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.