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Monday, May 11, 2015

Occupy the Building Site - We've Moved In

A portion of the packing material
Despite delays, complications and other frustrations we have finally moved in. There was a problem with some paperwork, but J, the head carpenter said “The city has assured me that they will not stand in the way of you occupying the house, as in their eyes, you never lost occupation.“  Obviously the city did not see the house minus most of the roof, windows, functional plumbing, heating, electricity and a frightening number of exterior walls. The rickety garage would have offered more amenities. The house was incomplete, though habitable so we took the plunge. All the to better enjoy the company of the carpenters, electricians, painters and etc. still finishing up.

Sunset: after railings, and in the midst of exterior painting
We hired a local firm to help us with the move, and they were much better than the national company we used previously, who were maliciously incompetent. Everything seems to have survived unscathed this time. These folks were genuinely enjoyable to have around while they packed up the fragile items and artwork. Their careful use of paper and boxes was a pleasant surprise.  If it didn’t need wrapping they didn’t wrap it.  That’s not to say we weren’t up to here with boxes and paper, but they didn’t use six sheets of paper to wrap one chopstick either. Despite the deluge on the morning they came to load up our household goods, we had a beautiful, sunny weekend to spend unpacking, all the while wistfully eying the decks that were off limits, due to a lack of railings (did I mention delays?).
Though we still had the views.

A pot rack, at last!
Now we understand just how amazing the storage was in the condo.  It lacked a pot rack, but it had a closet big enough for a tandem (a little out of the ordinary), and it also had a window seat with storage cabinets underneath, two small attics, more than ample closets and cupboards everywhere, plus a storage locker! It's been over month and we still have boxes of linens, and clothes with nowhere to go. A couple things we were sure would fit into certain places don't (never underestimate how much space the trim takes up!). D. did a master plan of the kitchen storage, but at the critical point of unpacking he couldn’t find it. Right now cooking feels like a treasure hunt as we search for each ingredient and most utensils. 

A friend of ours generously helped us unpack a large number of books into the built-in shelves on the main floor.  There was a delay in settling into the music room as the shelving unit that was originally in the closet (and would have been perfect for keeping the instruments off the floor) vanished down the same hole as the toilets. We also had to wait for a thermostat to be moved so the bookshelves could go up. But that (or the path to the door in various states of being dug up and replaced) didn’t deter us from rehearsing in it.

Where the sidewalk ends?
Still in progress but not a mud wallow.

One small bedroom somehow acquired three bookshelves and all the luggage, and the other seems to have become the repository for unhung pictures, mirrors and chunks of packing foam that won't fit in our tiny garbage bin - neither room has a bed yet. The office / ham shack is filling up with desks and boxes of radio gear waiting for the antennas to go up. That may or may not happen before they finish painting the exterior; an on again, off again project depending on weather and the work on the path. I'm doing my best to ignore the 'storeroom' which is neck deep in boxes of CDs.  The shelves for those were only levelled last night.

If only they would sort themselves onto the shelves.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. . .  but if you move the mailbox a couple yards, forget about it.  It was up next to the front door for weeks before the mail carrier finally told the head carpenter that she won't deliver anything until we move the mailbox closer to the street.  Ironically, the only mail we received was a notice from the Post Office confirming our change of address. After the mailbox was moved, I  went down to my ‘local post office’ as instructed, to retrieve the mail and ask them to resume normal delivery. The man at the counter said, "you have to go to the annex" (which was due to close in twenty minutes).  I zipped over there on my bike only to discover they couldn’t find our mail, and there was no hold notice in our mail compartment in the sorting area. They took my phone number and promised to call after they spoke to the mail carrier.  The impression I got was that the mail carrier is all knowing and all powerful.  Indeed, once the clerk spoke to her, our missing mail was found, and service resumed.  All that trouble for a few bills. . . and a pair of slippers with non slip soles.
Our illegally placed mailbox in the corner by the door.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Without a Pot to Piss in

 In the continuing saga of missing plumbing fixtures, the original toilets have vanished. One was last seen perched on the top landing of the industrial staircase. After D complained, the contractors agreed to replace them.  We specified a water and space saving toilet for the powder room (inspired by some we'd seen in Japan; no, this model does not have a built in cleansing and drying system). We never knew there were so many different flushing systems for conventional toilets, each with an educational video? (don't try that at home!).  
D has been mocking up the floor plans to figure out where the furniture will fit, thereby discovering some of it won’t.  How do you move from a condo to a house and have less room for furniture?  It’s those pesky views (and the windows that frame them) built in shelves, big closets, and spaces that are just an inch or two too small. The shoe bench won’t fit in the front hall even though we asked the design team to make sure it did. Our new bedroom is smaller than the old one (but the closet is vast).

We gain much needed space in other areas. I look forward to rehearsals where we don’t have to banish the instrument cases from the room because there’s no space for us and them. Or put away everything because there's no room to deploy the Murphy bed and musical instruments. There’s also the attraction of not having to change bike tires in the front hall, or do electrical tinkering on the kitchen counter, or gardening on the balcony. Best of all, the office will no longer be festooned with antennae (though the house will look like a porcupine) and our reception should improve vastly.
This won't fit in the office
There is a surplus of cedar siding; nearly enough to cover the garage -stored inside the garage.  The car might just fit alongside the siding, a gas fireplace and a gigantic wall clock and assorted leftover light fixtures and shelving parts. Since my last post,  the kitchen has come together, the tiling completed, plumbing fixtures and lighting installed and the interior painting done.  Things are going fairly smoothly, except for the railings.

Elevation by Board and Vellum - with railings
There was endless back and forth between the architect, the contractor and the manufacturer over how they would be attached to the decks. At issue were both safety and durability, and the manufacturer's alarming statement that this was a non standard installation and they wouldn't guarantee it will be to code. Finally the shop drawings were agreed upon, the spacing checked over and the materials ordered. However, the promised delivery date passed, and the installation of the railings will be the thing that holds up inspection.

The house was supposed to be inspected by March 13th.  My joking references to move in dates such as Chinese New Year, St. Patrick’s Day, and April Fool's Day have proven optimistic. Our friends have become wary of asking us how the project is going, or if we have moved in yet. Though they have been generous about helping us find boxes.
Here we go again!

We packed up most of the books, all of the CDs and are about waist deep in boxes around the living room. I'm cooking my way through the stockpiles of food in the cupboards and freezer.  We went out for a celebratory dinner, though it was more of a consolation than a celebration. I haven't gotten around to filing a change of address with the Postal Service, for some strange reason. Hookups for Internet and other services have been scheduled and re-scheduled. I’m not sure how much longer our sanity will survive being constantly on the verge of moving. On the plus side, it will be nothing like an international move. . . that long gap while you wait for your stuff to arrive.  Here it will be about 20 minutes, if the bridge is up.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Three different stain colors had to be
chosen for this little patch of siding.
Paint and stain colors, flooring, cabinet material, countertops, door, windows, tiles, all that's been chosen. There’s a lot of other little things that remain yet to be sourced. We had picked out the knobs and handles for the cabinets, but neglected to write the information down anywhere or tell the contractors.  So it was back to the hardware store, where we were promptly overwhelmed by choices, again.
At a recent site meeting we were asked to specify light fixtures for the guest bath, and shelving for the pantry and linen closet. To do this, we needed to check some measurements. One dark and stormy night found us prowling around the house with a flashlight, notebook and measuring tape, measuring closets and appliances to
Family sized laundry
figure out what would fit (meanwhile hoping the neighbors didn't think we were burglars). Happily, we don’t have to replace the washer and dryer. The pair that came with the house will fit into the laundry space, with a little bit of room to spare. Who knows what we’ll do with such large capacity machines after all those years of using little ones.

We spent a long morning wandering the endless concrete pathways of Ikea,  looking for light fixtures and storage for the front hall.  Everyone in Ikea shuffled along at the same slow pace, in the same direction, as if we were on a conveyor belt. I felt like an extra in a zombie film. It was a successful trip, at least in terms of inexpensive, functional lighting. But the storage we liked wasn't the right size for stowing bike bags. On the other hand, we avoided buying anything flat-packed that needs assembly.

It seems we've spent most of our time recently, shopping for ironmongery, fixtures and hardware. Roughly half of our cookware won’t work on an induction cooktop, including our moka espresso pot and tea kettle.  January is a good time to buy pans, as they have excellent sales. We got an extra discount because we bought the floor model.
It’s a pity our stainless steel kettle won’t work on the new cooktop, because most of what we found out there is poorly designed, ugly, or not induction compatible. No wonder folks are going for the built-in, hot water on demand spigots.  Yes, we know we can boil water in a saucepan, and yes we have induction compatible saucepans.  But they don’t whistle. A whistle is essential for absent minded folk like us.

During one of our shopping trips, D. phoned the head carpenter to check on something. During this conversation, J. sheepishly admitted they managed to lose the kitchen sink. Oddly, the disposal unit that was attached to it was found in the garage, but not the sink. The plan was to reuse the stainless steel sink that was in the house when we bought it. The sink, diningroom light fixture, a bathroom vanity, a mirror and lots of light fixtures and bulbs were stored in the garage for safekeeping. It does look a bit overstuffed, even after they tidied it up. But seriously, how do you lose the kitchen sink?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Let the Sun Shine!

The U-District basking in a sun beam

Readout from one of our two inverters
We must be a little obsessed - the highpoint of our Christmas day was cycling over to the building site and watching the electric meter run backwards. There have been big changes from the last post, the roof is on, the solar panels installed and we're producing electricity.  The production meter isn’t hooked up yet, that will happen sometime in the new year.

Roof, solar array, siding, and bubble wrap rain shield
The roof itself went on very quickly, much to the detriment of the workers installing the siding. For some odd reason the gutters didn’t go on until they had put the siding on two walls.   Until then, every time it rained water sheeted down the slick metal and glass, cascading over them like Niagara falls.  They rigged up awnings out of bubble wrap and other plastic sheets they had on site.

So many things seemed to happen nearly at once, the doors are all installed, the insulation went in, the heating system is operational, and in the past week drywall has been hung and the interior painting started.  
Panoramic view of the top floor with drywall

We occasionally meet one of our future neighbors when we’re out visiting the site.  "Are you moved in yet?" they wonder.  The house is still lacking in some basic amenities, such as light switches, plumbing fixtures (aside from one bathtub that that is boxed in with plywood to prevent it being damaged) or even flooring.  

The garden
All the former lawn areas are now mud wallows. I did ask them to kill the grass.  But not the creeping rosemary or the lavender bushes, and I fear for the health of the pear tree underneath the rubble.
The original estimated finish date was Dec. 24th.  We’re hoping for March. 
I worry that the weeds will get a head start before I can get in a crop of ground cover.  I can’t plant anything until the cleanup is done, the last thing they do before handing over the keys.

Even so, it was a nice Christmas present to ourselves to finally have solar panels of our own.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet

Droplets on the bushes
Welcome to rainy season, mudslide season, and power outages caused by falling trees, their roots ripped loose from the saturated ground. Let no one say life is dull in these parts. We are very glad that snow, ice, and avalanche seasons are relegated to much higher elevations. I like the rain. There’s something exhilarating about cycling in the drizzle, or the roar of rushing water during a downpour. Except when you don't have a roof over your head.  

Framing the deck / porch roof
"I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in". . . 

No, we're not homeless, just roofless. The condo roof is being replaced, very slowly. We spent the dry season waiting for the roofers to begin. They waited till the rain started to fall (and once it starts, it hardly stops for months). They tore big pieces of the old roof off and then disappeared for days on end (skipping several dry days to go fishing, no doubt). They screwed two by fours onto the roof to keep their tools from raining down on us (only after I complained about falling tinsnips). These also function as little dams that hold the water back. The water then runs down the screws that penetrated the waterproof membrane and the plywood, and spills into the units below. So far we've had a stain on the carpet, a soggy sleeping bag and a camp stove full of water, and some very near misses with my violin and electronic keyboard. Some of our neighbors aren't that lucky.

"Raindrops keep falling on my head". . . 

Meanwhile. . . at the building project, we don't have a roof either. Most of the windows have been delivered and installed, the steel support is in place and. . .  the roofer that was lined up to do the work bailed out at the last minute.

Windows, steel, but no glass door.
Even if a new roofer started immediately, there's a two week wait for the materials. The backordered glass doors are also causing delays - the siding folks want the doors and windows in place before they get started. The schedule is a mess because interior work such as drywall can't be done until the building is weatherproof.  Right now, it’s even leakier than the condo. Every delay means more expense.

Tubing for the underfloor heating
“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.” 
― Bill Watterson
On the plus side, the plumbing has been roughed in, most of the electrical work is done, the underfloor heating is in place and the framing for the walls is done. They're running out of things they can do inside. The longer we wait for materials and subcontractors to finish the exterior, the worse the weather gets, it's a vicious circle. At this rate, we'll be lucky if we can move in by Chinese New Year. Given that the painters want ten days of dry weather before painting the exterior I don't expect the house to be finished until sometime in mid-July. We watched Grand Designs for years, and thought we knew how to avoid the worst of the home building pitfalls. At least we had enough sense to laugh at their first estimate of being finished by Christmas Eve.

“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I'll pelt.'
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged--though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.” 
― Robert Frost

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Things are progressing in fits and starts:
We have rafters, temporary front steps, and plywood sheathing. Lots, and lots, and lots of plywood.  The whole house is covered in it. It reminds me of the Malvina Reynolds song "Little Boxes". Though ours won't look 'just the same' as everyone else's. At least we hope not. Certainly the antennas will make it stand out a bit.

Temporary stairs.
The steel that will support the
stairs to the entryway, the deck and part of the roof has been delayed. Until that is installed, the exterior work (and the solar panels, and antenna mounts) is on hold. Some things are moving ahead. Most of the windows have been ordered, and the plumbers have made a first pass at the pipes. Some of the interior framing has been done.
It's starting to look more like a house and less like a FEMA site (complete with blue tarps).

Preparations are in process for the radiant underfloor heating.  But there’s another snag. The bamboo floor that we wanted to salvage was so thoroughly nailed in, that the nails were driven all the way through the subfloor to stick out the underside. From the experience of one of our London neighbors, we know nails anywhere near radiant heating is a very, very, very bad idea.  In his case, several tubes punctured and water cascaded down the stairs. He was not amused.

Unplanned indoor water features are generally not a good thing.

We tossed a few ideas back and forth with the contractors:
A) Another layer of sub flooring (this would reduce the efficiency of the heating system).
B) A couple days worth of carpenters grinding off the ends of each and every nail (mind bogglingly dull, repetitive work, and it only takes one missed point to wreak havoc).
C) Rip it all up and replace it.
The safest option is C), so the floor has to go, and we'll replace it with cork.
Cork flooring = happy feet!
At last! Cork flooring, something I learned to love while working at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.  Quiet, warm to the touch and every so slightly springy, not to mention, it has a beautiful look. Cork flooring will cost a bit more than salvaging the bamboo floor, but we have become resigned to the extra costs that pop up at every turn. The thing about redoing old houses, you never know what you will find when you open it up.  Speaking of which, there is one small space in a bedroom that will not have underfloor heating.  It was part of the original front porch, and  there’s no space to install it. Apologies in advance you you stay in this room over the winter, the consolation prize is it has a stunning view (and extra blankets).

We've had a modest pear harvest, and I can see (but not reach) a half dozen quinces.  Perhaps with pruning and some TLC it will do better next year. The patch of lawn in back looks well and truly dead now that it’s had lumber and debris piled on top of it for months. Killing it off was the first step in planting something else there besides grass.
My poor beleaguered creeping rosemary is thriving, despite the concrete blocks the builders keep piling on top of. The shrubs are all wildly overgrown, the front looks like setting for a horror film. I've been dreaming of a mini-orchard of dwarf fruit trees in the parking strip, surrounded by strawberry plants culled from friends' gardens. Don't ask me where the time will come to tend this little Eden. We were hard pressed to salvage the basil plants before the roofers working on the condo demolished them. We now have a bag full of pesto pucks.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Remodel or Rebuild?

Remodel - change the structure or form of (something, especially a building).

The original house
Technically, we are remodelling the house.  The permits we applied for fall into this category. The city considers it a remodel job if one original wall is left in place.  When we were house hunting I used to have fun spotting the original wall in what looks like a shiny new house.

We're not actually moving many walls, but they did have to strip them all down to the studs, and replace some of that underlying structure in the process. Especially since they've found rot and substandard framing underneath.  A few novel approaches to incorporating what used to be porches into the flooring were also uncovered. It’s a good thing we haven't had an earthquake since the last remodel was done.

The 1980s remodel - note how the basic shape of the walls and front roof are the same.
Let’s be honest, at this point it seems more like a rebuilding project than a remodelling job. Remodelling brings to mind new kitchen cabinets and countertops, maybe some changes to flooring and paint; not entirely reconstructed walls and a new roof structure and windows. Our roof will be streamlined in the front, but the little bump out in the walls on the left will stay; the last reminder of the shape of the old house.
The local government website has photos of the house over the years - up to the shiplap that was exposed last month when they took off the siding. The photo of  the original house (top), a cute little cottage perched precariously on the slope is priceless from an historical standpoint. Another couple shots show how our neighbours' houses also expanded from their modest origins (some more than others). The landscaping has changed over the decades from bare grass to lush shrubs, to its current state of large sandy holes in the ground. The excavation for the footings did not turn up a lot of interesting artifacts, but there was one intriguing little bottle.

Inspecting the excavation.
Buried treasure, and old medicine bottle, with cork.

A couple weeks ago we went to a site meeting where two walls and a big chunk of roof were gone from the top floor, and we were beginning to wonder how much more of the house was going to vanish.  Therefore, it was heartening to see the freshly-poured concrete footings on our last visit.

The stair is gone, but not the steel framework that held it up.
At long last, the industrial steel staircase has been hauled away. The work has finally changed course from taking more and more pieces off the building to putting things back on. Though it doesn't look like much of a house right now, at least what is there looks solidly built.  The next exciting event will be when they pour the footings for the radio tower. Right now there are segments of tower lying in the weeds next to the garage and ground rods tucked away inside it. They have to do some more digging before these go in.
Meanwhile, we're continuing never ending the process of choosing colors and finishes and looking forward to when we can sit back and enjoy watching the house take form.