A Virtual Second Look

This is another video walk-through of the new house, to show progress since the first one.  This one includes the new siding, electric, plumbing, lighting, and A/V wiring.

 

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.

This House Has Good Bones

I remember someone telling me that “this house has good bones” before I bought it.  As it turns out, when we stripped the walls out, we found out that the bones weren’t all that great.  The point is moot because we ripped out most of the “bones” and threw them in the trash.

This all seems like so long ago.  Quick recap of the timeline:

  1. September 2014: I decide to start looking for a house.
  2. October 2015: I found what I wanted and put an offer down.
  3. December 2015: We close on the house and I now own it. Piece of cake, should be done with everything and moved in at worst by November 2016, right?
  4. March 2016: We submit final drawings and plans to Union City.
  5. September 2016: After several iterations, Union City grants us building permits.
  6. October 2016: Demolition begins. Following that is excavation and masonry in the front and back of the house.
  7. September 2017: Masonry and demolition is complete. Yes, that phase of the project took a year.
  8. October 2017: Framing begins.
  9. November 2017: Framing is complete, roof is installed.

Several other people have told me that they can’t believe how patient I am.  Maybe I wear it well, but I don’t feel patient at all.  If they were mind readers, they’d know that I’m ready to rip my hair out and jump in the Hudson River.  It’s been over three years since I decided that I wanted to buy a house and leave my Hoboken apartment.  Here I sit in front of the keyboard in my condo with a baby crying on the other side of my living room wall.

However, there is a huge bright side to this story, and as frustrated as I’ve been, I’ve never been more excited about this project.  As per item #9 above, the framing is done!  I can now walk around in the house and see what it really looks like after staring at plans for over a year.  I can officially exclaim that this house really does have good bones!

Not only that, but once the framing is done, we can move forward on everything else that needs to be done, and we can start working on several things in parallel.  I’m no longer at the mercy of my friend, the mason, who was holding the entire project up.

Building the Frame

Framing is a much more straight-forward and streamlined process than masonry work, as I learned.  The framers tend to show up and stay on the job site until most everything is done.  The bulk of the work took about three weeks, with a few things that needed to be done at the end that were based on decisions we made as things were built.

I opened an account with Kuiken Brothers, who would supply the framing materials and supplies.  The framer would call in orders to Kuiken as needed, and they would deliver everything immediately.

The house was partially demolished, and we preserved the east and west walls of the existing frame.  The north wall, facing the back yard, was demolished completely before the framer started.  The south wall on the front of the house stayed in place and was dismantled as the frame went up.  The floor between the first and second floors had to be demolished in parts while bracing the existing east and west walls so they would not collapse while the new frame was being built.

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The first floor of the frame taking shape

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The first floor of the frame taking shape in the front of the house. The old front wall was demolished as the new front wall was built.

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The second floor as it is being built.  This is the view from the master bedroom.

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The first floor as it is being built.  The existing frame had to be braced while the new one was being built around it.

The house is sheathed in Georgia-Pacific DensGlass Sheathing.  This is to get the house in-line with current fire code.  It will prevent fires that start inside the house from spreading outside for a short while.  The new frame is sheathed entirely in DensGlass.  It was also applied to the outside of the existing frame.

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DensGlass Sheathing surrounding and fireproofing the house.

A temporary staircase was built between the first and second floor.  The existing floor joists between the basement and the first floor were re-used and “sistered” to the new floor joists that were installed.  The reconfiguration allowed us to make room to build a wider staircase than the one that was there.  The existing staircase was maybe a foot and a half wide, you had to walk up and down it sideways.  It was very unsafe and certainly not up to any kind of modern building code.

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The old joists (the dark one) were sistered to the new floor joists in the basement.

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The finished basement staircase, much safer and wider than the old one.

As the frame went up, I was finally able to walk around inside the house to get a feel for the size and layout.  I had a very good idea after having stared at the drawings for so long, but that is not the same as being inside of it in real life.

The open layout of the first floor is strikingly large in contrast to my current apartment.  All in, the first floor is about 200 square feet bigger than my entire apartment, including my bedroom.  There are just two rooms: the bathroom, and everything else!  There is no separation between the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  This is a distinctive feature that I insisted on from the beginning and I’m very excited to actually see it in person.

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A clean view of the first floor with it’s open floor plan.

The second floor is going to have an interesting look and feel to it as well.  It is divided into three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a linen closet, a hallway, and a washer/dryer closet.

The bedroom in the front of the house facing south has two large window cut outs, two closets, and a ceiling that slopes downward from south to north. The decision was made to slope the ceiling as the house was being framed, the architect noted that there was space to do it once he saw how the frame was taking shape.  It is going to be a rather large space and has a lot of potential for various uses.

The middle bedroom and main bathroom will be ordinarily shaped with level ceilings.  The middle bedroom had just enough space between my house and the neighbors (something like three feet and an inch) to be allowed to have a window by fire code.  Had it not had enough space for a window, technically it wouldn’t count as a bedroom.

The master bedroom is also very uniquely shaped.  It begins at the extension of the house so the roof was raised and then sloped downward towards the back of the house.  Therefore, the ceiling will be sloped in the same direction.  It comes with a walk in closest and a bathroom.  The bathroom will have a walk-in shower and a window facing the back yard.

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The frame taking shape on the second floor.  This is the view from the master bedroom facing the front of the house.

Time to Make Some Decisions

Once the house is framed, you can proceed with pretty much everything else that needs to be done in the house.  You can take a look at the frame and decide if the plans are going to work out, or if you have to make adjustments to the design.

One of the first things we had to decide was how to heat and cool the house.  My GC brought in a trusted HVAC guy he’s been working with for years.  I was a little late getting to our initial meeting at the job site and they had started without me.

The drawings stated that the house would be heated with forced air and centrally cooled in a two-zone system through ducts.  The first thing the HVAC guy said was that there was no room for ducts in the plans and that we’d have to make adjustments.

The first suggestion the HVAC guy made was to consider a ductless mini-split system.  This system would include several outdoor heating and cooling units mounted on the sides and back of the house, and they would be attached by hose to wall mounted indoor units placed throughout the house.  The indoor units would protrude from the walls and would be programmable by remote control.

The mini-split system comes with a major drawback, in that in extremely cold weather, they won’t be able to heat the house well enough.  So, we would have to also install baseboard heating as a backup for the mini-split system.

The mini-splits also don’t have any kind of smart interface to them.  So, I would never be able to use my Amazon Echo to control the temperature, I would have to use the remote controls.

Given the design aesthetic, the lack of a programmable interface, and the need for a secondary heating system, I wasn’t very enthused with this plan.

An idea that I had coming into the discussion was to use heated floors, sometimes called radiant heating.  This is a way to hook up a system of tubes that carry hot water throughout the sub-flooring just below the finished floorboards.  This is an extremely energy-efficient method of heating.  It is virtually invisible throughout the finished section of the house as it is below the floors and doesn’t require any vents.  From an aesthetic standpoint, this is the best way to go.

Unfortunately, heated floors come with a very high upfront cost.  They would also require a separate cooling system be installed.  My contractor eventually priced out this option and it was a budget-buster so I had to say no.

The HVAC guy said something interesting to me while we were discussing options.  He asked if I liked an industrial look to the house.  I asked him why he asked that.  He then floated the idea of using exposed spiral ductwork throughout the house.  The ducts wouldn’t be hidden, but would instead become decorative and part of the design aesthetic.

I immediately loved the idea.  For some reason, I had daydreamed about the possibility of having exposed ducts in the house, but had never seriously considered them as an option until he brought it up.  We walked through what it would look like and how it would be built and I was sold on the idea.

The aim now is to have one heating and cooling unit on the roof for the upstairs zone.  There will be one air-compressor on the roof, and we’ll also have a heating unit and an air-handler in the basement for the downstairs zone.

In order to make this work, we needed to make a compromise to the original design.  We had to find two square feet of floor space in order for the ducts to come in and out of the basement.  We decided to move the downstairs bathroom two feet into the living room area to accommodate this need.  It’s not a very big loss, there wasn’t anything planned for that space anyway.

We had the HVAC guy pull the cut sheets for the roof units so the framer could build the mounts for them on the roof.  With the architect’s blessing, we made the appropriate changes to the design and prepared the house for this system to be installed at a later time.

Making it Water-Tight

Once the frame is done, the next step is to make the house water-tight.  This will enable everything else to move forward.  This includes the roof, windows and doors, and the siding on the outside of the house.

The Roof

Once the frame was in place we put the roof on. This was a no-frills roof that didn’t require much of a decision to be made.  The roofer built the roof in about one day, and used Johns Manville APeX 4S Embossed roofing materials.

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Looking up at the roof hatch from the second floor.

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The new roof, facing the front of the house.

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The roof facing the front of the house.  The platform is for the heating/cooling unit.

The Windows

We had decided on Marvin Integrity All-Ultrex windows after a lengthy comparison shopping process.  They had been specified and ordered a long time ago, and were waiting around in a Kuiken Brothers warehouse somewhere for us to call them and say it was time to install.  Once the roof was in place, it was OK to have the windows delivered and installed.

This was exciting for me as it was the first finishing touch we’ve applied to the house.  I got to see what the finished product looked like once they were put in.

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My friends from Kuiken Brothers delivering the windows.

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The windows and the front door are installed on the front of the house.

The Doors

The doors became an interesting decision to make.  The architect stated the that height of the doors needed to match the height of the window cut outs for aesthetic purposes.  This meant the doors had to be 90” tall.  This is tricky as most doors are 80” tall.  You can’t even really google 90” doors, virtually nothing pops up.

I found a few samples for the front door that I liked on Houzz to give my GC a few ideas, but we couldn’t find one in my size.  He took a look at one of the pictures I sent him and he came up with an idea.  He thought he could get a very cheap door with no markings on it fabricated as a special order for very cheap.  Later on, we can hang decorative markings on it and paint it to somewhat match the picture I showed him.  So, we ran with that idea and ordered a plain 90” door.

The back door was a little different.  We decided to go with a standard door with a glass panel in the middle to get some more natural light in the house.  We picked one from the Thermatru line of doors. In order to match the 90” height, we had it shipped with a custom-built transom window above it.

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The windows and the back door are installed on the back of the house.

The basement door was a standard-build, as simple as it gets.  It just needs to function, it doesn’t have to be pretty.

The Ancient Art of Japanese Siding?

The drawings were rather vague when it came to the siding on the front of the house.  It just said something about cedar planks shaped with tongue-and-groove connectors in the front and the back, and vinyl siding for the sides of the house.  My contractor called the architect to ask him what he had in mind for the decorative siding in the front.  The architect asked the contractor if he was sitting down.

The architect then proceeded to explain that he wanted to use Shou Sugi Ban siding.  Shou Sugi Ban is an ancient Japanese method of charring cedar planks with fire to prepare them for use.  The planks have an interesting look to them, and the treatment also makes them more fire resistant.

Well, the GC and I had never heard of this, and my architect had never used them on any of his projects before either.  But this was the way he dreamed up my project and I’ve trusted his judgment thus far so we got to work in researching this possibility.

First thing we did was to Google it, of course.  Shou Sugi Ban pretty much consists of three steps:

  1. Burn the wood with a torch
  2. Brush it off by hand
  3. Treat it with some kind of oil finish

We also found a few places that sell pre-made Shou Sugi Ban siding planks.  One is in Texas, the other in Pennsylvania.

The architect was so excited about seeing this come to life, that he volunteered to help us practice making these boards.  So, we all met at my contractor’s house and got started.  The contractor bought a blow torch that hooks into a regular propane tank and a few samples of tongue and groove cedar planks.

Working on the rough side of the planks, we charred them with the torch.  It didn’t take very long at all for the planks to turn black.  If we held the torch in place for just a bit longer, the surface would start to crack in a pattern that resembled alligator skin.

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That gas tank isn’t just for BBQ!  It is also for making Shou Sugi Ban siding!

The contractor had also stained some planks black as a control group to hold next to our Shou Sugi Ban samples.  We held them next to each other and could see the difference.  There was more color depth in the charred boards, and the alligator texture gave it a very interesting look.

Next, we brushed the charred board off.  The alligator skin cracks immediately came off, and the board reverted to a more brown-like color.  This wasn’t the look we wanted at all, so we rejected the idea of brushing the boards off.

The problem became to figure out how to preserve the alligator skin cracks on the boards.  We figured that if they brushed off so easily, they’d weather off right away when we hung them on the house. So, we applied two coats of polyurethane to one of the boards, drying it quickly with a heat gun after each coat.

We took that sample and rubbed it with our fingers.  No residue came off and it looked like the two coats of poly did the trick.  The board held on to the color and texture we wanted, and it had a nice shine to it as well.  All we had to do was to remove step #2 from the traditional process and we had the look we wanted.

We put the sample board down next to some vinyl siding samples and settled on one of them that matched best.  The vinyl siding will wrap most of the sides of the house, and maybe the back.  We’re considering Shou Sugi Ban planks for the back of the house if they aren’t cost prohibitive.

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The very bottom of this sample board is the Shou Sugi Ban we are looking for.  The rest of the house will be wrapped in vinyl siding in the “Misty Shadow” color shown here.

We’re going to price everything out this week, including getting a quote from the millshop in Pennsylvania that sells these types of planks off-the-shelf.  With any luck, we have a decision made early in the week and we can get the siding started shortly thereafter.

Next Up

Following the completion of the siding, we will start on the rough plumbing work.  This will require some final decisions on the layout of the kitchen and bathrooms.  This will include all of the various water fixtures (faucets, pot fillers, shower heads, etc.) so we can buy the rough-in valves that go behind the walls.

I reached out to my kitchen designer and we picked up the work we had started a year ago.  I went back to the showroom and refreshed my picks for the water fixtures throughout the house.  I also refreshed my wish list for kitchen appliances as well.  This was all my designer needed to get started on planning the final layouts for the kitchen and bathrooms.  When this is done, we can mark off where the valves need to go so the plumber can install them.

Bottom line is that we are moving at a faster pace than we ever have since the project started.  I’m communicating with the designer, contractor, and architect almost every day and we are making design decisions as we go.  The fun part is finally here!  Now, I just need to start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I still don’t have an ETA for completion and I have to continue to plan for the worst-case-scenario.