Saturday, January 29, 2011

Interesting exchanges

Fortunately timed snow day allows me to get over to the house to stay one day ahead of the blueboarders - insulating stair well (insulation company stopped returning calls...) and building boxed beam in family room to add strength to the cathedral wall.   While snowblowing a license plate clogged the blower.  I pulled it out and saw it matched the plasterer's truck so threw it in the driveway behind the truck.  One hour later I get a voicemail from the plasterer,  "Ummmm...., Erik, I'm not sure if you know a guy with a red truck but he just came up the driveway and stole my license plate.  If you know who that is could you call him and have him bring it back?"  The guy (my father-in-law) with the red truck (to borrow my snowblower) was trying to be helpful (by bringing me back my license plate that he thought fell off my car).

With not much to do while plastering stage is being handled we packed the kids up in the car and headed to NH to look at mantels, flooring, walls, and ceiling options at a lumber yard.  Saw a great place with elaborate showroom and lots of options in Brookline, NH.  Decided to stop at another place in Groton, MA on the way home.  The sign off the road was almost nonexistent.  The "lumber yard" looked like a house.  The only clues we had were the vast amounts of sawdust in the snow behind the barn and the little sign on the door that said "office."  I got out to investigate only to find a man in a bathrobe staring out the window at me.  I turned for the car when he came out in the bathrobe and told me the store was closed on Saturdays but he'd be glad to show me around.  So I got a tour of the sawmill and pine board stock by a guy in a bathrobe and snow boots.  To be fair, he had a broken arm and couldn't put on a shirt by himself, so the bathrobe was his all-day attire.

We also stopped at the Maki Budget Barn in Lunenburg.  Found a great pair of American Standard faucets for the girls' bathroom, the only two left.  When I took them out of the car in Auburn I saw that they were actually different.  : (

Sarah moved in to her house today!  Congratulations Sarah!  Tonight we helped her get her last few things set up then spent 3 hours cleaning and rearranging over here.  Bed time.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Excitement and Fear

After an apparent long standstill during which I've been working constantly with little to no change in the appearance of the house things have started to accelerate.  First the insulation, which took about a week, and now the blueboarding has started.  I'm excited to finally see noticeable progress with the walls getting closed up, but for the past week I haven't been able to shake this gripping fear that I've missed something. Have I overlooked some crucial step that I should have taken before covering up all the work that's been so far.

With that paranoia driving me I spent this past weekend going through the entire house again and again making lists of every little thing that I could do before closing up.  I took a personal day on Monday to be there for the delivery of the blueboard, to meet with the plasterer, talk to the inspector at the insulation inspection, coordinate a dumpster delivery to not interfere with blueboard delivery, talk with the insulators when they did their final clean up and touch up, do all those jobs on my paranoid list.

My Personal Day:

5:30 AM (Monday): -10 F.  Car barely starts.  Go turn on heat then get a coffee.
After that it was a blur.  Here's what I remember:
Framed attic kneewalls to hide ducts but provide access doors to key spots. 
Built in shelves, nooks and crannys, window seat to hide HVAC and chimney.  The attic may turn out to be the coolest room in the house.
Caulked all sill plates and double studs in walls.
Foamed spots missed by insulation crew and trimmed excess foam from areas where I got carried away with their Hilti foam gun.
Blueboard and plaster delivered - truck showed up early in the am and couldn't get up driveway.  I tried to get Jeff to sand it.  No luck.  Tried to go to his gravel pit to get my own sand.  Everything frozen.  Ken was on his way and luckily had 2 buckets of sand in his truck.  Blueboard delivery went smoothly after that.
Dumpster delivered.
Passed insulation inspection and talked about what to do about firming up family room wall.
Loaded foam scraps into dumpster with dad.  Ran around in it for a while to pack it down some: Exhausting.
Ran thermostat wire from ERV to bedroom just in case.
Straightened a couple bowed studs in the front hall.
fell though the ice up to my shins in the back yard while trying to break the ice dam to get the water to drain away from the house.
Ate breakfast at 5:30. lunch at 3. never ate dinner.
Cleaned attic and picked up house to prep for blueboarders starting Tuesday.
The insulators never showed- claimed their trucks had trouble with the cold.
Gave up before reframing the wall in the kids' bathroom for recessed shelves and just hoped they wouldn't blueboard it first.  I got lucky and was able to do that today.
12:30 AM (Tuesday): -8 F. Came home and spent another 1/2 hour looking at weather forecasts on the computer hoping for a snow day Thursday.

Enough text, here are some pics.

Central vac rough-in in the dining room/family room wall.

Insulating in progress.

Proof that the foam finds every little nook and cranny.  This is what squeezed through some studs.

The expanding foam on the garage-house wall pushed the blueboard right through the screws and bent it into the house.

My ever-growing glacier.  Best guess: 12-18" of ice/water thick.  Sanding it is useless since the sand gets buried in a few hours.

Would this be classified as a stalactite or stalagmite?

No dumpster yet.

The marshmallow attic ceiling.

The physics nerd in me was amazed that the center of gravity wasn't shifted far enough to make the whole rig tip over.

50 pounds of plaster (dry weight) per bag.  Approx. 100 bags in the house. ~5000 lbs.

5/8" drywall - 105 pounds per sheet (  Approx. 40 sheets in the garage. ~4000 lbs.

1/2" drywall - 82 pounds per sheet.  Approx. 250 sheets in the house. ~20,500 lbs.  For a grand total of nearly 30 THOUSAND pounds of material just loaded into the house.  And that's not including the water that'll be added to the plaster.  This is why I'm glad I'm not installing it all myself....

More bags of plaster.  Notice the foam cutting "sword" made from a hockey stick and a 3-foot length of band saw blade.

Who says you need a pick up truck?  You just have to be willing to put up with a slightly tilted drive home from Home Depot.

Attic kneewalls.  Access doors for blower and ERV.   Window seat to the right.

Kneewalls around the chimney and the braced and reinforced kneewall at the top of the stairs.

Physics nerd speaking again: Here's proof that aluminum conducts heat WAY better than wood or foam.  Below zero outside. 60 degrees inside.  The little bit of humidity in the house formed a thick layer of frost on the fine edge of the aluminum door pan inside the house.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


So I busted my butt all day Wednesday to prep for the insulation starting on Thursday.  But it turns out the storm delayed them a day, so they couldn't start until Friday....  That was okay though because it gave me Thursday night to really get things organized and ready for them.

Friday afternoon I got to the house as they were packing up and got to talk to them about the process.  They'll be working Monday and said I'd get to spray the gun!  Can't wait.

Today I was able to add the three smoke detectors (in each bedroom) that I fortunately learned I needed to have before the ceilings were plastered.  I also continued with the central vac rough-in.  The garage and upstairs are done.  Tomorrow I'll tackle the first floor.

Lots of pictures today-

The building permit with the rough framing inspection signed!

My tidy electrical work for the geothermal unit and back up electric heat.

Checked off the list of tedious jobs that needed to get done before insulation: horizontal blocking for hanging cabinets in the kitchen.

Tedious job #2: foam fire blocking all penetrations between floors.
Tedious job #3: adding ceiling joists the entire length of the attic so there will be something to hang the blueboard on.  Easier to do now than after the roof rafters are insulated.

The fireplace wall finally framed out - recesses for shelving on either side and metal studs in the middle that taper down to meet the chimney.

Since I don't like to waste space I framed two recessed to the left of the wood stove.  The bottom one will be open and lined with stone - good for kindling, newspaper, matches, etc.  The top one will have a cabinet door - good for storing things needed in the dining room like table cloths and candle holders.

The kitchen shaping up.  The blueboarders hung the wall adjacent to the garage and mud room so the back side could be sprayed with insulation.  The insulators sprayed the exterior wall.

Ahhhhh, the warm glow of a 200,000 BTU construction heater.  Thank you insulation people for leaving it there for the weekend.  I've been warm and toasty- 45 to 50 degrees.  I should also thank them for being one of the only thorough subs I've hired so far.  Instead of trying to do everything as fast as possible, they've meticulously gone through the house and helped me out by pointing out hidden cavities in walls that I was unaware off, giving me the opportunity to drill holes so they can spray in insulation.  They also pointed out wires that need extra staples to help them avoid cutting them if they get moved by the expanding foam.

The foam insulation in it's pre-shaved state.  It's a two part mix that gets sprayed in through high pressure heated lines.  When the liquids mix in the spray gun they cure within 6 seconds during which they expand to 600 times their original volume.  I learned this while chatting with the sprayers Friday afternoon in a conversation that ranged from the science of spray foam to the relative merits of vasectomies and tubal ligation.  It made me think how fun it has been to meet and talk with the hundreds of characters I've met during this whole process.

The play room wall sprayed and shaved.

Lots of excess shavings make for one big mess, but...

...if I pile them all up in the family room I can jump off the balcony into a giant foam pit!  I can't wait to try it out.

Ice creep.  Melting snow and seeping ground water have turned the corner from the back yard into the driveway.  The water is now making its way into the garage making a nice skating rink, encasing the door trim, freezing the door shut, and gluing my ladders to the floor.  Ice is a powerful force.  I worry it might pry loose the siding and/or trim boards.  Or worse, rise so high it gets into the framed walls and gets my new insulation all wet when it melts.

One more thing to worry about - It's great that I can now heat the house.  But without insulation the snow on the roof just melts and runs to the eaves where it refreezes and is in the process of making one hefty ice dam.  All day today I could hear icicles breaking off the roof and crashing onto the front porch roof.  I hope there won't be any shingle damage when the ice recedes.

All shoveled by hand!  If I had only known the insulation guys had their own plow truck I wouldn't have spent so much time trying to clear a bigger space at the top of the driveway for them.  It was nice of them to plow what I didn't get to though.  Unfortunately, they hit my extension ladder that was hidden under the snow.  I haven't assessed the damage yet.

A lovely blanket of insulation to keep my bathroom toasty warm.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Heat!... and Snow

Lots happening lately, but no pictures yet.  Too tired right now.

Blueboarder/plasterer is hired.  He came yesterday to do the walls between the garage and house to prep for insulation.  He's ready to go middle/end of next week!
Heating system is all done but the well.
Insulation is slated to start Thursday and be complete by next Tuesday.

And now, how I spent my snow day

Last night: got the phone call - snow day!  Plenty of time to get everything ready at the house for insulation to start Thursday.
Problem: white out conditions expected in the early morning.  I contemplated sleeping at the house, but there's no heat yet.  I decided to get up at 3:30 to beat the snow there. I packed everything I'd need to spend the day and didn't go to bed until 12:30.
3:30 AM - I didn't beat the snow (white out).  I made it to the house more by feel than my sight.
3:45 - got stuck in the driveway with the car halfway in the garage.  Couldn't leave it like that, so had to get out in the snow to push, pull, etc.
4:30 - after a 45 minute battle and with the help of a couple 2x4s and a nylon racheting tie down strap I managed to get myself into the garage and close the door.  Cold and wet and tired, I crawled into the back of the wagon for some more sleep. 
6:00 - after more than an hour of trying to sleep but being too cold I got up and started working.

After that it's a blur.  Things I got done today: 
Wired the geo unit so the downstairs heat would work.  I ran it all day and managed to get the house up to 37F.  Can't wait for insulation. 
Framed out the attic ceiling so we'll be able to sheetrock it after insulation.
Organized all the wires in the basement to get them away from the sills (line voltage and low voltage both)
Side note - I had to pee out the back door since I hadn't shoveled, it was still snowing, and I didn't want to spend the day in a cold house with soaking wet pants and boots.
Layed out and started installation of central vac.  Only had time to complete the branches that were absolutely necessary (inside insulated walls).  The one under the mud room was a PAIN.
Ran a 2" PVC conduit from the basement to the attic for future wiring needs.
Fireblocked the new holes that I drilled today.
Cleaned and organized some.
Framed a box around the downstairs bathroom vent in the play room closet.
Exposed a few wires and switch boxes that the blueboarder covered when he did the wall between the garage and house.  He also covered a section of exterior wall that isn't insulated yet and forgot to blueboard the wall between the bedroom and bathroom for soundproofing.  Need to call him tomorrow.
And last, but not least - shoveled the driveway.  18" of snow plus being on the outside edge of a cul de sac make for one giant snowplow bank.  Started that around 8 or 9 with Paul and Sarah.  Finished up right around 11:30.

Things I didn't get done today that I will have to go do before work tomorrow (it's 12:45AM, so I guess that's today):
Video tape all of the exposed wiring and plumbing before it all gets covered up.
Move the giant pile of scrap lumber from in front of the garage door so the insulators can get in.
Move all the tools and miscellaneous crap in the dining room into the basement to get it out of their way.

p.s.  Thankyous today: to Amy and Sarah for delivering DD once the roads were cleared.  They had to wade through the 4' high plowed snowbank since I hadn't shoveled yet.  Also, to Amy and Sarah for delivering a delicious dinner.  To Paul and Sarah for coming to help me shovel out at 9PM.  Unfortunately, one of the pins on the snowblower broke after one pass so it was a shovel job for the rest of it (pictures of the snow piles tomorrow).  And to dad for going on Tuesday to take pictures of all the inside walls before they get covered in case we need to find any wires/plumbing in the future.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

It was about a year ago today that the girls fell asleep on a car ride and we happened upon Camden Drive while driving randomly to let them sleep.  A lot can happen in a year...

I had a few relaxing days during the school vacation, but got a lot of work done too. 

The weather has cooperated for the most part.  The Christmas "blizzard" only brought a few inches of snow, but big drifts.  Shoveling a driveway for a house you don't live in is not fun.  Bill was nice enough to come over with his snowblower and help me out.  Since then it's been almost warm.

The rough wiring was wrapped up for the most part by Tuesday.  Marc came Wednesday and helped me figure out and run all the data wiring.  The second set of hands made the work go a lot faster, and it was fun to think about actually living there and where I'd want TV, computers, speakers, etc.  Thanks Marc!

Today I ran speaker wire, put in blocking for all the kitchen cabinets.  Have I mentioned the agonizing Amy and I have done over what type of range hood to install?

Also met with plasters and insulation people this week for quotes.  It's hard to believe that is in the near future.

Took a needed break from wiring this week to visit friends in New Hampshire.  Unfortunately, I scheduled the wiring inspection early in the morning the day after we returned.  And the car gave us a scare on the way up (thought we might loose a wheel again), but it turned out to be nothing.
Annika stylin' on a pair of borrowed skis.
Ella tearing up the slopes.
Along with electrician discussion forums and printed diagrams of various circuit combinations, this has been my companion for the last few weeks.  I hid it under a sweatshirt in my car when the wiring inspector came.  I didn't want him to realize just how much of a novice I am.

Larry was nice enough to lend me his torpedo heater to get through the cold weather.  Unfortunately, Kerosene is hard to come by.  Everyone I've asked looks at me like I'm crazy.  There may be one gas station in Webster Square that sells it though.  I'll go check once this "heat wave" passes.

Prepped for the sub-panel under the kitchen.

The mason actually came and filled the gap behind the fireplace veneer!  It took a bunch of phone calls and listening to stories about his car accident to get it done, but it's done.  He still insists the wood stove is okay.  We'll see.  He also managed to come do the work on the one day I wasn't at the house.  Weird.

This is what I've been doing for the last week.  It's scary to think that I won't actually test out any of my work until after the wiring is all enclosed in the walls.

Oh yeah, I passed the electrical inspection!  12/31/2010.  Another personal deadline met, just barely.  Amy and I cleaned up the mess of wire scraps and junk until 11:30 after coming home from NH and I went back at 5:30 the next morning to finish wiring a few boxes and stapling wires.  No complaints from the inspector.

So now onto duct work.  A few days of that and I should be ready for the rough framing inspection!  And now that we've settled on a range hood design I can actually do the duct work.  Still lots of question marks since I have to duct 3 bathrooms, a clothes dryer, and a range hood.  Hopefully I can get it all to work.

Still haven't drilled the well.  And the rig continues to sink and/or get iced over.  But the duct guys installed the ERV in the attic and finished up their stuff yesterday.  Another guy came by the other day and installed the back-up electrical resistance heat.  Once I get the blower unit and heater wired (and a thermostat set up) I can actually have some heat in the house.  And not a moment too soon since it will need to be at least 50 when they spray the foam.

Here's a look at my head-start for Manuary.  Amy says I look like a thief taking my own picture outside a house I'm about to break into....