Storage Room Workbench & Coat Rack

Finally I had the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and build something for the house. Work and life have been beyond crazy, but I was able to carve out a Saturday and Sunday to work on a couple storage and workspace solutions for the basement storage room.

The first unit is a workbench for the wife. She’s a paper artist and sometimes needs to spray glue large pieces of card stock so there is a spray booth in the middle of the workbench. No more spraying on the floor. To the right is a baker’s rack style set of shelves. And to the left of the booth is a small work bench with pegboard backdrop. I purposefully left space to the left of the unit to access existing storage shelves, and possibly tuck away loose and bulky storage room items.

The other unit I made is a coat rack. In winter we have a ton of boots and coats, but once summer comes we have no place to put them. This two level unit will hold a ton of winter gear. There is also a shelf and under shelf space for winter boots and unused shoes.

It was a very satisfying project to work on. It’s my therapy, meditation or whatever you want to call it. Challenging enough that it takes some planning, but mindless enough to be satisfying. And no one tells me what to do. I can do it my way. Which anyone who’d reached middle age can tell you, is a rewarding situation.

The storage room looks great now. We’re more organized and have some useful work space. We also took the opportunity to move the cat’s litter boxes to an open area in the room instead of in front of the storage room door. It’s all a wonderful monkey to get off of my back, and allows us to focus on the fun, “living” part of life instead of the “ugh, we still need to do that” part of life.

Overall cost was about $117 for lumber, and $40 for screws and misc hardware. It took me about four to six hours to cut, assemble and install everything. The 2×4’s are definitely overkill – but trees grow back, and it’s easy to find lumber in this size at a reasonable price. Plus it’s straight; 2×3’s or 2×2’s tend to be crooked. The units are screwed into the ceiling above when possible. The Superior Walls are difficult if not impossible to fasten into. At the bottom I placed plastic shims to level everything and I will add metal brackets to tie the units into the cement floor so they don’t fall over.

Eventually we will add lighting to the storage room. I’m thinking three overhead linear LED work lights, and then maybe task light bars over the bench work spaces.

Let me know what you think, and what you’re working on, in the comments section. Here are some pics, ask questions in the comments too…

-Chris

Garage Door Openers

After four years, we finally pulled the trigger on buying garage door openers for our two garage doors. With our fifth winter looming and a “twelve month same as cash” deal at Lowe’s now was as good of time as any.

At our old house we had a Genie garage door opener installed shortly after we moved in. This time around I researched openers a bit and decided to switch brands and go with Chamberlain because they got better customer review ratings from the various sites I looked at online. We purchased two 1/2 horsepower belt driven Chamberlain Whisper Drive openers at about $168 apiece. Since our garage doors are 8′ tall, not the normal 7′ tall, I had to buy two extension kits as well as some hardware, and L-shaped steel material to create a hanger for each opener, about $164 in extra materials. Also turns out I had to spend around another $20 for longer power cords, but we’ll get to that later.

Lowe’s offers installation starting at $119 per opener plus any extra for materials, or extra labor. After talking to the guy at Lowe’s I decided I could probably handle it and save some money. That’s kind of a funny thought in hindsight but first, the installation…

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Metal L-channel for hanging the openers from the ceiling.

What I thought was going to take a couple hours per door quickly turned into a three day ordeal over the course of the last month. Every little thing that could go wrong sort of did go wrong; although catastrophic deal breakers were limited and obviously I did get the job done. Eventually.

The biggest challenge I faced was that our garage is 14′ tall inside. Which means I only had one ladder tall enough to even get close to the ceiling. It was a precarious job often spent with me on a tall ladder envisioning, not my death, but rather my breaking my neck, peeing myself and laying hopelessly on the cold hard cement until hours later when my wife comes out to see if I’m “okay”.

I managed to get the first opener assembled. I mounted a board to the header above the door to attach the track to. That was it for day one.

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Late in the night of day one, I finally have the track attached to the front header. I had to scrounge wood, and then attach the board to a seemingly stud free wall. All in an attempt to get the height just right.

The next day I propped the opener up on the ladder and realized no way could I prop the opener on there and still be able to access the ceiling to install the L-shaped metal channels that create the hanger assembly. So I spent an hour fabricating a wooden stand, about ten feet tall to rest the opener on while I attempted to mount it. Here are some pictures to behold my craftiness.

Okay, with the opener finally resting level, it was time to install the metal hanger assembly. This took awhile because I kept dropping hardware; up and down I went on that ladder about a million times. I could just barely reach the 14′ tall ceiling to find ceiling joists and mark them without falling over. One way or another I got the hangers installed, including one at an angle to keep things from racking.

Next up was wiring the unit and plugging it in.

The only problem there was the electricians who installed the garage wiring totally screwed me. The outlet was too far away from the opener. So I’d either have to get the outlets moved, or, after some thought, put longer cords on the openers. Turns out I went the longer cord route. But in addition to that they didn’t run the low voltage wires long enough to reach where the openers needed to be mounted. They basically installed everything for a standard 7′ tall door, without actually accessing our garage’s real world situation. So there I was four years later cursing up a storm to empty air.

So I adjusted the ladder and clambered on up into the attic hoping I wouldn’t have to run new low voltage wires or have to splice anything. Turns out what I did was undo the staples that held the low voltage wires in neat ninety degree runs from the walls to their holes in the ceiling. This allowed enough slack in the lines that they would then reach the garage door openers. So while it may not look pretty in the attic, and I don’t know if that breaks some code, I truly do not care because the problem was solved and I didn’t have to splice or re-run wires.

I am, by no means, an electrician but eventually I was able to figure out how to wire the wall switch as well as the electronic eyes that prevent the unit from closing if something like a kid or small animal is in their way. I plugged the first opener into an extension cord and sure as shit it worked. I was as shocked as anyone.

End of day two.

Only one opener to go.

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The first wall button installed.

I took a few weeks off to mentally prepare for installing the second opener. In the meantime I went to Lowe’s and bought two 8′ long appliance cords. I asked the guy if I could simply change out the cords on the openers instead of fussing with moving outlets. He was a older gentleman, and I just loved his response of “Let’s not overthink every damn thing. Just change out the cords.” So that was good enough for me. The cords I got had three wires to match the three wires on the units – green ground, and white and black.

After assembling the second unit I started to mount it, but then realized quickly that it’d be easier to change the cord on the ground.

What a royal pain in the ass.

Once again I was soon bitching out my electrician for putting the outlets in the wrong spot as I worked over my perfectly new garage door opener; taking it apart, having it flop around in my hands. By the way, the cover is held on with eight screws that can only be removed with a 1/4″ wrench because they are so tightly secured. Eventually I got the cover all thinking: “There’s no way this is 1) ever going back together, and 2) ever going to work again. $168 dollars down the drain.

I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to free the cord from the unit. An injection molded grommet had a death grip on everything. With a little flat head screwdriver love I got the grommet out.  The wires on the original cord were nice because they had little loops and prongs for easily connecting them. My generic new cord just had wires, but I did the best I could to attach them. I even got the grommet to go back in, using a big pair of pliers to squeeze it tight as can be on the power cord, allowing it to re-enter its hole. Eventually the cover even went back on and everything looked okay.

Don’t forget, I still have to install the new cord on the first opener, except that one is ten feet in the air. Not looking forward to that.

Once the power cord was installed, the rest of the installation went relatively easily. Having installed the opener once already, the second install was infinitely easier. Plus I had prepped a lot of the wiring ahead of time when I did opener number one.

Does it feel good to have garage door openers?

Yes.

Was it worth it?

Monetarily? No. If I worked billable hours for half the time I spent playing with the installation I would be way ahead.

Mentally? Not at the time because it was a headache I didn’t need.

But now that it’s over it was rewarding to finish the job. And now I know how to install garage door openers. Still I’m not that quick but I do know the ins and outs of them and how they are installed. So that’s a worthless skill I can add to my heap of worthless knowledge.

I will get the satisfaction of knowing I did it all by myself whenever I go in and out of the garage. So I’m ultimately happy. And now after four years we finally don’t have to manually open our garage doors which will be great in the winter time. Now I just need to clean out the garage.

-Chris

 

House Design Tips

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a critique for fourth year architecture students at our local university – Kent State. Seeing the student’s project work, talking with them, faculty and with fellow reviewers was inspiring to me as a designer and a homeowner. The university houses their architecture program in a brand new building that recently opened with the start of the school year. I had seen photos of it in the newspaper, and had driven by it during construction. It was impressive and rewarding to see the building completed and in person. The scale of the building is a bit juxtapose in my mind. The exterior looks grand in its simplicity – conceptually it reads larger but physically my first impression was that it was smaller than I anticipated. Like 7/8th scale. Inside its wide open, which makes it almost seem smaller and large at the same time. Ultimately there is a lot of “unexpected” since the design transcends decades of traditional big university building design thinking – or at least the buildings I’ve had experience with.

So let’s talk about today’s topic. At the end of the crit the evaluators had an opportunity to mention their take aways and advice. This got me thinking on the drive home, what advice would I give as a homeowner who lives in a house that follows many of the tenants the students are learning about – space planning, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability…and also as a homeowner (I was drafted to bring that perspective to the afternoon’s festivities).

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The new Kent State Architecture building as you approach from the northwest.

ksu-arch-building-interior

Open studios foster collaboration across experiences and disciplines.

Without further ado here are seven of my off the cuff tips for anyone building, buying, remodeling or designing a home, based on our experience living in our current home for four and one half years.

  1. Rainwater collection is by far the smartest thing we did. This includes the gorgeous steel roof on the house. While pricey (~$20K+ for the roof and $13K+ for the rainwater collection system including cistern) it’s without a doubt the way to go in my opinion for your entire water household water supply. It provides independence from questionable city water supplies. The only maintenance cost is changing filters ($30-$50 each) every few months, and keeping the chlorine tank filled (a gallon of bleach a few times a year). Combined with an on site wastewater treatment solution ($300/year maintenance), it’s off the grid living that allows you to be a responsible steward for how water comes and goes from your property.

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    Rainwater harvesting schematic shows how we collect rainwater for ALL of our water needs.

  2. Central living space – kitchen, dining and family rooms – is the way to go for today’s modern family. These three “rooms” are clustered together in our house and we spend 75% of our family time there I suspect. Preparing meals, eating dinner, watching television – our family of four is always in this space. The only downside is it looks like a tornado hit it with all the dishes, toys, papers, etc. but hopefully as the kids get older we’ll be able to reign in the clutter. And they are not huge spaces individually but as a whole we get a high performance livable space without the complexity of the typical new home floor plan. I only wish the family room space was about 2′ longer, maybe a square bay window. Arranging furniture in that space is a minor challenge. As for quiet time, there are other rooms to get away, so there is balance – opportunities to be in the middle of the action in this central space or not elsewhere.

    central-space

    This is where we spend all of our time essentially – kitchen, family room and dining room. Design these three spaces small and combine them for an effective everyday living space. Bonus points for the adjacent screen porch.

  3. Office space doesn’t have to be a dedicated room or even much more than a strategically placed built in. My office, I work from home 24/7, is literally a 5′ x 9′ space that is technically a hallway between the front hall and my art studio. We recently built a 15’x15′ space in the basement for my new office but laziness has kept me from moving down there just yet. I don’t mind my small office that I have now. I have a handy pocket door that I can close if I’m on a call. The rest of the house is “far away” so the kids are usually making noise somewhere else and early do I have to yell “shut up” during the course of any given day. There is built in storage and aplenty and even a place for our fish tank. When designing a house you can carve an office into virtually any space. And more and more people are working from home either part of the week or all the time. Get creative with office space.

    office

    Office space can be carved out of a hallway; they don’t require a lot of space.

  4. Pocket doors are a fantastic way to partition spaces. When we had our house designed there were several small spaces along the main north-south corridor. All the spaces (laundry, bathrooms, office) have their doors open 95% of the time.If we would have put traditional doors we be walking around open doors all the time and losing wall space. Pocket doors afford us a lot more flexibility in staging the house for when guests come over, need privacy , sequester cats or just don’t want to look at clutter. My tip though is get hollow pocket doors. The solid ones we have are just too damn heavy and difficult to use. Also note that the door needs space inside the adjacent wall to live when they’re open. You won’t be able to hang towel bars in those spaces as well because of the reduced depth behind the drywall.

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    Pocket doors save space and provide more options for partitioning spaces than a traditional door.

  5. Kitchens can be small and don’t have to be traditional. We stole our kitchen design from a picture I saw in a magazine. It basically looks like three pieces of furniture instead of a traditional stock cabinet design you see in every house ever. And because the kitchen is part of that shared space with the dining room and living room, our kitchen is small (8’x13′) but doesn’t act small. Two chefs can work the room without bumping into each other. There’s a deep integrated pantry space (with pocket door) keeping supplies at hand without taking up much space. The island is big enough to serve off of and stand around, and that’s about it. Exposed overhead beams and a painted ceiling define the space and add interest without a lot of cost. Lastly there’s an alignment with the dining room table that really amps up the repetition and flexibility of horizontal surfaces.

    clean-kitchen-for-once

    Three piece kitchen looks more like an assemblage of furniture than a kitchen.

  6. Open kitchen cabinets add an eclectic touch while making life easier. A minute a day spent opening and closing kitchen cabinets? Six hours a year? Four years of living here and I’ve saved a day of my life not spent opening cabinets, right? We never got door installed on our cabinets due to circumstances, and frankly I’m kinda sold on not having them. It doesn’t look too cluttered. If you’re Martha Stewart you can go crazy with really nice dishes and keep everything organized. If you’re us you have a collection of random cups and glasses and it all seems to work anyway. Go for it, live a little and simplify your life while standing apart from every other cookie cutter home experience out there.

    open-kitchen-cabinets

    Open cabinets make getting, and putting away dishes a breeze and add an eclectic feel to the kitchen.

  7. USB wall chargers are a fun little add on. Replace an outlet in the office or kitchen with one of these USB outlets and you no longer have to hunt for adaptors to charge your electronic devices. Eventually everything will probably wireless charging or whatnot but in the meantime you can go old school by installing a couple of these in your house.

    usb-charging-outlet

    A USB charging station allows you to plug devices directly into the wall socket without hunting around for adaptors.

 

Some other personal thoughts that I won’t go into detail this time around but keep them in mind – low maintenance is great, low cost / simplicity to keep construction costs down, character in finishes and details, a screen porch / outdoor spaces, circular staircases are your friend, and 4″ diameter ceiling lights as opposed to old school 6″ ones.

There you have it, some quick tips for your home or your client’s home to make it more useable, flexible and enjoyable.

What are your home design tips? Share in the comments below, I really want to hear them.

 

-Chris

Rural Driveway Options

As you may have read in a previous post, we’ve been forced to research driveway options beyond our existing driveway. We share the driveway with two other homes, which means if those two homes want to put in another driveway surface besides our gravel driveway then that’s basically what we have to do whether we like it or not.

Having had this sprung upon us a few weeks ago, there hasn’t been much time to react. The neighbors were nice enough to give me a few days to research all of our options before we just knee jerk go and put in an asphalt driveway. So in addition to my day job and in lieu of spending excessive time with my kids I spent a week researching options and gathering estimates.

So now I’m sort of involuntarily a driveway expert, or at least as expert as I can be in a week and one PowerPoint presentation later.

Here’s what I found out…

Our Driveway – Existing Gravel

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Current driveway is an almost cement like finish, despite technically being a gravel driveway. It is prone to pot holes.

Our property came with a gravel driveway already leading to it from the road. For the purposes of the neighbors intent, we’re just looking at changing the driveway material along the first 1,700 feet (about 17,000 square feet for a 10′ wide driveway). There’s a shared utility easement that the driveway resides upon. Neighbors are each responsible for 1/3 the maintenance and upkeep, while maintaining the existing material (gravel).

The biggest complaints are dust, pot holes and gravel being pushed into the grass.

Personally I think it’s congruent with the rural atmosphere of the property and our country setting.

To maintain it we got quotes from a gentleman who has an apparatus on the back of his Jeep that “rakes” the driveway to get help prevent pot holes. Driving slow on the driveway helps prevent pot holes as well.

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The knives aren’t on the rig in this shot, but the bar lowers down with metal posts on the end and rakes the gravel driveway

My recommendation is that we try maintaining the driveway properly and professionally. In addition to the raking, we could hire a landscaper to cut the grass in the utility area, as well as put a definitive edge on the drive; possibly even a hardscape paver edging. Raking is $300-$500 per year. Not sure how much a landscaper charges to cut and trim during the growing season. A hardscape edge would be a couple grand I suspect.

Pros:

  • rural look
  • low cost to maintain
  • indefinite lifetime

Cons:

  • prone to pot holes
  • compacted surface is impervious can lead to flooding or erosion
  • difficult DIY maintenance

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Asphalt – This is the preferred method of our neighbors. Asphalt is made from oil and crushed limestone. It’s put down in two layers, #57 stone makes up a base coat of about 2.5″ and at top coat made from smaller stone creates a smooth ~1.5″ driving surface. The driveway has to be sealed ever year or two at a cost of about $1,500. Installation cost for our driveway is around $30K-$37K, or around $2 per square foot.

Another option is just to install the 2.5″ basecoat, which is only $25K. This saves money but results in a rougher surface because it’s just the #57 stones. And it’s not recommended for drives that will get truck traffic such as from UPS or FedEx trucks.

Asphalt can be salted in winter (which is bad for the environment) and it’s dark texture radiates heat year round – melting snow in the winter, and making it unbearable to walk on in the summer.

It’s important to know what kind of sealant the contractor puts down. Coal Tar is a highly toxic chemical that causes cancer in children and adults, as well hurt wildlife and contaminate water supplies. Click here for more info on sealants.

Pros:

  • relatively inexpensive
  • fairly low maintenance
  • 20 year lifespan

Cons:

  • oil based product
  • looks urban
  • impervious so it can lead to flooding and erosion

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Cement

Cement driveways are pretty ubiquitous in America. They last a long time and are virtually maintenance free. The down side is they’re expensive to install and repair.

We got two quotes from $50K up to $95K for our driveway, or about $3 per square foot.

With all the water on the surface of our land, we want to make sure that the cement is reinforced with mesh and possibly rebar. Thickness quoted was 4″ total.

Pros:

  • estate look and feel
  • no maintanence
  • 30 year lifespan

Cons:

  • expense
  • can’t drive on it for 7 days after install
  • impervious material prone to causing flooding and erosion

Chart from Angie’s List weighing pros and cons of asphalt and concrete:

Prosand Cons_ConcreteVsAsphalt.jpg

 

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Pervious Cement and Asphalt

These are identical to their non-pervious counterparts, but they leave out some of the stones in the mix to create voids that water can pass through. This makes the surfaces better for the environment by allowing water to pass through and not run off and cause flooding. The surface also acts as a filter to clean oil and auto residue through the material, filtering it before it gets to the ground water supply.

I could not readily find any local contractors for the materials though. And the biggest down side is you have to pressure wash it regularly to keep the voids open, otherwise they clog up.

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Grass Pavers

I love the look of these cast cement pavers. They have large voids that can be filled with pea gravel, and even allow grass to grow through. The biggest challenge here is the cost of $10 per square foot installed. Although for smaller areas they could be perfect, and even be a DIY project. Belgard Turfstone is the brand name we checked out.

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Pea Gravel

The one landscaper I talked to didn’t recommend cement or asphalt because we have so much surface water – which would but their lifespans in half potentially. His recommendation was edging the entire driveway and laying down pea gravel. Cost would be $7,000 year one, and then $7,000 a year to refresh. The cost seemed a little off but there’s no doubt the look is great. This would have to be investigated further. And there’s the potential that snow plows would trash it in the winter.

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Chip and Seal

This is when they just lay down the base coat of asphalt then finish it off with decorative stones. I love the look of this. The challenge is finding a contractor in northeast Ohio that will do it. Also there are concerns with the amount of surface water we get as to how well it would hold up. I think there’s a lot of stigma at play here. If it were up to me, it’s definitely an option I would consider versus ugly black asphalt. Cost was around $27K or $1.60 per square foot.

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Permeable Pavers

Just like grass pavers, but no voids for grass. Can be anything from stones, to bricks and cement blocks. Cost is probably around $10 per square foot. Looks super high end though.

Here’s an article from This Old House that walks you through the DIY install process for permeable pavers.

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image from NDS website of their grid product for stabilizing driveways while allowing water to flow through.

Permeable Driveway

Companies like CORE Driveway and NDS make these plastic grids from recycled plastic that interlock and create a substrate upon which you can place pea gravel or even let grass grow through. Cities often use this for parking areas or emergency response centers where there isn’t alway vehicle traffic, but it can support traffic if necessary.

This is the most environmentally responsible driveway in my opinion, because it allows water to pass through, grass to grow through it as well. Plastic lasts indefinitely so it shouldn’t really need replacing if maintained properly.

One installer recommended against it for anywhere where cars will turn around, as that might damage the grid over time.

It’s expensive at $44K in material alone, $2.60 per square foot. Though installation could be DIY, plus the cost of preparing the base and topping it off with gravel.

This is definitely what I would put on my driveway, and even the parking areas around the homestead.

My Recommendation

After I researched everything, my proposal was to implement a maintenance program on the driveway, including landscaping. Also we could explore the pea gravel solution, with possibly some hardscape edging. This is a very nice look and would cut down on dust.

Ultimately a gravel driveway is congruent with the rural look and feel of the properties. And it’s the material we all knew we were dealing with when we bought our various parcels. I believe it can be maintained economically and effectively with a comprehensive, competitively bid program.

If money was no object I’d go the permeable pavers or driveway grid solutions, which are the most environmentally responsible solutions.

Lastly hard surface wise, if we had to, my preference is cement because it would eliminate maintenance altogether and it would last 30+ years, longer than I’m likely to be alive. It can also be budgeted for long term repairs and will increase property values quite a bit.

Would be interesting to explore chip and seal some more too.

Asphalt just doesn’t seem to make much sense to me environmentally, economically or aesthetically. It still requires cost to maintain, looks ugly and cheap, and is resource intense with the possibly of poisoning the environment. I think it’s just a typical suburban “this is how everyone else does it” response to a problem, which lacks elegance or thoughtfulness. But in this day and age it’s not surprising at all.

Here are some additional links for your reference:

Why Should You Consider a Stormwater Friendly Driveway?

https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/sites/default/files/DPW/Stormwater/Driveways/SW%20Friendly%20Driveways_web_v2.pdf

Permeable Pavement

http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/DEP/water/permeable-pavement.html

Pros and Cons Asphalt vs. Concrete – Angie’s List

https://www.angieslist.com/articles/pros-and-cons-asphalt-vs-concrete-driveway.htm

Coal-tar sealcoats pollute nearby soil and water

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/coal-tar-sealcoats-release-pahs

University of Maryland Permeable Pavement Fact Sheet

https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_docs/programs/master-gardeners/Howardcounty/Baywise/PermeablePavingHowardCountyMasterGardeners10_5_11%20Final.pdf

Rainfall as a Resource – Connecticut Guide to Pervious Pavement

http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/water/watershed_management/wm_plans/lid/what_is_permeable_pavement.pdf

California Pervious Pavement Design Guidance

http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/oppd/stormwtr/bmp/DG-Pervious-Pvm_082114.pdf

Could Your Driveway be Poisoning Your Kids?

http://ww2.kqed.org/quest/2014/01/23/could-your-driveway-be-poisoning-your-kids/

Coal Tar Free America

http://coaltarfreeamerica.blogspot.com

Alternative Asphalt Sealants Getting Mixed Reviews (4/11 – Columbus Dispatch)

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/home_and_garden/2011/04/10/alternative-asphalt-sealants-getting-mixed-reviews.html

Country Lane

It’s 2am and I can’t sleep because I’m stressed out. I’m stressed out because I can’t seem to get ahead. I can’t get ahead because life keeps throwing bullshit obstacles at us. Nothing the average person would care about or hand out any sympathy for. After all, we’re very well off considering all the poverty, war and injustice there is in the world. But it’s my blog so I get to do the ranting. You get to decide if you want to do the reading.

I work four jobs (the wife works two) trying to make ends meet. Anytime we get close to seeing any light at the end of the tunnel, it always turns out to be another train barreling down the line. Do we stay or do we go? Getting tired of asking myself that question every day. At some point we get to relax right? This keeps up and I’ll be dead before I’m fifty.

I can remember the conversation we had when we first walked our land, where our house sits now. My wife referred to it as “happy friendly land“. What we saw was a quaint meadow and brush with a slight rise in the middle perfect for a home. All the plants, bugs, sunshine, water and wildlife…you just got a happy friendly vibe.

One of the primary things I told our architects when we were planning our impact on the land was that I wanted them to think about the entire experience of driving up to our home, all the way back to the street, across property we don’t own. Our driveway is over a quarter mile long. It’s all gravel, with rises, twists and turns. Driving along at 12-15 miles per hour, there’s a lot of time to decompress and transition from the hectic world “out there” to the meditative calm of where our home sits.

Ours is the last house; we share it with two other homes. As you come over a rise, and past the second house you get that sense of a country lane. You’re almost surprised it keeps going, it sort of beckons you to explore. Fifty feet further you start to see our home, in summer, earlier in winter because of leaves or rather the lack thereof, …our home emerges around a bend in the lane.

That’s the effect I wanted.

A country lane, subtly revealing a gem in the middle of nowhere. No one ever knows what’s “back here” unless they’re specifically coming to our home. I would argue it’s one of the most beautiful homes in the area; masterfully designed to fit its site, a sculpture nuanced to bring a sense of internal familiarity from all who see it. There is a scale about the structure…it looks both small and large at the same time. It’s a building that makes you think about your place in this world. Coming around that corner you get what you’ve been waiting for throughout that long drive up a country lane.

It’s an experience.

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First glimpse you get of the house in early spring. Look at the diagonals…the length and angle of the lines. The horizon, the drive, the main house…the colors…tan on the house, tan in the dried brush. The charcoal of the trees, and the main house body.

 

 

Maintenance on a gravel drive isn’t that bad. Over four years the worst we get are some pot holes. Last year we had an excavator come out and straighten things up in terms of improving water runoff and roughing up the pot holes. We were going to get a cinder driveway but he said the surface we had was fantastic, and just needed some grading. And regular “roughing up” would help too. This is something we’d never done before (or since).

For whatever reason our mild winter still resulted in some rough patches on the driveway. I was thinking for a grand per household we could get the drive fixed up again this spring. At the very least I was going to fix my portion of the drive, but the cost at $750 was more expensive than I had budgeted for what would have been a simple gravel drop.

Eventually the neighbors got in touch and their plan is to asphalt from the street to the second house. Cost would be $12,000 per each of the three households. I had to laugh a little inside as I heard the news on the phone today. I just can’t catch a break. With tax season requiring me to write a check the equivalent of a decent new car, here I have the potential for a driveway bill, conjured on a whim, that will cost me twelve large. With only one house, I have little to no power in this situation, the other two houses are related so they dictate everything basically – something we knew going into it, but you know…how can you deny happy friendly land when it speaks to you. We felt it was worth the risk. Fast forward five years and I lie awake at night stressed out about life…getting out of bed to write because it’s the only thing I can think of to detox my mental system.

It’s not only the money, but I have a real problem with the material, asphalt, as well. Ethically and aesthetically I just don’t think it’s an appropriate solution for our situation. I checked with my real estate agent, and yes, a hard surface would improve home values but she recommended cement not asphalt. Asphalt is cheap looking and higher maintenance than cement.

Personally I think it ruins that charm of living in the country, and destroys that country lane experience we get now. No more walks to the mailbox kicking stones, or listening to the gravel under foot or tire on a hot summer evening.

Environmentally, the type of asphalt likely to be installed would be impervious to water, creating a greater water runoff issue than is already present. Asphalt can also be salted in the winter which means that there will be salt runoff from our driveway into the ponds and creeks that surround our property. In the summertime asphalt retains heat and creates a hot spot that leads to higher air temperatures. Not to mention the chemicals in the actual material. I just think it’s nasty stuff that does nothing to enhance our quality of life. From my perspective, asphalt is just a typical knee jerk reaction to a problem. Everybody does it. It’s cheap. Why are you fighting it?

The whole thing really ruined what was supposed to be a good day, week and month.

So here I am stressed out, contemplating my options…moving, going bankrupt, offing myself…the dread of having to pay money I don’t have for a solution I don’t condone…losing sleep I desperately need.

Who knows what we’ll ultimately end up doing. But in the meantime I suppose I need to become an expert in pervious and porous driveway solutions which are basically the most environmentally and aesthetically pleasing options. These are in addition to the current gravel driveway option, which I think is perfectly fine if maintained properly.

I’ve started finding some really awesome options online, I just need to start figuring out the costs. If it were up to me, I’d research all of the options, assign a cost to each and then make the decision. My challenge is buying enough time to make this happen. As far as I can tell we’re dealing with one quote from a contractor who’s ready to start laying down black tar and stone, and neighbors who are fine with the cost and asphalt solution.

At the very least I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put it a decision off for a year. Try the gravel maintenance program idea.

Do I have time to do this? No. Why am I doing this? Because I have no other choice. I need to do everything I can to salvage the current experience that is “happy friendly land” (and maybe not go bankrupt in the process).

And I need to be able to sleep at night.

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Asphalt would end at the driveway on the left on continue towards the horizon. Foreground would stay gravel.

A few random links and images I found on the internet when I searched for “earth friendly driveways”. I’m not saying any of these will be cheaper, but I feel like I’d rather save up for one of these solutions than throw down my hard earned money this year on unaesthetic and environmentally damaging asphalt. I also feel like some of these solutions could even be installed by ourselves potentially saving money…the biggest challenge will be changing people’s mindsets. We’ve grown up in a cookie cutter suburban world where these types of common sense, nurturing solutions are foreign and scary to the average consumer.

NOTE: From the http://www.BuildLLC.com website, this interesting note on gravel…it’s impervious, so not as eco friendly as I was thinking.

It’s worth noting that gravel is considered an impervious surface by many jurisdictions and its inclusion on a project will count against the impervious surface calculations. From the King County website:

“Packed gravel prevents or impedes the entry of water into the soil as compared to natural conditions. Scientific studies show that once gravel is compacted (from cars or heavy equipment, for example), the gravel acts like paved surfaces and surface water runs off it in greater quantities than compared to natural conditions. In addition, if cars or heavy equipment are traveling on these gravel surfaces, pollution such as dissolved minerals or residual petroleum are washed off into our waterways.”

 

Permeable Paving – The Environmentally Friendly Driveway

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Image of a permeable paved drive from:  www.scgh.com

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Image from TerraForce.com

Permeable Surfaces 

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Image of open cell pavers from http://www.buildllc.com

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Image of porous asphalt from http://www.buildllc.com

A project to install 4×4 tracks that reduce erosion 

Core Driveway – permeable plastic honeycomb system that can be used with gravel

Article on porous driveways from The Chic Ecologist

Green Driveway articles from Franke James blog

Invisible Structures grass driveway sub-straight 

Some info on porous asphalt and porous pavers from BuildLLC.com:

Porous Asphalt:

“Think of it like Rice-Krispies treats with a higher compressive strength and not quite as tasty.

Effective permeability range: 16-25%
Compressive strength: up to 4,000 psi
Required thickness: 4″ – 8”
Technology: The deletion of fine aggregate allows for connected voids while the coarse aggregate is coated with enough cementitious paste to hold it all together
Application: Areas with light traffic, driveways, pedestrian walkways, bike paths
Cost: $3 – $10 per square foot (extremely dependent on size of job)
Other considerations: Typically requires additional layers of sub-base material or filter fabric”

Porous pavers:

Because the technology here is ceramic-based, these systems are typically proprietary. We like the Aroura Klorostone product for its clean aesthetic, simple color options and versatility.

Permeability: The Klorostone is capable of infiltrating up to 2 inches of stormwater per minute without relying on mortar gaps. The exact permeability is difficult to determine with these products because each company has its own protected recipe.
Compressive strength: 6,000 psi
Thickness: 2-3/8″
Technology: Each individual paving unit is porous (as opposed to interlocking concrete that relies on aggregate gaps for infiltration)
Application: Driveways, sidewalks, courtyards, patios
Cost: $7 – $10/sf delivered
Available colors: 4
Other considerations: The joints around paving units will provide an additional 5-15% of permeable area”

 

 

Christmas Tree Day 2015

It’s Saturday early evening, I’m sitting down with a beer and listening to Christmas music. For the next half hour or so I will have the equivalent of a day to myself, to relax and write.

In the spirit of the season, we went out and bought our Christmas tree today. It’s a live Norway spruce tree, or at least that’s what we think it is. They weren’t labeled at the tree farm. As is our tradition, we get the tree a few weeks before the holiday, then bring it inside a few days before Christmas and decorate it. After the holiday we plant the live tree in a pre-dug hole somewhere out in the yard. This year the tree will go out on the pond dike. Previous year’s trees can be seen just off the driveway. Once a tree graduates from home to yard, the following year it gets a string of colorful solar lights. The idea being that, let’s say we’re here twenty years. Visitors would be able to see twenty trees in the yard with colored lights on them. Fun.

Back inside the house, I’ve been slowly continuing work on the basement. I’ve started tiling my office area, and I have also essentially finished the full bathroom.  Tiling is going slow, but I think I’m doing an okay job. I got a new tile cutter at Lowe’s and I’m very happy with its performance. I haven’t really ruined any tiles yet. I think it’s got a good sharp wheel and easier action, and that makes a difference. I do need a grinder though to angle cut some tiles around a doorway. But there’s no reason to spend $80 on a tool I probably won’t ever use again. I’m going to see if I can make a Dremel tool work or, worst case, rent a grinder.

In the bathroom, all of the accessories are hung. It took me a while to figure out where the blocking was for the towel bar. In the process of discovery I drilled about a half dozen holes in the drywall, all of which I had to patch up and repaint before mounting the bar.

While figuring out where to hang up the toilet paper roll holder, I discovered that you’re supposed to mount it about 8″ in front of the toilet bowl, off to the side. Well I don’t have a wall in that location. I could have mounted the holder on the adjacent cabinet, but the wife and I both voted against that. So, behind and to the side of toilet the holder went. I think it’s fine. I don’t see how just putting the roll in a basket or a freestanding holder does anything. It’s fine back there.

As time allows I’ll continue to tile. I want to make sure I get all the tile down as soon as possible, in case they discontinue the tile style. I don’t want to be left short of tile. Then I’ll really be in trouble.

Earlier today I extracted honey from hive No. 3. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, this hive died late this autumn. We got nine frames of honey. I haven’t weighed it yet.

Next year we’re just going to manage one hive. If it gets large enough we can split it. Otherwise, we’re not pouring any more money into beekeeping if we can help it.

Actually we’re not going to pour any money into any projects for the foreseeable future. I’ve got the materials to finish the basement, except the ceiling. That should keep me busy DIY-wise for a while.

One interesting side note, I’m finally selling my trusty Rabbit. The wonderful VW that kept me company throughout our new home build, and was mentioned in many a post, well it’s time to say goodbye. We need more space and more doors in a vehicle. If you know anyone who’s looking for a great, clean car for commuting, running errands, or just starting out, let me know. I’ll make you a great deal on our good friend.

Ok, here’s today’s pictures. Time for me to go back to the real world and all of its responsibility. Cheers!

 

 

Basement Update – Drywall

The basement has drywall! Happiness.

Once completed this will be our first finished basement as a family. In fact, the wife’s never really ever lived in a house with a finished basement. So getting the drywall installed is a big step towards that goal.

The space actually doesn’t look all that different, or at least not as different as I expected. It does look good though. You can get a feel for the large rooms down there. And as you look at the photos you can see how we left the sheet rock up about 8″ to mitigate against any potential future basement flooding. We’ll cover that gap with replaceable plywood baseboards that can be removed in event of water pooling in the basement as a result of sump pump issues.

I didn’t install the drywall myself, rather we contracted that out. It took about a week for one person to hang, tape, mud and sand. It installed with no problem onto our Superior Walls foundation, and the metal stud partitions I raised.

To a certain extent, installing sheet rock on the foundation walls, along with caulked baseboards, should insulate the basement even more, and make for a tighter envelop on our home. Maybe once the basement is complete, and I do a few other things (all LED light bulbs for example), I will have the house re-evaluated for energy efficiency and see if we’ve improved our HERS score.

Take a look at the photos and captions for more on the drywall.

Next up will be painting all the walls. We’re going to do this next because with the floor being bare cement, we won’t have to worry about paint spills. We can get at least a coat or two on the walls, then touch up later if necessary.

Speaking of the floors, we have tile on order from Lowe’s. We went with a distressed wood look porcelain tile, which is very trendy right now. The 6″ x 36″ tile is called ‘Sequoia Ballpark Tile’, and it is $2.99 a sq. ft. which is a bit pricey. In our search we did come across tiles that are upwards of $10 a sq. ft., so everything is relative. We like the look and will save some cash by installing it ourselves. We’ll cover all 948 square feet of the basement with the tile. This will give us a nice looking floor that will be impervious to any flooding or moisture in the basement. The distressed look, with brown, white and grey tones should be timeless aesthetically, and congruent with the style of the rest of our home.

It’s very exciting to well on our way to finally having a finished basement space for work and play. This will accomplish a major house goal for us. One that has been around for over fifteen years really.