Thursday, November 29, 2007

Killin' Time

Sorry, no photo today. I really haven't taken many lately as work seems to be kind of at a stand still. Allen has been working on trying to get the propane tank delivered and installed at the house. Since I work in Birmingham it is sometimes difficult for me to deal with local utilities. It is often past closing time before I make it home. So, he is good enough to run some errands for me. We checked out several local propane companies and it is expensive. All gas has gone up lately. I also didn't realize that it took a while to get the tank delivered and set up. I am going to have to wait about 2 weeks. This kind of bummed me out but there is not anything I can do about it. Should have started investigating all this way before now. Anyway, at first, I thought it all was going to cost around $615.00 to initially get set up but he found a better deal for $470. So, that is some consolation.
The new sediment filter arrived this week and we will be installing that this weekend. I am very anxious to get that working because then I can take a hot shower in my house! I plan to do a lot of painting and some general organizing etc. I am still moving my pottery studio to the house and so I have stuff thrown everywhere. I need to start moving construction materials out of the house. Oh! And I think I may be able to take down the scaffolding! Yea!! I'll be sooooo glad to get that thing out of there.
Things are starting to change and I am getting very anxious to be in the house. I feel like I just want to board myself up in the house and become a recluse sometimes. I'm not sure why. Stress maybe? And other times I want to invite everyone to come and stay with me. I'm going nuts I think. Allen says that is a very short trip.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Minute By Minute

Here is some of the stuff we worked on this weekend. I bought a vent free propane wall heater for the house and installed it on this wall between the kitchen and living room. This gives it a central location in the house. Sorry the photo is bad but I have trouble getting good detail at night. I framed out the middle section of that wall to give it some visual substance and the chase formed by that will accommodate the ductwork for the vent for the range hood on the opposite side, gas lines and some electrical. I sheathed the wall in Durock because I want to tile this wall. Being a ceramic artist, I must make some tile of my own for the house and thought that this would be a nice accent. Plus, I'm hoping that the tile will absorb heat from the heater and help warm the house. I have had a lot of questions about the heating and air system for the house and I'll tell you why I put this thing in. I am planning on installing a HVAC system but I would like for it to be a geothermal system which means it uses underground water to supply the heat and cooling. It is obviously more complicated than that but that is kinda basically it. They say the systems are like 400% more efficient than normal HVAC systems and use a lot less power. They are also more expensive to install. If I go this route I would prefer to put it in after all of the house is built, not to mention, I can't afford any kind of HVAC right now so temporary heat is it. Now, after finding a wall unit this attractive, I may keep it permanently installed because in the case of a power outage, any kind of HVAC is going to go out. And if I am old and/or sick I don't want to be chopping wood to keep warm. The looks are a little deceiving though. From this photo and the one on the box, it appears that the heater is recessed into the wall and that is not the case but after installing it I think it still looks OK.
This is just the backside of that same wall and you can see some of the wiring for the kitchen counter tops. Oh, there will be bookshelves on either side of the heater up to that bar height which is 4 feet. On top of this wall I can display some ceramics or sculpture.
And look! that is HOT water coming out of that shower head. Wooohooo!! No, I have not actually taken a shower yet. I can't find a #$%^&* shower curtain rod that I like. And I really need to install the new sediment filter, which came today, and get the water cleared up. The filters that I have on the lines now also greatly reduce the water pressure so I am anxious to get them off and this new filter on. It is supposed to only reduce pressure by 1 psi which should leave me plenty. I'll show lots of details about that as we install it.
And I painted this wall, almost. It needs another coat as I saw tonight that I have lots of holidays in it. I also need to get a taller ladder or shorter scaffold to do the rest on the right there. The color is a darker version of what I did the bedroom and clerestory walls in. I like earthy, vibrant colors as you can tell. Wait 'til you see the kitchen color! You can also see one of the ceiling fans here. I don't remember if I have shown them before. They are an industrial type fan in brushed nickel.
Well, the countdown is to be in before Christmas. I told the guys at work that I am going to go ahead and buy the biggest Christmas tree that I can afford and keep it outside until I move in so there is no backing down now! I might be decorating that tree on Christmas Day but it will be there!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Well, I hope everybody out there had a great Thanksgiving holiday and got some rest maybe. I actually did nothing but eat on Thanksgiving day. No work. I tried to relax....really. On Saturday we had a big surprise when my sister just showed up for a visit and brought her 2 kids. That's Katie and Hunter. It has been some time since any of the family came to see the house. None of them live very close; my sister and her family is about 45 minutes away. My sister, Rosemary, was recently named "Occupational Therapist Of The Year" with her company! I am hoping that they will all be able to come to my house this Christmas for breakfast at least. Years ago when our aunt Corinne was alive, she would all have us to her place for breakfast on Christmas Eve and it was very enjoyable. I am hoping to revive that tradition. I told Katie also that when I move into the house we could have a big sleep over with all the kids (my brother's children too) and stay up watch movies and eat tons of junk food. Katie is very smart and left handed like me so she is a good kid. All my nieces and nephew are great kids though.
We got a good bit done on the house over the holiday. I had 4 days off from work so that has been nice. We installed the sleeve for the gas line and got that covered back up. That is what Allen is doing here with Oliver before he ripped his box blade in half while trying to smooth out a new part of the driveway. I finished building the wall between the kitchen and living room and installed the heater there. It is just waiting on the installation of the gas tank and lines. We installed the shower fixtures and connected the water heater so I now have running hot water! It is sooo glorious! Spring water is extremely cold. Of course, it is probably costing me a small fortune to heat that spring water in that electric water heater. I will be very happy when I have my solar water system up and running but that will be put off until summer at least. I ordered a new sediment filter and it is on it's way. I finally chose a good color for the living room and painted the high gable wall that required the scaffolding to reach. I need to run a little trim there and touch up the paint this week and I can get that scaffold out of the house. We ran the circuits in the new kitchen wall for plugs etc. but I need to get some more Romex so we can make the home run. The ceiling fans are still not operating correctly and the water is still slightly muddy. The wasp population is down considerably but they are still coming in from somewhere. I can't figure that one out. I hope to get the gas tank delivered this week and have it hooked up by the end of next weekend. It really looks like I might move in by Christmas. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Heading For The Light

I've been listening to the Traveling Wilburys lately and it struck me that I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel lately, and so the title for this post. I felt like such a turd after my last post for complaining so much because I have had it so good. I have just been trying to keep an accurate record of the ups and downs of building this house for those of you out there who might be considering building one of your own. It is hard. There are times when I have thought I was out of my mind for trying this, especially the paying for it as I go part. The guys at work who have built their own houses have all asked me how much weight I have lost so far. Not, have I lost any but , how much? For the record, 28 pounds so far. I have kind of leveled off now as far as that goes but the stress of this is hard. I think it is more mental now because I am so close to moving in. When you are very far from that in the beginning, you don't dwell on thoughts of living there etc. but now, all I can think of is what all I can do and what it is going to be like to actually live in MY house. But I have had so much help with Allen and the guys at work too getting me salvageable material etc. Even the architect.
OK, these photos are from some work we did this past weekend. Allen had rented a backhoe to do some work on his land so he scooped out this section for me to put the propane tank. The top photo is where the parking area is going to be and we graded on that just a little bit, then he dug this little area over to the side and scratched out the trench for the gas line. The line will enter the house right under the stone work so it is sort of a straight shot. Allen was proud that I decided on something simple. I will build a little retaining wall against this bank (there will be several retaining walls in this area for the parking etc.) and plant some shrubs and stuff to hide the tank. Hopefully, we can get the gas lines ran, the living room painted and the scaffolding completely down over the Thanksgiving holiday.
I finally finished grouting the shower this weekend! I just need to clean the tile and lay the final few pieces that I was short when they come in. I also located my power outlets on the new kitchen wall ( no actual wiring yet though) and cleaned up around the house. It had rained a little recently so we finally burned a couple of brush piles that have been around for months. Clumsy me fell against an iron pot that I had a small fire in and burnt my shoulder. Now I'll have a nice scar to show off at the Christmas party when I finally get to wear that nice sleeveless dress. Oh well, it will match all the others.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Piggies (Pig's Feet & Snap Ties)

This post may be quite boring to most of you but I have been wanting to put it up for some time now after studying my hits on Site Meter. I get a number of hits for people searching on how to use snap ties and pig's feet etc. and that is a lot of the type of form work we have been doing on this job so I thought it might help some to put up some photos and explain a little. I like doing form work because it is a little like sculpture. The forms themselves can be very artistic, if done well and neatly, with the repetitive elements and shapes. It seems odd to a lot of people to spend so much time building something, sometimes weeks, and then to tear it all back down again.
So, OK, in this photo you can see where we have formed up one side of the wall completely. The whalers (the horizontal 2x4's) and stiff backs (the vertical 2x4's) are all on etc. All those small rods sticking out from the wall are the snap ties. For standard forming you would drill (5/8" hole) your plywood on a 16" grid pattern for the ties. Remember to start 8" off the edges though so that when you butt 2 pieces of plywood together, you have 16" between ties. This works for walls up to 16" thick. Now, there are tons of variations on tie spacing and even using all johnny clamps or all pig's feet but this is the most common method.

Normally, you run 2 johnny clamps, then a stiff back etc. but this can vary too. The johnny clamps hold the whalers and the pig's feet hold the stiff backs. When you get your plywood stood up and nailed off plumb to the rat sill, stick your ties through the holes (short tails for where the clamps go and long tails for the stiff backs) and put your johnny clamps on (loosely fastened). Next, lay your whalers in the clamps. You will have to take your hammer and give them a good whack. Make sure to let enough of them run wild on the ends to lock your corners. You may need to add some temporary bracing now to help the wall stay plumb. Now, stand your stiff backs up. you just sandwich the long tails of the snap ties between two 2x4's and slip the pig's foot on the button of the tie. Tighten the pig's foot down. I usually toe nail the stiff backs on opposite sides at the top and bottom whaler because the pig's feet can loosen up. Some bosses will curse you for this though. Also, alternate the direction of the pig's feet (see photo) and drive an 8 penny nail in that little hole in the foot. This helps hold the stiff backs together also. Generally, you do not nail the stiff backs to one another.
This is a view from on top of the wall looking down into it. Those little cones on the ties hold the plywood a prescribed distance apart. You can sort of see how the tails of the ties are used to hold the hardware. This part of the tie stays in the wall after it is poured. The tails are designed to break off when you wreck the forms, thus the name "snap ties".
This is the wall almost completely done. The carpenter is locking the corners. To do that, you simply lay another, shorter whaler across the ends of the whaler held by clamps and nail it off where they cross. Make sure this whaler is up tight! Two nails at each cross point and make sure that these short whalers run wild also by about 6" as you are now going to add 2 vertical 2x4's in this corner you have just made. This has been done on the left side of the wall. You nail these 2x's in an "L" shape in the corner, 2 nails at each whaler, both sides. The concrete will be pressing outward on the whalers and these corner locks hold the crossed whalers and keep them from moving outward. So, they must all be as tight to one another as possible. This is a very simplified lesson so if I did not explain something clearly, please ask me to clarify. Oh, yeah, after all this you still have to add the turnbuckles and plumb the wall etc. It is easier to do this just after you get the whalers and stiff backs on but before you have everything tightened down and locked off. Generally, every stiff back gets a turnbuckle to get a nice, straight wall.

The house is progressing slowly. I grouted some more this evening but am still not finished with the shower. The house is wearing on me a lot lately. I am having trouble finding a proper control for the ceiling fans. That has been a frustrating ordeal and I guess what I get for ordering industrial fans instead of residential. The house gets invaded everyday by wasps. There are usually 20-30 wasps in the house every time I go down and open up. I have no idea where they are coming from. Everything seems to cost $1,000. The shower, the heat, the siding etc. I seem to keep coming up just slightly short on all my material; tile, grout, paint, plywood. The water is still muddy; I must get another filter. That's another $500.00. I should not complain at all though. So many people have done so much to help me. I've just been working almost every day for over 2 years now to build this house and I'm really getting tired but I just need to suck it up and keep going. It's just one thing at a time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

You Can't Do That

I didn't have to work this past weekend so we got a fair amount accomplished at the house, I think. I started grouting the shower but ran out of grout. That freakin' thing is just way bigger that I thought. Anyway, got about 2/3 of it done and I need to pick up some more grout during the week. Allen built a door for the "basement" and then one for the pump house. We used some leftover T&G cedar I had from a job and so the doors look great. He hung the one to the pump house but I wanted to find some better looking hinges for the one that goes on the house so it is still on the table. I finally framed the wall that will separate the kitchen from the living room. In this photo, you would be standing in the dining area, looking into the kitchen. You can barely see the edge of the sink on the left. The range and oven will go about opposite the sink on the right and center up on that high part of the wall. The lower areas of the wall are at 4'. Bar height sorta. I wanted to be able to see into the other areas and have good air flow. I plan on having concrete countertops and the backsplash on this wall will be tile. Maybe glass tile? That small room at the end is the pantry. The kitchen area is approximately 9 feet wide by 14 feet long.
Here you would be standing in the living area (by the door) looking into the kitchen. Now, on this side of the wall there is going to be this really cool built in book shelf unit that covers most of it and within that I am going to install this gas heater. That my sound odd but it is this really cool modern looking wall mount heater that is made to be flush with a wall surface. I think it will look nice. If I can find a photo I will try to include a link. I think this is it. You may have noticed that there is not much room at all for wall cabinets in my kitchen. That's right! I hate wall cabinets! I have a rather large pantry and will have a good bit of space with floor cabinets so I plan to use a few open shelves on maybe 2 walls for placement of dishes etc. I hate lots of stuff. We all have way to much stuff. I want to pare my kitchen and everything really, down to just the essentials and am, at some point, make myself a nice, whole set of my own dishes so they will look nice sitting out where they can be seen.
You may have also noticed that this wall does not seem to have much support since it does not connect to the ceiling. Well, you ought to know better. I ran 3 studs (2 of the 8' and 1 of the 4') down through the floor, interrupting the bottom plate and nailed it off to the floor joist below. This strengthens the wall considerably. This was Allen's idea so I can't take credit. When the cabinets and countertops are added that will also add a lot of stability.
See my messy caulking job! It looked much better up top.
Well, now I'm having a breakdown over where to put the propane tank for the house. The best location will be inaccessible to vehicles in the future so I don't want to put it there. The next one puts it more in view but really accessible. The next best, as far as hiding it goes, means running more line thus more money but it would also be very accessible. Allen says again that I must one day do something the easy way. What's that?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Should Have Known

OK, so maybe I'm not such a lucky so and so after all. On Sunday I worked all day trying to get the last of the shower tile installed so that I could possibly grout it during the week. Allen got the plumbing hooked up and ready. The trim pieces on the faucet etc. can't be installed until the tile is grouted but the valves and all are there. So, I get down to the last pieces and realize that I am short 6 pieces of bullnose tile for the edges. I am also short about one full sheet of the the regular flat tile to do the curb there. Which means more than likely, I will have to buy a whole new box just to get that one sheet. That's what I get for being a smarty pants and for not figuring that tile down to the last few inches. I just figured a rough dimension. And I'm not sure when I can get back to the tile company to order more.
Well, we had our first actual freeze here last night and of course, I had waited until the last minute to do anything to protect the pipes coming out of the spring, the ones in the pump house etc. But I ran home from work as quick as I could and got busy insulating and covering and boarding up and everything seems to have come through OK. One major project for this coming weekend is going to be building doors for the pump house and under the house though. Also, the the spring is going to have to be closed up better than what I have on it now. I just wrapped the pipes as best as I could with insulation and threw a thick tarp over the opening of the spring. Then I mulched heavily over that and placed rocks all around the edges to hold in the warmth from the earth. I think I will lay up a stone wall ( much like a well would have) and then cap it off with a little insulated roof of some kind.
The next major thing now is to get heat on in the house. Allen and I discussed where to put the propane tank this afternoon and he is going to go during the day tomorrow and see about getting that going. I have talked to the plumbers at work about the size and type of gas lines to run and have gotten that pretty much decided, so now it's just doing it. And having the money for it.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'm Just A Lucky So and So

Edit: Pablo noticed that I have not used a song title for my post title in some time, so I came up with this good one. Extra points for anyone that can name either the original composer or any singer since then. The lady that did the version I am familiar with is one of my favorites.

Here are just a couple of pics of the tile work in the shower. I have most of the tile installed at this point and will have those photos up soon I hope. I picked a commercial, unglazed porcelain tile in a speckled light brown. I think it goes well with the slate and I just love the unglazed texture. It won't be slippery when it's wet either. I think it has a nice contemporary look too in the 2x2 size. It comes in 1'x2' sheets so it actually goes down pretty quickly once you get the lines laid out. Now, I ordered this from a local tile company rather than buying from Lowe's or one of those stores. The selection is so much better from a good tile supplier and they know what you need. I did try to find something at Lowe's because they had 2x2 tiles for about half what I paid for this but they just can't get you all you need. I wanted the cove tiles for the inside corners, bullnose for the edges, etc. and the people at Lowe's just look at you like you are asking them to pull a camel out of their ear if you want them to order such a thing.
Here you can see that I laid out 2 walls so that I could establish the joints going across and back. I installed these tiles and then had a secure basis for starting the tiles going up the walls while still having room to stand in the shower and work on the walls. I hate to sound like I am bragging but my good karma has just been hitting right on lately. If you look at the tiles closely you might see that the tiles all work out perfectly with no cuts at all across or back. The joints are all evenly spaced etc. Well, when we built this shower, I had no idea what kind of tile or anything that I was going to use so the size of the shower was just kind of arbitrary. We did not try to size the shower for the tile or anything, yet it hit dead on! If I had tried to size it I probably would have screwed it up royally. I got my mojo going on! Well, anyway... I really like those cove bottom corners because it gives you a nice smooth corner to clean. No sharp corners to try and get in there and scrub.
I'm still having to work Saturdays in Birmingham so things are not going as fast I would like although they never do. Tomorrow I hope to install the last pieces of tile that required cuts. These are the ones on the end of the curb, the vertical corners and I installed 2 cool shelves and need to cope the tile in around them. Then maybe one night during the week I can grout the whole thing. Allen installed the shower fixtures today so I could have a working shower by next weekend.