Cleaning the Facade

March 23rd, 2014 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Old City Philadelphia

One of my questions about this project was how they were going to treat the facade, particularly the signage that had been painted on the brick at the corner of Arch and 2nd Street.

Today, I noticed a masonry restoration contractor pressure washing and manually scrubbing the facade. You have to be careful with brick, as you can erode the hard protective layer of the brick if you use too much pressure or use an abrasive. My guess is that they will re-point at least some of the brick — the really tedious and expensive process of replacing the mortar between bricks on the outer surface of the wall. We’ll see. I’m also very curious to see how they handle the windows — my guess is we’ll just see entirely new windows.

pressure washing brick facade old city condo project

Washing the facade.

Putting On the Roof

March 23rd, 2014 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Old City Philadelphia

Wow. Roofers can be amazing. This condo project comprises seven formerly distinct buildings. The first step of the project was to put on a new roof over the entire set of buildings. The theory is that you don’t want to start doing new work inside until you have a nice tight roof to prevent water from entering. A crew of about a dozen roofers stripped the entire original roof (many layers of nasty asphalt roofing material), did deck repairs, and put down a continuous membrane over the whole thing, all in about a week. It was a marvel to behold. Here’s the finished roof.

Roof of condo project in old city philadelphia

Pristine roof membrane covering seven formerly distinct buildings.

Furthermore, they did this on a tight city street seven stories up. The trick is to set up a chute from the roof top to a dumpster below and to have 2-3 people dedicated to moving the debris off the roof into the dumpster(s).

This type of roof is sometimes called a “rubber roof.” The material is made of a synthetic rubber (EPDM, usually) and comes in a roll. It can be seamed reliably by overlapping layers and using an adhesive that essentially fuses the material. Think of this as a continuous rubber membrane draped over the entire seven buildings.

Of course one tricky problem is how you get the water off the roof. In city settings like this, you can’t just run it off onto the ground. You also have to get it off the middle of the roof, not the edges, because of the way the roof pitches work. As a result, there are central drains on the roof sections, with cages over them to prevent debris from entering. These must be plumbed into the city storm water drainage system. We’re shouting distance from the Delaware River, so my guess is that the drain runs into the river quite nearby.

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Condo Project in Old City Philadelphia

March 23rd, 2014 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Old City Philadelphia

First of all, this is not my project; I’m just an observer. I now live in a contemporary high rise in Old City Philadelphia. I look out my window onto a collection of historic buildings on the first block of Arch Street. A project is underway to convert seven of these buildings into 43 housing units.

This blog has a pretty good description of what we know about the project so far.

Corner of Arch and Second - Trenton China Pottery

Trenton China Pottery building at Arch and Second

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Whiteboard Paint

June 17th, 2013 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Notes on Approaches

For some time, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of painted on whiteboard surfaces. I have a shop/office in a commercial loft in Philadelphia with plain white drywall partitions. When I was in Home Depot I saw this Rust-Oleum paint. It’s about $20.  I thought I’d give it a try.

Rust-Oleum Dry Erase Paint

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Baltic Birch Media Shelf Unit – CNC Routed Parts

July 7th, 2012 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Notes on Approaches

In the Park City house, we have three bedrooms that all are set up nearly identically with wall-mounted TVs. We fed the wires through the wall, but then have the pesky cable box to contend with. I wanted a shallow media shelf of some kind that would accommodate a cable box and a DVD player, but be relatively small and unobtrusive. The main problem with some of the products on the market is that they are too deep. I really wanted something about 11 inches deep, which is plenty for the items to be stored.  So, I designed a shelving unit that could be assembled from tubing and flat shelves. Here’s what I ended up with. It’s 32″ W x 11″ D x 21-1/2″ H.

The finished shelf unit in place.

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Resetting Bosch Vision 300 Series Washer

December 27th, 2011 by KTU | 74 Comments | Filed in Uncategorized

I could not find this information on the web anywhere, so I’m posting it here in case it is useful to someone. (Disclaimer: This worked for me and many others — some slight variants are posted in comments, which you might try if it doesn’t work for you. No promises, of course.)

My 13-month old Bosch Vision 300 Series Washer displayed error code E:27 (E27). Of course, I was just out of warranty.

This error code is not in the user manual, but some research on line indicates that it is a door latch fault. The problem is that the washer will not operate and the door is latched closed.

You can manually release the latch by removing the lower panel (Torx fasteners, I think) and finding a wire lanyard that releases the latch. However, I had read that there was a diagnostic code that could be used to reset the latch solenoid via the control panel.

There is no service manual available on line, as far as I can tell.

Here is what worked…

1. Set the knob to off.

2. Hold down both the Spin Selector button and the Allergy Rinse button simultaneously.

3. While holding these two buttons down, rotate the knob one click to the left, to the “cold” position.

4. At that point, the display will show a diagnostic code and the unit will enter a self-test mode. In my case, the solenoid latch started clicking repeatedly. I pressed the Spin Selector button once or twice, which resulted in the display of new codes and then the release of the latch.

5. I set the knob back to off, and the washer now appears to be operating.

6. You’re done.

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Flor Carpeting Revisited

October 29th, 2011 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Notes on Approaches

The FLOR carpet tile system is an intriguing concept — affordable, DIY, floor covering, with interesting design possibilities. I used the system for my family room in the Church House about six years. That room is (partially) shown in the next photo (c2005).

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Professional Photos!

October 29th, 2011 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in Park City Mountain Modern

Here are the photos of the Park City house taken by the talented Matthew Millman, and shared with Baubilt courtesy of Carney Logan Burke Architects. Click to view larger image…

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Under-Vanity LED Lighting (courtesy of IKEA)

October 28th, 2011 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 4. Components and Systems, Park City Mountain Modern

I used wall-mounted vanities in the Park City house because I like preserving as much floor area as possible, and because I envisioned using some kind of under-vanity lighting as a “night light” for the bathrooms. I had the electrician wire in switched outlets for each vanity. It took me a year to get around to the the lighting. Here’s what I figured out.

IKEA sells LED lighting strips with power supplies (“Ledberg”). These are roughly 24 inches long and they have a modular connector system so several can be ganged together. I simply mounted these to the bottom of the vanity about 3 inches back from the front edge with the cord fed through a hole in the bottom of the vanity.

This was easy and inexpensive. The light color is a little cooler than I’d like, but overall I’m pretty happy with the results.

Ledberg IKEA LED lighting strips. Note hole drilled in bottom of vanity with 11/16 butterfly bit.

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Amenity Hut

August 24th, 2011 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Finished Pavilion, Montana Sleeping Pavilion

The Amenity Hut is really nice. It’s a 6′ x 12′ little structure with an enclosure for our composting toilet and for a shower. We mounted a sink on the outside wall. We have running water from the lake provided by a solar-powered pump and pressure tank.

Amenity Hut from back side showing outdoor sink.

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Composting Toilets for Highly Seasonal Use

August 24th, 2011 by KTU | 9 Comments | Filed in 3. Finished Pavilion, Montana Sleeping Pavilion

Warning: if you are not an extreme tree hugger and/or really don’t need a toilet without a septic system, you should skip this post.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the last two years researching composting toilet systems. I’ve discussed them with friends and have done some experiments at my cabin in Vermont. I’ve also had almost 10 years of experience with a commercial system (Envirolet) at my Vermont cabin.

Commercial composting systems are really set up for steady demand by a few people. Our use pattern is very different. We hit the system very hard for about four weeks a year and then it sits idle for the other 48 weeks.

Furthermore, most commercially available composting systems benefit substantially from electric heaters built into them. These use a fair bit of energy. My system in Vermont is not powered and it does not work very well, by which I mean the waste takes at least a year to decompose. I’ve concluded that we wouldn’t be happy with the performance of a conventional composting system at the Montana sleeping pavilion.

Instead, I’ve installed a “Lovable Loo” which I’m using in an unusual way…anaerobic composting instead of aerobic composting.

The Lovable Loo is basically a housing for a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a toilet seat on it. After each use, the user scoops a generous amount of saw dust or peat moss over the waste in the bucket. (We use peat moss because it’s easy to buy at the home center.) This essentially eliminates odors and provides a more attractive appearance than the alternative. When the bucket is full, the lid to the box is lifted, and the bucket lifted out and replaced with a new one. There are thousands of these systems in use and they are apparently used very successfully even in conditioned indoor spaces.

Lovable Loo installed in the "amenity hut"

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Finished Sleeping Pavillion

August 24th, 2011 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 3. Finished Pavilion, Montana Sleeping Pavilion

Here are some photos of the finished pavilion. I just spent a week there. It worked beautifully. Everyone loves it.

View of pavilion from main cabin deck.

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Flush terrace gutter

August 7th, 2011 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 7. Landscaping and Hardscaping, Park City Mountain Modern

Just one defect emerged in the Park City house over the winter. About half of the main roof drains onto the front awning and then onto the paver terrace. A lot of water hits that terrace, and much of it drains down through the terrace instead of running off the front edge. As a result, the pavers settled a lot over the winter. One of the architects had suggested the possibility of inserting a 12″ c-channel into the paver surface to serve as a gutter from the point where the water hits the terrace to the edge. I wasn’t wild about introducing a 2-3″ groove in the terrace, as I thought it would be a trip hazard. Instead I designed a nifty welded gutter assembly with a slightly sloped top surface which feeds a 3″ c-channel beneath it to drain off the terrace. Hard to explain, but hopefully the pictures are clear.

Significant settling of paver surface from water draining down through it.

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Accelerating Oxidation of Steel Siding Panels

May 8th, 2011 by KTU | 18 Comments | Filed in 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

The cold-rolled steel roof has oxidized nicely over the fall and winter. It looks pretty good. Most of the steel siding is starting to turn as well, but it is pretty well protected from water, and with temperatures mostly below 50F, the oxidation rate is slow. Still, I’m pretty sure that by the end of the summer, most of the steel siding will have a decent patina on it.

However, the steel panels on the front of the house are very well protected. They basically never get wet. By mid-Spring they were looking pristine. So, I decided I would accelerate the process. Here is the siding in that area before I did anything…

Steel siding on front of house. Because it is protected by the awning, only the very bottom had oxidized at all after a winter and spring.

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Replacing a Pressure Relief or T&P Valve

March 19th, 2011 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in Notes on Approaches, Pennsylvania Church House

This is not an interesting topic. However, I couldn’t find what I needed for this little project on Google, so figured I’d create a post that is likely to be found when people are searching for a solution to a leaking relief valve.

Your water heater has a T&P valve, which stands for Temperature and Pressure Valve. This valve opens when temperature and/or pressure exceed a pre-defined threshold. This is a safety feature so that your water heater does not explode if the pressure goes too high. I have a Weil Mclain Superstor indirect water heater and the T&P Valve is on the top, as shown below. It usually is designed to open at 210F and/or 150 psi, which is waaay above the safe operating temperature and pressure of a domestic water heater. Watts is the leading brand of these devices.

The T&P Valve on a Water Heater (the bronze thing with a 90-degree angle and shiny lever on top)

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Excellent Hanging Shelf Hardware

March 12th, 2011 by KTU | 6 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Notes on Approaches, Park City Mountain Modern

My architects like hanging shelves and I do too. They often take the “cowboy” approach of using galvanized threaded rod and nuts and washers to support the shelving. I wanted something a little more refined, but didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for fussy little European hardware bits. Here’s a solution I came up with, which has proven to be excellent in all respects.

Excellent hanging shelves, but where do you get that hardware?

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Finished House

January 12th, 2011 by KTU | 7 Comments | Filed in 1. Planning and Design, Park City Mountain Modern

The punch list persists for months. But, we have our C.O. (certificate of occupancy). We’ve had house guests. We’ve spent a few weeks in the house. I’m declaring it done.

Here are some exterior shots on a nice winter day, along with a few interior shots. (Furnishing is not quite done…)

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Construction Costs – Park City Modern House

January 12th, 2011 by KTU | 10 Comments | Filed in 1. Planning and Design, Cost and Budgets, Park City Mountain Modern

I finally had a few minutes to sort my actual construction expenses and put them in some reasonable categories. This is a brief summary of the construction costs.

First, the basic parameters of the house:

  • 4348 sq-ft of space, including the garage
  • 3-level “walk-out” design
  • 2092 sq-ft footprint
  • 4 bedrooms
  • Cathedral ceilings in upper levels
  • 5 bathrooms
  • Enclosed deck on upper level
  • Front and rear paver terraces

The total construction costs were $619,000. This is every dime I spent from the time we applied for a permit to the time we received the certificate of occupancy. It does not include the design fees (architect + structural engineer), which were about $60,000. It also does not include the cost of about 15 trips from Philadelphia to Utah, which cost about $10,000.

The cost comes out to $142/sq-ft of enclosed space. The square footage includes the garage but does not include the enclosed deck off the master bedroom, nor the covered terrace. I believe the calculation should include the garage, because the garage basically has the identical finishes as the rest of the house (same concrete, framing, drywall, paint, windows, casing, electrical, etc.).

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Lower Stair

January 11th, 2011 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

The building materials supplier had promised hemlock stair parts would be delivered two days before our target completion date. Eric, the finish carpenter, was ready to install the stair in a day. Then, they flaked out on us, saying it would be two more weeks. We needed Plan B.

We found that MacBeath Hardwood had clear, vertical-grain douglas fir in stock in rough 4/4 thickness. So, we bought a couple of hundred board feet of the material and planned to set up our own mill to make the flooring, treads, and risers.  MacBeath delivered the material to the job site in FOUR HOURS. The wood was beautiful and mostly in 14-16′ lengths. Had I known how nice this material was, I would have used it for door/window casing too. (However, it was expensive…about $6/bf for the rough material.)

Eric and Spencer making the parts. They glued up boards to make 12" wide treads. They milled T&G flooring for the landing.

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Wall Art?

December 31st, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

Making blank walls visually interesting is a challenge. Here’s one idea that worked out very well. I was inspired by the arrival in the mail of my son’s thick catalog of skateboard decks. We found a cool collection of Warhol images on decks and bought five of them for a total of less than $200. Here they are on his wall.

The Warhol skate deck collection.

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Roof Performance

December 29th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

I’ve now observed a few weeks of snow on the roof. So far no ice dams and very few icicles…just what has resulted from the sun melting snow at the fringes of the exposed roof.

The snow slid off one section of the roof (the northeast corner, strangely). It was pretty dramatic when it went. We had a few quite warm days last week (around 35F/2C) and I think the ventilated roof actually allowed melting at the roof surface when warm air vented up through it. The snow bars above the hot tub are working very well.

The snow slid off one section of roof. I believe that when the roof rusts fully, the snow will stay on. There are snow bars above the hot tub (the center section of the roof).

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Snow bound

December 29th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Park City Mountain Modern

So fun to be snowed in at the Park City house. So far we’ve been here a few days and have had a couple of big snow falls.

Here is the house from the inside, very toasty.

View out the front window.

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Moving In

December 29th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

A surprising amount of work lies between getting a certificate of occupancy (i.e., technically finishing the house) and moving in. In my case, the C.O. was issued on Tuesday and my family was scheduled to arrive on Thursday. I had ordered a house full of stuff which was piled in boxes everywhere as we were finishing the house. But, first, the layers of dust had to be removed. A hardworking crew of husband, wife, and 17-year-old son came in at 5pm on Tuesday and worked until 1am on Wednesday to clean the house. They vacuumed up a lot of dust, wiped down all surfaces, did a quick wash of interior window surfaces, mopped floors, and cleaned bathrooms. Wednesday and Thursday I sealed floors and unpacked boxes.

KU washing windows...there are only a couple of hard ones requiring acrobatics.

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Interior Details

December 4th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

Eric and Spencer, the finish carpenters, have been highly versatile contributors. They banged out the obvious jobs like hanging doors, installing the wood ceiling, and finishing stairs. But, they also have been willing to do a lot of the interior steel work, they are installing all the door hardware, and they built all the closet interiors (which I’ll feature in a separate post).

One of the cool details in the house is an 18″ wide bench that essentially runs the length of the house. Here, is the bench in progress, along the section of the great room in front of the fireplace. The wall around the fireplace will be 10 gauge steel panels with exposed fasteners. We’re installing those over landscape fabric, as we did the barnwood and ceiling.

18" wide bench running length of house.

Here’s the bench in the more-or-less finished space.

This fir bench runs pretty much the whole length of the 68 ft. long house.

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Finishing the House

December 4th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 1. Planning and Design, 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

Whoa. It’s crunch time. We’re trying to finish this house in the next 10 days. There are about a dozen guys scrambling all over the place. The great room is still a wood shop, but the painters are trying to work around everything.

I suspect if you have a 12-18 month construction schedule you can avoid this. But, we’ll finish this house 7-1/2 months after breaking ground. That requires some overlapping of tasks.

Of course everyone wants to “go last.” More precisely, the painter, electrician, and plumber all declared that they should be the last people on the job. I suspect that if I had wood floors, the floor guys would also want to go last. The reality is that everyone ends up iterating a bit at the end to work around each other.

The painters dodging the finish carpenters.

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Interior Barnwood Mosaic

December 4th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

I saw a nice wall made by the Lucky Dumpster which was a mosaic of barnwood pieces. I had Trestlewood mill up a variety of colors of barnwood into tongue-and-groove “flooring.” Eric, my finish carpenter, then installed the pieces on the family room wall. It’s excellent.

Here it is finished…

Barnwood wall with TV mounted. I fed the cables through the wall directly into the a/v closet under the stair.

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Modern House Numbers

December 4th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

Modern house numbers are fortunately not so hard to find these days. However, they vary widely in price and in size. I wanted a nice sans serif typeface in a large (i.e., 8″ tall) size. If you want a “name” font you pay a lot of money for those numbers (e.g., Neutra numbers from DWR are $48 each, but only 4″ tall) . However, you can get some nice affordable numbers from, where else, modernhousenumbers.com. Their supplier water jet cuts these from 3/8″ aluminum plate in several alternative typefaces. The styles are nice, even if there isn’t infinite selection, and even if they aren’t the famous proprietary typefaces.

Here are my numbers (8″ high, 3/8″ thick brushed aluminum, in “Palm Springs”). These cost $29 per number. Excellent value.

These numbers are easy to install, although very hard to get in plane and level on barnwood. (You drill a 3/16″ hole in the wall and insert a 3/16 pin with some caulk on it. The pins fit into the back of the numbers.) I didn’t get it quite right, but I suspect I’m the only one who will notice.

Modern House Numbers - 8" aluminum in "Palm Springs" typeface

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Steel Baseboard

November 22nd, 2010 by KTU | 5 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

The baseboard in this house is 1/8″ x 3″ hot-rolled steel strip. It came in 20 ft. lengths and was installed with McFeely’s washer-head combo-drive screws centered on the strip. The finish carpenters did it. They were curious if not skeptical initially. By the end, they loved this stuff. There is only one seam in the entire house (on a 25 ft. wall). It went up easily. I plan to do nothing to this. Everyone likes the way it looks too. Did I mention it is super cheap ($0.60/ft or so)?

Spencer cutting the steel strip to length.

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Garage Door

November 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

I bought a relatively cheap and ugly steel “raised panel” garage door. I then had the roofers apply the steel siding panels to it. Then, the garage door guys came back, weighed the door, and  hung it with the appropriate springs. The whole thing cost about $2000, much less than a “custom” door.

Roofers installing steel panels on a cheap stock garage door.

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Paint

November 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

Tile is hard to choose. Paint not quite as bad. Still, there are lots of choices.

I’m going with the Benjamin Moore “Affinity Colors” which allegedly can be mixed and matched arbitrarily. Here I’m trying out a few options. Home Depot will mix 8 oz. jars of paint from the Benjamin Moore fan deck chips for about $3 per jar. So, I had a bunch of colors made and tried them out. I knew this, but forgot: don’t test really subtle differences; they don’t matter much, and are so subtle it isn’t clear the small swatches would tell you much. Just test the really distinct alternatives. However, you should definitely test. In my case, I decided that these reds were just too red. I’m not going to use them. I’m using variants on the khaki and two shades of the “pumpkin.”

Test wall for paint colors. I did this where the kitchen cabinets will go. These swatches are hard to cover well, so the painter prefers you use a wall where it won't show.

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Landscaping

November 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. The Site, Excavation, and Foundation, Park City Mountain Modern

Of course no one has any money at the end of the job…so the landscapers kind of have to make do. My guys (Sierrascape Landscaping) did nice work over 2 – 1/2 days in early November. They built three nice retaining walls, created a rock-lined drainage ditch around the property, installed a 5-foot wide border of river stone on the ground under the roof line, spread top soil over the site, and seeded it with “cabin mix,” a high-altitude meadow grass. We’re hoping that come spring, this seed will germinate and return the landscape back to nature, approximately.

Retaining walls.

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Wood Ceiling

November 9th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

The wood ceiling in the great room and master bedroom is 1×6 clear mixed-grain hemlock. I had it prefinished, so the finish carpenters just pin nailed it in place, filled the nail holes. It’s then done. No one has to get up there again. This material is not cheap: $1.72/linear foot for the material and $0.67/linear foot for clear finish. So, this comes out to about $5.50/sq-ft of finished ceiling for material, including about 10% waste. My finish carpenter, Eric Epps, first stapled up black landscape fabric (cheap). I had him leave a 3/8″ gap between boards. This gives a nice linear effect. Everyone loves this ceiling.

Eric (near) and Spencer installing 1x6 hemlock over black landscape fabric.

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Tile

October 30th, 2010 by KTU | 8 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

Picking tile is brutal. I hate it. There must be a million options…in a single showroom. I decided to focus on a nice simple tile scheme and to pick a simple affordable tile. I concentrated on the American Olean line, as they have a little bit of everything and they had a good display in the tile showroom. Fancy tile is $40/sq-ft. Tile at Home Depot is $2-3/sq-ft. It’s all the same material, basically. So, the trick (for me) was to find a mainstream tile that could be used in an elegant contemporary design.

For all the showers, I ended up with American Olean St. Germain in “Creme.” I used the 12″ x 24″ tiles laid up in brick pattern. Here it is being laid. I love it. It’s crisp, clean, and contemporary. It ran about $4.50/ sq-ft for the material. My tile guy is very high end…he charges about $12/sq-ft for installation. But, I didn’t want to mess around with quality on this.

American Olean St. Germain in Creme color in 1ftx2ft size.

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Doors

October 30th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

The doors arrived this week. They’re beautiful. I’m really happy with them. The only problem was the stain/finish guy who delivered them knocked them over in his truck and dinged a bunch of them. He’s fixing ‘em (cheerfully, I might add). The doors came from Lemieux Doors in Canada. They were hung and finished by subcontractors to ProBuild, my materials supplier. They cost about $500 each, pre-hung and pre-finished (for 7 foot doors 1-1/2″ thick).  The main entry door was a lot more, about $2000 all in. Worth it.

3-panel vertical-grain fir doors with 2-1/4 square-edge casing.

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Gas and Electric Service

October 30th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. The Site, Excavation, and Foundation, Park City Mountain Modern

Minor detail: the gas supply. This requires a contractor to the gas company installing a line (shown below). Then the gas company installs a meter (in my case by a friendly guy smoking a cigar…really, a smoking gas line guy…wonder how long he’s been doing it?). They made a mess…so I ended up working with a spade and bucket to fix the driveway before the concrete guy comes.

Trench and gas line to meter location. Took these guys about three hours to finish this job.

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Driveway

October 23rd, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 7. Landscaping and Hardscaping, Park City Mountain Modern

Tyler and Danny (Waters Excavating) came back to clean up the front yard and prep for the concrete driveway to be placed. They are can-do guys and pretty much just figured it out and got it done in one long day. They were the first ones on the site back in April and now one of the last on the site in October. Tyler has a bunch of big track hoes, but does a lot of his work with this small Komatsu hoe. It’s really nice and comes equipped with a rubber track so it doesn’t ruin the asphalt as they run around. I’d love to have one of these, but at $55,000 a pop, this is probably one tool I won’t own.

Tyler prepping the front yard for the driveway and sidewalk.

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Paver Terraces

October 23rd, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 7. Landscaping and Hardscaping, Park City Mountain Modern

I put in a simple paver surface on the front terrace. I’m really happy with it. The surface is formed from 4″x8″x2-3/8″ Belgard pavers. They are installed upside down, so that the beveled edges intended to be visible on the top are actually hidden on the lower side. That way, I get a nice crisp “brick” look. My contractor was Appian Paver Systems (owner Doug Anthony). He bought 840 sq-ft of material (an even number of pallets) and then just installed it all…allowing the rear terrace to be whatever size it ended up being. That way we got the most area possible for a given cost. These pavers run about $12-14/sq-ft installed, which is more than plain concrete, but about the same as stamped concrete. I much prefer the look to the various concrete alternatives. I also much prefer this surface to that of a wooden deck.

Crisp, sharp brick look achieved by installing beveled pavers upside down.

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Drywall

October 7th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

Drywall is a pretty amazing trade. It goes like this: (a) a truck with a big boom on it lifts 40,000 lbs. of limestone into the house (sandwiched between two layers of paper in the form of drywall) , (b)  8 guys descend on the project and in two days “hang” the sheets, (c) a different load of guys show up and tape the seams and finish the surface to deliver nice smooth walls. This all happens for shockingly little money; the whole process costs less than $1/sq-ft of surface including materials and labor.

Better hope the engineers calculated the loads right. This must be 10,000 lbs of drywall.

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Upper-Level Concrete Floors

October 6th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

DuWayne (Gough Concrete Specialities) poured the upper-level concrete floors last week. We specified a 3 inch slab of tinted concrete (the same 2% tint we used on the lower-level slab). A 24-inch grid of #2 re-bar is laid over the hydronic heating tubes before the floors are poured. I had them saw cut control joints in nice locations as I had on the lower level. Looks very nice, even if the floors still need some work with a Swiffer.

Main level concrete floors with saw cuts.

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GC’ing the Job

September 28th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Cost and Budgets, Notes on Approaches, Park City Mountain Modern

I set up a fairly unusual arrangement for the Park City Modern project. Recall that this is a second home for me, and the distance between home and the job site is 2400 miles, about 7 hours door-to-door via Delta and a rental car. Thus, being on site every day was not feasible.

I visited a construction site with the architects last summer and talked to a contractor they had worked with before. This was a monstrous house , which had been under construction for over 2-1/2 years. It was 15,000 square feet and had a budget of $600/sq-ft. (That’s $9mm in construction cost for those who have a hard time with decimal places.) The GC boasted that the owner had only been on site twice. (Whoa.) I knew precisely then that this guy was not for me. His truck was too nice and his homeowner kiss-up skills were too polished. Those guys serve a very important need…getting a great house built for very rich and very clueless owners.

This is a typical punch list for a 24-hour visit to the job site. If you don't like making lists like this and plowing through them, you won't like being your own general contractor.

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Front Awning

September 25th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 3. Framing, Park City Mountain Modern

The house will have an 8-foot-deep nearly flat roof over the terrace. It’s kind of like a store-front awning. The architects designed it to be supported by four tie rods, which gives it a cool look, and avoids using any columns to support the edge of the roof. Of course the problem is that this structure has to be designed to handle all the snow from the roof above landing on it in an avalanche. So, it’s incredibly beefy and ties into big steel columns in the walls. This feature of the house probably cost about $10,000 more than a conventional “porch roof.” Still, I can’t imagine a better use of $10,000 in giving the house a distinctive quality.

The first one is always the hardest. Jose and NeNe get it done. (Isaele hidden.)

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Hydronic Heating (“Radiant”)

September 25th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 4. Components and Systems, Park City Mountain Modern

Yesterday, Chris and Justin from CRS Mechanical started stapling down the 1/2″ diameter PEX tubing that is a key element of the hydronic heating system. The tubing will be embedded in 3″ of concrete, which in my case will form the finished floor. The tubing is stapled down first; then #2 rebar is laid over it; then the concrete is poured. The staple-down phase goes pretty quickly with the right tools (a spindle for uncoiling the tubing so it doesn’t twist, and a pneumatic stapler that has a special nose that centers the staple over the tube.

Justin and Chris stapling down the PEX tubing for the hydronic heating.

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Spray Foam Insulation

September 17th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 4. Components and Systems, Park City Mountain Modern

I’m using mostly closed-cell urethane spray foam in this house. The insulators have been on site for a few days. The crew is doing an excellent job and I’m convinced this will be a very tight house.

They show up with a box truck full of exotic mixing and pumping equipment.

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Steel Siding

September 17th, 2010 by KTU | 13 Comments | Filed in 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

The roofers have nearly completed the steel siding on the house. I’m very happy with the results. We are using 2′ x 3′ 20 gauge cold-rolled steel flat panels. It is very inexpensive (~$2/sq-ft materials and labor), and I think it looks fantastic. It will rust to a reddish brown when exposed the weather for a few months.

The cold-rolled steel panels run in an 8 ft. high band around the house. This is kind of a poor-man's Frank Gehry panel system. (He uses complex metal panel configurations on many of his buildings.)

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Cedar Shakes and Woodpeckers

September 5th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. Construction, Montana Sleeping Pavilion

On the main cabin we have had woodpecker problems over the years. Apparently the woodpeckers like to nest up high with a vantage point of the meadow. The gable end of the main cabin was perfect and they had made a mess of the tongue-and-groove cedar siding. We had patched with metal, but finally had to take drastic measures. My father-in-law had a guy apply galvanized steel sheet to the walls and then apply cedar shakes over that. This has mostly worked. Occasionally a wood pecker will attack, but after 1/2 inch of progress will give up. So on the pavilion, we’re taking the galvanized-plus-shakes approach from the get go.

Galvanized sheet steel then cedar shakes...woodpecker proof.

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Barnboard Siding Installation

September 4th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

Jose and gang started installing barnboard siding this week. It looks excellent. The barnwood comes from Trestlewood. They provided edged wood in random lengths and in widths of 4″, 6″, 8″, and 10″. By taking shorter lengths and a fair bit of narrow material, the material ended up costing just a bit more than virgin cedar siding. (A consistent irony of building green, is that reclaimed materials usually cost more than those cut fresh from the forest.) My cost for the barnwood ended up being about $3/sq-ft delivered, while #3 cedar siding currently costs about $2/SF, but usually requires staining, which would probably be another $1/SF. (You could leave the cedar to weather naturally, though, in which case it would be cheaper.) Incidentally, bids for the installation labor for this kind of board-to-board barnwood in Park City came in pretty consistently around $2.75-$3.00/SF including the labor to apply the Tyvek. This is probably on the low side because I have no window trim to install, although there are some fussy blocking details between the rafter tails.

Jorge nailing up barnwood siding. This is "rough gray" from Trestlewood.

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Traffic Jam in the Joist Bays

September 4th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 4. Components and Systems, Park City Mountain Modern

We mostly passed our “four way” inspection on Thursday. The four-way includes structure, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing. We were still waiting on some ducting to be finished, but the inspectors were impressed and gave us the go-ahead to insulate.

The traffic in the joist bays has been just awful the past week; a bunch of trades trying to fit conduits of various kinds into too little space between and across the floor joists. The traffic is especially bad just upstream of the mechanical room.

Here are a few pix.

Power, ground, heat, water, alarm, thermostats, ventilation...all trying to fit in the same space. Near the mechanical room they basically have no choice but to drop down below the joists, which will require some "drops" (soffits) in some little-used areas.

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Roof Finished

September 4th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

The roofers have been on site the past week and finished up the main roofs on Thursday. Here are some pix. In a prior post, I detailed the roof design.

Installing panels...pretty straightforward except that the steel is oiled and the back side of the roof is 35 ft. off the ground. You can see the tidy little steel caps the roofer had made to put over the double 2x12 rafters...a nice touch in my opinion.

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Dry-In

August 5th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Framing, 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

As soon as the framers got the roof decking on, the roofers came by to do the “dry in.” Normally, this step would comprise laying down “ice shield” (a self-stick membrane) at the eaves of the roof and then “underlayment” (30 lb. asphalt impregnated felt paper or Feltex, a modern polymer equivalent). In our case, we laid down ice shield on the whole roof. It cost about $1000 more in materials, but is another layer of insurance against ice damming. Once the ice shield (or ice shield and underlayment) is put down, the house is dry. It can survive several months of weather with no problems. I’ll be happy to get the real roof on in a week or two, but it’s nice to know that weather is no longer an obstacle to progress on the job.

The house from the front after dry-in was completed.

The house from the back side after dry in. The framers were also still fussing with a couple of windows, but basically the house is now weather tight.

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Pre-Staining Rafter Tails

July 23rd, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Framing, 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

My framer’s 15-year-old son has been on the site this Summer. I proposed a win-win arrangement in which he pre-stained all the rafter tails and purlins for the roof before his dad and crew put them up. This mostly worked well. (In a few cases, one of the framers had to go up and brush a timber or end of a cut rafter.) I paid him $500, which I consider a screaming deal for both of us. This is the only exterior finish that will have to be done on this house, because we’re using reclaimed barn board siding. I used Cabot semi-transparent oil-based siding stain (Slate Gray). I think it looks excellent and matches the barn board very well. I never plan to restain…I’m hoping that even with stain applied, these rafter tails and purlins will weather gracefully.

These rafters, timbers, and purlins are the only exterior surfaces that require any finish.

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Steel Stair

July 23rd, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Framing

I love the steel stair. The architects designed it conceptually. I worked out a bunch of structural details. The detailer at the steel company created the detailed design. We iterated three or four times to get it right. This stair cost about $3000 for the steel. Waaay less than having some fancy pants stair company do the design and installation. We’re going to use big, chunky treads (3-1/2″ x 11-1/2″), probably out of reclaimed douglas fir (although they were dimensioned such that pieces of a glulam beam turned on their sides would also work).

The railing still needs to be welded in place…but I love it, even in its rough state.

Steel stair with open wood treads (temporary treads in place now).

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My Steel House

July 23rd, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Framing

When the project is completed, I’ll give a more nuanced reflection on the use of steel in residential construction. At this point, I’m pretty satisfied with the outcome, but the process was pretty painful. The short version of the process is (a) the architects create a beautiful form, (b) the structural engineers are asked to make it work, (c) they have to use lots of steel to realize the vision because of things like seismic requirements and snow loads, (d) a steel company “details” each part from what can only be characterized as a suggestive design by the structural engineers, (e) someone checks it carefully (me, in this case), (f) the steel shows up, (g) the framers integrate it into the structure, and (sometimes) (h) the welder comes out to fix mistakes on site.

We had only a few mistakes, and they were the supplier’s errors, so were fixed at no cost to me. What’s challenging about steel is all the coordination and the inability to adapt much during the process. On the other hand, the stuff is remarkably inexpensive, really strong, and looks nice when exposed (in my opinion).

In the interests of completeness, I should also add that a lot of the steel in this house is architectural in addition to structural. We are using tie rods, beams, and channels as aesthetic features. They’re really nice features, and worth the cost. I have no reservations about our use of steel in this way. My main regret is that we didn’t do a bit more creative problem solving in steps (a) through (c) to find design solutions that did not require as much hidden steel…which is expensive with no visual pay off. (The structural engineers point out that having the house survive a heavy snow fall or an earthquake is a pretty important design requirement. Agreed. But, in some cases with a bit more coordination, the architects could move a window three inches to fit two more 2×6s  in the wall and thus eliminate an expensive, tricky piece of steel.)

Some of the visual steel. Loft beam, channels girding the top of the wall, tie rods.

View of the channels at the top of the great room walls, integrating with the tie rods and rafter trusses. See all the hidden steel around that window?

Detail of tie rod pin. This is cool, no? But all that stuff up in the rafter bays will be hidden. See the 12 3/4 inch bolts. The framers had to install these in 12 places. Yikes.

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Window Installation

July 23rd, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 3. Framing

I am using Windsor Pinnacle windows. They are very nice and about 25% less expensive than Pella, which is the other brand I’ve used recently with good results. These are aluminum-clad wood windows, with double Low-E glass. I picked one of the six stock colors (black). The interior is clear pine, which we’ll finish to match the color of the trim as closely as possible.

A shout out to Tim Snyder at Contractors’ Window Supply. He really knows his stuff and made the whole process go very smoothly.

These are big windows…but only one of them has to be field mulled (put together on site). If you can handle the windows during installation, having these big windows mulled at the factory is great.

To calibrate on costs…There are 65 distinct panes of glass on this house. The total cost of these windows was right around $30,000. So, a good rule of thumb for these windows is to budget $450 per pane. Again, these are big…and that includes three patio doors as well. That cost is everything (tax, delivery, hardware, screens).

Window delivery. They usually go right in the garage. The window guys unload.

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Roof Decking

July 23rd, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Framing

The roof decking went on in what seemed like about an hour. Incredible.

Roof decking almost finished.

One of the reasons it goes so fast is that framers have lots of tricks. Here are a few.

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The Magic of Construction

July 9th, 2010 by KTU | 5 Comments | Filed in 2. Construction, Montana Sleeping Pavilion

Following are some progress photos shot by my father-in-law Joe on site this week. There is undeniable magic in seeing a structure materialize. The magic is accentuated by having been 2500 miles away for the entire process and only seeing a fairly significant intermediate product (as shown in the photo). Of course there is also some remorse (yikes…is there enough glass on the front facade…), but still, it’s pretty fun to see ones design appear.
BTW, the builder Jim Burrowes is really good. There are “framers” and then there are Montana builders who happen to do framing because it is part of the job. Jim does nice crisp framing (along with wiring, plumbing, finish carpentry, and more…).

The sleeping pavillion from the front. A minimalist structure. Still, the tapered rafter tails are nice, no?

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Mid Framing

July 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Framing, Park City Mountain Modern

Here are a few images from framing. This is week 6 of framing and week 10 from breaking ground.

We hope to have the roof on next week and the framing completed the following week.

Framing the garage. 6x14 purlins extend out the front to support the rafters.

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Engineered Lumber

June 16th, 2010 by KTU | 5 Comments | Filed in 3. Framing, Park City Mountain Modern

In stark contrast to the materials I used in the Vermont Mini-Cabin, much of the structure of the Park City Modern house is engineered lumber.  The entire floor system is framed from “I-Joists,” or “TJIs” as they are called informally. (The I-Joist was pioneered by the brand TrusJoist Inc., thus the acronym TJI, I think.) The brand is now called iLevel, and is a division of Weyerhauser. Other companies make similar product. The main floor system with the TJIs in place is shown in this photo.

Main floor system framed with I-Joists (TJIs).

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Staking out the Site

June 8th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 1. Plan, Montana Sleeping Pavilion

I met on site this weekend with my father-in-law Joe and our builder Jim. We staked out the pavilion so Jim can get started. Our basic approach was to site the structure so that the deck  has perfect views of the lake and the Mission Mountains. That happens to give us a southeast exposure, which is perfect. We’ll have warm sun in the morning, and hopefully a bit of shade in the late afternoon, when it can get really hot.

View from the staked-out future deck.

Framing Begins

June 8th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Framing

Framing is a blast, because framers are fast and progress is obvious. My framer is Jose Magana (Magana Construction), who has framed a couple of houses for my “general coordinator” Steve Kotsenburg (more on that arrangement in another post).

Jose Magana and Steve Kotsenburg on Day 1 of framing.

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Lower Level Slab – Tinted Concrete

June 8th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. The Site, Excavation, and Foundation, 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Park City Mountain Modern

The flatwork guy (Gough Concrete) poured the lower-level slab on Thursday and saw-cut the control joints on Friday. I stopped by on Saturday to take a look. We used a 2% mix of Solomon liquid color, which they call “smoke.” It’s just right. The tint is significantly darker than natural concrete, but still comes across as gray, not black. This color in this concentration costs $39 per cubic yard of concrete. Given that the mud itself only costs $110 per yard, that’s pretty significant. However, given that for this I get a finished floor, I consider the tinted concrete a bargain. This floor cost $5.40 per square foot for everything (#4 rebar, pump truck, concrete, tinting, placing the concrete, finishing the concrete, coating with an acrylic sealer, and saw cuts). This did not include the 15 mil vapor barrier and the under-slab insulation, which my plumbing and heating guy did.

Tinted concrete slab (2% Solomon liquid color - "Smoke")

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Foundation Installation

May 30th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. The Site, Excavation, and Foundation, Park City Mountain Modern

This week we got the foundation installed, the damp-proofing and insulation in place, the footing drains installed, and the sub-slab rough plumbing placed. We’re now ready for the lower-level slab to be poured (with the hydronic tubing for heat installed within the slab).

Here are the photos of the foundation and related steps.

Steel installed within forms.

There's a lot of steel rebar in a foundation. The first step is to tie the bar, using a power stapler-like tool.

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Footings

May 16th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. The Site, Excavation, and Foundation

Footings are the roughly one-foot thick slabs of concrete on which the foundation walls of the house rest. They are designed to be large enough to distribute the weight of the house onto the excavated soil surface such that the soil does not collapse from the load. As a practical matter they tend to be 20-72 inches wide depending on what part of the house they support. They usually need to be 24-48 inches below the ground surface (depending on region) to be below the frost line.

Placing the footings is a pretty remarkable thing to watch. A crew of 8 (Stone Construction) arrived at 7am and they left around 6pm. With another two hours of work the next morning to strip the forms and pack up, I had completed footings.

This not a fussy construction task. They take a trailer full of lumber and hammer it together in the rough shape they’re after. They pump the forms full of concrete, and then trowel the top surface to a snapped line, which defines the top surface of the footing. The foundation walls are then built on top of these troweled surfaces. The photos tell the story.

The excavated site. The excavator gets the surfaces at the right elevation and the surveyor pounds bars where the foundation wall corners are supposed to be.

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Repairing Spalling in Concrete Floors

May 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Notes on Approaches

I have finished concrete floors in my lower level. I like them quite a lot. However, the area under my chair at my desk had developed some spalling. The spalling is a crumbling of the top surface of the concrete. I believe this is caused by a failure of the surface layer, which is comprised of the concrete “fines” which float to the top during troweling. I suspect that some gritty material gets on the caster of the office chair and with repeated rolling causes some little compression cracks, which then spread. The spalling was not deep, but I suspected it would get worse if I did not deal with it.

Grinding and polishing concrete floor to repair spalling.

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“Spring” in the Rockies

May 3rd, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. The Site, Excavation, and Foundation, Park City Mountain Modern

I made a trip to the site to watch the excavator break ground. This was April 28. The site was staked and ready to go. Here is the site on the eve of ground breaking.

The site on the eve of breaking ground, staked and ready to go.

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Marmoleum “Click”

April 25th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in 5. Interior Details, Notes on Approaches, Vermont Mini Cabin

I chose Forbo Marmoleum for the mini cabin floor. I’ve used Marmoleum in two other projects– my church house kitchen (twice actually) and in a commercial project at work. I like the material quite a lot. Marmoleum is a trade name for  a type of linoleum, which is a composite sheet material made from sawdust, linseed oil, dyes, and a jute backing. It is very forgiving, durable, and comes in a lot of funky colors. The sheet version comes in a 2 meter wide roll, which is really the only weakness of that form, requiring seams for most applications. The material is very heavy, so I knew I couldn’t haul a roll down the trail. Fortunately, the material comes in tiles, which are roughly 1 ft. x 3 ft. This version is called Marmoleum Click, because the tiles are supposed to click together.

The finished Marmoleum Click floor.

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Getting a Building Permit

April 20th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 1. Planning and Design, Park City Mountain Modern

Getting a building permit for a new house is a project in and of itself. We filed for a permit on February 23. Today (April 20) we got the permit. That’s basically two months. The most significant technical milestone is getting the approval of the plans inspector (shown here stamping the plans).

Bill stamping our plans.

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The Reality of Multiple Bids

April 12th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Cost and Budgets, Park City Mountain Modern

My strategy with bid negotiation was to only solicit bids from subcontractors who were highly recommended by trusted sources. That way, I could hopefully focus on price without worrying I was getting bids from guys who do shoddy work. In most cases, I adhered to this strategy, although occasionally I got a bid from someone brought in by a related subcontractor (e.g., a heating guy who got a bid from a plumber friend).

In most cases I got at least three bids. I plotted the results of this bid process for the major subcontractors involved in the first phase of my project. These are the costs to do the work, including materials (except for framing, which is labor only). My house is about 3,700 sq-ft of living space with a 600 sq-ft garage. The flatwork quote includes all the concrete floors in the house, a concrete driveway, tinting the concrete, and applying acrylic sealer.

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Bid Negotiation in a Recession

March 15th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in Cost and Budgets, Notes on Approaches

I just spent a week in Park City negotiation bids on the Mountain Modern house. I’m building the house with the help of Steve, the broker who sold me the land. Steve lives a couple of miles from the site and has built a series of homes in Park City and elsewhere, so has a lot of local expertise. So, while technically this is an “owner build,” I’ve hired a “consultant” to arrange the subcontractors and to keep me informed about construction on a daily basis.

New home construction in Summit County is very slow right now. Just two building permits have been issued in the first 2.5 months of the year. As a result, almost no one in the building trades has any work right now.

Our strategy has been to select 3-5 subcontractors for each task based on the quality of their work, and then to make a final selection based on price. We have let these subcontractors know this is how we are proceeding.

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Concept Evolution – Sleeping Pavilion

March 6th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Montana Sleeping Pavilion

I’ve not devoted much time to documenting the Montana project, but here are the latest sketches. The family has converged on double in-swing patio doors to enclose the pavilion. We’re going to put up a little “Amenity Hut” on the trail, which will contain a composting toilet, solar shower, and sink area.

The likely final concept for the sleeping pavilion.


Amenity hut - typical view.


Amenity hut - view from the working side.

Modern Trim

March 6th, 2010 by KTU | 14 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes

The architect Christopher Alexander wrote “totalitarian, machine buildings do not require trim because they are precise enough to do without. But they buy their precision at a dreadful price: by killing the possibility of freedom in the building plan.” (Incidentally, Alexander’s Pattern Language is a fascinating book on design. This link is to his “Pattern 240″ on “half-inch trim.”) While I don’t see trim in ideological terms, the stuff is a vexing challenge in modern residential design.
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Walls are only about 60% insulated.

February 20th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 4. Components and Systems, Notes on Approaches

Many of us have a mental model of insulation as the nice fluffy stuff sandwiched between the inner and outer layers of our walls. The (thermally) ugly reality is that most walls contain lots of doors and windows, and that the wall area that is not doors and windows is full of wood and steel.

Here is a sketch (thanks to my newly acquired skills in Google Sketchup) of a typical section of wall for my Park City house.

Typical wall system in a U.S. stick-built house.

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Google Sketchup

February 20th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Montana Sleeping Pavilion, Notes on Approaches

One of my readers suggested that I try Google Sketchup as a way of doing illustrations. I had used Sketchup when it first became available as a free tool via Google a few years ago. I was intrigued, but never really invested enough time to decide how useful the tool was. I decided it was time to try again.

So, yesterday morning, I downloaded version 7.1 and began fresh. I am starting a new project, not yet really documented, to create a “sleeping deck” at my wife’s family’s place in northwest Montana. We have a three-bedroom cabin there, but mostly people like to sleep outside on the deck. The weather is usually perfect in July and August, and remarkably (for someone from New Hampshire) there are essentially no biting insects. The problem is that we are running out of deck space and the few times it rains, there is a mad scramble into the cabin. I’ve been working with the family to design a pavilion, which would include a large deck and a sheltered area. I decided to use Sketchup to model the concept I have been developing.

So, I started at 6am and by 5pm I had some pretty nice images to share with the family. This included learning the tool and building the model. First, here’s the result…

The Montana Sleeping Pavilion created in Sketchup.

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Ice Dams in Snow Country

February 17th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 4. Components and Systems, Park City Mountain Modern

On a recent visit to my house site, I saw huge accumulations of icicles and lots of evidence of ice damming. Many neighbors have installed heat tape on their eaves, an affront to elegant design in my opinion. I vowed to design and build a house that skirts the ice damming problem without resorting to active heating of the roof, a colossal waste of energy.

Here is a typical roof in the neighborhood. Icicles more than 10 ft. long hang from the eaves. There is probably significant ice damming at the roof edge. Dangerous, ugly, and a potential source of leaking and water damage.

Icicles (and likely ice damming) on brand new construction in Park City.

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Creating Nice Concrete Floors

February 16th, 2010 by KTU | 26 Comments | Filed in 6. Interior Materials and Finishes, Notes on Approaches

Nice basic concrete floor in a house in Sun Valley, Idaho

These are my notes on creating nice residential concrete floors. In my primary residence, I put in about 1500 sq-ft of concrete floors in the lower level. I used a 6-inch slab on crushed stone with 1/2 inch PEX tubing for hydronic heating. I’m pretty happy with these floors, although not wild about the results I got in finishing/sealing them. I am in the process of building a second home in which all three levels will have concrete floors. In principle concrete is (a) very inexpensive, (b) a wonderful means of installing hydronic heating, and (c) attractive. But, I’ve found that there is all kinds of confusing information about how to achieve these aims. Here is what I’ve learned based on experience, research, talking to concrete contractors, and my own experiments.

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Energy Efficient House Design

February 16th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 1. Planning and Design, Notes on Approaches

In this post I explain the analysis I did to understand energy efficiency design issues in my new house.

There are two basic contributors to the energy efficiency of a new house:

1. basic form, and
2. energy efficiency features.

By basic form, I mean what shape does the house have, how many stories is it, and how much window area is there. Those factors matter quite a lot. The most thermally efficient shape (ignoring solar factors) has very little surface area relative to its volume, basically a cube (if you assume the surfaces will be flat not curved). In the analysis I did, I assumed for a base case, a 3200 sq-ft 2-story house, with 8′ ceilings, on a 40′ x 40′ footprint. That’s a pretty boxy shape, but quite efficient thermally.

Windows are wonderful, except that they have just terrible thermal performance, even the really fancy ones. So, you basically have to decide how much glass you want and trade that off against how much energy you are willing to lose. About 12.5% of the wall area on an average new home in the U.S. is windows. I assumed that value in my base case.
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McMaster-Carr

February 15th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in Fabrication Resources

Everyone in the engineering world knows McMaster-Carr, but few people in the DIY world do. McMaster is a privately held company based in Illinois that may be the world’s largest engineering superstore. They have hundreds of thousands of items and in twenty plus years of using them I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a stock out. Remarkable.

They have everything. What do I mean by “everything”? Well, you can buy stainless steel spring wire, storage bins, a work bench, a belt sander, fasteners, and (literally) a kitchen sink.

You wouldn’t want to use McMaster for something you can get at Home Depot, even though they have almost everything Home Depot does, but they fit the bill when you need something a little bit out of the ordinary or you want to use an industrial/commercial product in your personal project.

Here are some nice items I’ve used them for in my projects:

  • Copper sheet.
  • John Boos “butcherblock” countertops (under “Maple tops”) at $16/sq-ft
  • Richlite lab bench material (the predecessor to the oh-so-trendy Paperstone…called “phenolic tops” at McMaster) at $26/sq-ft
  • Heavy-duty urethane casters to support a huge rolling shelving unit.
  • Acme threaded rod for shelf supports.
  • Any manner of weird drill bit or fastener.
  • “Speedrail” tubing fittings for railings, etc.

They take credit cards. They ship the same day by UPS.

My workbenches shown here (on the left) have McMaster tops (both butcher block and Richlite).

Finished office and shop on lower level.

eMachineshop

February 15th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in Fabrication Resources

I described the Ponoko laser cutting service and the Misumi semi-custom parts service. As nice as those are, sometimes you just need to make something out of a chunk of aluminum with a good old fashioned machine tool. Of course you can try to remember how to do that yourself, or find a really handy friend who can do it for you. Most of the time, I use emachineshop.com.

Here are some parts I made using the eMachineshop service.

Aluminum parts made via eMachineshop.com

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Misumi Made-To-Order Metal Parts

February 15th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in Fabrication Resources

Occasionally my expertise as an engineer carries over into the Baubilt world. Here is one such case. If you need to make fussy little shafts or brackets for some DIY project like a light fixture or a toilet paper holder, consider using the Misumi service. Misumi is a Japanese company that has a huge collection of semi-custom parts (hundreds of categories really) that are made to order using your uniquely specified parameters. For example, let’s say you need a stainless-steel rod 8mm in diameter and 96mm long for some perfect door pull you are designing. You can order that part from Misumi and it will be made to order on a computer-controlled machine tool (in Japan) and shipped directly to you…for remarkably short money.

Here are some parts I had made for use with the Ponoko parts described elsewhere. I think I had 10 sets made, and have already used 7 of the sets by now. My recollection is that these parts were $5-15 each, which is a screaming deal for a custom machined part. The trick of course is that these aren’t really custom; they are semi-custom parts that are made to order with your pre-specified dimensions.

Semi-custom parts from Misumi

Here is a Misumi page showing a “shaft support”…could be a towel rod support, no?

The Morso 1410 Woodstove

February 14th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 5. Interior Details

I had experimented with propane space heaters and concluded that I needed somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 btu/hr of power to keep the Mini Cabin warm in the dead of winter, when temperatures drop below 0 F. (Specifically, I found I could maintain 30F temperature difference between inside and outside at 10,000 BTU/hour. BTW, for the non-US reader, 10,000 btu/hr is about 3 kw.) I also reasoned that I could always open an upper window if things got too toasty. Still, 30,000 BTU/hr is a very small wood stove. So, I went looking for the smallest nice woodstove on the market. I chose the Morso 1410.

The Morso 1410 (aka Squirrel) installed and keeping the shed toasty.

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Loft

February 14th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Interior Details

I put a simple loft at a height of 7 1/2 feet in the back half of the structure. This is a cozy space, which my kids love.

I planed the top edges of 2x6 rough-sawn hemlock for the loft deck boards.


The loft from below. I deliberately left the bottoms of these boards rough and weathered. I like the look.

Metal Roof

February 14th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 4. Roofing and Siding

The mini cabin is topped with Fabral painted steel roofing panels. The lumber yard can order this type of roofing in custom colors (Hartford Green in my case). This is a robust, proven roofing solution, and is not very expensive. I’m quite happy with this choice.

My father and I ran purlins (rough-sawn 2×4s perpendicular to the rafters) at the eave, at the ridge, aligned with the side walls, and then spaced evenly (at about 22 inches on centers) from the ridge down. We then screwed the roofing down with 2-1/2 inch galvanized roofing screws with heads painted green to match the roofing. (Fabral sells these with the roofing.) We used a conventional drill/driver with a 1/4 inch hex drive to put these in. Next time I’ll use an impact driver. A few hundred screws are required even for a small roof like mine, and many are driven at odd angles. Your wrists will thank you if you use the impact driver. The link here is to the DeWalt unit I own, mostly because I’ve standardized on the 18V lithium battery pack for my tools and chargers.

Installing purlins and blocking at end rafters.

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Siding

February 14th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 4. Roofing and Siding

I grew up in a house with gray vertical ship-lap pine siding. Maybe that’s why I chose that siding option for the shed. The siding is often called “rough-sawn pine” but it is actually planed smooth and then wire brushed to make it “uniformly rough” on one side. I pre-stained it on both sides with Behr premium siding stain. By “I” I suppose I mean that my father and mother and two kids stained the siding. This was definitely a task that benefited from a bunch of extra hands. They laid down some plastic sheet on the road and went to town. I remember we were listening to NPR while doing this. This was the morning John McCain announced Sarah Palin for Veep–thus the look on my mother’s face.

Grandpa, Grandma and Kids pitch in to pre-stain siding.


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Photo Sketching a House Design

February 11th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 1. Planning and Design, Notes on Approaches

In order to give one of the design review committees a better sense of what the house would look like on the site, I made a quick sketch in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

Here it is. (As with most photos on Baubilt, click to see a larger version.)

Photo illustration of my house made with Photoshop and Illustrator.


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Reclaimed Siding

February 11th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in 5. Exterior Materials and Finishes

The exterior finish palette for my house is black/graphite aluminum windows, gray barnboard, and oxidized (i.e., rusted) cold-rolled steel. This house, by CLB Architects, basically has the same palette, except that I believe this siding is virgin cedar treated with Lifetime wood treatment.

Palette of black windows, vertical weathered siding, and oxidized cold-rolled steel.

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Interior Doors and Trim

February 10th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Drywall and Finish Carpentry

I reclaimed about seven doors from the main level for re-use on the lower level. These are very nice antique doors in oak and mahogany, originally in a hotel, and complete with numbered keys. I had another dozen or so doors custom made to match those antique doors pretty closely. I was very impressed by the prices at Allegheny Wood Works, and I was also happy with the resulting quality. I love that they post their price lists on the web. I ordered some of the doors in paint-grade poplar and some in mahogany to stain to match the antique doors.

For trim, we had the millwork supplier run custom casing and baseboard profiles to match what is upstairs. It’s remarkably inexpensive to do this. I think we paid $1.50 – $3.00 per linear foot for a complex casing milled from poplar. I don’t regret this for a second.

Double doors into shop/office. I used glass here as I wanted to be able to close off the area, but still feel part of the action in the TV room.


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Miscellaneous Finish Items

February 10th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 5. Drywall and Finish Carpentry

Shelf for front-loading washer and dryer. I like this solution better than the modules the manufacturers sell. This shelf allows laundry baskets to be tucked under.

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Main Level Modifications

February 10th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Drywall and Finish Carpentry

Most of this project focused on the lower level. However, because the spiral stair connected the lower level with the main level, we had to do a fair bit of work in the kitchen/dining area. I had done a “quick and dirty” kitchen renovation a few years ago myself and decided that it was good enough to leave in place. Thus, we mostly confined the main-level effort to the stairwell/apse area and the resulting open dining area adjacent to the kitchen.

I’ll start with how it ended up…and then show some of the steps.

The finished kitchen/dining area facing towards the spiral stair.


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Exterior Masonry

February 10th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Exterior Masonry

Here are various shots of the exterior masonry work on the Church house. We added a door out through the middle of the apse at the stair landing, which came out great. We also did various patching of holes from relocated windows and doors. A big part of the job was putting in 100 linear feet or so of new stone retaining wall. This substantially improved the look and function of the back yard.

Third-generation mason Heath creating a new door out the back of the apse. You can't tell it wasn't there originally.


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Spiral Stair in Apse

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Drywall and Finish Carpentry

The big idea the architect brought to this project was to put a spiral stair in the apse to connect the main level with the lower level. Furthermore, there would be a door out to the back yard halfway down the stair off of a landing. Here are some shots of how we did that. A custom curved stair manufacturer Stairworks built and installed the basic stair and rail. They did a nice job…actually they did a nice job twice. They messed up a measurement the first time and had to completely rebuild it. To their credit, they didn’t even blink and just did it.

The landing of the spiral stair. I had Bernie make the floor boards fan shaped, which really seems like the way to go for this shape.


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Lowering the Side Entrance by 4 Ft.

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Reworking Side Entry

One of the big moves architecturally for this renovation was to excavate the side yard so that the entrance to the lower level could be at the level of the sidewalk. Originally, we had to climb a half dozen steps, traverse a few feet of walkway, and then step down a half dozen steps into the “basement.” It was actually my idea, which the architect liked, to excavate next to the house and make it a straight shot into the lower level from the sidewalk. That worked well; getting in and out of the house is a breeze.

This is how the 1950s entrance looked after excavating the side down to grade and ripping off a little vestibule which had been added to provide shelter for a separate entrance to the upper level (blocked over in this shot).

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A Really Nice Shed

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Shed

I might have one of the nicest sheds there is, certainly the nicest in my little town.

It was built for me by Gardensheds.com, a one-woman web-based business that contracts with an Amish carpentry outfit to build the sheds and another central-Pennsylvanian guy to deliver them.

My shed being delivered. The delivery guy does this every day. He has a little gas-powered hydraulic tractor that he attaches to the shed and pulls the whole thing over the ground and into place. This took some doing and I had to pitch in, but we got it done in about two hours.

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Pipe Shark

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in 6. Exterior, Replacing Sewer Main

Before I invested a lot of money in my lower level with all its new plumbing, I wanted to make sure that the waste line was reliably connected to the municipal sewer. I had replaced some of the sewer main the previous winter and was pretty sure that there was a lot more bad terracotta pipe between the house and the main sewer line. Sure enough, I had the plumber snake the video camera down the line and he declared that the terracotta was basically gone (100+ years old) and that my sewer line was really just a tunnel through the dirt.
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Framing Lower-Level Partitions

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 4. Framing

After the slab was poured, the guys framed the walls on the lower level. Like most framing, this happened in a snap, maybe two days for two guys. They lay out the walls with a chalk line and crayon on the slab and then frame up the walls.

Framing in progress on lower level. You can see how insulation is used in wall to left.


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Slab Prep and Pour

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Slab Prep and Pour

After the demo and getting the columns out of the way, we were ready to prep for the slab. Much of the prep involves the plumber, as he has to put in both the waste lines and the hydronic heating tubes before the slab is poured.

Here you can see the waste lines for the boys' bathroom in place on the raw grade.


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Baubilt Pizza

February 8th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Baubilt Bread

Once you’ve mastered Baubilt Bread…or really any of the various Bittman recipe variants, pizza is a snap.

I modify the bread dough slightly, using an 80 percent hydration dough (e.g., 80 grams water for every 100 grams flour). I usually mix 700 g flour and 560 g water, which gives me two nice big pizzas. Otherwise, I prepare the dough exactly as for bread.

Even at 80 percent, this dough is still much wetter than most pizza dough, so you can’t really roll it or toss it to form a flat shell. Rather, I press it with my fingers and hands to stretch it to fit a rectangular non-stick baking sheet. I use olive oil on the tray and I spread some olive oil on the top of the dough to prevent sticking to my hands, too. Since I like lots of olive oil on the pizza anyway, this is win-win.

Once the dough is spread (and good luck getting it to really stretch perfectly into the corners of the pan…you’re going to unavoidably end up with some rebound) I bake for 10-15 minutes at 450F. Then, I remove it from the oven, and apply tomatoes and toppings.

Update: I thought about how to avoid that pesky rebound of the dough in the pan. I tried putting mugs in each corner and baking this way for the first few minutes. Worked pretty well, but this may be a bit obsessive.

Update 2: Another method that is pretty effective is to apply some olive oil to a sheet of Saran wrap and then lay the wrap over the dough before pressing/stretching. This avoids the sticky hands problem and works quite well. You can apply and re-apply the wrap to different sections of the dough until you’re happy with the stretch.

You can put mugs in the corners to keep the dough from springing back. Leave them there for the first few minutes of baking. Careful to remember that they will be HOT.

For sauce, I simmer canned crushed tomatoes (Pomi, Furmano’s, Muir Glen, Tutto Rosso…any brand you like) with basil and garlic to remove some of the water (thus preventing soggy pizza). Of course, you can put whatever you want on a pizza. I like broccoli, onions, oil-cured olives, and fresh mozzarella.

Update: my method has now evolved to THREE baking steps…first, bake the dough until it is nearly done (10-15 minutes), then spread lots of tomato sauce and bake for another 5-10 minutes (this dehydrates the sauce somewhat, increasing its intensity and further minimizing the risk of soggy crust), and finally add toppings/cheese and bake until everything is nice and melted.

The dough should be chewy, crusty, and full of air pockets. Yum squared.

Mini Cabins and Building Permits

February 7th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in 1. Cabin Plans and Design

Very nice little garden shed.

Zoning and building permits are both good ideas. They keep Vermont pretty so New Yorkers can enjoy it. They also help ensure public health and safety. Worthy objectives.
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Framing

January 25th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Basic Structure

The framing of the cabin was straightforward. We used rough-sawn lumber and 3/4 inch plywood sheathing. I used a simple framing scheme with no headers above the windows and a single top plate on the walls. I used 3/4 inch plywood power nailed to the lumber with ring-shank nails to tie everything together into a strong and stiff wall system. I was confident that with this heavy sheathing, the minimal structure would be plenty strong.

Here my father, my sons, and I are tilting up the first wall.

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Using Rough-Sawn Lumber

January 25th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in 3. Basic Structure, Notes on Approaches

Dimensional lumber used in framing (i.e., 2×4, 2×6, etc.) is usually sold after planing and kiln drying. That’s why a 2×4 is actually 1.5″ x 3.5″. The stick of lumber from which that 2×4 was made was originally sawn to dimensions of 2″ x 4″. The length of these “rough sawn” boards is the nominal length plus at least 2 inches. So an 8′ 2×4 in rough-sawn form is 2″ x 4″ x 98+”.

Ends of rough-sawn 2x8s. See how both the height and the length varies slightly. I mostly ignored these differences, doing a little sorting to eliminate any real big jumps.

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Cabin Cost Accounting

January 25th, 2010 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in 1. Cabin Plans and Design

Rough-sawn lumber and siding right after delivery.

Here is what the Vermont Mini Cabin cost me:

Pressure-treated lumber (Home Depot) $100

Rough-sawn lumber (Eagle Saw Mill) $704

3/4″ plywood $568

Nails, screws, other misc. supplies $200

Tyvek $145

Ship-lap pine siding $600

Stain $100

Metal roofing panels and flashing (Fabral) $936

Clear pine for trim $180

Insulation $100

Steel door $100

Windows (12 Pella ProLine casements w/screens) $3623

Stove (Morso Squirrel) $1100

Chimney and stove pipe (Simpson) $500

Flooring (Forbo Marmoleum Click) $502

Cost before adjustments $9458

Adjustments:

Forgone BMW purchase ($44,260) …’cuz that’s what my friends are buying instead of doing stuff like this.

12 days labor of high-priced innovation consultant (not thinking about that)

Net Savings $34,802

Incidentally, I purchased the site for $8500, plus another $1000 or so in legal fees and transfer fees/taxes. (One of a half dozen lots I was able to aggregate in a largely defunct development.) So, even including the land costs, this project was well under half the cost of the BMW, and I believe it will be around a lot longer than that car would have been.

Incidentally, Dunn Lumber has an excellent site with prices listed for most lumber-yard items. This is a great reference for cost estimating, even though you most likely will not purchase from them unless you live in their service area.