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.

Damn forums

So, I was doing some reading about prepping for inspections and wandered across a discussion of the fact that while it is ‘to code’ to have a 12/2 run from the panel and then 14/2 spurs from that run (if you have lights and outlets on a circuit), so long as that circuit has a breaker correct for the lower rated wire… apparently inspectors don’t like it. Or more specifically, they don’t like it when DIYers do it. Fine, apparently, if you’re a pro-electrician (and it’s done following the code). But likely to lead to tedious discussions if you’re a DIYer.

Which is funny because that’s how it says to do it in my code book.

Thankfully we’d only done that on a couple of circuits, so I spent some of today tweaking those circuits – removing the 14/2 (thinner gauge) wire and replacing it with 12/2 (which we had left over). Sadly, the boiler circuit (which consists of one double outlet, one light and the smoke detectors) is more of a pain to fix. But if our inspector doesn’t like it I can fix it with one run of 14/2 back to the panel and replacing the single outlet box with a double – and splitting the two circuits. Not a nightmare, but a pain.

I also plumbed in the shower – which, it turns out has a weird quirk – in that while it’s a “raindrop shower”, the showerhead is only about 14″ from the inside of the stud wall (3.5″ thick). Now – to be fair, there’s a female drop-ear that it connects to – but it was asking that to be positioned a minimum of 1 5/8″ back from the surface of the wall. Which still left the showerhead approximately 1′ from the wall. Which is insane. Add to that the fact that our bath has approximately 3″ wide surround, and suddenly you’re looking at a shower that’s only 9″ (22cm) from the edge of the bath…

Which is…not ideal.

After much futzing with it, I managed to position the drop-ear *just* inside the wall – which gains us back almost an inch and a half. I’m slightly worrying that we’ll end up having to buy a longer adapter* – lord knows the damn thing was expensive enough, but it was about the only US-spec shower we could find that fell remotely in our price range and at least faintly reflected the Crane Drexel sink.

I may also have to add a nailplate of some sort to hide in the wall because the pipe is now well less than 1 1/4″ back from the drywall surface. And the cursed thing that is the shower valve (which took a couple of hours of futzing with) probably needs a bit of the stud edge trimmed off to make the faceplate fit. It doesn’t *say* it needs that space in the directions for installation – but when you look at the faceplate it is *meant* to be recessed into the wall. Which is fine…if there’s not a stud right where the damn valve needs to be.

Still, I’m going to leave that for the minute, now it’s far enough along for the plumbing inspection – I think – and that tweak can be in the final inspection.

The list of things to do for inspection is getting shorter though.

  • Low voltage wiring (network)
  • Tighten last earthquake bolt (under pile of insulation)
  • Vent ducting 3/4 bath (requires gable rainscreen to be present)
  • Vent ducting laundry (requires gable rainscreen to be present)
  • Vent ducting main bath
  • Smoke detector wiring and bedroom boxes
  • Exterior light box rear(requires rainscreen to be present)
  • Exterior light box front
  • Insulation lounge wall (partly done)
  • Framing: Both bedroom / attic wall sections, section above laundry room)
  • Plumbing vents – run through laundry room attic wall framing

We’ve started measuring for the funky triangular bits of framing that sit in the sections between the attic and the two bedrooms and the little mini attic above the laundry and 3/4 bath. It’s made hideously complex by the fact we really want a built in shelf above the doors in both bedrooms. Which is pretty much what you’d expect considering the number of multi-way switches we’ve installed in a tiny, tiny house.

Incidentally, USians, is premixed coloured paint a thing here? I’ve not seen it anywhere I’ve been – everywhere seems to only be mix-to-order, which is bizarre to me. I only realised they didn’t have it at Home Depot** after wandering around for about 10 minutes looking for it…

…and then was somewhat fazed – because in the UK there’s usually a few aisles of varying qualities of premixed colours (cheap -> expensive), plus you can go get whatever you want mixed (moderate -> more expensive).

In the end I got my little tin of black paint mixed… but… well… is this me being blind?

* And this is where I really, really miss UK plumbing, because normally in the UK this bit would be a compression joint and a bit of pipe you cut to length, but here it has to be threaded at the wall end – and since this has a 90 degree bend in it for the shower head… they just make it some length or other.
** Or possibly BOB, which might be my new name for it (Big Orange Box – because I tend to call it B&Q).

Yet more copper

So, we continued our plan to put all of the copper in the world in our house. At least, it somewhat feels that way. We’ve used way more than I guestimated based on the book – which says you’ll need N rolls of W, X, Y and Z gauges for a medium size house. I thought, given our house’s smallness that we’d need much less. Turns out that we’ve needed about 2/3rds as much.

Part of that is that I like to break off rooms into separate circuits – and break off lighting and sockets into separate circuits.

Part of it is that we’ve tended to route things the “gold standard” way (over the top of windows, rather than under them).

Anyhow, today we worked on it some more… it was very hot out and the idea of putting up rainscreen even in the shade on such a hot day was pretty unappealing. As I’ve whinged before, the project’s not exactly going fast, and I’m hoping that when we do (hopefully) get the permit signed off and can start insulating and drywalling (plasterboarding) that we might get that going a bit quicker.

We still have the ply to put down on the floor – along with the heating pipes – which needs to be done before we can start faffing around with walls. And we’re starting to really struggle with all the crap in the house. Offcuts of wood that are potentially useful. Offcuts of wood that we’re thinking of using for firewood. Offcuts of ply that might be handy. Offcuts of ply that are probably scrap, but irritatingly large and thus kept around. The beams we got because I f’cked up and bought an extra beam – which turned out to be handy, because we f’cked up and cut it to the wrong length and which we might use in the garage…

The gardening stuff…

It’s all got to go somewhere. And that means a shed, realistically. Because while I’d love to throw the garage up, we aren’t in a position to do that really. We’re thinking of giving in and getting some nasty brackets with a cut list, then throwing a shed up (hopefully in a couple of days) – just because it would make things much more managable.

But that means probably spending money on an excavator rental, or hand digging a large hole. One is costly in money, the other in time we don’t have.

Which we could probably complain about more, but for the fact that we’ve booked a holiday – 8 days away from this madness. Which – despite the loss of 2 weekends, and a solid week of work – is I think needed to keep us at least slightly sane.

Working like crazy

We put in a solid 16.5 hours this weekend on the house. And what did we do?

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Well, the two front windows, the last two original windows? They came out. We’d left them for a while for various reasons. One is that we don’t like having the front boarded up, but another is that one of them (the one nearest the car) is 8ft long and the other is 6ft long. We’d removed a 6ft one earlier and it was a complete pig, so we weren’t hugely looking forward to this.

Fortunately, the 8ft one was broken (our contractors broke it) so we tackled that first knowing we could chop it up to pull it out. It turned out, however, that the joker who installed it had used whatever s/he had lying around to install it. Y’know, a couple of drywall screws, a few nails here and there. The end of a tube of caulk.

In fact, it was so badly installed that we had more difficulty getting it out because it half fell out part way through. It was hanging by a couple of nails… In the end we put a tarp on the ground, Kathryn pulled the nails and sort of let slide-fall onto the tarp where it shattered.

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Fortunately, the contractors had stuck a sheet of plastic across the front of it to stop it falling apart when they broke it, which stopped most of the glass exploding out across the garden.

We then ripped out a big chunk of manky old wall…

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Framed up for our new (much smaller) window

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Made a little strip of ply to fill in the enormous gap in the siding left by the original builders… (which had been filled with spider nests and dead insects when we stripped the trim off)

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(Over a roughly 6ft span that goes from 1.5 inches to less than 1/8th of an inch). Did these people not have a f’kin plumb bob?

And as the day wore to a close we put the siding up (we’ll cut out the window after the framing’s approved).

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Sunday was a rinse and repeat:

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Only in this case they had barely installed the window. It came out almost pristine. The few nails that were holding it in were mainly the ones in the trim. Oh and 2 drywall screws and a 2 wood screws that were about 20mm long.

There was also some caulk – about 20cm of it along the top edge of trim…holding the trim to the window. After Kathryn pulled some of the trim off it became rapidly apparent that we’d have to hold it in while she pulled off the rest, because it was so loose. It actually threw us both for a bit, because less than an hour after we got there we’d removed the window and weren’t mentally ready for “now we need to demo the wall”.

This one was tricker because we had to replace the header – our plans require two jack studs either side of the header (rather than one on the original header), so even though our new window is the same size as the old window (although approximately 30cm further north than the old window), we needed to pull the old header to install a longer one.

But after quite a lot of experimentation with methods on previous windows we got this one in smoothly. Albeit with some beating it with a hammer and a block of wood to get it in the last few mm (it was pretty snug).

And ended the day with the front boarded up.

So quick shower this morning a few nails (we didn’t do all the siding nails yesterday), and I’ll call for an inspection on that. Then we can wrap the front, put in the last two windows…and commence making the rainscreen.

Also, obviously, there’s the interior electrics to do, and the drywall, and the flooring, and the heating… and and and.

Now with less lawn!

So, our project to almost completely eliminate the lawn has started. We had an incident yesterday at the farmer’s market. The usual kind of incident. The ‘oh, we’ve just bought a lot of plants’ incident.

We weren’t as bad as we sometimes are. We kept it to edibles.

And not that many, because, well, the house currently lacks liveability.

But, having got a couple of them in the ground last night and realised there was little hope for us to get the rest of the stuff done (because it was getting late), we laid out where we wanted the raised bed. Today I grabbed the chop saw, the nail gun and threw together our first raised bed. I then strimmed the grass as short as I could get it, threw down an enormous pile of cardboard, and then between Kathryn and I we transferred a lot of the soil which has come out of the hole that will be our rain water capture device into the new raised bed. And lo:

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I’m really rather proud of it given it’s made with the shoddiest bits of wood and a couple of hours with a chop saw and a nail gun.

We also both had a bit more of a go at strimming the grass, which is proving to be a bit of a mare. It’s already long enough that it needs cutting again – which is a double pain because the (Free) lawnmower we picked up at the weekend (“Free! Free! Free!”) which is a Neutron EM 4.1 – an old battery lawnmower – does not work. Irritatingly it looks like it’s been apart (and not been well put together). So I need to do some fault finding. I note that both the motor and relay are available as spares, which is suggestive of common faults. Feh.

This afternoon, before we set to on the garden we… fitted a second window!

It’s not quite finished yet – I got a bit keen on the caulk, so we decided to let that dry before putting the final layer of flashing on.

So there’s no picture of it yet…

But…there was a picture of the hole…

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It is definitely coming along now :)

NEMA what?

So, thankfully despite it saying in my electrical book that some early NEMA marked cable had a smaller diameter earth wire than is the current standard, it seems that which we pulled out from the house at least appears to be the right diameter. I hope to hell it is, because the new wiring in our new lounge is entirely old cable.

Despite me attempting to snap my ankle like a twig 2 days ago (I slipped off the step into the house carrying a 4′ x 8′ x 3/4″ sheet of plywood by myself, like the daft ha’peth I am*) I spent today working on the house. Yesterday I rested with my ankle up on the sofa most of the day (apart from a meeting about selling our land). But today I made a more significant start on roughing in the wiring.

This has meant drilling a lot of holes.

A lot of 3/4″ diameter holes.

Our poor little ridgid drill does not like it. I mean, really I should do them all with an auger bit and a right angle drill, but I’ve instead been abusing the spade bit and the forstner bit. I keep using the spade bit and most of the time it’s fine, but it’s certainly working the drill out. It’s also giving the nasty cheap Ryobi 90° adaptor a tough time. We did have a Harbor Freight right angle drill, but it upped and died (ironically when I was not doing anything at all – I’d just put a bit in to drill a hole, turned it on and it made an unpleasant graunching noise, before failing to turn the chuck).

The cheap harbor freight forstner bit is, however, wearing out. Not really surprising, this isn’t really what it’s for.

And the random double studs (often followed by a stupid little gap, then another double stud) which are around because of the way the house was framed – then we’ve modified it – then we’ve repaired rotten bits – or replaced sections of framing – or added a window… All of that means a lot of fun trying to work out ways to get the spade bit in.

The winner today was having to drill the hole, feed the extension bit in, then with it all in place open the 90° drill adaptor’s chuck as wide as it could go, then I could get that over the top of the extender, tighten the chuck and then add on the actual drill to the end of that.

Still, the lounge cable now runs to the wall where the fusebox will be (note to self – label wires tomorrow).

Kathryn and I have finished putting up ceiling joists in the hall, so that’s definite progress. And the 3/4″ ply is for the attic floor – two pieces are up, just the rest of it to go…

Right, to bed with me because tomorrow is another day of drilling holes and feeding wires.

* My wife arrived literally 3 minutes after this debacle, at which point I was still trying not to make wimpering noises. I knew she was coming, but it looked like it might rain, so I was trying to be… quick. Or stupid.

Yesterday was a good day

We spent much of the day on Sunday doing calculations and measurements. We worked out the height of the wall in our bedroom, we spent a lot of time working out what bits we needed to cut to what angle. We spent a lot of time thinking about how the walls interlock, and how that works for each joint. Then we spent a lot of time carefully marking and cutting…

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Then yesterday we took those many pieces of wood and nailed them together, and despite it just being the two of us, and us not being hugely strong, we used physics to get the 13′ high wall up and nailed in place.

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We fought with the unsquareness of the house, the squareness of the roof, the unevenness of the floor, and the bendyness of 16′ lengths of stud-grade douglas fir. We read and researched and despite it being a a cathedral ceiling, with our joint being made on a slope, we did that all and we won. Yesterday was a good day.

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Today was a crap day, in contrast. We had a small (1.6m / 64″) section of wall that sits atop the doorframe between our bedroom and our en-suite. We’d calculated this, but didn’t realize that in our adjustments to make the wall sit right(ish) in the unsquare house we’d made one of our measurements wrong. We realized this after we’d manoeuvred the wall up to the top of the door frame and it wouldn’t fit. We took it up and down several times before conceding that there were problems in more than just that direction. We ended up dismantling it, cutting it shorter, reassembling it in situ (with toe-nailing). And in the end, it still didn’t meet the standards we’d like it to. No matter that we can hide all the problems (we think), because they’re in a storage area, not in ‘the house proper’. No matter that the house is a honking pile of unsquare crap and that’s a part of why this is such a mare of a job.

I hate it when we don’t meet our own standards. I hate it when we’re left with something slightly shoddy because we couldn’t get it to sit right. And I’m frustrated that it took us four hours to put up 7 bits of wood.

I shall take this and put it in the place of – we’re learning. But it’ll take me a day or two.

Just add more plastic

Progress on the house continues apace. If it weren’t for the mould taking over the ceiling – and the struggle to dry out the damp, then I’d actually feel pretty positive about how things are progressing. We’ve put up about half the walls (granted, mainly the easier ones), tweaked the design ever so slightly (moved one wall about 10cm / 4 inches) when we realized that the en-suite just wouldn’t work as it was. Well, technically you could make your way past the toilet to the shower, but it would have been really tight. We’ve now got the lumber for most of the other walls in the house and it’s slowly drying out (it rained when it arrived). There’s just about a 4.5m / 14 ft stretch that goes above the corridor and bathroom that we’ve not got wood for yet, and all the ceilings are currently unwooded.

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Having originally planned to mainly reuse the studs carefully extracted from the walls we realized that they have an odour – not a hugely strong one, but it’s definitely noticeable – and we really don’t want any more of that in the house than we have to. So we’ve opted for fresh timber inside – and that’s added about $1k to the cost. The good point about that is most of that lumber can be used in the garage, if we get as far as building the garage. We just need some treated timber to be the sole-plate. AFAIK here, you don’t put in a damp proof course – I’m not sure if it’s required for new builds – and instead just use pressure treated timber. Which is weird, because then you have this soggy wet piece of timber (at least, that’s what makes up the sole plate of our house).

Anyway, so that extra $1k is a little painful because this house was already at it’s value limit (we suspect), and now we’re adding $1k in shiny nice timber…

…as will the mould treatment. That’s about another $1k.

…and it turns out that contrary to all the estimators we’ve found online, installing a gas line is about $2k (the estimators pitched that at $400).

…and the cost of our chosen siding just went from the previous estimate to around $4k – an increase of nearly $2k (so I think that’s probably nixed).

But, on the plus side, our windows have apparently arrived at the supplier, so we can start actually installing windows. And we’ve paid for them already – so that’s good. In a move that I think is basically “go away and leave us alone”, our roofing company have decided to simply pay for replacement of the guttering they damaged (rather than painting it and seeing if we were willing to accept that). This is, I suspect, you’re getting nothing for the mould we caused on your ceiling, but now you can’t say we didn’t address the other issues with installation.

I’ve also been plumbing… well, sort of. I’ve finally given in to the call of PEX. It must be said, it’s certainly easier than copper – even if it’s less recyclable. The house should be roughed in, completely, in 2 days. Which is pretty impressive for me working on my own… Were we not building walls and framing windows when Kathryn’s working on the house too, it could probably have been knocked out in a day. Something of a change from days and days, which is what it took me to do the central heating plumbing in Slough.

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Once that’s done – and the walls are done – it’s on to the electrical. We’re nearing the point that I can start that anyhow, as some of the walls are in. I just need to go buy a boat-load of cable. One of the delights of 110v electrical is needing a k-bilion separate circuits, because the current demands are so high.

Feh.

I have that planned out (sorta), but am kinda inclined to wait until the mould’s resolved, as that’s going to be a lot of time hanging about in the rafters, enjoying the delights of the currently mould-ridden space. Either I wait, or I put on a mask for it. And I like to reserve my mask-wearing time for when I’m enjoying the delights of our crawlspace. Sometimes (often) I wonder why we’ve done this to ourselves. It’ll be nice when it’s done, but it’s never going to be like the Bristol house – something that I can be unreservedly proud of. Yes, we’ve made the structure less shoddy, but it’s always going to be a 1970s tract house built to the minimum building standards of the time. Yes, we’ve made it better, we’ve dragged parts of it up to more modern standards. But it’s always going to leave me less than loving it.

So yeah, there we go.