Canonical Voices

Barry Warsaw

Thinking About Windows

We had our weekly production meeting this morning, Steve, Tom, Jane and I. Tom brought the tentative window order by and we went through them. Would you believe how hard it was to remember what was in the original house, at least until I pulled up the pictures from the web! To save money, we're matching the new windows with the vinyl replacements that already exist. Those are all 3x2 on top and no mullions on the bottom. We can match all of those except for the casement windows we'll be using in the new bedrooms to conform to egress code. The small 25" wide windows will be awnings, and everything else will be double hung windows. The dormers will probably be fixed and we'll be getting half screens all around. The only tempered windows will be the small ones in the basement, which are just above grade.

We noticed that the bay window is fully framed in now, but the guys forgot to insulate the well underneath it, so Tom is going to get them to pull up that flooring and insulate there. Supposedly the plumber was coming by today, but I never did hear the verdict on that.

We talked at length about the stucco seams that are needed at all material joins, and runs over 144 square feet. Since the Louis side marries the old brick construction with the frame construction of the new part, there will be a vertical seam right there. We really need to match that well so that its as unnoticeable as possible, as it's going to be 1/2" wide the height of the house. There will be some horizontal seams as well, and we may place them low on the house, and draw them all the way around, with a color offset for aesthetics.

I read something on the 'net about stucco and the need for kickout flashing, which is installed at the transition between roof and vertical wall. It's purpose is to "kick out" any water away from the wall, so it can't seem behind the stucco and cause problems. I'll have to remember to ask about that when we get to that phase of the project.

I took a few pictures of today's progress. You can see that they've put the deck on for the new part of the house.

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Barry Warsaw


I just have to take a moment and say what an amazing day today was. BHO is now our 44th president and there were millions of people on the mall to witness it. Our neighbors biked down as we're only about 6 miles or so from the center of DC. Me, it was too darn cold and I had to work, but I did take a long lunch break to watch. I have nothing more profound to say than what everyone else has said, but it sure was cool.

And what's that with Cheney? Could he be any more Mr. Potter than that? George Bailey -> Mr. Smith -> Barack Obama anyone...?

Anyway, back to (as my wife would say) my boring house blog. Although we talked to Tom about the windows, there's no feedback on that yet, though we have a production meeting tomorrow morning. I went over to the house and it looked like the bay was framing was complete, including the roof. The one or two poor guys working out on that frigid day were putting a wood cap on the poured concrete walls of the conditioned area. Now the bolts sticking up make perfect sense, as the wood planks are literally screwed onto them nice and solid.

I didn't get into the house today, but will try to do so tomorrow.

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Barry Warsaw


Looks like today was a fun day with gooey black tar. This stuff is used to waterproof the foundation poured concrete walls that form the conditioned part of the house. The walls forming the unconditioned parts apparently are not waterproofed, such as the area under the entranceway, the stairs leading down from what will be the back porch, and the unconditioned area under the porch. I bet it wasn't fun to be slather that stuff all over the place in the cold we've been experiencing lately. I also hope that the stuff still works when it's slather on in that cold!

The bay window was framed out today, or mostly so. That's gonna be a really nice touch to the exterior view.

No word yet on the ejector pump. Tom dug down about 12" and did not see the top of the sewage line, but the plumber still needs to come in and take a look to give us the final word. We discussed re-arranging the bathroom in the basement to make it fit if necessary. We'll see...

The framing of the new living space was delayed because Tom was waiting for word from the stucco guy, just to make sure tolerances were set for marrying the old and new part of the house. The old part will of course be stuccoing over brick, while the new will be wood. The wood needs to be 1/2" back from the brick so that it can accept the mesh that the stucco will be applied to.

The one bummer is that there will have to be a seam between the old and new parts of the house. This makes sense because the original house has been settling for 70 years. We're concerned that the caulk seam will be too noticeable.

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Barry Warsaw

New picture site

Everybody needs a day off. It's Sunday and there's no activity, but we did get a chance to show Jane's sister, brother-in-law, and their kids around the site.

Because of limitations in Flickr and because there's some nicer integration with blogger, I've moved the canonical location of the construction pictures to Picasa.

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Barry Warsaw

A Down Day

Not too much happening today. The guys were going to start framing, and though there's a big pile of wood out there, there's no sign of that happening. They did start framing out the floor for the new bay window.

Steve and I did get a chance to get inside and look around. We were actually looking for a couple of stands for the dumpster drums I'm loaning his son Graham (a good friend of my son Max and a budding Neil Peart). Well, we couldn't find the stands -- they're either in the pods or gone gone gone -- but it was good to walk around with Steve. The basement step-up was jackhammered, but we haven't yet heard the gravitational verdict, and it looks like the temporary walls were built in the basement. I suspect the basement stairs will be ripped out before we know it.

We have got to wrap the sofa bench that we left in the house. It's huge and difficult to move, but not only was it heavily dusted, we noticed that there was a McDonalds drink cup left on it by one of the workers. I'll probably head to the hardware store and do that before we get too much farther.

It was also really cool to walk around the new foundation, see the poured walls from the inside and get a sense of what the new space will be like. We had a question about the window cut outs on the Louis side of the basement since there are supposed to be three windows there, but there are only two cut outs. The third is in the interface between the old and new house, so we think they'll just carve out what they need once the back wall comes down. We'll verify that with the builder.

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Barry Warsaw


I had a chance to see the poured foundation walls today. Originally, we were thinking to use block construction, but there's no arguing with the speed at which the poured concrete walls went up. Our builder has a lot of experience with this construction method, and our architect is cool with it so it's the way we went. Jane's not psyched about the formed brick impressions (she detests fake attempts when something tries to look like what it's not), but all that is going to get stuccoed anyway so you'll never see it.

(Aside: Jane gives me grief because this is all boring and not funny. I keep telling her that things are moving so fast, and there's so much information to get in that there isn't time to be funny. Don't worry! I'm sure there will be plenty to laugh about later.)

One big question that we have is whether we're going to need an ejector pump in the basement or not. The basement bathroom is above a step-up at the bottom of the basement stairs. We don't really know what's under that step-up. Ideally of course, the sewage line is below the grade of the new basement bathroom and we'll just let gravity do what it does best. If not, we'll need an ejector pump to get the, er, goo up from the lower bathroom into the main sewage line. If necessary, we'll hide the ejector pump under the stairs just as we're doing with the sump pump. We think there's enough room there. Tomorrow hopefully, we'll get that step-up jackhammered and take a look at what's there.

The other issue is the gas meter, which is currently inside what was the utility room, but what will be the family room if we finish the basement. Of course, we'd rather not have the gas meter in that location, but it may not be feasible to move it. There's no room outside that wall because of the new bay window, and it will probably be cost prohibitive to move the meter to the far side of the house where the new utility room is going. The plumber indicates that even with the additional BTUs of Jane's New UberOven we apparently won't need a new meter, so the gas company would be reluctant to pay for moving it. It won't be that big of a deal if we keep it where it is; we'll just hide it behind a closet or some such.

We're still thinking about finishing the basement. It's an additional cost (not part of the base contract), but it sure would be nice. We have some time to decide. We also have a bit of time to decide about the new back porch and new front walkway. Jane really wants to flagstone it, but that's also an extra cost. The difference is in the finish and depth of the concrete we're pouring in those locations. Obviously if we don't flagstone it, we'll have a nice smoother finish, but if we do cover it in flagstones, we'd want a more rough and thinner slab there. Again, we have time to decide.

As a cost saving measure we decided to keep the existing vinyl replacement windows in the old house and match the new windows as best we can. The problem is that new windows have a different reveal (the border area) than replacement windows. This won't matter on the front of the house because the only new windows are the bay and that will look different anyway. On the back, it's all new windows and on the Scutt-side it won't matter too much because it's not really visible from the street. On the Louis-side though there will be a mix of existing and new windows and Jane is concerned about the different looks. We'll have a better feel for that when we see some window options.

If the lumber arrives, we're told they may begin framing tomorrow.

Um, how the hell are the pod guys going to get their pods back when they're done?

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Barry Warsaw

Compromise, and progress

(Happy Birthday, Mom!)

Today we had a production meeting at 7am with the builder, his project manager, and our architect. We talked about a bunch of things, including the need to raise the windows behind the kitchen banquette (for the seat backs), the fact that the original slab isn't level (but only slightly, and we don't yet know what the impact on the new slab will be), and what we'll use to frame the floor of the porch. Interestingly enough, one sheet of the plans calls for Trex while another leaves it unspecified, and our contract states Trex as an alternative. Neither our architect nor we really care too much as long as it is structurally sound and has water and ice guards. Later, our builder related that they preferred to wood frame it.

There's an unconditioned space below the porch, but my eventual hope is that in a few years we'll close that off, bring in hvac and electrical and possibly be able to finish it. It's a nice little space, but we really can't afford to finish it now, so it'll mostly be used to store lawnmowers, bikes and the lot. Someday it might make a nice little area for Jane's pottery studio perhaps.

Another interesting thing about that space: I wanted to put a concrete ramp in next to the stairs, so we've actually designed a 6' wide entrance. Unfortunately, even though that ramp was approved by the county, it turns out that it's not up to code after all, so we're going to put stairs in across the entire 6 feet and then probably put in a wooden ramp or some such for the few times I need to haul gear up and down. I'm disappointed, but we can work around it.

As mentioned yesterday, we did discuss the drywells for stormwater runoff, but since the county is pretty strict about this, we're going to leave it as designed.

I'm glad that we'll be waterproofing most of the outer foundation. Almost the entire perimeter has been dug around: the entire back of course, the side because of the new entrance footers, and half the front for where the new bay window is going. All that will be waterproofed. The neighbor side and half the front will be left alone, but they're already dry and we'll make sure the new grading will keep it that way.

There was also a question about whether code would require a sprinkler system, but we've learned that our plans will not require it.

One of the things I really want to think about is wiring the house for smart home. I mean, what would be cooler than being able to log into your house and turn off the lights when you're on vacation? I'm not sure we'll be able to afford to put in all the fixtures, but I really want to at least prep the house so that we can do this if we want. Of course, I'll also want to wire the house up for cat-6 so we can hardwire a few rooms to reach areas where wireless sucks. I'm starting now to research all this, but if you have suggestions, please leave a comment with some suggestions!

Oh, and the photo stream is up!

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Barry Warsaw

A big ol' pile of dirt

It's amazing how quickly things have happened. The project manager (Tom) is a great guy and he's explained that we'll see a lot of progress early on, but that once the addition is framed and under roof, things will appear to slow. Plumbing, electrical and hvac all take a long time to complete. That's okay, right now it's very exciting!

Today the excavation was largely complete. There is now a BIG hole in the backyard, stretching almost all the way back to the tree line. This is sure going to eat up most of our backyard. There's also a ditch along the side of the house (which, because we're on a corner lot faces the street we are not addressed on), and a hole near the front door where the bay window will go. Footers were poured today for all of that.

We hit our first snag, namely in where the sump pump is going to go. The original plans were going to put this under the unconditioned space under the porch, but that's not allowed or recommended because it can freeze. Since that space will (for now) be open, you just don't want the sump pump to be exposed to the elements. We've decided to move the sump pump to under the basement stairs, which are barely usable as it is because it's such a small space. We'll have access to the pump from a utility door and it'll still drain out of the side of the house. The unconditioned area will still have a floor drain to handle any rain and such.

We briefly toyed with the idea of enclosing the unconditioned area, running hvac and electrical to it, so that we could use it as an additional room, but because of the way the stairs and ramp lead out of the basement, it isn't feasible or cost effective. We're talking more architectural and engineering fees, and most significantly, delays in schedule getting the changes approved by the county. We'll leave this area unconditioned for now, though our architect has assured us that should we decide to enclose it a few years from now, it will be doable (with some accommodation for the lack of an exterior landing, which we just can't fit given the yard space).

Another snag we hit was with the drainage plan, which was added at the last minute in order to gain county approval. It turns out that this will leave two clean out access ports in the front yard, each about 8" in diameter. This is unfortunate because they'll basically be front yard artifacts that will be somewhat unsightly. Tom and Larry (the builder) have told us that once the yard is given its final grade, the drainage pipes will be shorn so that they'll be at or below grass level. Hopefully they'll be easy to hide behind some gardening. We're exploring the possibility of using a single drain, but we're doubtful that the county will either give its approval, or do so in a timely manner. We really do not want to incur delays here.

Tomorrow, we've got our first production meeting with Tom and Larry, along with Steve (our architect). We've all met before, but I think it'll be good to talk about some of these outstanding issues, establish regular meetings, get a schedule, etc. It's gonna be cold tomorrow, so we're doing it at the rental house. Yay for 7am meetings!

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Barry Warsaw

Where'd my house go?

Well, we woke up this morning to find most of our house gone. Actually, we'd sort of expected it since the county approved our plans on Friday. We've been in our house in suburban Washington DC for more than 6 years and always planned on doing a renovation project. It's taken this long for us to get off our butts and finish the plans, line up a builder, arrange financing, and so on. Given the sorry state of the housing market, this is either the smartest thing we've done, or the dumbest.

Anyway, we were expecting to break ground tomorrow, but Jane had to go up to the school this morning and saw the project manager on her way. He asked her if she'd seen the house -- which she hadn't yet. So we went over there and by noon, they had ripped off the crappy addition, taken off the awning and the concrete slab underneath, and nearly completely stripped the interior. Kitchen? Gone. Basement? Gone. Upstairs walls? Gone. Unbelievable.

By the time school had let out, the concrete to the front door was gone as was the huge azalea bush that Max and his friends had used as a secret fort. The bobcat and backhoe were hard at work digging out the big hole which will soon be the new part of our basement.

It's only the first day, but it was a good, exciting, freakout kind of day. I can say one thing though: I am so glad we decided to move out while the construction was under way! We took lots of pictures, which I'll be posting to Flickr as soon as possible.

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