Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: A Brief-ish Year in Review

Take a trip with us now through our adventures in 2008. This year started where 2007 left off, with Chez Neumansky getting a new foundation.

We took a little bit of a break to head to Puerto Rico with the OTA gang.. Our camera broke the day before we left, and we both were diagnosed with strep throat while we were there, so this is about all the excitement we had. And let me tell you, it was great!

<-- We were both actually getting work done here on this hammock on the beach Work this past year has been crazy hectic but successful for both of us, and we’re looking forward to an even more successful (but hopefully slightly less hectic) 2009.

February brought a pretty constant stream of concrete trucks.
<-- This is the slab being poured over our wonderful we-hope-to-experience-the-warmth-of-soon radiant heat.

One unexpected by-product of digging down to get a full height downstairs, was that our back door wound up 3 feet below ground level. We knew we’d have to build some retaining walls, but we didn’t think they’d be so big or so immediately imperative. Dan designed this fabulous sunken patio with the stepped retaining walls formed into benches and we had it installed by a guy who’s an expert with stamped concrete. It’s our instant slate patio, and is still the first and only finished room in the house!

March saw us getting back to work ourselves.

<-- Here’s Dan framing in the bathroom downstairs.

And Irene turning our old falling down chimney into a driveway -->

And then it was on to installing heat for the 2nd floor. The entire first month (and periodic moments throughout) was grinding down the nails sticking down from above so we could attach the heating system underneath.

<-- Our romantic anniversary present was matching his and hers grinders, which we’ve gotten a LOT of use out of!

We thought it would be a few years before we had time to build the retaining walls and a deck, but our instant patio enabled us to get back to the traditional Neumansky July Dan’s Birthday BBQ! Friends, family and neighbors (plus a never ending stream of food) made the day perfect, and made for a great housewarming. As day turned to night we fired up the fire

August came quickly, bringing our annual “vacation” to the desert. This year the Fire Lounge came back in full force with several fiery new additions including a flame tornado and a couple of Reubens tubes (not even going to attempt to explain, click here and here for proper details)

Back to the real world and the house, we brought in some help to work on the east wall. You can see pretty much everything in this one pic: the doors we stained and finished, nice waterproofing over earthquake-safe plywood shearwall, fresh windows and new siding. You can also see the new upgraded electrical service to provide more than an extension cord’s worth of electricity to the house.

Soon it was time to turn our attention to the best day of the year, Halloween! Most of our Halloween stuff is still in storage, so we had to get creative and make some things to bring the holiday spirit back to the neighborhood. We scared a lot of kids (and more than a few grown-ups) and won 2nd place in the Alameda Haunt Your House contest. Just wait until everyone sees what we can really do when we have all our goodies back! In the meantime, more pics of the spooky effects arehere

And then, back to the heat. We’re installing radiant heat from the underside, so it’s a tedious job of stapling up metal fins, then pressing tubing that will carry the heat up in them (with all kinds of other fun tasks that I’m leaving out)
It’s California but when you can see your breath in the bathroom in the morning, you realize just how much you really want heat.

2009: Chez Neumansky expands by 2 feet

And that brings us to now. We’re almost done with the heat, and have the permits ready to run the gas and electrical (still waiting on the water..) so we’ve got a good plan and plenty of work ahead.

The big plan for 2009 is that we’re expanding Chez Neumansky by two feet. Two tiny feet of the baby girl who will be joining us this May. That’s right, we have a serious deadline to get the house clean and safe for the newest Neumansky.

Here’s to a healthy and happy new year to all,
-- the Neumanskys

Sunday, December 28, 2008

everybody's favorite hobby, drywall

Now that the manifolds and control panel are all mounted to the wall, we decided it would be fun to take them all down and put up some drywall behind them! hurrray!

The entire garage area needs to be drywalled for fire resistance, and although technically this will all be in a utility closet that is not part of the garage, it's better to be safe than sorry. We're actually planning on using 5/8" drywall everywhere on the first floor, although the only place it's actually required is in the garage.

So, we put the control panel on jacks and pulled the manifolds back from the wall and slid drywall in behind. Of course, all we could find was the standard 4'x8' sheets of plywood, which made drywalling our 9' walls extra fun.

Drywall isn't the worst task, it's just the one I've been saying from the start that I would LOVE to hire someone to do for us, if we can swing it. This was just one wall though, and it would've been way more trouble than it was worth to find and arrange someone to do it for us.

Plus, we still have the fancy drywall screw gun from work on our old house. I will say, this screwgun may have an understanding with Dan, but it clearly hates me.. I ultimately switched to a regular drill which saved the bit on the drywall gun, the drywall, time, and some of my sanity.

This little bit where the hoses come up out of the slab was fun..

I cut scraps to go fit in all the odd spaces, then smoothed it in with tape and mud

I couldn't use premixed mud, because it takes 24 hours to dry and we wanted to get this done and get the panel and manifolds back on the wall before 2009. The mix it yourself kind cures in as little as 20 minutes, depending on the kind you get. I got 45 minute curing, which has a 20 minute working time, which was perfect.

One thing I learned from mixing cement is that it's much easier if you start with water and add the dry mix to that, then add more water as needed.

Here's a lovely shot of me mudding around tubing...

.. which didn't turn out half bad, if I do say so myself.

The large joints between sheets look like a blind 10 year old did them, but this little bit that no one will ever notice looks lovely!

And then on to the other side of the doorway.

The plumbing straps had to be loosened to slide the drywall in behind, but that was the worst of the obstructions on this side, so it wasn't so bad

And viola!

I took another pic after I taped and mudded the seams, but I'd also just vacuumed, so all you can see is the playa reflection of the flash on all the dust

Now it's time to put everything back on the wall and start hooking things up

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nother Top Floor Idea

Okay Here we go again....
Guess what? All those groovey diagrams our architect did? He mis-read the dang scale, so in his drawings the space is much bigger than it really is!!! Sooooooooooo....none of his ideas are going to work!!!! Hurray!!!!
We gave him correctly scaled papercopies of the floor for him to sketch his ideas on. He's supposed to come back to us on Tues with all new super-fab ideas.... we'll see how that goes...

Can you tell that I'm a little cheesed off?

Here's our latest idea for the top floor.

We're pretty settled on the kids room and the kids closet being the way it is. The kids bath size is pretty settled but not the exact lay-out of the bath.

Opened up some space in the master-bed by getting rid of the couch and table and putting in a big window seat with big pull-out drawers underneath. We both really like the idea of having somewhere comfy to read that's not in bed. The closets on either side of the window seat are kinda optional but we like how they frame in the window seat.

We got rid of the door at the top of the stairs and turned the queens closet #2 into a shallower linen closet. Hopefully this will make this area less cramped feeling? We also are trying to make more use of pocket doors.

Still have the closets in the dormer. There is 4' between the bed and the wall on the tight side that gives me 2' for a nightstand and 2' for a pocket door. This does not sound ridiculous to us?

Didn't really screw anymore with the master bath.

Now that the 'pro' has the real dimensions of the space we'll see what he can come up with...

If anyone else wants to take a stab at designing out our top floor please use the diagram in this post it is correctly scaled-with dimensions.-thanks

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Top Floor Design Ideas

Check out our most recent ideas for what the heck we are going to do with our top floor and see what one experts thoughts are.

Here's the original floor plan for the top floor of the house. This floor has been totally gutted remember. Shoot I just realized that this diagram has incorrectly scaled dimensions, so don't pay attention to those...

Here's what the top floor looks like now-its gutted to the studs.
We've decided that we want to do the entire top floor as private family space. On this floor we are going to need to find space for;the master bed-bath, enough closet space for two adults, a kids bedroom-bath and a laundry as much random storage as we can pack in. We've added a dormer opposite the existing dormer and put our closets in it. We kinda like the idea of having windows in the closets. Not sure about the sizes though. Putting the bath were we did in the 'kids room' squeezes the size down but it still seems like a pretty good sized room.

We are giving a local arch. a try. He's a retired prof of arch from some university in OR which I can't remember right now.
Here's his two first shots at designing out the space. We don't know if we like the way he's turned the Master Bedroom into a turny-twisty path. We still are not convinced that we need two sinks.
Why put the kids closet where it is when we have the closet in the hallway that can be used? Seems like we are squeezing down the size of the kids room doing it this way.

This idea is different. The closet in the middle of the room with the TV isnt something that would of occured to us.
The separate shower is interesting also. The toilet kinda recessed might be good too?

So what do y'all think? Got any great ideas for this space? If so we'd love to hear them.

Our pal and neighbor Ayse came up with this mix of ideas. Ayse had this to say
I was looking at your architect's plans and realized that a nice combination is this mix of the two: you get a nice long sight line through the upstairs. I'm attaching my cut-n-paste of the plan. You could also forgo the closet in the kid's room and just put in a wardrobe, or steal some of the space from that storage area right there (the low ceiling part would be a place for shelves and shoe
cubbies) to make a closet.

I like this configuration of the master bath better than the one with a separate entrance for the shower, but I would break the sink counter and add a wall with a frosted glass pocket door between the two "rooms" (shower/sink area and toilet/tub area), so you could have two people using both spaces to their fullest. And I'm not sure I see the purpose of two doors into the shower, but maybe that is an artifact from cutting and pasting; you could use that corner area as a closet or just widen the bedroom.

One thing I don't like is the shelf beyond the tub. My experience with such things is that they end up being dirty and hard to get to for any useful purpose (since you have to climb into the tub to get to the space). If the ceiling is too low there for the tub to move further west, I'd suggest you just box it in (a flush lightbox can make a nice way of making the wall more interesting). If it's tall enough, a small window there next to the tub would be cute. Actually, if you did a little dormer over the tub and scooched it west, you'd get extra headspace and more light and no dust shelf (that's what I heard a real estate agent call them!).

The toilet in a recess is not optimal -- you end up having to work in a tight space when you need to do repairs. On the other hand, it's a shallow recess and does pull the toilet out of the middle of the room.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

fun with plumbing

The last couple weeks have been filled with late nights at work, along with Dan working up revisions to drawings and plans to resubmit them for permits. We now have most of the permits we need for the next batch of work, but there are couple more we're still waiting on a decision for.

Today's fun activity was taking apart the plumbing for our shower drain, which hasn't been doing much in the way of drainage for a week. We've snaked it, poured baking soda and vinegar down it, we even tried drano as a last resort, but no luck. This morning it was time to pull the p-trap and see what was inside.

Except that upon inspection, there was no way of removing the p-trap short of taking a sawzall to the whole dwv assembly. This whole maze of pipes was assembled as a single unit, clearly before it was installed up in the joists.

There was one point connecting to the vent that was held together with a no hub coupling, so we loosened that and removed a section of the vent pipe from outside to try to run a snake from there to the trap. Only instead of the coupling releasing the pipe, the fitting the coupling was connected to broke off at the end, leaving the threads still threaded into the next pipe in the chain

And here you can see both why the metal might've been a little extra rusty at that point, and also why the tub hasn't been draining. It's a nice solid mass of hair and gunk. The blackish ring just inside the rusty ring are the threads that are stuck in there.

The problem was that there was a change in pipe diameters at this point, and the coupling used was designed to go from a larger to smaller pipe, not from a smaller to a larger pipe. I know it doesn't seem like much of a difference, but this same problem cursed us at our Oakland house until we finally found it and swapped it out with the correct part. The difference is that the smaller to larger coupling has a slanted wall so the inside change in size is nice and smooth. The larger to smaller coupling has a stepped wall so anything coming down the drain has a perfect ledge to hang onto. Then a little more sticks, and a little more, and eventually you've got this mucked up pipe right here.

After scraping the schmutz out into a bucket, we have some reasonably cleanish (look, they're 100 years old, they're not going to look like new) pipes.

This is what came out of the pipe. It was less than I expected, but still sufficiently gross. I was tempted to post it as a trichobezoar on craigslist, but it was much more satisfying to throw it away.

The new coupling had to stretch all the way around the fluted end of the pipe because trying to remove the broken threads was just making things worse, so Dan softened the rubber up along with some hot water in the microwave.

Not the most by-the-book fix, but we'll be redoing all this plumbing in another year, so this just has to hold out till then.

And here's everything all put back together, and here I go to take a nice hot shower!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

of thermostats and tree limbs

Dan spent this weekend working on last bits for the heating system. Here he is getting the temperature sensors ready to install. There are 3 zones upstairs, and they each get a sensor and a thermostat.

And each of these has about a dozen wires.. ok, it just seemed like a dozen.

Here he's pulling wires for the sensors and thermostats. This batch is heading up to the kitchen.

This will be the thermostat in the hallway.. once there's heat to control and, you know.. a hallway

Here he's installing the thermostat in the bedroom after feeding the wires up through the floor.

So we're covered for thermostats, next up is a boiler to get something hot flowing through all these tubes.

Meanwhile, I was out back taking care of a little problem with the tent we still have things stored in in the backyard. The point of the tent is to keep the random stacks of wood and metal dry, which works a little better when there's not a tree growing through the roof. We cut these limbs back before we setup the tent, but the tree must be healthier than it looks because in a year and a half the limbs have grown about 4 feet!

I cut this all back and patched the holes, so hopefully it'll do the trick. We'll find out soon, because the rain is headed in

I meant to take more pictures, but that turned out to be a little difficult holding a sawzall up on the "this is not a step" step of a ladder, so picture a lovely patch of gaffers tape and plastic that I'm picturing lasting through many a rainstorm.

Monday, December 1, 2008

happy long weekend

Turns out I was a little optimistic about being done putting up the thin fins.. there were more to put up under the kitchen. Dan put those up on Friday while I pounded in my head.. I mean, pounded in the tubing under the bedroom.

In answer to the question "what happens if you get a hole in the line, or need to add more tubing," here's a little illustration of the fix for the run under the front room that was a miserable 5' too short!

It's exactly like the fittings for copper tubing which I have some experience with..

With the tubing cut square (any angle or jaggedness to the cut makes it really hard to get a good seal), there is a piece of the fitting which slides into the tubing and nut that tightens down over that, with a compression sleeve in between

<-- Here's what it looks like with all the pieces on the tubing, ready to be tightened down

<-- And here's the finished splice. It was frustratingly close to being long enough.. this is only a few feet from the manifold!

<-- Here's Dan shooting a laser line to get the placement for the control panel

<-- And here he's checking to make sure it's level before (and during) bolting it to the wall. Doesn't it look cool?! We'll take the crate sides off so it will just be the flat backboard on the wall with everything attached to that, but they made it a lot easier to set it at the right height. I think it was Ian's idea to set the whole thing on floor jacks - asking a friend who stopped by to help again to hold up a giant heavy awkward thing can lead to the best ideas! ;)

Thank goodness for long weekends of thanksgiving, which gave us enough time to get the rest of the thin fins up (for real this time), all the rest of the tubing pounded in, the control panel up, and the tubing all connected to the manifold (and marked, because my Dan is a smart lad). And the last thing Sunday night was a leak test with the best, most high-tech tool ever: soapy water. All the little leaks were fixed with a little tightening, but you can see the last leak on the right there, just below the pressure gauge where all the bubbles are. The stinking filler valve is broken!

Everything else looks good though, even the splice I put in is holding pressure.. so we just need to replace the filler valve on the manifold, and this phase will be done. Next up, putting temperature sensors all over the place..