Friday, September 28, 2007


No name yet - we've apparently got til Sunday, when we have to turn in the birth certificate...

Everybody's doing great:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Don't know if my feet are gonna like it, but it looks great

Blogging has been a little slow lately - I haven't gotten much accomplished out there with things picking up here at home. C'est la vie. I got out there Sunday to get some more work done on the deck (and to await a Sears repairmen - for out non-functioning refrigerator - who never showed up):

And I got to take a look at our freshly polished concrete basement slab, which looks pretty terrific:

It's actually a bit darker than I thought it would be. And it sharpened, rather than smoothed out, the visible texture of the troweling from when the slab was poured, which also surprised me. We chose not to have any stain or color added. I think it looks pretty great. Here's a close-up (I had to use the flash, which distorts the color a little - it's more of a brown; and the stone is just the aggregate in the concrete - we didn't add anything to get that speckled appearance, which is more prominent in some places than in others):

I'll say just a couple of things about the process (which I was not there for and didn't see in action). The machine can't polish edges very well, so the first half-inch or so off the wall is a bit rough. This is fine for us - we'll have square trim like we have upstairs to cover it up. But polishing an open floor (before framing) would avoid a lot of that. It also appears to have been VERY messy. The wet grinding creates a kind of slurry that gets thrown around - it's all over the drywall, and sometimes reaches more than a foot above the floor (though no dust anywhere). There was also some tearing of the drywall paper where the machine bumped it. Any greater level of finish in the basement and we could have been in a bit of trouble. Now we're going to have to be cafeful with what kind of mess we make on the floor down there, but I think doing this earlier on would have been better (though really there's a down side no matter what). And - this is weird - there are some faint brown stains on the floor where insects have died. I'll keep an eye on that.

Our guy was Jim Cuviello at Complete Decorative Concrete Solutions on the Maryland eastern shore. I'd recommend him (though the only other residential concrete polisher I could find was in OHIO!). Cost $6750 for roughly 1000 sf.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Other prefab you can try on

Well, our little project doesn't seem as if it will be ready for renters in the immediate future (more on my - slow - progress soon). But if you've got $800 lying around, you can rent this fancy version of Rocio Romero's LV for a night:

The owner is apparently a general contractor and using this as a marketing tool (not a bad advertisement for your work, I gotta admit). NapaPreFab, he calls it. If you're in wine country and have more money than you know what to do with (and if you're in wine country this may very well be the case), this is probably more fun than the Ritz.


Frank Lloyd Wright supposedly said something to the effect of: if you live in the ugliest building in your neighborhood, you don't have to look at it. Well some folks in my old neighborhood are pretty upset that they have to look at this:

I haven't seen it in person yet, but I'm not so upset. Our old building, where the renter in our small 1BR apt no longer has a kitchen window because the new building covered it up, is the red brick one on the right of the giant pink thing. Now our building (along with many others in the neighborhood) isn't so historically-situated either, something seemingly lost on many of the folks making such a stink. Anyway, this is (tangentially) related to one of the many reasons we decided to find unrestricted property for our cabin: no one can complain about what it looks like except us.

Friday, September 21, 2007

That's what we're for!

The Times explores the idea of "trying on" prefab before you buy. Everyone who visits Rocio Romero's tour house seems to leave convinced about the LV - hopefully we'll be the equivalent for Res4!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Witold you so

Witold Rybczynski, an architecture critic and architect, authored a short review of the state of modern prefab last month in Slate. He was also interviewed on Day to Day on NPR. While I think he shortchanges some of the more successful prefab projects out there right now (notice no mention of MKD or Res4, two firms that really seem to be challenging the notion that architects can't/won't/don't work through the construction side of their designs), he seems to hit all the big questions about the state of modern prefab...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Clean as a whistle

I spent a long afternoon out at the house yesterday cleaning the basement - the concrete polishers are arriving tomorrow morning. I had to move a LOT of stuff - including 25 sheets of drywall and our bathtub - by myself, which was not easy. We've struggled a bit trying to decide when to get these guys in (and we've had issues with not having power): Should we wait til the end of the process (when drywall's done) so that we don't make a mess of a fancy finished floor with mud and tools and staging? Or should we have scheduled them at the beginning (before walls were up) so they could work with an open space and not have to worry about edging or water damage to the drywall? Everybody has a different opinion, and each seems to have its merits. We're getting them in now cause I know I won't be out there for a bit (school, baby coming) and that means we've got a week of nothing going and nobody in anybody else's way. So I'll get some pics up as soon as I get a chance to see how it's going (I hope to be able to check in on them one day this week).

Face for Radio

Our friends from TV land were here (at our everyday house in College Park) on Friday for a very long day of interviews and "reenactments." We're really very excited to have our cabin be the subject of a tv show - what better advertisement for a rental property? And everybody we've worked with from the tv show has been great (though it turns out most of the people we've worked with have been freelancers - apparently that's often the way tv production works; who knew?).

It's really been an eye-opener, seeing how they try to translate our lived experience of this whole project to a 22-minute episode. TV is quite a different medium for telling a story compared to the blog, where I feel like I narrate every detail. And the tv folks need a story with some drama, so they want to hear about conflict and tension and anxiety, which we haven't had too much of. And they need a story that's easy to follow, so a lot of stuff gets simplified. For example, there have been very few lightbulb moments for us - "I know, let's build prefab!" - and that's what they need to mark the stages of the story. So we'll see how it turns out. And while it can be tedious (they got here at 8:30 and left at 5:30!), it really will be great to have what amounts to a commercial for us and Res4 at the end of the day - that is, if people aren't turned off by our acting skills...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I've taken two aspirin every night this week

The Atlantic City Boardwalk is made out of ipe (so is the bike path on the Brooklyn Bridge). It's twenty or thirty years old now - no splinters, no rotting, a nice silver patina. Pretty good advertisement for the durability of ipe. One of the reasons is its density; it just doesn't allow water to penetrate it. And weight, as we all learned in seventh grade, is a function of density. So our 20' boards are HEAVY. Unbelievably so. You should square off the ends of each board (cut the very end off with a chop saw): to make sure you've got a right angle, to get the boards the right length so that the ends rest on joists, and to cut off the wax stains that the boards usually have on the ends. So that means lifting the boards again and turning them around to cut both ends. My back is killing me, is the short story.

We got our second round of ipe from George at EastTeak; the wood came when they said it would, packaged appropriately, looks great. Ipe is usually shipped with a wax seal on the ends of the board to prevent them from drinking up water; the cut ends of wood absorb water something like 200x faster than the surface due to the capillaries in the wood, and the wax cuts off that process. After you make a cut, you need to re-wax the end (AnchorSeal is the most popular wax end-sealer). The wax tends to get absorbed into the wood, and leaves a stain that crawls up the wood:

I was kinda hoping that we could install all the boards on the deck in a weekend. No chance. We're using the TigerClaw TC-G hidden fastener system, which goes into the grooves on the boards and is fastened into the tops of the joists:

This takes just about as much time as face-screwing the boards. (You have to face-screw the first row so that one board is secured to the deck; there are lots of people out there who are opposed to hidden fastener systems because the vast majority of the boards aren't secured directly to the joists, but are "floating" above them, secured only by the clip. GardenWeb's message board is a godsend for info re: decks.)

The hard part is getting the boards straight. Most wood you just fasten one end, use some brute force to bend the board into position, and then fasten it in place. Not ipe. It doesn't move at all. So you need to get the boards onto the clips, which can be a little tricky, and then you need to straighten the board to get the entire length flush with the clips (about 1/8" gap the whole way). They make a special tool called a Bowrench that is pretty good for this (it sits on the joist, and you pull the handle away from the board, putting pressure on the board and holding it in place while you fasten the clips on):

We got all the short boards on the walkway in front of the house (the gap in the middle will be filled with bluestone, which will catch the water from the roof and send it through the black pipe to the other side of the retaining wall; a cedar fascia board will cover the exposed 2x12 pressure treated wood that frames the walkway):

And we finished seven (of what will probably be 24) rows of the deck:

Here's how hard the ipe is. You have to pre-drill any holes that you screw. You have to pre-drill the countersink, too (these are great). We're using the same stainless steel torque screws that we used for the trim around the windows (with the star heads). They are about the best screws you can buy ($50 for a 5lb box!). I broke the first two screws in half because the pilot hole was 1/32 of an inch too small (1/8 instead of 5/32). Then I didn't drill some of the countersinks deep enough; the screw just stopped dead. That is some hard wood.

Only place where I'm second guessing myself right now is on the board length; 20' is a bit unmanageable. It reduces the number of joints, and it looks great, but it's really heavy, and any bowing is magnified by the length. We are currently planning on sealing it after it's all on to maintain the nice deep red color, but we'll see what happens.

Everybody's pitching in

I've got lots to detail from our progress over the last week, but first a big thank you to Sarah's dad Tony and brother Greg, who put some sweat equity in over the weekend and whose help we really appreciate. Sarah and the boys got in on the action, too, though the boys mostly supervised (here monitoring Greg's progress with the deck boards):

"Dad, you're gonna break off ANOTHER screw in the ipe!"

Joshua, parched from barking so many orders:

Sarah, gonna have a baby any day now:

Tony and I hung as much drywall as we could in half a day (about 20 sheets):

Thanks to everybody - it was great to have some company for a change!

Monday, September 10, 2007

But it's made of fiberboard!?!

So you're flipping through Dwell, and you see a nice table, and you email the designer (clue #1) in Italy (clue #2) and they email you back the name of a distributor in Georgetown (clue #3), and you call, and it's $6900.

If it ever rains again, we'll stay dry

Haven't had much rain so far this summer. So our roofing delays didn't turn out to be the biggest deal. Constable Builders (David, Eugene and Wayne Constable) did the roof on Friday and they were great. They broke the galvalume drip edge at their shop and brought it with them:

Installed the "cleat" against the eave:

Fastened the overlapping EPDM membrane into the cleat and slid the drip edge over it:

Fastened the drip edge to the roof and covered it with BAT tape:

I built the scupper boxes:

They flashed them:

This system means there are no exposed fasteners, just a long clean roof line. Looks pretty good. Can't wait for it to rain so we can see how the water comes off the scuppers.

In (un)related news

I have been limiting this blog to house-related posts. And this only barely qualifies as house-related. Left my wallet in my unlocked car last night after I got home from WV, and somebody took it. So I'm dealing with canceling all my cards this morning. I thought I'd probably just left it in WV until I saw this activity on my debit card (for our LostRiverModern operating account) this morning:


Twelve thousand dollars in this account and this is what some knucklehead does with it. I hate debit cards, I've always gotten all my ATM cards as ATM only so when I lose them people can't drain my account, and I didn't do it this time for this account.

I'll probably have some time to post today while I'm on hold dealing with all this....

Sunday, September 09, 2007

So shiny

Home from a long and productive weekend out at the house. Here's what it looks like right now (with a finished roof!):

Lots more tomorrow...

Friday, September 07, 2007


I got to the house this morning to find:

-electric hooked up;
-roofers on my roof; and
-DSL guy waiting for me.

So I'm posting this from our bedroom floor!

Ipe, cedar and drywall should be here any second. Only problems so far: when I turned the water valve on, I found out (when water sprayed all over the bathroom) that the plumbers missed a compression fitting on one of the pex runs. So I can't run water til we get that fixed. And the fridge isn't working - who knows why. But those are hardly even blips...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Who needs hot water?

I called our HVAC guy this morning to see if he was starting on our house next week like he's scheduled to; he apparently fell off a ladder and is going to have surgery for a ruptured disk. He won't be doing any work til next month. So I've got to call around for another HVAC guy...

I'm out to the site tonight for the weekend; Sarah and the boys might join me for some (or all) of it. Working on the deck and drywall in the basement.

Monday, September 03, 2007


We've got stairs framed, with temporary treads (we'll have bamboo at the end of the day):

Saturday, September 01, 2007

September 10 is almost here already?!?

I am going to be so sad when this is over and I haven't been up to see it.