Job Diary - Fourth Month of Construction
The brick guys came today right on schedule and got started. The contractor pointed out to me that the spaces on the sides of the front door were uneven. I had noticed this, and mentioned it to the framer, but he said nobody will ever notice. I should have stood up to that, but I had a lot of things on my plate right then.
My uncle came out on short notice and helped me fix the front door situation. We reframed and moved the front door to the absolute center of the space, and moved the window and reframed that to stay. It really looks right. The brick work is so gorgeous that's been done so far that it brings tears to your eyes. This is going to be a great house.
The plumber finished up, and I'm having the inspector tomorrow for the four way. We need to get this done so we can bring on the insulator.
The inspector was very helpful. He wouldn't pass the tight clearance over the basement stairs. He also pointed out that the bath fan vents didn't reach the outside. I knew that, I had it almost done, and forgot. One thing I didn't realize was that the gas lines need to be pressure tested, too. The plumbing was fine, but I need to get the heating guy back out for the next inspection, next week so the inspector can check that pressure.
On the stairs, he told me that the joist has to be engineered if you cut into it so it still supports the floor above as designed. I called the engineer after the inspector left and he could see me in an hour. I called my friend with the digital video camera and had him come right over. We took pictures of the joist and framing over the basement stairs and I showed them on the little camera screen to the engineer right after that. He had the fix designed in minutes for a small cost.
Again my uncle came on short notice and helped me make the fix to the joist over the stairs. That thing is so strong it's for sure stronger than before.
The brick work outside looks extremely good. We chose this dusty pink color, and had no idea it would look so good.
It looks like we've found the deal we need on cabinets. Jessica has checked it out and it looks very good. This one came from my salesman at the lumberyard, who knew a source. It looks like $6,000 for the whole house for solid cherry, which is way under the other numbers we've found.
This has been an intense week. I finished up my prewire with category five wire for phone and computer connections and with cable tv wire. I also got the doorbell wired. I probably used most of the 1,000 foot boxes that I bought for about a dime a foot at my supplier. It's helpful to mark on the wire itself, on the plastic sleeve with a sharpie where it's going to. There are a million wires hanging where our panels are going to be.
I got a call from a friend today that one of the big home center stores in Salt Lake has a 20% off store wide sale yesterday and tonight til about 9:00. It's unfortunate, but I'm not prepared to make any more purchases right now. I don't know for sure what else I need, and if the prices I would see are better than what I can get otherwise. I have to let this one go, I don't have two hours to drive back and forth to Salt Lake.
We tried today to put in more strapping to give the house better seismic protection. The foundation guys put in the wrong size straps, and in the wrong places. The engineer has shown us where to put the bigger Simpson ties. It is a real hassle to drill through the existing baseplate, and through the concrete and put them in. My options are to hire it done, to rent very specialized tools, or to let it go entirely. This is a problem that would have been completely eliminated with just $300 of engineering in the beginning.
I forgot to mention that I got the vacuum system for the whole house vac preplumbed for only $280. That guy did very neat work. We have it wired now with 14-2 Romex so it can have it's own power at each inlet. That way you can turn on and off the vacuum at the handheld vac wand, which is much more convenient that having to plug in a cord when you vacuum.
I will be so glad when I can heat this house with natural gas. I can't tell you the hundreds of dollars I've spent buying propane. I ordered my gas meter right after my inspection the other day, that will take some time to get.
My construction loan was a very special package put together by a very sharp mortgage broker who was recommended to me. On it, I am allowed to adjust the interest rate downward one time before the long term financing is locked in. Then we have a 5/5 ARM that can adjust downward on its own, or go up by a limited amount, once a year. With interest rates going down now we are watching for the opportunity to come down from the 7 and 3/8 percent that we are at. At this rate, the long term would be 8 3/8 percent which would be very high with current rates. We can get it down by maybe two whole points if we hit it right.
Nothing against my mortgage broker, who went to bat for me a month ago when my lender had concerns about my job, but I found out that using a broker caused my overall borrowing costs to be quite a bit higher. Maybe $1,500 higher. My neighbor has the same loan that I do, and what he did was see who was the actual lending institution and go direct and hold out for the terms he wanted. In a way, these brokers are like contractors, they are a middleman who performs a valuable service that some people want, but it costs you money.
Before I left the job site today, I made a list of everything that needs to be done before my second four way next Wednesday. Insulation is supposed to start Thursday.
I still need to do some blocking in the walls, nobody else will do these things for you. I want to have good towel bars, good handrails at the stairs, and good door stops. But there is no way I'm doing any more today. I am sick of it and exhausted, and I haven't seen my family for a week.
Amazingly, my four-way inspection was no problem. I had get some fiberglass insulation for the fireplace cavity, because they don't want any cellulose to get in there (it's flammable).
The painter who did my friend's house came by. He does finish carpentry and painting, which is a nice combination, because he gets to fill his own nail holes and caulk his own voids. He charges per foot of baseboard, and is very flexible. For instance, he will let me paint whatever I want to save money and look it over and give me advice. He also said he would loan me his spray equipment. I know he's a nice guy, but it also has to be that work is scarce in the winter like this, and people are bending over backwards to get it.
I called back the gas company to get everything hooked up. On the four-way inspection they checked the gas piping to make sure it held its pressure. It looked like a pretty simple procedure when they checked the plumbing earlier, so I set up the pressure test myself. I borrowed a pressure valve from my plumber and pressurized it with a tank of plain compressed air that I had at home. The inspector checked the pressure reading on the way in and when he left a half hour of more later, he checked that the reading was the same, and I passed.
Once I tried doing the pressure test, I had confidence to make a small change to the gas piping at the gas fireplace. We had placed the piping in the beginning a little too far from the fireplace unit. The idea was to have the piping concealed by the sheetrock enclosure around the fireplace, with just an on/off valve accessible. So I moved the piping by extending it a little bit with different plumbing fittings. I teflon taped my joints and pressure tested the changes, and had a slight leak. I had to rework it so it was tight, but got it done.
Our friend Lucy, who owner-built near us gave us some beautiful scraps of 2 inch thick travertine from her hearth. They are big enough that we think we can adapt them to make our own hearth, which is way smaller.
One of our window sills was 3/8" lower than the other one in the breakfast nook. It was pretty visible when we were checking things. Rather than call those guys back, I talked to the finish carpenter who was estimating our job and he said to just raise the window, and he would make the sills right later. It was a pretty simple thing where the window was held by about 10 screws, and we just buzzed them off, put a 3/8" shim under while holding the window, and put the screws back. Good as new.
Our gas fireplace that you see in the photos was $750. That included a $75 charge for installation. It is furnace rated at 24,000 BTU's.
Before the sheetrock hangers come in, my friend covered all of my furnace vents with scrap wood and screws so there would be no dust or debris damage to the system. When they are done, I'm going to secure some cheesecloth over the vent holes so the furnace can blow free. We have to do that so the house will be warm enough for the sheetrock mud to dry properly when the tapers come in. Also today we put in blocking for handrails, door stops, and towel bars. The pantry looked good enough to secure strong shelves, and we have no plans for drapes, so the house should be well blocked.
It's a little cold outside, and the framers who are working across the street were grateful that I asked some of them to help out on a few things. Some mornings they don't work because the wind is so cold. The supervisor agreed to come over tomorrow and drill and set those pesky bolts for the simpson ties that will make the house secure against earthquakes. He came at lunchtime today with his notebook and looked everything over, which I appreciate. He's going to drill and set each one for $5, about half what I was going to pay in special tool rental.
The insulation guys are coming tomorrow. The plan is for the framer to come in and help me early on and we'll stay ahead of the insulators with our simpson ties before they cover over the spaces we need. I called and asked them if they wanted to delay a day, and they didn't. They said they'd work around us.
The insulators needed everything clean so the first thing they did was clean up. I had to get my stuff out of the way and haul it to the basement, which I should have done before. It has to be clean, because they blow on this sticky cellulose mash, and they scrape off the bulges and they toss the scrapings into a big clean garbage can and immediately reuse it. It's incredible. This makes the place warmer (even though the eaves are still open) and much quieter. I love it. They insulated under the master tub, which is a very good thing. They also sound insulated the master bedroom and the office, using mesh on the open sides. It works great.
We are all insulated now except for the attic, and I think I want my soffit up before they do that to make sure that they don't scrimp on insulating around the edges. There's a debate about whether you should put your soffit up first or do the stucco first.
The only problem with the insulating today was that the carpenter and I could not move fast enough to get out of these guys way. We tried to get the simpson ties in ahead of them, but they were pushing us all day. I had to divide my time and take out two unnecessary outlets around the sink before they insulated that. The framer was very professional. He had brought little glass tubes of epoxy component which you put in the hole, and it bursts and mixes. For all his work, I think I owe him $70, a bargain.
Next time, I'm going to have an engineer certify the plans in the very beginning, regardless of what the city says (they thought we didn't need engineering to be acceptable). Simply because the proper seismic ties could then be placed in the proper places by the foundation guys, and incorporated into the framing by the framers. I think that would have been cheaper. Anyways, our house is solid as can be now.
Before you can sheetrock, you have to have an inspection of the insulation. That was fine, and all, but a little trouble has been brewing between myself and the inspector that came out, and so I'd guess you'd say it all hit the fan this morning.
The insulation inspection rapidly deteriorated into a new four-way type inspection. That's a problem, because we already passed four-way with another inspector, and we don't want to go back on things, particularly. Also, with the insulation in, it's hard to make changes. This inspector was one who came out earlier on a shear wall inspection. Then, since he had some time, I welcomed him walking around and giving us additional suggestions on things. Well, the suggestions weren't binding, and we didn't implement the ones we disagreed with. When he saw that, he felt he needed to undo things and make a big case out of it.
First on the insulation. He complained that there was no baffling in the ceiling for air movement, something that doesn't apply to cellulose. He noticed that little bits of cellulose had oversprayed into the fireplace cavity. There was a little bit of overspray near the shield around the furnace flue.
Then he started to say we hadn't installed the right romex connectors in our can lights, something the other inspector already approved two days ago. When I protested, he said "This is the worst job I've ever seen." He noticed that I had moved the line into the gas fireplace and he said the obvious, that it needed to be pressure tested again. I said that I could do it right now for you. He said, "I'm tired of this crap. I'll have to come out again, and I'm charging you $50 next time I come out."
I had the pressure valve on and the gas system pressurized in less than five minutes after he left. I can't tell you how upset I was. I felt I had the right to call the head inspector and complain. I had dealt with him several times since the beginning, and during the time when we had to get the lot rezoned. He's a very reasonable guy. So I called him and said that I don't want this inspector back on my job because I find him to be rude, condescending, and that he treats owner-builders bad. He said okay. Then I called the secretary and canceled a previous appointment I had for insulation inspection the next morning. I don't want the inspector back for another confrontation by accident tomorrow.
We also got our sheetrock loading done today. They made the piles approximately where it will be needed, we are ready to go on that.
Guess what. He came back. He probably picked up his assignments yesterday, and took this as the time for a reinspection of my insulation. I'd say things went from bad to worse. He didn't like the fireplace. He starts walking around the house. the 110 temporary power wasn't attached to the service panel. The span of support wasn't right under one of the plumbing traps. He said he wasn't passing the insulation on this house. Pardon my French, but I said, "Bull crap!"
He just kept on going. He went down in the basement. He was looking over everything critically. He asks me, "Who did the engineering on this house? I told him the name, and he said, "I can't believe it." Then I told him the house was not originally engineered, because the chief of inspections (his boss) passed it without any engineering. He got quiet after that. I basically insisted that he sign the insulation inspection form, and after walking around in angry silence for a while, he signed it and left.
Things returned to normal after that. The sheetrock hangers were putting up rock so fast an hour or two later, I couldn't believe it.
I got two more of the framers from across the street in who couldn't work because of the cold again, and they framed a header onto our doorway from the master bath into the closet. We decided to save the money and not put a door there, just a nice looking portal doorway into the closet. They also installed a folding stairway into my big storage room above the garage. They do things very fast and I think everybody's happy.
Five minutes after they finished installing that folding ladder, I was up that ladder into the attic over the kitchen ceiling. I called a friend to come help me make sure that the can lights in the kitchen were straight. The rockers probably bumped some of the cans and moved them out of alignment. They are very hard to lock into place, and the rockers were probably moving a little too fast, though I think they do good work otherwise. It might be a good idea for people doing this to tell their sheetrockers they'll have to do it twice if they move cans when they hang the rock.
I went into the ceiling, and we moved the cans slightly by cutting around them with the rockers' Rotozip. We got them perfect in an hour or so, and the guys patched up the cut holes.
The house looks so small with the sheetrock on it. I had no idea of the real size of the rooms when they were just skeletons. It's a little depressing.
I have to make a decision about finish carpentry. I also want to go over and put some more night lights in before they sheetrock over the whole house. The night light system is switchable. We read an article that says it's not good for a child to have a night light on all the time, because their eyes develop best if they sleep in full darkness.
I have to make a decision about the plumber. It's a little hard to know for sure, but one of the O-B's who used him says that he adds a little something in besides his labor for each fixture that he installs that you provide. I don't think that's cricket, if that's true.
I can't get over how quiet the house is now.
I put the screen material over the vents. I couldn't find cheesecloth, but I found a fine screen material at Home Depot and laid it over and fastened it on each vent.
We got the furnace running, and I can say goodbye to that expensive propane heater and all the bottle filling. The house is pretty warm and nice, more inviting than at any time before this. They started mudding and taping today. They will do two to three coats.
The framer missed a door. There was no door header, and it didn't come up until now. I did it myself in about a half hour, and they rocked and taped it this morning and no delays. You have to do so many oddball things to keep up.
The chief inspector came out and looked at things himself this morning. He was very good about it, and I take his word as law. He said we had to rip out some 2X10" supports in the basement and put in a span of 9 1/2" microlam beam. I got the framers from across the street to do that right away.
I made the decision to paint the house myself. It looks like we'll save $4,000 doing that. I'm going to go flat white ceilings, and gloss white on the baseboards. My neighbor has a sprayer I can use. My uncle wants to do the finish carpentry. He's a good craftsman. I'm just a little worried about the time frame.
I know I can paint for less than $1,000 in materials. I don't think I'll be able to use the guy I like that does finish carpentry and painting both. His carpentry cost was going to be about $1,500 or $1,600. The other bids I got were close.
We're looking at $7,500 for cabinets, which will be solid cherry, for the whole house, and Jessica is pretty pleased about it. We're still working on countertops.
As of today I got my interest rate on the construction loan down to 7%. That's a big help. What I'm learning about financing, I'll share here. As I said before, you have to watch when you use a broker rather than go direct to the lender. There can be extra costs there. When you go to refinance your house, check around and compare APR between lenders. You can sometimes go to your original lender and save fees by having them do a simple adjustment of your current rate rather than lose you.
We found a couple with a design and decorating business who do some terrific deals on carpet and tile. They are going to set us up with a travertine shower surround that makes your mouth water for less than the price of marble glass. We're going to get a granite countertop, not solid surface, but granite tile, and it's beautiful stuff. The grout lines will be very thin, and dark grout, to hide any staining. We are going to get granite tile with bull nose and full backsplash all the way up to the cupboards for 1/3 the price of solid slab. About $18 a square foot vs. $45. I'm going to have them lay travertine tile in the master, a wainscoting on the walls, countertops and shower surround. The other baths we'll do ourselves.
We went to one carpet place that some owner-builders recommended and got a price of $2.24 a square foot for 3/4" red oak unfinished flooring. Then we went to National and got $1.89 a square foot. Then the people I just mentioned, High Country Design said they'd beat that by ten cents, down to $1.79 a foot. I'm going to lay the hardwood with a friend. They'll also sell me Dal Tile for under anybody, around $1.29 a foot.
What impressed us about Heidi at High Country was that she asked the budget for carpet and came under it. The other highly recommended lady we saw asked our budget and came right up to it. Heidi came $1,500 under our budget including installation. Same brand of carpet but a lower pile which we like better.
I got some very good references on our cabinet guy today.
The garage door went in today without any problems. It was about $1,200 with the opener and installation, which is good for this quality of door. It is just the look we wanted with our design. I had three bidders and worked them on the price by doing another "round robin" where I called and asked them if they could match the low guy or sharpen the bid in any way.