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.

Oh good…mould.

So one of the challenges is the speed with which we can get work done. There are only two of us some of the time, and one of us some of the rest of the time. And we’re learning.

So while we’re definitely making progress, it’s not been as fast as we might like. Or, indeed, as fast as it seems the house would like.

Apparently, it’s “normal” here for the wood to get some mildew on it while construction goes on which will, apparently, die when we start heating and drying out the place. We have a mould person coming to look at our trusses and sheathing because, upsettingly, it’s gone somewhat furry.

And since dry and warm seems somewhat further away than we might like we made some plans to try and get things going a bit faster.

And so today we made a committed effort to get the flooring down. The flooring, in this case, is the “underlayment” which is a large amount of plywood. Vast quantities of it. Over the past few days we’d managed to get half the floor covered, more or less. Today we slammed into high gear and laid the whole other half of the floor.

My entire body now aches.

In the last week we have put in somewhere in the region of 2000 screws.

The floor is now markedly stiffer.

And of course, today we arrived home to find that the missing ‘wood’ head for our autofeed screwdriver has arrived. Ha.

Ha.

I mean, we used the drywall head for it, but it would have been nice to have the wood head.

We still have some exterior wall framing to do, but we’ve got three windows framed up. The rest of the window framing is somewhat more tricky…

But mainly we’re doing interior framing for a while because then we can get plumbing in, and then we can get insulation in under the floor and heating installed. Until the interior framing is in I can’t install either the plumbing or the heating (well, I can, but it’s not ideal).

So Thursday we start building interior walls. Yay…

So everything is all lined up…ah oh.

building with stick figure eyes/arms collapses

Uh.

Our contractor sent us an e-mail which, to paraphrase and summarise, said:

Something went horribly wrong on another job due to a subcontractor, I don’t think I can do your job now*

What it didn’t tell us is what state things were in. So I’ve been trying to catch our truss supplier and our roofing company and find out when they need to know by, and please don’t cancel it yet, and dear goddess what do we do now.

After 5 contractors have been and gone, one because we just didn’t like them (so after the bid we were done), and one because he just wandered off in the middle of a text conversation about scheduling and then didn’t come back for months. But now 2 on this job have screwed us and because of one of them we lost another contractor and we’ve pretty much lost all faith in anyone in Oly being a decent contractor.

It’s not like in the UK it was all smooth sailing, we got screwed by contractors doing shoddy work that had to be fixed, but apart from a rare few over the years, people turned up. People did some work of some sort. It may be shit and need rectification, but it actually got done.

We can’t even get past planning here. We get people who waffle around for months then decide they don’t want to do it, we get people who suddenly announce that they need to shuffle our job to months in the future, and now we’ve got a permit, we’ve got approved truss diagrams and quotes, we’ve got roofers ready to go, we’ve ripped out the electrics, we have an electrician scheduled and no f’kin general contractor to put the trusses on.

We’re now considering:
1) Hiring day labour to put them up ourselves
2) Finding an installer to just do the trusses**
3) Screaming endlessly into the void

* Although talking to the Truss Supplier – he said that he’d been told we were worried about keeping the house dry and so he’d had to move the date. Which is a WTF?! We *explicitly* agreed that we were fine with water getting in the house. We didn’t want it open for weeks and weeks, but what now?! Where did this come from?
** Although our Truss Supplier seems to think that is going to be a stretch because most of them are tied up until the Spring.

Ah, yes, that about describes it.

Here is the current learning curve: Overhanging cliff by Jason Priem, via Flickr

So, back when we were planning to build our house from scratch there were many things we didn’t need to learn. Why? Well, because we had an architect who was able to inform us of how we should do things. Now, because we have a contractor for just some of the work – and he’s asking us exactly what we want (which is exactly as it should be), we’re getting to make exciting decisions like “how do we want to vent the roof” or, in our case, not vent it.

Having spent some time reading up on vaulted roofs, our now expert opinion is that we should fork out for a thin layer of closed cell insulation over which we can throw fiberglass (because that’s what we can afford) to meet the required R-value in the space allowed. That means, ideally, tweaking the roofing to have a small gap under the metal to allow it to dry out in an upward direction.

Which means adding furring strips.

Which weren’t in the original quote.

Which means changing something.

Which means getting someone to ring me back.

Which it turns out is proving difficult this morning.

Of the 6 people I’ve contacted this morning I’m running about a 50% return rate (well, actually, it’s exactly 50%). Unfortunately, the 50% that’ve called me back are:

– The porta-loo company (which I don’t need to book yet)
– The insulation company (which I would like a quote from, but he’s asked to do it by e-mail)
– Our contractor (who’s asked for a bit more time to get an answer).

The electrical, the guttering, and the roofing.. the people I actually more urgently need to speak to? They haven’t yet called me back. I’m hoping they will, as they’ve been pretty good about returning calls, but it’s not always been rapid. Problem is I don’t really want to head out until I’ve got answers as I really could do with the answers while I have my big book of notes to write them in, and not them calling me back in the middle of a shop. Which is obviously what will happen.

Not to count chickens but…

Quoth the e-mail this morning: “The above-referenced permit has been approved and is ready to be issued”.

Just the electrical permit to submit and I need to check on my waste water plumbing plan.

Now the terror begins.

In which I think out-typed some more

I’ve been feeling this melancholia or even the vague edges of depression again. I cheer up around Kathryn and around friends, but even then at times I’m feeling the edges of something that’s concerning to me. And I’m not sure exactly why. I know I miss Europe – and I miss feeling comfortable with traveling. I miss a sensible length of paid holidays, not worrying that the the next illness could suck all the money from our scant savings.

I know that the rise of the right wing has fucked up much of Europe as much as it’s fucking up America, and I don’t really know what to do with that in my head. I know that the UK that I thought at least partially existed is nothing more than a mirage from living in left-leaning liberal bits of England where people who weren’t white and weren’t English were welcomed.

I get that. It hurts. But I get it.

It’s funny, because in many respects, job-wise we’re both better off than we’ve ever been. If we can ever get this house project moving and, indeed, get it done, it’s much closer to building our own house than we’ve ever done before. I mean, it’s frustratingly not building our house on the land we bought for that purpose. And that leaves it with an edge of frustration. As does the startling discovery that the city really care about the appearance of that street.

I dunno. It all just feels vaguely unsatisfactory and I can’t entirely explain why.

I’m hoping this will improve when we actually get started on something, as at the moment my brain is mainly occupied with being frustrated about things we can’t afford to do.