So, part of the long silence is that I went over to the UK with my Transport Evolved hat on, to attend Fully Charged Live. Which was very cool; and I got to see lots of fun things, which were made somewhat less fun by having a manky cold. Which reached it’s zenith right in the middle of FCL.
I can’t say I was the greatest presenter on earth (possibly I was the most terrible), but I did meet lots of lovely Transport Evolved fans, some of whom reminded me of why what Nikki does with TE (and what I get to do sometimes with TE) is important. I also did a lot of holding the boom pole / mic, which is a useful thing to do.
But, during that month we’ve been waiting for plasterers to quote for plastering. Which we waited for…and finally got yesterday. And fuck.
So, we had two plasterers come around and visit. And while their labour quotes are within a few hundred miles of each other, so that bit is fine. It’s the materials. The materials costs differ by around $8000. Now, given our lack of success with going with the cheapest quote (and the fact that the cheaper of the quotes did not fill us with confidence as to the level of experience with lime-on-drywall); we’re a little bit concerned. Because there’s no way in hell we can afford OVER $30k for some f’kin plastering.
So we’re now waiting until Wednesday when we get to talk to someone with somewhat less skin in the game, and more general knowledge (he trained both the folks we have plastering quotes from), and try and work out what the hell is going on and why we have this vast difference. And also what to do about it.
In the meantime today we attacked our meadow garden (not that the grass had got out of hand), and made it more gardeny again. We also arranged for the groundworks person to come and lay the concrete foundation for our garage. That can’t happen until the plans arrive; and so we’ve booked him in for when we think the plans will arrive (giving ourselves a few days leeway).
Then we spent the remainder of the afternoon tackling the window surrounds. Given that we had to do shopping today there wasn’t a lot of time left for working on the house…. but we’re starting to put trim up around the windows which, it turns out, does make the house look more finished. So that’s nice. It is, however, a non-zero quantity of complexity, given that we’ve gone with picture-framing the windows.
Despite the imperfect corners, with a bit of filler they’re okay. And they look nice once they’re up. It does, however, add to the “oh yes, we need to put another coat of paint on the entire house” thing. Feh.
It’s really tough at the moment. It felt like we were getting closer. Like we might even be in by the end of summer. And now – well – the cost of the plastering is insane (and we have no idea how we’ll afford it), and it feels like that end-of-summer possibility has vaporized. It wasn’t like we thought it’d be finished. But livable. And each month we’re not in is another couple of grand disappearing.
We both are fully aware that we brought this on ourselves, and some of this is just us being willful (much of this). But trying to drag this project to the finish line is proving to be incredibly difficult.
As a special bonus, the garage that have had my car for 2 years rather abruptly turned around and said I’ll need to remove it. They haven’t said when. It is not driveable. And I’m pissed off because they faffed around without making a decision for ages, then when I finally said “I’ll take the bit and get it fixed” they said it’s taken too long and they can’t keep it there anymore. Augh. So I need to work out where she’s going to go :(
So, we’re waiting to talk to…[drum roll please]…a possible plasterer. We got put in contact with a local person who works with lime plaster (and got a local source for a premixed product). We’re going to talk on the phone tomorrow (he’s in a low-signal area now). And then – assuming the price isn’t terrifying – we’ve got a planning visit set up.
Which left us with a slightly odd weekend where, while there is stuff to do, we really want to talk to the plasterer first. And the cedar on the outside isn’t really easily a 2 person job, since we’d both need the same drill bit.
So instead we popped around to our friend to meet her new chickens (and dubbed one with her new title) and also to admire her new chicken run (which is quite the chicken palace, and definitely a suitable home for a chicken-lady).
Then we headed over to the house to weed. So many brambles. So much morning glory. So many dandelions.
We have pulled a lot of weeds and strimmed to tidy up the grass and such. It’s looking fairly respectable – and we seem to be keeping things under control much better than last year. Kathryn spent a chunk of time lopping down the brambles that we continue to do battle with between us and our rearward neighbour. I also spent some time tackling the rainwater capture. It had become apparent the channel the pipe sat in wasn’t correctly sloped. I’d not really checked it, except by eye (which is tricky because our garden slopes), and I knew there was a little bit of a hump, but putting the level on it it became obvious that after about half-way, that hump had put it high enough that there was no way the water coming from the roof would make it.
I broke out the little gardening trowel and spent some time making it a more consistent and gradual slope. Unfortunately, the tank is sat marginally higher than would be ideal, but I think now rain water should flow into it. We’ll find out after the next rain…
In fence news…we’ve not had a quote yet. So, that’s not ideal.
So while we wait, optimistically, for someone from an eco-plaster place to contact us*, I’ve moved back outside. Well, for the most part. Inside we’ve given the main bathroom a coat (or three) of waterproofing. It is, of course, hideous and probably environment destroying (although the safety data sheet basically says it’s not really terrible for anything, and is water soluble, but it stinks and our little organic vapour respirators don’t cope well with it). It’s meant to be two coats, but then you’re meant to go over and cover ‘pinholes’, and having seen the coverage I assumed it would essentially need three. Which it did.
Painting the bathroom involved opening the windows at the north and south end, and directing air into the bathroom in the hope it would stay bearable for the amount of time for the final coat. Each one’s seemed worse than the last. Part of this is that we’ve failed to keep our respirators in sealed boxes when not in use (although I only discovered that yesterday). Hopefully there won’t be too many pinholes to fix after this round.
Anyhow, before going in and subjecting myself to the fumes for the final coat (which went on this afternoon), I spent the day making a billion L-pieces. This is an extension to yesterday (and will be continuing for the forseeable) – where I spent some of the day routing the LED strip on the right hand side of the door. There’s the left side of the door still to route for the LED strip. Anyhow, back to the L-pieces.
Each of these is made using a little frame that I made up – and they’re glued and nailed together, then the short leg of the L is trimmed to length.
Then each one is positioned, glued and nailed in place – each one takes 5 nails that have to be carefully pre-drilled and then hand driven in. I didn’t bother predrilling on the long, straight ones. But we’re so short of the cedar, and these are so finicky, that I’m predrilling each one… Of which there are 48 per side. Plus one extra one that’s long and runs across the bottom.
I continue to be pleased about the way it’s coming together. The cedar strips do give me great pleasure when I’m looking at the house – that ‘job well done’ feeling. There are many small imperfections, but it does feel like it has been worth the effort. At least, so far. We’ll see when it’s done.
We also, after much effort, finally got another quote for a fence. This labour of calling has been tedious in the extreme, and I had to chase the people today (because they’d forgotten they were meant to be coming). Well, they came and measured. We’ll wait and see if we get an actual quote.
We also ordered our garage a couple of days ago. After endless battles, we ended up going with ‘Tuff Shed’. The quality’s nothing to write home about, but it’ll do the job and the price is reasonable.
Hopefully we’ll get the designs soon enough, because that’d be handy for painting the battens, and getting the myriad of crap out of the house.
* Which we can’t wait much longer for. I’ve dug out the eco-building-trainer person’s number, and may give him a call tomorrow and ask him if he can give me the numbers for the people so I can find out if it’s worth waiting.
We’re still waiting on quotes. More accurately, we’re still waiting on finding a plasterer who’ll even consider us. We want smooth, natural plaster. Although we’ve tried to get quotes for regular smooth plaster, we’d prefer lime. Finally today we actually got a possible step forward, with a local guy who trains lime plasterers who’s passing on our name and some details to a couple of plasterers he’s trained. That is the level we’re at, that this is considered forward progress.
He also has a lime plaster that he imports that’s a prebagged mix so it’s much simpler than other plasters – which he’s keen for us to use. So that’s progress, of a sort.
We have also got a quote for the garage. We’ve given in and gone with TuffShed – having had such endless fights trying to get a contractor – and they have people they recommend for foundations.
It’s really much less (design and intent wise) than we were hoping for, but it’s functional and it’ll keep Rebecca out of the elements and give me a place for us to work on her… there’s still rather a lot of debate about roofing materials, but the guilt of using any kind of asphalt is getting to us both, so it may well be metal of some sort.
We’re also looking at building a little studio building at the back of the property for Kathryn’s art – replacing what was going to be the shed. It means the garage will have to hold the garden tools, which isn’t ideal, but it’s a fair tradeoff.
We’ve also got someone coming to quote for solar – which we really should have got put on as soon as the roof went on. Frankly, at this point, with the benefit of hindsight, we’d have built the garage much earlier. We’d not have bothered saving the trusses. We’d have got solar put on as soon as the wiring was done. Why? Because we’ve had a full year of the house sitting empty, and it could have been generating power – and reducing the depressing costs of having an incomplete house sit empty.
While we’re creeping towards getting a plasterer we’ve done some working on the garden. Well, sort of. We’ve got the rain water capture tank in the ground. Which is probably why we’re both completely exhausted. Digging through the hard-pack stone and clay was a nightmare. The revolting water sitting in the bottom of the pit turned out to be useful; once you’ve dug a bit into the clay it sort of turns into a slurry which allowed us to pull out the bigger stones. Then, eventually, we bailed out the sludgy water which gained us a bit more depth. And then finally we scraped and pick’d and dug and finally managed to get the hole deep enough to put the tank in the ground.
After quite a lot of poking around and the making of some scary big holes in the side of the tank we’d just put in the ground, we’ve got a floating water outlet (using this guide), and an intake for the water running from the guttering at the back of the house, so it should run into the tank. We actually have the stuff to add in the water from the front of the house, but I’m pretty sure the tank isn’t big enough; nor is there enough soak-away capacity in our rain-garden. So I think that’ll be left to run out into the street, which is what it does now.
The garage will also need some kind of thing – I’m hoping that we can knock up a rain-water capture thing which might feed the toilets. We designed the house such that the toilets could be fed from a separate supply. It’s a possibility, but we’ll see how that goes.
We also did some more joint compound yesterday – it’s almost done. The office needs a third coat on the ceiling which, for some reason, seems to be very uneven at the seams. Also, the tiny tiny pantry still needs some of the corners doing and really needs another coat.
It feels sort of endless, but also very close. I’m thinking that Wednesday I might start on cedar… and there’s also the application of a crack isolation and waterproofing membrane in the bathroom. So lots to do, but nothing that feels on the scale of what we need to do.
Every day, pretty much, for the past year and a half I or We have gone to the house to work on it for some, or all of the day. If we don’t, it’s because we’re at work at our jobs. Or because we’re trying to keep our apartment fairly pleasant (and broadly succeeding, although the gradual accumulation of cruft, and the fact we keep thinking we’ll be moving, and thus failure to deal with said cruft is gradually filling the apartment with more books, music and creative resources than it can reasonably contain).
And it’s beginning to show.
We’re both beat.
Just tired and scraping along.
It’s tricky, because we’re at a point where a big chunk of the work is done. It’s that kinda 3/4 of the way there point which is always tough, it’s always a challenge. But because this is such a big project, 3/4 there is not liveable. In Slough and Bristol it was liveable at 3/4 done. Giving us a chance to rest and recuperate.
We can’t do that here. We need to find the energy for a final push.
We have, however, decided to get quotes in for finish plastering. Having discovered that there are some people around here who’ll do finish plastering with a smooth finish – and considered that it may take us actually months to finish it ourselves (it may, frankly, take us months to work out what materials we need to plaster)… Of course, this does actually require contractors calling us back, which is somewhat of a rarity.
After a mere 5 coats (5!) our front door is adequately painted. I realised after about the 3rd coat with pathetic coverage that we really should have sprayed it. Of course, the challenge would have been getting a colour match for the colour we’d chosen… Or, I suppose we could have got a spray gun for the acrylic paint. Either way. At the end of the day, it looks pretty good.
We also sprayed the frame a sort of bronze (dark walnut), which matches the windows pretty well.
It’s not perfect by any means, and on the back of the house where the frames are all easily visible in line, I think we’ll use some of the touch-up spray we have for the windows to get a closer match by throwing a thin topcoat of bronze over the brown.
Inside the mudding and taping is more or less done. There’s an n’th coat to do on the ceiling above the lounge, and the second bedroom / office has much of it left to tape / mud (because we’re using it for storage). But all the rest of the house is mudded and taped. Now comes the pain of sanding. Most of it we’re hoping to get away without sanding (at least this coat), just taking off any really high spots because we’re going to skim it. At least that’s the theory.
The ceilings however, they need sanding at the very least. We’ve skimmed a chunk of the top – which attempts to ameliorate the change in pitch caused by adjusting elsewhere for unsquare framing, and the exterior walls being variable distances from the peak. The skim does make it less obvious, but needs a lot of sanding. A lot. Which given how long and how tiring it was to sand the little bit of hall ceiling that I did today is… not something to look forward to. I am thinking perhaps we should invest in a proper drywall sander, given that they’re only $100.
This ‘Level 4’ finish is what we’re hoping to get away with, but we’ll have to try painting it and then see how it looks. Apparently on ceilings it can be more obvious that there are multiple unevennesses. So we may end up covering all of it in compound and flatting it back. Of course, the front hall was so shoddy anyhow, that for big chunks of it it’s effectively covered side to side.
The bathrooms are more-or-less done on mudding (in this case thin-setting on the walls and ‘mud’ on the ceilings). There’s a need for a bit more thinset around the shower-shelves, in which I’ll probably embed some more mesh (I’ve got loads extra anyhow).
These obviously need sanding on the ceilings, then the whole kit and caboodle needs painting – ceilings with ceiling paint, and walls / floor with waterproofing goop.
Mind, the en-suite has to wait until the floor is down before gooping, because the goop makes a waterproof membrane which is what allows that to be a wet room. Irritating, because that room we actually have a toilet for, so if we could get all the plumbing pipes and heating down in there, it’d be nice to have an indoor toilet.
The biggest hurdle (other than time) is wall finish.
We wanted to use a substance called Murco M-100. This is a hypoallergenic joint compound a friend is using as a wall finish. But it’s made in Colorado and sold in the mythical land of Cal-I-Forn-Iay. A place from which it is almost impossible to obtain things. At least at a reasonable cost. The local supplier who sold it for $12/bag closed, as did the one in Portland. The only local place we can get it from now quotes $38 a bag, then tacks on the $300 shipping, which would put up the cost for our house by $1300. Which hurts. A lot.
Now our friend has a friend visiting from this mythical place who could bring up some Murco, but that means making the decision now. Right now. Before we’ve played with it ourselves.
Given the endless phonecalls, and the requirement to sacrifice the first-born goose from the leader of a gaggle under a waxing moon on the 32nd day of July before we could order Murco, we decided to get a natural plaster book. That and having discovered that lime is readily available around here, relatively cheap AND there are techniques that allow you to put less earth-destroyey plasters over drywall.
Nice, we thought.
Only, yes, you can get Lime. That’s easy. You can get sand. Probably. Although lime plaster is apparently pretty picky about sand and to quote the guy at the Masonry Supply place I went to “no one really does that stuff anymore”. But I think sand should be doable.
But it also wants things like “hemp fibre”. Which you can’t get locally, which means ordering it online. Which means paying shipping.
And that’s irritating, because what we really want is a small amount to work out if we want a large amount, but what we’re probably going to end up doing is getting much more than we need and then concluding the lime plastering is waaay to hard. Then we’re going to have to work out some other plan.
Either that or we’ll get a little bit, realise it’s perfect and then need to order a lot. Because we have a lot of wall. And a lot of corners. Because we are insane and made our house incredibly complex.
So, okay, by USian standards it wasn’t Long. And actually, even by UK standards it was a perfectly acceptable drive. However, the loading of all the offcuts of drywall from the house* into my father in law’s pick-up, having borrowed the pick-up from his house (the other side of Oly), then driving up to Tacoma to the drywall recycling place** (which it turns out is the far side of Tacoma, not this side of Tacoma), then off-loading the entire truckload by my lonesome tod (Kathryn’s away ’til tomorrrow), then driving across to the masonry supply place in Lakewood (which it turned out didn’t have the kind of sand we wanted) – although he did give me a couple of suggestions for places that might, then we had a chat about Lime (and how it’s actually cheaper to get the non-fluffy stuff from feed supply places – and apparently it works fine, but needs a lot more mixing). So I bought the fluffy (easier to mix) Lime this time…
…then driving back down to Olympia, dropping off the bag of fluffy lime (we’re going to try lime plastering. Yes, really).
…then dropping off the truck, picking up our car and driving back home.
It felt like a long f’kin day.
And who knows if taking the drywall on a 40 mile journey to recycle it is better for the environment – let’s say 20mpg? So around 14 litres of petrol, or 4 gallons… for the round trip? *Shrug* Ballpark figure. I dunno, let’s ask Google:
So, a drywall sheet has an embodied energy of 3.5MJ/kg.
We recycled 1300lbs -> or about 590kg – or material with an embodied energy of 2000MJ.
Random internet site says that 1 gallon of gasoline takes 22MJ to refine (which I suspect is low, and what does that include anyway? Does that include the energy to drill, and ship it to and from the refinery? Bah). So that’s, what 44MJ, for what we used today.
1 litre of petrol releases 34.2 MJ (about 470MJ for the 14 litres we burned (ugh))
So, the petrol used embodies around ~510MJ.
So I think it was worth it? I mean, obviously, energy is also used in turning the drywall back in to usable gypsum. Which I’m not including. But seriously, these are the kind of things that run through my head.
In other news, our door is now grey (en-route to being green).
And I think I’ve done nearly all the bits of joint compound filling that I can do from the ground (until we clear the other bedroom). We’ve also come up with a solution to our floor – at least, we hope. It’s a not-quite-so cheap, but much quicker solution and it resolves the concerns we both had about the nice floor finish we’re planning to use cracking.
Our floor now goes:
From the Top: Microcement Crack isolation membrane 3/4 ply pipe guides (in the straight bits); Thinset (in the bendy bits); 3/4 hydronic pipe Existing 1/2″ ply Car decking Insulation We don’t talk about what’s under the house, because it’s hideous.
This is iteration 8743 of the plan for the floor. At some point we’re actually going to be at a point where we can install the floor, and then we’ll have to settle on one. This is my favourite so far – the ply does the straight sections of the pipe guides – which also helps to stiffen the floor – but rather than cutting curves for every single bend in the pipe, we secure the pipe down, throw thinset over it, and then separate that whole damn lot from the microcement topping with a crack isolation membrane.
Hopefully it’ll work.
* Well, not quite all. I mean, some went in the bin and I concluded that discretion was the better part of valour when faced with the two soggy wet bags of mouldy micro-small offcuts. They can go to the tip.
** Y’know what’s slightly horrifying? I arrived and while I was offloading my moudlering pile of offcuts to be ground down to powder and then turned back in to drywall, I watched as a truckload of not-to-spec drywall (apparently usually it’s “off-square”) was dumped to be recycled. Given that our entire building was off flipping square, there’s got to be a better use for the drywall seconds than re-milling it to reuse it. I mean, I get it if it’s got lots of massive bubbles in it, but… ugh.
There’s a sort of wilful battle going on. We want to finish the house, soon, really. It’s not cheap to rent a place and pay the mortgage on another. And I know we’re insanely lucky to be able to afford that (albeit not indefinitely). But the jobs we have left to do (beyond things like putting in actual fixtures and fittings) are not quick.
I mean, if you’re a skilled plasterer, then plastering the walls in our place, being as it’s pretty small, probably is a fairly quick job. But finding someone who can do smooth plaster over here is uncommon. Finding someone who we could afford is probably needle in a haystack uncommon, and then there’s the tug of: “We’ve done it all ourselves up until now, we don’t want someone else coming in.”
It’s also really tough because while in the UK nice, affordable, eco-friendly materials are not everywhere, they seem to be much easier to get than here in the PNW. We’ve been debating countless options for our wall coating, with the traditional time/cost/quality triad – only now there’s the fourth component – availability. To some extent that’s cost; I mean, if you’re willing to ship things across the country then I suppose most things are available.
But realistically, in our area, there doesn’t seem to be a lot around. And it might be that we’re looking in the wrong place. But apart from bespoke house builders who stock stuff for themselves; there just isn’t a lot of earth-friendly material kicking around.
I spent today working on the final bits of plasterboard (they’re up!) and applying more joint compound – the boiler cupboard is done, as is the first coat on nearly all of the hall. I’ve slathered lots up in the bedroom, and I’m still working on the laundry, with it’s jaunty step in between layers.
But we’re not a million miles away from needing to plaster; and while I can now entertain myself putting tiny strips of cedar around the front door (almost endlessly), and putting the lighting in place for the porch, we’re going to have to come to some kind of conclusion.
Lime plaster does seem like an option, especially since the “oh, yes, I could get a long pole and paint the walls/ceiling with glue-and-sand” which means that it’s not a coat of glue and sand when Kathryn has to be there, then us trying to plaster the entire roof and the walls* when Kathryn has to be there. Time with both of us there is limited and precious… so things like American Clay or other multicoat plaster systems are really less than ideal. Realistically, I can do the hall and east and west walls by myself, but everything else (centre spine wall, both sides, and the north and south walls) all need Kathryn and I to be there to finish it.
We’re trying to find something that doesn’t require lots of coats, doesn’t cost a fortune, and isn’t utterly hideous for the planet (and/or us). It’s tricky.
And yeah, yeah, we are pushing the very limits of what we can do. And perhaps we should get someone in to do the plastering. We’re pushing the limits of ourselves. But it’s hard. this is our project. This is our house, we built it. Letting someone else in now feels like… some kind of defeat. And we’re alternately frustrated by our slow progress and overjoyed by the place we’re building and how much we like it. It’s all very contradictory and complicated.
*I’m not at all sure that the roof should be lime plastered, since it’s really adhering to glue and sand, not to nice chunky lath.
So, we have finally installed our shiny new front door. All horizontal slit windows and modernist handle, it’s in and looking way better than the mouldy door the fire service installed. It wasn’t mouldy when they installed it, to be fair. But the point at which it was installed was about the least ideal point for it to be installed.
It got damp, then it got mouldy. Then we sprayed it with mould killer, which seems to have worked, but it was always the cheapest door that home depot sell. And yeah, I did say he didn’t need to worry too much about the quality of the installation, and told him not to bother foaming around it, but that meant that the amount of road noise that came through was pretty astonishing.
So yesterday, having popped over to see Kathryn’s mom, and having had lunch with Nikki, we finally took out that crappy old door, and put in the new one.
It took us from 4pm to 9pm to do it, and the unsquareness of the house has, of course, bitten us again (the sill step is hilariously far from square), but it makes such a difference!
It really changes the look of the house from the outside:
But it also does exactly what we wanted; it really brightens up the hallway. Amazingly so. I mean, it’s west facing, so at the point in the day when the house is at it’s darkest, we have this lovely light coming in from the west side, and that was entirely blocked by the old door. Now light comes flooding in to the hall (that might be overstating it)… but at any rate it’s really quite exciting.
So obviously, we covered it up.
Because we didn’t want to ruin it when we put up the plasterboard for the door. That was one of today’s painful tasks. Mainly painful because of the unsquareness of the house, which led to the unsquareness of the floor, which led to the spectacular unsquareness of the boiler room cupboard. We had tried to even it out a bit, but had to some more shimming to make it level enough to attach the sliding door runner to.
Which means that the gap at the top is…well, not perfect, shall we say. It is of course made worse by the fact that this is the first bit of drywalling we did, and we didn’t think to shim the ceiling down a bit at the door, and indeed all over the flipping place, to make up for the fact that the door and the wall there are half an inch higher than they are 4′ away at the entrance to the bedrooms. That’s because the foundation at the door is half an inch higher. Because of course it is.
Anyhow, we have plans for hiding the unevenness further. But cutting the 11’4″ piece of plasterboard for the door was an entertaining task, and not one that was achieved wholly perfectly. But we think it’s “good enough”. So when I’ve put the final few bits of plasterboard on the lower half of the walls, and finished plasterboarding the other side of it for the boiler cupboard, we’ll actually have finished drywalling.
We can say that because the afternoon was spent in the deeply enjoyable task of drywalling the tiny little attic above the bathroom and laundry. In many respects it was hardly worth it, but it’s about 70 cu ft (2 cubic meters) of storage which we would otherwise not have. And it was plasterboard we already had.
The itchyness from lying on the wooden flooring measuring and holding up bits of plasterboard while being showered in insulation does make me question that though.
Our quest to find some sort of reasonably priced finish material continues, however. We’re vaguely considering this:
Which is a possibility… we’re both fond lime plaster, and it has the potential to be relatively cheap…