Exterior almost complete

Progress has been fast and furious. On the exterior, nearly all the siding except for the final stucco coat and some panels between the windows are on. The underside of the cantilever soffit is now wrapped in white metal, which I think gives it a really luminous and lighter look than before.

All the cedar strip siding is on, as well. Between the black aluminum windows we'll be adding black-painted MDO panels, and between the wood windows we'll add panels of fir.

There has also been lots of progress on the inside, but pictures will have to wait since most of the finishes are covered up. A coat of primer has been sprayed on all the drywall, and the second floor stranded bamboo flooring and staircase is installed, but covered by protective cardboard. The third floor concrete floors are poured, and are looking great, but they're still covered by wet curing blankets as they continue to cure. Finally, the kitchen cabinets are being installed! So, lots of action, but pictures won't come until after the holidays. Happy holidays!

Drywall & Sliders

Our sliding doors have finally arrived and been installed, so we are officially "dried-in." The doors' arrival unblocked a logjam, and progress is now fast. Today was sunny in Seattle, so we managed to get some great pictures.

As you can see, the cedar rainscreen siding is now partially installed. We expected the factory-applied stain that we choose ("teak") to be darker, but we are none the less happy with how it looks.

You can see one of the sliding doors in the lower left. The biggest slider is 14 ft long and 8 ft high, and was carried perilously up this ramp.

A view from the inside of the long sliding door.

Drywall installation has started, and will finish next week.

The sun was out so we could get a peak of the Olympic mountains from the living room.

While the house is certainly looking great, a few small things have gone wrong. The Lindal windows are good quality but their hardware is quite outdated.

Brass? Seriously? While the brass door lock is easy to replace, the black plastic handles are looking more challenging to change. We're waiting to hear more after our superintendent looks at them more closely, and calls Lindal.

The garage door also arrived, but the pattern of glass mullions was incorrect; it was supposed to match the pattern in the window wall above. The garage door company went ahead and installed it temporarily, and will swap it out once new ones are made.

The house is really starting to feel real. Once drywall is finished, they'll start on flooring and trim. Since almost none of our interior finishes are custom, it's all going to come together really fast!

Wood windows, Stucco, Insulation

I'm long overdue for an update. The white aluminum siding is almost entirely on, except for the area under the cantilever.

The first two coats of the labor-intensive, three coat stucco process is applied. The final coat must wait thirty days for the second coat to dry and set. What you see now is called the "brown" coat, but the color isn't that far from what we want.

Finally, the wood windows from Lindal are installed.

Unfortunately, the wood sliding doors have yet to arrive, which explains the bubbled and boarded-over areas on the west side of the house.

Lindal makes great windows, but they've consistently over-promised and under-delivered when it comes to scheduling; they've yet to actually deliver their product on the day that they promised. Oh well. The newest schedule is that we'll receive the sliding doors Monday.

Finally, insulation is installed. We ended up going with standard fiberglass batts, though I had my superintendent walk through the house with the sub-contractors and foam anywhere he saw daylight. So, hopefully we're a little more air-tight than usual.

Drywall has been delivered. We've passed framing and insulation inspections. Once the sliders are installed and drywall is finished, the fun of interior finishes begin! I'm also looking forward to the wood siding, which should warm up the exterior.

Some Small Topics

I'll have another progress update soon with pictures, but I want to make sure I occasionally write about some of the smaller decisions and topics that have come up recently. When it comes to building a house, the devil is in the details! So here are a few small topics.

The $500 Shower Drain
Shower drains are not typically noteworthy objects worth much thought. So how did I end up spending $500 on one? Here's the story.

We fell in love with the Xylem tile in Ebony from Ann Sacks, and plan to use it on the floor in both full bathrooms. These tiles are huge at 9" x 36", and have a subtle wood-grain texture; the black version looks a bit like board-formed cement. For the Master bathroom, I really wanted to continue the tile right into the shower, without any curb, for a truly minimalist look; also, the texture on the tile is great for avoiding shower slips on a wet floor. However, the traditional tiled shower slopes radially towards a center-drain, so small mosaic tiles are usually used to adapt to the non-planar slope. How does one achieve a curb-less shower with large-format tiles? A linear shower drain, like this example from a vendor that makes them.

I love the look! For a linear drain, the whole shower floor is planar and tilts towards the drain at a shallow angle. You need to plan carefully in advance, so you can recess the shower area into the floor to accommodate the slope. We actually had our structural engineer include this recess in the framing plans (fortunately, the shower is above the coat closet on the lower floor, so losing a few inches of ceiling height didn't matter). Linear shower drains are quite common in Europe and Australia, but unfortunately, they're considered luxury items in the US and are quite expensive. They're also tricky to buy, with lots of middlemen in the acquisition chain, which I always find distasteful. Fortunately, I found an online shop, myshowergrateshop.com, which custom fabricates them in Canada using a CNC machine and ships them out next day! I spent about about $500, which is actually cheap for a linear drain. Furthermore, our architects at PB loved the idea and went to town making sure the drain would run flush from edge to edge of the shower. They made a crazy drawing to figure out that the drain needed to be exactly 51.375"; I assure you this amount of thought and energy has never gone into a shower drain in a spec house! So, the drain has arrived and once tile work is finished I'll be sure to report back on how it works out.

The $45 Light Bulb
Along the same vein, how did I become the proud owner of three light bulbs costing $45 each? Well, about a week ago the electrician installed three recessed lights in the bottom of the cantilever; they will illuminate our front driveway and yard. These lights are about 20 feet off sloping ground; how will I ever change burned-out light bulbs? I remembered recently hearing that the newer LED bulbs last much longer than regular bulbs or even CFLs; I looked them up, and indeed Home Depot has an LED flood light bulb that they claim lasts up to 46 years!

That should do. The downside is that they cost $45 each. In my scenario I decided that it's worth it, though honestly I can't imagine any other scenario where a $45 light bulb makes economic sense. I picked three up; they are heavy, engineering marvels, and work great!

$600 and Three Inches
A minor annoyance that came up during framing cost us $600 and three inches of ceiling height on the bedroom level. The horizontal steel beam that supports the cantilever lives in the ceiling of the second floor; the beam is 16" high, whereas typical floor joists are 12" high. So, plans were made long ago to "fur down" the ceiling height to cover the bottom of the beam; however; no one thought about the bolts connecting the vertical and horizontal beams that protrude out even further from the bottom of the horizontal beam! Oops.

So, after the ceiling was already dropped by 4", we had to drop them another 3" to cover the bolts, at a cost of $600. Not a big deal, but definitely a snafu. Why wasn't this anticipated? Apparently, steel beams are fairly uncommon in residential construction, and when they are used there are typically only wood beam / steel beam connections. When there are steel-to-steel connections, they are typically welded. Bolted steel-to-steel connections, while common in high-rises, are rather foreign to houses, so no one thought about the bolts. Oh well; we've had more positive surprises than bad, and there will always be surprises in construction.

On a final note, two of our close friends who were similarly frustrated with the available houses in Seattle decided to also design modern houses with PB Elemental! One is in framing, and the other in permitting. I helped to instigate the first three houses on PB's in-progress page! I wonder what our kids will think as we shuttle them back and forth to BBQs at three crazy modern houses surrounded by seas of Craftsmans!

Aluminum siding & windows

I've been remiss in posting once again, but progress has been good since framing completed. As you can see from this first picture, most of the white aluminum panel siding (done in a rainscreen application over Vaproshield) is on. The wrapped siding under the cantilever has to wait until insulation has been applied. The lower volume will have stucco, and the first stage of wrapping the sides in two layers of tar paper is complete.

The windows in the lower volume are all black Milgard aluminum. I love the graphic pop of the black windows against the white siding.

We decided to delay ordering the windows until framing was complete, because most of our windows are floor-to-ceiling and we wanted to make sure the windows fit the rough openings perfectly. Unfortunately, this choice is causing about a month of delay, and the wood Lindal windows have not arrived, yet.

The master bedroom window was too large to be built as one unit, so it was split into three pieces separated by 2x6's that will later be encased in black metal to make it look more like one.

The TPO roofing is also in, and can be seen on the 2nd floor deck, here. Sleepers and cedar decking will go on top.

Electrical and plumbing rough-ins are also mostly complete. Radiant heating on the first and third floors are embedded in concrete, but the second floor will be heated by tubes running in the joists, with heat transfer aided by aluminum ultra-fins attached to the tubes.

The windows under the floating stair are in, and look super cool; the stair treads themselves are temporary.

Finally, the front door and side windows are installed; the door is 8-ft tall and runs floor to ceiling. We plan to paint it bright red.

The wood Lindal windows are arriving today, but the Lindal sliding doors will take another two weeks. So the plan is to bubble in the remaining openings and turn on the heat to completely dry the wood out; after that, we can install insulation and start drywall, which can take two weeks. Then the more fun finishes, such as tile and flooring and cabinets, can start!

One slightly annoying issue is our gas line. We thought gas was stubbed to the property, but Puget Sound Energy didn't like the stub, for some reason. At first, they told me that it would cost $3k-$4k to run gas from the street. Then, it went down to $2k plus $0.17 per therm for the next 5 years, which should add up to less. After that, our superintendent at Logan's Hammer called them, and the up-front cost went down to $848! So, now we have gas and an unsightly patch in the road, which they say will eventually be replaced. But fortunately the cost wasn't so bad.

Framing complete!

The framing of our house was completed this past week (minus a few small details which must wait for scaffolding). You can see a complete album of photos, but here are a few choice images.

We were also able to get up on the roof and see the views from the top. They are indeed great! We can see the Olympic mountains, the Ballard bridge and port, and the Puget Sound. The mountain tops are obscured by clouds in the images below, but you can get the picture. The second image is a panorama of the whole thing; it's a big image so the details are small. As usual, it's more impressive in person.

Unfortunately, the very best views are out on the cantilever, where we weren't originally planning to have deck. Now we are considering adding some more deck out on the cantilever, though the cost could be substantial. Here are some images of the roof as it stands now.

The cantilever part:

The current deck area (with part blocked out for skylights and an in-line blower for the cooktop hood):

Also, it looks like the construction rock stars at Logan's are coming in under budget in a few areas, so we might have a little room to upgrade. Probably the extra deck area and railings will blow any extra funds, but other possibilities include upgrading the insulation and/or adding some exterior motorized shades for the third floor. I'd love to upgrade the insulation, but the options are dizzying (open or closed cell spray foam, blown-in cellulose, flash and batt, or extra airtightness like the "advanced drywall approach"), and the bids are coming in high.

One slightly unfortunate turn of events is the location of the electrical meter, which is visible at the front of the house. We didn't want it along the entryway to the front door, which isn't that wide to begin with, and code didn't allow us to put it behind the front door. So, we did what we had to do.

It poured rain this last weekend before they managed to get the roof on, so the images show some water. We spent an hour each day this past weekend brushing water out, but the roof is going on today so that phase should be over. Plumbing and electrical rough-ins are in progress! Pretty soon I'll start listing some of our finish choices.

Third level floor is up

A quick update with some pictures of the floor of our third level.

We were able to stand on the third floor, which will contain our living & dining room and kitchen, and see the views. They are more screened than we had hoped, but still very open feeling (felt a bit like a tree house). The roof-top deck will more likely have killer views. Here is a panorama of the views (stitched using my own technology shipped in Adobe Photoshop), and a close-up of the Ballard bridge that can been seen from a corner of our living room (unfortunately captured on a cloudy day).

Holy cantilever!

This past Tuesday Logan's Hammer shut down the street, brought in a big crane, and placed the large steel and wood beams that support the cantilevered third floor.

The first two floors, plus the support beams of the third floor, are mostly framed up! Here are a couple good images of the gravity defiance:

And the overall framing status:

It was pretty surreal to walk through some of the rooms and feel their size! Everything seems just the right size; not too small, but not big enough to waste space/money. I guess that's the benefit of working with experienced architects. You can see more framing pictures in the web gallery.

Framing Starts!

Our house is going up fast. These photos are from 8/10/2010 and show the state after the first day of framing, but today I actually walked through the first 2 floors of our house! Photos of that next week.

The first photo shows the front concrete walls with our house number. The stairs will be poured to the right of this wall towards the end of construction, to avoid finish damage. As you can see, this area of concrete is quite different from the rendering above; it was redesigned both during permitting and again after the grade surprise. I think the new wall and straight-run staircase is an improvement. There will be plants in the area in front of the house numbers.

The stairs will run straight up the incline in this photo.

Here's a good shoot of the rest of the first-floor framing. So far so good!

Concrete floors!

This post is already out of date, I'm afraid, my blogging isn't keeping up with construction! But for the last week or so we've had the slab of our ground floor!

There is radiant heat tubing in the floor, as well, but I was out of town and couldn't get the images before they were covered. You can see the end of the pex tubes, though.

I'll post more photos, soon, but they've already poured all the other site walls, and framing starts Monday!