Week 19 – Brrrr

Last week was cold. Inside and out. The coldest it got in our living room was 37 degrees a couple of mornings. We had an unfortunate combination of the outside temperature being about zero degrees, having a drafty house, and not having heat downstairs. We ate breakfast upstairs most mornings last week while the space heaters did their best to warm things up downstairs.


The workers only worked about a half day last week. They came Monday morning, when our windows and doors were being delivered. They unloaded those and then also did a tiny bit of work on the house. Then it started snowing.


They came by briefly Wednesday morning and cleared the snow off of our subfloor. It snowed again on Saturday, and Peter was going to attempt to use their push broom to clear the snow off, but it was so cold that the broom had frozen to the subfloor and the handle snapped when he tried to pick it up. Oops.


Feeling frustrated.

We had a couple of exciting things happen on Thursday. The porta-potty company guy came to clean it, but (my theory is) all of the liquid was frozen, so the normal process didn’t work. Instead, he added a scoop of something (sand? salt? kitty litter?) to it and went on his way.

Thursday afternoon we had a frozen water pipe. This was a first for us, which is kind of impressive given how cold it has been and how exposed our pipes are. We have been careful to leave the water dripping each night it’s below freezing, and there is a space heater running in the cellar to keep the pipes warmish. After being gone for a few hours Thursday morning, I came home and found that the cold water in the kitchen sink wouldn’t run. I was in the middle of trying to put Micah down for nap while also trying to figure out what to do about the pipes, and Peter was at a meeting an hour away. Micah was less than understanding and did not end up napping that day.

I went down into the cellar, which involves leaving the children inside, locking the door, walking around to the back of the house, and climbing up a dirt wall that is about 3 feet high. Once there, I discovered that the space heater was not running, which is probably why the pipes froze (and it was about 7 degrees outside). After going in the house and back out a couple times, I figured out that the breaker had tripped for that circuit (which only has the one cellar outlet on it). I flipped the breaker back on and went back to the cellar. The outlet is a ground-fault one (you should see the letters GFCI on outlets in your kitchen and bathroom), and I pressed the test button and then tried to reset it. No matter how hard I pressed, it would not reset.


The dirt wall.

I consulted with my dad over the phone, and then used the contractor’s extension cord to plug the space heater in to the newly installed outlet on the front porch. After about half an hour of the space heater running again, the pipe was unfrozen. Yay! I waited a few minutes and then went back down to the cellar to check for leaks. There were none. Double yay! My dad and I had determined that the outlet was probably bad and needed to be replaced. When Peter got home, he changed the outlet but made a rookie mistake during testing and ended up making sparks and charring the outlet. It was a good try though! My dad came by the next morning and changed the outlet again, and it seems to still be working.

Also, on Thursday afternoon, the hot water in the bathroom sink was very brown when I got home. I ran it for a while to get it clear, but then it only had about half its former pressure. On Saturday, Peter worked on it a little and was able to get the dirt cleared out and turn the water pressure up.



We were sad that the cold, snowy weather prevented work on our house, but we did manage to enjoy playing in the snow several days last week.


Week 18 – Peak Activity

The second week of February was a solid week of work (they get another gold star for working five days!). Monday was mostly preparation: A pulley was installed on the lintel above our bedroom window for hauling materials up. It gives the space a nice industrial feel, so maybe we should keep it. Scaffolding also went up, but we probably shouldn’t keep that, since it would be in the way.


On Tuesday, the ridge board was added, marking the peak of our new roofline, and there was more preparation in the form of additional scaffolding and hauling up boards.


We had a meeting with the carpenter and production manager this week to discuss breaking through walls. While this may sound too destructive for this stage of the game, it is also exciting, because it means we are nearing the point when the new part of the house will be joined to the old – by way of replacing the dining room wall with a beam and knocking out the wall and window at the top of the stairs.


Throughout this whole process, it has been entertaining for the boys to watch the work through the window. Now that the work is happening on the same level as the window, it is apparently also entertaining for the workers to watch the boys. The carpenter reported seeing Micah licking the window while watching them. Jonah will often watch them and wave when they pass the window. He frequently yells at them his name of the moment, but I don’t think they understand when he tells them his name is “Calley.”


The second half of the week was a flurry of construction activity, with installation of roof rafters and attic floor joists making it progressively easier to visualize the new upstairs space.



Week 17 – A Little Bit Stalkerish

Last week was a little bit weird for me. We were out of town for three days in the middle of the week, so I wasn’t able to watch the construction as it was happening. It was the first time I had missed seeing the daily changes taking place on our house since construction began. I knew that I would miss knowing what was happening, so I prepared in advance by moving our video baby monitor from the boys’ room to our bedroom window. I angled it so that I could see some of the construction. I couldn’t see much, but it allowed me to know that work was happening each day, and I was able to see enough to know that second-story walls were going up. I readily admit that this is a little bit like stalking, but it is our house, after all, and I really wanted to see the progress being made. Both mornings in our hotel, I brought up the baby monitor on our iPad and just left it on in the background for 10-15 minutes while I was getting ready. It was then that I realized how accustomed I have become to the sounds of construction. I could hear work going on and commented that it made the hotel feel like home. Those sounds have become my new normal.

My view would have been a little better if there hadn't been a trash can in front of the window.

View from the baby monitor: my view would have been a little better if there hadn’t been a trash can in front of the window.

So now that I have gotten my stalking confession out of the way, we can move on to the work that was accomplished last week. At the beginning of the week, we had the second floor subfloor, but no walls.


We weren’t sure how they would get all of the supplies up to the second floor, but they managed to do so.


It’s a good thing our workers are relatively skinny.

By the end of Monday, they had a partially completed wall. When we came back from our trip Thursday evening, they had all three walls erected.



Before we left town.


When we got back home.

When we got home Thursday night, there was a surprise waiting for us in the parking spot in front of our house: a large pile of lumber. Peter said he was going to just park in the street while we unloaded our luggage and children, but I figured that since we had just hauled our luggage around DC and on buses and trains, we could probably manage to park two houses down and walk our stuff to our house. We had hoped the lumber would be gone quickly, but alas (spoiler alert!), it’s still there more than a week later.


On the plus side, it is lumber for our house, and not some random lumber blocking the parking spot.

When the sun came up on Friday morning, we were eager to look out the window and see the progress that they made while we were gone. It’s really exciting to see our new bedroom taking shape.


The workers worked all five days last week, so they get a gold star for that! On Saturday, Peter and I climbed through the window at the top of the stairs to get a closer look at the new space. We enjoyed the warning the workers left for others (don’t worry, I was already aware that there was a hole there, so we wouldn’t have fallen through if the note hadn’t been there).




The view out our bedroom window, looking toward Downtown.


The other side of the bedroom, looking toward Downtown Belmont and Pantops Mountain.

Week 16 – Four steps forward, one step back.

We’re still a week behind on posting, so this is for the last week of January. It rained Monday, but happily, we saw four solid days of work the rest of the week. On two of those days, they even had 3- or 4-man crews! Unfortunately, the bulk of Thursday was spent redoing some of Wednesday’s work.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. On Tuesday, there was lots of noise and vibration along our dining room wall, so they must have been attaching things to the house. They raised the remaining first-floor exterior wall and added the exterior sheathing.

First floor with walls on all sides!

First floor with walls on all sides!

On Wednesday, the workers placed the floor joists for the second floor. They also cut the hole for the laundry room window and removed the remaining first-floor roof that had been hanging around until the existing landing at the top of our stairs had a new support under it.

Second floor joists (first time)

Second floor joists – it’s feeling like a treehouse!

Roof removal

Roof removal

Roof removal, with sparks - a spectator sport!

Roof removal, with sparks – a spectator sport!

View of the first floor with joists above

View of the first floor with joists above

That appeared to be a lot of progress. But at the end of the day Wednesday, the lead carpenter came inside to take a measurement from the landing. Then on Thursday, they removed the floor joists they had set the day before, added about a foot in height to the kitchen walls, and replaced the floor joists. They had a little time left to finish framing the laundry room wall and to finish removing a chunk of roof.

Second floor, second time: First, raise the walls.

Second floor, second time: First, raise the walls.

Maybe not the best example of ladder safety?

Reaching way over your head while standing on a closed stepladder perched on a slanted joist, which rests on plywood covering a gaping hole with concrete below: do not try this at home.



Our guess is that either the plans didn’t show the correct ceiling height for our first floor or they didn’t consult the plans. The old kitchen had a standard 8-foot ceiling, but the rest of the house has higher ceilings on the first floor – meaning that if the second floor had stayed where they put it the first day, we would have had to step down into our bedroom. Wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’m glad they caught the error before they had built anything on top of the floor joists.

Friday was mostly adding the subfloor to the joists. They also attached some beams to the old house at the second-floor landing, which was quite loud.

And they scraped plaster from under the second-floor landing, which was also very loud.

And they scraped plaster from under the second-floor landing, which was also very loud.

Like a dangerous dance party stage in the sky!

With the boom box, it was a dangerous dance party stage in the sky!

Teaser for next week's post: This was the last week we could see the old roofline from the ground!

Teaser for next week’s post: This was the last week we could see the old roofline from the ground!

Week 15 – A Little Bit of Framing

(This post was delayed because we were without internet for almost a week. It is nice to be back from the dark ages.)


Checking things out.

Several people have told us that the framing part of this big construction project should go relatively fast. Apparently that’s only true if you have more than two workers and both the weather and their health cooperates. We will assume that the reason no one worked on Monday last week was because it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On Tuesday, the carpenter showed up and worked for about three hours and then left. No one came on Wednesday or Thursday. I waited until Thursday afternoon, but then I sent a message to the contractor to find out what was up. We were rather frustrated by the lack of work at that point, so I came up with a list of comments that I did not send to the contractor. I have not included them here, because they were too snarky. Use your imagination.

What I actually said was polite, but pointed. Someone responded, apologizing for not telling us sooner, and said that several workers or their families had been sick, but that they would be working the next day. Three guys worked on Friday and they made some good progress. So here are some pictures of that.

How things looked Friday morning.


They built a wall!


How things looked at the end of Friday.

Despite how slowly things are moving, the framing is pretty exciting. It’s neat to see things taking shape and to see where windows and doors will be.
Bonus for the week: Jonah made a “No Dinosaurs Allowed” sign for our front door last week. I have to say, it has been working quite well. I have not seen a single dinosaur in here since then. If anyone needs a similar sign for your house, I bet he would take orders.

Week 14

We can now walk around in the basement without seeing daylight above our heads, and we can walk around what will be the kitchen! This week’s work included finishing framing the basement walls and placing the subfloor for the kitchen, laundry room, and half bath.


Also, it snowed on Wednesday, but miraculously, they worked anyway. (No work Monday when it was cold and rainy.)


Chunky 2×10 framing for the rest of the basement walls above the concrete blocks


It’s comforting to know they’re using “subfloor” adhesive for the subfloor.


Kitchen subfloor almost done – he’s standing in the area that will be the stairs

Better Living delivered the insulated exterior sheathing and removed the excess sheets that were the wrong kind. On Friday, the carpenters framed a kitchen wall, but it remained horizontal over the weekend.


I took advantage of the long weekend and the relative spaciousness of the cellar to recruit Amanda’s dad for some electrical work. We upgraded one outlet in the ditchen (where the refrigerator and a heater are usually plugged in) from a two-pronged one that was tied in with two others to a three-pronged one on an independent circuit with new wiring and ground-fault protection. Now we can run three heaters and a toaster oven all at once! We also added an exterior outlet on the front porch so we can run equipment and put up tacky Christmas lights next year; the same circuit is also ready to be extended to replace wiring for two living room outlets. Finally, we replaced the wiring for two back-to-back outlets in the ditchen and living room.


This one was tricky, but once we got both boxes out, we could see from the dining room to the living room.

Week 13 – A Sharp Eye

Weeks 11 and 12 fell during Christmas and New Year’s and were pretty quiet.

Carpentry has now begun in earnest, with framing rising like a phoenix from the lowly concrete.

OK, maybe it’s not like a phoenix, but it’s pretty exciting to go in the basement and look up at the ceiling framing.


How it looked by Friday.

It was a slow start. On Monday, there was a lot of looking at plans, measuring, and general contemplation. Amanda saw the lead carpenter standing outside staring at the house for about 5 minutes straight. We are assuming that he was figuring and thinking about our house to make sure it gets done just right. By lunchtime, there were two studs in place. By the end of the day, there was a single short wall.


Two studs.


Single short wall.

The next day also seemed to be pretty slow, with two more studs by lunchtime and another wall by the end of the day. Amanda was talking to the workers at one point, and the carpenter mentioned the slow progress at the beginning of the week. He said that this is not the most straightforward framing. (We suspect this is partially because of the 3 inches the house has settled.) Nothing about this house has been straightforward. Tricky Pink House.


They did some more basement framing on Wednesday. There was no work Thursday, we assume due to the frigid temperatures, although there was a delivery of materials. On a hunch, Amanda checked out the supplies after the truck had left and found that the panels for the walls (ZIP System sheathing) were the wrong kind. To cut down on how much insulation we will have to add ourselves, we had specified sheathing with some integrated insulation, but the regular kind was delivered instead. She notified the contractor, who thanked her for her sharp eye. I agree… better to catch that error now than after it has gone on the walls!


The ceiling/first floor supports went in on Friday. The carpenter is reusing the gigantic support beams as part of the floor system. He said they don’t always reuse those beams, but they are perfectly usable, and he didn’t want to see them go to waste, and this way, we don’t have to go to the effort of disposing of them. He and his assistant put some serious effort into cutting them down to the proper size for the permanent locations.


It took multiple tries to cut these large beams.

Fun fact: unlike traditional lumber, engineered wood such as this can be cut down along its length or width and still retains the same amount of strength per unit of volume.


What our house looks like at the end of Week 13.