Friday, January 30, 2009

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile

On Tuesday morning, during an ice and snow storm, we woke up before the crack of dawn and headed to JMB Fabricators in Annapolis, MD to purchase 45' of root protection matting and 100 landscaping nails to install the matting. We had no idea what to expect, but it's a good thing we took my Ranger instead of Andreas's Volkswagen Golf. The 13' long roll was thick and orange. The nice folks at JMB helped us load the roll onto my truck and fasten it down (thanks, Dad, for the ratchet tie-down straps you gave me a while back!). Some people likened the end result to a modern-day Oscar Mayer Wienermobile driving from Annapolis to downtown DC. See for yourself - Andreas jumped out of the truck to snap this photo at the red light at the intersection of Rhode Island & Connecticut Avenues, NW.


After work, we went back to the lot to install the Root Protection Matting. It still was sleeting and freezing rain, mixed with some snow, but we had to get it installed so the City's urban forester could inspect our tree protection measures. The landscape nails were no competition for the frozen ground and compacted gravel driveway, where we were installing the matting. The gravel won. We could only get about 1/2 of the landscape nails in; the rest bent wildly as we attempted the install. The next morning, Andreas and I each visited Home Depot to get progressively more aggressive in our approach to install this matting. Ultimately, the galvanized spikes saved the day and the matting was installed per the tree protection plan. Yay!

Here's the lot with the matting installed:

We passed the tree preservation inspection with flying colors. And now the construction entrance has been installed by Bartley Corporation. I have not seen the gravel construction entrance but will drive by the lot tomorrow!

Monday, January 26, 2009

I'm Plastered

OK, not really, but I got your attention, didn't I?

A couple weeks ago, I took a class on American Earth Clay Plaster application. The class was offered at Amicus Green Building Supply in Kensington, MD ( This a really cool, environmentally-friendly product that we've admired for some time. This is a finishing product for walls, ceiling, etc. that can be used in lieu of paint. Finishing the Compressed Earth Block interior of the house with American Clay Earth Plaster made a lot of sense; it was just a question of cost. I took the class to see if this is something I could do myself, or if it's best left to a professional.

I found the class to be a lot of fun and I walked away knowing that this would be a big project, a lot of work, but something I certainly could handle on my own if I plan accordingly and don't expect the entire house to be plastered in one weekend. I'm excited about this option and thrilled that we won't have to drywall the whole house, but may be able to use this plaster instead.

Here are some photos from my training class. The first photo is my sheet after the first coat; the second is my sheet after some decorative finishes we learned (many of which we won't use since we're seeking a relatively smooth, contemporary surface), and following these are photos of the board other students in the class worked on.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Let Us Break Ground Together

On Martin Luther King Day, just before Andreas and I headed out of town for business trips, we met on our lot with our architect, John Spears; general contractor, Aaron Holmes; and EarthCraft technical advisor, Chris Conway. We gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony to recognize the milestones we achieved so far and commemorate the start of the construction project for our new home. Since it was in the teens and low 20 degrees (F) for several days prior to and during our groundbreaking, the topsoil was frozen and extremely hard, so we were able to break away only a few pieces of dirt. We enjoyed some champagne after the groundbreaking (non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider for Andreas, since he was flying that day). Here are some photos (note the beatiful super-silt and tree protection fencing Andreas installed in the background).

Mike (on left) and Andreas (on right).

Aaron (on left); Mike, Andreas, John (on right).

Chris (on left), Mike, Andreas.


Sorry for not posting over the past couple of weeks. We've been out of town for work most of the time, and working on prepping the lot for construction between trips. We closed on the land on January 2nd and the next week the crew was there to take down the trees that needed to be removed. If you've read all the blog postings, you'll recall that we struggled with the decision on which trees to remove, especially the question of the large maple on the front of the lot. Here's a picture as the trees were being taken down.

In the front of the photo, you see the old, green sheds Andreas and I dismantled. The vast majority of the sheds have been taken to the Fairfax County solid waste center where they'll rot away. As Andreas posted earlier, the metal shed was taken for recycling.

For the most part, the tree branches were turned to mulch and are now being used as a root protection matting to save the three holly trees on the South side of the property. The black walnut tree trunks were hauled away by an artist/furniture designer/woodworker who will use the wood in crafts projects. He's also giving one of the black walnut logs to the Corcoran School for students to use in carving and woodworking projects. We feel that went to a wonderful home since we couldn't afford to have the wood milled and prepped for use in our house.

In addition, almost 1/2 of the tree protection fencing and silt fence for erosion control has been installed by Andreas. The rest should be installed tomorrow while I get caught up on paperwork/administrative items for our home construction project and spend the rest of the day on my real job.

After we get the geotextile material from the distributor this week, we can have the tree protection measures inspected and then the construction entrance can be built. Excavation will begin right after that construction entrance is inspected.

To sum it up, I think we're making good progress so far and we're looking forward to the big dig!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Recycling Pays

One of the old sheds that Mike wrote about in his earlier post went to Potomac Metals to be recycled today. We took all 195 pounds worth of steel there and got ... $2. Who says being environmentally responsible doesn't have a quick payoff!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Shed No Tears

Andreas and I spent much of the weekend taking down the three sheds that were on our new lot. One was metal and two were made of wood. All of them had a lot of junk on the inside we'll have to have hauled away. Per our real estate contact, the sheds were supposed to have been completely empty before closing. Most of the junk that the sheds contained was removed, but there was still a pile of stuff the sellers didn't take out of them. So that was the first order of business; demolition followed.

The metal one (steel, we think) was the easiest of the three to take down and that's now in the back of my truck to take for recycling. The wood ones were more challenging and, in fact, the biggest one is only 95% broken down. We made that much progress only because during a lunch break, Andreas suggested we rent a chain saw to assist with the project. That was a smart recommendation and one that saved us a lot of time and effort.

Also today, we put a letter introducing ourselves and our project at the front door of our neighbors surrounding the lot. We invited them to stop by and visit and we apologized, in advance, for any noise and dust we may make throughout construction. The highlights of the day were when several neighbors stopped by to introduce themselves and say hello. Everyone was exceptionally friendly and we're excited to (eventually) move into the neighborhood.

Sorry we didn't take any pictures today. We were hoping to get the sheds completely torn down, to show the lot without them, but we worked until the sun went down. Andreas will be back on the lot first thing tomorrow morning to meet our arborist who will be starting the tree removal project.

Friday, January 2, 2009

At long last!

Today is the day we thought would never arrive. We just got back from a wonderful meeting at Lighthouse Title in Arlington, VA where Tina guided us through the closing process. At looonnnngggg last - we now own the lot! Or, more accurately, our lender does (Access National Bank in Reston, VA.) Tina and her colleagues at Lighthouse Title and Terri and her colleagues at Access National Bank worked their tails off the last few days - during the holiday season - to wrap up the details for the loan so we could close today. We greatly appreciate their hard work on our behalf and we were extremely impressed with the professionalism and high level of customer service that everyone provided throughout the process.

To make the day even more perfect, our wonderful realtor, Suzanne Fauber with Buck & Associates in Arlington, VA, gave us a bottle of Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. I can't wait to open that to celebrate!

I'm glad the weather forecast for this weekend calls for sun. We will spend tomorrow and Sunday working to clear away the three large garden sheds that currently are on our new property. Andreas has already talked to the tree removal expert and on Monday a crew will be on-site to remove certain trees, including the large maple I wrote about in the beginning of this blog.

We will be able to start construction after a couple more details are worked through with the general contractor and our fantastic lender.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

For Larry M.

Our friend Larry M. has asked me several times to post an image with the floor plan/layout to this blog. He has seen the drawings on paper and asked why they're not posted to this blog. Well, here they are. The first image shows the main level/first floor. That includes two bedrooms located on opposite ends of the house. The master bedroom is on the East side (the right side of the image) and the guest room/office is on the West side (obviously on the left side of the image). The heart of the house contains the kitchen, dining and living rooms all open in one big great room (okay, not so big, but it will feel much more open than if we walled off each room). The entrance to the house will be on the North side (at the top of the picture) just across from the stairs into the basement. In the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs, when one walks in, the ceiling will be lower and as one turns to the great room, with the roof slanting/rising up, the eyes will be drawn to the expanse of windows on the Southern side.

The lower level (aka the basement) will have a third bedroom and rough-in plumbing for a third bathroom. The washer/dryer will go into the basement as well. Eventually we will divide the basement a bit more to add a media room with my wine collection, and there will be a workshop (future airplane building area).

Solar, Solar Everywhere

Yes, I know it's been a long time since we posted anything. The state of the financial markets left us scrambling to find financing after the lender the mortgage broker found for us decided they were no longer going to do construction loans. So we had to start over with finding a bank. More on that later.

Solar, Solar Everywhere - in Bavaria that is. Andreas and I just returned from a Christmas trip to Germany to spend the holidays with his family. One of the things that struck us on this trip was how much solar energy is being captured in Germany. Old barns, old farm houses, new houses, and commercial buildings of all sizes had solar PV panels capturing energy and/or solar water heaters. It was amazing and refreshing. Hopefully that's something we'll see in our country in the not too distant future. Hopefully Obama's commitment to green collar jobs and potential tax incentives for renewable energy options will lead to more affordable solar power in the U.S. Cost certainly is an issue for us, which is why our house will be solar ready instead of solar powered.