Thursday, September 30, 2010


Today was without a doubt the foggiest I've seen on Talbot Avenue, but regardless of the weather it's still lovely up on the hill. And it will be lovelier when I can walk out in this five foot wide deck, which cantilevers out from the back of the first floor.

The framing began this morning, with pressure treated lumber nailed onto the TJIs and LVLs. The actual finished material will be LockDry Watertight Aluminum Decking in a white powder coated finish. The blocking was also being installed this afternoon, and assuming we passed this afternoon's inspection the plywood sheathing will be down by the end of the week.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One Giant Leap For Man

Big steps forward, small steps backward. The TJIs had to come down yesterday so that we could add weatherproof flashing between them and the pressure treated wood, but today they were reinstalled and the team moved ahead and made progress.

Cut outs were made for the front porch and the stairwell, and in addition to the TJIs we used several big, heavy LVL beams to reinforce the floor where there will be upstairs walls to support.

The sub-floor is a thing of beauty, especially with the sun shining on it. It's quite slow going, but we're getting closer to the day when we can start framing the kit.

I even made myself a little bit useful by doing some cleanup of trash and lumber before climbing up my neighbor Randy's cypress tree to get a different perspective of The Minnie House, which you can see below.

Next up is an inspection, then the plywood and we'll be able to walk on the floor for the first time -  and at the same time the framers will bolt pressure treated lumber to the TJIs to frame the 48' x 5' deck.

Monday, September 27, 2010

One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor

I-Joists hanging from Simpson Hangers
Today was indeed the day that the framers started installing the sub-floor. It only took them an hour to get most of the I-beams nailed roughly into place, sitting in Simpson hangers on the front wall (as you can see above) while resting on top of the rear wall.

Tomorrow the rest of the beams will be in position, and blocking will be nailed laterally between each beam. After that we'll be ready to nail down the plywood decking and bring in Chai the Inspector to sign off so that we can move ahead with building the house.

The Bird is the Word

Happy Birthday to Me!
What a wonderful birthday present! Although this wasn't designed by Charles and Ray Eames, it's known as The Eames Bird because it was displayed in their house for over fifty years, and featured in many promotional photos of their furniture. The original was actually from Appalachia, and this version, made by Vitra under license from the Eames Office, is made of black lacquered alder, with wire legs and beady eyes. I can hardly wait to see this in the finished Minnie House.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

King of the Castle! King of the Castle!

Standing atop the faux wall panels (probably not such a good idea!)

Larry the (Para)Lam

And now, happily, there is a mountain again. The Paralam beam was delivered on Friday, and it's now firmly attached to the house with Simpson strong ties.

We took advantage of the spectacular weekend weather to do some much-needed clean-up around the site. I look rather smug and self-satisfied considering I only swept half of the basement, though to be fair, the broom broke in half so it was harder work than it should have been! The other half will have to wait.

It appears that we're ready to start building the sub-floor in the morning. Happy, sunny days!

Friday, September 24, 2010

First There Is A Mountain

"First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is" - Donovan.

By Tuesday morning, we had a finished header for the sliding patio doors, formed by concrete, steel, pressure treated lumber and ICFs (insulated concrete forms).

By Wednesday the concrete header was gone, cut to pieces by Dave the Concrete Cutter and hig Big Ass Saw. On Thursday, Hector the Framer set about rebuilding the header at the same height, using the same materials and starting with the pressure treated lumber, bracing that with several 2x4s.

And by this morning, Friday, the header was gone again. What's up with that, you might well ask? The Mies Police deciding Less is More? Not exactly. Hector the Framer and Rich the Contractor realized that, with the reduced height, we wouldn't be able to pour a sufficient depth of concrete to make a strong header, so we had to ditch that idea and move on the next one: a humungous 8x12 Parallam PSL beam, which will be strong enough on its own to support the entire header load.

A cross-section through the cut concrete. Pretty cool.

The beam should arrive today or on Monday, and then we can move on and start building the sub-floor. In the meantime, here are some more photos...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm a Lumber Jack

No, really. Not many people know this, but before I was born I had a very cool and sporty uncle, an excellent footballer and cricketer who also won war medals in the Territorial Army before tragically dying (of leukemia, I believe) some time after World War II. Although Jews do not name children after living relatives, we do name them for deceased relatives, and I consider myself fortunate to have been given the middle name of Jack, in memory of my long lost uncle whom I sadly never knew.

Needless to say, today all the lumber finally arrived: TJI I-Joists and plywood sheathing for the sub-floor, and pressure-treated wood for the mud sills and the lower retaining wall. It was all piled high on the site on a beautiful warm, sunny day, just sitting there ready for the next exciting stage of the construction process - building the floor, which is now due to start at the beginning of next week.

Today's project was to cut out the entire sliding door header, and to remove the extra 12" of concrete and steel from the rear basement wall, using a big-ass saw with a big-ass diamond blade. While Dave the Concrete Cutter was busy doing that, Hector the Framer was making a start on setting the mud sills. So it's full steam ahead, with the concrete truck booked to return on Friday to (re)pour what will soon be a newly-formed header (replacing the one in the picture below).

As it was such a nice day today, I'll leave you with a few more artsy-fartsy pictures of the sun-kissed Minnie House...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FU But Apparently Not BAR

So yesterday morning I was walking around the site with Ben the Architect, who casually asked me about the height of the basement walls. I told him they were nine feet high. He said eight feet. I said nine. He showed me the plans, and pointed to where it said eight feet. I said... umm... oh. When the contractor has asked me the same question, I said eight feet which, it turns out, was the right answer. One point for me! But they built and poured the basement to nine feet, which is now a teensy weensy problem, if not an insurmountable one.

After many meetings and discussions, it seems that we now need to bring in Dave the Concrete Cutter tomorrow to literally cut the top 12" of  the rear wall and remove the header for the sliding doors. The header will be re-framed and re-poured at the end of the week, and the TGI floor system will now sit on Simpson hangers at the front of the house, as originally designed by Rocio Romero, and on top the newly-lowered basement wall at the rear, to bring us back to the correct elevation.

The view from the basement
 Why bother? Isn't it a good thing to have higher ceilings in the basement? Possibly, but it compromises the look and elevation of the house from the street, making it sit too high and appear too ungainly. It will look inelegant, and would in all probability bug the hell out of me from now until the end of time. So we're going to make the changes now, and return the basement to its correct height. And in future, when I'm asked a question about the house, I'll be more inclined to trust my instincts and stick by my original answer unless and until it's proven wrong!

The garage door opening
On the plus side, I didn't blow a gasket and managed to live by my new motto: Keep Calm and Carry On.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bonus Video of the Kit Arriving in a Big Red Truck

The Kit Arrives in a Bright Red Truck

That's one gorgeous big red truck
A very special day. It may have been three hours late - in fact, it was three hours late - but the big bright red truck eventually chugged its way up the hill to the house. We were worried for a while, but it turned out that Dave the Truck Driver was tired and stopped at Los Banos for a two hour snooze that turned into a four hour nap. I was just happy that he was OK and the kit was OK.

Pieces of the kit on the back of the truck
The kit consists of a seemingly random mish mash of Minnie House bits and pieces: wall panels, one interior wall, Simpson Strong Walls, steel posts, Anthony beams, I beams and plywood sheathing for the roof, lots of Simpson hardware, and all of the steel Kynar siding you can eat. And no doubt much more that I'm forgetting.

Rich the Contractor carefully moves the faux wall panels
Rich the Contractor manipulated the Gradall forklift as Hector the Framer guided the forks underneath the palettes, and after a couple of hours of careful work under blazing blue skies the entire kit was safely ensconced on the lot.

Lest anyone think that I'm just paddling in a pool of giddy goodness today, it's my duty to add that there was also a major hiccup... one that's worthy of a post of its own. But in the meantime, how about one more photo of this special day?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Full of Concrete-y Goodness

Pouring the ICF basement walls
The first working Saturday of the build, and four concrete trucks (including the Giants' truck) ascended to the site on a warm, foggy morning. First, the eight piers were filled in the lower retaining wall. The I-beams still have to be cut so that they are all level, then the trench can be filled and the pressure treated lumber will be slotted in. At that point we'll be ready to backfill almost to the top of the retaining wall.

Hector the Happy Framer dumps more concrete into the ICFs
Once the lower wall was poured, it was time to move onto the basement. At first it seemed that we wouldn't be ready for this today, but Hector and his crew did a great job preparing the basement and getting it all braced and ready for today's pour. The team marked out the positions of all of the steel tie downs to the satisfaction of Chai the Inspector, and we passed our inspection yesterday morning.

Hector and the Giants' truck
It was so nice today that I didn't want to leave. We stayed long enough to see the final concrete being emptied from the last truck, and while Hector was doing that the rest of the team was wet-placing the steel tie-downs - that is, they were placing steel into the wet concrete that will later be used to bolt down the steel posts and Simpson strong walls.

Delicious wet concrete forms the garage door header
Next week the site will be a hive of activity. The kit arrives first thing on Monday morning; the TJIs for the sub-floor arrive on Monday or Tuesday; the sills have to be set on top of the basement walls; the sub-floor and deck trusses have to be built; and then we'll be ready to start erecting the kit. Stay tuned for news, photos and videos.

Friday, September 17, 2010

TJI... Friday

I-Beams in place, awaiting tomorrow's concrete pour
While I was at the house this morning, Rich the Contractor was on the phone to the lumber yard, ordering the joists for the sub floor for delivery early next week. The joists are usually known by their acronym, TJI (which stands for Trus Joist I-Joist), and, well, today just happens to be Friday...

The basement is also ready for the final pour
This morning I also received confirmation that Dave the Truck Driver has left Missouri with the LV Home Kit and is now en route to Pacifica, where he is scheduled to arrive early on Monday morning. To say I'm excited is quite an understatement. We're not technically ready for it, as we were supposed to have the sub-floor finished by the time it arrives, but we're very close - we'll be pouring the last concrete for the basement and the headers (and the lower retaining wall) tomorrow morning, and that just leaves a couple of days work to set the sills and lay out the floor.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Steely Man

Be careful!
A fun day, and not just because the Giants are now in first place in the West! The eight steel I-beams were delivered to the house today, and this time they were actually the right size. At twenty feet long and weighing in at around 300lbs apiece it was a major challenge getting them all down the hill and into their final resting places, but with lots of strong hands and some ingenuity, not to mention some amazing Bobcat skills from Ken the Excavator, we were able to get them all set before lunch.

Kenny lifts an I-beam with ease
Once the assembled masses had carried the beams down the tricky slippery slope, Kenny was somehow able to lift, cajole, nudge and drop each of the beams into the ground without once scraping or gouging the side of a pier hole, and that was no mean feat.

They're called I-beams for a good reason, aren't they?
I did ask if we could send them back and get some I-beams that weren't all rusty, but no-one was listening. Actually, I think they look rather fetching with their rust colored patina, and as they age they'll get even more homey.

Ariel, my friend and helper, admires a good morning's work
Dropping the beams into their holes isn't the end of the story, though, it's just the beginning. They still have to be raised up into place, braced carefully so that they are absolutely vertical, and then leveled so that their tops form a horizontal line. Once that's done, we'll be ready to pour concrete into the piers (most likely on Saturday morning) and soon afterwards place the pressure treated lumber.

The ever-changing front of the house
Another major change took place today: Kenny moved around the big dirt piles and began to backfill against the house, changing the skyline and the profile in a major way. The front wall of the house no longer looks so monolithic now that there's no slope in front of it, and neither does the side, where the huge pile of dirt has been flattened.

One day this will all be a garden...