Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What the .........

Type L copper pipe versus Type M, is pipe measurements for electrical pipe is OD but yet for plumbing it is ID, the fact that 6" lumber is actually 5.5" if you are lucky, probably more like 5 and 3/8" but all plywood is measured in 32nds, arc faults, thermal bridging, % fly ash content of concrete, multiple contradicting charts indicating distance of sprinkler heads in relation to surrounding obstruction.....and the list goes on of things I never thought I would be uttering in life and now my world revolves around these bizarre issues. You go into building a home mostly concentrating on layout and fireplace design. You dream of wall colors and a kick ass kitchen faucet BUT in reality 99% of your time is spent researching, worrying about and stressing over sheer walls (picture really ugly, ridiculously heavy metal panels that make screwing anything into them near impossible), the height of steps out of each door and not picking out cool looking electrical receptacles but making sure they are GFI and tamper resistant (because of all the babies we have crawling around sticking pennies into outlets) and pondering over why we need an outlet every 12'.....who plugs that much stuff in?

Source - Yes, would LOVE this staircase.
You can see the dream isn't quite the reality and if you are brave enough to crack open the International Building Code to look for some clarity on some of these bizarre code requirements - good luck. It is pretty much written in Na'vi (that language from Avatar) and if you are REALLY brave and start to look at the Electrical Code or god forbid, the Plumbing Code, your head will just spin off and fly across the room. You wonder who writes this gobbledygook because it isn't decipherable to the average human. 

Source - always a way around



They say each code requirement is a result of some idiot doing something stupid and filing a lawsuit to someone over it - you know, the American way. So as we come across each code limitation requirement you sit quietly to ponder the event that resulted in that code addition. Of course most of them are not PC enough to repeat so I will leave it with your imagination.

I do get frustrated at these glorious pictures of beautiful homes in magazines and online only to realize they must be built in southern Zimbabwe because there is no developed or half-developed country that would allow half these blatant code violations to fly. And then you see homes in our area that have so many dangerous issues but have been grandfathered in and are just a heartbeat from a 911 call. But we are required to jump through more hoops, spend more money and lock down more stuff, add more precautions and I am sure the ones that come after us in years to come will have to do even more to make sure they, their neighbors and visitors don't EVER get hurt hurling themselves through a 4.01" gap in the stair railing.

Source - as long as you aren't a sleep walker
And all those beautiful restored timbers that we love to reuse out of old barns and factories - just for show. Don't even think of using them structurally, that won't pass code.

Yeh, not be Debbie Downer here, but keep dreaming, this bedroom ain't never passing code. Of course many of the code requirements do in fact exist to save lives and have made our houses so much safer over the years.

And yet there are still building approaches out there that won't stand the test of time as seen in Charlotte, NC the other month. If you are condo shopping in the southern NC area, steer clear of this builder.

Source - just not acceptable
So it is a balancing act, the building code works so well in so many ways and has made us safer. It is a tad slow to adopt new building technologies but the entire building industry is sloth like in adopting anything new and is way behind the times and many other developed countries in adapting to new building techniques. But there are some codes that just make you chuckle, scratch your head and shrug your shoulders and surrender to it.

As we get close to our Certificate of Occupancy - I have to laugh that our county is concerned with how shy we are - requiring bathroom doors before signing off. Go figure.




Friday, January 31, 2014

Decency please - Covering up

You will remember the big road trip we went on to pick up the plaster material we would be covering the ICF with both interior and exterior. Well you can always refresh your memory and relive our adventures here. It was actually a really fun trip and Adam at Gigacrete was a great help both when we were at their HQ and on a few follow up calls we had with him. You can read more about our decision to go with Gigacrete and what they are here.

Well we were very excited to get started with the plaster, particularly on the exterior to protect the ICF from the sun and because, well, yellowing foam wasn't a look we were going for long term. So Kyle and I figured we would start by plastering a small portion of the front wall that would be ultimately set under the porch.

We began with a test wall on the inside that we ultimately will be covering with a cool second cover but needed to have a fire barrier in the meantime, and that is what Gigacrete serves as. The interior poduct is plastermax which requires a special admixture instead of just plain water. You need to mix the admixture 24 hours in advance to let it "rest", poor thing, must be exhausted from having to merge with all that water. While it was sleeping we got on with prepping the wall by cleaning it and then rasping it with a rough rasp that breaks up the surface like this one. It isn't the hardest job as it glides over the foam pretty easily and digs into the surface uniformly. The hard part is that you end up COVERED in little foams bits, and I mean covered from head to foot, up the nose, in the ears, you are sneezing out white bits for days.

This is THE RASP

With this done we gave the wall one more vacuum to remove said white bits and add edging to the seams between the wall and the door and windows to give us a gauge as to how thick to keep the plaster on the wall to ensure we didn't taper off and create a week transition.

With all this work done we were excited to get ready to actually plaster. We decided to apply it to the walls using a hopper gun run through our compressor. Kyle would handle the hopper gun, get the product on the wall and I would follow him troweling. The process is to lay on a coat of about 1/16" thick, then add fiberglass mesh, trowel that in and then go back over with a second coat of about 1/8" thick. Sounds easy enough.

We collected all our equipment, hopper gun at the ready (just used a regular drywall hopper), trowels, edging tools, hawk and trowel for those little areas where we wouldn't be able to get the hopper into easily. And we were off. Mixing up our first batch of product, looks good. Not too sloppy, not too firm. Do a test spray on an old piece of plywood.

STOP
the product was too thick, wasn't coming out of the hopper at all. Okay, add more admixture to thin it out.......a little more admixture........a smidge more. Okay, it is coming out of the hopper now and not even reaching the wall but slopping down the hopper to the floor. Up the compressor psi, more power - GRUNT, GRUNT, GRUNT. Okay, it is reaching the plywood surface and dripping all the way down to the ground.

FAIL
okay, little more tweaking with adding more dry product, upping the psi - okay seems like a good balance. Time to the hit the wall for real.

Fast forward 3 hours, we had finished about 23 square feet (we had about 3,500 square feet to plaster, at this rate it would take us 456  and a half hours to plaster the whole house, 19 days working 24 hours a day....hmmmm, what were we doing wrong, why did it take so long and we were EXHAUSTED after those 3 hours. How would we feel after 453 and a half more hours?

So we left it for a few days, went to work on other things and then decided we need a bigger hopper to get more product on the wall faster. So we ordered an industrial hopper. This would solve EVERYTHING! The answer to our dreams. It was delivered and we were excited to give it another go. We prepped more wall, mixed more admixture and left it to get its' ZZZzzzzzz. And we were off again.

STOP
Wasn't going on any faster and we ended up with more product on the floor than on the wall. Cue cartoon deflated music here. This was the answer to our dreams, our key to cutting our 453 and a half hours down to 20-30.....what happened. We now were also almost a bag of product in the whole with all the waste that ended up on the floor even though we tried to scrape it up and re-trowel onto the wall.

Maybe we can just trowel it the product onto the wall with the hawk and trowel like the experts do. Doesn't look that hard.......scoop onto the hawk, scrape onto the trowel, apply to wall in large sweeping motion. Easy.

NOT
This stuff wouldn't stay on the hawk, every time I moved it rolled whichever way the hawk was tilted. Getting it on the trowel, virtually impossible and keeping it on the trowel OR the wall for that matter was IMPOSSIBLE. Again, pounds of plaster coated the floor and that white foam just stood there staring, laughing, mocking.......

Needless to say we gave it to the good 'ole college try in 3 separate attempts to rid our view of white ICF foam, 13 hour investment and only 69 square feet covered. Only 3,431 square feet to go. And the outside product wasn't any easier. The exterior Gigacrete product, stuccomax is easier to mix as it just uses water but it didn't magically go on the wall any easier.

Plan B - get help.

So I asked our concrete guy - Tim Crews if he knew of any plaster guys. I had called a guy off of Craigslist which was a disaster on the phone alone so I needed more resources. Tim recommended calling Vista Builders, a concrete supplier in Auburn, CA, who were SO UNBELIEVABLY nice and gave me a few names of local guys. Called guy #1 and he got right back to me, came up to check out the project and laughed at our feeble attempts to imitate his skill, and rightly so.

Needless to say within a 2 weeks we have a crew of 5 guys up at the house plastering their hearts out with amazing skill and talent while Kyle and I worked feverishly to mix product and keep their hawks full of plaster. It was a crazy 3 days working non-stop to keep up with the guys and then another 3 days to do the interior with a smaller crew.

So a few lessons learned from this experience. Plastering is not really a DIY project and it actually takes a village. Mastering the hawk and trowel takes years, is an art in itself and the next time I am cocky enough to think that I can just twist my wrist and gracefully smooth plaster on my wall - WHACK me over the head. If it took 5 professionals 3 full days to plaster the exterior with us both mixing full time to keep them supplied, what on earth would it have taken us to finish up.....we were nuts.

I am glad that we didn't waste too much time trying to figure out the plastering world ourselves and that we were able to use our little network to source these great guys that came up and knocked our place out in no time. Call me humbled!










Not sure what K was doing but you can see the drying plaster in the background

Interior plaster

I can tell you this Gigacrete stuff is amazing. It is harder than anything I have ever seen yet has a soft, natural look. We love that it is a green product and so far is holding up perfectly. We are really impressed and would recommend Gigacrete to anyone looking to plaster inside or out.





Saturday, January 11, 2014

Foam, foam and more foam

As if it wasn't bad enough that the entire one side of our house is made up of this fluffy white foam, Kyle is a foam addict with that spray foam gun, he foams EVERYTHING with 4x more foam than he needs to fill a void. I swear he would have insulated our entire house with that little spray foam gun, just like the one below.



We have gotten a lot of the tools for the ICF block and foaming from Wind-lock, and they are great to work with. Especially when you are ordering cases of foam and foam cleaner;-)

The ICF side of the house comes pre-insulated but we needed to insulated the containers and the roof over the whole house. So we found Spray Foam Energy Solutions and George, Pedro and Dave hit the ground running on some of the hottest days of the summer and started spraying foam. It is a rough process as first off EVERYTHING has to be covered with plastic. Dave worked like a fiend getting plastic over everything and Pedro donned the big white hazmat suit and breathing apparatus and was armed with the spray gun and got started spraying foam into the roof and under the containers.

It was a few hot, hot days and I felt for Pedro in that suit and holding a spray gun with product coming out at insane temperatures. It was sure rough going but those guys powered through and got the whole house insulated in about 4 days.

It was tricky to get in all the nooks and crannies and NOT get this stuff over everything else in the house. Most of the house looked like an episode from Dexter -


Yah, freaky, right. but it did protect most of the rest of the house, though I am still pulling staples out places you never thought staples would go.



It made the house pretty weird looking, like it was full of butter but it sure filled the voids and puffed up to fill each cavity.



The insulation was sprayed in between the metals studs right to the container sides on each side of the containers as well as in the roof and underneath the containers.



And you can still see the white foam blocks of the ICF on the right, the OTHER white foam. We also sprayed foam in between the beams in the roof of the ICF portion of the house. We have rigid foam on top of the roof between the plywood sheathing, ice and snow cover, felt and the metal roofing. We also added the spray foam on the inside which will get covered up by different materials depending on the room, stay tuned!!!



Spray foaming way up on the scaffolding in the living room.


After the foam was sprayed in a sheathing of plywood went over the top and attached to the metal studs.



And then had to add another layer of rigid foam over the plywood before the siding went on. This was stop thermal bridging between the screws for the siding and the metal studs. 


The red lines are a special tape that we used over each seam to ensure that they were covered and no water would seep in there.


So onto more windows and siding for both the containers and the ICF.......Whoop, Whoop!



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Real time blogging

Fast forward to this past weekend I figured I needed to blog about something far more interesting and and visually satifying than black ABS vent pipe. A post about paint drying is more interesting than ABS vent pipe. I will return to the chronological progress of the house next post.

This weekend we knocked out a big project that has been in the planning from the beginning. Remember THIS post where I attempted to design and locate our propane tank pad which will also house the generator and hold the hot water solar panels?

 
I created this sketch-up with the Google software and it was going okay until I realized that my wall had no back and most of the posts didn't reach the beams. But the County and our concrete guy got the idea and fortunately didn't take us seriously when they saw it mapped out....

 
Google maps dumped it on a restaurant roof in Boulder, CO and the sucker wouldn't budge - FAIL!
 

 
Tim Crews from Precision Concrete poured the pad and retaining wall, more on that HERE. And this weekend we got to town on finishing the structure so we can get the solar panels up.


 
It went up pretty easily though I have some doozy of bruises on my arms trying to get those 12' beams into place and poor Kyle took the brunt of the lifting.

 
Once the posts were up, the cross beams in place and the large perpendicular beams up we roofed it using some of the panels we cut out of the containers. After cleaning and grinding them, we srewed them down to the structure frame and caulked the seems. This weekend we will paint the roof top in preparation for the strutting supports to go on that will hook into the solar panels.
 
 
This little house gives shade to the propane tank, our backup power generator and a water pump. All the piping to the house comes in through the middle of the back wall. It will be easy to maintain and protect this equipment from the elements. You can tell we wrapped this project up just as the sun was setting on Sunday night.
 
We have some more long-term ideas for this structure that are REALLY cool but you y'all will have to wait and see. We have so many ideas for the leftover panels from the containers we might run out of them. For the time being, this is another project off the list!!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hold on to your pants - we got us some plumbing

Really can't gush on this post, can't go on and on about the joys of plumbing and indoor running water and flushing toilets. It really is NOT glamorous, exciting, adrenaline rushing or remotely interesting at all.

But nevertheless in the name of full disclosure and just because I went to the trouble of taking the pictures I will share this momentous milestone with all of you.

The plumbing has proved to be a challenge as all the 'water' appliances are in the container side of the house and having sandwiched two containers together we don't have the luxury of an interior wall to chase plumbing pipes through. Hence there were a few renditions of the plan but Kyle finally came up with a layout that fit the house, that we could work with, with the finished look of the house and most importantly a plan that the County Inspector signed off on.

We needed to get all the plumbing pieces installed before we could have the spray foam insulation applied as it would be a huge ordeal to cut through it after the fact to run the plumbing through both in the walls of the exterior of the container and underneath the containers. Kyle also ran all the conduit for the electric underneath the containers so all we need to do is run wire to connect the dots.

The other thing we needed to do before we could even put most of the plumbing and electric in was to clean up the underneath of the containers. Sounds easy enough, it is cleaning........WRONG!
THIS WAS THE MOST DISGUSTING JOB AS OF YET ON THIS HOUSE BUILD. Did you hear me, DISGUSTING.

It involved laying on my back on one of those wheeled boards that car mechanics use with a metal grinding wheel in hand, eye glasses, gloves, a face mask, a face shield in 90+ degree weather and on the second go around, a doo rag as it took me days to get the rust pieces out of my hair. Grinding the rust off the underneath the containers was miserable. It went everywhere, in every crack, nook and cranny. I came out from that 2' crawl space each time covered head to foot in brown filth, I was filthier than any time from the horse days. So glad that, that job is behind me and done and the black widow spider was relocated (to the vacuum).

Anyway, onwards and upwards after buying about 200+ plumbing elbows, turns, angles, connectors, reducers and multiple other parts and pieces that seemed to have no name but all come in black ABS plastic.


It is tricky to plan the venting for every single toilet, sink, shower etc..and how they can all tie into one another so your roof doesn't look like swiss cheese. This one above is for the kitchen, overcoming the venting code to maneuver around the window directly above it. 


This is the downstairs bathroom for the sink, toilet and shower. We lucked out here because of the site built wall between the bathroom and laundry room directly behind it.


This is the master bathroom, difficult to overcome some challenges here as there is the structural red iron on the exterior of the house that we cannot drill through so took some ingenuity on Kyle's part. And again the window issue above the sink came into play. This design resulted in some unique design finishes that we came up with so stay tuned for that down the road.



This takes the downstairs bathroom vent up to the roof. This runs through the master closet and will get chased out.  


Drainage from the master bathroom shower (above) and toilet (below) that come down into the utility room and back hallway, respectively and the hallway will get chased out.



Our clean-out, the final chase design will provide a small broom closet here that will allow access to the clean-out.


So once all the plumbing and venting network is in place the openings to the fixtures get covered up and then the entire system gets filled with water to ensure that there are no leaks. Here is Kyle filling the whole system from the roof top. It was actually kind of fun and SUCCESS first time. Way to go baby, nice planning and install. Who needs a plumber and we have INDOOR plumbing. It was all worth it.


And a moment to appreciate the nice view a the end of it all. Phew.....now on to the next thing - insulation!