Construction Construction Materials General

Driveway Poured

We finally got the driveway poured today. This is one if the biggest steps we’ve had so far. No longer must we cringe when rain (or snow) is forecast for fear of a muddy, mucky, gooey walk to the house. We have a nice new concrete driveway and sidewalk. It runs all the way out to the road which is over 100 feet (32m). It’s 16-feet wide (5M) and has a 20′ x 40′ parking and turn-around area. They also poured the sidewalk up to the front porch. It all turned out really nice.

The guys started to form everything Monday morning around 6:30. They had to move a lot of dirt. In fact, they trucked out 3 tandems full. Most of this was the recycled concrete tracking pad we had to put in. They were done forming about 1:00. The next morning the crew showed up about 10 minutes before the first cement truck at 7:00am. They were done pouring around 1:30. All told, there was over 3,000 sq ft of concrete which was just over 40 cubic yards. This marks the last of our concrete on the house project. Here are a few pictures of the forming and pouring.

Construction Construction Materials

Doors, Base and Case Trim

We’re almost done with the trimmers. They started a couple days ago and have been fantastic. They are like artists with door and trim as their canvas. As some of you may know, I like woodworking, but I don’t have the patience or skills to do trim work. It’s really difficult to get all the joints perfect. This is why we decided to leave it to the professionals. So we got the doors ordered a couple months ago and delivered last week, trim ordered last week and delivered Monday, and the guys started Tuesday. We used fir wood throughout the house and we plan on just clear-coating it which will help bring out the grain nicely. Here are a few pictures of the progress so far.

Notice the transom windows above the living room doors. These were a decision we made to help balance out the front door which is 8 feet tall (2.4 m). We saw at a house an 8ft entry door with a standard 6′ 8″ (2 m) closet door and the different heights didn’t look right. Then at a different house we saw an 8ft entry door with an 8ft closet door, but the closet door was so narrow and tall, that looked off too. So we decided to do an 8ft closet opening with a 6′ 8″ door and 1′ 4″ transom above. We hoped it would help balance out the heights and provide a little light in the closet too. But we didn’t stop there. Of course once the close door was that tall, Amy felt the doorway into the guest bedroom and bathroom hallway would look off. So guess what?  A transom there too. And then what about the laundry and master bedroom doors on the other side of the room. Those would be off too. Well, we better do transoms there as well. So now we have four doors with transoms over them. I think it looks awesome though. Ahh the joy of building.


Landscaping and a Personal Tractor

We’ve been looking into landscaping for the past couple weeks and have been shocked at the bids. For what we consider modest plans we’ve been getting bids in the 10s of thousands. Seriously? It’s not like we’re asking for a series of waterfalls, swimming pools and forests of trees. Just a simple landscape with some rock, a few plants, and a little grass. It looks like I’ll be working on this all summer. Maybe I should just buy myself one of these.



They’re only about $5,000. Then I’d have money left over to buy some material. 🙂


Interior Painted

We finished the drywall and texture a couple weeks ago so started getting bids on interior painting. We got bids from five different companies and were rather shocked to get prices ranging from $5,000 to over $7,000 to prime and paint the interior of our house. Clearly I’m in the wrong business. After some discussion with Amy, we decided to paint it ourselves. We were thinking rollers and cans of paint. But after mentioning this to some friends in the trades, they said they’d come and help… and when they said “help” they meant more than showing up to with rollers and brushes. So when Rick (Amy’s brother-in-law) and Sean a friend said to be ready to paint on Sunday, we got at it.

Thursday and Friday Amy caulked the corners around all the windows so we had a nice smooth surface to tape to. Saturday morning we went to Home Depot and bought primer and paint, plastic and tape and started getting ready. We taped plastic over all the windows and then we covered all the floors with rosin paper. It was a long day but we got the main floor done. We headed up early Sunday morning to finish the taping and paper. A bit later Rick showed up with his paint sprayer and Sean with a borrowed pair of stilts from his drywaller friend. And then over the next 8 hours they sprayed 25 gallons (95 liters) or drywall primer and 35 gallons (132 liters) of paint.

It’s pretty amazing to get this done in one day. We might need to touch up a few places, but for the most part we’re ready to move on. Now we can put all the electrical in, install cabinets (once I build them) and get the floors ready. We’re moving along…


Retaining Walls and Stairs

Our retaining walls and stairs are finally in. We had a snowy night with several inches of snow and I figured that meant we were going to lose a couple more days with a muddy site. But I got a call that the concrete guys were coming to work on our retaining walls. So I headed up there met the crew. These guys are crazy. I swear they jump out of their trucks and hit the ground running… literally. I’m not joking. Armando, the lead guy is a machine. I’d never met him before and it only took him about 10 minutes and 20 questions to know exactly what needed to be done. After that, he was off and running.

The short story is we finally have some structure between the house and garage. This had been a bit of a gray area for some time. It wasn’t a part of the architectural, landscape or structural plans. We have a detached garage and a sloping lot which means an area where we needed to figure out drainage and access. We’d planned on putting in a staircase, but hadn’t really figured out how to hold the earth back and provide drainage to that area. I finally had a new concrete contractor (our fourth on this project) come in and brainstorm with me what we should do. When I got his bid I thought it was too expensive and dismissed it. But then after some consideration and consulting with friends, I decided I’d go with it. We decided on three retaining walls to hold back the dirt, a drain to carry the water down to the lower level of the yard, and a staircase with a landing half way down.  It turned out very nicely. Check out the pictures below:

Construction Deadlines

One Year

This is not an April Fool’s joke. It has been one year since we broke ground. That’s a long time and generally a house can be built in less than 12 months. But whether it was bad general contraction on my fault, poor sub-contracting, or just bad luck I don’t know. Probably a little bit of each. For sure we had bad weather last year for excavation. Then there was the major mistake by our foundation company. Add on that the delays from our framer and you can add about 3 months to a typical schedule. With all that said, we’ve been steadily moving forward and we’re getting close now. Wish us luck!

Construction Construction Materials

Hanging Drywall

We’ve got drywall. I repeat, we have got DRYWALL!  OK. That’s a pretty big deal. It is amazing how different a house looks when there are actually walls. If you don’t believe me, just watch the video tour below. Whoops!  I said insulation when I meant drywall.

Not much to say about hanging the drywall. Not really any drama or problems. It took a while to get to this point because we failed rough plumbing inspection twice and we failed our rough framing inspection once. But once those were done we had insulation installed in a day and then the drywall started. The drywall was delivered Thursday, they started hanging last Friday (just 2 guys), continued Monday (still just 2 guys), had another join them Tuesday and Wednesday, and that was it. I had an inspection today and they passed. Tomorrow hopefully the crew for taping and mudding joints will start. They claim that take about 3 or 4 days. I hope so. I guess I better find a painter.

Here are a few photos of the project:

Construction Construction Materials

Insulation – Blown-in and Closed Cell Spray Foam

We had a big step today. We had the insulation installed. That’s a big one because it means we are done inside the walls. I’ll be honest. It was a bit scary. I’ve been working for the past 2+ months on the electrical. And now that we’re closing up the walls, that means I had better be done or I’ll be making a huge mess to get back into the walls. Anyway, the guys showed up early this morning. By the time I got there at 8:30 they were well on their way. There were just two guys, but you could tell they knew what they were doing.

But there was just one problem. As I walked around I noticed they were putting batt insulation in the rim joist bays, but we had ordered closed-cell spray foam in those areas. We wanted spray foam mainly because the foundation company had screwed up and their forms had slumped during the pour so the tops of our foundations were lower in the middle than the corners. So the foundation company came back and grouted the rather large gap between the foundation and the sill plate the framers built, but I didn’t trust that and we wanted a good air barrier in that area. So we had opted for the spray foam. I called the salesman and he said there was a clerical error and they would spray that foam in tomorrow morning. I talked to the guys on site and we all agreed it would be better to get it all done today. So I drove one of them to get their spray foam truck while the other one kept working.

Just one more example of how you have to check on every detail. It wasn’t the installers fault because the spray foam wasn’t on their work order. But if I hadn’t been there to check, it wouldn’t have been right and would have costed us at least a day. Frustrating, but just the nature of construction. No matter how hard you try, someone isn’t going to do their job right. That might sound really negative, but it has happened so many times on this project, I’ve come to accept that it will happen at virtually every step. Now at least I know to watch for it and hopefully catch the mistakes before they cost us too much time.

We ended up using four different types of insulation in the house. In the exterior walls we used Net-And-Blow or Blown-In-Bats (BIBs). Since our exterior walls are 2×6 we figured it would be good to use the full cavity. And with the loose fill blown in, the insulation goes around everything in the wall like wires, cables and outlet boxes. They cover the walls with a fabric and then blow the insulation in (see video above). This results in a R-24 insulation. As I mentioned earlier, we had 3″+ of closed cell foam sprayed in the rim joist bays (video below) resulting in about R-21 or so. Then in the basement ceiling we had foil faced batts installed for an R-11. This was mostly to help force the main floor radiant heat upwards. Then once the drywall is put on the ceilings on the main floor, they’ll fill the attic with 3 feet or more of loose-fill insulation resulting in an approximate R-50 insulation value. Hopefully this will make sure we stay warm in the winter, cool in the summer and have no drafts on our necks.

Some photos too:

Construction Construction Materials

Dry Stacked Slate Bump-Out

Way back when we were working on the design of our house, we wanted to keep the house under a 1,500 sq ft footprint. It sounds easy, but it’s really not. We ended up getting there with the help our our architect. He came up with a great idea to bump out the foundation around our staircase. This helped by saving space inside the house, made the roof line a bit more interesting, and also helped to make the front of the house more interesting.

We decided to accentuate this part of the house by using a different material on the exterior. We considered wood but decided against this after we realized this would get more sun that we first anticipated. And with the sun and UV being extremely strong in Colorado that would mean a lot of maintenance. After more consideration we decided on a dry-stacked slate stone. This is real stone that comes in 2 sq ft panels and corners. There is no grout and the stones are of different thicknesses. This gives it a look like the stones are stacked without mortar (or dry). It was nice that our soon-to-be neighbor to the west (Leonard) is a stone mason. Friday and today he and his helper (Mike) got the job done. We think it turned out great. You be the judge.

Building Green Construction

Evaporative (Swamp) Cooler

We got our evaporative cooler (also known as a swamp cooler) installed over the weekend and it passed inspection today. This is great to get our cooling completed. We knew we didn’t want central air conditioning mainly because we have in-floor radiant heat and no ducts in the house. In addition, central air wouldn’t really work with our house. Central air takes hours to drop the house temperature a single degree. And then when you get the house cooled down, you have to leave it closed up. Well, with our 15-foot wide door open in the kitchen, we figured A/C wouldn’t work very well. So we opted for a swamp cooler. But it’s hard to get people to install a swamp cooler because they don’t make much money on it. All the HVAC contractors we talked to wanted to install A/C and didn’t seem interested in bothering with a swamp cooler. But, in the end we found a company that agreed to do it for us. And an added bonus is Xcel Energy has a rebate on a whole house evaporative cooler, so we should make out ok.

In the Upper Midwest of the USA, where Amy and I are from, no ones uses an evaporative cooler for the simple reason they don’t work up there. An evaporative cooler works by blowing air through a wet filter making the air moist. The moisture in the air then evaporates which uses energy (also known as heat) which actually cools the air. The moist air is also why this is called a swamp cooler by some.  The Upper Midwest is too humid for this to work, but in Colorado where the humidity is regularly below 10% in the summer, this works perfectly. To top it off, it is a very energy efficient way to cool because all one is using is a little water for moisture and a little electricity to run a blower. The way the system generally works is the moist air blown into a central room and then an open window allows the air to flow where you want it. In other words, you are SUPPOSED to open the doors and windows with a swamp cooler. We look forward to having you all over for a refreshing summer day in the near future.