Now that the house is in pretty good shape, it is time to start covering all of the bare earth around the house with plants.  When we worked earlier with our landscape architect, Amy Cupples-Rubiano, she had put together a beautiful design with native plants and different climate zones in the yard.  For the open, sunny, unirrigated areas the plan was for “open grasslands” – native grass and wildflower meadows that would go green in the winter rains, burst into color in the spring and then become a dormant golden brown during the summer.  For the planters nearer the house on the sunny south side that tends to get very hot from both direct sun and reflection off a sunny wall, the plan was for chaparral species like manzanita.   The shaded  areas around the fruit trees would be filled with more shaded grassland species, the front yard would have redwood understory plants in around our huge Deodara tree in the front yard (and our new tiny redwood seedlings that we hope will grow up to join our neighbor’s redwood grove).  The final “climate zones” are the greywater wetlands with rushes and bog plants that will live with their roots down in the greywater gravel leach field, and then the orchard which is watered from the output from the greywater wetlands.

It will be a multi year process getting all of these plants established, but I have started with a combination of broadcasting seeds in the meadows (seeds available from Larner Seeds, a specialty native plant seed company), starting the seeds that need more care in little greenhouse trays, and buying container plants from our local Summerwinds nursery that has a California Natives section, and, of course, the famous Yerba Buena nursery where huge numbers of native plants are available, and ordering bare root fruit trees.  Where possible, I tried seeds, as container plants run $5-$15 per container, and I have a LOT of bare earth to cover.

Seedlings in the “jiffy” planter

There will be updates as I go along, but the following plant species are the ones going into the various parts of the garden:

Open Grassland Grasses (all from seeds, sowed directly) :

  1. California Fescue (festuca californica)
  2. Blue Fescue (festuca idahoerisis)
  3. Purple needlegrass (nasselta pulchra)

Open Grassland Wildflowers (all from seeds, sowed directly):

  1. California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
  2. Blue Thimble flowers (Gilia capitata)
  3. Tidytips (layica platyglossa)
  4. Sky Lupine (lupinus nanus)
  5. plus “hills of california” wildflower mix from Larner seeds

Shaded Grasslands (all from seeds, grown as seedlings)

  1. California Fescue (Festuca californica)
  2. Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana)
  3. Pt. Reyes Checkerbloom (sidalcea calycosa rizomata)
  4. Blue-eyed grass (sisyrinchium bellum)
  5. Yellow-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium californicum)

Chapparal garden (all container plants except as noted)

  1. Marina Madrone Tree (arbutus ‘marina’)
  2. Western Redbud Tree (Cercis occidentalis)
  3. Manzanita densiflora (Arctostaphylos densiflora “sentinel”)
  4. Wood’s Manzanita ground cover (arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘wood’s compact’)
  5. Western Mock-Orange (Philadelphus Lewisii)
  6. Coffeeberry (rhamnus californica ‘Eve Case’)
  7. Collingwood rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis)
  8. Dark Star wild lilac (ceanothus ‘dark star’)
  9. Blue blossom wild lilac (ceanothus thyrsiflorus) (attempting to grow from seeds, not successful yet)
  10. White sage (salvia apiana) (from seeds, grown as seedlings)

Manzanitas waiting for their planter to be made

Redwood understory (all container plants except as noted)

  1. Western columbine (aquilegia formosa) (seeds, grown as seedlings)
  2. Western sword fern (polystichum munitum)
  3. coral bells (heuchera)
  4. Redwood sorrel (oxalis oregana)
  5. Wild Ginger (asarum caudatum)
  6. Coastal strawberry (fragaria chiloensis)
  7. Shaggy Alum root (heuchera pilosisima) (seeds, broadcast… we’ll see)
  8. Evergreen Huckleberry (vaccinium ovatum)

Planting “redwood understory” with redwood bark around it

Wetlands (some container, some seed, but I had a lot of difficulty finding suitable plants!)

  1. Common horsetail (equisetum arvense)
  2. California rush (juncus patens)
  3. Slender sedge (carex praegracilis) (seed, grown as seedlings with some sown directly)
  4. Bull clover (trifolium fucatum) (seed, to be sown directly)

Orchard and fruit shrubs/vines (greywater irrigated)

  1. Pomegranate
  2. 3-in-1 cherry tree (has bing, ranier and one other type grafted in)
  3. 4-in-1 pluot tree (flavor king, flavor supreme, dapple dandy and ?)
  4. Snow queen Nectarine
  5. Blenheim apricot
  6. Pinkerton avocado
  7. Kiwi vines
  8. Varigated Eureka lemon
  9. Key lime
  10. 6 kinds of blueberries (jewel, blueray, misty, star, sharpblue and an old one I had)
  11. A heritage red raspberry (rubus idaeus)
  12. and a thornless blackberry (rubus ulmifolius)

our little fruit trees with their various grafted limbs tagged

The grey water system is now up and running!  As was detailed in earlier posts, the house is double plumbed so that water from our bathroom sinks, showers and washing machine all flow out of our grey water sewer pipes for diversion into our grey water system, and the toilet sewage and kitchen sink water (aka “black water”) flows straight to the municipal sewer.  Because our grey water exited a bit low to flow directly into our intended wetlands, we needed a sump pump to pump it back up to enter the grey water wetlands… except that those also needed to be constructed before we had anywhere for the water to go, so up until now, all the water (black and grey) has ended up in the municipal sewer.

A covered box needed to be constructed around the sump pump so the area could be buried but we would still have access to the sump pump for servicing, and the diverter valve should we ever need to bypass the wetlands and start dumping the grey water back into the main sewer (note the outflow pipe leading off in the direction of the wetlands)

During rough grading, our guys excavated a 15’x25’x2′ deep “wetland” area in the middle yard which was to be filled with gravel for treatment of the grey water

Three trenches were then dug in the far back yard, lined with drain rock, and then perforated drain pipe. Check valves in line with the drains prevent siphoning of water back up into the wetlands. These pipes were then covered with a layer of drain rock, and reburied under the soil

The grey water pit was then lined with a protective liner to help keep the EPDM membrane (the water proof liner) from getting punctured. You can buy special material for this commercially, but we reused the spongey plastic separators that came in between the huge paving stones. Rather than throwing it away, it found a second use as our protective liner

An enormous (and astonishingly heavy) pond liner was then rolled out to fill the pit. We are using 40 mil EPDM which is available at specialty pond supply stores or by mail order on-line. It is more durable than the lighter weight PVC pond liner you can buy at Home Depot or Lowes

We partly filled the liner with water to help settle the bottom and smooth it out. Then landscape fabric “socks” were wrapped around perforated pipe which was plumbed to an overflow that passed through the EPDM membrane to flow into the now buried leach field. The pipe coming in from the left with an in-line check valve is the overflow from our rainwater cachement tank, so in a year of very heavy rainfall, our excess rainwater also gets dumped into the greywater leach field

This liner was then filled with (two and a half truck loads!) of  3/8″ pea gravel, and Catherine discovered her little measurement error… the water would overflow the edge of the liner before flowing out of the pipe… the pass through, however, was a nice use of two toilet flanges that bolted face to face through the liner (with a 3″ hole cut in it) making a water tight seal … the guys at our local plumbing supply store know it is usually going to be something weird when Catherine walks in.

The pea gravel was then covered with landscape fabric and a little sand to keep it in place in anticipation of being buried… but things were on hold for yet another trip to the plumbing supply store in search of a solution for that pesky outflow issue…

A little plumbing ingenuity was all it took to bring the outflow pipe down to the right level, have an access point for draining the wetlands (should that ever be necessary), and still keep the grey water from flowing into the rainwater cachement tank…

Now when the water is filled up to the level of the top of the gravel, (but still a couple of inches below the liner top all around!) water starts to flow out of the outlet to the leach field. It is a beautiful thing. Grey water in one end of the wetlands, and cleaned water out the other end off to irrigate the yet-to-be-planted fruit trees

Then all that work is buried under a layer of mulch, and a bit of top soil with only the access drain peeking out.

We had talked about having a grey water wetlands construction party, but this construction ended up being dragged out over such a long time with such uncertain weather, that it really wasn’t practical to try to get a group together (and Catherine was stressed out and quite unpleasant to be around while sorting out the drainage issue).  Our apologies to anyone who had their heart set on shoveling gravel, gluing pipe and schlepping liner.  Should you want to do this yourself, feel free to contact us and come and see our system and see many many more detail photos.

Since “going live” about a week and a half ago, the wetlands have been handling all our grey water, and with the recent deluge, they have absorbed the rain with no problem at all, as it simply flows on out to the leach field.  For those comparing this construction to the original plans, you will notice that the “soil islands” are missing.  These are intended to increase the types of plants that can be planted with their roots down in the water to be treated.  However, we will not be putting in the stream or the ponds for a while yet, and we decided that we would put in just a few plant types initially, and see how it fared through the winter.  We wanted to make sure we didn’t have to do any significant rework of the basic wetlands before adding the other features, (and going to the effort and expense of putting in the stream).  After all, there is still so much to do elsewhere in the house!

This post is a bit backdated to moving day because around the time we were so stressed out, a blog post would have been pretty much incoherent.

The house had passed final inspection, and we set a date of Saturday November 13th for moving day which would be after most of the hardscape was done.  Fall is an extremely busy time for Catherine’s travel, but it seemed like the best of a bad set of options – at at least Catherine had a little over a week at home leading up to that day (it was sandwiched between trips to New Zealand and England).  So many dates had come and gone (the house at this point was almost a year past our most optimistic date, and nine months past what we thought was our “more realistic” date, six months past our “well, it will never take *that* long” date, and three months past the “are we EVER going to finish this project?” date.)  Needless to say, we really really wanted to be in the house for Thanksgiving, so we decided to go for it.

For days before the move, Catherine was waking up every night at 2 am from anxiety dreams, and simply couldn’t get back to sleep, so she got up and packed boxes until the sun came up and then went to work.  Paul was wound tighter than ever, and Natalie was starting to say she was going to miss the old house, and maybe didn’t want to move after all.  The cats were also cooped up inside in anticipation of the move, and were driving each other, and all of the humans, crazy.

The day before the move, the landscaper’s project manager called saying the people cleaning the house prior to our move in had “noticed water pouring out of a second story sprinkler head into [Natalie’s room], and it was now dripping out of the downstairs ceiling” and had asked him to call us.

Yeah, OK.

Catherine was making lots of panicked phone calls to the general contractor, fire sprinkler contractor, the solar hot water contractor, the plumber and anyone else she could think of as she raced up to the house from work.  It turned out that the fire sprinkler folks had run their pvc fire sprinkler pipe too close to the solar hot water return pipe.  Now that the solar hot water was up and running in anticipation of us moving in, the pipes had gotten hot enough to melt the sprinkler pipe resulting in the flood.

The sprinkler pipe was rerouted, the water was drained away, and holes poked in the drywall to let the water all drain out – and preparations for moving the next day grimly continued.

Moving day probably would have been fairly uneventful had the movers actually shown up. But no.

We were scheduled for an afternoon move to give us more time to finish packing in the morning.  They were supposed to arrive between 2 pm and 4 pm which was already rather late to start a move, but the only time they would commit to.  We were done packing at noon, and we had started taking car loads over to pass the time.  As 4 rolled around, and the dispatchers could not get a hold of the crew to get an estimated time, it was looking pretty grim.  They were found by the dispatcher some time around 5 pm, but were “not quite done” with the previous job, and at 6 pm they were still pretending that they were coming and “would be there in 15 minutes” but 15 minutes later, called to say they weren’t coming after all – “sorry”.  Apparently this crew had had two people call in sick that day, so the last move which should have had four guys had only two, and it had taken all day.   Our move was also scheduled to be a four man crew, so there was no way these two exhausted guys could do this alone at that point, but we were furious with the company which could have easily predicted that a short crew was going to be delayed and looked for alternates.  These guys had gotten good reviews on Yelp, but they really screwed this up…

We were a bit stuck.  We had moved and already unpacked our whole kitchen and set up for dinner that night, so we zipped back to the old house, put Nat’s mattress in the car, grabbed our inflatable bed out of storage, and all of our bed linens, and set up mattresses in our new bedrooms.  Our first night in the house was not *quite* how we had imagined it, but we were there, and our senses of humor were still intact.

The next day an excellent, efficient and very hardworking crew showed up at 9 am, and moved everything quickly. It was just a day late, and on the morning of Natalie’s first horse show with California Riding Academy, so she and Catherine left Paul back at home to handle the whole moving crew himself.

Natalie on Little Leo waiting to go into the ring

Natalie proudly shows off the ribbons she won

We unpacked as quickly as we could, but by mid afternoon, Catherine had to leave for the airport to fly to England for a week.

This is one of those things that is so much funnier in retrospect.  In the end, we did have a wonderful Thanksgiving in the house.   There are still boxes to be unpacked, and even a few things still to move over from the old house that didn’t fit in the moving truck, but all in all, the stress level is way down, we are really really enjoying being in the house, and we are just methodically working our way through the 1001 not-quite-done-yet details.

More to come on those.

In late October, we were getting close to being able to get final inspection.  We even dared to start maybe thinking about possibly setting a date to plan to move.  The final finishing touches on plumbing and tile were getting completed in the kitchen and bathrooms, and we were getting the hardscape part of the landscaping done so there would be a driveway to drive on, a path to walk up to the front door, a landing when you got there, and a back patio.  As for the soft stuff in the yard, we figured the planting could all happen after we moved.

The kitchen tile finally done… no handles on the cabinets yet

The prep sink in Catherine’s lowered butcher block counter top (for months she’d been standing on cookbooks in the kitchen while cutting in the old kitchen to determine the perfect height for cutting with the big chef’s knife)

Prepping for the landing for the front door

Natalie showing the huge stones that would make up our patios, front walk, and landing

The driveway pavers being laid. We used 4″x18″ pavers – the same aspect ratio used at Stanford at the CCSR building, and had them laid on the same orientation as the house so that they and the paving stones would all change your orientation to our “off kilter” house as soon as you stepped onto the property

You can see that the paving stones immediately change orientation and (hopefully) lead you up to our rather hidden front door. So far most visitors have found our door without too much trouble, but it is a bit hidden

The ground prepped for the rear patio

Black wooden strips secured to the underside of the stairs to narrow the space to that ever-so-critical-for-inspection smaller-than-baby-head size (and fortunately, the addition actually makes the steps seem to “float” even more than they did when you could see the supports)

And AT LAST… final inspection signed off

The staircase finally has the finished treads and is looking great… but not so fast! – it still won’t meet code because the treads have more than a 4″ gap between them. We have a solution for getting our final sign off… stay tuned

The big copper tub that has been sitting upstairs while the house was finished around it finally got its platform and was about to be installed

Part of the plumbing for the tub was putting in a recirculating water heater

Finally in place with water in it. Now the teak decking and screen need to be finished up

The lights for over the stairway went in with our electrician doing the “high wire” act. It is hard to appreciate from this picture just how precarious it feels to be on a scaffold board running between two ladders at the top of a two story stairwell

The finished result of the lights is very nice, however (in this shot they are not *quite* finished as they aren’t all aligned and pointing in the right direction yet

The floor upstairs after the bleaching and sanding getting its first clear coat

The floor in the office with the finished floor

The final counter tops, tiling and appliances are going in now which allows finish plumbing and electrical to happen!

All those clamps!

The finished rail

By popular demand, we put in a picture of the rail while being glued

The guys from Atlas Marble and Granite wrestle the island counter top into place. Autumn green granite in “leather” finish. The dishwasher is happily tucked in already

After a lot of rework in the wall, and drywall patching (!) the kitchen range top/prep area ready for tiling

The glass towers waiting to be installed on either side of the range being bonded to the stainless steel “schluters” which will edge the glass

The field and green glass tile going in around the glass towers (to the left you see Leo, our plumber figuring out how to adjust the Kohler Karbon faucet – I warned him a picture of him actually reading directions was going to make it into the blog…)

The floors are finally “happening”.  Downstairs, the acid stain went on, and apart from a few areas of less-than-perfect results, the overall effect is exactly what we were looking for.

Acid stain is not a paint or a dye, but rather a difficult to predict chemical reaction between the stain and the concrete, and as Bryan Lucay from Groundworks who did the acid stain said “anything you don’t like about your concrete will be magnified by stain”.  Sure enough! The dark spot with the 2×4 is still a bit dark, and the few areas of lumpy trowel marks are now in high relief, and the cracks are nicely outlined in stain, but the overall effect is really nice.  It is not the mirror-smooth high gloss effect I had imagined, but Paul pointed out to me, if the floor had been perfectly smooth with a high gloss, we’d have to sweep and mop a lot more than we are ever realistically going to do to keep it from looking grungy… with a lower sheen, it won’t show the dirt quite so much :-)

The urethane sealer going on over the acid stain

The view into the kitchen showing the mottled floor.

Upstairs, the reclaimed walnut flooring is going in.  There was a bit of angst over the flooring too, as our contractors for the floor install, California Wood Floors, checked the moisture of the sub floor and the moisture of the wood that had been acclimating, and said the moisture levels were a bit on the high side, and we should close up the house, but the heat on, and put in a dehumidifier in anticipation of putting the floor in.  Well… we don’t have any heat upstairs outside of the bathrooms, so there won’t be dry hot air from a forced air heating system drying out the floor in the winter.  Heat upstairs will flow up the stairwell from the downstairs radiant floor heating and be distributed by the HRV (heat recovery ventilation system), so  I called the guys and we discussed our somewhat unconventional heating, and what that would mean for moisture balance in the house, and we agreed that although our moisture levels were a bit high, we were as likely to induce problems like cupping by drying the wood out to an artificial level than we were to prevent problems like gapping – especially since there wouldn’t be any forced air heating.  So in the end we decided to go forward with the wood as is.  The one thing strongly in our favor is that since this wood is salvaged, it is probably something like 100 years old, and it has had plenty of time to finish moving around and adjusting.  We’re hoping!

The wood flooring goes in! You can see many of the knot holes, nail holes, cracks, insect damage and other “character marks” that come with reclaimed wood. The walnut will be bleached to a lighter tone

The stair railing is also in now. Glued in place and held with about 150 clamps while gluing, the railing is also walnut to match the floor and the treads

This week was supposed to be the acid stain and concrete sealing week, but a patch on the floor that had been covered with a 2×4 for a while, and which had not lightened to the same color as the rest of the floor was STILL not uniform with the surrounding floor, and that pushed off the acid stain.  Since the acid stain is not just a color added to the surface, but a chemical reaction with the concrete, it is best to have it as uniform as possible.  So this week was spent with a high velocity fan blowing on the area and it has lightened up significantly.

But the electricity did get attached to the house, we made one outlet in one bathroom live, and the temp power pole that has been our construction electricity is no more. Other details include downspouts going in, the backsplash tiling in Natalie’s bathroom getting done, a test-fit of the beautiful 2″ thick stair treads (reclaimed Eastern Walnut treads from Restoration Timber, but fabricated into the final form by our cabinet makers Wood Classics), and the rest of the reclaimed walnut flooring getting moved up to the bedroom to get acclimated.

NEXT week is now concrete week, and our door locks should all get installed, and possibly even the solar hot water panels (though, I’m not holding my breath on that one).  The following week the rest of the cabinetry, and the initial installation of the flooring should happen, and we can start on the kitchen tiling and install the appliances.

The mural in Natalie’s bedroom gets more detail

Flooring acclimating in the master bedroom

The test fit of the stair treads – they fit perfectly! The credit goes both to American Steel and Stairways who built the staircase, and to Wood Classics who made the treads!

The treads stacked up in the office acclimating and awaiting final installation with the flooring

The roof is on and finished, the grey water system plumbed (see separate blog entry), the kitchen counter tops are going in, tiling getting finished, the staircase has been painted and is waiting for a handrail and treads.  We passed the last “systems” inspection, and now most of those hazardous trenches crisscrossing the yard have been filled in and the water, electricity and gas can all be connected to the house…

Next week the electricity comes down off the temporary pole and the house goes “live”.  The concrete floors will be acid stained and sealed (pretty much a week long process where we can’t go in), appliances arrive, and outside the rough grading starts.

The following week (hopefully) we get the last of the HVAC systems installed (the hot water panels on the roof), and we install the upstairs wooden flooring…

From the front of the house now you can see the roof is done, but there is still an excavator for digging the gas line trench

From the back of the house, you can see the filled in trench (yay!) and the completed roof. the solar hot water panels will be mounted on the second story roof (South facing)

The tile in the master bath is done. There will be a teak screen and teak decking in the master bath, and black “river stones” around the copper tub echoing the river stones around the shower controls

The tub surround for Natalie’s bathroom is now also tiled. Jacik (our wonderful tile guy, another excellent recommendation by Jana, our color and stone consultant) with his all-Polish team of master tile setters did the master bath tiling, and were able to take the random theme of Natalie’s bathroom floor and continue it up onto the wall with the embedded fossils and pebbles

The countertops go in around the Bluestar range top. The green stone is a “leather” honed granite which has a wonderful grain and texture. The lowered pale area is a butcherblock set to Catherine’s comfortable cutting height. On the wall you can see where a bit of blocking is being added for the hood (oops), and there was quite a bit of consternation about the routing of the hood ducting, but it will turn out OK after lots of measuring and re-checking

The countertop for the “coffee area”. Also where the microwave, the oven and the fridge will go

The staircase painted and waiting for treads and a hand rail. Right now, it is still a bit hazardous every time you go up and down, but not as bad as the early days with the ladders!

This feels a bit like the home stretch… but it is still going to be a couple months long!

Now the “punch list” starts – endless details as we make sure the tiling, cabinets, lights, electric switches, flooring, shelves, baseboards (not to mention the final connection of the electrical and water and sewer!) all happen.  Many many details..

The kitchen cabinets being installed

The kitchen cabinets in place

A picture from months ago – laying out the pattern for the “stream” mosaic on Natalie’s bathroom floor in the garage of our townhouse

Countless hours later, Catherine’s insane art project is mostly done on the floor of Nat’s bathroom – still waiting on the special order dark blue grout for the “bubbles” in the stream

The metal pieces ready to be assembled into the roof – these are a very cool material which have high reflectivity in direct sunlight (high albedo), but if you look at them at a low angle, they look dark green

The roof FINALLY going on