Inspection the first.

So we finally managed to reach an actual formal inspection point. We’ve had partial inspections which have allowed us to proceed in a non-standard order (exterior framing so we could wrap and rainscreen the building; but that’s not a formally recognised point).

But today after we worked all through the weekend we got all the work done to get the wiring inspected.

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And…

We passed!

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There were a couple of earth issues which he asked we change – so that’s done (it took about 20 minutes); he described the install as being neat (which I didn’t dance at, despite the urge); and he didn’t have any issues with the panel wiring, which had me quite worried. He also wanted some fireproof foam on the conduit through to the panel – so that’s done too (I had that around, just didn’t want to spray it until he’d inspected).

The panel is still missing 2 breakers – a 40A one (which arrived today) for the Rav4 EV charger, and a 15A AFCI (I think, it’s either an AFCI or a GFCI). The wires are in place for it, and the earth is wired in, but the actual breaker hasn’t arrived for one of them, and the other arrived this evening at about 8pm.

Since the weather has been somewhat inclement this week we’ve switched to doing some interior work, and have started putting up the baffles on the cathedral ceiling. The hope is that we’ll get the next inspection on Monday and then move on to insulating. That will mean we can heat the house.

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Which given that we’re entering the colder, wetter part of the year is important. There are a couple of bits of plumbing to do under the house (connecting up the bath and the shower drains) and then we should be good to spray-foam under there (that’s a job we’re paying someone to do).

But at any rate, despite the wetness of the weather and the fact that we’ve not yet got the rain-water holding tank in the ground, or the outside of the building painted*, passing the inspection has injected some positivity into a project that was starting to feel like an interminable awful thing with no end in sight. At least now there’s it feels like there’s actual progress and we’re moving towards a place we can enjoy.

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* Painting party next weekend folks…unless it’s raining!

Snip, strip, clip, repeat

So during / after my little breakdown on Tuesday (sorry about that, you didn’t really need to endure it, but hey…) I went down to BOB and forked out some cash for a few new tools (a chunkier wire stripper, a pair of “electrician’s scissors” and a less bent set of needle nose pliers which I will endeavour not to cover in engine oil and gunk, I promise), a terrifying quantity of sockets (outlets), lightswitches, little wire-joiners, wire twist joiners (which I still think are hideous, but they are easy), and some more odds and sods, and set to on the wiring.

I realised after my little freakout (again, sorry), that actually – as inspections go – for the first time we’ve ever fully wired a house – “please connect these things and I’ll come back” is really a fucking amazing outcome. I’m hoping that <em>is</em> the total of it when he comes for the do-over. But really – not getting “jesus, what have you done” is a serious prize.

So I spent yesterday fairly solidly working on the wiring – caught a mistake <em>I’d</em> made (extra, pointless wire) which I then sat down with Kathryn last night going over the circuit several times to be sure it was right before today wiring everything that could possibly be related to it, and concluding that no – that wire is pointless – and pulling it out.

I also realised that if we’re having a separate gas hob and electric oven (the new plan because we can’t afford a euro-size cooker and our kitchen is titchy, and US cookers are needlessly massive as a general rule; this way we can at least save some of the wasted space by getting two built-ins – It also means we can have the proper arrangement of appliances. Gas stove, electric oven) then we need an outlet for the spark-igniter to plug / be wired into.  So I added that one in to one of the kitchen circuits. As a side point, I’ve not seen an equivalent for the Europe’s Fused Connection Unit faceplates which are nifty things… But most of the gas stove tops I’ve seen just have a plug on the end of the lead anyhow…

So I’ve worked my way down  starting from the lounge – I think I’ve done all the sockets in the lounge, kitchen, laundry, dining room, and one bathroom (with the exception of the ceiling fan, which I need to be up in the loft space to connect). I’ve started on the main bedroom, leaving the boiler cupboard, the main bathroom, the second bedroom, the hall outlets and the outside sockets to do.

I’ve also ordered a frankly terrifying quantity of breakers – made worse by the fact that since we’ve replaced / upgraded the panel and the wiring I suspect (though am not sure) that everything has to be either arc fault or ground fault protected except for a couple of items… and actually, now I come to think about it, they may also need to be protected too. That means that instead of using a $6 breaker, I’ve had to order breakers that are well into double figures. And I’m now wondering if the two standard breakers that I picked up at BOB (which were cheaper than the online prices, amazingly) might need to go back because I’m thinking they may well need to be GFCI instead.

Which’d mean instead of $16, they’d be $80, at best ($150 at BOB).

Still. Hopefully we can get the wiring side all sorted by the end of the weekend (although the breakers won’t be in) – and it looks like it <em>might</em> be cool enough – and not rainy for long enough for us to get the last of the rainscreen up. That would be good.

Also, our rainwater tank arrived – and it’s fucking massive. Which is great, except that I’ve looked at the hole it’s meant to be going in, and it ain’t big enough. So that’s a bugger. If anyone has a burning desire to dig holes in rock-hard clay, be sure to let me know. We rented a digger and tried, and it didn’t seem to be successful.

Today it felt like a bit much.

I’m sure the political situation didn’t help… listening helplessly as a country slides into a tin-pot dictatorship run by a misogynist 4th rate fascist is pretty tiring mentally… but we’ve had some frustrating days recently and today topped that off nicely.

We had hoped to get the rainscreen finished on the south end of the house yesterday, but the promised slightly cloudy day suddenly became extremely warm and cloudless – making being at the south end of the house pretty much unbearable. Which – after we’d really struggled with a bendy piece of wood that didn’t want to go into place (deeply fun on a 4.5m high platform which is not exactly stable because it’s stood on gravel) – left us both feeling less than thrilled. Not least because there are only two pieces of rainscreen left, and then we can move on to priming what’s there… but mainly because it’s another 3/4 finished job in a massive list of 3/4 finished jobs where we don’t seem to be able to get over the finish line.

…we did also start work on the front of the house, tackling the open joint cedar cladding there – which looks gorgeous but takes an insane amount of time. Part of this is the attention to detail, which isn’t really the full attention to detail it should be getting, but does look good anyhow. I mean, really it should have all the joints made more carefully than we are, but it’s already taking hours / days (and potentially weeks) to get this cladding on.

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Frankly, on our budget, I’m damn proud that’s happening at all.

So coming in to today, which was theoretically inspection day for the electrics, I was already feeling somewhat angsty. Now, as you’ve probably gathered, the “theoretically” implies that something went awry. Which it did.

See, my understanding of the rough-in (which it turns out was wrong), was that the wires run into the outlet boxes, but are not connected, and run to the panel, but not into the panel, and are also – not connected. Apparently, that’s not how it’s done here. The inspector was (again) very nice and explained that all the grounds need to be connected through all the boxes. And that the panel needs to be wired. Which somewhat terrifies me – because I am not at all fond of having the wires connected to breakers in the panel that aren’t connected to functioning outlets. But hey.

Also, I am less than thrilled at cutting the descriptions off our cables before wiring them in to switches – particularly for the multiway switches where I want to know which cable comes from where and goes where. But the positive is that he looked around and felt like ‘most everything else was fine. He just couldn’t inspect. Now I remind myself that this is a good thing. He didn’t come in and go “dear god, what have you done”. That’s always a good start. He is – broadly speaking – seemingly happy with our rough in, how we’ve fed and arranged the cables, etc.

However, the 37 outlets in the house all need us to sit down *now*, before we can have our inspections, and connect all the ground wires. All the switch boxes need us to work down how the wiring – and thus – grounding for each set of switches works (because some of the boxes have multiple feeds from the fusebox) – it’s not complex, as such, just there’s a lot of f’kin wires. Nearly all the main switch locations in the house switch multiple locations. The hall lights are switched in two, the kitchen lights in three, the dining lights in two… This means we have many ground cables flapping around. Well, in boxes. Still.

So while it is positive, it again means we’re not at the first inspection. I don’t see that inspection happening this week – because it is going to take hours to install the fusebox. And honestly, I don’t really want to pay the hundreds of dollars for new breakers to meet modern code*, so am looking for overstock and some discounts… so as to take the costs down again. But we really (really) want to get past this inspection so we can insulate the f’kin house before it gets colder and wetter, and we end up with it being full of mould. Because that would be heartbreaking at this point.

* Because apparently, we can’t just stick the old breakers in the new box**. Feh.
** Actually, they wouldn’t fit – but we can’t even just stick modern equivalent breakers in. All the circuits must be either AFCI or GFCI protected, except (curiously) the high current ones (which seems counter intuitive to me, but there y’go).

Well Jeff, you’ve ruined that for me.

I’ve used Amazon forever. As an internet lurking soul since before there was an internet I’ve been through countless suppliers. I can’t even recall most of them. But from Amazon’s first days of shipping to the UK I was using their services.

I’ve always felt a bit iffy about their treatment of staff, suspecting it would be crap. And I’ve always suspected that the founder would be an arsehole. But as the trickle of awful has increased to a steady torrent I now find that the little bit of consumer joy I got from ordering things from them is more a feeling of despair.

There are some bits for the house where we’ve picked them and I don’t have another supplier, and there’s probably always going to be the “well crap, I can’t get this anywhere else*”. But I think it’s time to kill the Amazon prime subscription, and I’ve started the slow trawl of trying to find alternative suppliers.

*Sigh*

*Walmart doesn’t count, I already refuse to but anything from that wellspring of monkey shit.

Almost an inspection

So, today we had planned to have an inspection. We’ve been working on lots of the disparate jobs that needed doing and… (ta da) were ready for an inspection today. Only we weren’t.

I’d got my inspectors mixed up, and the guy today doesn’t do electrics, he does framing, plumbing and mechanical. Some how I had him down as framing, plumbing and electrics. Which he’s not. Which didn’t work out ideally as they apparently like to get electrical done first, then he can come in and do the rest. Which would mean that we could drywall (if we pass).

Thankfully, he was very nice about it and had a walk round – flagging a few minor things for his return (a couple of bracing straps we need where the old-and-new meet and we couldn’t overlap the top-plates the way that we’d ideally have liked to (done). Where there’s no bolt next to the french door (because the french door sits partially over the crawl-space opening) he wanted some more nails (done, just dug out the nail gun and whopped some in there :) ). There’s a couple of strengthening plates to go over the top-plate on the triangular section above the laundry that I knew we were missing, but I’d forgotten to get. He actually didn’t flag that today, so I’m not absolutely certain that they’re required, but they are 40c each, so I picked them up while I was at BOB today, and will put them up when Kathryn’s free to be in the house too.

I also arranged an electrical inspection for the next day that works for both us and Oly planning – which means we’ll be inspected on Tuesday. Expect an anguished wail.

In other news we’ve continued the rainscreening – it was actually too hot yesterday we discovered after we’d got the scaffold up – so we only put one board up. I appear to have not taken a photo of it, so here’s a shot of it just prior…

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We bought and fitted the wood for the shed base (treated timber) and spread out the gravel in the hole. Frustratingly, because my digging was far from perfect, the amount of gravel we’ve got is about 2″ shy of the top of the frame. Options include putting concrete in that top two inches (might be wise), or going and getting more gravel (cheaper). We should also really rent a compactor for a few hours and squidge it down. Maybe that’s a weekend job… and then we can see how bad it really is.

Kathryn’s cut all of the wood for the shed frame – so we should be able to put it up fairly quickly once we get a base to put it on… oh, and some ply to go on the outside of it.

And then I spent the afternoon today applying more of the near 250 strips of wood we’ve decided to apply to the house. I’d like to claim that it’s going quicker now I know what I’m doing, but it’s really not. At least not by much. I’ve made a ‘special tool’ which holds the strip up at one end (it’s a C-shaped bit of bent wire). This means I spend less time flailing about and trying to persuade it to fit. But most of the time is really trying to make sure it looks right. It’s not a case of getting the whole thing perfectly level, and the spacing all perfectly even because the bits of wood are not even widths, nor are they straight. So it’s more a “this is where it should be, now, what will make it look right” kind of deal.

Still, the first side is about 3/4 done – and that’s taken a day and a half – more or less. So hopefully a good week should see most of the house finished. Only… of course… we bought an insufficient amount, and there’s no more in stock. So that should be interesting.

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So, we went on holiday

Now I know, a lot of you are probably thinking “but they just went on holiday in April” – which is true. But there’s definitely a difference between a holiday of seeing family and friends, and a holiday of wandering around in a wholly relaxed manner and reading books and disconnecting from the online world.

And not to be whiny (although I am, quite), we were both knackered. We haven’t been taking days off – and working on the house every day had taken it’s toll. We were both struggling – and so a week hiding in the Oregon countryside was the plan.

We hopped in the i3 and headed down… the same day as the Nazi / Patriot Prayer rally in Portland. Which was just peachy timing. Thankfully, there’s a new charger off I-5 in Longview, so we slid down that way and only got a pathetic wanker staring us down once. Otherwise the journey down was uneventful (but that charger is only 25kW, not 50kW, so it takes a while to fill up our i3). Annnnyhooo.

So we got down to Eugene, found ourselves in a very nice quiet cabin, tucked up in the treeline in a valley at a little smallholding. Eugene turned out to be a very us kind of city… the first day we found a coffee shop that served French Toast and made our appointments for the massage the next day. And then we had an incident involving the Eugene House of Records…

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Which unsurprisingly led to more music being at home with us. Funnily enough, we couldn’t listen to any of it, as the car lacks a CD player, and the cabin had no record deck.

We pottered around Eugene, poking at stores and generally relaxing, before heading over to see the y free-in-the-park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which we enjoyed with fresh Strawberries :)

We pottered to various shops, had a massage, ate yummy pastries, visited Eugene Pride, had a good look around the U of O art gallery (which is really bloody good), and the Maude Kerns art center (which had a cool exhibit on). We pottered out to see waterfalls, and wandered some not-terribly-hard trails through dry-as-crisp woodland. We watched bats through the window, dipped ourselves in a stream and let the water run over us as the sun crept across the sky. We read, listened to music, mimicked ducks and turkeys.

We mooched around the farmer’s market and bought wine made from Oregon Grape. We toured a winery and tasted wine from three wineries. We sat and watched a covers group while we ate wood fired pizza at a winery as the sun slowly set.

We saw a South American Mexican dance performance (shades of Germany and Spain, it’s fascinating), and wandered around the Portland Japanese Garden on our way home.

Photos are here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/49965961@N00/albums/72157699817719774/with/43972979932/ for those who are interested :)

In theory…

I should be using these few hours between shopping for food and cleaning the house, and Kathryn getting home from work for working on our house. I should be. I should be because I ran through shopping this morning having scrubbed the bathroom, washed up, dusted.

I flew downtown, having stopped off to drop off the recycling (and failed to get my laptop battery recycled, because Target has device recycling, not battery recycling, which I always get wrong). I ran through the shops we use, and the local farmer’s market.

I barely paused to say hello when my friends were playing (Pinniped) and didn’t stay to hear them play – which makes me feel worse about the fact that when I got home and ate lunch, I crashed. I am so, so tired. We’re pushing (and pushing) and have been pushing to try and get to the first formal inspection. That covers framing, electrical and plumbing rough in.

We’re so close I can almost taste it.

But it has meant that we’ve been working far more than is reasonable, especially given the temperature. With the outside temperature often being at around 30c / 86F or more, the inside has been up to around 40C / 104F. Indeed I recall seeing 42C on our thermometer. And that’s at ground level. Up in the attic, which is where the vast majority of our work has been it’s way hotter. Yesterday, while I was outside, I was outside at a temp of more than 30 degrees C and working on the house from 8am to 6pm.

And while it does mean there is progress – lots of it. It also means that perhaps I should listen to my body when it informs me that it is time to rest. Now.

We have a hole full of gravel for a shed base courtesy of me driving an excavator for the first time ever*. We also have a hole for the IBC tote to capture rain water, and the buried barrel – which it turns out was just really the lid and a few remenant bits of rusting side – has been dug out. Also the metal pole that was the washing line has been removed (it’s not where we want a washing line). We’ve also done some pre-emptive digging for what will be our raingarden.

Hole for a shed base, and no, I've not put the wood around it yet

We’ve built two of the three bits of wall that are the final bits of framing we require for inspection. These are the (bloody) triangular bits of wall that go above the attic. We’re now realizing why cheap houses don’t have cathedral ceilings. It’s because, beyond the additional expense and engineering involved in getting trusses, and the extra insulation required, it’s also a pain in the arse to frame. I’m also getting why the few cheaper houses I’ve seen with cathedral ceilings have had weird unused spaces – because it’s much easier to only put up one difficult triangular wall and leave a useless space than it is to make multiple difficult triangular walls.

Framing of a triangular wall

We’ve not been able to find any real information on framing non-structural triangular fill-in segments. And so they’ve kind of been guesswork. There’s lots of stuff on doing gable ends, but these aren’t gable ends. There’s stuff on structural triangles, but these are non-structural. Their entire purpose is to hold up the drywall at the end of the room. Still, we’ve done the one in the dining area, and we’ve done the one in the second bedroom. We’ve put up the blocking (which goes between the trusses) for the main bedroom – and have the wood. Hopefully we’ll get that up this weekend.

That leaves:

– 3/4 Bathroom vent connection (I’ve now fitted the actual fan)
– Laundry / Whole house fan vent connection
– Install plastic box and run cable for smoke detector in main bedroom (we have done the hall and the second bedroom)
– Add the 14/2 feed for the boiler room lights from the panel
– Install the plastic light box for one of the kitchen lights
– Reconnect the plumbing vent for the laundry

The problem is – we’ve got two competing concerns – there’s inspection which we need to progress, and there’s covering the housewrap and protecting it from UV. Both have time pressure, but are completely unrelated activities. The finish on the house is a hideously complex process – because nothing we do is easy.

We are applying individually cut strips of 1×2″ cedar to the bottom 35″ of the house. We have bought 1×2’s pre-cut, but because we don’t have loads of money kicking around spare, they are rough-cut, so we have to plane them. Each of them, therefore, has to run through the planer. This is a rainscreen of far more complexity than is reasonable for a house of this quality – but we have always liked the open joint look. So have gone the extra mile to make it happen… which is all very well, except that dear god does it take a long time. Not least because I’m trying to get it to look level on a house which is not level, and to be at least ‘close’ to level, and also for those who’ve not realised, cheap wood isn’t straight. Not even slightly.

I spent yesterday morning problem solving exactly how this would work – and starting the process. I made one mistake**, but it is fairly easily fixable, and now I’ve realised that I need a special ‘tool’ of my own design which I’ll make before I start on it again. I’ve also worked out what the staggering lengths need to be (that’s the mistake I made on the first wall, but I can hide it thanks to the gas meter being present, also it’s the North wall which is the least visible side of the house, and once we get a fence up it should be pretty much hidden).

Strips of wood applied to a wall in an excessively complex brickwork pattern

All of which is to say things are progressing. I feel bad that I’ve not made them progress today. But I am knackered. And we’ve got a full weekend of rainscreen and/or framing coming up. So… rest might be useful.

* I also discovered that one of our neighbours is a dick. He came out and swore at me for being too noisy at the terrible time of 9am. No explanation, just called me an asshole and stormed off (we’ve not met this neighbour before, he’s at the back of the house).

** Well, one significant mistake that I’ve not fixed yet.

Progress outside, if not much inside

For ‘reasons’ we have been really pushing to try and get the rainscreen up on the house. Our rainscreen (as has probably been mentioned by me before) is cheap shop-grade plain-face t1-11* which will get battens over it so that unless you are paying proper attention it’ll look like board and batten. As usual with us, we’re dressing something not terribly pricey to look much nicer than it is. And complicated, because we can save on materials by making us do the installation work.

Anyhow, the back of the house and some of the other bits are running up against the “do not leave your vapour barrier exposed longer than” periods of time – hence the massive push to get the back covered. This despite the fact that the weather has been hot, sunny and dry. Also despite the fact that at times it’s painfully frustrating. We at best can manage a rate of about 1 board an hour, which seems ridiculously slow – given it’s just a 4’x8′ board that we cut down to 4′ by 82″, then stick on the wall using screws it sounds like it should be fairly easy…

But first up most of the boards overlap a window, or a door. And the header of our building isn’t flat, and the roofline wanders up and down just a bit. And there’s the whole entertaining m’larkey of the scheme that we’re using to prevent insect ingress into the small void behind the panels (which is for airflow). Those exterior boards are separated from the wall and the vapour barrier by a 3/8″ “furring” strip, at the top and bottom of which runs mesh. Metal mesh. Which is springy, and difficult to wedge a board over. I mean, the entire point is that it’s all a snug fit to make it less of a haven for small crawly creatures. But all in all as we’re trying to hold a heavy board up, with reasonably accurate cutouts for windows…while squishing mesh, screwing it to the wall and not breaking the windows. It turns out it’s “tricky”.

So basically, one board an hour. Ish. Slightly longer, usually. Sometimes with much swearing. Sometimes with some despairing. Recently, I’ve been trying for some equanimity by reciting the mantra that the “test fit” is a “test fit” and I should not expect it to fit.

Because no matter how hard I try to accurately cut and measure, there’s almost invariably a few mil here or there that need to be shaved off. Which means getting the board up, positioned, marked, back down, trimmed, retested, then when it’s right painting all the cut edges.

Anyhow, so long-story long. Big push. We’ve still got the south face to do, but we wrapped that relatively recently, so it’s less pressing. At least a bit.

We spent some (quite grumpy time, if I recall correctly) on the weekend getting the North gable done.

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We then spent Sunday/Monday/Tuesday getting the East side of the house done…

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Which really does feel like quite an achievement. And we’re very pleased with how it’s coming together.

Please take the time to ooh and ahh over our lovely rainscreen. Which just needs priming now. Then battens. Then more priming. Then painting.

Oh, and note that we quietly trimmed the downspout so that it fits (and is positioned between vertical and the special version of vertical that is the end of the house).

People keep asking us when we’ll be in, and if we’ll speed up now *x* has happened, or *y* is ready. And I kind of want to wail when they do, because it’s just the two of us, part time, and it has become apparent that we are effectively building a house. In fact, it’s actually, in many ways, harder than building it from scratch, because we have to work within the bounds of someone else’s mistakes, and someone else’s lazy decisions.

But anyhow, the rainscreen job is somewhat more towards completion.

We’ve also connected up one of the bathroom vents. Although I realize that I’ve not cut out enough of the wood around it (because our roofers didn’t cut a big enough hole for the vents when they moved them – or more accurately, the cut a big enough hole, but positioned the vents right up against the wood). I trimmed one side, and thought I’d done enough, but when I looked yesterday I realised there’s not enough clearance on the lowest side of the hole either. But regardless, it’s actually connected to a bathroom fan which, if it had power, could blow humid air out of the bathroom (if it had walls, and functional plumbing) into the outside world. Woo.

I’m also beginning to settle myself with the idea that we should tweak the furnace outlet to be an outlet by itself, and make the lights in that room a separate circuit. Thus avoiding the whole 14/2 gauge 12/2 gauge potential inspection debacle. I’ve picked up a two-gang switch box which will make that happen more easily.

So we’re inching forward, albeit not at anywhere near the rate we’d like.

* Plywood with a faux grain on it. Plain face means that it’s once continuous face, you can get T1-11 that looks vaguely like tongue-and-groove slotted together**.
** If you squint hard enough.

Finally…

So, after about two years I’ve finally built my keyboard. By which I mean, from a pile of keys and a circuit board and a case, and some keycaps I’ve assembled it.

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It’s not quite my dad’s first keyboard which he wirewrapped and built by hand. But it’s nice to type on something that I know is mine. It’s a bit more clattery than the mac’s keyboard – I could get some little rings to stop the clatter, but it makes me feel quite…nostalgic.

It’s still missing…err… 6 keycaps. That’s because when I ordered the keycaps I wasn’t 100% sure what layout I wanted. When I did decide it was too late to order the rest (because it was a massdrop run). I’m waiting (optimistically) for them to do another run – because I really like the look of the keyboard, but I’ve got two keytops with the wrong slope (Page Up / Page Down) and I’ve had to use blanks for Control / Alt / Cmd on the bottom row because I wanted a different size than is in my keycap set.

It does feel nice though. Now we just need to finish the house and then I’ll build the desktop that’s going to replace my aged (10 year old) laptop (which today let out a confusing and unpleasant wailing noise). And hopefully that’ll have the dual benefit of having a machine with a bit of umph, and also having getting me to stop dinking quite so much.

It’s been nice though – I broke out my Solder / SMD rework station (unnecessary, really, but it’s the only USian soldering iron I have).

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I’m also working on upgrading the media server to a new harddisk and a new OS. Because that’s a relaxing thing to do the day after my colonoscopy*.

Anyhow, I should get back to it… and tidy up the 800 boxes I’ve got out to make today happen so far.

* Benign polyps, they think. But it left me with a need to be near a loo today. Which I’m thankful that I realised before I left for the house for the day.