Archive for February, 2010

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.

Baubilt Pizza

February 8th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Baubilt Bread, Karl's cooking hacks

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.

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.


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.


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.

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, 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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.

The Morso 1410 Woodstove

February 14th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | 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.


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?


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

Here are some parts I made using the eMachineshop service.

Aluminum parts made via



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.

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.

Creating Nice Concrete Floors

February 16th, 2010 by KTU | 28 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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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.


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.


Walls are only about 60% insulated.

February 20th, 2010 by KTU | 4 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.