Let There Be Light

We’re in the final throes of drama and angst for the project and the new house is fighting as best it can.  But alas, we’re so close that even the house has to admit, it’s going to be done soon.  At this point I have only my neurosis to keep me company as I chart the final items that need to be selected, and overcome the final obstacles to completion. 

I picked up the tile for the boys bathroom shower.  It’s a simple white Daltile ceramic 6″x6″ square tile.  I also need to pick up the bathroom floor tile but it’s chilling out on a truck somewhere in Northeast Ohio.  Who woulda thought, fancy linen striped tile would be so non-aspirational; choosing to hang out on a truck rather than our floor.  Much to my delight Mark over at Carpet Warehouse, after much figurative prodding, actually came up with glass tile for the master shower that should work and be reasonably priced.  Reasonable is a relative term.  I will not disclose the cost as most sane people would scoff at such excess, but hey it’ll look really nice.  Something to enjoy while we’re hanging out naked with our soap and Pert. 

Dropping off the tile tonight I was surprised to find little light switches and outlets wired up throughout the house.  Looking up I saw a few incandescent light bulbs nestled in the recessed ceiling cans. 


With a flip of the switch it was neat to see light coming from the house itself.  The basement has had light for some time but now the main house has it;  very cool. Having light allowed me to see the kitchen cabinets for the first time.  These cabinets were all custom-made by my brother.  For now they lack their door fronts so it provides a chance to see their innards.  The frames are painted black.  The doors will be walnut laminate.  You’ll see in a little while.  Hopefully they’ll turn out to be pretty cool looking.  The pantry shelves are in too.  We went with a variety of 16″, 12″ and 10″ shelves.  My brother / master carpenter used 3/4″ plywood for the shelves.  The pantry is a micro sized walk in.  It’s conveniently located in the kitchen which makes access and resupplying a breeze.  We have a larger one in our current house but it’s down the hall so access stinks.  We’ll gladly trade size for convenience.

We’re waffling all the way to the end regarding the half bath fixtures.  We switched our taste for the house hardware from brushed nickel to oil rubbed bronze (ORB).  Early in the project we were forced into making plumbing selections and chose a really nice modern faucet, for the half bath, in a brushed nickel finish.  We were hoping to change the faucet selection to an ORB finish but alas the distributor and Kohler charge a restocking fee of 50%.  So we’ll stick with our original plan.  We can always transfer the vanity, sink and faucet to the basement and refit the half bath down the road.  Let this be a lesson to you, don’t be forced into picking finishes 6 months early.  Select the fixtures in so much as the plumber can rough everything in but don’t select the finishes until the last-minute.  After building several houses I’ve found most contractors, trades and distributors will steer you towards how “it’s always been done” and what’s easy for them.  Deviating from the “norm” is usually met with high prices, and penalties. Unfortunately customer’s wants and needs are sometimes secondary.  This old reality also means you’ll have to do a lot of research because most of the time they just want to sell you the items that “everyone gets”.  That’s fine if you’re fine with that, but if you want to know all your options, you’re most likely going to have to do the research.

Now is the time when we have to make one of the last big selections: carpeting.  The carpet guy dropped off the standard carpet samples off but I don’t think they’ll work.  With the house being so tight we’ll need to make sure the carpet and pad aren’t off gassing any harmful chemicals.  Also our two little boys will be rolling around on the stuff so we want to make sure it’s as benign as possible.  I started researching products on the web and still have a weekend’s worth of research to do.  Mohawk and Shaw both look like they may have some decent products, but I need to look closer.  I’ll check out the Greenguard and other indoor air quality sites as well for information.

All the windows appear to be trimmed out and most of the baseboards are in.  I did notice all the spindles for the stairs were huddled in the garage so their day in the sun should be close at hand as well.  Next week we’ll get the Silestone fabricator out to measure up the project; probably wreak havoc on his nerves with our special needs.  I’m sorry but this project or rather its owners are not “how it’s always been done” kind of folks.  Telling me I can’t do it or it can’t be done is not an option, it is a personal challenge.  You’re better off not testing my neurosis, ego and OCD. 

Here are some pics to enjoy.

Let there be light, and let us turn it on by flipping these rather common, yet surprisingly inexpensive light switches. The one on the left is an outlet. Don't finger that one.


We carved this pantry space out of the floor plan by sliding the half bath down. The plywood shelves range between 10-16" deep. vertical spacing is 14" on center. Pocket door makes entry easy and free's up space.


Awe, cute, some rabid woodland animal left its feces laden paw prints on the plywood that is now in our pantry.


Windows are trimmed out with nearly 8" jamb extensions. The deep window sills are perfect for cats, or impromptu seating for kids and grandma's alike.


Exterior siding is finally complete.


Kitchen cabinets. Space is for range.


Island cabinet, not in right place yet.


Custom made kitchen cabinets.

Best Day Ever

The timer just went off on the Nuwave oven.

I just cooked four very expensive steaks in an “As Seen On TV” device plugged into a kitchen wall socket.  We plan on only eating two of them tonight.  I had to cook all four cause they were in a big frozen brick in the freezer.  The other two can be our lunch tomorrow.

The garlic noodles, from a bag, are boiling over in a white foamy mess. 

My can of 7-Up is empty, and the head cold I have uncreatively expresses itself by way of a constant drip from my left nostril.  Our oldest kid oscillates between fits of crying and speaking in tongues.  It’s two days before Christmas and we (or at least I) haven’t wrapped a single present.

It may be the best day ever.

Today I ecstatically bolted from work early, like a kid getting out of school two days before Christmas, and jumped into the crippled Rabbit (see pic below).  Wait, wait, before you call my boss to bust me (cause I know you wanna), work let us out early today. Happy Holidays to me, thank you very much.  With thoughts dancing like sugar plums in my head I leisurely enjoyed my freedom and headed down to the house. 

Just the day before the Rabbit was hit from the side as we backed out of a parking spot. Like a champ, he is hanging in there. I used a wood stake (a la "Stake n Snake" entry) and a rubber mallet to pound the bent metal off the back tire.

All week we’d been battling the status quo and complacency.  We patiently waited to hear reports of some sort of progress or success on site.  Finally today I could get down during daylight hours to see if the rumors of the house coming up to temperature were true.

Pulling up I saw a good sign.  Three trucks on site meant someone was doing something productive somewhere.  I could see right away that most of the siding on the main house was complete.  The studio and front porch look nice outfitted in their red cedar and board n batten siding. 

Proceeding to step inside I could feel it. 


Not a lot because apparently everyone was born in a barn: front door and back doors left wide open.  I quickly tour the public areas of the house and step out on the back porch.  Stepping out I could feel the crispness of the late December day on my face.  My warm breath leaving a trail in the air. A smile on my face, I quickly jumped back inside.  I closed the door with a firm “thunk”; its weather-stripping sealing up inside from outside.  The house was getting up to temperature and was definitely warmer than outside.  Room to room I went.  Upstairs and down. Inside, it was genuinely warm.  No more seeing my breath.  I was warm in my house. 

For a moment my house felt like home.

After basking in the quiet embrace of the warmth surrounding me I examined what else was happening on site.  Our cistern water supply system is essentially complete as of today.  The filters are in place in the basement, electrical is hooked up and all the pipes are run.  Once we’re positive the house is up to, and will remain at, a comfortable temperature, everything will come on-line.  I’ll order some water for the cistern too to get it filled up.  From here on out we’ll have water on site.  It’s funny to think back to my sorry attempt to get water on site via the plastic rain barrel.  I think there’s a big ice-cube in the bottom of it now.  No worries, we’ll use the barrel in the garden next Spring.

Mechanical filtering system for the cistern / rain water collection system.


The hardwood flooring for the first floor is happily getting acclimated next to the four flights of stairs sitting in the dining room.  I suppose if they hang out together long enough I’ll get lucky and they will produce maple tread offspring for my studio. 

Fingers crossed.

Today I ordered pretty much all of the porcelain tile for the house, save the master shower.  Carpet Warehouse in Cleveland gave us great pricing and customer service.  If you’re in the market, go there.  Wet area cement board will be going in next week.  The tile should be here shortly there after.  We’re still working on the tile selection for the shower.  Incidentally the shower is large enough to house a decent size swinger party, not that we would ever think of such a thing….ahem.  (Mom I’m kidding if you’re reading this, honestly.  I need the readers so I exaggerate).  Anyway.  Because the shower is so large it’ll cost a small fortune to line its 9′ tall walls in inch by inch glass tiles.  But we would never let that stop us, of course.  Christine and I are looking to see if there’s anything more expensive than glass.  We’re hoping baby seal tiles exist somewhere out there. 

Fingers crossed.

The floor of the shower will be 2×3  dark bronze colored tiles to match the 18×18’s used on the bathroom (laundry and foyer) floor(s).  If the baby seal thing doesn’t pan out, the walls of the shower will be green glass most likely. Come over, we’ll show you….(seriously, just kidding…..I can hear my wife’s divorce lawyer on caller ID already).

Totally custom and you have to applaud the creativity and effectiveness. We couldn't put the final furnace in because it'd void the warranty. Our guys over at Sissler lent us an electric resistance furnace to warm up the place. Instead of running a bunch of one time use tin, they just strapped the unit below the main trunk line. Works for me.

Now that the house is getting warm, the next major event is getting the drywall finished.  They’ll tape and mud next week.  After that the house goes into full trim mode.  The look and feel will change the most since the drywall went in.  With the holiday, even I’ll get a chance to get out there and do something productive.

Western red cedar on the studio walls. Hopefully it will weather to a natural grey.


We wrapped the board n batten around the front door to amp up the illusion that the center of the house is one block.

So why’s it the best day ever?  Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it and who’s best day ever it is.  Frankly, for me, it most likely loses out to the birth days of my two boys.  And then there was that day I sank a 12′ eagle putt….(kidding again)
But you know what.  We have, and we will, pour a lot of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention love and care) into this project.  And for all we’ve done, especially “insulation wise”, firing up a furnace and getting it warm inside is a big symbolic step in my eyes.  It may be different for you, or some random observer, or heck it may be different for the guys building the place, or the wife. But to me it’s a big deal (plus this is my blog not theirs).  I mean just think, back in July the place was a little unkept overgrown farm field.  In just a few short months it’s transformed into this wonderful structure, made up of all kinds of complex pieces that some how make up a house.
And now that it’s warm inside it’s feels like home.

Brrr….Time to Hibernate

Brrr….. it was cold this morning when I fired up the Rabbit and headed out to the house at daybreak today.  The thermometer on the vee dub’s dash read a finger numbing 24 degrees Farenheit as we chased the rising sun down the valley.  Earlier I awoke with anticipation, for I had not seen the job site in nearly a week.  I was anxious to see what if any progress we were making.  There was a chance too that we’d set the stair case’s today as well.

One man's frost bite is another man's paycheck. Man made snow being blown onto a local ski resort's slopes this morning.

Once at the house I turned off the car and stepped out on the frozen ground.  I was actually a bit relieved that the frost and cold had firmed up the earth a bit making surveying the build a fair bit easier.  All the rain of the previous weeks had turned everything into a muddy mess.  For now, at least, all was firmly held together with morning frost and ice.
Looking around I could see the last of the windows had been installed.  I still had to crimp the expansion tube and should probably pay some attention to the nailing flanges to seal them up but that could wait for another (preferably warmer) day.  I diverted my attention and joyfully gazed upon the house, focusing in on the black rectangles adorning the exterior doors.  Our door handles are installed!

Hardware. Pic of our Emtek Orion front door handle in oiled bronze finish.


Interior view of the Emtek sideplate that adorns another exterior door. The knob isn't the most ergonomic form in the world but it feels solid and suits the architecture of the house.

Beyond the door hardware, not much is happening.  Siding is going up at a pace somewhere between snail like and slow & steady, but they’re doing a quality job and caulking along the way; which means the painter won’t have to caulk.  We still are waiting on the electric meter.  Until we have that the temp furnace won’t be hooked up.  Work on the cistern has stopped as everything is now encased in ice.  The idea of installing the stairs fell by the wayside today; better to wait for a warmer day.  This week the stairs will be dropped of.  We should get the laminate for the kitchen cabinets as well. 
We were fairly successful today selecting finishes.  Christine and I went out and landed upon selections for the exterior flood lights as well as counter material for the kitchen.  Floods will be nondescript units off the shelf of Home Depot.  The counter material will be Silestone quartz; most likely in a Grey Expo color.  The Silestone was pricey but cheaper than pretty much all other quartz brands out there.  It should prove to be low maintenance and look pretty nice.  We also chose all the tile for the entire house.  The nice thing about being tired with selecting materials and making decisions is that you can cut to the chase pretty quickly and pick something.  In about a half hour we had a color combo we liked for the master bath and the tile for the boys bathroom.  If it doesn’t look good we can always rip it our later and remodel.  I doubt this will happen, we’ve been fairly lucky in the past with selecting finishes that work together.  The house will be fairly eclectic so that affords us some levity. 
Seems with the cold weather everyone’s hibernating at the job site but that should change, hopefully, in the coming weeks.  Meanwhile, enjoy today’s pics.

Staircase in the cabinet maker's shop. Maple open treads. The spaces are 4" to pass code (i.e. James head won't fit in there, though I assure you, he will try)


Light fixtures are trickling in. Here's one of the pendants going over the dining room table from Barn Light Electric. It's an old acetylene tank head. It's heavy. It's cooler than any light fixture I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of cool light fixtures. Trust me.


South face of house soaking up some late Autumn morning rays.


First floor tile combo. Dark rust tile for entry, master bath, half bath and laundry room. Green glass tile for master shower.


Miratek trim and red cedar siding on back porch.


Flooring for Christine's studio and craft room. Shaw laminate.


Porch siding


On the off chance you're interested in such thing (as opposed to listening to me wax poetically about the nuances of picking out lighting) you can see here how the sofits are constructed.


Board and batten siding on north wing of house.

 Happy Thanksgiving!
Obligatory greeting because today is the fourth Thursday of November and I live in the USA.  So, full disclosure, I am not a huge Thanksgiving fan.  From a culinary standpoint the holiday, manifested primarily through the Thanksgiving meal, is less than desirable in my eye.  Too many brown items on my plate.  This is regardless of who prepares the meal.  Chef Ramsay could prepare dinner next year in our over priced kitchen and it probably wouldn’t be my favorite (bonus points to you for realizing I picked a Brit as my chef example, irony or poor pop references are my middle name). In my case, this year was better than most as we kicked back at my brother’s place and partook in the deep-fried turkey he made for the family.  But generally speaking, brown food doesn’t cut it for me.  Other pain points of the day include liberals protesting revisionist history and the fact that I’m usually hung over on Thursday (and Friday) morning.  And no, I will not be in front of Best Buy in my tent tonight waiting for Black Friday sales.
Sure the food gets all the press, but for me the point of Thanksgiving is to take a day amongst the other 364 each year and give thanks, and hopefully hang with folks that I haven’t seen in a while.  And to think warm thoughts about those I can’t hang out with today (many of whom are in states warmer than Ohio incidentally).  I try not to limit my thanks to one day but if one has to binge on something today I say “thank you’s” are just as good to binge on as food or booze.  (Full disclosure, despite my luke warm admiration for Thanksgiving dinner, I did go up for seconds, and I burnt through my fair share of wine and beer today.) 
Before I get to the touchy, feely stuff, let’s talk house.  I had the opportunity to check out the job site on Wednesday before it got dark.  The yard looked a lot different as it was torn up and pipes are running every which way.  Our 10,000 gallon cistern is in and pretty much all of the water collection pipes are installed.  There were two sections of roof we’re not collecting from so those downspouts run on a separate line.  Everything outputs to one of the pools collecting on either side of the driveway.  It’s exciting to see all of the infrastructure going in.  When complete we will have the equivalent of a water collection and treatment plant on site; a small-scale version of what larger civilization centers use throughout the world.  Water is managed on site from the second it lands to the time it exits the property.  Every drop of water we use essentially is “rented” by us and the output back into the yard where it is purified again and sent packing back into the environment.  Pretty cool and completely self sustaining.  We’ll use nature as our model (google “Biomimicry” to learn more) to collect, process and dispose of water on site.  We’ll be creating natural habitats that will support a variety of native plants and animals. 

10,000 gallon cistern. Lid and two scrubbers will be visible above ground. We'll have to get creative with the landscaping so you can't see them very well when you come to visit.

Finally we are done with the blue rigid insulation foam on the outside of the house.  Four months later, from the day we unloaded the sooty 2×8 panels, big Tony finally installed the last panel.  I wasn’t too far off on my estimate.  We did have to buy and install 4×8 sheets of 2″ in the screen porch area.  We had a lot of scrap foam, but the cutoffs weren’t appropriate for the large wall section.  All in all I did a good job estimating square footage (yes, I’m patting myself on the back.) 
Siding is coming along faster now that they are on the ground.  The attic still needs its siding but for now they’re back on the ground.  We went with 12″ miratec boards for the “boards” and 4″ miratec ripped down to 2″ for the battens.  All the joints are sealed  with caulk to keep moisture out of the ends.  The trim boards throughout are miratec too.  I consider the miratec to be a synthetic wood based material.  It has a smooth side and faux wood grain side.  We went smoot side out for the trim.  It will paint up real nice and give us a clean modern look.

Septic tank is back filled. We'll be able to see the tops, but once again, some creative landscaping can obscure these items.

 Tomorrow Christine and I will work on caulking all of the electrical outlets and penetrations.  The following day will be our preliminary blower test. 
We’ll have the pleasure in the coming days of giving Corky, Barb and another friend tours  of the property.  Will be the first time they’ve seen it since Corky helped clear the house site and they blessed the land back in June / July.  Our other guest has an acute interest in practical sustainability and energy efficiency; so I’m sure he’ll be delighted to learn more about what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re achieving it.
 I love showing off the property and sharing all the great things we’re trying to accomplish, it’s a great learning opportunity, so no arm bending required on my part to show off the joint.

A PVC pipe network underground collects ALL the water off of the hard roof surfaces and manages the water in a controlled manner. About 85% of the water collected will be the house's sole water supply.

So that’s about it for the house today.  As expected everyone had the day off, though I think even Shane was out there working on the cistern lines this morning. We’ve been fortunate with many of the people pouring their time and effort into our project (yes, I get that I’m paying them, but c’mon it’s Thanksgiving and the dude was probably out there gluing pipe and slopping mud around; more than any of you will get out of me on any given holiday). 
Today is a good day for reflection; and even an insensitive jerk like me has been known to reflect on my life and world around me every once in a while (when not drinking or eating.)
 As I’ve said, Autumn is my favorite time of year.  Thanksgiving is a nice way station between the saturation of Halloween and the sentimental overload of Christmas. It’s a holiday second only to Christmas, I think, in terms of reflection and self reckoning.  Afterall I truly believe even the most jaded amongst us have something to be grateful for. And here’s a day focused on gratitude.  Much like the settlers around whom the holiday is founded, I guess Thanksgiving is a point of debarkation from where we’ve been and an opportunity to chart what lies ahead.  In contrast, it’s easy to feel optimistic while the Easter season lays waste to March and April and replaces them with daffodils and ham sandwiches.  You want to really

Detail of downspout routing for use as water supply or diversion to natural pools near driveway.

get to the nuts and bolts of your brief existence there’s no better time than whilst chipping frost from your windshield, raking dead leaves in the yard or digging through turkey left overs.

 I’m thankful for everything that makes up the thirty-eight orbits around the sun that I’ve had on this blue marble. This includes the good, the bad and the ugly.  The mosaic that is my life is not necessarily extraordinary; at least to the average person.  But what is extraordinary is that it is my mosaic. 
 I could never type an all-inclusive list of what I’m thankful for.  I’ve been extremely fortunate in my lifetime; more so than any one man deserves I suspect.  I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had. More so I’m thankful for the people I’ve had in my life.  Some I’ve known my whole life.  Others I’ve known for what seemed to be a blink of the eye.  Some I had the pleasure of spending this special day with; others that I could only spend time with in my heart today. Still others that will forever be available only in memories.  I’m thankful for those that brought me into, have nurtured me in and that I’ve brought into this world.  I’m thankful for what they’ve done, and not done, for me.

Blue foam is done!!!! The entire house is encased in 4″ rigid insulation. We ran out so we had to use 2″ new foam doubled up in the screen porch area.

 I’m thankful for them all.

Instead of saying “Happy Thanksgiving”, I should be saying “thanks” to everyone.  I’ll plan on trying that a lot more next year on Thanksgiving day; and the other 364.

Board and batten siding. Overhang of foam and siding onto foundation is a bit much. Will ruin the look we're going for on the foundation when we go to install stone. We'll fix it down the road though. Need to get siding done without delay.


Cool goggles I'm ordering from Restoration Hardware. What? I had a free $100 to spend. I will rock these come snow shovelling season.


Studio Night

Good news, cedar siding is going on the dormers. Bad news is I just realized cedar siding's going on the dormers.

On an otherwise dismal day, at least one little portion of my existence is shaping up.  Siding is going on the house.  There’s a dormer that’s 2/3 covered in siding materials.  The bulk of the house and garage will be Western Red Cedar siding that we’ll let weather to a natural grey color.  The remainder will be painted board and batten siding.  It took the picture above for me to finally realize a potential issue though.  The cedar siding may wreak havoc with the health of our rain water collection plan.  You can collect rain water for consumption off a variety of materials including asphalt shingles, but cedar is a no no.  There are toxic preservatives in most if not all cedar shakes used for roofing.  Cedar itself, regardless of preservatives, contains natural tannins and oils that make water coming off of it non-potable.  Figures with everything going on I’d wait ’til the last-minute to realize there was an issue.  I guess my oversight knows boundaries after today.
Ultimately though this only affects the three dormers on the house.  The attic loft is painted board and batten siding so it won’t cause a problem. 
I’ll know better tomorrow if we have to replace the one section on already.  Otherwise everything is running along, slowly but surely.  The siding job itself is stunning in conjunction with the metal roof.  Bar none, it’ll be one of the best looking houses in the area. Of course I’m biased and know nothing of humility.  Ugh, I wish we were doing stone right off the bat.  We’ll all just have to wait a year.

Porch ceiling covered in OSB. Will then be wrapped and covered in insulation inside and out. The recessed lights have a built in adjustment so they'll slide down the requisite 1.5".

This week was remarkable also for the fact that I got back into the studio.  Granted it was only to paint frames, but in the studio again I was.  I had forgotten how good that can be for my soul.  And no, it has nothing to do about hiding from the family.  In fact, for half the time I had a guest artist in studio.  

A budding "tape" painter just like his old man. Hopefully he loses the paint brush and makes something of himself someday. Being an artist is no way to go through life. Trust me.

I set up the easel and palette for my painting buddy, donned in his official “painting clothes”,  and proceeds to bark out orders.  He concisely tells me which colors of paint he’ll need for the night’s session.  I’m then informed I need to supply him with no less than five brushes and two palette knives, all called out by their proper names.  And every five minutes or so  I am to stop whatever I am doing and supply him with painters tape.  Not to get all ‘Flowers Are Red’ on the kid, but regardless of what colors I dole out most of the painting is a greenish grey blob.  But if you were to ask the artist it’s a painting of his “Tower”. (Actually no need to ask, he tells you outright, so his ego-maniac, artist dad is doing something right).  After about twenty minutes he’s done for the night and he retires back up the wooden stairs leading out of the basement, leaving me to my thoughts, paint and my one beer for the night.  It will be easier when we’re in the new place as the studio will be on the first floor and  easier to access the rest of the “action” in the house.
But also, hopefully, the new studio will be still somewhat secluded.  For I forgot what it was like to get away from the rules, expectations, and order of “reality” and get back into the studio where pretty much anything’s possible with the bat of an eye.  How nice it is to turn on some music, wet a brush and paint something.  Anything. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s something to be said for solitude; no matter who you are or what you think you’re doing (or think you obligated to be doing) with your 24/7.  A solitude and individuality that to the extreme can make one unbearable to be around, but well worth the risk in any instance.  Trust me, I’d lead you not astray.
That being said it’s still a nice treat  when you are fortunate enough to get the occasional fellow artist to join you in studio for a night.  Even when he’s a demanding, blonde three-year old.