Sunday, January 27, 2008

No more leaks!

Hurray! the pressure has been sitting right at 80psi for more than 24 hours, with no sign of any more leaks! We were both pretty nervous because we'd checked every one of the connections already, and it was looking like the leak was somewhere in the tubing. Plus, we were repeatedly warned that overtightening the connections at the manifold is a sure way to cause leaks, and there weren't many threads left to tighten things down before reaching that point.

<-- This photo illustrates the problem very nicely, doesn't it?!

That gauge was screwed in pretty tight, but apparently not tight enough.. With both of us cranking on it (Dan holding the wrench, and me holding the manifold to not tweak it right off the wall), we managed to get almost another 3/4 turn. Which isn't enough to get the gauge facing all the way front, but is just barely far enough so it doesn't push everything out of alignment with the wall.

Everything is so delicate that knocking one piece of tubing can cause that line to start leaking (as we discovered while tightening the gauge, so we picked up some tubing clips to hold everything in place.

Now it's all nice and tight and leak free, so we're going to give the inspector a call and get this show back on the road!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Plan for 2008

We were inspired by our friends over at casa decrepit to sit down and write out our plans for the year. That, combined with a couple days off saw us hard at work at a borrowed office (at left). Here's a shot of us on the beach in Puerto Rico trying to relax. Dan hasn't yet put his blackberry down...


1 - Brick in the driveway - We saved all the bricks from the chimney, which I'm going to turn into a driveway.

2 - Doors - We need to install a garage door and 2 other outside doors downstairs, since we dug down so much the old ones have giant gaps at the bottom. Then there are 3 inside doors downstairs, but we have to build the wall one of them is in first!

3 - Plumbing - We need to replumb the supply lines for the house before we can close in the walls downstairs. We're using pex tubing, so it'll go MUCH faster than copper. In fact, the worst part is probably going to be drawing up the whole plan for the permits.

4 - Finish the heating system - We're putting in radiant heat on the 2nd floor too, so we're using staple-up there.. and we still need to figure out how to heat the third floor.

5 - Wiring - We need to wire the bottom and top floors for electricity, and run cat-5 all over the place for networking. We'll also run some conduit so we can add things later.

6 - Gas lines - There are gas lines all over the house for gaslights which are no longer there, and for heaters and stoves in random places. We need to remove all the extra pipe and run lines where we actually need them.

7 - Build out the bathroom downstairs - This involves a couple walls, a shower pan, tiling the floor and shower, and installing the toilet, sink, and shower fixtures.

8 - Finish the downstairs - This is everything else downstairs.. we need to put up drywall everywhere, which is why we have to run all the wiring and mechanicals first. Once the drywall is up, we want to build some high shelves for storage. And then we can get all our stuff out of storage, hurray! We'll need to repair all the windows too, and possibly replace some that we can't fix.

After all that's done, we'll get started on the kitchen.. it's probably a little optimistic to think that'll happen in 2008, but you never know.

Now, it's time to squeeze the last little bit of warmth out of the ocean (although the rain seems to have followed us here!) before we head back home tomorrow and get back to work. We need to figure out where the pex lines are leaking from so we can get that slab poured!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Let there be heat.. someday

We lagged a little bit on making a decision about whether we wanted to put radiant heat in the slab downstairs, so we're currently holding everything up. These guys would've been ready to pour concrete last week, but we had some problems getting a permit (I know.. shocking, isn't it?!)

Dan knows a guy from an online newsgroup that works for a radiant heat place on the east coast. He designed the whole system and shipped us all the parts and plans. That, plus a weekend or so of manual labor is at a savings of about $8k from the quote we got for someone else to install the tubing!

<-- Don't these plans look beautiful?! Well, the city didn't think so.. at least not the section on the left where the garage and workshop have heat. Turns out, heating a garage is prohibeted in Alameda, along with even insulating one! Dan spent 2 days at the permit office, and talked to everyone on up to the head of the building department, but the answer was still no. We either have to build a wall to make a completely separate garage and then heat only the workshop, or no heat at all on that side of the bearing wall. Well, after all the effort to get a beam engineered to hold up the house so we could have a wide-open workshop, there's no way we're going to split it back up! Plus, we'd have to make it about 3 times bigger than the original garage was, because now that the wall is gone, we'd have to fulfill modern parking requirements. Needless to say, our workshop is not going to be as warm as we'd planned on.

So the plans were resubmitted with only the back part of the house having heat, and those were approved.

Everything we needed to install the tubing arrived within a week!

Dan assemled the manifold ->>

.. and then it was just a matter of zip-tying several hundred feet of half inch pex tubing to the rebar.. We rigged up a little spool on some sawhorses so the tubing wouldn't get all twisted up, and then pulled out enough for a loop at a time.
The only places we had problems were around some of the edges that were a bit too high.. the pex needs to be under at least an inch of concrete or the slab could crack. I ran the tubing under the rebar in those areas, and it's closer than I'd like in some spots, but according to the specs it should be good.

Check out my awesome blister! Someday I'll learn to wear my work gloves..

And voila!

Doesn't it look just like the plans?!

This is the bedroom, and it's on one circuit..

And this is the hallway leading to the back door, and the bathroom (in the yellow rectangle at the bottom right of the pic), and our spiral staircase (yellow square at the top right. The mounting points on the center column are market out so we don't hit tubing when we drill and epoxy in the bolts)

And here's the moment of truth.. the pressure test.

All the tubing is plumbed into the manifold, and then the system is filled with air. It leaked from a bunch of places at first, but with a little effort it seemed to be all good! Except that it's not holding pressure.. At 80 psi in about an hour it dropped down to 65 psi with no obvious leaks.

(handy tip for anyone looking to test for air leaks: get a bowl of soapy water and a brush. Brush the water onto all the connections and anywhere that's leaking will bubble up.)

Hopefully there's just a very slow leak from the manifold that's going unnoticed in the soapy water test.. because if it's leaking from any of the lines it'll be a looooong process to track it down.

We were hoping to get that inspected tommorow, and then the slab could be poured next week, but we need to figure out where it's leaking from and who knows how long that'll take.. Better that it leaks now than a year from now when most of it's embedded in concrete and it's impossible to fix.. but it sure would've been nice to have it be perfect the first time.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blue Skies!

70 mph winds and flood warnings, but all we can see when we look out the window are bright island skies! Loud, flapping, plastic skies :)

This was exactly the weather I was scared of, but these guys are going out of their way to make it as painless as possible for us.. The house is sitting on a foundation, and it's all backfilled in, so the ground around the house is solid. Every opening is covered with a tarp, so the only place water is getting in now is through the gap between the sill plate and the first piece of siding.

<--They're getting out the last of the forms here, and getting ready to spread gravel inside.

All the foundation drainage is in place, and we have all the downspouts tied into it as well, but the sump pump wasn't supposed to go in until after the slab was poured. The rain is predicted to be pretty constant for a few days, so they managed to get the pit in place and the pump working before the storm hit. And boy is it working!

The slab still needs to poured under it, and the outlet still needs to be laid but this is a pretty good test of the system. The water is just shooting out a pvc pipe next to the front stairs for now..

.. which brings me to the very exciting detail..


They were only visible for a few minutes before everything got battened down, but look how nice!!! Jeff primed them before the rain, so they'll be ready for us to finish once this work is done. (We thought we were going to be building them ourselves at the end of the month, so I'm extra-excited that they're already there!)

And.. do you notice anything else about this picture? There's a newspaper on the stairs!! They've only been there for 5 minutes and there's already a newspaper on them!! (I may be exaggerating slightly, but I was used to the morning game of hide-and-seek at our old place to find the newspaper under the car, or sticking out of a slightly-worse-for-wear plant.. one more reason I LOVE ALAMEDA!)

Here's the underside of the stairs.. I can't wait to walk on them! They look very nice and sturdy, don't they?!

The sump pit is just to left of here.. So we still have a little room under the stairs that we can use for storage. We have much more living space here than our old house, but a net loss of storage. And we have to find somewhere to keep all those Halloween decorations!

Getting back inside..

<-- This is the view in the garage after the cribbing came out. It didn't stay like this for long. There was more dirt excavated to bring everything down to the correct, even level.

Then a pile of clean crushed gravel was poured for drainage.

A thin vapor barrier was put down on top of the gravel, then a layer of sand was spread on top of that.

And then, because we're going to put radiant heat in the slab, a layer of 2" foam insulation was put down.

(We'll post some details about the radiant heat.. we went back and forth on whether to do it, then decided we'd be silly to not take this opportunity to put it in since once the slab is poured it'll be much more work and money to put it in later.)

And then, on top of the insulation, the Bituthene goes down (it looks sort of like whitish asphalt in these pictures.. it's a thicker than I expected)

And then finally, the rebar goes on top! The spacers hold the rebar in place so they wind up in the center of the slab.

We'll be tying the tubing for the radiant heat onto the rebar.. so we'll be holding things up for about a week. Otherwise, they'd be ready to pour the slab now.

Here are some other odds and ends around..

This is the rough plumbing for our new bathroom.. Turns out venting wasn't part of the plumber's price quote, so that's costing more than we thought..

And no, that's not structural mustard.. it's chalk they used to mark the position of the rebar.

Here's that beefy beam I was telling you about in the main workshop area. This guy is holding up the whole front part of the house, so we only have that post in the space and not a whole wall! It's very exciting.

And there's plenty of room above the beam to run all our wires and plumbing and what-not, so we won't need to notch the joists for anything.

And here is the final framing in the garage! It looks just like a garage, doesn't it?!

Next up is the radiant heat.. and waiting out the storm

Friday, January 4, 2008

Another Crazy Idea-Sunken Concrete Patio!

Turning Lemons into Lemonade in Grand Style!!

One of the things we didn't count on when doing this project was just how much the lot slopes from back to front. At the front the new slab will only be about a foot underground, while here in the back as the picture shows it's more like 3'!!! Yikes, we can't have our new door opening into a 3' tall dirt wall can we?
Here's what it looks like from inside the back room looking out into the back yard. We knew the back door was going to be below grade, just not this much. In the original contract with the concrete company they are going to excavate back 20', even with the sides of the house and re-pour the deck post footings so they will be at grade. We were thinking maybe 2' high walls....well, in the back they are going to be more like 3.5' walls!!! Yikes!!! Walls that tall are going to require a retaining wall.. we can't just have them make the cut and go away and get to it later - the walls will collapse and make a mess.

Here's what we've come up with! A big gorgeous sunken patio that Irene is calling our sunken living room. It'll have a stamped concrete floor (with drainage) to look like flagstones. We were not sure about how the stamped concrete would look but we saw an example on a house and it looked fine. We will use concrete stains to make it look like real stone. Along three sides of the patio we will have concrete benches. We would like some way to texture the benches so they don't look like concrete, but we don't know if they can be stamped like the patio? In the upper south-east corner we are going to plumb in a gas line for a fire pit that folks can sit around when it gets cold out. We also left space for a BBQ (which will also be plumbed with nat gas-yeah no more tanks to change!!)

Here's what the cross-section of the bench-retaining wall will look like. The seat is sloped for drainage, and the back and knee section will be sloped for comfort.
Here's the brilliant thing - the benches can be viewed as a two tier retaining wall (of odd shape for sure) that won't require permits!! Or a hand rail along the outside of the patio! The patio does not require permits either so we can do the whole thing without the city getting involved!!! Yahoo!!!! No paperwork, no fees!!!! and we'll have a super cool outdoor entertaining area for our most favorite BBQ parties!
So, what do y'all think? Great idea? Crazy idea?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Foundation, Day 22

It's a new year, with a new foundation! Let's change things up and start at the back of the house today..

The back stairs are holding up pretty well. The concrete bottom step is long gone, so we have a nice ramp up to the stairs. And you can see the sheathing on the back wall that goes all the way from one side of the house to the other! The posts under the deck will need to be redone after the ground is excavated down to the level of the door.

You can also see the ABS drain line from our kitchen sink tacked up outside the wall. It's temporary, and much better than the bucket we found under the open pipe last week.

This is the back door from the inside. You can see the new studs and outside sheathing. All the bearing walls are being sheathed on one side now, and left open on the other for easy access. After we've run all our wires and plumbing and insulation and everything else we'll close up the other side.

Here's a temporary beam in the garage held up by a temporary post. When we first got the house there were a couple of posts holding a beam up in more or less the same spot.. when this is done we'll be able to pull an actual car into the garage!

Here's from the front of the house looking back. The post up close is holding up the other end of the beam in the garage.
The post further back is holding up the super-beefy 6"x10" beam that's holding up the middle of the house.. I'll have to get a better pic of that beam, it doesn't look sufficiently impressive here.
In back you can see the bearing wall with its plywood sheathing. The door in that wall leads to a hallway, at the end of which is the back door.

Check out our new front stairs!
You can see the stringers installed on the side, with a nice flashing detail which should keep these stairs in good shape for a long, long time.

Underneath the front stairs is the pit where the sump pump will be installed. We're a little worried at how full it already is of water.. If it's lower than the level of the groundwater it'll never stop pumping.

We were originally hoping to use that area for storage, but a sump pump that's out of the way and easily accessible is pretty good too.
We're so glad we got to make some actual progress in 2007, and 2008 is when all the manual labor starts.. happy new year!