Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thanks, Tim! And Sunday Progress

Last night, Andreas and I enjoyed a delicious bottle of Prosecco, which a neighbor (Tim) gave us several weeks ago as a thank you gift for the tour of the construction site we gave him. The gift was unnecessary, but greatly appreciated. We raised our glasses toasting Tim and the other, gracious, residents of Falls Church, who we have enjoyed meeting over the past several months.

Today we cleaned more. It's not glamorous, but it is necessary. We vacuumed in the basement, preparing for more scrubbing of the floor. And the upstairs, where we cleaned up around the duct system registers. And Andreas broke up more concrete that was dropped around the lot by Bartley's crew. I think that's the last of it. Finally, we placed plastic sheeting down over the newly-poured concrete floor to protect that when the windows are installed tomorrow - at long last.
Sorry, no photos again today. Except one of the tasty Prosecco!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Progress

We started work early this morning. The first task to tackle was filling in the basement window wells with stone. Of course we didn't want to fill them up all the way, but there was a deep mud pit area in each window well and that needed to be filled in, up to the base of the window well insert. We bought 1/2 ton of inexpensive #57 crushed stone to fill up most of the pit, and 1/2 ton of a more expensive decorative stone (it's called chalet) to top that off. So what you see from inside the basement is only the decorative stone. We couldn't have put any more stone in the bed of my little Ford Ranger since we already were close to maximum weight. So we thought we might have to make a second run for stone. Then it occurred to me that we could make lemonade out of the lemons Bartley's crew handed us this week. We broke up the leftover concrete they had carelessly dumped on our lot and put that in the window well pits first. We covered the broken up concrete (which is as if we had just put some larger rocks down first) with the #57 crushed stone next. It worked out well - we didn't need to make a second trip for stone and we used some of that concrete and didn't have to take it to the Fairfax County dump. There's still some left, but we think we might be able to use that for another project.

After a quick lunch, we filled the bed of my truck with free Wood Chip mulch from the City of Falls Church. We used some of it to freshen up a neighbor's yard area where some muddy water from our construction site ended up after a heavy rain earlier this week, some of it covered over the mulch Bartley's crew dumped concrete on, and the rest of it went on the corner of the lot to stabilize some soil, hoping to minimize any future run off.

Now came for the hard work - cleaning the basement floor. As we wrote in a post some time ago, before the sump pumps were installed (and once after they were installed when a crew unplugged the sump pump right before a heavy rain) we ended up with water in our basement. The water brought with it some very fine dirt that sat on the basement floor for months while we've been focused on construction. We decided to clean that up so we can soon stain the basement concrete floor. It took a few hours on hands and knees with a scrub brush, and now the basement bedroom, closet, and bathroom is clean. The floor is drying and we'll test the coloring for the soy-based stain tomorrow before we clean another part of the basement and then put down some plastic tarp to try to keep the area from getting dirty again.

Sorry there are no pictures today; we were busy working and I forgot to snap some photos. It's too dark in the basement to take good photos with the iPhone, so I'll try to bring a real camera tomorrow.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Progress

A few steps forward, a few steps nowhere. Bernie from Clarke County Plumbing connected both our sump pumps, and removed our temporary sump. Once power is connected to the house, we'll have two sumps running as necessary to ensure the water level stays tame (below the house, that is).

The sump outflow into the drain tile:

A step nowhere was the power connection. Dominion Power talked a good talk about service standards to connect the permanent power, promising an install within three weeks of the order date. We originally were told it would be last week. Then on Monday, we were promised this week, absolutely, the power would be connected. Miss Utility has spray painted all of our neighbors' yards so often that it looks like kids came through marking graffiti! But still no permanent power service. We'll stay on their case - we need the power to be connected on Monday, or we may have to manage new challenges.

That new challenge is the delivery of the rainwater recapture tanks. Three tanks, 1,400 gallons per tank, totaling 4,200 gallons of rainwater. Those, too, were supposed to have been delivered this week, but they didn't make it. We didn't push that at all since Dominion Power's subcontractor has been a no-show.

The folks at ARS continue to do a great job installing the ducting for the TRV. They'll be back on Tuesday and they expect to finish then. The weather hoods for the TRV were supposed to come in today, guessed it...they didn't. We're hoping they'll arrive on Monday, and Bob DeMarr's crew can come out to drill the holes in the TerraBricks for the TRV air inlet and exhaust, as well as the dryer exhaust and fireplace fresh air inlet. Demarr has a core drill which will work perfectly for each cut. Tools are a wonderful thing!

Piedmont Roofing came today and installed the flashing around the East, South, and West side of the house. It looks like they did a nice job, but Aaron will have to inspect it when he's back on our project next week. We don't know if Piedmont re-sealed the flashing on the Northern side, which seems to have been allowing water through at the seams.

And we inspected Bartley's work with the concrete floor. Overall, the floor is really cool and it's definitely the contemporary look we're going for. Bartley's crew did a pretty good job with making the floor as smooth as possible. My three complaints are: 1) the shower was poured to the wrong height - it's too low as compared to where the drain was set, and now the water won't go down the drain unless we install tile on the shower floor which will cost us more money and is not the look we want. 2) they tracked mud into the still-wet concrete, so we have a few spots throughout the first floor where one can see mud in the now-dry concrete. The crew knew this was to be our final floor finishing - nothing on top except some soy-based stain. We explained that to them before they poured and insisted they be extremely cautious as to not track any dirt or debris in, or allow any dirt or debris to rise to the top, so it was irresponsible of them to allow this. The good news is the soy-based stain color is espresso brown, so it probably won't be a problem at all. I just can't understand why workers simply ignore such important details. 3) The workers were extremely sloppy and they did not clean up their messes. There are drink containers around the house. But most disturbingly, they dumped concrete all over the place and did not clean it up. I heard Aaron give them very clear instruction, and I heard their acknowledgement understanding the instructions, that they needed to be extremely careful about where any concrete is dumped on the lot. It needed to be dumped on OSB (leftover from the parging project) at the front of the lot. Again, instructions ignored and it's extremely disappointing that Bartley's crew did not clean up after themselves. This weekend, Andreas and I will be out there cleaning up after Bartley's mess once again, then driving the concrete to the dump and paying for it to be recycled by Fairfax County. Question for any sub-contractors reading this - why is it so hard for your colleagues to follow some simple instructions/requests?

You can't see clearly in the picture, but here's the shower poured to the wrong height:

Here's their mess:

And, the moment you've been waiting for, the concrete first floor:

Windows - Now Scheduled for Monday Install

We just learned that the clerestory windows are now at Quality Window and Door and are scheduled to be installed this Monday. We know that the casing for one of the windows was broken and we haven't been told when that replacement window will arrive. But Quality said we should install the broken window anyway and replace it when the new one comes. Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well on Monday!

Renovation Nation Update

I'm back from my business trip to Florida and wanted to provide a quick update. The publicist for the Planet Green channel commented on my earlier blog post providing some clarification. She said, "My name is Janice Sample and I am the Publicist for Planet Green. I checked the schedule and it doesn't show your episode is airing tomorrow; I apologize for any confusion. I will find out when the episode will air and I will see what we can do to make sure you get a chance to view it. I will be in touch.

Best and warmest regards,

Janice, I appreciate your taking the time to look that up and comment on the blog posting.

When I receive more information on the air date for the episode with our project, I'll let everyone know!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Pictures From Yesterday's Concrete Pour

The pump is controlled via remote control:

Pouring the Shower:

Tools used to smooth the concrete:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Concrete Pour

They're boarding my flight to Fort Lauderdale (quick, overnight work trip), but I wanted to post these pics from the start of the concrete pour this morning. I haven't seen the end progress, but Andreas said that Bartley did a great job. P.S. The concrete is a green mixture with 40% slag (or fly ash, I didn't catch which one).

Renovation Nation

We received an email stating that the Renovation Nation episode featuring our house will be shown this Friday, August 28 at 9:00pm EDT on the Planet Green channel. However, when I look at TV Guide on-line, it indicates that two different projects will be shown on this show on that date.

With that disclaimer, please tune in to Renovation Nation this Friday, just in case the episode with our house is on. And if anyone has Planet Green channel and you'd like to invite Andreas and me over to watch the show, drop me a comment here. We don't own a TV. Ironic, I know.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Inspections and Getting Ready for the Last Pour

Today was our day of inspections. First, the City's building inspector came out for the electrical inspection. Pending a few items, we passed the inspection: one box had too many wires in it, one wasn't raised out of the floor high enough, and ... we have to have a light switch for exterior lights next to each exterior door including all 10 sliding glass doors - needless to say at this stage that's impossible, so we're going to have the lights either on a timer or a motion sensor. Ugh.

The next visit from the City was the erosion control inspector. He was just doing his usual "post storm" rounds, and commented that our erosion control measures looked good - in particular, the dug-out silt fence on the south side (see my earlier post). Phew!

And lastly, the City's urban forester stopped by to check on whether we had managed to mangle any trees. Since we hadn't all was well on that front, too.

Some more progress. First, a picture of the radiant heat pipes on the first floor that Mike and I had laid over the weekend, getting ready for the concrete pour on Wednesday.

Next, Tim Griffin from ARS came, with an ARS field service technician and his team of two installers. We had set them a hard task: the TRV (total recovery ventilator - a Lifebreath product that's a combination of both and ERV plus an HRV) that we had bought for them to install was new to them, and they had to spend some time getting familiar with it. After a bit of head scratching, and realizing it was easiest with the manual held upside down (really!) they had figured it out. Their installers cut the floor penetrations, both for the TRV, and for the ducting for a future "should-we-ever-need-it" Air Conditioning system. One word about their crew: they were the cleanest people to work on our project yet. The minute they saw our shop vac, they started using it. I was very pleased.

The floor penetrations they cut, and fitted with boots, are one of the last things we needed to get ready to pour concrete. The only things still left are a few pieces of blocking (so the concrete doesn't run into places where we don't want it, like the basement, or our windows), and we'll be ready!

(And, by way of explanation, in case you're wondering about ERVs and HRVs ... an HRV is a Heat Recovery Ventilator. It extracts the sensible heat - the heat you can feel - from the exhaust air and transfers it to the fresh supply air. An ERV, an Energy Recovery Ventilator, does that plus it also transfers the latent heat - the heat it took to evaporate moisture into the air - and so has some dehumidifying effect as well. The drawback of the pure ERV unit is that, since its core is made from paper, it is susceptible to damage from freezing in cold temperatures. Combining both an ERV and an HRV and adding a defrost cycle fixes the freezing problem, gives you the best of both ERV and HRV, and results in what Lifebreath calls a ... TRV - Total Recovery Ventilator.)


The last few days have been a time to take care of some responsibilities.

Remember a post way at the beginning of this journey about me being the Responsible Land Disturber? Really what that means is that I'm the person to make sure muddy water doesn't run into our neighbours' yards or into the street. Well, we had quite a bit of rain over the weekend, and combined with the digging from the folks who put our gas line to the house (National Pipeline, under contract to Washington Gas), the silt fence on the south side of our lot was covered up to the top in mud. So, being responsibly, I spent a few hours on Sunday digging out the silt fence. Not very glamorous, but necessary.

The other responsibility we had was to make Mrs Brown's lot look nice again, after borrowing it for so long. I found some more leaf mulch at the City (free!) and hauled another (we had already previously done a few mulch runs) four truck loads to the lot. This is what her lot looks like now. Better?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Long Progress Report

Before I head off to San Diego for a quick work trip (27 hours out of town, 12 of which will be at an airport/on an airliner), I wanted to give a brief progress report on construction.

While we remain frustrated that several subcontractors think it's perfectly OK to not show up when they say they'll be there, there are some bright spots:

Tim Griffin from ARS has been working with us to calculate the HVAC loads for the house and determine the ducting requirements. An energy efficient, air sealed house is a lot different to work with than conventional construction. And our passive solar design adds another twist. Tim has experience with green construction and the Earthcraft Virginia program. And our budget constraints offered another challenge. Tim designed a system and lined up a crew - they're scheduled to start the duct installation on Monday.

The last four days were absolutely exhausting. Andreas had three off-days in a row, so I took some vacation days from work and also spent Wednesday morning on the project. We worked our tails off on the house. I wish everyone we're paying to assist and manage this construction project were doing the same.

Wednesday morning, Aaron and I installed the fan and the fresh air intake system to the fireplace and set that in place.

Starting on Thursday, I spent a full 10 hours on my hands and knees vacuuming the first floor of the house with the shop vac so there would be no dust and debris to contaminate the concrete floor when it's poured next week. Despite multiple requests for workers to clean their shoes before entering, most folks just kept walking in, tracking more dirt for me to vacuum up. I don't mean to sound so negative. But, really, how difficult is it to clean off your shoes before walking into the house, especially after you've been specifically asked to, with the reason for the request explained to you?

While I was inside vacuuming, Andreas was completing numerous projects, including digging a trench to install the drain tile so the sump pump outflow will run under our intended garden area into the stream at the back of the lot. It looks great and is ready for Bernie to install the two cast iron sump pumps next week.

Elmer sent a crew on Thursday evening to install the nailer strips along the exterior walls (the TerraBrick walls). This was to fix mistakes Aaron had made when he cut and installed nailer strips some time ago, but they were of varying heights, so they all had to be removed and trashed. One of the considerations when building with a solid exterior is how to place electrical outlets along those walls. Ours will be centered in a baseboard. The size of the nailer strip in our house is extremely important, as the electrical boxes are screwed into that, and it also is the nailer strip for the baseboards. It needed to be a specific height so that the 1.5" of concrete would not come into the electrical boxes and so the electrical outlets would be a consistent height throughout the baseboards. It was good to get that corrected, since we're hoping that Bartley will be able to come on Wednesday to pour the concrete floor on the main level of the house.

After months and months attempting to get Washington Gas to install service at our house, their subcontractors came on Thursday early afternoon to do the street cut. First thing Friday they were back to trench on the lot and bring the gas line to the back of the house. It was only after I made a phone call to an executive at Washington Gas & Light Holdings that we saw any action. That's all water under the bridge now, but here's a special thanks to WGL Holdings' Marcellous Frye for getting the right people on the job for us.

Piedmont Roofing's crew was supposed to come on Thursday, but they ran over on another project, so they were to be on our project early Friday morning. Mid-afternoon Friday, they finally showed up. But they were not prepared to do what Aaron said he asked them to do. So they installed the roof boots on the plumbing and radon vent and promised to come back on Saturday. They didn't show up this morning. They had several hours of work time before the rain, so it's disappointing they were no-shows.

Tom (the electrician) came on Friday morning and finished everything he needed to for the electrical rough-in inspection. Andreas scheduled that for 9am on Monday.

Accurate Insulation was scheduled to come Friday morning to install the rain gutters. Only one person showed up. He looked at our house and said he couldn't do it himself, so he'd have to get help and come back on Saturday. He said he'd be at our lot by 8am. We showed up at 8:10 and he was there, with a co-worker, only to inform us that the job was COD. Aaron never sent us a contract and most vendors accept payment afterwards. So I drove home to get the checkbook and was back on-site an hour later only to learn that the crew didn't have screws long enough to attach the downspouts through the EIFS and into the concrete columns. So I drove to Brown's Hardware in Falls Church, but they didn't have any 5" stainless steel screws the Accurate folks requested. I then went to Home Depot. They didn't have any either, so I bought some 4" screws (the longest they had) and some 5" lag bolts. As it turned out, neither of those options worked, but the 4" TapCons I had in my truck (leftover from affixing the extruded foam board to the basement walls) fit the bill. All of that running around was a waste of time. After they left, Andreas and I attached some drain tile to direct the water away from the house. As soon as we were done, the rain started to fall. So I don't have any pictures of the gutter and downspouts yet.

After weeks and weeks and weeks, Quality Window and Door sent a service guy out to repair the sliding glass doors that were difficult to slide, install some weather stripping on a sliding glass door that didn't have some, and fix the loose-fitting locks on two of the swinging exterior doors. This was the third service guy to come out to work on the doors. Well, he got most of it done, but we'll need a fourth visit. He didn't have any weather stripping with him, so he couldn't do that. He fixed the two sliding glass doors. And he fixed one of the two locks. Maybe the fourth time will be the charm and someone can bring weather stripping and properly fix that remaining jiggly lock problem. How difficult is this...really?

Loudoun Stairs supposedly was going to come by on Friday to measure for the staircase to the basement and also bring some photos of what the staircase would look like. But they didn't show up. Can anyone recommend a good (but affordable) stair company for some basic stairs into the basement?

Andreas and I installed the pex tubing on the first floor this afternoon (Saturday). We didn't finish until after dark so, again, no photos. Clearly we were focused on getting the job done and not on documenting that for the blog. Sorry folks. We'll snaps some pics later.

While I'm on a flight to the West Coast tomorrow, Andreas plans to clean the basement floor so that can dry and allow us to test some sample coloring for the concrete floor stain when I'm back on the project Tuesday evening. There's a lot more on the schedule for next week, but I guess it will get done only if the subcontractors show up. These days, I'm not holding my breath for that! And please don't ask me about the clerestory windows.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Short Update

I'd love to write a nice, long update describing in detail everything that's been going on. But I can't. That's because very little has happened at the house. It's extremely frustrating that more is not happening. But people aren't following through on their commitments and there's little control we have over subcontractors. On the positive side, the plumbing passed the rough-in inspection, so we have a green light with that. Elmer's crew finished the cement parging, but they left a huge mess we're still trying to get cleaned up. Aaron brought his pressure washer, so we'll be cleaning the basement floor thoroughly and then staining it. And don't even ask about the windows. You do not want to get me started on what an awful, painful, unbelievable situation this has been.

I know it will be wonderful when it's all done. But with most folks slow to respond or not showing up when they promise, I doubt this house ever will be done.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Parging's Complete, Plumbing Rough-ins Complete

I'm a day late in posting this - I had trouble with my Internet connection last night after I uploaded the post on the mulch. Elmer's crew completed the cement parging of the interior walls yesterday.

The crew helped our construction manager, Aaron, place the fireplace in its spot in the living room. Unfortunately, when they uncrated the fireplace, they noticed that some of the stones that run along the base of the fireplace were cracked and others were chipped. I guess that's understandable, considering the fireplace was shipped all the way from Belgium. (Don't talk to me about that carbon footprint - actually, it's an exceptionally efficient fireplace that can heat our entire first floor with just a few logs.)

Our plumber, Bernie with Clarke County Plumbing, installed the rough-ins for the basement bathroom and ran the lines for the sump pumps.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stabilizing Soil

On Saturday, we spent much of the day working to stabilize the soil by placing mulch on our lot and the back yard of the house next door (which we borrowed for a period of time during construction). We used up all of the leaf mulch the City of Falls Church had, and we used a good bit of their wood chip mulch as well. We'll find some more leaf mulch, either in Arlington or Fairfax County, so we can finish placing that in the neighbor's yard and then seed a lawn to replace the lawn/weed mixture we killed with the clay earth stored there for several months.