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New woodworking project

Monday, June 10th, 2019

For a long time, we’ve planned to add more built-in bookcases to the bedroom to accommodate all my books still in storage. Part of this plan was for a tricky-to-build corner bookcase.

Brad and I designed this together, but he did the hard work of figuring out the exact dimensions and how to cut and assemble the pieces.

Once that got done, we had to figure out where to finish it. It is very heavy, and I was nervous about moving it after the finish work was done. It was hard to lift — what if we dropped it? It also has an awkward shape and weight distribution. So we decided to move it from the workshop to the bedroom (in the other house) and to finish it there.

Thinking about how to move it, we talked briefly about who we knew who might help. It’s a very short list here when you take account for people’s age and ability, as well as willingness. While we were thinking about that, I suggested we move it with the truck. That worked well.

Here it is in place,  but unfinished and without the final base and cap. Now the project is pretty much in my court to do the finishing. There will also be another shorter bookcase next to it (not the one shown here). Stay tuned for more pics.

Spring is here

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

It is warming up here, and everything is suddenly growing (despite a threat of snow last week which didn’t materialize).

Right now, we are eating lettuce, asparagus, and fava beans from the garden. We are enjoying the blooms of lavender, salvia, and penstemon. I have lots of starts in little pots in the house, and a few other things outside in the ground. I am trying to do a little bit in the garden every day (well, maybe every other day) so that we have a bountiful summer.

And we are taking lots of walks and enjoying the sun and warmth of spring.

The slab becomes a floor

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

As much as things went badly yesterday, today they went splendidly.

We got up 5 again to stain, and today the weather was clear. We set out to the property and began work. I’ll let the pictures and movies tell the story. (One minor sidenote: The rain seems to have brought up some of the Quikrete. We had to scrape and wash down the slab *again*. So Quikrete wasn’t the perfect crack patcher either. Maybe there isn’t one. Anyway, it’s good enough.)

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Staining the Slab
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(The color on the movie is a bit dark and orange. This picture shows the actual color.)

More pictures are here.

We just love Soycrete. It was so easy to work with and gave beautiful results.

We also did the final stucco coat on the greenhouse columns. This came out really nice too. For me, a lot of this was a practice run for the house. The color turned out really nice, and I would definitely use something similar for the house. (We will be going with a slightly different stucco, one that is plasticized, which we discovered since we bought this first batch, helps prevent cracking).

I finished the stucco two different ways. The first was more of a rough finish. The second was smoother (achieved by misting and sponge troweling it pretty aggressively). While we liked both, I think we’ll probably go with the smoother look. We may do either a different texture or even color on the “architectural details.” (Those are the parts of the exterior walls that stick out a bit to look more interesting.)

It might be faster to grow our own lumber

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

As I write this, Brad is on his way to Animas to give the contract (and accompanying big check) to the panel people and then to Deming to deliver plans to the person there who will be drawing the panel plans. We are hoping to be able to get these plans to approve before we leave for DC for NECC next week so that they can begin manufacturing. [Postscript: There is yet another problem with the panel manufacturer that might further delay things. Oh well.]

This has been held up for several weeks due to issues with the windows. Upon trying to get quotes for windows and doors, we learned that the window dimensions in the plans are not standard as we’d asked for. (Big surprise.) Everything has been further delayed by the fact that it seems to take weeks and multiple phone calls to get quotes on anything from anyone. I’m not sure what the lesson is on all this, but if we’d quoted out some of this while we were in the design phase, we might have found this out sooner. Of course, it would probably have taken even more time that way, so I’m not sure. At any rate, this is certainly as frustrating as I was warned and anticipated it would be.

The boys are due to arrive here July 3. The panels will not be here by then, but we have other things to work on, such as moving the driveway (it currently goes through our main house) and clearing areas for the pump house and patio. Hard work that should keep them all busy.

Brad and I got up at 5 this morning to stain the slab, but it was raining. It’s rained several days this week, not hard or long, but big winds and violent looking clouds blowing through. It appears that monsoon season has started, much to everyone’s glee. Hopefully, it won’t rain too much during July when we are hoping to get lots done.

We have also been making progress on the greenhouse. We’ve painted the wood beams and will be doing stucco this weekend.

And Brad finally cut apart that lovely insulated barrel contraption around our water lines. The bottom third was filled with dirt.

Catching up

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

I have been working around the clock to finish a couple grants (relatively low $, but local, which should facilitate actually having some time to build a house) and haven’t had much time to write, so this is a “catch up” post. Here are some updates:

We’ve continued working on the slab and now have most of it scored. (We’ve gotten a lot of use out of the generator Barry gave us. Thanks!) We’ll likely be staining next week.

After much research on concrete crack repair, we decided to get an injected polymer kit. It basically works like epoxy with two parts that you mix and inject into the cracks. It’s supposed to chemically bond into the concrete, becoming stronger than the concrete itself. It’s expensive but seemed a lot better than Quikrete.

Well, it was a fiasco. The stuff comes in a two-chamber tube that mixes in a caulking gun and comes out through a tube, to which you can attach a nozzle for hairline cracks like ours. When we started using it, the stuff immediately solidified in the tube after we had done less than a few inches of cracks. There was one $40 tube wasted (or rather solidified). It was maddening. We suspect that the heat here caused it to immediately react. The next time, we refrigerated it first, but it was still dodgy. We ultimately decided just to do the bigger holes and cracks with this and do the rest with Quikrete. I had bought a few special tools to do the cracks, like woodworker’s syringes, but it turns out that just smearing it on with my finger worked best.

With the plans approved, we’ve been finalizing the construction budget and getting lots of quotes. Some of this has been fun (like looking at beautiful glass double patio doors) and some has been awful (like finding out all our beautiful windows and doors will cost close to $20k). I am more than a little scared of this all costing more than we have planned (or have), but I am including plenty of pad in the budget.

Many people we’ve talked to have not bothered to get back to us with quotes. It’s good to know that the economy isn’t really as bad as we hear. Ha ha.

I talked to many roofers about our planned membrane roof, only to find out that membrane roofs are apparently not used much for residential construction; they’re pretty expensive; and no one wants to come to the middle of nowhere to do one (and a small one at that, as I’ve been told repeatedly). We’re probably going to go with a metal roof like everyone else here. We met another couple who built their own house (similar style to ours), and they put on their own metal roof and love it.

No other major changes in plans, so we’re ready to proceed. We’ll be ordering the SIPS for Tumbeweed in the next few days. It’s a little scary, but good to be getting going.

Jonathon and Harrison are set to come out in early July. We’re looking forward to their arrival and help.

The compost experiment continues. It is seeming hard to keep it moist with the heat and dry air here.

We attended the first ever Douglas Farmer’s Market. The farmers down the street from us have a stand there. It was really great, and much better than driving to Bisbee for the farmer’s market there. Also, since we have to go to Douglas every couple weeks anyway, it’s convenient. They hold it in a beautiful park in town.

Adobe building insight

Monday, October 27th, 2008

We were luck to run into this half-built adobe house on our way from Taos to Santa Fe. It gave us some insights into the building process. (It reminds me of the mud brick building we built in Africa. Scary.)

AZ-NM trip and the whole design thing

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

We were in NM and AZ this week, taking care of some details for our upcoming move and commencement of building the house.

The main purpose of the trip and the reason we rearranged our schedule was to meet with a prospective designer.

Here is what I wrote about this a couple weeks ago about the whole design thing:

One of the first steps in the usual process of building a house is to hire a designer and architect. When we started this project, Brad and I had a pretty good idea of what we wanted. Given that, our budget, our propensity to DIY, and our past experiences with expensive “professionals,” we thought we might design ourselves and perhaps just get someone to draw up the plans to get them through the permit approval process.

Then we got into some of the decisions about building techniques and other design issues. I found my own lack of knowledge frustrating. Then my need to plan everything in detail and in advance began to clash with Brad’s more laid back style. As we struggled with all of this, we thought how nice it would be to have a consultant who had a base of experience to inform our decisions.

I searched the Internet and visited many, many architect and design sites, focusing on people in AZ and NM. I found a lot of people who didn’t seem to fit what we were looking for. Also, many had web sites that were horrible or didn’t work at all. (Lots of consulting work potential for when we get there.)

I love Su Casa magazine and looked there as well. Many of the designers there didn’t have web sites at all. I wondered if we could we work with someone who didn’t have a web site? It’s kind of a silly criteria, knowing that not all people are “technology” people, but it’s so much a part of who Brad and I are….and how were we to see if there was a “fit”? There are only so many people we can go and meet, and this isn’t always an effective way to evaluate fit anyway.

Then I read the article “Ready, Set, Build” by Vishu Magee. The article really resonated with me, and I thought that yes, if we could find a designer that could work with up in the way this article described, it would be so wonderful. Then I went to Vishu’s web site Archetype-Design. Wow! Not only were Vishu’s designs beautiful, his approach and style seemed amazingly like our own.

Reading the site FAQs, etc., I learned so much and also gathered that Vishu was very busy and often has a large backload of projects. I went ahead and emailed him though, holding my breath to see if it might be possible to at least talk more.

I was so happy to receive an email a few hours later saying that his backlog was not huge right now and that he’d like to talk more. (“The building business simply stinks right now,” he said. Yes, we’ve heard. More doubts swelled up, but not serious ones.)

We are looking forward to meeting Vishu to see if we might work together.

So we were very excited about meeting Vishu, but also trying not to get our hopes up too high. (We had been reading his book over the long drive from Phoenix to Taos, which only served to raise our hopes.)

Our meeting started out well, and we quickly had a good rapport. Vishu lived up to the impression we’d gotten from his web site, emails, and book. He had done a little research on our location and read over the project vision we’d written and the design survey and sketches we’d sent. Overall, he seemed to think we had a good idea of what we wanted and liked the approach. He said it was not a particularly challenging project.

We discussed various elements of the project and our needs and design ideas. He gave us a lot of great input and advice. Some of my key take-aways were:

  • The construction style that may make most sense is thick wood frame outer walls and adobe inside walls to provide thermal mass. (We finally have a grasp on insulation vs. thermal mass and why you want both.)
  • Adobe is apparently easy. Even we could do it. :) (Contrary to what I had read, “no one” makes their own adobe bricks any more. You buy them. I’m much more comfortable with that.)
  • We can have windows. :) We just need to plan the north-south-east-west orientation right.
  • We probably don’t need radiant floor heat. (We are now thinking of a gas woodstove-style heater as backup heat.)
  • We learned a lot about passive solar, including trombe walls and passive solar water heating (which involves large storage bottles painted black to absorb heat from the sun).
  • We learned about some interesting, environmentally-friendly, and inexpensive finishes like adobe mud for the exterior, clay for interior, and acid wash concrete floors. More to learn and explore here.
  • We probably only want/need 10 feet high walls in the main house.
  • We probably can use the existing slab, but are now thinking of it for the office building because of its orientation.

A key point in the meeting was when Vishu asked us what had made us think he was a good fit for our project. At the instant he asked, I thought he was asking from a marketing standpoint – How did we find him? What made him appealing to us? After thinking about everything after the meeting, I think he asked because he wasn’t sure he was a good fit for what we needed….or more precisely what we could/should afford given the scope of the project and our needs.

So then came the discussion of price for design. We already new his basic formula, a percent of construction cost. What we didn’t know was that “construction cost” would be the cost to have a builder build x square feet in Taos. Of course, that is multiples of what we’ll spend building ourselves in Portal. So we were presented a number that was multiples of what we had hoped for. Even after Vishu discounted it for our circumstance, there is still a pretty huge gap from his bottom price to our hoped-for maximum price.

Perhaps more importantly though, Vishyu really validated a lot of our ideas and made us feel confident that we can in fact do this in much the way we were hoping. So while we are back to looking for a designer, we are on a solid path.

First crack at a floor plan

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

(Click twice to magnify.)

“Off the grid”

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

So our new house will be off the grid. To clarify, that means we will be on all solar. We will, however, have regular phones and even DSL. (When we found out this was possible, we regarded it as a sign from the heavens that this was meant to be. Most places in Portal/Rodeo do not have DSL.)

We have talked to a few people who have solar and even looked at the set up. It doesn’t look bad at all. We did get costs on running power, but it’s fairly expensive ($16,000/mile plus) and really doesn’t seem necessary. And as one future neighbor pointed out, not running power is likely to keep future development out.

In telling people about our new adventure, it’s been interesting to gauge reactions. One thing I didn’t anticipate is that saying we would be “off the grid” would cause people (even those who know us) to question our sanity. In fact, after I told a few people, I stopped telling others. Or I just said we’ll be solar. That seemed less troubling to folks.

Something I’ve always wanted to do

Friday, October 17th, 2008

For 20 years or so, I’ve had the idea of moving somewhere completely different, remote, isolated, beautiful. At various times, this has taken different forms: a move to a desert island, a foreign country, a big farm in the country.

I could never find anyone who was willing to — let alone wanted to — do this with me though.

Then I met Brad. He always said he thought something like this sounded fun. Then a couple years ago when we began working together and had more professional flexibility, we began making plans.

So for a long time, we looked for a place to go make a new home. Our basic requirements were to find someplace 1) warm (preferably no snow), 2) remote (sparse population), 3) within 2 hours of an airport, and 4) inexpensive enough that we wouldn’t have to work constantly (especially looking at someday retirement).

Those requirements led us to the southwest. As much as we love California, it is too expensive and too crowded. We narrowed it down to Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. We really like Utah, but ultimately decided it wasn’t for us. (We got fairly close to Moab, but after subscribing to their local newspaper, decided there are too many development issues there. Subscribing to a local newspaper is a great way to find out about things you’d never know in a few weeks’ visits.) We liked New Mexico, but the elevation in much of the state means snow. Nevada — pretty, but I can’t stand the slot machines in every corner store.

We kept coming back to Arizona. It met all of our “checklist” items, but we visited city after city and just couldn’t find the place that “felt” right. We heard great things about the Tucson area, but after 3 or 4 trips never found a place we liked. We tried Bisbee; that wasn’t it. (The ginormous mining pit on the edge of town did not make a good first impression.) We kept looking and made trip after trip.

Along with all the trips, we also scoured the Internet. We looked for places selling lots with a lot of acreage. Then we found Portal-Rodeo. There were an amazing number of 40 acre lots for sale there, and the prices were amazingly cheap (and not even just by California standards). So we decided to go look.

The first time we were there, we loved it. The second time we were there, we found KB Ranch. The third time we go, in a couple weeks, we’ll stand on the land that will be our new home.