

The drilling was so dirty. Much of it was through rock, so the drill brought up tons of grey rock dust that blew everywhere. Then the hole closest to the house hit water (not a pipe, but some kind of natural source of water) and everything got soupy and disgusting. But while we were watching the drilling last night, we talked with the guy from the HVAC company who has been working with geothermal heat pumps for decades, and he couldn't stop talking about how much we're going to love it. He also told us that having a humidistat (humidity sensor) built into the thermostat will allow us to adjust the humidity, which will allow us to leave the temperature higher in the summer and still feel nice and cool.

Have I explained how the geothermal heat pump works? The three pipes are loops that will carry water down to the bottom of the holes, where the ground stays at about 55 degrees year-round. Down there, the water will heat up during the winter and cool down during the summer and then circulate back up to the heat pump to power the heating or cooling, as appropriate. (Beyond that, all I can say is that it works by magic.) It's also a two-stage unit, which means it can work at different levels depending on how much heating or cooling is needed. All in all, it's about twice as efficient as typical HVAC units, and since it's electric, our future solar panels will power it. Plus, we opted to add a mechanism that siphons off some of the heat that's being transferred back and forth along the loops and sends it to the water heater to save energy there, too.

Today the drywall work started. All of the ceilings and about half of the walls were up by the end of the day.

R says they'll finish putting it up tomorrow, then there's some kind of inspection on Thursday, and then they'll be taping the seams, texturing, and priming. I don't know whether they will work Saturday, but either way, I think we've made up some more time. Hopefully we'll only be a week behind schedule by Monday.

Have you seen that aqua colored drywall for wet areas? It's widely known that its surface is pretty much the same as regular drywall -- worthless when exposed to moisture. Since grout is porous (as is some natural stone tile), moisture is pretty much guaranteed to reach the surface behind tile in showers, etc. Hardi, the company that makes the cement board siding on our house, also makes a tile backer board, which I thought was the best option for tiled areas, but once again, R uses something better -- Georgia Pacific DensShield Tile Backer. It's a drywall-like product with a non-porous fiberglass surface that's easier to use and works better than the other options. That's it in the front bathroom, below.

We're doing things in a bit of an unusual order, so it will be a while before we get to tile, but the wood floor will be going in soon, followed by the cabinets, so the personality of the interior will start to come out soon.

07 March 2010

Insu-Late Better than Insu-Never

The foam insulation went in on Friday.

And the cellulose insulation went into the walls yesterday.

We had heard that the foam is a messy undertaking, but it was nothing compared to the mess of the cellulose (which is referred to as "blown-in" but looked to us like it was shot-in). By the end of the day, though, the walls and floor were tidy again. The cellulose crew uses two hoses -- one to shoot the insulation in, and the other to suck up the excess so it can be reused (which is nice, especially considering that cellulose is mostly recycled newspaper anyway, so we were double recycling).

Various delays had put us about two weeks behind. The cellulose goes in wet so it adheres to the walls and to itself, so it needs an extra day or two to dry before the drywall can start. With the cellulose put in on Saturday and drying time on Sunday, yesterday's work gained us back two days. Drywall should be delivered tomorrow and start going up on Tuesday. (The geothermal drilling, also scheduled for yesterday, was pushed back due to delays at another job.)

04 March 2010

Now We're Talkin'

Today we finally passed the inspections that have been holding everything up, the insulation folks started their prep work, and the stone was dropped off for the sample the mason is going to do before we have to commit.

The actual insulation work will start tomorrow and hopefully finish up Saturday. As you know, we're using open cell spray foam (super energy-efficient) along the underside of the roof to keep the attic space cool. R prefers to use blown-in cellulose in the walls, which he says is nearly as good as foam but a lot less expensive, so we're going with that. See the eerie white sheeting on the walls and back porch doors?

In addition to the exterior walls, cellulose will serve as soundproofing in the interior walls between bedrooms and noisy rooms like bathrooms and the kitchen. That cheesecloth-like sheeting goes up on one side of the open walls to catch the cellulose that they will spray into those interior walls, plus to protect the windows and doors. Today they also sprayed foam from those little cans into all of the openings that could let air in from the outside, or from parts of the house outside the thermal envelope (like the garage or storage room).

There has been some confusion about which stone we selected a couple of months ago, so I was glad to see the sample stone and eager to set it up and see how it looks. It's the one! (Although apparently I'm a failure of a stone mason -- I forgot to put on the cap, the sawn pieces of stone you can see to the left of the wall.) Tomorrow or Saturday, the real mason should be putting up the real sample with our chosen mortar to confirm that we're set on that.

We signed off on a draw this week, so R is gearing up to order more materials, including the garage door, which will be the last big exterior feature. He also said the geothermal drilling is probably taking place on Saturday, which is nice because we were probably going to be there anyway (although we may not have as much to do if the insulation folks are still spraying insulation).

We also received a house-related package today. I ordered some light fixtures from the internet so I could get a feel for them, and the first ones arrived today. I knew I wanted to use two of these exterior fixtures on the back and side of the house, but I thought I might also want to put them in front of the garage. After seeing them, I definitely like them for the side and back, but they're not right for the front. So I'm going to Plan B and will try to track down a different fixture that, unfortunately, the manufacturer recently discontinued.

While I was at the house today, a neighbor we still hadn't met came by to drop off an invitation to a Neighborhood Watch meeting she is hosting later this month. I guess we'll be the only ones arriving by car....

Focus on the Positive?

The roof was in various stages of "almost finished" for several days, so I held off posting until I could show you this:

The HVAC went in earlier this week, although inspections and scheduling hiccups continue to hold up real progress. Hopefully the insulation will begin this week. The 300-foot holes for the geothermal system should be dug next week (the pipes have arrived; they're coiled up in front of the bunny room in this picture).

And I found the cutest light fixture for the powder room off of the mudroom. You'd think no one would ever see it in there, but no -- I'll drag you in there to admire it.