A Virtual Fourth Look

For those of you who prefer video to reading a blog post, here is the latest walk through of the house.  This one details the walls, ducts, and a few other carpentry items.

Marching Toward the Finish

What started as a dream in 2014 when I decided to look for a new house, became reality in 2015 when I bought the house, and has been a saga ever since construction started, is finally starting to look like a house that someone can actually live in.  Like the saying goes, “Picasso didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel Ceiling in a day.  A masterpiece takes time.” Despite the duration of the project, it should pay off in the end with a little patience.

The Construction Loan

Faithful readers will recall my first blog post in which I explained I took out a 203K loan instead of a traditional mortgage to finance the purchase of the property and the construction costs.  The bank gave me a standard six-month time frame to complete the construction and pay out the funds to my contractor in six intervals.  Well, it’s been over 2½ years now and they are out of patience.  They extended me so many times I can’t remember.  They said it absolutely has to be done by August 31 or they will cut me off and stop dripping funds to the contractor.

Given that I’ve been carrying the mortgage on my current home along with the mortgage on the new house since late 2015, and we are over budget anyway, this is becoming a bit of a stressful situation.  I’ve had to resort to taking a loan against my 401K and taking out several new credit cards that have 0% financing for the first 18 months as a way to bridge loan myself some extra money to carry me until I can sell my condo and pay all of it back.  Also, I have to show the bank that enough of the house is done to pay out the remaining portion of the loan by the end of August.

So, I had to light a fire under everyone who was working on the house.  Things had been moving at an OK pace, but we needed to make sure there is literally no downtime, and that any decisions or materials that need to be ordered are taken care of ahead of time so there are no more delays for waiting for something.  All of it is basic project management stuff, lay out ahead of time what is needed and what steps have to be taken, and be ready to work when the time is right.

I’m hopeful we are going to be in good shape headed into August.  Plenty of progress has been made and I’m looking forward to seeing what the house looks like as it is built.  This story left off with us passing the insulation inspection.  I’ll pick it up from there.

Drywall

The drywall was delivered in late May.  I gave a deposit check to Doctor Drywall and we got ready to proceed.  As was always the case with this project, even that wasn’t without some sort of issue.  Apparently, the delivery service wanted to use a crane to lift the second-floor drywall through a window rather than carry it up stairs.  My street is so narrow that they would have had to had the police close off the street in order to operate the crane.  So, after a week, they abandoned that idea and decided to charge me an extra $1,000 for them to carry the drywall upstairs.  Not sure why we couldn’t have just done that from day one, but either way, we got all the drywall delivered and ready to go.

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The upstairs drywall, had to pay extra for delivery!

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The first floor drywall.  I wasn’t impressed with the effort the gentleman by the window was putting in that day.  I guess he wasn’t too interested in impressing the owner of the home with his work ethic.

Drywall installation is a surprisingly quick operation.  I showed up on a Friday to see the drywall delivery, and by the next Tuesday, I returned to see most of it installed.  They made a huge mess out of the place in the process, but we keep a clean jobsite so it was easily removed over the course of the week.

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Drywall in the front bedroom

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Drywall and cement board in the guest bathroom

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Drywall in the middle bedroom, including the Cattywampus Corner for the fume hood.

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The master bedroom being walled.

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Cement board in the shower in the master bathroom.

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The first floor under construction

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The wall below the front steps taking shape.

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Another angle of the messy first floor.

Once the drywall was installed, it had to taped and spackled.  This took about a week or so and was a pretty uneventful process.  No delays or issues popped up.

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That’s a lot of spackle!

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The living room taped and spackled.

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The first floor taking shape.

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The front bedroom after being taped.

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This guy can spackle while walking on stilts! WOW!

There was some trouble with the basement during the process.  There was a misunderstanding about how it was supposed to be fireproofed.  As per fire code, we had to prove that the garage area was fire resistant, but some sort of a mistake was made when interpreting the architect’s plans and it wasn’t fireproofed properly.  After a little back and forth with the architect, he told them how to fix it, and they came back and completed the job.

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They got the basement right on the second try.  Good enough.

Spiral Ducts

Once the walls were in place, the HVAC guy was able to come in and build the spiral ducts.  Since this house was designed for exposed ducts, that part of the job had to be done after the walls were hung, opposite of most houses that have the ducts hidden by the ceilings and the walls.

The tin knocker efficiently installed the spiral duct work throughout the house.  I had asked him to keep it as minimal as possible so that it didn’t dominate the appearance of the house but was visible enough to have an effect on what it looks like. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out.

On the first floor, I asked for it to be as high as possible, and to only be as long as necessary to heat and cool the room.  He made the duct such that it was close to the wall and went only as far to the north and south as necessary.

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The spiral duct that travels most of the length of the first floor.

On the second floor, the ducts come down from the roof and travel through the hallway and the three bedrooms.  Again, in the bedrooms, I requested that they only be long enough as necessary to keep the rooms heated and cooled.

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The ducts coming in from the ceiling on the second floor.

 

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The duct in the master bedroom.

Carpentry

While the ducts were being installed, my GC brought in the carpenter to proceed with some additional items.  First, they installed the molding around the windows and door frames.  I asked for the simplest look they could find, and he obliged me with flat molding with as little detail as possible.

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Molding in the living room.

We also ordered and installed most of the interior doors throughout the house.  I found a few door patterns I liked on line but they were rather pricy.  My GC suggested we buy simple, flat doors with no color or pattern and that we can paint and decorate them at a later time.

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The master bedroom again, this time with the door and the molding.

I own two cats and I wanted a place to put the litter boxes that was easily accessible to them, but out of the way.  I told the GC to claim the bottom two feet of the linen closet in the hallway and leave it open so I can use the space to put the litter boxes.  I think it should work out well, I hope the cats use them!

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The cat corner is at the bottom of this linen closet.

The carpenter completed some of the outside work as well.  He built the deck and stairs from the back door to the back yard.  He also put the siding up on the front stairs landing.  We reversed some of the charred boards left over from the rest of the front siding and will paint them later on.

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The back deck and stairs.

Masonry

My “friend” the mason returned to finish off what was left of his end of the job.  After considering if we should just get another guy after the trouble he caused in the beginning, we decided that we should just let him finish and kiss him goodbye.  So, he finished off the limestone treads on the front steps, and a few other miscellaneous items on the side and back of the house.  I am happy to say that he is done and out of my life!

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The front steps are done, and the porch carpentry is getting there.

Painting

The GC had a painter come in and prime all the walls throughout the house.  This step made it look like we’re finally nearing completion.  The ceilings are actually now in their finished state unless I change my mind and paint one of them an actual color.

When the painting was done, the GC had the floor guy come in and sand down and finish the floors on the first and second floor.  Then we had them protected with Shark Board so that they won’t get damaged going forward.

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The first floor facing the front of the house.  Painted and flooring protected.

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The first floor facing the back of the house.  Painted and flooring protected.

What’s Next?

There are a million plates spinning at once right now.  The HVAC guy has to install the heating and cooling equipment, which will include bringing a crane in to get everything on to the roof.  We ordered an outdoor railing from an iron worker.  We picked out an on-demand water heater which needs to be purchased and installed by the plumber.

But the thing I am most excited about is the kitchen.  The crown jewel of this house, and the feature that I have spent the most time thinking about these past 2½ years is the kitchen and it is finally getting started.  I’ll have more on it in the next blog post, but I had countless meetings with my kitchen designer, and we have finalized the design of the cabinets.  The appliances have been ordered and are on their way, and fabrication and installation of the cabinets should be done in the next two weeks.

In addition to the kitchens, the same designer is also building my bathrooms.  Most of the major design decisions have been made and most of the tile has been delivered to the house.  We were able to come up with some sleek concepts that aren’t going to break the bank for all three bathrooms.

A lot is about to happen in a short period of time.  I think that Picasso would be pleased with where things are headed.

Scatter-Brained and Over Budget!

I woke up the other day and couldn’t believe I still live in Hoboken.  I was supposed to be out in late 2016 in my worst-case scenario.  Yet, as I headed into year three of the construction phase, the light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to show.  Progress has been taking place at a rapid clip, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the house get built.  It is a fascinating process that I never knew anything about until now.  I’m also getting to make more and more decisions about how I want it to come out.  The questions are coming my way fast and furious from the contractors and it has made me a bit scatter-brained, but this is the fun part and I’m certainly enjoying it.

Homemade Japanese Siding

The siding project took an interesting turn, and unfortunately set the project back a few weeks, and of course jacked up the price!  I recall asking my architect early in the process what the siding on the front of the house was supposed to be, I couldn’t tell from the renderings he showed me.  He muttered something about using “charred cedar planks” and I didn’t think much of it, assuming that we could just go to the lumberyard and buy some.  I turned my attention towards other aspects of the project and didn’t ask about it again until the framing and roof were done.

As it turns out, I should have asked more questions a lot sooner in the process.  As I mentioned in my last blog post, the architect wanted to do use Shou Sugi Ban siding, and that is definitely not something that you can just walk up to a local store and buy.  In late November, we found ourselves in the position of having to buy it from a specialist (nowhere near new Jersey) or build it, or pick a different siding material.  Since I wanted to remain true to the original plan, I decided that we should go ahead with Shou Sugi Ban siding.  This decision set us back some time as we then had to figure out what to do.  If I had asked more questions earlier, we could have gotten ahead of things and had the siding ready to go on time.  Lesson learned for the next time (just kidding, there is NO next time!).

We looked into buying it, but the cost of the materials and the shipping was absolutely prohibitive.  So, my contractor had to learn to become an expert in Shou Sugi Ban siding fabrication in his backyard.  During some of the coldest days of December, his crew grabbed makeshift blowtorches and about 10 canisters of propane. They spent four days torching tongue-and-groove cedar planks.

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Making Japanese siding in a backyard in New Jersey

When the burning phase was complete, they carefully wrapped the charred sides of the boards and transported them to my house.  They laid everything out on all three floors of the house and applied two coats of polyurethane to each board to weather treat them.

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Pre-treated Shou Sugi Ban siding after the charring phase is done

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The siding was carefully wrapped before they sent it to the house

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The entire house was used as a staging area for adding coats of polyurethane to the siding

The architect suggested that we use the Shou Sugi Ban siding on the front face of the house, and just far back enough on the sides where it would be visible from the street.  He also wanted us to use it for the back face of the house, but I felt that would be too costly.

We bought Ply Gem Mastic Quest Double 4” vinyl siding in “Misty Shadow” for the rest of the house and prepared to get the process of fastening all of the siding to the house started.  The first problem was how to hang the cedar planks vertically to match the plans.  Since some of the planks would fall in-between where the interior studs were, there was no way to nail them to the house.  So, we put up fireproof plywood across the front and sides of the house.  That way, we could nail the finished planks to them.

The siding guy proceeded to hang the vinyl siding on the house and finished it all in the matter of one week.  At long last, we had a finished-looking house that was water tight!

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Adding the plywood layer so we have something to nail the wood planks to

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Putting up the wood planks

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Installing the vinyl siding in back

So far, there have been no leaks from the new roof and the new siding.  We’ve had some pretty bad rain and snow so it has been tested well.

My contractor told me that the first day they had the Shou Sugi Ban siding on the house, someone driving by slammed on his breaks outside the house to ask what it was.  He said that it looked fantastic.  I’ve been back to the house many times since, and I’ve witnessed it myself.  People stop and stare and point out how cool it looks.

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The finished vinyl siding in the back

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The vinyl siding on the east side of the house

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The front of the house.  Make sure to stop and stare!

I’m a bit concerned that the siding is already beginning to patina.  That will either need to be touched up, or it will simply be part of the look.  I’ll have to decide over time.  Either way, I took the risk with backyard-made Shou Sugi Ban siding, let’s see how it holds up!

Now Let’s Get the Inside Going

Completing the siding was a huge milestone, because for the first time since we started, it put us in the position to work on multiple things at the same time.  My general contractor brought in his team of specialists that he’s been working with for years to get started on the interior plumbing, electric, and HVAC.  All three of these processes required that we have an idea of the final layout of the finished house.  So, a lot of decisions had to be made.

Plumbing

The house plumbing design has to accommodate the following:

  • Two full bathrooms on the second floor.
  • A half-bathroom on the first floor
  • A kitchen with a sink and a pot filler
  • Water and a drain for the washing machine on the second floor
  • A natural gas cooktop
  • A natural gas dryer on the second floor
  • All drain vents must exit through the roof

There was some discussion with my GC about the type of piping to use for fresh water.  Ultimately, we decided on pex tubing over copper to save money.  There were a few advantages to pex, one of which is that they have a tendency to be harder to burst in situations where they freeze.

In order to prepare for the rough plumbing for the bathrooms, we needed to know where all of the faucets were going to be located so we could install the rough-in valves.  Each faucet I selected was wall mounted, so they all have a different set of valves than a typical vanity-mounted faucet.  They had to be set precisely in place before the walls are built.

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Tubing and valve for the first floor bathroom sink

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Tubing and valve for second floor bathroom sink

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Tubing and valve for the master bathroom sink

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Tubing and valve for the master bathroom shower head and hand sprayer

There was some trouble understanding how one of the bathroom faucets was supposed to be installed.  I selected a GROHE shower head, sprayer, and faucet for the main bathroom that had a “double-el” valve that my plumber had never seen before.  We had to call the plumbing supply showroom a few times to understand what to do.  Eventually, we got clear instructions for how it would have to be installed.

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Tubing and valve for the main bathroom shower, faucet, and hand sprayer.  The controversial “Double-El” valve is highlighted in the red square in this photo.

Each of the drains and the bathroom exhaust fans needed to be vented through the roof.  The open floor plan on the first floor made it tricky to navigate pipes through between the floor joists.  For the most part, all piping and vents were run through the half bathroom ceiling on the first floor and straight up to the roof.  Others were routed straight up the east wall.

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There’s a lot going on above the drop ceiling in the half bathroom on the first floor

The kitchen fume hood was a bit of a controversial topic.  There was no obvious way in the plans to fit an 8” pipe and route it outside the house.  The wall the kitchen is on is too close to the neighbor’s house to simply punch a hole in it and vent the fume hood right there.  We kicked around a few ideas, my two favorites of which were to install it illegally after the inspections were done, or to forget it and install a fume hood that re-circulated air inside the house through a filter!  Both were terrible ideas so after much debate, we decided to sacrifice a corner of the middle bedroom and use that to vent the fume hood properly through the roof.  It will now be forever referred to as the “Cattywampus Corner”.  It is a small sacrifice to make if I can fry three pounds of bacon at once without setting off the smoke detector.

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The “Cattywampus Corner” in the middle bedroom will be built around this pipe for the fume hood

The gas line into the house had to be rebuilt entirely because the regulator was dangerously located in the garage near where the car would park.  We had PSE&G come in and create a new pipe that went through an old window that we bricked over in order to make a pouch for the new meter and regulator.

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The new gas line coming through the pouch we created where the basement window used to be

The new gas line inside the house had to be routed to the kitchen for the range, the upstairs washer/dryer closet, the basement machine room and the roof for the upstairs heater.  We also installed a “T” on the gas line so in the future we can use it for the outdoor kitchen range.

Electric

The electric wiring design was a combination of what was on the original plans, and a re-think of the lighting and TV layouts once I was able to walk around inside the house.  At all times, building code needed to be observed.

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The original plans for the first floor.  We moved the island closer to the kitchen counter, and re-worked the recessed lighting plan a little bit to be more in line across the room.  Our changes didn’t radically alter the design.

On the first floor, we had to finish the layout so we could plan the wiring.  That included, the kitchen layout, the location of the dining room table, the couch, my computer desk, and the couch.  This was the most involved decision-making process so far.

We started with the kitchen.  The final layout varied from the plans somewhat due to some decisions about the placement about the kitchen island and the cabinet designs.  We moved the kitchen island a bit closer to the cabinets, and we made it a bit longer.  We also added a pantry which moved over the placement of the refrigerator.

Once everything was drawn out on the floor and walls, we were able to plan where all the outlets needed to be.  That included the outlets for the refrigerator, warming tray, oven, and the convection steam oven.  It also helped us place the lights on the ceiling.  We started with three pendant lights over the island, and then planned two rows of recessed lights that travelled the entire downstairs.  In the kitchen, the recessed lights illuminate the space on either side of the island.

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The kitchen wall

After the kitchen was in place, we were able to lay out roughly where the dining room table would be.  My kitchen designer asked me if I had any details about what kind of table I’d be using so that we could make a better idea about where to place the dining room chandelier.  I really don’t have an idea yet so we aligned it roughly with the kitchen island.  We also placed it somewhere in the middle of the south wall and the end of the island.  That then gave us an idea of where to put the television so we could place the outlet on the wall behind it.

The living room was up next.  This room was a bit simpler because there are no hanging lights, we simply had to finish travelling the recessed lights through the area.  We also added a third row of lights in the area over the television because this room was a bit wider than the other two.  We identified where the television was going to go and placed an outlet behind it.

We also planned out where the speakers were going to be, with a plan to install 7.2 surround sound.  We placed the two required subwoofers in each corner of the room and put an outlet behind each.  The front three speakers will be mounted on the walls, assuming a TV size of 65 inches.

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Row of recessed lights for the living room

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Both rows of recessed lights across the first floor zones

Lastly for the first floor, we planned out the computer desk and all of the various inputs and outputs we’ll need for audio/visual and data.  It will be along the back wall of the living room behind the couch.  The downstairs will include a mix of hardwired Internet connections for gaming and computing, and WiFi for everything else, including smart home devices.

We planned the switch layouts such that I can control all three rooms as zones and have “layered” control in each zone as well.  For example, in the dining room

The second floor was a bit simpler to plan out.  Each room was compartmentalized and treated separately, so there was less to align and match.

The first bedroom in the front of the house will be lit by one hanging light in the center of the room.  The same with the middle bedroom.

The master bedroom will be lit by both recessed lighting and by a hanging light in the center of the room.

The outlets in the bedrooms were arranged by building code.  I added them all up and there are 20 outlets in total, for a total of 40 sockets.  I can’t imagine having enough things to plug in that require that many sockets, but building code is building code.

The hallway will be lit by sconces.  There will be exposed ducts running along the ceiling so we won’t be able to light them from above.

One area that is still under discussion is how to light the stairs.  I didn’t like the idea of overhead lighting above the stairs because I’d have no way to reach it to change the bulb.  So, we are working out a plan to install recessed lighting in the wall along the staircase.  The final design has yet to be decided.

Each bedroom and the hallway required a hard-wired smoke detector.  They were all placed out of the way from the lights in each area.

HVAC

While this was all going on the tin knocker was busy installing all the rough items needed for the HVAC system which will be put in place at a later time.  He can’t put the duct work in until the walls are in place, but everything that goes inside a wall or a ceiling or exits the house through the roof needs to be installed now.

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All of this has to exit through the roof

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HVAC ducts which will go inside the walls

In order to have two-zoned heating and cooling, and in order to fit everything in the house and not take up backyard space, we are going to use a combination of the roof and the basement to store all heating and cooling machinery.  So, all intakes and vents had to be planned out accordingly.  The house doesn’t have a chimney so we are using PVC flues where needed. All of the bathroom exhausts were installed and vented through the roof as well.

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The various exhausts and intakes that exit through the roof

Finishes

Also on the to-do list are all of the finishing items, especially those that require cabling or plumbing before the walls are put into place.  I’ve been keeping track of all of my ideas using OneNote and researching ideas and modifying the list as I go.

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My scatter-brained notes

The most interesting part is planning out the audio/visual and data connections and making sure they are future proof.  The plan is to store most of the equipment in the basement, and route HDMI and speaker cables throughout the house where needed.   My brother does commercial A/V installations for a living so he has graciously offered to help design and install everything we need before the walls go in.

The working plan includes the following:

  • DirecTV (for television)
  • Verizon Fios (for Internet)
  • Five indoor televisions (two living room, one kitchen, one dining room, one master bedroom)
  • 7.2 surround sound in the living room
  • Stereo speakers in the dining room, master bedroom, master bathroom (I like listening to music when getting ready in the morning)
  • Amazon Echo integration throughout the house
  • WiFi throughout the house and outside
  • Xbox One for gaming in the living room
  • Amazon Fire TV for media streaming

We have an unorthodox plan for running the necessary cabling throughout the house before the spray foam insulation goes in such that we can pull ore replace cables as necessary.  We are going to use some hoses we found at a hardware store as cheap conduit.

There are a few other non-A/V items that I’m planning for, some of which I’ve already purchased so we can install them when they are ready:

The Hunter Douglas shades required a power supply which I purchased to be installed in the basement.  All three shades will be connected to the same power supply and the electrician will install the wiring.

The hand dryer will not only be practical but will add to the ambience on the first floor.  I want it to look and feel like a trendy restaurant or club.

The Nest Hello was just released this March and I got in on the first shipment.  It will provide video security for the front door and will also alert me anytime someone rings the bell, whether I am home or not.

Amazon Key is a new product as well, and it will allow for keyless entry using a keypad to the front door, and the delivery hatch we are building to the basement.  This will allow Amazon to deliver packages and leave them inside the house.  Each Amazon Key is coupled with a security camera that stores footage in the Amazon Cloud.  Every time someone uses the keypad to open the door, I get an alert and I can watch what is going on using an app.

Inspections

With equal parts optimism and dread, I was looking forward to the separate plumbing and electric inspections which were scheduled for March 19.  My GC put his crew on a deadline to have everything ready to go before then, and they worked through the weekend to complete everything.  I wanted to get these two inspections, but also calculated about a 100% chance of failing them both for some reason.

Much to my surprise, we passed both without issue.  My GC was so surprised, he told me he couldn’t sleep that night because he was so excited!  He also forgot to attend a meeting with a perspective customer because his emotions got the best of him.  I’ve never been so happy to be 100% wrong about something.

 

What’s Next

Our next inspection is the building inspection on Wednesday.  This one is going to check on everything we built including the frame, the roof, and the siding.  One of the inspectors who was at the house a few months ago noted that he believed that wood siding was not allowed on the sides of a house.  But our siding plan was on the original approved plans, and I checked the building code myself and nowhere does it say we can’t have wood siding.  I don’t know what to make of his comment, but I’m hoping for the best on Wednesday.

Once we get past inspection, we can install the bespoke conduit for the AV equipment.  Once we are sure everything is in place on the exterior walls, we will spray-foam insulate everything.  That will be the last step before we can put floors and walls in.

Over Budget

Not only is almost every single item on original plan over budget, but I’m still bleeding cash each month as I pay off two mortgages.  Everything I wrote about in this blog has been a lot of fun and I’m very much enjoying the decision making and implementation process.  Waking up every morning knowing that I’m going broke from paying two mortgages since I bought the place in December 2015 and knowing that I’m nowhere near completion is becoming very stressful and upsetting.  Any cash I had on hand for cost overruns has pretty much evaporated and I’m looking for new ways to borrow and fund the rest of the project.  In the end, this will probably cost me time getting started on phase 2 (mainly the backyard), but I can’t worry about any of it now.  We’ve picked up the pace in 2018 and I’m doing my best to keep everything moving as quickly as possible.