Friday, December 26, 2014

12-26-2014 More interior milestones completed

We gave ourselves a couple of Christmas presents that would have been very difficult to gift wrap this week.  Two major interior completions have put us tantalizingly close to being able to say the house is done.  First and most importantly I finally finished the walk-in shower in the master bath.  We changed plans on the style, since it had been so long from initial planning, which meant I had to return all the subway tiles (boxes and boxes of them!), and Debra chose the color pattern we had used throughout both bathrooms for continuity in the design.  I chose to go with a larger 12X12 format for ease of installation and to give a little contrast to the 6X6 used in the rest of the bathroom.  All tile, grout, and sealing have been done and after the appropriate seven day curing process the first use of the shower was on Christmas day.  What a feeling!  The glass door is not on yet (ordered and not arriving till later in January), so we have a temporary shower curtain being put to use.  The other item was the tile back-splash for the kitchen.  We had the counter tops installed without integral back-splash because we knew we were going to tile.  We just didn't realize at the time it was going to take so darn long.  We used a 9X12 base tile with 1X2 glass and stone mosaics, all in neutral earth tones for contrast.
Now, the only thing left to do for a finished house is lots and lots of staining and trim installation.  Here on the day after Christmas we are again pulling out the tools and continuing that process.  We both look forward to a day when we can plan on participating in some of our long ignored hobbies and pastimes that have fallen by the wayside since starting this whole building process.

All the stress and mental anguish worrying about how this project would turn out have finally ended.  The concrete floor/base that I was losing sleep over, turned out perfect, in that it is smooth, consistent, and properly drains from all directions.  The little shampoo/soap niche that was so difficult to work on also turned out great.  All in all, the hard work and worry payed off with a shower we are proud of.

The back-splash went much smoother than expected.  I had never tried cutting glass tiles before, so that was a new skill requiring great care to prevent chips and exploding tiles (don't ask).  The proper blade for the tile saw helped immensely.  One challenge we hadn't expected was how our cabinets aligned with the outlets.  The outlets were measured and installed a specific distance from the floor all around the kitchen.  If you have seen the cabinet install portion of this blog, you know the kitchen floor varied by as much as an inch and a half from level from one side to the other.  Because we installed all the cabinets with levelers it appeared that the outlets were misaligned when we started tiling.  This required some creative processes as we went to mask the difference.  The process turned out well, and is nearly impossible to notice, and only then if you are looking hard in the right places.

This is something that has been important to us from the start of the whole build.  Look closely at the top of the back of this tile.  We went out of our way whenever possible to put Made In The USA materials in this house.  We're happy to say every piece of tile in the house was made by this company, and we couldn't be happier with the product.  Sometimes it cost us a little extra, and surprisingly when you researched hard enough, we found we could get quality Made In The USA materials for less than the "stuff" coming from the Asian markets.  The same with any new tools I picked up along the way.  It was that important to us.

A little side project we took on was this portable(?) structure to keep the tractor and some of our other outside equipment out of the weather for the winter.  We just couldn't afford the pole building we were hoping to build this past Fall for storage, so this will have to do for another year or two.

Merry Christmas from "The Farm With A View"

Monday, October 27, 2014

10/25/2014 The outside is done!

With the exception of our landscaping project, the outside of the house is considered done.  There are tiny details to attend to, but nothing that requires vast planning or resources.  The chimney race was one of those projects that just always seemed to get pushed off to the back burner in favor of things we deemed more pressing.  However, once completed, seemed to make a huge difference in the appearance of the whole house.  The process was not as hard as we (ok, as I.) thought it would be.  Debra had more faith in it being an easy project than I did. The only thing that slowed us down was the need to acquire some good sturdy commercial scaffolding.  Installing those panels would have been difficult at best, and damned dangerous at worst if we had done them from our ladders.  Good timing too, as the Fall weather is getting less and less pleasant to be outside working in.  Now we are moving back inside to finish the last of the interior details so as to call the house complete.  But as anyone who has ever built a house knows, you are never truly "done".


Debra handling the panel cutting.
Me, thinking how nice it will be to not have to work in high places anymore.

It turned out looking better than even we thought it would.

Friday, October 3, 2014

10/3/2014 More Outdoor Completions

10/3/2014  More outdoor completions
We've gotten a few more days of nice weather lately, so have been working hard to complete outdoor projects.  There won't be many more nice days with the cold bearing down on us, so we are motivated.  The retaining walls was a project we had originally intended on doing ourselves (we have prior experience), but decided with our time and weather constraints to have it done professionally.  The final product makes us glad we did.  Our landscaper managed to jump in and finish the two retaining wall projects before he had to leave for other jobs.  He has been working hard to make up for all the rain days he has been delayed with too.  Unfortunately he will not be able to come back and do our actual landscaping until next Spring.

Debra and I have managed to complete about 60% of the exposed basement stucco finish, and now that the walls, landscape fabric, and french drains have been installed, hope to finish the rest as soon as it stops raining again  (we've had 1 3/4 inches just since last night).  We also had our downstairs bedroom escape window well installed and back-filled simultaneously with the new retaining walls.  When the rain pushed us back inside, we worked at insulating our interior garage walls, and staged the attic insulation bundles where we can work on them our next rainy weekend.  Our next non rainy weekend we will finish the basement stucco and install the storm door on the exit from our master bedroom to the back deck. 

Digging out for the wall foundation.  We had placed plywood and straw bales here previously in a (somewhat futile) attempt at holding back the mud and dirt from the lower patio.
Foundation laid and first course of stone going in.

Newly completed wall with two french drains installed above to capture and drain away any water that flows down the hill and under the deck.  The one drain can still be seen near the end of the wall, but that will be extended out further away from the house and buried when final landscaping is done.
Here is the wall on the opposite side of the lower patio.  We didn't have the drain challenges we did on the other slope, but there is a french drain installed anyway to preclude any possibility of water encroaching beyond the wall and onto the concrete.  You can also see where we left off with our first coat of stucco where the wall joins.

This is the beginning of the stucco process.  First the pink styrofoam insulation is washed and scored (texture roughed up with a stiff brush).  Then a sticky fiber mesh screen is applied.

Next a very thin first layer of stucco is applied and allowed to dry.
Debra proved to be the more talented (and patient) applier of the first coat of material.
After the second coat is troweled on, we get our desired texture.  This product will allow rolling, troweling, brushing or "brooming", and limited spraying of the product to achieve the final finish you desire.  We chose the natural adobe look by doing our final coat with the trowel.

No more pink insulation!  Final landscape work will mound more dirt up against the foundation and hide any small bits of pink down near the soil line.

I also spent about a half a day on the ladder installing gutter screens.  Last year the gutters filled to overflowing with leaves and cause all manner of drainage issues.  Just a minor downside to living amongst the trees. 
We picked up an old industrial Massey Ferguson tractor to work here on "The Farm With A View".  I outfitted it with forks on the bucket and have been using it to haul our firewood.  It will also be equipped with a back blade and be our snow clearing device for the driveway this winter.

From forks to the saw-buck in one motion.  No lifting.
There will be two more rows like this when finished.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

9/2/2014 Finally an outdoor completion

Weather delay after weather delay, but we've finally completed one  outdoor task that we've been attempting for weeks.  We've had a very rainy summer this year, and we needed at least a small window of dry and not very windy weather to complete our deck staining.  Well, one out of two is the best we could do.  It was a very windy day, and we almost didn't make it because of rain.  The weather changed and the rain arrived hours before it was forecast to.  Luckily the thunderstorms formed on both sides of us and rolled north without leaving a drop behind until much later that night.  By then the stain was sufficiently dry to stand up to the moisture.  It took more prep time than we had to spare too because of the wind, but necessarily had to be done.  Debra and her grandson did most of the paper and tape to protect the siding and our lower patio from over spray and drips, while I set up the spray equipment and cleared the deck of all furniture.

The disappointing news is, our local landscaper (who has also been negatively affected by all the rain) has been pushed so far back, that we most likely will not get our ground work done before next spring.  It looks like one more Winter of weeds and mud around the house.  He did promise to come back and complete the two retaining walls we need by our lower patio before Fall.  At least we'll be able to stop the erosion and mini mud slides we've been experiencing down on the lower level.

The equipment that saved us days of brush and roller work.  This is the same spray equipment we used to paint the whole interior of this house, and the exterior of a little bungalow we refurbished several years ago.  Good equipment is worth the expenditure when you really need it.

You can see the paper and tape we used to mask the house.  The chimney is still Tyvek, so we didn't care if it got stain on it.  We're covering that with faux rock anyway.  Including the deck on the back of the house, we did around 800 square feet of deck and railing stain in a little more than a day.

Or view to the southwest now that we have cleared the necessary trees and brush.  We LOVE our little piece of paradise!

Monday, June 16, 2014

6/16/2014 Another Completion

Another completion on the exterior for us to mark off.  This comes off the door at the back or our master suite, and will eventually open on to a small patio behind the house.  One of our local contractors did a beautiful job so we could free up our time for the interior trim.  This deck was done properly and will require no further attention from us, other than staining.

We continue to chip away at the trim and woodwork on the interior, intermixed with our regular jobs.  Both of us have been spending extra time at work, making less time available to work on the house.  Plus we have started dividing time with our old house in an attempt to get it ready for sale as quickly as we can.  The sale of the other house will release both funds and considerable stress and allow more time to dedicate to this one.

We still have more fill dirt to bring in, which will raise and level the ground at the base of the stairs. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

5/1/2014 Tedious, but necessary steps


We're still moving forward, but the time spent vs. progress shown has dropped off significantly.  I read somewhere once that when building a house, the last ten percent takes ninety percent of your time.  I'm certainly a believer now.  We are now down to the final interior details of doors, trim, casings, and baseboard.  This requires a LOT of staining since we are doing everything from scratch in order to get the exact color we want.  There aren't too many things I hate more than painting, but staining is one of them.  Luckily we do well at sharing responsibilities, so Debra has taken on all the staining, and I have been doing the cutting, staging, and final two coats of poly.  This week I'll start cutting in the door hardware and nailing up casings and hanging doors as they are complete.  As soon as we get this task under control, we'll order trim and baseboard material.  Soon we should have another set of pictures to show distinct progress.

Here's just a portion of what has taken over our basement while we stain and prep.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

3/6/2014 Interior stonework complete


Stonework finished, cleanup done, and once again we are able to use our fireplace.  Since for all appearances this Winter is going to last until early July, that's a good thing. 
This proved to be the hardest project we've had to work on together, and have sworn that going forward, all future stone work will be done by a professional.  Now we can get back to finishing details like the master shower, staining trim, casings, and doors, and finishing the details on the stairway leading to the basement so the carpet installers can return to finish that last little bit.  We need to accelerate these items because when the weather does finally break, we are not going to want to stay inside working.  There are a number of exterior details that are waiting for decent temperatures before we can tackle them.  Stucco on the exposed basement foundation, staining all that deck, and installing the escape window well in the lower level bedroom.  No, I don't think we will ever be completely done with the house.  At least it seems that way some days.

Finally, we're able to have a fire again after finishing all the stonework.                       

17 turkeys in the road a couple hundred yards below our driveway this morning.

Monday, February 10, 2014

2/10/2014 Stoning our house


Some visual progress, but with some more tough lessons.  Stone masonry is a skill that neither Debra nor I have any experience with.  Of course having no experience with something has historically caused us to take that as a challenge.  Another case of what we thought would be a weekend job, of course turns into something much more.  Lesson learned:  cement eventually loses it's adhesive properties even if it appears wet enough to continue its work.  Results?  We were half way up the rock wall surrounding our fireplace when one of the heavier stones dislodged itself and dropped down, causing a cascade failure of just about everything below it.  We lost half a day or more clearing up the mess and starting over.  Not fun, but lesson well learned.  Take things a little slower until you're sure of your skills, and carefully time your product so as not to over reach its or your capabilities.
Our starting pallet and a clean slate.

So far, so good.

We made it up to the base of the mantle before the top stone collapsed down and obliterated the rest.

Recovery from our accident and progress again being made.  I love visual progress!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

1/ 7/ 2014 Break Time's Over

1/ 7/ 2014

Well, we decided to step back and get away from construction for awhile.  I'm afraid I was burning out from the stress of constantly spending every waking minute of my spare time (that time away from my regular job) working on this place.  Debra was catching on to the fact that I was starting to adopt a "that's close enough" attitude with my work on the house, and you could start to see it in my attention to detail.  That's definitely not my style, so once it was pointed out to me I agreed, regardless of how much we have to do we needed to have some "us" time away from construction.  Well, now that the holidays are over, I need to get myself motivated to get at it again.  We started by getting our fireproof stairs installed in the garage so we could access the attic storage area.  This in turn will allow us to start sorting boxes in the basement and clearing that space out.  I really hate cutting large holes in my house.  It seems to have a permanency that makes me really really uncomfortable.  There were numerous measurements and double checking measurements to be certain that great gaping hole in the garage ceiling was going to be a perfect fit.  Everything slid in perfectly, so the extra effort was worth it.

Settling into the house to actually live here now really doesn't help my motivation either.  It's just too comfortable and easy to take a break and have a snack, or step over to the computer to see what the latest is on Facebook, etc.  Those habits I really need to work hard to overcome.

We are especially enjoying our fireplace now.  Currently we are experiencing record or near record low temperatures here in Wisconsin.  The last couple of nights have been -25 degrees with wind chills of between 40 and 60 below zero.  Our super insulated house and our high efficiency fireplace will keep the whole upper living area between 70 and 74 degrees without any help from our geothermal system.  I have a gas powered log splitter that I use for larger amounts of firewood, but the temperature was so cold earlier this week that I could not get it started.  The alternative was to do it the way I used to on the farm.

These stairs have a fireproof barrier on the outside and a fusible gasket around the opening.  Should a fire break out in the garage, the gasket will melt and seal the opening, while the fireproof outer layer holds back the flames.  None of our big box stores carried anything like this, so it had to be special ordered.
When technology and/or automation fail, I do it like my father taught me and pick up the 8 pound Hammer of Thor, and get it done.  This will keep our fireplace fed for quite awhile.

I had a friend take this picture for me.  This shows more of how our Deltec blends with nature.  The house sits right at the edge of the ridge line, so the view out all those windows is something to behold.