Saturday, April 12, 2014

Waconda: Back on track (or not)

Ok, that's better.  Still not exactly what we envisioned, but an improvement over the giant appliance box that we had before: 

And just to remind us of why this is all worth it, here's today's view from the upper window:

* * * * * * *

UPDATE 4/13/14: Oh hey, did I say things were back on track?  Well that lasted about 45 minutes. Shortly after I posted that update, a freak spring hailstorm blew in with violent winds.  

And that was when this:


Turned into this:


So where is the back wall?
Ohhh, there it is!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Waconda: Déjà vu

I keep talking about our plans to build a small house on a big lake. Our design intention has always been to keep the "cottage-y" spirit of the original house. We planned a second floor, more of a half-story than a full one, for ascetic purposes. It will balance the front porch roof without overwhelming the rest of the house. We aren't even going to finish it off right away. Eventually we will convert it into extra living space, with windows at each end and storage space under the eaves. Maybe it will be a meditation room overlooking the lake, or (if we're lucky) a bedroom for future grandchildren. We even joke about using it as a shuffleboard court since the space is long and narrow.  

It's huuuge!
But as we've come to realize (over and over again), things rarely go as planned. Somehow this design got lost in transition from drawing to reality. As the walls were raised in preparation for the trusses, it became obvious that they were twice as tall as we wanted. The house is headed to butt ugly territory; a massive box that overpowers the landscape and alienates our cottage dreams.

So once again we find ourselves facing a setback. We do not like the mistake and don't want to change our design. The walls have to be cut down, and new trusses have to be ordered to fit the intended design. We're not sure how long it will be before the corrections are made and we're back on track. 

Like Yogi Berra says, it's Déjà vu all over again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Waconda: The 2x4 Jungle

We're finally to the point where it's easy to see the progress on the house. The main floor is all framed in and the layout is taking shape. I would explain what you're looking at in this picture, but if you envision things anything like me, it won't make sense.  Floor plans are a lot easier to understand when they are drawn out and all the rooms are labeled, with tiny little furniture pieces tastefully drawn in and no dog hair is showing on the floor.

Our living area kept shrinking in our imagination, to the point where we were sure we'd feel like Alice after she found the Eat Me Cake. But now that we can really feel the size of the rooms, we are reassured.  I mean, we are literally sighing in relief. Have you ever seen that Tamiflu small house commercial? The one where the guy has to hunchback his way down the hall to the kitchen, and when he gets there his knees are in the living room? By the time he scrunches himself through his bathroom door, we're dying. But happily, thanks to the high ceilings that our builder recommended and the thoughtful design, the only room that feels kind of 'snug' is the guest bedroom. And that is actually part of our evil master plan to keep visitors from getting too comfortable and overstaying their welcome.

I've been out of town a few days, so I'm anxious to wander around the site after work tomorrow. The weather is still relentless, giving us a day or two of 40-ish temperatures that melts the snow into a muddy bog, then sinking back down below freezing and spewing out icy snowflakes. Tomorrow's forecast is 43°F with an 80% chance of precipitation. Sounds like a perfect day to build a house!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Waconda: We have WALLS!!

I am doing the happy dance today. Good things are happening. The polar vortex appears to have finally finished its brutal assault.  The snow is starting to melt.  A broken water main on the street across the bay was diverted before it got to our house. But most importantly, there are signs of progress on our job site. And even better, there were humans doing work on the job site! (Well, actually they're all just standing around and one guy is scratching himself, but who cares!  We have walls!!)

Waconda is going to be a tall skinny little house, pretty typical for a lake lot. It's sort of a shotgun style, similar to the wonderful old house we lived in back in New York. After the work crew was done for the weekend (because they never, ever work at our job on a Saturday) we went in for a closer look and to get a feel of the layout.


This is me standing in the kitchen. If I stick my right hand out, I'll be in the dining room.  And if I take half a dozen steps backwards, I'll be in the living room (sprawled on the deck, because I will have tripped over that wall-in-progress). If I go through the door at the back of the structure, I'll be on the front porch looking over the lake. We walked out there too, but the wind was really whipping in from the lake and I didn't want to take my hands out of my pocket long enough to take pics.


That lump in the far right corner of the house is Senior, who is demonstrating how it will look when he is curled up in bed in the master bedroom. The bed is a little hard, but the view is out of this world. It feels like you can touch the sky. In fact, the whole room feels very grand since there aren't any boundaries. Showering and getting dressed may be a little tricky though. A guest bedroom and the bathrooms still need to be roughed in. Ultimately there will be another floor above, which will remain unfinished for now. 

I'm cautiously optimistic that the work will continue to roll along. The weather forecast for next week is promising, with temps reaching into the 40's a couple of the days. We're making some final choices on the cabinet package and trim pieces. It feels like things are finally coming together. But just to be safe, as you read this, knock on wood!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Waconda: Old Man Winter

According to this Associated Press article on Time's website, Detroit is the city hit the hardest by the awful winter most of the country has been experiencing this year. While this is better news than the usual top 10 lists featuring Detroit (yeah Forbes, I'm talking to you), it's especially frustrating for, say, people trying to build a small house on a big lake in the middle of said winter.

We have had a little progress. The carpenters have been framing some of the garden level and have roughed in a set of stairs up to the main level. We were feeling pretty good about the work until Senior noticed the foundation is cracking. Frost settled in below the footer and gave a bit of a heave-ho. It can be repaired, but it's just one more thankyousirmaywehaveanother moment.

The lack of progress continues to frustrate us. But, even though little has changed on the worksite, there is another steadfast constant that brings it in to balance. We can still stand on the shoreline and look out over the peaceful beauty of the frozen lake. Even during the worst winter on record, it serves as a reminder of why we chose this spot, and hints at all the future will hold long after the build is behind us.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Waconda: Don't Even Ask

Every couple of days someone asks us how the house project is going. And the answer we give is always the same: “Don’t even ask.”

According to the project timeline we got from our builder before we signed our contract, they have competed 5 weeks of work in the last seven months. The only change since my last post a month ago is that they tore down the remaining corner of the house and threw it in that red dumpster that is frozen to the ground in front of the property.


I guess Murphy cursed us with his Law, because just about everything that can go wrong, has. To summarize:

We started the project off on the wrong foot when our builder thought his silver tongue would prevent us from needing a variance, but instead we had to appear before the zoning board, who only meet during a blood moon. 

The excavation process took a lot longer than expected, primarily due to the bedrock under our house that would have impressed Fred Flintstone himself, and because our builder proved to be a lot better at talking about paying his subcontractors than actually paying them. 

We thought the lengthy delay in moving the gas line would be our only problem with a utility provider. We dealt with the realization that Consumer's Energy must measure time in a parallel universe because it took three weeks to complete a service that should have been done in three days. But DTE got the last laugh by requiring ten business days to disconnect the electrical lines from the house. On the ninth day our area was hit with the first of several ice storms that tied up every available crew for the next month. (And don't even get me started on why our builder waited until the last minute to put in the demolition order with the utility companies, or why he didn't do them in tandem.)   

And speaking of the weather, we knew that the warm winters we’ve been experiencing the last few years were atypical, but this Polar Vortex is getting really old. According to the carpenters, their nail guns won’t work in sub-zero weather. And apparently using a hammer is out of the question…

     …But that point is moot anyway, since the crew is down and out with the flu.

We’ve explored the option of firing this builder and hiring another. This isn’t our preference – for one thing it’s tricky due to the confines of our construction loan; and as the old adage goes, we could be trading the devil we know for the devil we don’t know. But the main reason to stick it out is that we love the architect who has been working with us to design the house inside and out. He is the builder’s son-in-law and part of a package deal. However, in the interest of our sanity, we met with another builder to see if he would like to take over the project. He said he was interested and he’d send us the quote in 4 days. 

That was over a week ago. <<sigh>> 

Damn you, Murphy!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Waconda: The Holidays

When we closed on our house last June, we planned a 4-6 month timeline for our rebuild. We were looking forward to celebrating Christmas in our new home.

Well, Christmas is in 2 days. And the house isn't quite ready.




Here's hoping for Valentine's Day.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Waconda: The road to a full house is paved with empty promises

Finally, we have basement walls! The 2-man masonry crew has slowly, painstakingly placed the blocks to create our basement walls below the grade, and since this picture was taken, the wood portion above the grade has been finished. The quality of the work so far has been good, but somehow no one except Senior noticed that somewhere along the line a footing was left off the drawing, which has to be corrected. So next week we can look forward to… nothing. All the contractors are going hunting. The latest plan is that they will begin to lower the house the Monday after Thanksgiving, weather permitting, and then promptly knock it over.

The biggest learning experience so far has been the disappointing realization that no matter how many times our project manager promises to keep us informed of any changes to the schedule, he will never contact us unless he wants a check. If we push for an update to the timeline, the answer is usually "next week". The weather had been gorgeous all October, so it was frustrating to visit the site on a beautiful afternoon and find that the crews hadn't shown or had already gone home, or that materials hadn't been delivered. We knew to expect that the project would take a lot longer than planned, but we didn't realize that communication was a one-way street.

On the bright side, Senior and I have been meeting with Toby on the interior plans and they are coming along great. We want a simple, clean, energy-efficient design that puts the attention on the view and not on the house. It's been a lot of fun picking out materials and finishes. We download a gazillion pictures from Houzz and Pinterest, and have become pretty good at stealth photography of anything that inspires, no matter where we find it. I find myself noticing details that never seemed important before - for example, now I can tell you the finish on every driveway on my block, including the apron at the garage, and what type of faucet is used in most of the upscale ladies rooms in the tri-county area. We send our ideas to Toby, and he manages to put them into a cohesive design.

Back at the job site, we've heard the neighbors are having fun imagining how much money we are throwing into this hole. So far they have all been patient with the workmen's trucks encroaching on their driveways and a big old Porta Potty taking up prime real estate by the road. We've tried to respond quickly to any concerns, which has been well received. But they still think we're crazy. And maybe we just are.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Waconda: Stuck in a Rut

Here is what the house looked like a week ago, after the footings were poured: 


 And here is what it looked like today:


I know laying the ground work and marking straight lines is time consuming, but those ten blocks don't look like much to me. I can see they are making SOME progress. I know this because the site is full of important-looking things, like wheelbarrows, plumb line spools, pallets of block and vast piles of dirt. (And Gatorade bottles. These guys go through a lot of Gatorade. A hundred years from now someone will dig under the house, come up with the empties, and wonder if we were bootlegging the stuff in our basement.)  So based on this evidence, I'm hopeful that by next week we will have walls!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Waconda: Lift-off!

We have lift off - the cottage is up in the air! And I mean waaaay up. It's pretty spectacular. In fact it's a bit of a distraction to people driving by. The cottage sits on a winding road with a blind curve to the east. Traffic tends to go by pretty slow, especially if a Sunday driver wants to take a picture of the lake. I understand that it's a kind of a shock to see a house suspended in mid air, but c'mon people, don’t stop your car in the middle of the road to gawk! That’s just asking for trouble.

Our new demolition contractors, Fred and Jim from C & A Construction, were busy prepping for the new foundation. Digging out the basement turned out to be harder than snapping your fingers without using your thumb. I guess when the last thing to move the earth on your property was a glacier, and a house has been sheltering that dirt from wind and rain for the last 95 years, it gets pretty compact. They actually had to use a jackhammer to break it up in order to excavate it.

We've had our own challenges these last few weeks trying to get Consumer's Energy to shut off the gas at the road. They took the "measure twice, cut once" concept to a new extreme and marked the property 4 times before they actually sent a crew out to cap the line. I've been trapped in an endless phone loop with them since July trying to get this straightened out.  Meanwhile our project manager struggled with securing the building and soil erosion permits from the township. I learned that building permits are based on the square footage of your entire dwelling, not just your living space. This seems to include exterior walls, eaves, porch, driveway, mailbox, passing cars and the square mass of all the ducks on the lake. But with persistence and a checkbook, all the issues were finally resolved.

We were supposed to get a call the day they actually lifted the house so that we could watch, but that didn’t happen. It’s a slow process, so perhaps it was better that we got to wait and see the dramatic transformation all at once. Once they had dug out enough dirt, two long steel beams were inserted under the length of the house. The way it was explained to me, they jacked up one end of the house and then supported it with four foot lengths of railroad ties. Then they moved to the other end and jacked it up to match. They repeated the process, stacking the railroad ties like Jenga towers, until they had enough clearance to pour the footings and build the basement walls. The whole thing is really cool!

The excavation crew is wrapping up, and if all goes well, the masonry crew should be in next week to pour the footings. We are really excited to see the project moving forward. Check back later to see our progress. And stop trying to snap your fingers without using your thumb. It just doesn't work.