Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We've Moved!

Well, actually just the blog has moved. We won't be moving for a few more months.

So, if you're following this blog, please update your links to

Thanks to everyone who has been reading this!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing Pictures

Here are some more detailed pictures of the MEP work, now finished at the house.  Rough inspections (by the city building department) are tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

Here's the main duct, covered now in insulation.  Not shown and to the right, the duct starts at the furnace, in the garage.  Ground floor registers are in the ceiling.  Upstairs, the air will come out of the cabinet 'kick' or the floor.  The duct will be enclosed in the same cabinet material.

Here's the electrical sub-panel, with all the circuit breakers.  Power comes from outside PG&E lines overhead, to the main panel with the meter, and then to this sub-panel.  From here, wires to to all the lights and power in ever room.  Different color wires carry different amounts of power.  Orange, for example is 30 amps, going to the electric clothes dryer & oven.

Let there be light!  We tested the lights, to make sure everything works.  This picture is of the recessed cans downstairs.  They're halogen, uninteresting, and pretty much as cheap as you can get.  At least they line up.

This plumbing picture is taken from the garage.  All the waste lines come to a point before going into the ground and into the main at the street.  All these pipes come from the kitchen and bathroom upstairs.

Plumbing waste lines not only go into the ground, but need to be 'vented' to the roof.  Vents provide relief of sewer gases and prevent these gases from entering the building.  With exceptions, every plumbing fixture must have a vent.  In our second floor, only one wall extends to the roof.  All the other walls are partial height and stop at 8' above the ground.  So to hide all the pipes, they needed to come to this one full height wall, and vented to the roof.  Also in this wall are bathroom exhaust fan vents (in silver) and a flue from the furnace (black plastic).

Lastly, here's the kitchen sink plumbing.  Since it's on an island, there's no place for a regular vent, discussed above.  So the piping has to be configured in what's called a 'loop vent'.  It loops around and connects with another pipe, eventually going to the roof.  In the picture, it's the larger copper pipe, forming an upside down 'V'.  The 4 smaller copper pipes are the water supply, hot and cold, for both the dishwasher and kitchen sink.  A required 'clean-out' is below and behind the blue hose.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Hi Everyone,

Again, we haven't been so great with updating.  This time, we have lots to update.  Also, a side note, I accidentally deleted 3 comments recently.  Sorry about that.  Feel free to repost.

So now, not only do we have floors, but we have walls, pipes, ducts, lights, switches and wires!  Rough plumbing, electrical, and mechanical inspections are scheduled this coming Tuesday.  So enough with words, here are some pictures:

Upstairs framing.  You can see the entrance to the two bedrooms in the middle.  The 8' high wall is going to contain all the kitchen cabinets.  The bathroom is behind and in he middle.  Only one wall goes up to the high ceiling.  It contains all plumbing vents and is also a structural wall.

Here's a close-up of the back of that tall wall.  All the plumbing vents from the entire house come into this one wall, and up to the roof.  The bathroom exhaust fans & furnace flue also comes through this wall.

Here's the roof.  The lower pieces of wood spanning across the house will  be removed.  They'll be replaced with 4 steel rods.  You can see the framing for the skylights to the left.

More of the upstairs.  The dining room is behind.  The lower wall has the kitchen sink plumbing.  The island will go in front.

View from the back of the house.  You can see the hole where the stairs are going to the right.

Close-up of the stair hole.  It starts at the far point from the camera, and turns an 'L' as you descend.

This photo is from the entertainment room downstairs.  It's looking toward the stair hole and the master bedroom beyond.  To the right is the garage.  The yellow thing in the ceiling is insulation, covering a duct.  One main heating duct runs from the front of the house to the back, with registers that admit heat, to each of the upstairs and downstairs rooms.  The rectangles with circles in them are the recessed lights.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Good times...they are a-coming!

We had the best weekend last week! We got floors AND walls! It was so exciting. We hadn't anticipated so much getting done. But just to clarify, when I say walls, I mean the framing that holds up the sheetrock. There are still many many steps before we even get close to sheetrock. So this is what we're working with now...

This is the only wall in the house that will go completely from floor to ceiling (at least on the main level of the house). It is the wall between the upstairs bathroom and one of the bedrooms:

And this is Ryan, constructing the half wall that will act as a guard rail for the stairs and where the kitchen counters will be:

These rooms are the upstairs bathroom and bedroom. The smallish square room toward the right of the picture is where the bathroom will be (it is in the running for world's smallest bathroom). The room toward the back of the house is the bedroom. To the left of the bedroom is where the kitchen will be.

And here is more or less the completed walls. As you can see, with exception of one of the bathroom walls, none of them are full height (meaning they don't go up to the ceiling). Yes, that's right. All the rooms will be open on top. If you were a 12-foot giant, you could walk around and look down into each room (except the bathroom, which will have a lid on it to provide...ahem...acoustical privacy). 

The room toward the right of the bathroom could be like another bedroom (it will have a closet and a window, which technically makes a bedroom). More likely, for us, it will serve as an office. It is not completely enclosed by walls because, in the very very far future, Ryan wants the center wall to made of GLASS.  

So those are just about all the walls that will be in the house. The next steps include putting in blocking (horizontal pieces of wood that go in between the vertical pieces in the wall), which provide some kind of stability to the wall. And then we need to do plumbing and electrical work. And there are a bunch of odds and ends that need to be done...but this was a huge step since it was the first time that we really put in something new in the house. Go us!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Playing catch-up

Ryan and I are very aware that we are not doing a good job updating this blog. Since our last post, a lot has happened at the house. I am going to attempt to catch y'all up with what's been going on: 

The first major thing that happened was that we had a swimming pool installed. For those of you in the bay area, you might remember that for a few weeks in February we were getting a LOT of rain. During one of those weeks, Ryan sent me over to the house on a random errand and I found a swimming pool where we had intended to put our master bedroom. We were so freaked out by the incident that we didn't have the presence of mind to take pictures. Here's a picture of the draining swimming pool:

When I first found the pool, the entire room was covered in about an inch and a half of water. We think that ground water was leaking in through the edges of the room. Now that it has stopped raining, we are working on waterproofing the problem areas so that this doesn't happen every time it rains.

The next big thing that happened is that we tore up the subfloor on the main living floor in order to reinforce some of the old joists and level the floor. This has been quite an adventure. So this is what we've been dealing with:

You can see we've put sheets of plywood and other pieces of wood down on top of the joists so that we can walk around, but I've got to say, I've never really appreciated the benefits of having a floor. Luckily, we are now in the process of putting the new subfloor in. Can't wait to have floors again! 

Finally, the last big thing that's happened is that Ryan constructed our first wall! It is the wall that separates the garage area from the living area on the ground floor. Unfortunately, I can't find the pictures of it, so that will have to wait for another post. But it is very exciting to me that we are finally BUILDING walls instead of tearing them down. 

Floors and walls. Good times are ahead.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Design Images

I thought I'd post some images of what the house is intended to be, when it's all said and done.  I've been using Autocad to draft up plans, sections and elevations of the design.  Autocad is practically the industry standard for architects and some engineers to draft drawings of various sorts in the computer.  It's sort of like drafting things by hand except faster.  The images below, however, were done in a 3D modeling program called Sketchup.  It is a very simple program, also free from google.  It's super-easy to use and a convenient way to visualize spaces and objects in three dimensions.  Therefore, its a good tool to understand the spaces prior to building them to make sure everything works out.  This particular program isn't the best tool for photo-realistic renderings, but it works for simple exercises like this.

Below are two images, one from a birds-eye view and another at eye level.  The street and front entry are at the second floor to the left.  The backyard is to the right.  You enter the house from an exterior staircase leading to the second floor.

As you enter, you find yourself in the living room.  To your right is the third bedroom which will most likely be used as an office.  The staircase and kitchen are integrated, and are located behind the living room.  The 'island' kitchen counter, shown in dark brown, will contain the sink and will serve as the guardrail so you don't fall to the floor below.  To the top of the drawing is the bathroom flanked on each side by bedrooms.

A tall wall of cabinetry, shown in tan,  separates bedroom 2 from the kitchen. Starting from the top right, this cabinetry forms the closet for bedroom 3, a coat closet facing the living room, tall kitchen items (refrigerator, pantry, oven, appliance garage), and a counter for the stove.  In addition to being a room divider, this cabinetry will also hide ductwork at it's base, supplying the heat to all rooms of the house.  It also contains the energy efficient up-lights at the top, which will shine onto the high ceiling above.  The lights will be hidden from one's view.  Since the fluorescent lights will reflect from the ceiling, the harshness typically associated with fluorescents will be reduced.  Therefore the tan 'L' functions as a divider of space, storage for a variety of functions, and a conduit for electrical and heating utilities.  It's called 'poche', 'diagram', or 'parti' in archi-speak.

As the cabinet wall will stop well short of the ceiling, the only wall in the middle of the house that extends from floor to ceiling is between 'bath 1' and 'bdrm 2'.  This wall provides structural, lateral support and holds the plumbing utilities.  Every other wall stops at an 8' high datum.  This will provide greater natural light to all spaces and will allow you to perceive the high cathedral ceiling from all rooms in the house.  Since the home is small and square footage is not very generous, a high ceiling and open plan will help to make the house feel larger and more comfortable.

The kitchen counter, shown in dark brown, stops and then starts again in the dining room.  The dining room is located in the existing sunroom addition.  This will be right next to the deck.  I hope to eventually put a large sliding door between the deck and dining room, allowing the eating area to open to the outside on a warm day.  The ceiling over the dining room is lower than the rest of the house.  I'm thinking to paint this entire volume a fun, bright color, giving a counterpoint to the white walls and ceiling.

The staircase leads you down toward a bookshelf and then under the kitchen counter.  Usually, there are cabinets under counters, but to allow headroom without sacrificing valuable space, we're going to omit the cabinets, allowing headroom as you descend the stairs.  The stair landing is about 2'-6" above the ground floor level, the ideal desk height.  This landing forms a 'plinth' and will extend to the right, beyond the stair, forming a desk at the office area.

To the right of the office will be the family room.  Because of the exterior stair, this area has little natural light.  The open stair and skylights at the roof above will help bring light to the dark ground floor level, but this area will be ideal for an entertainment center and tv.

To the left of the stairway, under the dining room, will be the master bedroom.  Eventually, similar to upstairs, I'd like to add a large sliding door.  On nice days, the master bedroom will have direct access to the backyard and garden. (as if we have any idea how to garden)

Not shown is the garage and master bathroom on the ground floor.  The garage basically stays in the same place, and will house the water heater, a laundry area, furnace, and electrical panel as well as one car.  Behind the garage, and next to the office, will be the master bathroom.

All in all, we'll have about 1500 habitable square feet, 3 bedrooms, and 2 bathrooms.  We're trying to make the most out of a small space.  Hopefully, every square inch will be utilized efficiently and simply.  In addition, the design will try to take advantage of an open floor-plan, high ceilings, and visual connection between the two floors.  This should give a generous and open feeling to a space that could easily feel cramped.  With a tight budget, locating plumbing and heating systems in a straightforward and simple manner will help to keep costs down.

Here are those images:

Those are my thoughts so far.  Any feedback or suggestions would be appreciated, preferably before I start to build walls!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Raise the roof (sorta)

Last week, I raised our house off the ground all by myself.

More accurately, I raised a portion of the house about 1/2", but nevertheless, part of the house is now higher than it once was.  Here's how:

Soon after demolition was finished, we found the middle wall on the ground floor to be a bit wimpier than it should be.  This wall supports half of the entire floor above, and is quite important.  It sat on a very thin bit of concrete, instead of a proper footing with rebar.  Instead of re-doing the entire wall and foundation, we decided to put in beefier posts at 6' intervals to hold up the floor above.

First, we had to jackhammer the existing deficient concrete, and dig a hole 2 feet square and 18 inches deep.  There were 3 such holes.  Here is a picture of one of them:

After putting in metal reinforcing bar into the hole, we mixed and poured concrete.  The concrete was smoothed out to be flush with the rest of the floor, and a metal post base was partially embedded into the wet concrete.

Next, the hard part.  I took my trusty laser level, and shot a perfectly horizontal line across the bottom of the beam these posts were to support.  I found the beam to be quite wavy, with a significant dip of about 1/2" in the center.  One end of the beam was also lower than the other.  I realized that I couldn't raise either end of the beam, but I it did seem possible to raise the middle.  Making possibilities reality is not so easy. With a sledgehammer, extra 2x4's, leverage, and the laws of physics, I raised our house.

I first measured the space between the ground and the beam.  Then I cut some wood to be slightly taller than that space.  I wedged the wood between the ground and beam at an angle, and sledgehammered it until it was vertical.  You can see it buckling slightly under the weight of the floor above here:

This was done twice for every post.  One temporary piece was wedged to the left and another to the right of the new post location.  But cutting these temporary pieces taller than the space, I slowly raised the beam back to horizontal.

Next I repeated the process with the actual permanent 4x4 post.  It sits at the bottom in the 'post base' that was previously cast into the concrete.  A 'post cap' at the top connects it to the existing beam.

Many hours and much noisy sledgehammering later, the post is finally installed in it's correct location, and the beam is level:

I knocked out the two temporary pieces.  Here are two posts installed.  I still have one more in the middle to complete.

When finished, the new concrete footings and posts will have sufficient bearing capacity to hold the furniture, walls, roof, and people on the floor above.  The beam should stay level and the concrete should not settle.