Sunday, January 30, 2011

Deck Chair

The deck is finished, and it looks magnificent. With the help of my friend Melissa (actually, Master Melissa) and a couple of spare hours on Saturday afternoon, we were even able to vacuum, scrub, sweep and wash it to something approaching cleanliness, quite an achievement given the sheer volume of mud, dirt, silicone and metal shavings that had to be forcibly removed from the premises.

Francisco the Tiler also made his presence felt this weekend, applying lath to the shower surrounds in both bathrooms, and laying the white 20" tiles on the bathroom floor. Assuming Chai the Inspector passes the lath, Francisco will complete his work in the bathrooms next weekend.

We also have a PG&E trench inspection scheduled, for Tuesday morning, and if we pass that there's at least a chance that we'll have gas, and maybe even electric, service this week. We urgently need to backfill the trench so that we can dig the water trench, start laying asphalt in the driveway, and pour concrete for the entry ramp landing and walkway. That all needs to happen before we apply finished to the interior of the house next week.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Like a Fairy Tale. Grimm.

Say hello to the sewer
A brutal week, during which I had to deal endlessly with AT&T, Comcast, DirecTV, DMV and PG&E, the carefully-controlled budget was blown to smithereens, and I began to doubt that I had the means to finish The Minnie House. In the space of a few grim and stressful days the budget ballooned by $10,000, which I just don't have, so I won't be able to finish everything before moving in. Some features, such as the patio, the basement floor, all non-essential tiling and most of the landscaping, will just have to wait until who knows when.

The electricians connect the conduit for overhead electric power
PG&E demanded so much money (over $8000) for connecting my gas and electric services underground that I was forced to abandon the latter idea and go with the more traditional, and butt ugly, overhead connection, which will stick out like a sore thumb while saving me in the region of $2500.00.

The ugly water pipe in the bathroom is no longer a concern. Phew.
On the plus side, the house is now tapped in to the city sewer, and we're finally, thankfully, a little further down the road to towards hooking up the three other crucial services - gas, electric and water. There's at least a chance they may all be functional within ten days or so, meaning a completion date in mid to late February is still a possibility.

Pretty railings, awaiting steel cables. Don't even ask what the little black hole is for.
The deck and guardrail are also all but done, and the presence of the white powder coated railings lends an air of quiet elegance to the rear aspect. Next week the stucco guys will start in earnest, plastering brown mud over the lath; the gas trench will be complete; and the countertops, together with the black ceramic cooktop and the undermount stainless steel sink, will be installed. After that it's downhill to the finishing line. Or possibly uphill...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Ridiculous Amount of Screwing

Mysteriously and frustratingly, another four day work week at The Minnie House for everyone whose name is not Steve, and the possibility of moving in over Valentine's Day weekend is ebbing away like the tide at Southend on Sea.

This is the construction version of Waiting for Godot. The PG&E trench is still open because no-one seems to be in charge of installing the gas and electric services, which is surely the responsibility of the contractor. We can't dig the water trench until the PG&E trench is backfilled, and we can't lay asphalt on the driveway until the water trench is closed up.

The stucco guys can't finish putting the lath (chicken wire) on the underside of the deck until the framers install the guardrail on the top of the deck, and the framers can't install the guardrail until they lay the rest of the aluminum decking, which they can't do until the extra pieces arrive from Alabama this week.

The cabinets can't go on the bathroom walls until the tiles are on the floor and walls, and the tiler - assuming the contractor has actually found one - can't do his job until the plumber somehow covers the hideous exposed pipe on the bathroom floor. Which will presumably happen some time after Godot shows up for breakfast.

Thankfully, I have some kind and generous friends who have been helping me to clean up the house and the lot and prepare the perimeter for the 18" moat of gravel that I'll lay after the stucco is complete, and I've almost finished working on the IKEA cabinets, a major task task that involved a ridiculous amount of screwing. Lucky I bought that bargain $17.00 power screwdriver from, eh?

Needless to say, I can't install the drawers and doors until the kitchen countertops are installed. And on that front, the owner of EcoHome Improvement wrote to inform me that their invoice was incorrect because they ordered the wrong sized sheet of Paperstone, and that they could order the correct sized piece for an extra $650.00 plus $125.00 for shipping, and that it wouldn't arrive for another three weeks.

Which, when all is said and done, is a load of big hairy bollocks.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ramp Up

Now that the steel post has been cut down to size, Hector was able to build the entry ramp out of pressure treated lumber and LockDry aluminum decking. It already looks beautiful, even though the finishing touches won't be applied until later today. Eventually (next week?) there will be a concrete landing and walkway out to the street.

The stucco guy has nearly finished wiring the basement walls and garage and, like the deck, it looks great now and will be immeasurably better after the stucco has been applied. That won't be for a little while, though, as we have to complete the deck and guardrails first, and that's on hold while we wait for the extra aluminum planks to be delivered some time next week.

Once Hector adds the aluminum trim pieces and the ramp is a done deal, all that remains is to paint the underside of the porch ceiling white and then a glistening gleaming entry will be ready to welcome any and all visitors to The Minnie House.

Yesterday I installed a bunch of rails and shelves in the kitchen cabinets, the start of a fairly gargantuan undertaking that will no doubt keep me gainfully occupied and occasionally frustrated beyond belief for the next few days. I'm not a handy man in any sense of the word, but I don't mind getting my hands dirty and I love being actively engaged in the process of bringing my dream to life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Problem Is Just An Opportunity...

In which case, I have just been bleesed with a plethora of possibilities. Yesterday was a good day in that the white IKEA Akurum cabinets were installed, the stucco guys continues nailing paper and chicken wire to the exterior of the basement, and the steel fabricator finally showed up to cut the post that will support the entry ramp.

For a cooktop I chose a sexy black IKEA glass ceramic electric jobbie with touch controls, which will be installed in the island. Behind it will be a Broan downdraft ventilator. The Smeg oven is supposed to sit directly below the cooktop, but when we took a look at the vent yesterday we discovered that the blower is 4" deep, so there's just no way the oven will fit into the cabinet. Long story short, the oven will now have to go into a base cabinet along the front wall, next to the kitchen sink. Oh well.

In the bathroom we need to mount a Duravit vanity and mirror cabinet on the wall. Now I'd never noticed this before, but for some reason there's a water waste pipe right under where the sink and vanity will live that sits about 1 1/2" above the sub-floor. The contractor told me I gave the OK for this horrible ugly eyesore, although I don't know why I would, unless I was unknowingly under the influence of some kind of stupidity-inducing hallucinogen. It would be visible even after the tiles are installed, so there's no alternative - it has to go. The contractor may try to make me pay for this, but since I didn't ask for an abomination in the bathroom I see no reason why I have to pay to have it surgically removed.

Last month I purchased a pair of Bose 131 Marine speakers for the underside of the deck. Turns out they don't have rough-in brackets so there's no easy way to mount them since the finish will now be stucco. No sense in fighting it - I'm returning the speakers to Amazon, replacing them with a much cheaper pair of surface-mounted outdoor Yamaha speakers, and using the difference to get a 24" TV for the bathroom wall. How opportune is that?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Trenchtown Rock

Another busy day at The Minnie House. Kenny the Excavator was back with a bang, digging a 40 foot trench for our gas, electric, phone and cable internet services, and I spent far too long on the phone trying unsuccessfully to get both AT&T and Comcast to send their engineers out to lay the cables. I wouldn't mind but I don't even want AT&T's lousy stinking phone service, I just figured it's something you need to enable when building a new house.

While Kenny was wreaking havoc to the landscape with his Bobcat, Jose and Emilio were inside the house figuring out the best way to install seventeen IKEA Akurum kitchen cabinets - six on the wall, seven on the ground, and six in the island. It's a slow process yet within a day or two they'll be able to move on to the bathroom mirror cabinets and vanities. The house is not too many days away from being a home.

As you can see from the last photo, a third crew was also working today: Doty Plastering and Drywall, who are the gentlemen entrusted with applying dark grey stucco to the basement walls. By the end of the day they had already nailed up weatherproof paper and chicken wire, so perhaps the acrylic finish will be ready for its close-up by the end of the week.

Prime Time

The living room, under wraps for priming
Friday was thankfully a glorious, sunny and warm winter's day, so while James and the rest of the crew from Pugliese Painting primed the main floor of the house, Kenny the Excavator raced around in his Bobcat all day long, moving massive mounds of dirt hither and thither and reshaping the landscape like a cigar-chewing demon of the sod.

The living room is prepped for priming
James is clearly a craftsman, and he inspected every inch of drywall for spots to smooth out in his quest for a perfect finish. Since the primer is close to the final color (Moonlight White from Benjamin Moore), we now have a good idea what the house will look like when the fat lady has finished singing and my feet are resting on the vintage Eames ottoman.

James the Painter and his crew seek perfection...
By the end of the day the rough grading was done and the patio pad was flattened and the huge dissipation pit was dug, and I was eagerly anticipating the digging of multiple trenches next week.

Kenny the Excavator makes a maxi mess with his mini bobcat
I was lucky enough to have several volunteer helpers this weekend (thanks, guys!) and together we undertook a massive cleaning initiative, attempting to remove multiple layers of plaster dust, mud and paint from every surface of the house, with reasonable success.

Now we need to plant something...
Since many hands make light work (especially when two of them are the massive mitts of Viktor the Supersized Siberian) the weekend's work was completed by moving all of the heavy goods from the big basement of my San Francisco apartment to the new house, a daunting project made less so by the gracious assistance of my fabulous friends. Now the cabinets are all assembled and staged and ready for the installers to start hanging on the kitchen wall first thing tomorrow morning.

Your truly doing his best impersonation of a handyman

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Muddy Boots

In retrospect, it would certainly behoove a contractor to pay close attention to the weather forecast when contemplating bringing in a Bobcat to grade a building site. Otherwise you're talking about an unholy amount of slick wet slippery mud.

The crew from Pugliese Painting arrived on time, bright and early, and did a great job cleaning the house before applying the prep coat to the walls and ceiling upstairs, and priming the entire basement, all in the time it takes to say 'boy, that was fast.' They'll be back in the morning to prime the main floor, and will no doubt finish before I've had my first cup of tea of the day.

Kenny the Excavator demonstrated his considerable Bobcat skills in difficult conditions as the rain came down while grading the driveway, and by lunchtime the decision was made to cut a messy day short and come back for seconds tomorrow, when the weather should be much more amenable to the moving around of a multitude of mud.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Meeting The Blind Man

The scaffolding's gone so there's a nice view of the side of the house
So much going on, so little time. The blind man in question is Gary McWherter from McWherter Window Coverings, who's a rep for Hunter Douglas blinds. He came to the house today to measure the sliding doors for some lovely fabric Nantucket shades, which will undoubtedly be way beyond my frankly non-existent budget.

The LockDry aluminum decking is now half finished
I worked out yesterday that the house is 85% finished, and we're still on track to complete everything by mid-February. The siding is 99.5% done with only a couple of pieces of trim still to add, and quite a considerable amount of touching-up to make everything look as beautiful as it should.

The dining room windows, in all their considerable glory
The clean-up crew did a good yesterday, removing all of the rubbish and extra building materials from the site, and the scaffolding has gone from the east side of the house, finally revealing the full impact of the very-adjacent Cypress tree.

A new view, even for me - from the next door neighbor's house
The mud men have done an excellent all round job on the drywall, which is essentially finished save for a couple of minor details, and they have left in their wake an almighty mess of thick white powder and dollops of plaster across every inch of the house: a mess which I am endeavoring to clean up with my own limited time and resources.

Hector and Alejandro have turned their attention from Kynar steel to LockDry aluminum decking, which will remain another partially finished project since we ran out of decking materials and I had to order extra pieces from the Alabama factory this afternoon.

We've been waiting for weeks for PG&E to send us their trenching plan, and that finally showed up this afternoon, which means we can begin digging the trench that will carry gas, electric, cable and telephone service next week. At the same time we have the go-ahead from the North Coast Water Authority to dig the water trench, which needs to be located five feet from the PG&E trench because apparently they don't play nicely together.

The deck is gradually taking shape
Tomorrow morning Kenny the Excavator is due back on site to begin heaving the backfill dirt into place - an enthralling prospect as, when he's finished, the landscape will, at long last, be graded and ready to accept some drought-tolerant native plant life.

Also scheduled for the morning is Day One of Painting The Minnie House, a most important and momentous project entrusted to the reputedly fine folks at Pacifica's own Pugliese Painting. Their first task will be to use Prep Coat on the upstairs walls, which is "a ready-mix base coat for drywall that, when applied over a properly finished drywall installation, provides a surface uniform in texture and ready for decoration." In short, it will give us a better, smoother surface for painting in lieu of spending another small fortune on a level 5 drywall finish. At the same time they will also be priming the basement and garage, with the first coat of paint to come next week.

Exciting times ahead!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mud Men - On Stilts

Think I'm kidding? Think again. Here's a picture of a mud man on stilts. If that isn't the coolest thing you've seen today please explain how and why not.

And here's another one. Isn't that much easier than constantly moving a ladder while you smooth mud around the ceilings of a house? I'd like to meet the person who thought of this and shake his (or her) hand.

The walls are now steadily approaching a state where they'll be ready for priming (although that day is still at least a week away), and the house already looks simply wonderful.

With the glorious (chilly) weather continuing and the spectacular silver siding all but finished, the outside of The Minnie House is shining like a National guitar (© Paul Simon)

The blocking for the deck is continuing and I fully expect to see aluminum planks in place this week.

Now that all of the panels have been erected my next job is to clean the mud off all of the Kynar panels and make them even more blinding.

Maybe I can do that on Sunday... But not if the weather forecast is correct and the next storm arrives at the weekend...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

40 Days and 40 Nights

This isn't set in stone, but I took a look at the schedule today with Rich the Contractor, and we're agreed: we should be able to finish the house in time for me to move in on Valentine's Day. Which, in case you couldn't guess, is 40 days and 40 nights from now. Wow!

The siding is now 95% complete, and Hector and his brother Alejandro should be able to finish the exterior, including the entry porch, by the end of the week. They've also made a start on nailing the blocking to the deck joists so the LockDry aluminum decking will be installed within the next day or two as well.

With a couple more nice days lined up the plan is to get Kenny the Excavator in tomorrow or Friday to grade and backfill the lot, and when then happens there's no reason why I can't start planting some trees and shrubs.

How exciting is that?