We’ve Got A Hole

Well, we sort of have a hole.  Or at least the beginning of a hole.  And it’s really deep.  Careful. 

A picture of our "hole". From this vantage point I'm standing in the laundry room or staircase and looking through the kitchen into the dining room and screen porch. Check out the cool layers of soil. "Pass me the ketchup," is only 8 months away.

We had a lot of rain the last 24 hours, but that didn’t stop the excavator from starting to dig the foundation hole.  Our building site is basically flat, but there is some change in elevation, enough that I think the best we’ll do at my studio door is 12″ from grade.  I may have mentioned we were shooting for the regulation minimum of 6″.  Turns out the opposite end of the house is pretty high and we do have to slope away from the house to keep water away, so we’ll be digging like crazy at one end and a little high on the other.  That’s okay, it happens.  And I can ramp up to my studio when the drive and landscaping go in.  I’ll survive. Our land used to part of an old century farm so it’s kind of neat to see old fence rows grown up (the east preservation area).  There are a lot of interesting plants too, and not all are native as their seeds blew in over the years from surrounding communities and gardens.  I think I tagged at least three blossoming trees that really aren’t from Ohio.  I didn’t look too closely at the layers of soil but will do so tomorrow.  I think we can see some nice farm / pasture quality top soil in the striations revealed in the foundation dig.  Maybe I’m making that up but it sounds good to me. 

In case you were wondering, yes, an excavator will fit in my studio based on what I saw today.

 I adjusted my ProjectCam now that I know where the house is.  It’s taken 200 photos so far (of about 2,600 per SD card) and about 73% battery life left.

As the sun set over the job site I could hear a deer snorting at me from the other side of the west preservation area.  I like to think she (or he) isn’t too mad at me for disturbing the peace and taking some of her space for my family home.  I’ll propose a deal, I may have created a big hole now but this time next year, maybe a bag of clover seed will accidentally fall out of the back of the jeep and a certain deer will have a little patch of clover all to herself.  Maybe then we can be friends again.

Gimmie a Break

Busy day, but not on the job site.  Sorry ProjectCam, I promise I’ll be out to check on you soon.  Poor little guy, probably figured I’d abandoned him.  I’ll bring a cloth to wipe off your lens and I’ll check to make sure you’re still running.

I haven’t shared much about the house design yet.  We hired a local architect, Joe Ferut, to design our home.  I’ll tell you more about Joe in the future, and the advantages of working with an architect as well.  Here’s a pic of the front of the house:

Front elevation of the house.

I call it a contemporary farm-house.  The goal is to mimic the concept of an old farm-house or mill, kind of New England-y (made that up).  Historically it should fit in with the Western Reserve architecture of the area, or at least in my mind it does and guess what, I’m paying the bills around here so what I say is the god’s honest truth.  No questioning my immense knowledge on this or any other topic for that matter.  But I digress.  I’ll tell you more about the house style in a later post.

One of the reason’s we wanted an architect was to implement some environmentally sustainable concepts / practices into our new home.  The plan is to live there for a long time and I absolutely hate writing checks each month to utility companies.  Some people enjoy it and I’d never begrudge them for that relationship they have.  I guess I’ve just got an independent streak.  Also I’m willing to spend more up front and reap the rewards long-term. 

Full disclosure, I don’t purposefully make stuff up but I’m no expert, double-check your facts before you attempt this at home.  I’m going to spout off a bunch of stuff that I probably have no intellectual right to spout off on, but this is the internet so….I pretty much have the free reign to act smart with virtually no ramifications.  Here we go, a lesson on thermal breaks (as they exist in my mind).

I can get more into tactics in the future, but to simplify it  we basically want to keep the cold air out and warm air in the Winter and vice versa in the Summer.  We’ll have a super tight house to prevent air transmission from in and out (unless we want it to via an open window).  Even then though heat or cold can penetrate the walls so we will employ “thermal breaks” to make it tougher for all those nasty cold air molecules to “pass through” (actually I think they rub each other but we’ll keep it clean here…..) our walls.  The thermal breaks, as far as I can tell act as speed bumps or roadblocks.  Usually they’re a dissimilar material sandwiched between to other materials.  Like air between two panes of glass.  Or insulation in your wall between the inside drywall and the oriented strand board on the outside. 

Today my crack team of designers, builders and random homeless people off the street tackled the design of the thermal break in my basement floor.  I know throw in some candle light and we’ve got the making of one of those trashy romance novels, but really it’s not as romantic as it sounds in this blog.  Here’s a pic:

Basement thermal break detail. Can you spot it?

We need to separate the cold outside concrete, stone and earth, from the warm inside concrete, insulation and air.  The Superior Wall system we’re using has its own break in the form of integrated foam built into the wall (colored blue in the pic above).  I’ll tell you more about Superior in a future episode but take a look at ‘Extreme Home Makeover’ on ABC on any given 2011 Sunday to see their handy work first hand.

Back to the break.  Yours truly gets to lay down 4″ of blue foam on top of the gravel in my basement.  Voila!  Thermal break, oh heck yeah.  I colored it blue (periwinkle) in the pic as well.  I’m an artist, don’t try this at home.
That just leaves the nasty connection between the concrete floor and the concrete on the Superior Wall.  I can’t run foam between the two because the concrete floor is going to lock the bottom of the wall system in place.  If it was just foam the walls would squish the foam in an effort to meet up (mate?) with the concrete floor.  Then I’d have to listen to blue foam dying in my basement for the rest of my life.  Instead I’m going to separate the two pieces of concrete (wall and floor) with a thermal break made out of, you guessed it, a different material.  In this case pressure treated wood.  That should slow down or stop the cold air molecules, camping out in the dirt, from getting into my house. 
If you want to get more technical than that read a book or talk to an expert, but I guarantee they won’t be as much fun as me, go off on any tangents, nor will their beer be nearly as cool and refreshing as my thermally controlled beer will be, even when it’s 100 degrees outside.

The Third Dimension

Been a quiet weekend house-wise.  We have a little over a week before the foundation is set.  Somewhere in Lima, New York there should a factory team pouring over my plans and manufacturing our foundation in the coming week.  In the meantime we need to prep the site to their specifications.  We can’t dig the hole too early in case of rain, which would turn our foundation hole into a swimming pool.  But we have to dig it and leave enough time to lay down drain pipes and get an inspection I believe.

Fortunately on the personal front we’ve completed our last art show of the season so now we can focus on building the house.

I think the next big hurdle we have, one where once we’re past and if all still looks good we can let out a sigh of relief, is getting the foundation in.  The surveyor staked out the house and from what I can tell it’s situated correctly or rather acceptably in relation to the surroundings (trees, topography, etc.) and in relation to the plan (i.e. looks like the drawing as far as I can tell).  This covers the left to right and front to back dimensions. That leaves just one dimension: up and down.

One of the reasons we’re building this house  is because I’m intrinsically lazy.  In our current house every time we do an art show I have to drag everything up from the basement.  In the new house I’m going to have my own first floor studio.  In it I’ll not only work, but also store stuff that we need for art shows. So we purposefully designed the studio to not have any steps to the outside.  It’ll have a cement slab floor with wide double doors that will allow me to go in and out without a step up or down.  Regulations in our neck of the woods require 6″ between grade and an exterior door.  Once the house is graded I’ll ramp up to the doorway. Then I can back the truck right up near the door and minimize my every step.  Maybe I need one of the little fridges in my studio for beer in case I get thirsty…..a chair or bench too for breaks.

I’m double and triple checking the dimensions as best I can to assure the foundation is set with this in mind.  All along we wanted the first floor low to the ground.  Two maybe three steps up, max. The architect established the number of steps going from my studio to the main house as well as the porch steps back down to grade.  You don’t think about it, but it is fairly scientific and at the very least shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Once the foundation is in there’s not much we can do to correct something if the house is in the wrong place.  I suppose we could mound up the grade around the house but why not do it right the first time.  It’ll be critical to get a good flow in and out of the studio from both inside and outside.  It’s one area I can’t compromise, but also can’t really correct, so I’m praying it turns out okay.  Fingers crossed.

I’ll tell you more about our foundation system around the time it goes in.  I should have some good pics too.  I’ll also start giving some more background on the house design and landscape master plan.

Every day I have a laundry list of potential obstacles and problems.  For every one I solve or eliminate another pops up.  My eye is twitching.

Ceiling Fan


End of the week. 

First day, since we started. that nothing happened at the house site.  Nothing scheduled for today.  Even I took a break and didn’t even visit.  No time actually, it’s been a busy week.  Finally had a chance to drop a painting off to a client, then out to dinner to celebrate the wife’s birthday.  We’ve been on overload all week we barely had it in us to discuss the typical: how much slate flooring, construction schedule, and the “what are we going to use the loft for” territorial verbal dance (by the way, you know who envisions bookshelves up there; weird, I don’t read, and she reads a lot, so who gets to use what sounds to be the “NYC Public Library in the loft” I wonder. Just kidding honey, Happy Birthday). We shelved any decision-making until another day.

We get home, hello grandma, thanks grandma, “say goodbye to grandma, and give her a kiss”, etc. 

It’s late when we get home so time to put the boys to bed.  I get tasked with rocking my youngest to sleep, which usually I have at least a Bachelors degree in (like from one of those online colleges).  Tonight he fights me.  Not full-out but enough to make me realize I’m not 25 anymore and I need my downtime too.  Upstairs, lights out, find refuge from big brother who spars with his mother half heartily as she tries to get his teeth brushed and butt in bed.

This way, that way, rocking, singing (which when I sing, small animals cry and god snuffs out kittens for sport)….nothing. Still fussy.  Not too bad, like I said, but enough for my weary body. Well my little baby, you’re “old man” has a few tricks up his sleeve.  Hop up out of the comfy chair, flip a switch, voila…..ceiling fan…..back in comfy chair, rotate baby off shoulder, face up, mesmerize, baby falls asleep, I write blog and go to sleep. ready, set, go.

Then it hits me. 

The second he looks at that ceiling fan he settles down completely and a little hand wraps around my index finger. Score one for dad.  Doctorate granted: “Baby-Put-To-Sleep-PhD”.  But then something weird happens. The little dude in my arms, you know, the one in the pj’s and staring up at the ceiling…..I just realized he has never seen a running ceiling fan before in his entire life.  And he’s mesmerized by it (just as I predicted).  And I can sense that as long as he has an index finger to wrap his tiny hand around, he’s pretty much free to enjoy that fan cause that means his dad’s there and ceiling fans (whatever those are) pose no threat, especially in dark shadowy rooms. 

I catch him peekin’ at me to see if I’m sleeping or not.  I pretend I am in hopes that he gets the idea.

But what hits me is not sharing that “my first ceiling fan” moment, as cool as that was, but rather that I’m pretty sure he grew up a little today. 

Or yesterday, or this week or something. 

He eventually loses his battle with the ceiling fan and I’ve got lying in my arms what used to be this ball of a baby that would curl up on my shoulder.  Now he seems longer, bigger……. I dunno how to describe it.  But I’m pretty sure only a parent could tell you what I mean.  And it’s not like I was in Guam all week binge drinking with a Taiwanese circus.  Just yesterday I carried him all around the job site and showed him my studio and the screen porch.  I’m pretty sure I rocked him to sleep at least 2.5 other nights this week. I didn’t notice a thing.

In the calm of the last hours of the last day of a hectic week I finally saw something that was right in front of me all along.

The most remarkable event of the week happened on a day when nothing happened at the house site.

It’s going really, really fast. 

I guess we did make one house related decision today, after all.  No worries Ju-Ju, we’ll make sure you get a ceiling fan in your bedroom.  Love you little guy.





I actually didn’t do anything today.  Rather didn’t do anything at the house job site today.  I got a call around 3:30 that the house was staked out so  when I got home we packed everyone in the truck and headed out to see the first real indication of where the house would be. The surveyor’s team did a nice job surveying the property and staking out the house.  They staked out the corners and provided the excavator with some offsets and even showed me where my porch corner posts will be (which will be helpful, cause you know who most likely gets to put those in).

And today we got our first complaint, so I must be doing something right.  I guess a neighbor came over and was upset about me cutting trees down which, if you know me, is kind of ironic.  Winning friends and influencing people, that’s how I roll.

Tree killer. Oh yea, I'm gonna hang this bad boy on my wall next to my deer head. Sorry ladies, I'm already taken.

Setting angry neighbors aside we got the first look at the house site with stakes.  Kinda weird, I won’t lie.  There was more brush pushed aside.   Seems much more “open” now which was not what was in our mind’s eye.  We’ll get used to it.  Plus we’re planting a ton of trees so in the end it’ll be enchanted enough.

view towards house, standing in the orchard, garage in foreground, house in back

Christine lost her befriended little tree that was by the porch.  Kinda sad.  Maybe the excavator put him aside somewhere.  That’s what we’d like to think anyway. Maybe I’ll pay the excavator to find a similar tree and say “yeah, here’s that porch tree I saved for you.”

I saw where my studio is going as well as the rest of the first floor, or footprint of the house.  Seems small, but that’s the goal.  Once again, it’ll look different once we build.  Our current house seemed small too and now it’s comfortable.

view of house, standing in screen porch, garage off to right. Note two tall cherry's left of the truck. Those are the ones that get in the way of backing out of the garage. See the tall cherry to the right? Yeah I gave him a reprieve too. Also note random "saved" maple tree in my studio.

The garage will be a challenge but not enough to change anything.  See, I deviated from the landscape  plan and spared about 3-4 cherry trees, two of which are where the drive turn around is supposed to go.  The others are where the grassy off-drive parking is.  Well the one tree by the garage will hopefully live but it bisects the garage exits, although it is on the other side of the driveway.  Should be interesting, but I think we can do it without moving the garage or chopping down another cherry tree.  Hey, it’s our house, we’ll be crazy if we want to be.  I pay my taxes.

I promise to be nice to my neighbors, even the ones who think I hate nature and the environment. 

We’ll start digging the foundation hole next.



Roller coaster day, but turned out to be pretty good and productive.  I woke up at 5:30 and stopped out at the site on my way to work.  Ugh, rain.  Huddled in my Volkswagen (where’s my Jeep?!) using a tape measure I tried to figure out how far up the drive the culvert pipe needed to be placed.  140′??? Jump out into the rain and track my once nice tape measure through the mud and spray paint some dots….Hmmm.  Doesn’t seem right.  Hop in VW, look at different site plan…decide to gauge off pin from surveyor, and I spray paint some lines.  Yeah, definitely spot on, well as spot on as can be expected.  It won’t be in the way and suits the lay of the land nicely.

Wandering around I notice a rogue survey stake and freak out.  No way the corner of the house is here.  Frantically run around in circles in waist-high weeds in my work clothes (i.e. dockers and short sleeve shirt and decent shoes) and ultimately realize no one’s up at 7 in the morning for me to freak out on and or commiserate with.

Battle traffic, work, then off to bank at lunchtime.  Fill out forms then back home.

Christine is gracious enough to make me a PB&J sandwhich. Scarf that down then off to the job site.  “Tick proof” clothes….again….I thought I was done with wearing long sleeves in 80 degree weather.  Throw the chainsaw in the VW (kick ass) and head out to the site.

dumping stone for the driveway, over the culvert

My friend Corky is waiting with his chainsaw and gear.  I’m still freaking out about the fact I didn’t line up my surveyor or anyone else to stake the house and we need it done pronto. If I do it myself I don’t know where to begin.  The ‘Little Red Hen’ route is showing some stress.

Well, I may not know where the house is but there aren’t any big trees in the plans to the left of the drive and there are big trees before us.  Easy enough, we end up cutting down 5 big trees (1 maple, 4 cherry). And by “we” I mean Corky cut them down while I stood there like an idiot.  I’m pretty much useless with a chainsaw.  I may know as much about 18th century Russian history as I know about cutting trees down (i.e. nothing).  Corky proved to be my first savior of the day and felled all 5 trees like a pro in 2 hours flat. Ok in all fairness I dropped one with his moral support and guidance.  I’m pretty much a 2-year-old with a chainsaw.

No he's not taking a leak, he's deftly cutting down that cherry tree.

After saying goodbye to Corky I walked back up and finished cutting up the trunks and branches.  The excavator can then push all that out of the way tomorrow.  After that was done I blankly sat on the ground contemplating where the house was supposed to go and thinking of contingency plans to get the house staked.  Foundation day is in two weeks!  My surveyor hasn’t called back yet.  Yes, I suppose I could chart it myself which is what I was contemplating.  I even have a 300′ measuring tape, all shiny and new from Lowes.  Hmm, maybe iPhone compass and GPS I could locate points….Ugh,  F-me. How far to the Pilot station for a six-pack?  When am I expected home?

And then, out of the blue, like a gift come straight from god, my surveyor rounds the corner of the drive and walks into the house clearing. Wow. I’m guessing in my morning panic I left a message and said I’d be out there and in lieu of calling he just showed up.  Short conversation later, we’re all set.  He’ll stake out most of the corners tomorrow and I can take it from there.  Thank you god (and surveyor of course).

So it was a good day.  I’ll post up some more pics tomorrow hopefully.  Christine and I will check out the stakes tomorrow and take a seat on our “screen porch” or at least where it will be and check out the view.

Foundation’s ordered, just need to dig a big hole in the earth. Tomorrow should be less stressful.  Knock on wood.


P.S. ProjectCam seems to be humming along, something like 26 pics so far.

Day Two


We’re going at a brisk pace.  Hardly time to catch a break.  I bolted out of work, went home, dawned (sp?) my “tick proof” get up grabbed some papers, stake, and camera and headed out to the site.  Today was all about ordering the foundation.  Yeah, sure you can build your foundation block by block but our architect recommended a prefabricated wall system.  We looked into it and that’s what we’re going with.  I’ll tell you more once it’s installed.  Anyway, after looking over the vendor’s plans, comparing them to the architect’s plans I signed off and viola! Foundation ordered.  I’ll get an install date tomorrow.  Should be 2-3 weeks to manufacture.  Then a big kick ass semi truck and crane will bring the panels out and install them in about 8 hours.  In addition to the details of the foundation walls, I discussed the driveway approach to the job site.  There’s a tight chicane that will be interesting to coax a semi through.  Additionally there are some trees overhanging the job site portion of the drive, but those should be ceremoniously taken down tomorrow. 

For now the excavator has the drive roughed in and the house site cleared.  And of course everything looks different now so I’m totally lost.  Like a small child, I should have a site plan pinned to the cuff of my shirt. Incidentally, now that everything’s clear, need for my “tick proof” get up is eliminated unless I want to gallop through the bush, say to wrestle with my ProjectCam for instance.

roughed in driveway with stabilization fabric. house will be at the far end and to the left.
Driveway isn’t as “snakey” as I imagined but I just rushed through today.  I’ll analyze it more tomorrow.  It’s probably fine.  In a way it’s sad to see the land cleared.  Having walked it for a year, through the seasons I got used to it.   Like Christine said, I guess we just imagined a house would magically appear.  I try not to look directly at all the plants we had to clear out.  😦
bulldozer in clearing with “saved” tree.
There are two “bookend” preservation areas on either end of the clearing.  These tall stands of trees will hopefully not be affected by construction.  They will provide some much-needed protection from the elements throughout the year (e.g. harsh east / west sun, wind, etc.).  I may even drop a couple of the felled cherry trees in the preservation area and let them rot and eventually create a natural cherry tree nursery. We fenced the areas off with orange fencing and tape.  Keep out!
picture of preservation area fenced off
ProjectCam is now stabilized a little better and turned on!  It registered at least one pic whilst I was there.
latest project cam set up: stake, tree, cords, straps…..

Tomorrow I’ll stop out before work.  I have a culvert I need to spec the location on.  Every day a new adventure.