As I said before, our current plan is to move in on October 1. The house won’t be done but it will save us considerable money if we get into the house as early as possible. The things that are likely not going to be done before we move in are:
- Bathroom glass
- Some kitchen pieces
- Punch list items like paint touch ups
- Doors (which might still not all fit perfectly)
- Some lighting fixtures (in various states of shipping)
- Door thresholds
- Water softener (soonest install was Oct 20)
- Sofas and other shipping items that have massive delays
That said, there were some deliveries and progress this week, albeit slow. Our builder doesn’t want to bring his crew back on site until there is a full slate of work and that probably won’t happen until next week.
One of the big things this week was that our were appliances delivered.
The appliance delivery company was supposed to install the washer and drier but we didn’t have water running where it needed to be so our builder’s crew will have to install them. They are in the room which we are calling the “dressing room” so they hopefully won’t be too hard to get put in place. The area is a laundry, closet and place to keep all of the clutter of clothes management in one place so its not really just a “closet” per se. But it serves a bigger function than a laundry. “Dressing Room” is very grand-sounding and isn’t totally accurate but it will have to do for now.
The kitchen appliances are mostly in place. We left room for the fridge to sit flush allowing for a large plug in the wall but there is also a water filter that goes behind the fridge that pushes it out too far. As a result, the builder is crafting a small recessed box to house the whole filter assembly.
The HVAC team arrived early in the week too. They hooked up the first and second floor heat pumps and installed the compressors behind the house. The heat pump head units needed room to install a management device so we had to cut some large holes next to each unit for access. Another mess to clean up.
The photo below neatly encapsulates what we are going for with the aesthetic decisions on the house – large windows with lots of light and an exploration of how it plays off of the different textures and surfaces. Plaster on the fireplace wall, ash boards creating “wall” when viewed at one angle and an interesting visual when viewed from another. Ash stairs with a creative, non-standard shape and windows with views into deep woods. Smooth white walls, textured metal railing. We are hoping it all creates a harmonious design and feeling when its all completed.
The end of the week, Thursday, saw the south side patio stairs concrete poured. We have been waiting for this because it joins the patio/porch area outside of the large sliding door with the lower patio outside of the bedroom window. The wood blocking structure was still on Friday afternoon and will remain so for a day or two but the stairs should be fully complete next week.
This coming week should be one of the most pivotal in terms of getting the house move-in ready. We are going to have big things happening that require an all-hands-on-deck approach with the builder and several subcontractors.
The landscaping should be happening soon, likely next week but it depends on factors like weather and readiness. They plan on spreading topsoil on the remaining lawn area, excavating the north patio area, removing a tree that was damaged when they put the septic tank in, and installing drip edges on the north and south sides of the house.
The solar installers ran into a permitting issue with Stowe Electric and needed to stop work until the 22nd, Wednesday. Once they return they have 1-2 days worth of work to complete the solar install.
The countertops, one of the key reasons for all of the delays, arrive on Thursday. They will be installed in the kitchen but there is also a stone bench near the fireplace and the surfaces on the vanities in the bathrooms and the tub on the first floor. These countertops are holding up things like cabinet installs, tiling, and a host of other things so once they are in place, those other things can cascade to completion, in theory.
For instance, the kitchen countertops will require a tiled backsplash install that alternates with inset ash shelving. The bathroom shelves, once installed, serve as a substrate for the tall cabinets and inset ash shelving next to the tub.
Also held up in the wait for the countertops is the plumbing for the fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms. There are a few things we are waiting on for shipping but the list is dwindling. None of the plumbing is in a waiting state so hopefully they can install it all with no fanfare or drama.
Lighting on the other hand is experiencing a lot of shipping delays currently. Hopefully all of the ordered pieces arrive next week and we can get all of the lighting installed. There is still a lot to do on that front.
This week was a mix of progress and frustration.
The slat railing was installed this week. They started with the balcony hand rail which ended up looking great. They welded a piece of steel which was fastened to both walls and then an ash wall piece was installed on the small wall section below the balcony area. Then they attached the slats to the supports, with the top piece being routed out to completely hide the metal support piece. The result is an immensely strong handrail that looks fantastic.
The slat wall feature was also installed. Despite the team grousing about “hidden fasteners” the end result spoke for itself with the illusion of slats emerging from the ceiling and disappearing into the bench. There is worry about the wood twisting and warping over time but it is wood and likely do that that – the real question is how long is the timeline for that warping? For an airtight house with temperature and environmental control, I am hoping that process happens very slowly, if at all.
But the damp Vermont summer has had one profoundly problematic effect which we didn’t expect. The problem was that the doors, which were once hung and fitted to exact sizes, have absorbed moisture in the garage (which is a dry garage but very humid due to this summer’s wet weather). I don’t think any of the doors fit anymore so the builder has installed a dehumidifier in the house to see if a less-humid environment fixes the issue.
We have a date of late September to get the granite countertops so we are using that as a pivotal date in the schedule. It will allow the plumbing, tiling, and many other aspects to conclude once they are installed. It triggered us to start the appliance delivery process which should arrive the week before the countertops. Unfortunately, now the glass for the bathrooms is a gating factor since they expect them to take five weeks to complete and deliver – a week AFTER the countertops are installed.
The summer porch has been mostly completed with the floors sanded and finished this past week. They are going to put one more coat on it next week and then they are going to block it off so its not ruined by work shoes or tools.
This week, the hope is that the last remaining pieces of baseboard are installed, caulked and painted. Then the electrical outlets and lights get installed and a fair number of rooms can be sealed off until move-in. That would include the extra room, H’s room, main bedroom, library and heated storage. There are some details to complete on the slats like removing the dowels that hide the screw holes and finishing them. Hopefully we see the door issues solved as well as installing the door hardware.
The office desk is underway and should complete this week. Except for a few details, the mudroom should finish this week. They can install the butcherblock countertop in the pantry because that arrived last week. We also have the ash wall that is to be installed as you enter from the breezeway.
Getting all of these things sorted out and completed will be important this week because I suspect that one or two sofas will be delivered soon including a large sectional for the main living space. We ordered it back in May expecting us to be fully in the house by the end of August so, since that isn’t happening, we’ll just have to work around it. With the pandemic getting worse, I want to get everything on site as fast as possible.
This week was a big one because the hardwood ash floors and stairs were sanded and finished. They look fantastic but also will allow a lot of things to happen in sequence.
First, the builders will be able to start adding baseboards to all of the rooms upstairs. The painter is standing by to start painting and finishing those. As these complete, they will be able to install the doors and add second coats of paint to many of the walls. In most of the rooms upstairs, once that is done the electrician can add the outlets and light switches and they are complete. This would be the case for the guest bedroom, the heated storage room and the kid’s bedroom.
Downstairs, the library shelving is installed so that room is ready for drywall touchups, re-priming and a second coat. The outlets and light fixtures need to be installed and then that room will be complete as well. The mudroom is waiting for brackets and hanging pegs as well as some detail work on the plaster walls before it can be considered done but it is almost there.
The kitchen is in a state of limbo right now because we are waiting for granite countertops. We can’t install shelving because the tile sits on top of the countertops and the spacing for the shelves is dependent on finish tile backsplashes. It is going to be interesting to watch them coordinate the carpentry and tiling during that phase. Getting the counters as soon as possible is critical path to finishing the build and that is one of the big questions right now – when are they going to be cut and finished. We are in a queue and completely dependent on the countertop cutter’s schedule.
The granite is also holding up the heated bench next to the fireplace and both bathrooms so the goal this week is to get as many task list items to the point where things can charge ahead once those countertops arrive. It could be as early as two weeks from now or as late as five weeks from now.
The concrete porch on the south and west sides of the house is complete with the stress lines cut and wood having been removed. We sat on it yesterday when we ate lunch and it was great. Very quiet. The landscaping company now has to return (one to two weeks?) and spread the rest of the topsoil and put in the north and south drip edges. They are also going to move the remaining dirt piles and scattered rocks, remove a tree killed during the septic preparation, and prep the area for the slab needed for the porch area on the north near the summer porch. We expect some of the trailers and vehicles to start moving out of the front “yard” area soon to get ready for the landscaping process since we’ll also be getting the driveway done around the same time.
This week, weather permitting, they are going to sand and finish the summer porch and breezeway. The concrete guys will have to return once the landscaping is done to pour the stairs on the south and the aforementioned patio on the north.
No news yet on the solar install but hopefully that happens this month.
There is still a lot to do but I’m starting to see a path to move-in. Lots has to happen between now and then though. Wish us luck.
This week reversed or resolved some of the crises we had last week but some of the more difficult ones persist. Overall the week saw some forward progress but the project manager in me really hates to see some of the gaps in the process.
The door jambs that were bothering us were also bothering the builder and the architect so they started with a fix. They are using Bondo to fill in the slight gaps and bring everything to a level where we can paint it and make the door jambs very clean. The process is yielding good results so far. They are also installing all of the baseboards all around the house which is making things look more complete.
The drywall issues which were so persistent and problematic were resolved in two ways this week. First, the drywall foreman came by and saw some of the more glaring problems. He can work that out with the builder. All that matters to us is that the painter, our hero, is very good at drywall mudding and he took it upon himself to finish out the little scratches, unsanded areas, gaps, “shotgun blasts” (bubbles) and other flaws we found. He went through with his Festool light and marked each with a pencil mark or blue tape and then methodically fixed each one, then they primed them and applied first coats on all of the rooms upstairs and most of the downstairs.
The painter also had some creative ideas to create clean, crisp lines where wood meets plaster along the top edges of the ceiling and the windows. Those areas are getting better and better. He also painted the pillars between windows in the corners of the office, bedroom and H’s room so that they more-or-less disappear. It was a detail our designer pointed out and, as usual, she was right. He also painted the window sills out the porch sides of the house which make them recede and turn the focus back on the black aluminum and shousugiban wood.
There was still no sign of bathroom tile, no sign of concrete, no sign of landscapers (which have to wait until concrete is poured anyway). No fix for the sliding door lock or front door trim insulation. An email from an experienced friend who reads the blog warned that we should get any door hardware or sink/bathroom hardware ASAP due to shortages and there’s no sign of those things either. They said they were going to work on ordering those things but who knows how that will work out. We’ll find out this week.
We approved a change order to add another patio on the north side to echo the one on the south side of the house. It will also serve as a drip edge and entry into a outdoor cooking area which we may build down the road. I still want that pizza oven…
The huge unexpected expense I mentioned in the last post comes due in October so we have some time to plan for it and we will be in the house by then which means that other money-related surprises will have revealed themselves by then hopefully and we’ll have a complete picture of where we stand financially. It still sucks.
The breezeway is completely finished and looks great. They have covered it with scrap wood again so that it doesn’t get destroyed by dirty work boots.
The stair fabrication is complete. They need a sanding and the holes need to be patched but when they finish the floors upstairs they should do all of the stair details too. Floor finishing on the second floor might happen this week but I’m not holding my breath.
The big story of the week was the arrival of the first load of cabinetry from Stark Mountain. The truck was there when I got there on Monday and the unloading process had already started. The library shelves and the laundry/main closet shelves were all that was delivered this week but it is a step forward. It looked like a lot of things that needed to be put together but the team started right away.
The laundry room and main closet turned out great. The action of the drawers feels good and the drawer pulls are exactly what we wanted. The appliances are waiting for us at the distributor’s warehouse. They will be moved into the house near the end but the stacking washer and drier will be installed into the gap near the window. The shelves on either side will be for our clothes. Having all of our clothes and washing in one area will hopefully contain much of the chaos. Our last house saw us carrying clothes down three floors of steep stairs. It wasn’t fun.
The library assembly will be a Jenga puzzle of epic proportions. The shelves surround the room and fitting them all in safely will be a challenge but it looks like the team is up to it.
While all of this was going on, I was chainsawing and clearing the logs on the area next to our driveway. We want this area cleaned because we have some plans for planting fruiting trees in this area and we want to see how the sight lines from the road look. I got to use the new Stihl chainsaw and tractor for this project and it was exhausting work but I got it done. Henry had a good time climbing on the huge pile of wood I made. The next step is to borrow the log splitter from a neighbor and then stack the wood with the wood we had split last Spring.
We always seem to have dogs on the building site. Buck is a good boy.
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.
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.