With both Paul and Catherine traveling so much in the last few weeks, blogging has been a bit sporadic, but there many details that are starting to take shape.  The plumbers, electricians and HVAC guys are drilling holes everwhere and running pipe, wire and ducts respectively all over. Windows, doors, and even the big copper ofuro (Japanese soaking bathtub) are now arriving and will soon be ready to be put in. Luckily we discovered the ofuro would be too large to get through the doors before the doors were put on, so it will end up sitting in the bedroom while the house is built around it!

Meanwhile, the cedar boards are being installed in the eaves, and it is looking really nice! Also, Michele Landegger from Boa Constructor has been overseeing the prep for the bale raising with Donyat – a local legend in straw bale construction. In two pictures below, you can see the final base for the bale wall and then another photo after the first row of bales has gone in. It is now ready for the bale raising party on November 21st!

The mad scramble to get the house at least a little water tight before the big rain was only partially successful.  The roofers couldn’t get to our site in time, so Osbaldo and his crew put tarps all over the house drawing the ire of our neighbors as we were hammering tarps down until almost 7 pm that night.  A nice, very understanding officer from the Mountain View police department came by to tell us that because someone had called, we had to stop, but he let us get the last tarp on before the rain hit.  Luckily the straw was well protected.  The great room still got a bit flooded as it’s roof wasn’t tarped fully, but the upstairs and the straw stayed dry.  A few days after the rain, the roofers came and put the roof paper on.

Now that it will stay dry, the interior work is moving forward.  Electrical, plumbing, HVAC ductwork and lighting are all going in.  The framing for the bay window in the master bedroom has become a favorite perch for Natalie, and she will miss entering her room by climbing up the ladder and slipping in between the studs in her big curved wall, but I don’t think we’ll miss that too much!

They keep forcasting a deluge of water and gale force winds for this week… Straw? Wood? Maybe we should be building our house out of stone!

This week has been a mad scramble to get the straw for the strawbale construction on site and under wraps, trying to find a straw bale consultant who both returns phone calls and can work on our schedule.  We’re rushing to get the roof on and papered so that we aren’t flooded when what sounds like hurricane Katrina hits (if you believe the hysterical weathermen).  We’ve got plastic on hand to tent the whole house.

Meanwhile we broke a waterpipe (way too exciting), and have been busy cutting down trees, renovating the cottage, and mending fences on the property in every spare moment – a taste of actually living there!

When the weather clears, we’re hoping (really really hoping) for a “bale raising” on October 24th and 25th.  Those of you locally reading the blog will find yourselves with an invitation for bale raising, BBQing and beer drinking (after the bales are up!).  More on that later when we really have a date.

A thing of beauty — the fascia boards match up perfectly!

Osbaldo’s crew started work on the lowering of the roof, and managed to do it in less than two days.  We were afraid that they would have to dismantle much of the roofing work that had been done, but not so!

In the picture at right you can see the forward part of the garage ceiling with a little rim of light all around the top edge where they removed the extra height on the plywood sheathing.  They jacked everything up ever so slightly to take the weight off, then disconnected the joists from the cross beam, shortened those joists, and installed a second dropped beam next to the first.  They then cut out the extra height in the vertical studs, and then using the jacks, gently lowered the entire roof down to it’s intended height and reconnected all the joists to beams and studs to the cap plate… and you can see the square, plumb, solid (and correct height) finished result at right.

The library was even easier, as it doesn’t even have walls yet.  Only the moment posts needed to be shortened, and the whole roof could be lowered, and rebolted on to the posts.

When it was all said and done, the process took about a day plus a little, and the crew went straight back to building, and started installing all of the roof trusses that had arrived.

Yes, the pale fascia board on the left, is meant to be at the same level as the pale fascia board on the right…. For the record: It is not.

Everything had been sailing along, and the framing had been going up well with the “little” problem of the beam near the staircase.  That has now been resolved.  The beam is moved, and the staircase area was properly boxed in.  The second story roof trusses were being ordered and the crew was finishing up on the the first floor roof rafters.  As they came around the house to match the facia boards (the vertical boards at the base of the roof line) over the front door…. they didn’t match.  In fact, they were off by 7 inches.

“Oh %&#@!”

What now???  Everything has come to a screeching halt while the framer and our general contractor figure out where the error is (it looks like the library roof and the garage roof are higher than is in the drawings), and figure out what we are going to do about it…  to make these match, there is some *serious* roof rework that needs to be done.  We’ve already lost a week sucking our thumbs in wonder looking at the mismatched boards… the fix will likely delay us at least another week… sigh.

In the mean time, we’re pressing on with a somewhat maniacal cheerfulness as if this all isn’t happening.  We’ve found another straw bale expert, and with the help of our lighting designer Julie Hoefler, we are busy making about 200 of the 1001 decisions that need to go into lighting, electrical, switch placement etc. etc.  We’ve both been looking at light fixtures until we are crosseyed, but at least now we have all the placements for the electrician to get started.

Stay tuned…

This is the spot where the missing beam has been removed, ready to have the new beam placed…

The mini swimming pool in the wine cellar

The beam that was in the wrong place last week has been removed, and a new one will be put in soon.  Lots of progress has been made on the roofline, and the strawbale library roof has been framed… but our strawbale expert has disappeared off the face of the earth.  Time to find someone new, and figure out what we need to order to get this library built!  We hope he hasn’t fallen into a sinkhole, but three weeks of unanswered phone calls is too many.

We got the first small rain of the season (early!!) and ended up with a puddle of water in our wine cellar.  Hopefully we’ll  be all dried in before the rain starts in earnest.  A little mildew here and there on the wood… sigh.. it will all be dead by the time we move in, but still… I would have liked to see us get a roof on before it rained even a tiny bit.

This weekend we embarked on another “little project” – remodeling the kitchen and bathroom of the cottage in the back.   Since there isn’t really a guest room in the house apart from our rather small office, our plan is to have the cottage really nice for one night to two months stays – but a cramped kitchen and a bathroom without a bathtub make that not so pleasant for our guests, so we are ripping out the bathroom and the kitchen in the cottage and re-doing them.   That we are doing this should be *particularly* amusing to the people who know the story about the two year moratorium on remodeling…

The cottage being deconstructed

The cottage before deconstruction

The second story is now up and the rafters are going on to the bits of first story roof. More house-like every day!

Framing is progressing well in the third week.  The second story has gone on, and by the end of the week all the exterior walls were in place.  Interior walls upstairs are waiting until the roof trusses – which is good!  We made a couple of last minute changes to the internal walls when we started working with the lighting designer to finalize light placement…. really last minute!

We met with our architect (Forrest), our builder (Paul) and the framing contractor (Osbaldo) to finalize the details of the staircase as it will soon be fabricated for inclusion, and there are going to be tricky details to get a big curved staircase up through the middle of the framing, and getting it off center or skewed in any way would look TERRIBLE.  There is already one “whoops” on that in that there was a upstairs floor beam that was moved in the field to better match up with a post…. but it couldn’t be moved that way without interfering with the headroom coming up the stairs.  There is a little bit of re-do that will have to happen to move that beam *back* 6 inches.   I’m sure that is not the last “little” problem with such an ambitious staircase, as the angles are all hard to calculate.  Until our curved staircase is in, an orange ladder is being used to get to the second floor (top pic at right).

The right picture is a view towards where Natalie’s bathroom and the office window will be, and the left picture  is a view “through” the wall into the master bedroom where lots of bracing is still in place, and the downstairs roof rafters can be seen through the big hole that will be the bedroom window seat.

The framing with the downstairs largely complete and the first second story walls starting to go in

Now we are through week 2 of the framing, and the steel cross brace at the end of the living room is fully framed in, the downstairs minus the strawbale library is more or less rough framed, and the first walls on the second story are starting to go in.  It really does start looking like a house quickly once framing starts!

You can see a couple of details at right with the curved wall on the way in to the library now framed, and a look up into the rafters to show the “engineered wood” including both the Oriented Strand Board (OSB) beams, and the engineered “I-Joists”.  Both use considerably less virgin wood than dimensional lumber as they can be made with the “scrap” from traditional lumber manufacture, and are more consistent in their load bearing.  They will emit marginally more formaldehyde in the first few years, but we intend to live with our windows and doors wide open (and have active ventilation when we don’t), so the tradeoff seems good.

The guys from O-R Builders are framing the whole house with “advanced framing techniques” (otherwise known as “optimum value engineering”) which minimizes solid wood use, and keeps the same structural strength in the house while improving insulation efficiency on the house by up to 30% over standard framing practices.

The framing after the first week


We put protective sheeting on the garage floor

Made sure we were using FSC lumber! (This means your wood came from sustainably managed forests.)

Osbaldo Romero and his excellent crew arrived and really went to work for the first week of framing!!   Now the space is really starting to feel more like a house!  After the slab was poured, we were wandering around the downstairs floor saying “is this going to be too small??”  We were starting to wonder if in our zeal to build a “right sized” house, we were going to end up with something that felt too small when we were all done, but enclosing the space with the 10 ft walls paradoxically made the space feel larger…  it is funny how these things work.

The view into the wine cellar – it will be a tight space :-)

Ooops! Ouch! We spotted a couple bloody hand prints on the cross beams…

We’re excited to see how this continues in the next week.

Here it is! The final rough slab ready for sill plates and framing. Now things should really start taking off!

After all the back and forth with the insulation underneath the slab, it still wasn’t clear if the insulation was going to be thin enough around the edges for the rebar to be embedded deeply enough in the concrete.  It was fine in the center, but still a little thick at the edges.  But the engineer and the city both came out to inspect, and gave us the green light to pour.  The radiant barrier was put down (at right), and the final rough slab, and the steps in the wine cellar were poured.

That is almost it for concrete.  After this, it is only the final color concrete with the radiant flooring to put down, but that will come during the finishing steps much later – now the framing lumber is starting to arrive!