Thursday, October 28, 2010

Light Fixtures

My first pass at making a light. If you click on the photo a time or two it'll embiggen enough for you to see the twisted wire, which I'm particularly fond of

Various lighting parts

The plywood parts for our cabinetry all cut up and ready for assembly

Yesterday I received a bunch of lighting and electrical parts in the mail. I plan to start experimenting with various light fixture ideas and I'm really excited about it. The materials themselves are beautiful -- lots of brass, copper, porcelain, nickle plate, clear and colored glass, and vintage fabric covered double twist wire. Great stuff.

In order to qualify for certain Efficiency Vermont rebates you need to have a minimum of 10 pin-based fixtures hard-wired into your house, so we need to determine which will be pin based and which will not. Happily, I can build most lights as pin-based sockets, but some will not work because of size constraints.

Today I experimented with one of the insulators. The first task was to drill a hole through the top of the 3/8" thick glass. This took a while but was no problem, although I was a little paranoid about the glass powder produced. Seems like a potential hazard. Maybe having a vacuum on hand and running it often? Maybe make a vacuum-table work surface? In any event, once I had the hole drilled it was quick work to wire in the little light base, mount it in the light and wire a plug to the other end. I pretty much thought of everything I might need except --you guessed it-- a light bulb. I was able to find one that sorta fit from our old chandelier just to get a feel for it, but it takes away from the effect, so it'll be nice to get a more appropriately fitting bulb. Other then that, it was a piece of cake. I'm pretty excited to make more.

I spent most of the day cutting up the plywood for our cabinetry. Unless I made any mistakes in my plan, I should have everything I need to build the cabinet boxes with what I cut today. After this it's back to hard wood for the frame, doors, and drawers.

I'll be taking a working vacation next week because I'm teaching a class at Yestermorrow called "Less is More". The class is a design course centered on small homes and living spaces. So, my work on the house will be minimal-to-none, but Joe and Felton will still be here making progress.

The Clawfoot Tub

The claw foot tub post-scraping, pre-primer

Semi-cryptic info cast into the bottom

Electrical insulators waiting to be turned into lamps. I am super excited about this little project

The cabinet bases

This afternoon I scraped the loose paint off of the claw foot tub we'll soon be installing in our upstairs bathroom. Until today I don't think I ever looked at what the works cast into the bottom of the tub. Here's what it says:

5 -26
6 6 38

My guess is: The maker is Richmond, the size is 5' x 26" (this is pretty clear because those are in fact the overall dimensions), it was made on June 6th, 1938, and maybe D-5 is the lot, batch or style number? If my assumptions are correct, I'd be just so happy to know that this tub was made in 1938. I would never have guessed, but then again these things really don't age, do they? In addition to the above info, there is a number by each foot attachment point specifying the correct foot placement, 1 through 4. After scraping off the old paint, I gave the tub a coat of primer. After another coat we'll then give it it's groovy orange finish coat.

I acquired this tub from a former colleague in Boston who, if I remember correctly, got it from somewhere in New York, but I'm not sure about that. Either way, I love that this antique will continue to live on in our new house.

Speaking of antiques, I received a large handful of vintage electrical insulators in the mail that I purchased cheap on eBay. A couple were broken when they arrived, but for the price I'm not sweating it. Mostly I just wanted to get some of these in hand to start experimenting making lights. Joe also brought a nice one from his place for us. I'm excited to start playing with these things.

Joe is nearly done with the window project and will soon start on installing the interior doors. It really feels like things are moving along.

Meanwhile, I have the kitchen cabinet bases built. I still need to fix them to the floor, but that'll be easy and then I'll start on the cabinet boxes.

And lest I forget, Felton has been here most afternoons lately steadily hooking up all the wiring. He methodically worked through the outlets first and is now most of the way through the switches. I know when I was putting in the wires there were times when I wondered if it all was going to make sense when push came to shove and things got hooked up. So far so good. It's going to be really cool to flick a switch sometime in the near future and presto, a light will come on.

Right, one more thing about the tub. Way back two winters ago I went down to the little storage shed that the tub was in and tried as best I could (without actually pulling the tub out and assembling it) to figure out it's standing height so that I could plan the height of the sill in the bathroom to match. Today, with the tub on sawhorses, I attached one of the feet and checked it against the finished window sill. Sill height: 21". Tub height: 21". Yes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Window work

Joe putting together another window unit

My cut plan for the cabinetry so I know how much plywood I'll need

Two horizontal strips cut out of the sheetrock in second floor bathroom. I'll be installing strapping pieces in there as an attachment point for the vertical bead board

Joe is steadily building out all the window sill, returns, and trim. Each window is a project in its self, but he's got it worked out to a system and is churning through the project really nicely. In essence each window unit gets a box-like unit consisting of the window sill, the side returns (think of them as the walls that go from the sheetrock surface to the window) and the top return (the roof) that when assembled, slides into the rough opening and gets shimmed and screwed into place. Once the box is in, the trim goes on around the perimeter and the window is complete. It sounds straightforward, but there's a lot of planing, sanding, edging, trimming, fitting and beveling that happens to make come out just right.

I'm making headway on the kitchen cabinet project although so far most of that progress is on paper, but today I finished off with a materials list for the first phase of the project, which will consist of the guts of the cabinets; the base and plywood walls that will be eventually hidden by the face frame and doors. Like the house its self, you start with the foundation, then move on to framing, and finally finish with the fancier parts. Its going to be fun to actually start building them.

Otherwise, I ordered the necessary plumbing parts for the clawfoot tub, some lamp parts so I can start experimenting building light fixtures and I completed a tile plan for the first floor bathroom. Oh yeah, over the weekend I also cut into the sheetrock in the second floor bathroom to allow for horizontal strapping onto which we'll afix bead board. It would have been easier to have just laid the sheetrock out like it is now rather then having to go back and cut it, but that's how it goes.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Light and Stone

Frosted blue Mason Jar light. We envisioned this as a possibility for the garden end/west wall door way exterior lights

The stools and table caught our attention in addition to all the amazing lamps

We were inspired to maybe do a series of insulator lamps that would hang over the dining room table at varying heights

Today was an adventure in the world of stone and illumination.

First off we went wandered around the sales yard of a stone retailer envisioning possibilities that would serve as a hearth under the woodstove and firewood storage. It was a lot of work trying to balance the variables of color, texture, and size. In the end we selected two 30" x 30" stones that seem good but we're pretty sure the bluestone color is not quite what we want. Luckily they are returnable. We narrowed down the options, which is a start.

With stone pieces in the car I asked Nance is we "had the marital strength to go to a lighting store" knowing we'd be faced with another big round of decisions that could prove to be stressful. We decided our marriage could handle it and headed north up route 7 to a general service lighting store which we found a bit overwhelming but informative for dipping our toes into the choices we need to make.

Having not made any firm commitments at the first store we headed up to Conant Metal and Light in Burlington, where we immediately felt inspired and at home. After a few hours of imagining possibilities we left feeling like we could envision the road forward, if not the light at the end of the tunnel. I also left feeling confident that I could make a bunch of our light fixtures and plan to start ordering parts to start piecing together ideas.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Windows and Cabinets

The cabinetry plans as they currenlty stand. We've simplified and cleaned up the whole package a bit and it feels better

One of the windows Joe has built out. The apron (the bottom piece) is not in place because I asked Joe to hold off installing it because I wanted to modify the design slightly, which I've since done; it'll be a little more refined and in keeping with other thematic elements of the house

Joe has been plugging away at building the window returns and installing the trim. Its a particular job and requires a lot of attention and careful work and Joe has been doing a great job. We're over halfway done at this point.

I've been concentrating on the cabinetry project for the kitchen. We've pretty much worked out our plan and now my job is to draw up construction plans, make cut lists and order materials. Its going to be an involved project, but I'm pretty psyched about it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trip to Bristol

The lumber stacks

Our load of maple being loaded onto the feed table to the planer

The planer

The lumber then being run through the table saw edger and onto the feed table from which I loaded the lumber onto the trailer

Night view of the house with moonlight

Today I made a journey over the spine of the green mountains with my trailer in tow to pick up the next load of maple for our window trim project.

Purchasing lumber can in fact be pretty stressful because you need to be clear on how you are going to achieve the finished product from the rough form the lumber is available in. Its a bit like reductive sculpture where you take away the layers to reveal the completed work.

Despite the stress, I enjoy the trip to the lumber yard and appreciate the latent beauty of the materials found within the confines of a drab industrial setting.

Once I've selected my lumber, Jody the guy who I deal with at the yard comes and picks up the pile with a fork lift and drives it over to a massive industrial planer that can plane massive amounts of hard maple in seconds. It is an astounding machine. What's cooler is that I get to help in the process by unloading on the outfeed table. From the planer the wood gets driven over to an industrial scale table saw that holds and edges the board in quick order.

Having the planing and edging done at the yard saves us massive amounts of time doing the same work here, so it is well worth the nominal charge.

More stress comes into play when I load this large pile of lumber on to the trailer and strap it all down. Though I've never had a mishap in all my many journey's carrying lumber atop my car or lately on the trailer, I still take it quite seriously and am somewhat anxious until I arrive back home.

I also made an abortive attempt to select some slate or bluestone slabs for a hearth to put under the woodstove but gave up just when I thought I'd selected the right ones. I was plagued by concerns about a few variables that I didn't quite have a handle on, so I punted and decided I'd go back with Nancy, hopefully this weekend.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Painting the bathroom floor

The boiler at work heating up the house via the radiant system for the first time

Today Joe continued work on the window returns, which is coming along, while I was busy painting in advance of his work. Meanwhile Felton was back to do some finish electrical work. This is very exciting for us as it means we'll have working outlets around the house and a few lights here and there to turn on. Of course this also means we have to make decisions about light fixtures and all that, but its great to see all this stuff coming together.

We also fired up the radiant heat for the first time today. Stuff like that sort of seems like a bit of a miracle; you put all this pipe in, you have a boiler installed and then you do nothing for a couple of months when it starts to get a little chilly in the house and you hook up a thermostat and signal the boiler to start doing its thing. On the one hand its what's supposed to happen and all, but on the other hand it is like "Wow, you just push a button and like that the house starts to heat up. Cool!"

For extracurricular fun I continued painting this evening and gave the second floor bathroom its first coat of blue floor paint. Both Nance and I dig it and are feeling ongoing happiness at having Teri's help working out all the color choices. The house is anything but boring when it comes to color, and that's what we were shooting for.

Tomorrow I go back over the mountain for another load of lumber for window trim and the bead board that will go around the bottom of the bathroom walls. I'll also be looking for a large stone hearth to put the woodstove on.

Monday, October 18, 2010


The thermometer shows the temp outside (48.4), the temp inside (61), the humidity inside (55) and then the time and date

This whole super-insulated house project is one big experiment in heating and energy use and I'm curious to see how the experience pans out. I'm also not sure what to expect. And so it is that I've been watching with interest how the house has been maintaining temperature over the last couple of months as the fall has progressed and the outside temps have dropped.

We have not yet turned on the heating system or started a fire in the woodstove, but I suspect we'll be doing so pretty soon. This morning was the first time the house dipped into the 50's after bumping around the the low 70's and into the 60's over the last couple of weeks. I'm pretty happy that we've been able to get into the second half of October without feeling the need to heat the house. I've lived in houses in Massachusetts where getting though September was always the big challenge, so being where we are I am pleased that we've not needed to heat yet.

To actually fire up the radiant heat system we need to get the boiler to sense demand via a thermostat which we have not yet installed. I'll be working on that tomorrow.

Today's weather held out the possibility of being sunny, which could warm the house up through solar gain, but at the end of the day it was still only around 61. I look forward to doing some solar gain experiments to see how much increase in house temperature we can expect on a sunny day.

On a related note, I've been keeping an eye on the temperature of the root cellar. Through the summer months of July and August the root cellar pretty much stayed constant around 60 degrees, but started to cool off through September down through maybe 55, and now in October has dropped a few more degrees. It seems to me that the root cellar responds pretty readily to changes in air temps outside, so I'm thinking that it might make sense to install smaller diameter inlet and outlet fittings on the air supply and vent pipes. They are currently 4" pipe and I think we could go down to 1" pipes and still provide enough air movement while constricting the rapid movement of large quantities of air.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall Colors

Nancy went at it today with painting. We are trying to stay ahead of the window trim installation, so she worked in the office first and then upstairs in the bedroom rolling on the color, and covered a lot of ground, or should I say wall.

Meanwhile I got to work on putting down the floor in the second floor bathroom. It took a little time mapping the layout so that when the floor is continued in the rest of the area around the bathroom it all finishes off like we want it to.

HRV and windows

Our HRV unit is installed and running.

HRV is short for "heat recovery ventilation" and the main purpose of the system is to cycle fresh air into the house (and stale air out) on a regular schedule. The reason this is necessary is that the house was constructed so tightly that we can't rely on fresh air to simply work it's way inside as has been customary in most construction for as long as homes have been built.

Unlike a simple fan system, the HRV helps maintain the warm air in the house by a heat exchange process where the cool air coming in is passed by the warm air exiting and in the process acting upon each other to moderate the cool air so that we are not simply bringing in cold air that would cool the house and require additional heating to maintain the inside temperature. Secondarily, the HRV unit serves to move moisture out of the house that would otherwise build up from cooking, showering, and respirating. If you go into the bathroom what you'll find is not a fan switch, but a button that activates the HRV unit on "high" for twenty minutes. This does the same thing a fan does, but there is no audible sound (since the unit is located in the basement) and we are not just blowing heated air outside through a big hole in the wall.

Meanwhile, Joe and I have been moving ahead on the widow returns and trim. We've got the process pretty well streamlined and are making good progress. We've got six windows done out of 14, so eight still to go. They look great.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Colors, drawings and a porch

We've made some commitments on colors and that feels great, with a couple of exceptions which we have to tweak. I feel grateful to Teri who has been helping us out because I think we would have agonized about this stuff and its actually felt kind of easy.

Joe did a fine job finishing up the set of stairs and small landing entering into the west doorway. I spent almost no time on this design-wise because we're planning to do something a bit more elaborate and integrated down the road, but it made sense to get something in place before the winter so we can call it done.

Meanwhile, I've been hunched over my drafting table working on the plans for our kitchen cabinetry. Having looked over various approaches, I've narrowed in on how I want to go about building them and have starting doing construction drawings accordingly. After a bit of hesitation, I'm getting excited about this project. It'll be a pleasurable challenge.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Paint, steps, and cabinets

I was away this weekend on a brief trip out west, which left me a little groggy this morning, but I am beginning work on our kitchen cabinetry project, which means at this juncture finalizing our plan.

Nancy spent some time over the weekend trying out test colors around the house. They need a rolled-on second coat before we can really say much, but we're making progress.

Joe is nearing completion of steps to the porch and a stair/landing unit at the west end doorway. It is my expectation that we'll eventually redo the stairs and steps in stone, but for now we need to get something in place, so we're doing a sort of acceptable-but-not-fancy solution for now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Teri and Nance working through ideas

Detail of the intersection of the second floor bath and the ceiling

The trim work complete

Designing and building a house may seem like an endless array of complex challenges to figure out, but today our friend Teri came over to help us work out some of the truly hard problems: colors and tile choices. Yes, we can layout a stair case, figure out intersecting roofs, install siding at 28 feet off the ground, but for the really hard stuff you gotta choose what color you are going to paint the place.

Both Nance and I have had this general sense that we're interested in playing it up a bit inside, but neither of us has had a clear vision when it comes to picking paint. Enter Teri. She's been really helpful in making suggestions and sort of conceptualizing the whole thing. There is no one answer but its great to have someone coming up with possibilities and then building on choices as things move along.

We find ourselves continually drawn to green in one shade or another, so at times we've tried to consciously veer away, but sometimes you just have to give in to what draws you, so most of our second floor will be done around a green theme, while the second floor bathroom will be a blue zone with an orange bathtub. I'm psyched about that.

We came up with a plan for the various spaces downstairs centered around more earthy browns, yellows and deep maroon-red. I think it'll all be really cool. We also (finally) nailed down a decision about the mudroom/kitchen floor: purple Vermont slate in a cool varied pattern.

The one area we talked a bunch about but need to do some more work on is the first floor bathroom. There will be tile, but what tile and how much needs to be worked out.

Speaking of color, I finished the second floor bathroom window casing and Nance has given it it's second coat of paint, so next up is the floor. That'll be really exciting.

Joe is working on some last exterior projects, namely stairs and steps to the porch and coming out of the west end doorway. They look really good.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Work ongoing

I was dead tired yesterday afternoon so I laid down on the front step for a minute or two. This was the view and the color of the sky blew me away

Joe, working on the half wall separating the master bedroom from the guest room

Mac rolling the driveway as his final act

The view from up the driveway with grading complete

Today Mac finished up his work grading and resurfacing the driveway. We've enjoyed having him here but are glad to have the machine out of the way.

Joe completed priming throughout the whole house and moved on to a little left over framing/sheetrocking project that I had been indecisive about, namely the half-wall that defines the master bedroom, such as it is. There was a simple framed wall in place and today I made a couple of decisions that allowed us to finish it off. It will serve as a headboard for our bed eventually, so there are electrical outlets, a phone jack, and a light switch mounted to turn on and off the over-bed light.

Nancy and I have been working on making some rudimentary decisions about the kitchen and what we should have where in the cabinetry. My job is to start working this into a build-able plan, which I will start soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Quince Bush

The quince bush in the old days before we'd moved the yurt or began work on the house. Its got a great spring bloom.

Moving it to it's new home

When Nance and I first started living in the yurt on the land where the house now sits there was the old garage and breezeway still standing from the original house that burned in the mid-nineties. Additionally, there was this great old quince bush that had been cared for by the original owners. This bush has been a constant on this property for years and it feels really great to be bringing it with us in this new chapter of the story.

When the earth work began last summer we had the quince bush relocated until such time that we could place it back in the landscape around the house. Today was the day it made sense to move it to it's permanent home since Mac is finishing up his grading work.

We'd discussed the location and knew we wanted to use it as a bit of a screen to the neighbors yard as well as a shaping element to the entrance of the house.

You'll notice in the last photo the dark material on the driveway. This is the last bit of work Mac is doing, which is laying grading material in our parking area. I made a somewhat casual decision to go with "Stay-Mat" stone grading material, which, if I understand correctly, is crushed slate. It is a dark blue-ish color that can almost look like pavement. I'm not sure it was the greatest choice aesthetically, but it is the best material to handle potential erosion issues, which is a concern since we are at the bottom of the driveway and historically have had water travel right down into our property. We've done a lot of work to mitigate this but it seems prudent to do what we can if the driveway should deteriorate and water start traveling into our parking area.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Weekend Project

Nance painting the second floor bathroom blue

The clawfoot tub. Working on removing the rust on the interior and will soon scrape and repaint the exterior

Various tub and sink parts I need to sort through

Nancy and I each spent time this weekend working in the second floor bathroom; she on painting and I on fabricating the window returns and sill. We are trying to complete the bathroom as a stand alone project in our spare time, outside of our broader work plan, so we'll be able to use it sooner rather then later and it'll be out of the way of other work.

We plan to have bead-board wainscotting up the wall to just below the eaves so Nancy is only painting down to where the beadboard will come up and meet the painted sheetrock.

I also spent some time on the clawfoot bathtub, since we'll be needing this soon enough in the bathroom. I acquired this tub about 9 or 10 years ago from an old colleague in Boston. At the time I was just excited because it held the potential for some far off "someday" dream of having a house in which to use this tub. Now is that time. There are some rust-stained areas that I've been avoiding dealing with because I've been afraid that whatever it is that can take off the rust is also going to remove the enameled surface of the tub, but today I bit the bullet and went for it. I was able to remove a bunch of the rust but after a while decided to let it rest for a bit and go back for another round sometime soon. An inspection later on seemed to indicate that the enamel seems to be okay. Phew.

Another project coming up is working out the various tub faucets and drains. I have a bucket of parts that came with the tub, but I'm not sure that what we need is there. I need to sort through this and figure out what we are going to do.