I keep hoping we will have a revelatory week where things magically finish as expected and we make strides towards move in by leaps and bounds. Each week we are thwarted by one thing or another, whether its weather or material shortages, or things needing to be redone. This week we had hoped to see a poured concrete porch, major painting progress and things just generally getting ticked off the list. What we got was some progress, which I’ll describe, but also some big disappointment on things that have already been done.
Let’s review the disappointments:
- Once the walls were painted we saw some glaring issues with door jambs. The lack of door trim to hide imperfections revealed… well it revealed a lot of imperfections. They went from being “done” to being a problem needing solving. They starting attempting a fix on Thursday and we’ll see how it works next week.
- The painter, who is excellent, used his Festool painter’s light to reveal to us that there are still some major drywall taping and mudding issues. Things not sanded, some things not even patched. In the diffuse light of summer it is hard to see these flaws but in the harsh light of winter, when the light is streaming through those windows to generate heat, those flaws will be extremely apparent. The painter doesn’t even want to paint over them until they’re fixed because he doesn’t want his name attached to such shoddy work. We are back to petitioning the drywall crew to come and clean it up. I suspect, from the amount of work I saw, it will take several days. Those are days we can’t be painting.
- The bathroom tile was mis-ordered back in the Spring. Once the error was discovered and an order placed to get the tile to complete the job, the COVID supply shortages reared their head. We have been waiting for weeks to get the tile to finish. This obviously holds up plumbing, painting, and other finish work.
- The sliding door has shifted somewhat and it has made it hard to close. The weather stripping has come loose on the main front door. Both things require the attention of Grand Banks, the dealer for the doors and windows so now we need to get on their schedule to fix them. No date for this yet. It is also essential that we understand what caused the issues so they don’t happen again.
- Unrelated to the house, an unexpected expense is going to nearly wipe out our buffer. The timing couldn’t be worse and it is so incredibly frustrating after spending so much brainpower planning this out so that we will land in a comfortable, worry-free place financially. We have reserves to dip into but we are now looking at added expenses due to these delays. If they continue we are going to have to pay rent for longer, pay for storage longer, etc. If the house isn’t complete on or near the date, we are being squeezed from both ends. At the same time, if we rush the builders to finish quickly, we get cut corners and mistakes which we’ll have to live with for a lot longer than a couple of weeks…
Are these issues huge? No. In building a house, you expect this stuff to happen. And the flaws in things like drywall aren’t eye-popping but, as the painter put it, its like you paid for a brand new car and you are going to drive it off the lot with dents and dings. Nobody wants that. If we don’t strive to make it perfect now we’ll regret it. The implications do involve time and expense though.
The summer porch was framed out to accept the screens which are being custom built by a company in Vermont. The frames will allow us to remove and store the screens during the winter which should prolong their lives. The breezeway floor between the summer porch and the main house was completed this week but we didn’t get any good pictures of it because it was covered up again quickly
Slowly but surely, surfaces are getting covered in paint and plaster. As the muted whites and greys start to appear, its clear they look great as a counterpoint to the finished ash. The idea is to balance the greys with the wood, rugs, furniture and artwork.
The railings and slatted false wall near the fireplace will require some creativity and skill to implement. The builder and architect went back and forth this week to come up with the optimal fastening technique for stability and aesthetics..
The views are starting to come together from various points throughout the house. The window exteriors were waiting for sills and end caps to complete the last two windows. Their shipments were thwarted by Suez Canal blockages and who knows what else, but they were re-sent and arrived this week. Window exteriors can be checked off as done. I think at this point, all cladding, siding, windows and metal are done.
The floor on the ground floor was revealed (it had been covered in cardboard since last Fall) and they put a first coat of finish on it. It revealed some of the pine needles and leaves that we posted pictures of last year. I like the imperfections of it. Once covered in rugs and furniture, the floor’s flaws will add interest.
The floors upstairs were revealed as well. The team prepped them for sanding and finishing as well as worked on the stair fabrication.
The darker colors of the library and stripe in Henry’s room, the only real color in the house paint schedule other than white, had a first coat applied. They are hard to see clearly in these pictures but the green should be perfect. The library will be a dark cave although, once the walls are covered with our non-dark-green books, it will reduce that effect somewhat.
So what is up for the coming week? Your guess is as good as mine at this point. Each week I lay out my “Here is what should be done this week” and each week those things don’t happen so let’s take a crack at it for the coming week.
- Drywall fixes
- First coats of paint on as many rooms as possible
- Poured concrete for the porch on the south side
- Stairs and landing completed
- Fixed door jambs
- Tile arrives and bathrooms are finished (lol)
- Solar panels installed (lol)
- Kitchen cabinets arrive (no chance of this happening but maybe the week after next)
A bright spot in the week was our tractor delivery. The front end loader and snow blower should making clearing the driveway a less stressful task this winter.
The shock of seeing an empty driveway for a few days, after the riot of activity we were experiencing on the build site for weeks, was disconcerting. A confluence of events related to supply chains and schedules has slowed things down this week considerably.
Because the drywall taping took so long, it pushed back painters, floor finishers and onsite fabrication like plaster and stair building. The cabinet makers told us they were two weeks late (I’d have to assume that came with the unsaid caveat “at least” two weeks late. I fear it may be longer.). Since the cabinets aren’t in, we can’t measure for countertops which requires at least two weeks. Since there were no cabinets, there wasn’t really enough to keep the builder’s team busy so they were sent on a week of vacation and side-job work. The tilers were short-shipped the bathroom tile on the first floor. They are going as fast as they can but have run out of a subset of the tiles needed to push things to completion. Rain every day has prevented the concrete team from pouring the porch and patio on the south side of the house. It is an unpreventable cascade of issues and all we can do is watch it happen and be patient. Obviously that is hard to do with the end of the summer looming.
We tried to move things along as much as we could this week in order to be ready for when the building and construction returns. Last weekend we had a logging truck come and haul away all but nine of the 150+ logs that were taken down to clear the property. They comprised a pile of wood about 10’ high on an area that we want to start landscaping. I was able to find a guy who does firewood as a part time job who was willing to take most of the wood away and then I paid the logging truck operator to take the huge old pieces away after the firewood was gone. It ended up costing me money in the end but I am sure it was cheaper than finding another hauling company later or better than having to stash all of this wood somewhere on the borders of our property.
Plaster was completed this week as well. It looks amazing and is exactly what we wanted. It has a great texture with some shiny parts, some rough parts, good color. The craftsmen who did it really knew their stuff and did the whole job with such professionalism and pride I couldn’t help but be impressed by the team.
Another step forward was the painters arriving. Now that the taping crew was gone, the painters started priming every surface. It was a great step towards helping visualize the ultimate look since most of the house will be painted white. The painters were also very good. Obvious craftsmen who knew their process and materials well. They swept in and started painting with little fanfare and by the end of the week the interior was transformed. We also located a few spots that require some drywall tape touch-ups and they still need to do the bathrooms. They couldn’t do them before because the tilers were working in there.
Next week, they will be doing the ceilings in the final colors as well as some of the upper areas that won’t get ruined by workers coming in and out over the remaining eight weeks. The goal is to push it as far as they can without opening the door to rework and touch-ups at the end.
As I mentioned already, we got our fiber internet installed. One of the things we thought about doing, since the internet is so bad at our rental, was work on the summer porch at the new house for the next few weeks. An interesting wrinkle was discovered this week while sitting on the side porch trying to use the internet. When a door or window was open we had great internet access even with the router being sequestered in the mechanical room surrounded by rockwool sound batting and other insulation. Once the exterior door or windows were closed, internet speeds dropped to zero. Not near zero – zero. We discovered, after a little research, that the Aluclad doors and windows are covered in Low-E (low emissivity) coating which is essentially a film of metal. This is bad for WiFi packets because they hit the metal film and bounce off. As a result, and since working out on the summer porch is something we plan on doing quite a bit, we are having the electrician run another CAT-6 cable into the garage so we can add a WiFi repeater. This is kind of a bummer because it introduced another penetration into the exterior of the house but not having internet out there is a far worse result for us.
The coming week should be eventful if all goes to plan (ha!). The construction team will be back and working on the white cedar walkway between the garage and the main house, stair fabrication, trim, and maybe some wood staining. The ash floor should get sanded and finished. The concrete team should be onsite if the weather cooperates to do the south side porch and patio. The painting team will do ceilings and high areas. The drywall tapers should finish their touch-ups. The tilers are supposedly getting the tile in on Monday so they can finish the bathrooms. If all of these things happen, we will definitely feel like strides have been made towards a move-in date. We’ll see what actually happens.
We also went to Champlain Valley Equipment to see our new tractor, a Kubota L3901. It has a snowthrower and front end loader on it (with quick attach), a hydrostatic transmission, welded loop on the bucket for pulling cars out of the ditch during icy days, engine block heater, third function, weighted R14 tires and chains. It should be great for snow plowing as well as working in the woods and hauling wood piles around. It should be delivered to the property next week and I can’t wait. We originally wanted to wait until there was room in the garage but, since things are getting delayed and we have jobs we need to do with the tractor before fall weather arrives, we decided to just keep it outside and use it as soon as possible. I have those logs to process in order to clear that section of the property and hauling them with the tractor will make that whole job so much easier.
This week felt like a big one for the house progress. There was progress on several fronts that went from major to minor. For us, it was a busy week of getting things set up, a visiting family member and getting our heads wrapped around our new lives here. Since the interior work has started, we have two full teams (sometimes three or more) working on various aspects of the house. Within those teams, they have been split as well.
For the main build crew at Shelterwood, we have people working on the exterior cladding. The main house has had the main siding attached and they are about halfway done with the garage. Along with that, the windows need a lot of detailed work to enclose and cover so that will continue through next week. They will need more time after that to clean up imperfections and do the detail work. The other half of the crew is trimming out the white cedar window sills in the screened porch area, necessary for completing the cladding on the back and sides of the garage. The wood is gorgeous and I can’t wait to see the entire porch completed.
On the west and south exteriors, they are doing the prep work for completing the concrete porch. That should get poured next week since the rock base was set for it on Friday. The black siding is creating a visually interesting profile and we love it. The look presents something iconic and, settled back in the dark woods, I think it will look great.
Inside the house, there are two crews working as well – one on the taping and mudding of the drywall and one working on installing the tiles in the bathrooms. The taping and mudding has been going on for weeks and there are apparently a lot of tape joins to deal with - more than is typical. It all needs multiple coats and then it needs to be cleaned up. It is an epic process with a lot of steps and steps to complete but it is coming together.
The bathroom tile has been delivered and we love it. The person installing it is grinding away daily getting it installed. She is doing a nice, neat job. With a house this simple, getting the details right is so important and it feels like the people working on this project understand that. It makes sense. These are folks accustomed to working on high priced, custom homes and have a lot of experience or they wouldn’t be here. I have never been involved in something like this and it is fascinating to be a part of.
We saw this bear cross right in front of us about a half a mile from our house. He was about 5 feet from the car when we saw him but I stopped and let him scamper off.
While our days of heavy labor don’t seem to be over, we have started getting used to the idea of living here full time. Some days it doesn’t quite feel real – like we’re on vacation – but that feeling is subsiding. The build crew has been working on two long sequences and so large obvious progress hasn’t been front and center. Inside, they are doing taping and mudding of the drywall and outside they are attaching the black metal siding.
They almost have three of the exterior walls well on their way to being finished with the large west wall still remaining. The window trims are very fiddly and I expect they will take some time as well but they are important and we want them to be “clean” because they will add to the overall look if done right.
The areas under the porch have had all of the shou sugi ban (which I was told might be more accurately described as “yakisugi”) completed and the concrete team should start prep this week and hopefully pour the south porches as well.
The walkway on the north side of the house is going to look great once the white cedar flooring is installed.
The garage soffits look amazing with the yakisugi in place. I have shown these before but this was with good light showing off the wood grain.
The window details are coming together. If we can get them all clean, scratch-free, with tight seams – a tall order given the difficulty of working with the corrugated metal – I will be very happy.
Some of the furniture has started to arrive and we needed to rent out another storage facility in Stowe to manage it. Because of such a huge variance in lead times, we don’t want to wait to order things but getting them on-site creates other problems. The wait times for sofas are “two weeks to 4 months”. How do you manage logistics like that? Regardless, we are ordering this stuff now and we have a storage facility set up to handle overflow. It adds yet another unexpected expense but it is safer than waiting because otherwise we might not have a sofa until January.
We also evaluated two major things which would have been very difficult if we weren’t on-site. First, we walked through some changes to the kitchen that were suggested to us by the fabricator/carpenter. The changes add expense (of course…) but should give us more room, more drawers in the kitchen, a cleaner finish and a more sensible configuration around the refridgerator. He also suggested corner cabinets using a product called a Lemans which does what a lazy susan does but much more efficiently. Once we approved those changes, they did the shop drawings and should start fabrication soon. Cabinets in the kitchen is a big one to get completed.
The other major thing we needed to weigh in on was colors for the library and plaster. You can make a lot of choices based on swatches and photos but actually seeing the colors and surfaces in person, on-site, made a big difference. It is likely we would have chosen differently if we did the whole thing from PA. We drove down to Montpelier to share the materials and colors with our designer, who was laid up with an ankle injury. I had no idea that the area surrounding Montpelier was so gorgeous – ponds, vistas of fields and mountains – amazing.
One other “glad we were here” moment came up this week when the large, fabricated light was due to arrive. It was a Friday when no one was at the house site to receive it, and then we got a call from the shipper that the truck wouldn’t fit down our road. I had to go to the supermarket parking lot to meet the driver, find a way to get the box into our car (it barely fit) and then drive it to the site myself and unload it. No idea how we would have made that work if we weren’t here. It made for a crazy afternoon.
So this coming week is corcerned with moving boxes from place to place to make room for bigger boxes, finishing the taping and sanding of the drywall, finishing up the black metal siding and windows, and pouring the concrete porches.
The last week in Pennsylvania is upon us and we are packing furiously. I have been doing some serious task planning for over a year and we are actually in decent shape given all that we have going on. I suspect that everything should be either packed or close to it by the end of the weekend and we can spend the remaining four days just cleaning, tidying up and making sure we don’t burn down the house (which officially settles on June 1).
In Vermont, the builders installed snow guards on the roof to prevent massive snow piles crushing anyone below during the winter. They also completed some other exterior work like the garage door install and the shou sugi ban wood cladding under the porch. Once that was completed, they started installing the black metal cladding and that will comprise the bulk of the work next week.
Inside the house, the drywall subcontractors have completed the second floor rooms and are almost completed installing drywall on the first floor/main room walls. They still have some of the higher-up drywall to attach and then a lot of taping and sanding to do. I think that is slated to be done by Thursday of the coming week.
Our builder has also found a good plasterer. They sent us some samples based on color swatches we had provided and we think we have a good choice. The fireplace surround and the walls around it are going to have the plaster applied – a waxed plaster look with a serene gray meant to bridge the color gap between the ash ceiling and the concrete floor.
Just a quick update this week.
We have gotten through the paperwork and process on selling our house in PA and we are starting to pack in earnest this week. I don’t think it is going to be too bad since we already filled two dumpsters worth of junk and most of the furniture will be given away or donated to charity. There isn’t a lot left after all that is done. Then we have two sections of the truck to load – the stuff that goes into storage until the house is done and the stuff we’ll need in Vermont while we are living in the apartment. That will take some organizing but it shouldn’t be too difficult to pull off.
The build is now focused on putting the shou sugi ban wood on the exterior under the porch roof. We love the look and it apparently looks incredible in person so we can’t wait to see it. Once that is completed (along with the soffits and other exterior wood details), they will start the metal cladding. They plan on starting that next week.
The dry-wall install started on Friday. That is expected to continue for about 3 weeks due to the taping complication and detail finishing. Completing the dry-wall that will be transformational to the interior look of the house when we next see it.
We are going back and forth with the builder, the architect and the designer about the finishing of the fireplace surround. We had trouble securing a plaster finisher and thought we might pivot to some interesting industrial steel cladding as an alternative. Recently, however, our builder tracked down another plaster craftsman. The new craftsman is more expensive – a lot more expensive – but I think we are going back to plaster as the finish. The industrial metal idea wasn’t a total loss because we decided on making the plaster a darker gray than we had originally planned. It’s going to look great.
Twenty-one days until I drive the moving truck up to Vermont.
This past weekend we took a trip to Vermont. We had some errands we needed to get done before we move up there like buying me a new phone, among other things. We also wanted to take a trip to the apartment where we plan on living during the summer while the house is completed. The owners, a fantastic couple with three kids, a loving dog and what seems like 40 chickens, said we could stay there for the same price as our usual spot and were excited to have us stay to make sure things were set up to our liking. The apartment seems like it will be suit us pretty well for the three months the project plan says we’ll need to finish the house. It was great with the three of us there but add in the grind of the day (we didn’t do any cooking this weekend so food storage and stuff like that remains to be seen) and the addition of our cat and dog might make the coziness feel too tight but it will be summer so we can always go outside to the great, private and secluded yard to get some space. We got to hang out with them on Sunday night and relax in their basement with a pool table, good beers and a record player with an extensive collection. It was great to hang out with humans in person after many months (all of us were vaccinated and the relief was palpable).
The work on the house feels more impressive in person. The pictures, while nice, don’t give the full sense of being surrounded by the wood of the ceilings and floors upstairs. The walkway wasn’t covered when we were there last and seeing it in person feels very dramatic. I am hoping that we can turn the area on the other end of that walkway into a sanctuary facing the woods and the wetlands to the east. The screened porch door is on the left side (you can’t really see it from the picture) and the kitchen window is on the right.
The screened porch will be a much larger room than I’ve been seeing in my head. We are trying to decide the best way to break up and use the space. We want to eat dinners out there when the weather is amenable and set up a sitting area where we can relax, stare in the woods, work, whatever.
The office is going to be amazing.
Now that we are focusing attention on interiors, we have been making decisions on things. As I mentioned in a previous post, we bought an incredible handmade light from Hubbardton Forge, that will hang above our dining table. We also are doing some fact-finding on costs to clad the fireplace chase in steel (weathered, industrial but naturalistic looking finish) instead of plaster. Finding a plaster craftsman has been very difficult and I have been obsessed with metal cladding so it felt like the pivot was worth a look.
The tub for the master bath has arrived and has been fitted but we still have a long way to go on the bathroom.
This week the shousugiban wood is arriving. This wood will make up the cladding for the area under the main porch. We are in love with the deep black color and the naturalistic texture. It will provide a great counterpoint to the black metal cladding that will make up the bulk of the house’s exterior. The metal is on site and will likely get started on this week now that the shousugiban has arrived.
We had some back and forth on the lip of the sliding door from the living area to the porch. Our architect wanted it to be flush with the floor but the builder was trying to make sure we considered moisture drainage and concrete slope of the porch. It was a big of a tug-o-war but we kicked around all of the possibilities and ended up in what was probably the best place. There as no perfect solution so it will be interesting to see how our choice plays out. I am sure it will be fine.
The roof is complete except for a few details and adding snow-stopper bars along the roof edge to prevent snow from crushing us unexpectedly. Our builder wants to spraypaint the chimney. It would definitely look better. If he can do it without causing any issues, I’m all for it.
The cedar for the walkway area and the screened porch arrive this week or next. That will be transformative once it is installed. Also ready for install are the garage doors. We need the installer to come and do that but the builder is holding off so we don’t end up ruining them with all of the construction going on. We need them done within the next few weeks regardless.
Starlink is working better but not perfectly. I moved the dish around and rebooted a few times and the speeds rocketed up to the 150-180mb/s range. The problem of obstructions causing intermitted outages remains so I ordered a pole mount which we’ll put in place sometime during May and hopefully solve that last problem. If we can get fiber run to our house in June/July as expected, that would still be preferable. We are going to have issues with the WiFi reaching all of the corners of our house (and porches) because the internet comes into the mechanical room which is surrounded by metallic foil and Rockwul, both of which kill WiFi signal. It will be an interesting problem to solve.
We are now in the steep rundown to moving. In four weeks we will be official Vermont residents and, after three years of waiting, that feels somewhat surreal. We had the stunning revelation when driving back home this weekend that the next time we drive up there we will be staying. I won’t miss our old house but I will miss the drives through the landscape here in PA. We live in on of the most beautiful places in the world right now and we will miss our drives through the countryside but just about every other aspect of our daily life will get better so that’s a tradeoff I’d make every time.
The ash ceiling was completed this week and I think it looks fantastic. The black bezels on the overhead lights look great and will echo the black window and door frames in a subtle way once things are done. We also ordered a really cool hanging light fixture from Vermont fabricator Hubbardton Forge. It was expensive but will add a lot of natural shapes to counter the concrete, black aluminum and plaster.
Speaking of plaster, our plaster guy backed out. We are currently looking for a new subcontractor to do that for us. We have a lead on a new guy, Pierre, but no news yet on if he’ll come aboard.
After a week of acclimatization, the ash wood floors were installed upstairs. They are looking fantastic too. Combine that with the custom doors, which also arrived last week from Stark Mountain Woodworking, and a good deal of the interior wood work was completed in short order. This week i think the floors get sanded and two coats of finish applied. After that, I suspect we may be moving on to the white cedar walkway and screen porch. Either that or drywall. I heard a rumor that the metal cladding might arrive this coming week so thats on the agenda too. I don’t think we can start the metal cladding unless the shou-sugi ban porch wood arrives as well since there are a lot of connections and coverings that need to be made between the two materials.
The roof was either completed, or nearly completed this week, although I haven’t seen a picture of it because it snowed the other day and it was currently covering the entire roof area. The last picture I saw had both sides of the house done, the garage done and the only remaining piece was the porch.
We have some big weeks coming up. We are making some changes to our current house so we can complete the sale of it, we are getting ready for a quick trip up to Vermont this coming weekend, we are packing and getting rid of furniture we won’t need in the new house and we have forty-one days until moving day. I quit my job last week so there’s a certain amount of stress there because I want a smooth transition for the sake of my team members. I hope to take some days off here and there so I can concentrate on getting ready for the move. My wife and I are both vaccinated now which greatly reduces stress for us both and being able to send our kid back to school has been helpful for move prep as well.
There was a lot of activity, as anticipated, at the house site this week. The load of ash tongue-and-groove wood that was delivered last week was put to use. The team did a fantastic job of putting it up and the effect, once seen in a big field, is stunning.
The other big thing going forward is the roof work. We were able to slot into the roofer’s schedule a few months early so I am very excited to see this happening. I think the color and look of it will be perfect for what we are now calling “Black Metal House”. We like black metal, but the house is also clad in black metal so it fits perfectly.
We put our house on sale this weekend in PA. This weekend there are scheduled showings and hopefully it sells quickly and for the amount we are hoping for. Selling our house is the single biggest stressor for me during this whole process because some things needed fixing, some needed painting and all of that ran alongside of the pandemic and economic collapse and election. There were times when I couldn’t imagine us being here in this spot and yet here we are.
We had our monthly team meeting with the design/build team on Friday. We discussed some of the worrying blockers and things the project manager and builder are doing to mitigate them so that we can stay on track timing-wise. The interior doors are delayed right now which means that a lot of other things can’t happen yet. The builder is countering this with getting a lot of other plates spinning up so that, no matter which we we go, his team will have stuff to do.
The plan was doors next, then door jambs and the installation of the ash flooring on the second floor. Instead we have ordered materials for:
- The ash ceiling
- The screened porch and exterior walkway
- Shou sugi ban wood for the front and side porch
- Roofing materials
- Garage doors
These materials line up tasks that all need to get done but weren’t happening in the old timeline. No matter where we turn over the coming months, we should have a big pile of work we can do.
The roofer may start the roof this week which is huge. He should take about two weeks to get the roof done and then we will slot the solar installer to arrive. It is possible we could be feeding power back into the grid for credits within the next month or two which would be great.
Big month, yup.