Here is the rebirth of my housebuilding blog, originally published on the now defunct Vox platform. It mainly covers the building process from 2006-2007, with some sporadic posts afterwards. I will present each entry as is from when it was first written and add real-time commentary (in italics) when I just cannot help myself.

Things That Make You Go Boom

Boom truck from hell
      A beautiful day, a momentous day, and an overall up-and-down day. The day began with the final bit of chipping—no, not tricky golf shots from the rough. See yesterday’s entry for specifics.  Once that was done, I was awaiting the BIG delivery of our lumber. To pass the time, I decided to clear the water out of the foundation in preparation for tomorrow’s pouring of the floor. I had laid a tarp down over our radiant tubing and insulation, and it did a good job of keeping the rain out of our foundation. A very good job.  A 67 gallon good job. Yes, I spent some quality time with a 4-cup measuring scoop, a 5-gallon bucket, and 67 gallons of rainwater. I took no pictures of this endeavor, as I have no wish to remember it. All in all, it was worth it, as our foundation is predominantly dry and ready for a floor to be poured.

Hello Mr. Chips

This thing is about as loud as The Who in concert circa 1968

     The chipper finally arrived today. I am not speaking of an overall state of mind that descended on the hillside. Neither am I referring in Anglo-slang to a fish-and-chips van. I am speaking of a beastly machine that can shred a human torso into bite-sized pieces in under ten seconds. That’s right—heavy machinery. As if the backhoe and bulldozer weren’t enough, in comes this monster. We fed it all day, and it still wanted more. Quite the insatiable appetite.
     When you clear a site for building, you have a few options of what to do with the tree limbs and brush. You can either leave it in big piles and let it slowly degrade over fifteen years, pile it to be burned in a series of bonfires at a later date,  truck it out, or shred it to tiny pieces which can be later used for things such as landscape mulch and barbecue seasoning.  Chipping is a cost-efficient way to get rid of it without leaving huge piles all around your new house.
     Four of us worked all day and still did not get it all. The rest will be finished tomorrow, in time for the shipment of our lumber. The hillside is really starting to shape up.
Ya want any vinegar wit those chips?

Amazingly enough I am still using trees that I cut down six years ago for firewood. You gotta love oak. Energy independence rocks.

You Look Radiant, Dahling

     Labor day couldn’t have been more aptly named for us this year. A whole weekend of work was squashed into one day due to the remnants of Ernesto that blew through the northeast.  It was a long day indeed.
     On Saturday, Anne and I laid out the plastic sheeting for a vapor barrier on the basement floor. We then moved all of the blue-board insulation into the hole, and were ready to start cutting it to size. But then a thought struck: if it does pour down rain tomorrow, won’t the floor become a big swimming pool as no water can drain past the plastic? A call to our excavator, a well-timed lunch break, and a return call confirmed we should cease and desist and wait until Monday. So we did, even though our first laborer arrived that afternoon. That would be Bridget, who arrived with three bottles of wine, a plethora of fancy cheeses and chocolates,  and dinner from an Indian restaurant. Hooray for Bridget. She received a swift promotion to “Chief Assistant to the Head Laborer.”

Our Favorite Supermodel

 Here is a picture of a model (I like to think of it as our supermodel) of our little cape. (Note: goldfish not to scale).
I strongly encourage anyone who is thinking of building or designing a house to make a 3-d model of it. The spatial relations of the different rooms becomes much clearer when you can hold and rotate your design. Believe me, the two hours you spend cursing at your glue-stick is worth it.

The Gentle Physicality of Concrete Pouring


It is an education in opposites to watch a crew pour concrete. At first glance, it appears completely physical, requiring more muscle than technique. Quickly, though, you begin to see the art. It’s a hidden dance, but it is there. The juxtaposition of a huge spinning concrete truck shooting gray sludge down a crusted, rusty chute and two guys on the other end, positioning the chute this way or that, ultimately smoothing the surface with a quick motion and nonchalant air, with a grace that comes from motor memory and repetition, is striking. The whole affair is akin to watching a rugby match—brutal, physical, yet highly skilled and fluid.

Proof is in the details: a line of bolts belies the thought and order needed to complete a successful pour. It also reveals the art.

And when the forms come off, when the odd-looking braces and apparatus are stripped away, you are left with the deliciously familiar: walls. Ah, here it is. This is what I’ve been looking for. Here is the beginning of my house.

In Praise of Overhangs

 I was working today at Granite Lake Pottery, installing some storm windows on the studio. It was raining off and on, more on than off truth to tell. But I managed to stay pretty dry because of the generous overhangs on the building. I am a big fan of overhangs and was extremely happy when "First Day" decided to offer them as an extra. They make sense in so many ways. If nothing else, they give a poor dubber like myself a little shelter from the storm.

The forms went up today—it looks striking, almost alien, or maybe Mad Maxian. What it really serves to do is to give one a sense of how the house will sit on the land. The grade is not as bad as I had once thought. Of course, it is not fully graded yet, we have a ways to go. 

The pour happens tomorrow, weather permitting. In the meantime, if anyone needs a bit of mud, drop us a line.

Those overhangs have really been a blessing. Besides keeping rain away from the foundation they play a huge role in keeping the house cool in the summer. By blocking the high summer sun our southern wall of windows doesn't fry us in the dog days of August. The overhangs also gave me the chance to design and build some cool brackets to support the wide soffits. Pictures of those come much later so stay tuned.