Sunday, December 21, 2008

Update December 20

It's almost impossible for me to believe that it's been three months since I've posted an update. It seems like mayby three weeks. Thanks to the many who have been asking about our progress. We've simply been too busy to post. Some highlights are:

We readied, showed, and sold our current home (actually we settle tomorrow). This is a lot of work, as anyone who has done it knows. For the last couple months, we've been run out of here regularly at a moment's notice so that agents can show the place to prospective buyers. We asked the Lord for the blessing of two interested parties and a generous rent back option, and this is precisely what happened. Two solid buyers with good agents (who both knew there was someone else bidding) presented contract offers the same day. The offers were similar in many respects and we chose the one with the more generous rent-back option. We will be able to stay here until February 20th.

This is all great news, since it's not easy to sell a house these days, especially with all the upheaval in the banking industry, and we didn't like the prospect of renting it for several years until the market improves. So while we got what the market will bear, this good news is tempered by the fact that this house was worth $100K more a year ago, and we had planned much higher numbers in our overall equation of selling and building. This means we'll have a much larger mortgage than planned, but we see God's provision in lower interest rates, so are heartened.

We had hoped to be in our new house by year's end, and are disappointed that we didn't make it. There are too many reasons to enumerate why things have been delayed, but all typical of building a house...mistakes to be corrected, miscues and confusion, contractor delays, banking issues, our own decision making, etc. But progress does continue...

The new house has a septic field and tank, much HVAC ducting, much plumbing and much electrical wiring. Efforts on all these fronts continue. We'd love to get the "close in" inspection in early January. We still need to install the rainwater collection cistern, and sediment control drywell outside, plus additional trenching to provide a place other than the well itself to return water to the ground from our planned open loop geothermal system.

The radiant heat tubes were finally laid in the basement and the slab poured. This allowed for stairs to be installed into the basement, which greatly improves the ability to move around and work. Stairs, likewise were installed into the bonus area above the garage. The geothermal furnace and air handlers were ordered and should be arriving soon.

Outside, the installation of 3" of foam and synthetic stucco (eifs) over the earth blocks has begun. One can even finally see the finish color - Dorset Gold. Once completed, this exterior work should make the house warmer on sunny days, when the heat can come through our many south facing windows. Up till now, it's been pretty cold in there on many days, and very muddy and messy outside. It's emotionally challenging for us to go over there at much effort and money spent and such a mess with so many unsolved problems and mistakes to be corrected!

Three consistently bright spots have been Tom, our church friend and electrician, and Andy, our church friend and HVAC installer, and Anilton, our framer. They've all been very patient with me and helpful.

Inside, the earth block walls are being parged smooth with concrete and will be covered with a new product from American Clay called Enharre - a fine textured plaster.

For our praying friends reading this, please continue to ask God for favor. Cash flow management is hard now, and much physical and emotional strength is needed to finish the house, pack and move. I've been forced to do a lot of my NASA work at night since I've been so busy with the house during the day. There are still many, many things to be decided upon and bought, contractors to be compared and hired, etc. I really can't imagine us being ready to occupy before March, and so there's the very real prospect that we'll have to move twice and none of this is firmly planned out.

So here are some fairly recent pictures...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Update September 18 - Three Front Progress

It's been a while since I've updated things, but we keep pushing along. Our friends from Ohio, Robert and Kristen Ream came east with their cute baby boy Bobby and Robert's brother Phil so that Robert and Phil could shingle the house. It was a hot, dirty job, but they did it cheerfully and professionally. Our framer, Anilton, commented that they knew what they were doing. A few days after they got the shingles on, we got about 4" of rain in 24 hours.
The rain delayed Renaldo Fernandes from being able to back a cement truck to the garage to pour the slab, but this was done today. Hopefully next week we can make good progress in prepping the basement slab and installing radiant heat piping down there so that Renaldo can pour that slab as well.
The three great room/kitchen skylights arrived this week too and Anilton's guys were quick to install them. Our architect recommended an electronic exterior awning option that still needs to be installed. With this option, we will be able to control the summer heat into the room from above.

Pray with us that progress will be steady over the next couple months. We are really trying to be in by the end of the year.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

August 28 - Windows

The windows arrived towards the end of last week. Courtesy of the K.C. Company and Pella, we were able to purchase some very well featured and high efficiency triple-pane windows for basically the price of double-paned. In most cases they are openable awnings above casements. On the back of the house you can see the bump-out that is in Lydia's room. This should be really nice and give her room a bigger feel. The final picture here shows the very nice sliding doors in the back.

Tomorrow Anilton will finish putting the roofing paper on the area above the garage. The shingles should be delivered as well. Robert Ream, a friend from Ohio is coming out this weekend and will install them during the first part of next week.

We really need to make progress on the radiant floors and HVAC system(s). I pray this happens soon.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Aug. 23nd Update - Now That's a House!

It's great to see the house take shape! Anilton and his crew are really moving us along. It's also really great to have the house backfilled. Reginaldo had the footers prepared for the columns in the garage and these also went up this week. Next week hopefully we can get the basement slab poured.

Meanwhile, the roof trussses look great from the inside of the house too, as can be seen in the second to last picture. The Great Room should be a very beautiful, comfortable, and serviceable space. The last shot shows the view out the back from the Great Room. Very soon this should be enclosed by French sliding doors, with openable awning windows above. The front door of the house will also have an openable awning window above it. Having all these windows open when we leave the house on errands, should permit wonderful ventilation through the main area of the house, as the prevailing winds come Northwest to Southeast, and should blow nicely through the house.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

August 6th - A Second Story

I worked from home today and was cleaning the deck with Mike until after sunset, so as soon as I could get free, I raced over to the property to see what had happened. Anilton and his guys got the floor of the second story in place (no more sky views from the garage like you see in my previous post) as well as the exterior walls. What a joy to see progress!

In my mind, it's a second story of a different nature - a double entendre of sorts. This story says a lot can happen in a day, and it's a story I'm praying to hear repeated often in the days and weeks to come. The other story has been heard way too much for my liking - delays caused by poor communication or execution on the job. We still slog along with the waterproofing fiasco. The vendor rep from Tremco told me today he's never seen anything like this in the 30 years that he's been in business - a county inspector that wanted detailed documentation on how standard insulation board was installed. For my part, I like the inspector doing his job, but we need a resolution soon. It's holding up the work.

I enjoyed seeing the crescent moon (an overexposed blob in this picture) through the window of the second story. It reminded me of the overarching story of my Christian life - God's faithfulness. Here's a little poem I wrote about THAT story and the moon:

Can it be that daily You return upon me smiling?
I would hardly look for You until the darkness falling
Caused an anxious glance to find Your face - so reassuring;
Ever watching over me, Thy grace, my soul securing.

I know You're watching and that You'll be faithful to help us. Make Your name great on the property You gave us. Amen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Udate August 5 - Go Anilton!

What a difference a day or two make! Yesterday the steel girder that spans the garage was put in place as well as a wooden "cap" across the full perimeter of the house. This evening when I went by I found that our framer Anilton Rezen and his crew had framed out almost the entire first floor. I called Maureen and raced home to pick her up so that we could go back out together while there was still some daylight to get our first real "sense" of the rooms. We both did this with a certain degree of fear and trembling. It's one thing to look at plans, and quite another to "feel" the space. In the end, both of us were relieved. Though we might have wanted some parts of the house to be bigger, both budget and reason dictate they not be much different from what they are. The nine foot ceilings throughout make for a nice feeling. The studio and greatroom have even higher ceilings and should be very inspirational spaces. The study was bigger than I imagined it might be; the powder room bigger than what Maureen expected. The foyer seems ample and the bedrooms comfortable, with much larger closets than we have now.

The saga of the waterproofing inspection continues. The inspector rightly wants assurance that the mechanisms and methods used to attach the insulative panels onto the sprayed cinder block walls don't somehow compromise the seal. We're trying to get the insulation contractor and material supplier to provide sufficient documentation to satify the inspector.

Monday, July 28, 2008

July 28 - Update #2 - A Strong House

Here are three pictures of the concrete columns and bond beam now that the plywood forms are gone. It looks great overall - smooth and strong. There are a few spots where the concrete got damaged a bit by the forms coming loose during pouring. Willy and the CEB crew will attend to them over the next couple of days. Today they were working on the final rows of CEBs that go on top of the bond beam in the front wall of the studio (shown in the third picture) to bring up the height of that wall to match the of the rest of the room. The studio will have a higher ceiling than in any other part of the house except the cathedral celing in the Great Room.

July 28 - Update #1 - Now That's More Like It!!

Potomac Waterproofing made good on their promise and came back today to fix the basement water proofing that had to be left unfinished until the CEB walls were finished with the concrete pour. It looks great. The yellow board is a 2" thick layer of fiberglass board that's designed to allow water to preferentially pass down the plane of the wall rather than through the plane into the house. It's also insulative, and will help keep the inside of the basement wall warm so that no dampness occurs from condensation on the inside. Once we get the county to reinspect it, we should be able to backfill around the house. What a milestone this will be!!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Udate July 25 - Pour on the Progress

It looked a bit like a carnival ride, but an extensive pumper truck combo came to fill the columns and bond beam today with concrete. The operation went pretty smoothly overall. Only in a couple of spots were the plywood forms that suspended rebar inside not quite strong enough to hold the weight of the concrete and needed extra reinforcement.

In the fourth picture down, you can see one worker steering the nozzle to fill the form while his helper smooths the top with a board. The workers set hardware anchors at pre-engineered spots which will receive the roof trusses. In the last picture you can see our two anchormen themselves, Chad Hackmann with UBuildIt Bethesda (project management services) and John Spears of Sustainable Design Group (our architect).

It's a relief to have this portion of the project finished. As soon as the concrete dries, the plywood forms can be removed. This will enable the waterproofers to come back and finish their job on the basement walls, and then they can be backfilled, so you won't need to cross a plank to get into the house. Our framer can then also continue his work on the second story area above the garage, frame the first floor and basement and install the roof. We'll get the lumber order for that ordered first thing Monday. It'll arrive by Wednesday or so. We ordered the roof trusses today. They will arrive in about a week and a half.

Lord, give us good weather to continue. Amen.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Update July 21 - Ugh

A week and a half ago we were encouraged by the parged basement walls and looked forward to getting them waterproofed and inspected so that we could backfill around the house. This, we thought, should enable the CEB guys to finish their last step easier - pouring the concrete for the bond beam and columns.

So the waterproofers came out, but didn't really finish the job because the wooden forms for the columns protruded down over the cinder blocks. So they left parts of the wall uncoated, and much of the insulating board only weakly secured. Then we got 2 inches of rain, and many of the boards collapsed and broke from the weight of the water. So in hindsight, we should have finished the upper walls first, and then done the waterproofing.

The waterproofing company has agreed to come fix everything when the upper walls are finished. We'll then have to get things re-inspected, since the county failed the inspection this first go-round (we weren't able to cancel the inspection in time - and of course the inspector showed up in the morning rather than the afternoon when we scheduled him to come) Double ugh!

We really pray to be able to finish the concrete this week. All we need is one good day with everything and everyone organized. We then can place the truss order with some confidence. It will take about a week and a half to get to the site. Meanwhile, Anilton Rezen, the framer, can work to put the second story above the garage and get everything ready to install the trusses when they arrive.

We're still collecting bids for the radiant heat/geo-thermal system. It's expensive, and it's been really hard to "pull the trigger" on a contract, but we must do this soon.

I'm reminded of the hardships that the Wright Brothers persevered through as they sought to be the first to master powered flight - bad weather, bad help, delayed hardware, broken parts, etc. etc. Yet they could see something in their mind's eye that kept them going. I can see a beautiful, functional house of creative energy, love, and fruitful ministry. Lord, protect what you've begun. Give us knowledge and wisdom in every new decision. Oversee and overcome our weaknesses. Send us those you've ordained to work on the project. Glorify yourself to all though your evident, supernatural help. Amen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Update July 10

Here's a couple shots of the parged foundation. It looks really nice to see something that looks semi-finished! Tomorrow the water proofing company is scheduled to come and cover the parged areas with black water proofing goop and then some fiberglass drainage board that acts both to water proof and insulate the basement.

The middle shot shows Maureen doing her first inspection from INSIDE THE HOUSE (taken on Monday). She's standing in the master bedroom discussing the doorway to the back of the house.

The last shot shows the house as it looked this evening. The wooden trays for pouring the concrete bond beam and columns are nearly complete. The yard contains a bunch of CEBs that we plan to use later for things like raised gardens.

I can't wait until the foundation is waterproofed (tomorrow!) and inspected (Monday, I hope). Then we can begin to backfill the moat around the house. This will make everything easier and safer. Lord help us daily. Amen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

CEB: A Day In The Life

Here's a short video mike edited showcasing a day in the life of a CEB (Compacted Earth Brick or Compressed Earth Block). Every brick in our new house has been made "on location" using the dirt from our very own land. Once the blocks are faced with some insulation and stucco, they form walls that carry an R value of 50 and provide "thermal mass" to the building to help keep the internal temperature consistent. They are also fireproof, pestproof, and soundproof -all qualities that attracted us to using them.

The day this video was shot a 6 person crew made a record 950 bricks! This coming Monday (July 7th), will mark the final day of CEB production. This is an important milestone on our way to a new home. The Green Machine™ has done its job.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July 2nd Update

Thanks for the earlier post, Lyd. Keep 'em coming.

I took these shots today. The first shows the base of one of the columns where rebar is anchored into the cinder blocks with cement. The rebar struture then comes up the column area and gets tied into more rebar that goes across the top of the CEB walls. Once all the rebar is in place, it will be surrounded by plywood forms that will hold concrete that will be poured into them, actually forming the columns and the bond beam.

The rebar has to be inspected before the pouring takes place. This should happen tomorrow, when Bob Fuller, the structural engineer, plans to visit the site. Conduit and wires for electrical switches must also be placed and inspected in the columns before they are encased in concrete. This way we won't need conduit along the inside of the CEB walls running to light switches.

We'll also start parging the basement walls with concrete so that early next week we can get the waterproofing contractor out to waterproof and insulate the basement walls as well as place draintile (really drain pipe) along the footers of the house. Once this all gets inspected by the county we can backfill the moat that's around the house right now making it much more approachable and easier to work around.

We ordered the windows yesterday which should be delivered in 4-5 weeks. By then the house should be under roof. Wow, it will really seem like a house then!

Meanwhile the barn swallows were swooping in, around, and out of the house today through every door and window opening (and of course over the roofless walls). It was cute to watch them land and glean a few crumbs leftover from the workers' lunches earlier in the day. Wow, how can they see those miniscule crumbs soaring and diving around as they do? God's given them remarkable eyes.

I'm reminded of Psalm 94:8,9 "Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?" Lord, I know you see everything that's happening on our project and that you hear our petitions for your help, favor and blessing. Be pleased to glorify yourself through all that's taking place there now and in the future. Our hope is in you. Amen.

p.s. The pump started working again, and no one knows why.

More Photos

Hey, it's Lydia (Kevin's daughter) writing for a change. Mike and I went to the property about a week and a half ago to document the progress in our own way - Mike with video and me with photos. They were making the good old earth bricks that day so I thought I'd go through a little photo tutorial of how they're made step by step. You can see that at the end of the post. First, here's us and a few higher quality images of house...aka not from dad's camera phone :) Remember this is from nearly two weeks ago so the progress is even farther now! Yay.

Oh and the top two images our from our yard. Umm, yeah, it's gorgeous.

our first picture at the new house!

And ta da!! That's how they're made. Go here if you want a more technical explanation...I prefer to speak in photos. :)