Sunday, April 29, 2007

Snakes in a Trench!

Travis the electrician and I spent most of yesterday installing the feeder cable from our power panel through the Trench of Despair (and clay), into the two-inch PVC conduit that for some reason decreases it's apparent interior size the further you push or pull the electrical feeder wires.

The trench is the one dug last weekend, and when Linnea asked me if we should install the feeder cable into the plastic drain pipe (to protect the cables from rocks), I naively said, "No, lets keep it indoors until we are ready to hook it up. I don't want to get it stolen." Of course, it's aluminum wire, so not as appealing (or annealing) as copper, and having now spent two sweaty hours just getting it into the drain pipe, I have yet another Lesson Learned. So...

The three 0000 (pronounced four-ought) wires are slightly more flexible than a politician at a party convention, but barely. Trying to get them to traverse the plastic drain pipe with it's interior ridges was like trying to feed an anaconda another anaconda. I ended up cutting a slot into most of the pipe and shoving the wires down into it. The trench also was complicated by the several inches of rain that caved in some of the sides (wet clay on top of the pipe makes it even harder) and the major root for the pine trees that we want to keep just North of the porch.

But before all this, Travis and I made trip number 582 to Lowes to buy yet more house crap. It's amazing how many receipts I have from Lowes. After we are done, I will do a little analysis and put up the numbers. I don't think I am too far off on the number of trips made to Lowes though. Once we had everything needed for the electrical panel, we set to work (and by we I mean Travis as I was wrestling with the anacondas like Jim did on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom). Travis worked hard in the cool basement as I rolled in the mud and clay with the snakes. Of course, he is the one who knows what he is doing, so it's very appropriate that I was out there doing grunt work. We should have it done tomorrow, assuming we ever get the wires through the conduit.

The conduit has two 90 degree elbows (LBs in the vernacular) that have an opening plate to help in threading the wire through. But the interior LB is RIGHT up against a floor joist, so you can't open it completely or reach more than your two pointer fingers in. Let me tell you, you don't want to have 4-ought wire shoved against two fingers where you can't move them or get them out of the way--I speak from experience. We tried a wire fish taped to the wires, but it pulled off. Next was some rope I had laying about--it stayed on but was too thick to make the second 90 degree turn. Tomorrow we are going to put some small gauge wire inside the wire bundle and pull it through that way.
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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Watch this space!

While it isn't as impressive as it will be, this (IMHO) will be the crowning achievement of our work on Thistle House. All of the wiring, plumbing, siding and roofing will be background work--mostly unseen. But this skylight at the top of the stairs will be something special. We found it at the Dayton Habitat for Humanity ReStore. The ReStore is a lumberyard/donation headquarters for all kinds of treasures--donated to help fund Habitat for Humanity's work in affordable family housing. The Velux skylight came from the ReStore minus the flashing kit--but it was just as good as a new one from Lowes at less than 50% of the cost. It was kinda of a whim purchase, and we thought about using it in the un-started garage. When I was working on shingling the roof, Linnea and I decided to install in on the South facing top of the roof. It shines right, and brite, into our daughter's room and the top of the stairs. We want it to shine mostly on the top of the stairs, but would like to turn our daughter's room into an eventual office, as we framed in a removeable box that will be a reflector opening over the stairs. Here is a picture of the box. When we are ready to convert the room, the ceiling can be removed there and the framing unscrewed: presto, a skylight straddling two rooms.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Too much fun

Saturday I had to use bodily force and the threat of late fees to remove my lovely bride from the clutches of the Ditch Witch trencher/scoop loader. We used it to dig the trench for the underground electric feeder to the house--all 50 feet of it. Then, since we had about two and a half hours left on the four hour rental we hooked up the scoop/loader to the front and moved some dirt. When I say "we" I really mean Linnea. I got to move two small scoops before she pouted so much that I was worried about running over her lower lip with the mico-Bobcat. When the clock reached a time limit that even Jack Bauer would flinch at, I had to knock her over the head (almost) to get her off of it so I could wash the clay off and get it back. The good news is that I made it back without late fees--the bad news is that I now know what Linnea wants for Mother's Day.
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Okay, I owe you guys lunch

Today at work, I (possessor of a really BAD memory) told the guys in the shop next to mine that the drive from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to Thistle House was six miles. This was the cause of much disbelief on the part of the peanut gallery, but I persevered in my belief despite their attacks--we even used the dubious powers of Google maps to crosscheck it, but they recommended a different way home. I was sure I was right, because Linnea and I had clocked it after filling the truck with gas.

Turns out that it's 14.8 miles. The six miles in my memory was the approximate mileage from the back gate of the base to the house--and even that is more like 10 miles. So, now I owe Larry, Curly, Moe and Sleepy lunch. How about something cheap for the broke house owner-builder? Like McDonalds?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tip of the Day (TOTD)

Today's tip is for everyone who hasn't read Fine Homebuilding. FH is our absolute favorite magazine and I have a confession. Our newest issue came in the mail last night and I distracted Linnea with the cheap Lowes woodshop flyer while I started in on FH. I felt really guilty, especially as the subscription is in her name, but I just couldn't stop myself. I did confess to her and as pennance I read the editorial to her while she washed up from cutting out light fixture boxes in the siding.

Anyway, blue masking tape--commonly called painter's tape--is the TOTD. It's great stuff and has almost as many uses as duct tape. It's great to hold anything together that you don't want to leave adhesive residue on (like wood panels for youngest son's scroll saw work), or making punch list notes in the house (see photo). We have probably used about 20 rolls of the stuff, and have even used it for it's intended purpose of masking off areas to avoid painting them. When the inspector does his or her walkthrough, carry a roll with you and a Sharpie. Make a note of what he wants changed and leave it at there--it's a great visual punch list. When all of the blue tape is missing, you know you are ready for the inspection.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


You know how things ALWAYS take longer than you think they will, and so you add in another 50% of your expected time to allow for overruns and delays? Then why is it that even with the extra time it still takes forever and about 50% on top of the 50% already added?

This is today's 'end of day' picture. Maybe I should start a new topic on the blog for "EOD" pictures? Of course, all of my military friends will think I have Explosive Ordinance Disposal technicians at my house all of the time. Need a better title...

Got another circuit finished today--running, stapling, stripping and bonding grounds takes forever! My arms are really sore from pulling on the 12/2 ROMEX to strip it, even with the cool little 'cable slicer' I got at Lowes. Speaking of which, I need to make Yet Another Trip To Lowes, our local version of Mecca. If the afterlife has anything to do with money spent at DIY or home improvement warehouses, we are so set. I hope my pastor doesn't read that line, I am in so much trouble if he does. Actually, he would probably sucker punch me again, like he did in February. Our church had a chili cookoff, and we are cleaning up afterwards and another friend is telling me how the pastor had sucker punched him the week before, and as I turned to Randy (the pastor) to ask if this was true--BLAM--right in the solar plexus--wheezing I looked at him with my best beagle eyes but he was unashamed. I am still plotting my vengeance--of course there is this verse about God taking charge of vengeance, so maybe I should let Him sucker punch Randy--heh, maybe I should tell Randy that I am going to let God sucker punch him for me, and see what Randy says?

Right, I am tired and off topic (this is a housebuilding blog after all).
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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

End of Wednesday's work

This is what it looked like this afternoon. The scaffolding is down on the East side and all of the trim, soffit, siding and painting is done there. We hope that we are done here, as it's the hardest to get to, except for the top of the silo. Next up is the North-East side of the gable wall, above our bedroom balcony. While Linnea works on that tomorrow, and I assist as needed, I will focus on the electrical and getting that finished. The weather is supposed to be fine Thursday, after a light shower or two tonight, so I might get the trencher rented for the underground feeder from our electric panel to the house. We have a separate panel outside of the house for our meter-base (where the electric co-op terminates their service). From there it splits out to a panel for the temporary service (future garage panel) and another 200A disconnect for the feeder to the house. Since the building inspectors treat the panel as it's own 'building', we will have a disconnect for the house panel, like a regular electric panel, inside the house.

Off to bed and back to work tomorrow.

Don't try this at home

Okay, so if anyone from OSHA is reading this, please know that (1) I am the homeowner-builder and (2) there are NO paid participants in the following set of pictures. Legal disclosure aside, this is what I was doing yesterday afternoon. We were putting up the trim, soffit and siding on the most challenging part of the East face of the silo, and the East gable wall.

It's a bit difficult to see, but I am on a 7' ladder on top of 20' of scaffolding--so that's about a double gainer with a twist and 2.4 seconds of screaming all the way down to the rock and dirt below. So far, the only casualty has been some miscellanous nails and the occasional pencil. All have survived, although my temper at times is frayed. Or maybe it's 'fraid?

This week we are trying to get the East gable and silo finished, as well as the electric and plumbing. We had a nice talk with Troy the building inspector and he told us we are well on our way to being ready for the rough inspection. Despite what their paperwork says, he said we don't need to have the siding done for the rough inspection--if we had asked that earlier it would have changed our schedule. Oh well, back to the slave mines of Endor.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

New topic--new tool reviews

Okay, since everyone else is doing it I am going to too. And if my English professors read that sentence I am toast.

Now, Gene's Tool Reviews:

Todays tool: the Bosch RotoZip Z20-4200,
It's a nifty tool that is more than just a drywall router. The kit comes with all kinds of attachments that make me wonder if it's good at grinding (has a grinding/cutting wheel attachment), 'jig-saw like' work with the optional base and a cool looking and as yet unused vacuum attachment. That should be great for doing the drywall in a month or so (hopefully!). We bought it at Lowes and it was $149. Zoinks! It has a tool-less bit change that is like a cross between a keyless drill chuck and changing a blade on a circular saw (a blade lock that takes a little of finagleing). The LED in the collet is a cool idea and shed a decent amount of light. This is the second tool we have (the other is the Hitachi jigsaw) that has an LED light. Linnea said today how nice it is to have light at the cut. The specs are all at their website.

I tried it out first by trying to cut some toilet flange support rings out of OSB. It was horrible at it with the standard blade. I went and got my cordless drill and the jigsaw. That took ten minutes to make three of them--using the RotoZip would have taken until about now--ten hours later. To be fair I was using the wrong bit in it--there is a specific bit for OSB and plywood, but still I think the larger tools were the right way to go. Now, I may try this tool to cut the electrical receptacle holes in the Hardiplank siding since we forgot to do that until after we got to the second floor! It can plunge into a cut and that is a nifty way to redo a finished piece of siding. The RotoZip may be the right tool for the job. We shall see and watch this space for updates.


Plumbing before today's work

This is what the plumbing looks like. The top photo is the second try for the link-seal that the building inspector wanted and our septic guy didn't get right. It's now a 4" pipe in a 6" hole with a rubber-butyl compression fitting. Apparently Michelin makes more than tires, they also make plumbing!
The second photo is the beginning of the waste lines in the basement. The PVC line coming in from the left is the waste line from the master bath on the top floor. It runs straight down in a framed-box or square column that is by the front entry. We are also going to have drop the ceiling there too as Kenny needs the space for the tub and toilet waste lines. So, Linnea and I have been looking at Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House...books, looking for the right entry treatment to disquise the dropped ceiling. Out latest idea is either a post with knee braces similar in design to the porch rafter tails or a column with a small shelf to demarcate the entry and anchor the dropped ceiling. We will mock it up and see how it looks. May take a picture to let you know what it looks like too :-)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Not a bad view for a basement

Here is the view from the basement window. This bedroom will be unfinished when we move in, but the 13 year old son wants to have his own room. We told him if he finishes it he can have it. That works out well as the 10 year old son wants the upstairs bedroom.
Linnea is building the rockwall in levels to contain the backfill once Tim the backhoe guy gets his crew out for final grading. We hope to get the final grade done around the end of April, about the time of the rough inspection. We need to frame the porch stairs once we have that settled for the inspection.

Where are we today?

This is what the house looked like yesterday afternoon. I got the vent covers installed (small, but important detail) on the West side (shown here).

I have some more pictures of the plumbing that I will post too. The siding is above the balcony on the East of the house. We are going to need more scaffolding before we tackle the high part of the house on either side.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

No pictures, but lots of pipes

We spent a cold Saturday at the house yesterday, along with Kenny and Craig the plumbers. They got something like fifty percent of the waste and vent lines in. I only had to go to Lowes once--and that was mostly for me as I needed more electrical parts. While they worked on the pipes, I worked on the wiring. We are nearly ready for the rough inspections. We are going to ask Duane our overseeing contractor to come by and tell us what we need before calling the inspector. I may call the inspector too, as we have very helpful inspectors in our county and they are willing to advise if you are willing to listen.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

We're making headway--and teenagers

I spent last evening talking with Kenny the plumber about our rough plumbing. He and his friend Craig will be by this evening and Saturday to rough in the drain and vent pipes. Today is not at all like the beginning of the week, at least as far as the weather goes. It was 75 degrees on Tuesday, and yesterday it was 35. Brr!

It should warm up next Monday, but it's going to be a cold Easter. This is also another birthday weekend for us, as the daughter turns 15 (can start driving in SIX MONTHS!). Last weekend was the older son's 13th birthday, and we entered the community of multiple teenager families. Not sure if it's a community that we would have joined, if we had planned this through. In the end, we will have three teenager children of our own in the house at the same time--assuming we ever finish this house. Of course, you never only have one teenager in the house, even if you have only one child. Teenagers run in packs like juvenile hyenas, only the hyenas are less messy and they don't eat as much.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Here is where we are about 3PM

This is what it looks like after the tower of scaffolding was taken down. The trim is on, painted and caulked. Hopefully, we won't be doing any more high work on the face of the silo. Of course, we still have to side the sides, but one of them is half done and is easy to get to. The other is another thing altogether.

We finished up today talking with Kenny the plumber. He is starting the waste lines (again) tomorrow (really!) with a buddy. We have a couple of nightmare plumbing maneuvers where Sir Issac Newton's 1st law of will have to be violated.

The day ended with a HUGE downpour, part of the "April in like a lion". Those must be dandy-lions that April showers bring. :-)

Monday, April 02, 2007

One reason to build a house

One of the answers to the common question, "why are you building your own house?"
has to be these photographs. How else could I put up the trim behind the silo and then lay on the roof, watch Candian geese fly buy and soak up the April sun as it nears the horizon?
The second photo is another in the long line of my self portraits that aren't necessarily obvious. That's my "keep the sun off of my head and ears" hat in the shadow. Nope, I am not Amish.
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Just hanging around

Here are a few pictures of the work today. I am hanging out of the attic gable vent that will be installed a little after this picture is taken. I am SO glad that Tim the evil physical fitness leader (our Air Force version of a sadist) has been working us on our abdominals. I had to lean out of the hole, upside down and nail in the facsia siding and paint the nails over. I about threw up I was so tired--my neck tried to spasm with a charley-horse.

You can see the second photo has the gable vent installed and Linnea is painting and finishing the shingle siding. We plan to finish it up tonight as the boys are at their science class. The wind is forecast to be around 30 MPH tomorrow, so we are going to skip working on the scaffolding.
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