Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wall Shop-Drawing Final Review

Friday we did a complete review of the window and door placement and some finer details like the lugs for the deck, porch roof and garage that will be cast into the walls.  We spend an hour and half with the architects making minor adjustments to the plans and then another hour with the engineer for Ideal Precast to make sure we had it right.  With that behind us the walls will be constructed this week and set on 7 and 8 July.  A slight delay in the setting of the walls but we felt it important to get a good final shop drawing review done since once the walls are cast, changing anything is costly and could cause a significant delay.  Our walls will be constructed in Durham and because they are case face-up we have a choice of 1 of 4 finish options which are smooth brush, rough brush, bull-float, and "stucco" which is really a rag-roll like finish on the wall.  Due to the design we feel that one of the brushed finishes will be best suited although we will be covering a large amount of the concrete surface with hardi-panels or a wire-grate/panel system. Ideal Precast has set up a new facility to allow them to case two panel sections side-by-side to better match the finish on the adjoining panels.

 In the past several weeks we've made some minor changes to the design that simplify plumbing and wall construction.  The guest bathroom in the basement has been moved from the East wall to the North wall adjacent to the mechanical room. This allowed the waste-pump to be placed in the mechanical room and reduces complexity of the drains as well as provides a better slope to the drainage system.  The changes to the walls was basically simplifying the design of the South stairwell window to be a straight wall instead of a complex wall - which makes for a cleaner installation as well as reduces the thermal bridging challenges.

  Due to the size of the panels, there well be two cranes and a bucket-hoist used to set the walls.  The two cranes will allow two panels to be set at one time with better stability while the bucket-hoist will prevent the workers from having to work 20' up on a ladder (much safer and more stable).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Stickered Wood, Gravel for the footings, and Loan Approval

The last week has been a busy one - we've now got 21" of gravel on the floor of the excavated site, there's a wastewater pump for the basement bathroom, and we stickered (stacked) the wood for air drying.  We have 19 rows of 4 boards at 17' each with 18 of those being hickory and 1 row being red maple.  We still have to get the tin to cover the stack and protect it from the weather but the hard work is mostly done.  There's still some wood that needs stickering but it isn't in board form (edges are not squared off) and there's a whole pile of slabwood that we'll cut up for smoker use later.

 Yesterday was a very good day - we got word that the loan has been approved and we picked up a dog grooming tub off CraigsList at a much reduced price ( We got the Large Dog Tub.

  The windows and doors (all but the fire door) are ordered, we have a meeting later this week to discuss shop drawings for the walls.  We expect the walls to be manufactured next week and set the following week.  Power from the transformer to the house site is in the works as is the well - our next concern is how deep we have to go and how much water we'll get.  Neighbors have anywhere from 3 gpm to about 25 gpm so if we get something in the 6 to 9 gpm range we'll be very satisfied.

Later this week we'll go to closing on the loan - now to get plumbing fixtures ordered.  Pretty soon we'll need that storage unit for all the goods we're starting to collect.

The Hickory - some really nice character in this wood!

A close up of the Hickory

The finished (minus tin roof) stickered wood pile

21" of gravel footing - the "hole" in the middle is for concrete footings for load bearing walls

The sub-floor wastewater pump in the mechanical room of the basement

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sawmill Day on the property - over 1000 feet of lumber from our hickory trees!

Today we had a portable sawmill on the property to turn logs into lumber.  We had a stack of about 18 hickory logs and 2 red maple.  Two of us worked the pile of logs, rolling them onto the forks, taking away the slab cuts for later use in BBQ, and the lumber was cut into 17' lengths that were 1 1/4 inches thick.  This allows us to get 3/4" after stickering (stacking to dry with spacers between all the boards to allow good airflow.

The first log - and that stack to the right is the pile.  We got to all but 5 of them.  A good, tiring day at "work" but the rewards will be huge for years to come!

That stack of logs you see to the left is our work for the day.  We spent about 10 hours and managed to get 15 logs turned into lumber.

One of the boards with nice heartwood - most of the boards  looked like this.  
The start of the stack.

What the stack looked like after 10 hours - with thunderstorms looming we shut down for the day - heavy rains started about 2 miles down the road.


For those wondering about the biggest log - we didn't get to it today because we ran out or time and it was at the back of the pile.  The below picture shows a standard 1/2 liter water bottle standing aside the end.  It measures about 22" across.  That will face the sawmill in the near future - we will probably be turning it into at least one slab that we can use for the "bar top" on the kitchen island.
  Our first thought is to line the ceiling in the family room with it - but there's too much for that and not enough to floor the whole house.  We'll have to see how much we have after stickering for 6 months and milling down to usable boards.  This is great stuff!

The going rate for one of these portable sawmills here is between $40 and $45 per hour.  Today we cut over 1000 board feet (and the smallest was 1 1/4 x 10 x 17' with only a few cut at 8' to maximize the usable wood).  $400 for all this hickory that we'll be able to use in the house seems like a very good investment.  That doesn't include kiln finishing or milling down but even at that, where can you get this kind of wood for that price?  We're stoked!

Artwork courtesy of the local Sapsuckers - the dark spots and bulge are due to their ring of  holes and the healing process by the tree.  TI'm told they go for the bugs attracted to the sap, not the sap itself.  Either way, it's really neat character for the wood.  

  Below are pictures of the sawdust and slabs - remnants of a day's work.  Sawdust was probably washed into the soil as he rains came through. The slabs will season and be used in a smoker or BBQ.
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Clearing and Excavation nearly complete and final window review

Yesterday they started digging for the foundation. By early 3:00 they had not hit any rock of significance - some small pea gravel at the west end of the foundation.  That was about 2 feet shy of the necessary depth so today was the day of reckoning.  There was some soft stone at the east end that foretold of possible rock ledges but when we visited the site this afternoon, the full depth had been reached and no rock.  The soil engineer was on site doing his tests to determine the load-bearing capabilities of the soil and his conclusion was "this is great stuff, it's harder than clay."

 We did a complete window review today with the vendor, architect and builder.  Unlike stick-built houses the concrete can't be adjusted easily once we order the walls with the window and door openings so this is a critical step. We adjusted sill heights, door and window sizes, and made sure we knew rough opening requirements (1 1/2 inches on the bottom, 1/2 inch on all other sides).  Now we have to do one final check, initial the window size sheet and the order goes in.  Delivery expected last week of August or first week of Sept. The entry door is the long-lead item which pushes the delivery out a bit.

Soil test at the West end of the foundation

Soil test on South center of foundation

Looking West to East at excavation site

That's not really rock - it's soft crumbly "rock" - the dark area is damp after being broken apart

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 2 of Clearing

 Lots of progress today.  It's pretty amazing to watch the professionals work with a bucket loader - our crew simply pushed the trees over and then made quick work of turning them into 16' sections ready for the sawmill.  For the Hickory trees they had to do a bit of digging around the base first but for the pines it was a matter of pushing on the trunk at about 8' off the ground.  I told the crew that the bucket operator had the job every boy dreamed of growing up.  He clearly knew the limits of the machine and was able to negotiate the tightest spots and gently nudge material when needed.  I have attached a few pictures of the days work - they hauled 7 loads of 'junk' off to the stump dump by 1:00 lunch break and were planning on finishing the clearing on Monday with excavation for the footings starting on Tuesday.  The surveyor will return to the site late on Monday to pin the house corners so the excavation is in the right spot.  It is absolutely amazing how quickly they can clear land when they work like this team did!

Hickory stacked for the sawmill - hard as nails and dulls a chainsaw in a hearbeat!

Loading up for the Stump Dump

House site from the "driveway" - truck is in the 'garage"

Looking across the house site - blue flags on the trees are the clearing limits - tree fence goes up after clearing is done or it just get's torn down by the branches. 
Third load of junk heading to the Stump Dump - about 5 miles round trip

The same view as yesterday - at about 11:00 this morning

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The start of Clearing

Today was marking the driveway centerline, pinning the corners of the house and setting the clearing limits.  We tagged the trees on the perimeter of the clearing limits with blue tape - those trees and anything outside them will stay. We did adjust the driveway slightly to avoid taking down the better specimens of white oaks and red oaks.  The clearing crew started taking down all the smaller trees and by lunchtime they had completed most of that. They cut the trees to about chest-high so the bulldozer can push the remaining stumps over and manipulate them into the appropriate piles.  We have some trees that will be saved for our use, some that will be sold for either lumber or pulping, and then some that will be taken to the local "stump dump" which is only about 1 1/2 miles from the property.  After walking the property with all the trees it looks completely different with the clearing started.  This picture shows the "driveway" - it's not a great picture for perspective but does show the progress.  All that brush lying on the ground is the understory that has been cut or the tops of the trees that have already been felled.  This view is facing west - the house will be about 300' in from this point and will have the front facing north with the back (downhill side) facing due south.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Building Permit in hand! Clearing starts tomorrow!

We now have the building permit and are cleared hot to start!  The process was a bit convoluted but in the end it all worked out.  Yesterday we had a bit of a concern due to possible requirements for stormwater management system installation requirements and the near-term elimination of the position in the County that reviews and approves those permits.  After some discussion with the erosion control planners we agreed to install a rainwater management system which will likely tie into our drainage systems and allow collection in a cistern.  The erosion control mechanism is important due to the slope of the land and the cistern will help us harvest rainwater for landscape irrigation.  Having the metal roof will clearly increase our ability to collect clear rainwater.  We saw a system at one house on the Green Homebuilders Tour several weeks back and were impressed with it at the time.  We will do some research for rainwater collection and stormwater management to make sure we control the erosion and use the collected water to irrigate our landscaping.

 The surveyor was scheduled to visit the site earlier today and clearly mark the house site and driveway centerline.  We removed the "billions and billions" of marking flags on the property yesterday so we have one clear set - earlier flagging efforts had been very zealous to say the least.  With the soils engineer (septic field location) and the surveyor adding to the collection we had places on the site it was looking like a mine-field of markers.  We did leave the main/repair areas for the septic marked since we won't be disturbing that area immediately.

 We'll start posting pictures of the progress on clearing the land tomorrow if all works as planned.  This is an exciting part since what we've been visualizing may soon be reality.  It's going to be hard to see those nice trees come down but fortunately we can save most of the larger oak trees.  We have some pretty large pines that may be site-milled to provide our T&G ceiling for the family room and maybe even the covered deck.  The oak that we do have to harvest will be seasoned a bit longer before we use it for projects around the house. There are also small amounts of walnut, cedar, and other hardwoods but unfortunately not much poplar which will be what we use for the wood trim (stained, not painted).

We should have our order finalized for the Hoco windows by the end of the week. We're still in limbo on the fire rated door between the garage and the house.  I plan to visit the Fire Dept to discuss the requirements with them.  The requirement as we understand it is for a 20 minute fire-rated door but we need to have specifics to order a door and specify the wall opening.  We did have one reading of Code that said we could not have glass in the doors but many public buildings meet code by using tempered glass or installing wire-mesh glass.  The main point is to allow occupants to escape to safety before the door/window fail (burn through).  More research to follow on this subject!  Our next quest is the skylights - we have found a source that claims R-20 but so far we haven't been able to get any test data supporting the claims.  The manufacturer is Tubular Skylights.  The use of dead-air space is paramount to their claims to it appears that installation methods and techniques are crucial to maintaining the started R-value.