Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Where Has The Time Gone????

I spent over 24 hours during the last two days working on the house, but I don't seem to have much to show for it. A lot of time was spent running to different stores (and stuck in traffic between stores). A lot of little items were needed, like wood filler to cover the nail holes on the baseboard and casing, and some big items too, like the double bowl granite/composite kitchen sink.

We're still waiting for the plumber and the electrician to show up. The electrician said he'd call when he's back from visiting family. I'm guessing that'll be some time in 2010. The plumber was scheduled to come yesterday to connect the gas line to the hot water heater, install the heat trap, the temperature control valve, and the expansion tank. He didn't show up, but he sent his father. He puttered around for an hour or so, installed the heat trap, and then left for the day, saying they'd be back Tuesday or Wednesday.

It seems like we're so close to finishing, yet so far away. Hoping to get closer and closer to the "finishing" idea, we are moving forward with Access National Bank to get our ducks lined up for the conversion from construction loan to mortgage. The appraiser came today to measure and look around. He seems to be familiar with the neighborhood and with green construction. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the appraisal comes in the same, or higher, than it did last year at this time when we were working to obtain our construction loan. I'm taking it as a good sign that today's Washington Business Journal email news summary led off with a story about real estate prices climbing in the DC area. Hopefully our appraiser read that story!

The highlight of today was when Jason and Matt, two City of Falls Church officials, came to inspect the final grading. We passed that inspection! Thanks to Bob DeMarr and his crew for fixing the job Bartley didn't get right but still wanted to charge a premium for. Immediately after passing the inspection, I called Maryann Ogle from Terra Landscaping to schedule the gravel driveway/parking area and the permeable paver walkway installation. The weather forecast isn't great for the next few days, but Maryann will monitor the weather and send the crew as soon as there's good news in the forecast. Maryann pointed us in the right direction to schedule wood chip mulch delivery from the City, so we'll soon (hopefully) receive a truck load of mulch to scatter along the lot.

I spent some time today working on the master shower. Another challenge I dealt with was that the master bathroom shower pan wasn't poured properly. There should have been a slope to the drain, but it ended us more like small hills and valleys. That left lots of places for water to settle, instead of drain. I rented a grinder from Ace Tool Rental in Falls Church and spent a good bit of the afternoon grinding down the high spots, checking with the level, and ensuring the water now heads towards the drain. I poured water into the shower pan and it all went in the right direction. Yay!

After that task was successfully completed, I laid out the 1" x 1" tiles for the shower floor to find the best fit using the least number of tiles. When we ordered the tiles at Amicus, we thought it would take 21 of the 12" x 12" tile mats, but I was able to configure it using only 17. Since we had to buy a box, which contains 24, that leaves me with an extra 7 sq.ft. of beautiful carbon floor tile. Hmmmm, what can I tile with that?

Tomorrow I'll mix up some Thinset and install the floor tiles. The wall tiles will follow. Another one of my shopping stops today was to order a threshold/sill for the shower curb. Actually, on my way back from IKEA yesterday, I stopped at Community Forklift (kind of like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore) but they were closed. I was looking for a remnant of granite, Silestone or marble for the threshold. Since I couldn't get it at Community Forklift, I bought a remnant retail. The advantage of buying the remnant retail is that they will polish both edges for me. The likelihood of finding that at a second hand shop was pretty slim.

Here are some miscellaneous pics, as well as the long-overdue photos of the completed deck (well construction has been completed - we'll stain it and seal it in the Spring time).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Interior Glass

I forgot to mention in my last posting that Tony Sommer from Sommer Glass came by yesterday with the five interior glass panels. He installed those over the three doors in the hallways, the door into the guest bathroom, and the door into the master closet. Andreas and I were working on installing the kitchen cabinets in their exact location and leveling the cabinets. We also had to build a bulkhead off the back of the island since Aaron told Tom (from Creager Electrical) where to bring electrical wire through the floor - but Aaron apparently had the location wrong by several inches. So we are adjusting in the field again. Another Cornerstone mistake we encountered, was that the fan control for the fireplace was installed incorrectly, so the automatic shut-off feature couldn't activate. We quickly found out it was installed wrong after we started a fire and turned the fan on. Andreas diagnosed the problem and fixed that this morning so our fireplace fan control will work properly from now on.

Back to the interior glass -- Tony did a nice job with the glass, and he even used an environmentally-friendly glass cleaner to clean the salt spray from the roads off the glass before installing it. I'll take some pictures and post those with the deck photos next week. Tony will be back in a couple of weeks (after we install the master bathroom shower tile) to measure and then install the white laminated frameless shower glass wall for us.

One Step Closer to Toasty Warm

For several days I had intended to take a picture of the radiant system in the basement. We previously posted pics of the pex tubing that's in the floor, which are the veins of the system. but the heart of the system is quite impressive. And it's mostly installed. We purchased the system from Radiantec and they did a fantastic job answering any and all of our questions as we worked with Bernie from Clarke County Plumbing to connect the system. Speaking of Bernie, he claims he's still snowed in, so he didn't show up at all this week to work on our house. Andreas pleaded with him yesterday to come next week - and plan to spend the whole week there.

While the system itself is connected and pressure tested, Bernie hasn't fully installed/connected the Polaris gas water heater. He was supposed to connect the gas line on a previous day, but he deferred that to a future day, and hasn't been back. He also needs to install the expansion tank, a heat trap (as required by Earthcraft for certification) and connect the overflow to the drain pan or sump pump. Today, Washington Gas came to install the meter outside, so as soon as Bernie shows up again, we'll be ready to fire it up and test it out.

Then the other piece that needs to be connected for the radiant system to be operational, is the thermostat controls. Andreas installed all of the thermostats on the walls and now we need Tom the electrician from Creager Electrical to show up to connect the temperature control system (the brain) to the heart so we can control the temperature in each of the five zones.

It will be really wonderful to have heat in the house, since we still have some work to do inside. But I suspect most of our inside work will be complete before Bernie and Tom are able to finish their work.

The outside of the house has been a better situation. Jeff Gunther from Grove Construction and his sidekick Andrew did a wonderful job on the deck, which they finished yesterday afternoon. I'll take some pictures of the final product and post those early next week. Jeff and Andrew need to come back to clean up their work site (which has been in the neighbor's back yard) and Jeff will finish installing the cedar siding that Aaron Holmes's crew never completed. That's scheduled for Saturday, January 2nd since Jeff is taking some well-deserved time off around the holidays. I think the house will look much better from the street once the cedar siding is visible on the Western side of the house.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Yesterday, our neighbors (Mandy, Jamie, Jack and Abby) dropped off a Christmas card and some cookies for both Andreas and me. We had some cookies as dessert tonight - they were a delicious, moist gingerbread. Yummy! It was a great dessert and tasty treat, especially after a long day at work. Thank you and Merry Christmas to our wonderful neighbors!

Winter's Here

To celebrate Winter, Andreas installed the dampers in the fireplace, I replaced the broken stones with the replacements Wittus shipped to us, and I built a fire in our new Bodart & Gonay Optiplex Fireplace. It's a serious fireplace and it worked great!

Also, a special thanks to our neighbor, Jeff, who volunteered to help our neighbor/contractor Jeff Gunther with the deck railing construction. I came back from my shopping spree at IKEA (I bought a temporary vanity/sink for the basement bathroom) and Amicus Green Building Center (I picked up the floor tile for the master bath shower, the wheat board for the kitchen countertops, and a sealant for the wheat board) and found Jeff helping Jeff with our house construction. Wow!

As I was putting together the IKEA vanity, Jeff's wife Helen stopped by to visit. I proudly showed her the radiant floor system in the basement (which I still haven't photographed), the step lights, the new master bath tile, etc. It's fun to show off our accomplishments!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowy Sunday

We started the morning with a bit of a shopping spree at Home Depot, picking up some miscellaneous plumbing and electrical supplies so Tom and Bernie can be extremely productive tomorrow. We proceeded to the house, following behind people who clearly had no business driving in the snow. They didn't know how to do so safely, and for the public's sake, they should have stayed off the roads. It was good we went to the house last night to shovel a path to the house and clear the decks. That allowed us to start working productively as soon as we got to the house.

Since I hadn't been in the house for almost two weeks, I had to go around and inspect the work that had been done. I smiled all the way through. First, Jeff Gunther and his helper Andrew are doing an amazing job with the deck. I'm impressed with their work. Season's Services did a nice job touching up the EIFS they cut away in order for the ledger board to be attached to the house. Craig Smith's doing an excellent job with the interior trim carpentry, Marcelino's crew did a nice job finishing the basement bath tile and tiling the upstairs guest bath for me while I was in Pennsylvania with my family. And Andreas and Bernie did an amazing job installing the radiant floor system. It's really quite impressive -- I was in such awe that I forgot to snap some pictures of that. Tom clearly was productive installing lighting fixtures, plugs, etc. and Andreas attached all the face plates right behind Tom as he installed the plugs.

In addition to a number of small tasks, today we attached the two Duravit sinks on the walls - one in the guest bath and one in the master bath. The sinks look great to us - clean lines and minimalist design. The designer of this sink was Phillippe Starck. Before tiling the master shower, we wanted to ensure the Durock was sealed as much as possible, so we used a product called Kerdi, which is made by Schluter Systems. It's an orange colored waterproof membrane that is attached to the Durock using Thinset. Then Thinset's applied to the top of the Kerdi and the tiles are embedded in that Thinset. It's a great system and one that will ensure our shower stays dry for the long term. If you're installing a shower like ours, you might look into using the Schluter Kerdi System which includes a basin as well. Had we known about that product before Bartley poured our shower basin from concrete, we would have used the Schluter System instead. Schluter's a German company, so there's an umlaut over the u, but I don't know how to type that in blogspot.

I hope you enjoy these photos.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Photo Update

A crazy amount of snow is falling in the DC area today! We're heading out to buy a shovel to clear the sidewalks. For now, here are some photos Andreas snapped yesterday with his iPhone showing the progress on the final grading, deck construction, and range hood installation. I'll get some pictures tomorrow of the trim carpentry (baseboards, casings, etc.) progress and the bath tile.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In Loving Memory

Yesterday, my stepfather, Bill Ritz, passed away unexpectedly. This is relevant to the blog, since he enthusiastically and skillfully helped Andreas and I over the course of several weekends as we worked on various projects - painting, staining, installing stairs, cleaning, and the list goes on. Bill was a wonderful person, husband, father who gave so much to others and sought to experience the world and all it has to offer. He will be missed greater than words could ever explain by his family, his friends and everyone else whose life he touched. Rest in peace, Bill.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Little City

The City of Falls Church unleashed a new brand this past week. "The Little City" is how it'll be branded. When I saw that as the leading story in the Falls Church News Press, I wasn't impressed. But I wanted to know why they came up with that, so I flipped through the brand presentation. The branding and explanatory presentation was prepared by the local
SmithGifford advertising firm on behalf of the Falls Church Economic Development Authority.

And now I'm impressed. It's dead-on.

Check out the link to this blog post if you want to see a pdf of the brand presentation. Let me know what you think.

I can't wait till our construction is done, so we can live in our little house in The Little City.

Deck the Halls

I'm back from Montreal and spent the day working on the house. Evidently, I brought the snow with me. One of my priorities was to inspect the work that Jeff Gunther is doing as he constructs the deck. All I can say is, "wow!" So far, it appears that he's doing a very good job with this, as you can see in the pictures.

We had ordered the finish trim wood so Craig can start next week with the trim carpentry. TW Perry's crew dropped the wood in two stages - the first batch, Jeff carried in for us since Andreas and I both were out of town for work. The second batch they dropped in our neighbor's front yard. Fortunately, it was wrapped in plastic, so the wood didn't get damaged with today's rain and snow, but I felt badly that our neighbors had to have a stack of wood on their front lawn for a day until I could get to the house to carry it inside. Walking through the snowy mud wasn't fun, but the wood needed to be moved inside so it can start to acclimate with the house's temperature and humidity level.

In addition to the deck and the wood delivery, a number of other things happened last week. Bernie the plumber came to bring the rainwater capture fresh water line into the house, but realized when he got there that he was missing an attachment to a tool, so he couldn't drill through the foundation. So he moved on to another project - installing the hot water heater. And we uncovered another problem. Aaron Holmes told us this summer that the radon vent was going to be in the utility closet off the basement bedroom, and he had Bernie set PVC piping for the gas hot water heater vent. As Bernie looked at setting up the hot water heater, it occurred to him that it needed to be vented. Andreas reminded him that he already set the PVC piping for the vent. Nope - what's there is the radon venting. Another unbudgeted item - drilling through the foundation for the hot water heater vent.

So after speaking with the City inspector and learning the details of where the natural gas hot water heater vent pipe can go, Andreas arranged for Bob DeMarr's crew to come out to drill a hole near the hot water heater and another in the utility closet for the rainwater line. Andreas made a point to emphasize the importance of cleaning up after they drill the hole, so the crew did an okay job sweeping up the concrete and removing the concrete core, but they totally messed up our finished basement floors trekking gobs of mud throughout the entire basement. It took a long time today to clean up after them, and I'm still not done.

I checked some small items off the to-do list, but I didn't get as many done as I wanted to. Tomorrow's another day and I hope it'll be more productive.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Seasons Services sent a crew out yesterday to remove some of the foam board and EIFS around the house. This is where the 2"x12" pressure treated deck ledger board will be connected to the house with Hilti epoxy bolts.

You might be wondering why this wasn't done before the EIFS was installed, right? So were we, but Aaron from Cornerstone told us we could install the ledger board on top of the EIFS. Wrong again! The code doesn't allow that; the ledger board has to flat up against the concrete foundation and then bolted into that.

Seasons Services removed the extruded foam board along three sides of the house and waterproofed the cut area. Jeff Gunther, who will be building the deck for us, will start installing the ledger board this week. After the ledger board is up, Seasons Services will come back to flash around the ledger board and add new foam board and stucco in any gap that's remaining above the ledger board.

If the weather holds out and it doesn't rain, Bernie with Clarke County Plumbing is scheduled to come in the morning to bring the rainwater tank pipe through the house. Then we can schedule final grading, which will be a most wonderful day!

I'm off to Montreal for work for the week, so I won't be able to blog, but Andreas might provide some updates as time permits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Progress Report

Slow going is all I can say. Andreas worked his tail off in the mud and rain to finish the trenching for the rainwater tank fresh water line to come back to the house. Here are some pictures of his boots, his exhausted face, and the end product.

The next day, the plumber was supposed to come to drill through the foundation to bring the rainwater tank line into the house, but it was raining where he lives (1.5 hours away) so he assumed it was raining where our house is (it wasn't; it was perfectly dry). So he didn't show up. Meanwhile, the banks of the trench caved in and Andreas had to re-dig all of the heavy, water-laden clay out of the trench. I showed up after he had finished and found a wet, unhappy, tired guy who worked hard all day. The plumber is scheduled to come again on Monday and Wednesday. But guess what - rain's in the forecast again, so he probably won't show up.

Meanwhile, the electrician was going to continue on the inside of the house, but he decided he doesn't work during Thanksgiving week. Must be nice.

I spent some time in the basement bathroom working on tile install. The 18" x 18" tiles will be great later on since there will be less grout to clean, but they sure are more difficult to install than the smaller format tiles I have had a lot of experience installing in the past. The new wet saw blade came in handy, but the drill bit I bought from Home Depot probably wouldn't cut through butter, let alone porcelain tile, so I have to find a better option for cutting holes in the tile tomorrow. I hope to finish tiling the basement bathroom tomorrow, then I can move to the guest bathroom upstairs. Here are some pics after I sealed the joints between the Durock sheets, and as I'm installing the tile (which came from Amicus Green Building Center).

We've also worked on other miscellaneous projects, like taping/mudding some drywall in the basement hallway, applying American Clay Earth Plaster around the doors and windows (about 1/4 of the way done with that) and confirming all the details to get the deck started next week.

Any recommendations on a finish carpenter for the trim work? I'm looking for referrals and would love if someone could start soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This Friday - Our House on Planet Green's Renovation Nation

Don't forget to watch the TV show Renovation Nation this Friday, November 20th at 8:00pm EST (check your TV guide for local time/listing). The episode is called "Building Dirt Cheap" and will feature our house.

While the project isn't nearly as cheap as we were led to believe it would be, it sure is environmentally-friendly, which was a primary goal!

If, like us, you don't own a TV, you should be able to purchase this on iTunes to watch on your computer or iPod a week or so after the episode airs.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Amicus, American Clay, Rainwater Tanks, Woodpeckers

What a productive weekend working on the house! Yesterday was gloomy and misty, which provided a nice excuse to pick up our porcelain tile from Amicus Green Building Center. The owner, Jason, was there this weekend so we had a chance to visit with him and bounce ideas off of him. I may have written this before, but it's worth repeating -- before you go to Home Depot or Lowes, check out your local businesses -- especially those specializing in green products -- and support these companies. The knowledge base of the folks at Amicus, complimented by their exceptional customer service is great. But their variety of products and extremely competitive pricing is even better. We've really had great experiences working with Jason and his crew at Amicus, so pay them a visit when you need some supplies.

While picking up the tile, we also stocked up on American Clay Earth Plaster, since we ran out applying it in the guest bedroom and hallway. We had bought a relatively small amount initially, and now we needed more. So we picked up 10 bags of American Clay Loma for the base coat.

After we got to the house, we unloaded the tile and the 50 lb. bags of clay, and then I mixed up four buckets of clay for use this week. Andreas spent time digging a trench by the rainwater tanks for the freshwater pipe to come into the house. It's tough work and slow going.

We were on a tight schedule, since our friends Chris and Greg invited us over to dinner, so we couldn't work through the evening. (The dinner was wonderfully delicious, and it was great to have a fun, enjoyable evening off.)

Sunday was extremely productive. Andreas continued digging the trench and got the PVC piping for the rainwater tanks mostly set up. I worked inside on the American Clay installation. While applying the clay, I was listening to music on my iPod and heard a beat that wasn't consistent with the music. At first, I thought Andreas was attacking the dirt with his shovel. Then I had images of Woodpeckers flashing through my mind. I went to the North side to see if the woodpecker was back. No sign of it. But I head the noise again. I banged on the stucco and, sure enough, the woodpecker flew away from the back of the house. To make a long story short, we now have three holes in the stucco from that stupid woodpecker. It's not wood, there's nothing there for him, why is he doing this? I tried scaring him away, which seemed to work for the rest of today, at least.

Back to plastering -- I should tell you that we've had a change of heart with regard to the color for our walls. The drywall walls (i.e., the interior framed walls) will remain as bright white painted walls. The exterior walls (i.e., the compressed earth block walls) that I'm covering with American Clay, will just be tan -- the natural color of the clay -- which is called Snow Canyon. When I'm applying the plaster, it reminds me of chocolate icing my Mom used to put on cupcakes. When that dries, it turn much lighter and looks like a suede jacket. It's warm, inviting, and masculine. And it goes great with the stained concrete floors, the kitchen cabinets, and the white walls and ceiling. So rather than trying to lighten that clay through expensive additives, we're going to stick with the natural snow canyon look. The basement clay application will be lighter, though, since I already have a 50 lb bag of the final coat of plaster mixed with the white additive.

By the end of the evening, the application of American Clay was completed in the entire great room. Tomorrow night, I'll apply it in the master bathroom and start on the master bedroom. Hopefully by Wednesday the entire main level of the house will be covered in clay - in a good way. Then I can move on to bathroom tile installation!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Our Erdhaus Featured in Washington Business Journal Daily Update

I opened today's Daily Update from the Washington Business Journal and scanned the headlines to see what stories were worth a quick read. Story #2 sounded interesting, and I thought it was another house the article was referring to. I was excited that it's actually our house featured in the story! The article is mostly right, but it over-represents the house a bit since we won't have solar panels (initially, at least, unless someone donates them or I win the lottery). The story quotes the house designer, John Spears, with Sustainable Design Group. It was fun to read about our house in a journal I regularly read. After the house is done, hopefully Dwell magazine will profile it -- then I'll be super excited!

Click on the link for the full story.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

IKEA's Cool, but American Clay's Cooler

Last week, Andreas and I spent two evenings starting to put together our kitchen cabinets from IKEA. I finished most of the cabinet building today. Originally, we planned to get some awesome eco-friendly cabinets from Amicus Green Building Center, but we'll save those for some time in the future when we have more money. For now, we're on an IKEA budget. I'm pleased with the quality of their cabinets. They are an extremely good value and they'll look great after we measure out the exact location for the cabinets and set them in place, add the plinth block to hide the adjustable cabinet feet, and put the "perfekt" finishing pieces on the ends and along the back of the island to give it a finished look. The big cabinet in the middle is where the sink will be and to the right of that is where the dishwasher will go.

Speaking of dishwashers, Lowe's was re-scheduled to deliver our new appliances tomorrow (Monday). But when I got off the plane returning home from Tampa last night (where I presented on business aviation to the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association aviation summit), I had a voice mail from Lowe's stating they'd be at the house on Sunday to deliver the appliances. So I skipped church to ensure I was at the house for the delivery, and then got a call from the delivery driver telling me he was going to deliver the refrigerator. But what about the other appliances? Well, it seems they screwed it up a bit and didn't have everything together on one truck. So no delivery today - all the appliances now will come tomorrow. This will be their third attempt, so hopefully the third time is the charm.

Neighbors from across the street, Helen and Jeff, stopped by to visit and check on our progress. Falls Church is such a nice place and our neighbors are wonderful and enjoyable people. It was nice to visit with them.

After I finished putting the cabinets together, I loaded the truck with the cardboard from the IKEA flat-pack boxes and was about to head to the city recycling bin to drop the cardboard off. But I got a better offer! Sarah from next door invited me over to their place for some homemade soup her husband had prepared. I enjoyed a bowl of delicious soup with kale, potato, and sausage, as well as some yummy chicken barbecue. We visited for a while after I ate and I enjoyed watching their daughter, Ellie, play as only a careless toddler can do. To be so young with so few worries again.... :-)

With a full tummy, I went back to work and primed some of the exterior walls with the American Clay Sanded Primer. It is what it sounds like - primer with sand in it. I applied that to smooth areas of the walls (e.g., where the drywall met the earth block wall, the drywall installers feathered joint compound onto the earth block wall to ensure a smooth seam at the corner). The primer seals that joint compound and the sand gives it grit so the American Clay Earth Plaster sticks to it.

While plastering, I had another nice diversion when my sister, Jessica, called. We hadn't talked in a while so it was nice to catch up and hear about the good things happening in her life. I wrapped up plastering after I ran out of plaster in the one bucket I had carried upstairs. I'm taking Monday off, so I'll bring a second bucket up then and continue plastering the guest bedroom. Scheduled interruptions tomorrow will be the appliance delivery and Ferguson dropping off the toilet bowls, sinks, faucets, etc. And I'll drop that cardboard off for recycling, before it rains later this week.