Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Final stages of siding and some odds and ends

Our Heatilator! It will be vented through insulated stove pipe that goes straight up through the floor of the loft and then the roof.

The Heatilator unit is framed into this half wall that partly surrounds the stair well to the first floor. To the left of the fireplace is a niche for wood storage (our Heatilator is wood burning, not gas).

Leo working on the door that will *some day* lead to the deck -- right now it leads to a deadly drop of 20+ feet (it's got a lock on it...)

Some of the last sections of MDO going up.

The front elevation looks like hell right now, what with the pump jacks, missing pieces of MDO, missing windows, and two-tone priming job...

Here one of the most interesting visual features of the exterior elevations begins to take shape. The rendering below shows how the architects conceived a sloping section of barn board siding on the front of the house. For a more lengthy discussion of the evolution of the exterior design of the house click here then here then here then here and finally here.

This triangular bump out will ultimately be sheathed in barn board.

This is the architect's rendering of how the bumped out section on the front of the house will look. If you read the older posts linked above you will have a better understanding of the reasoning behind these "bump outs". ©Jasonoah Design Build

This image and those that follow are of the back of the house. Here you can see this bumped out section has been sheathed with barn siding - the ORIGINAL siding that was on the barn when we purchased it. The bump out on the front of the house (above) will also be sheathed in barn siding. ©Jasonoah Design Build

The effect is better than I could ever have imagined. I love the juxtaposition of the old and the new. (This whole project is an exploration of such contrasts.) I also really like how we were able to incorporate some of the look and feel of the barn's original exterior sheathing into the barn's reincarnation. I guess for me it kind of ties the two together and brings the past into one's experience of the present. More to come - exciting to see it take shape.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wire and concrete

The electrician and his assistant have begun to wire the house. First to go in were all of the boxes that will hold switches and outlets. Then they began to run what must be miles of electrical wire throughout the house. They have also begun to install the recessed lights.

It's beginning to look like a jungle with all the wires dangling everywhere...

Yesterday the cement mixers arrived to pour our basement floor. According to our builder the floor wasn't poured sooner because he wanted to wait until the house above was completely enclosed and watertight - so as to avoid our basement becoming an indoor pool.

But waiting as long as he did posed some challenges, the foremost of which was HOW to get the cement down to the basement floor in the first place! So, as you can see here, the truck took aim and carefully bgan backing up...

...and up...

...until it reached just the right place to drop its load: THROUGH this section of floor that had been ripped up for the occasion.

(According to the builder this had been the plan all along. Either way, it was quite a sight.)

Once in the basement, the cement was distributed to the four corners and then smoothed out. They say we will be able to walk on it in a week. This will be just about when the subs need to begin working down there installing water heaters, electrical boxes, etc.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Priming continues...

Recently the workers have had only a periodic presence at the site... Who can say why? I have to keep telling myself that they have other jobs -- and that that's OK. The fact of the matter is that while there IS SOME pressure on them to get the siding up in a timely manner (the next draw is due on its completion) really the tempo is now being set by the subs: the electrician, the plumber, and eventually the sheetrockers and plasterers. Since the subs' work will take them a good three to four weeks, the other guys really are in no hurry. The only problem is that FOR ME this "picking away" pace is MADDENING. I want to see things DONE -- things that I have been looking at for months it seems... There are SO MANY small-ticket items that are like all these loose ends hanging on. (Those who know me know I hate loose ends!) Anyway, they WILL get done -- someday.

As the MDO slowly goes up (emphasis on the "slowly") the house begins to take shape from the outside. I am really loving how it looks. (By the way: Everyone asks why there are splotches of darker gray and lighter gray. The gray is the prime coat -- it's gray b/c this is the tint required for the barn red final coat -- and when I ran out of one batch I had to get more mixed and it turned out a bit darker.

The darker patches that look like vertical lines are this: I spackled over the vertical joints where the sheets of MDO meet. Some places were tight enough that primer alone did the trick. I then sanded the spackle and primed it -- with the darker primer. (Actually, my bro did: thx dude!) When the final coats are on everything will be one even shade of...???

...what? Since the beginning we have thought that the barn house would be painted some shade of red, not necessarily a true barn red, but something that is reminiscent of that color. Anyway, we have been trying out samples of reds, and no one could really agree. AND the house immediately to our left is barn red too. Problematic. So I start putting up the primer and pretty much everyone says, "Hey cool color!" In fact, it really is cool. The pictures don't really do it justice, but it has this kind of bluish tint to it that says "modern" to me. The long and the short of it is that we are now planning on mixing up a gray paint to match the tinted primer.

My baby turned TWO today! Here she is: Dorothy Vader!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More priming

The evening train

Our "back yard".

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Siding continues...

Be sure to read the previous post before you read this one. It explains what our siding material is. As I wrote in that post, the look we are going for is a very sleek, modern one. The MDO panels create a smooth "skin" around the building that highlights its most simple geometries. One of the key tenets of modernism (insofar as architecture is concerned) is the rejection of all decorative ornament and the embracing of a minimalistic aesthetic. As you can see, virtually all trim has been left out: around the windows, on the edges, and especially regarding the siding. Just simple, clean lines.

MDO can't get wet -- until it's got at least the prime coat sealing it up. After the workers have installed the panels I move in with spackle and fill any holes and then begin sealing the panels with a generous coat of primer.

Working around the back.

Those horizontal "pin stripes" are actually strips of aluminum flashing which form what's called a drip cap. This protects the horizontal edges of the MDO panels - one of the places that is most susceptible to moisture penetration. The secondary function of the flashing is to emphasize the horizontal lines created by the MDO panels, an effect that the architects and I find visually pleasing.

That's me working my primer up underneath the drip cap trying to get the best seal possible. The primer has to be this dark gray color because of the color we have chosen for the final two coats: barn red (of course!) The dark primer will "disappear" beneath the red in just one or two coats; if we had used white primer, it could have taken upwards of four or five!

Here is a parting shot at the work I completed before dark this evening. There is still so much to do and my time is running short. I return to school the week after next. As I had feared, the project is far enough behind schedule that by the time my jobs begin in force (flooring, cabinets, painting inside) I will be back as school full time. Figures! Sometimes I feel like this project will never come to an end! I am comforted by the fact that what we are going through is entirely typical. I read a lot of blogs by people who are building their own homes and we are pretty much right in the same boat. My own parents keep reminding me if their own house building experiences and how stressful it was for them, too. We can make it!

Saturday, August 11, 2007


A lot of people have been asking what the house will be sided with. The answer is 4x8 sheets of Medium Density Overlay, or MDO. MDO is essentially a 1/2" sheet of plywood with a layer of resin-impregnated paper glued to the top:
Once primed and painted it is completely water proof and serves as an excellent siding material. Not too long ago MDO was used by highway departments for road signs because of its durability, and builders today commonly use it both indoors and outdoors for trim and soffits.

So, why did we choose this un-traditional siding? Because for one, our house is un-traditional - or, more to the point - modern in design. MDO allows us to create a very smooth "skin" in which to wrap the house that enhances its simple, clean lines and the basic geometry. This is a fundamental tenet of modern architectural design. You can the effect in this rendering of Noah's: ©Jasonoah Design Build

The look we are trying to recreate is summed up in the images below of a house designed by the St. Paul-based architectural firm Alchemy Architects:
(Click on the images for enlargements. You will see the details better if you do.)
Notice how the panels (these are a product known as Parklex) create a tight "skin" around the building that emphasizes its geometric simplicity. Also notice how the way the panels come right up flush with the windows does the same. This is precisely the look we are going for. When I researched the Parklex product (an engineered wood panel) I found out that they were depressingly expensive (almost $400 per panel!!!) So, I began to research alternatives...which landed me with MDO. Here are some images of MDO in use, from one of the blogs I read on a near daily basis (Austin ModHouse):

Since MDO is essentially a plywood, and plywood + moisture = disaster (i.e. delamination, warping, bending, etc.) the KEY with MDO in exterior applications is priming the edges prior to installation. Two coats of top quality primer are recommended. Here I go:Priming the edges while the sheets are still stacked makes the job a heckuva lot easier...
Construction fueled by DD!
Once the edges are primed, here is how the process will go:
1. Workers cut MDO sheets to size
2. I come in and re-prime the fresh cuts while
3. the workers keep sizing and cutting MDO and
4. I keep priming freshly cut edges
5. Once pieces have dried, they are installed
6. Once a day's worth of MDO has been installed, I move in to prime the faces of the panels.
7. Repeat until entire house is sheathed and primed.

More photos to come.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What I've been doing...

So, the summer is flying by and I have begun to feel the advance of the school year and my return to the 9 to 5. Obviously, the house is a good deal behind schedule. This is inevitable. We knew it going into the job; it was the unanimous admonition by all - costs more and takes longer. This is some kind of law of nature: inviolable. Costs more: check (BIG check, many of them). Takes longer: check. So, consequently I have spent a lot of this summer waiting to get working. Since I am responsible for most of the finish work I have been itching for something to do: ANYTHING! Last week I finally got my wish and began working on installing the old barn siding as interior sheathing. Here I am at work...

We have this massive pile of old barn siding: multiple sizes, dimensions, colors, lengths. What I intend to do is use it to sheathe over the OSB (particle board) walls - which are the inside faces of the SIPs panels that insulate our barn.

The learning curve has been pretty steep. Basically I have little experience in finish carpentry. But the guys have been great and have given me the crash course. It has taken about 24 hours of labor, but I really hit my stride just recently and am moving along speedily.

As you can see from these images I am starting with the gable ends because I know that the electrician won't be running any wires up there. (Anywhere there is wiring I will have to come in AFTER the electrician is through.)

Speaking of electricians, I am told that the plummer/HVAC and electrician will begin work next Monday. One always takes these promises with a grain of salt...BIG grain.