Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Now taking requests

    All of our energy over the next couple of days is focused on closing our loan and then moving in. In the meantime, we know that there are quite a few details about the house that we haven't shared (lighting, plumbing fixtures, finishes, etc. etc.). It's not a deliberate omission — we've just been incredibly focused on the big picture instead of documenting the details.

    If there is anything you'd like to see photos of or get an explanation for in the coming weeks, please speak up in the comments and we'll do our best to oblige. And if you're in the SLC area and would like to see the place in person, we're pretty open to tours.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009


    As if the finish work were not enough to think about at the end of this process, there are certain people we need to get approval from before moving into this house. People such as Salt Lake City and The Bank.

    Our fair city requires not one, not two, but EIGHT successful, separate inspections before issuing a certificate of occupancy. (Slap hand to forehead here.) We have passed all 8 of those 8. We are scheduled to pick up our certificate of occupancy from the city tomorrow morning.

    The Bank requires a certificate of occupancy (see the dominoes lined up?), an appraisal, approval by the loan committee, and closing of the loan before we can move in. Our appraiser completed most of his work yesterday afternoon and will be back for a quick check today. Loan review will take place tomorrow and we are scheduled to close on the loan Thursday.

    In the meantime, we will be continuing to clean the house (windows, bathrooms, floors, etc.) and will continue packing the condo in prep for the blessed move-in date.

    The sealed floors look amazing, our kitchen is awesome, and everything else about the house is done and ready for us. It's going to feel so sweet to move in.

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Weekend update

    Things that have happened at the house recently:

    • backyard graded (landscaping waits until spring, but our mud waits for no one)
    • siding continues to go up on the exterior of the garage, in prep for our appraisal this afternoon
    • final plumbing went in, including our kitchen faucet and hooking up our stove:

    • we gave imaginary gold stars to our family members who spent the day Saturday helping us clean the kitchen and clean and prep the concrete floor
    • finished up the last of the baseboard detailing
    • Tai and I sealed the concrete floor with a clear sealant that adds the tiniest bit of shine to the floor and brings out all the gnarly variations in the concrete
    • cleaning, cleaning, cleaning

    We have a major fridge problem. The fridge shown in my last post sticks out from the cabinetry about 9+ inches, which is a huge bummer because we love the bottom-freezer option and that was about the only one available (it also took two weeks getting here). So, we need a replacement asap.

    Our limiting dimensions are the width of the space (30") and the depth that feels good in that space (roughly 28", excluding the handle); height is as flexible as we need it. I have run through salesmen at Lowe's and Orson Gigi looking for something that works with no luck. Suggestions welcome. Oh, and we need something as soon as possible so that we're not fridge-less during the holidays. Argh.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Kitchen countertop arrives

    In all its dusty, unkempt, unfauceted glory:

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009


    Forgive us the posting drought. By way of brief announcement, I was pregnant this fall, and over Thanksgiving I went into pre-term labor and gave birth to our stillborn son. We will be mourning for quite some time, but we have been so grateful for the love and support of our family and friends through it all. Pouring ourselves into finishing this house has been a great comfort to both of us — we are clinging to the happy anticipation of a finished house as a way to soothe the grieving process.

    We are close. Yesterday our staircase and landing rail system arrived and was installed in a matter of hours (you can also see our finished, exposed duct work):

    You can see the blue that we settled on for the large north wall, too. Many, MANY thanks to the our weekend volunteer crew: Judy, Greg, Nancy, Laura, and especially my father-in-law Tainui who couldn't be dragged from helping by wild horses. Tainui: we owe you our baseboard, our painted walls, our light fixtures, our tile floors, our sanity and our love.

    Davido's crew has been hard at work on our garage. Over the weekend that meant putting up particle-board sheeting in sub-freezing temperatures. Today, it meant installing a garage door in the biggest blizzard of the year:

    In the "insult upon injury" category, last Saturday night we discovered water damage in our kitchen ceiling. Turns out that a part of our master bath shower fixture had a slow leak that had been dripping onto our ceiling since it was installed. A late-Saturday-night visit from Davido, the plumber and my in-laws helped us pinpoint the location of the leak. The plumber repaired it yesterday, and today the drywaller was redoing the kitchen ceiling.

    Part of the stairs delivery included the frame for our front door canopy, which will eventually have 2"x4" cedar planks to form the "roof" for our front door and approach:

    So, we're getting there.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    A tale to warm your heart

    We have spent many hours griping about the bureaucratic city permitting process, both in public and in private. Here's a two-part tale to warm your heart and brighten your day.

    Tai received a phone call from public utilities (our least favorite city department from our bruising, protracted permitting process this summer) about a week ago. The person on the other line informed him that he could now come down to their office to pick up our house plans — they were all approved and ready for a permit. This was a surprise to Tai since our house plans were approved, stamped and permitted in July...he couldn't do much but laugh at the caller's sincerity and earnest helpfulness. "Look! I'm doing YOU a FAVOR by calling to tell you that your house plans are approved! Look at how great we are!" We think that this person found an old copy of our plans laying around the public utilities office and took it upon himself to review and approve! What initiative! Five months late!

    I love bureaucracy.

    Then, we had to jump through some hoops to build a garage. We didn't think that we were going to have the budget to build a garage, so we had just put in our initial plans that we would pour a large parking pad (called a monument pad) and build one in the future. We didn't include it in our bank budget, we didn't have a design for it, and we didn't have a permit to build one. Enter Davido, who has cruised so quickly on our construction and saved us so much money along the way that we can now build that garage. It will still be really tight to fit it in the budget, but we are really used to that at this point. (Tears of joy for the frozen fingers I won't have scraping a car this winter!)

    We started to tinker with a design and in the meantime, we expanded our dimensions for the monument pad beyond what was approved in our initial plans, so as to allow for storage space in the garage (us lacking a basement, you see).

    We were getting ready to pour the pad that we showed on our original plans and assumed was approved. An inspector to the site last Friday refused to approve our concrete forms in advance of a scheduled pour. He said that he needed to see more detail. This necessitated a trip to the city where we realized that because the plan said "future garage over new monument pad" they had ignored it because of the word "future," even though it was what they told us to do in order to get our off-street parking and still be able to build a garage some day without pouring new concrete. So, we needed a permit for the pad, and since we were there and paying for new permits we might as well get a permit for a garage too. Tai had played around with a design, which is a basic shed-style building using similar siding materials as the house. He had drawn a site plan and floor plan already, and Davido took out a piece of paper and drew a framing plan and a detail on the monument pad and its footings.

    It took about 2 hours to sort through everything but at the end building and zoning stamped the plans around 4:30 p.m., and the boss at building and zoning called down to the public utilities office to make sure they would stick it out to 5 p.m. so Tai and Davido could dash down with our plan and get approval, thus allowing us to remain more or less on schedule for the concrete pour and to work around the snowstorm last weekend.

    Here's the miracle: public utilities did it. They stayed in the office when they said they would, they approved our garage plan in a matter of minutes, they gave us the green light to build this thing and were very friendly and happy about it. I'm still in awe even as I type this.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    So Tired

    I haven't updated in awhile because I have been crazy busy working on the house. I am doing most of the interior finish work so since I last posted I have spent more hours than I can count finishing the and grouting tile, installing the bamboo floor, putting up base board, installing cabinets etc etc etc... My dad has been great, putting in many late nights with me and my brothers in law were really helpful getting a lot of the bamboo down two Saturdays ago.

    The metal siding is almost done outside, most of our exterior concrete is in and most of the final grading has been done as well. We are really closing in on this.

    Here are a bunch of photos that I'm too tired to narrate, so hopefully they tell the story pretty well on their own.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Kitchen and other finishing touches

    I've been really busy working at the house. This last week I took a break from tiling to work on the kitchen. We assembled the cabinets on Saturday and Monday night I started to hang them. My dad came and helped me Monday night and we were able to hang most of the upper cabinets. Shortly after he left at 9:00 I realized that in my haste to get going, I skipped a step and we ended up hanging all the uppers about 5/8 of an inch too high. Not wanting to lose a day, I took them all down and re-hung them at the correct height. I finished around mid-night, which would set the tone for the rest of the week. Late nights. Kersten also started painting this week and got the mud room, office and master bedroom painted. If you've seen the pictures of our other places, you'll recognize some of the colors, but they work and we really like bright colors for accents. My brother Quinn came by on Saturday and helped her paint while I continued to work on the kitchen and picked up bamboo flooring. It was also nice to have some help unloading the 29 boxes of bamboo.

    The metal siding also started in earnest on Friday and by Saturday afternoon much of the south side was up. I'm really excited and think it will look great. They also started prepping for the outside concrete, starting with the sloped entrance to the front door. It will have retaining walls on the sides to keep snow melt and rain from easily making its way to our front door. We have a drain in there as well to handle any water that does make its way towards the house.

    Here are some pictures of what's happened the last week:

    Punch list

    I think we can all agree that the answer to Tai's last blog entry title is a resounding YES. But I will definitely forgive him because of all the hard work that the house has taken over the last couple of weeks.

    He has all the photos, but in the meantime, here's a brief run down of what we have left to do:

    • paint color walls
    • master shower tile
    • grout and seal all tile
    • install bamboo floor upstairs
    • buy and install kitchen appliances
    • kitchen countertop
    • clean and seal concrete floor downstairs
    • bathroom cabinets and countertops
    • figure out landscaping
    • figure out window coverings
    • resolve some differences with the bank

    This is what the contractors still have left:

    • complete mechanical (duct) work downstairs
    • finish site grading
    • start and finish site concrete (patio, sidewalks, retaining walls, etc.)
    • finish electrical work — install lighting
    • finish plumbing work
    • finish exterior metal work
    • some small finish work inside (perhaps baseboard?)

    It's not a complete list, but if you don't hear from us for a while it's because we're happily buried in house work.

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Am I Bad at Blogging or What?

    After the sheetrock was done, things on the inside were turned over to me for the most part. Originally we had planned on doing all the painting ourselves. I hadn't really thought through sealing the windows and doors and after looking into a few products we determined that it would be best to have them spray lacquered. We had a couple of painters that Davido has worked with give us a bid on it. Dave Miller and Dave Burleigh at Allstar Painting gave us such a good bid for that that we decided to also have them spray the primer and a finish coat of white on all the walls and ceilings as well. This saved us a ton of time. In the course of one week we had all the doors and windows sealed and all the walls painted. We still have some walls that we will paint an accent color on but I can't tell you how relieving it was to have the paint 90% done in one week. The painters were great to work with and let me do some of the prep to help keep costs down. They also did an absolutely great job. The combination of a really good paint job with an excellent sheet rock job make the walls look like a million bucks.

    We went with a Kwal-Howell product called Envirocoat which is a no-voc paint and it turned out to be a really great product. The walls were given an eggshell sheen and the ceiling got a flat paint. With so much ceiling and no texture anywhere, a flat paint up there will keep light from glaring and make any irregularities in the ceiling less noticeable.

    Between helping us prep for paint, Davido and his guys finished up the cedar siding. It looks really great. The mitered corners are a really nice touch. We just hope that they don't shrink up too much. Each board has two coats of sealer on all sides and all cut edges were sealed and all joints were glued, so we think it will do okay.

    The painting was done last Friday around noon and as soon as they were done I got working on the tile work. Friday and Saturday morning I got the backer board down and then Saturday afternoon Kersten showed up and helped me start laying the tile down in the bathrooms and laundry room. She was actually really good at it. She's really a good baker and she said that spreading the mortar reminded her a lot of frosting a cake. Saturday we got all the laundry and second bathroom and about half of the master bathroom finished. I was back at it Monday night after work and finished the master bathroom. Then Tuesday night and Wednesday night my Dad came and helped me get the walls around the bath tub in the second bathroom finished. He was a huge help and once we settled on a plan of attack we were able to move pretty quickly. Friday I spent figuring out the rest of the shower pan for the master bathroom shower. Our plumber did the base slope and water proof membrane which had to be inspected by the city a couple of weeks ago but it still needed a mortar layer over top of the membrane for the tile to go on. I used a sand/portland cement mixture that goes in as a dry-pack application. Enough water is added so that it feels a bit like wet sand. It was pretty tedious getting the perimeter edges level and then sloping it towards the drain, but it's done now and I'll start working on the tile for the floor in the shower next.

    We went with a 2x2 inch tile mosaic on the floor by American Olean in Ice White with a matte finish. The walls are 3x6 subway tile in the same finish.

    Wednesday we got most of our finish electrical work done and even got some lights working. This makes working at night so much easier. We are just waiting for all of our accent lighting to come in and that will be installed. We've got some cool fixtures that we are excited about. Thursday they started installing the ductwork for our air conditioning system. We have radiant heat but really hate the heat, so we are going to have an exposed spiral duct running down the hallway on the first floor that will have registers to cool the first floor and trunks that feed registers in the floor for the up-stairs. We also put an exposed duct in the hallway upstairs to pull all the hot air that will gather at the top of the vaulted space out of the house and cool the house more efficiently. They should be all done on Monday.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Good things, Utah (or, wherein I sing the praises of our contractor)

    A long time ago when this house was just a twinkle in Tai's eye, we had a discussion about who would build it. Davido's name came up. Knowing next to nothing about the Biesinger clan (except that it is a mighty huge clan), I was reluctant to hire a family member — I was worried about what would happen if things went wrong, if we got mad, if he got mad, budget overruns, missed deadlines, etc. Basically, I was worried about what would happen if we hired a family member and then had a stereotypical GC experience.

    But, my family connections include a geologist, a second-grade teacher, a pediatric endocrinologist, and a couple of college students, so I couldn't really produce another general contractor option. We hired Davido, and I'm so glad that we did. Here's a brief list of the good things that have happened because we did:

    • started digging approximately 90 minutes after we received our building permit and finished excavation that same day
    • got us a connection to an awesome concrete subcontractor who we otherwise couldn't have afforded — our first floor (which will remain exposed concrete) is beautiful
    • got us another connection to a metal subcontractor who has matched an early, low bid and does great custom work
    • put bonus reflective insulation around our bathtub — hey, who knows whether it will keep our water hot longer, but it's worth a shot!
    • got us blown-in insulation for only $400 more than our initial blanket insulation bid, taking us from R-17 to R-23
    • got us additional sound-proofing insulation in interior walls upstairs
    • bonus: radiant heat in the front porch concrete!
    • tolerated Tai working to his heart's content on the framing crew, giving him the bona fides to say, "I built this house"
    • the specs on our framing plan called for a lot of unique hardware, but Davido tracked down less expensive options that still maintained high performance
    • enjoyed a friendly relationship with all inspectors, who come out to the site more to admire Davido's handiwork than to find fault with it
    • Davido found us an equally beautiful but less expensive window brand than was originally specified, saving us several thousand dollars
    • got a level 5 finish on our drywall, making it look like it was painted before so much as a layer of primer went on and thoroughly hiding all drywall seams and patches
    • found a pro painter who was willing to work on hourly with materials at cost, meaning that we get a fully painted house with lacquered doors and windows by the end of this week for minimally more money — saving us the roughly three weeks it was going to take us to do the same job (which saves us much more in construction interest payments than the painting will cost)
    • Davido has done so well keeping things on budget that we have barely touched our contingency money, and we've gone so quickly that we won't use all the construction interest money in the budget. He has saved us enough money in construction that it looks as though we might be able to build a garage with the savings, something we thought we'd have to wait a year or two before doing.

    But there are two big things that deserve their own paragraphs: timeline and peace of mind.

    We are flying on this house. It's now looking quite likely that we'll be moved in before Thanksgiving, which was a laughable pipe dream back when we got our permit on July 29. Things have moved so quickly. We will get to celebrate the holidays in our new house.

    Every time I hear anything about construction, it's because another piece of good news rolled in — either Davido has saved another $500 on some sub-bid or product, or he got us a free upgrade, or he's shaved another couple of days off the construction schedule. The more I share this with people, the more I'm coming to realize how exceptional it is to be under budget and moving faster than expected. Which gives us total peace of mind about our general contractor.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    More Pictures and Progress

    Another week has gone by and I've been delinquent in my posting. The good news though is that there are lots and lots of photos for todays post.

    The sheetrockers have been there every day including the weekend getting all the plaster just right. They will finish sanding and be out of there tomorrow and then we can get started on finishing the windows and painting.

    The outside work got slowed down a bit due to the crummy weather last week but the guys are making good progress on the cedar siding. After they're done with that the metal guys will get in and finish up the outside.

    When the forms came off the concrete fireplace wall, the subs put a patch on a few spots even though we told them it needed to be the finished surface. I was able to get it off last week using a rough sanding disc. It looks much better now.

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    More sheetrock

    I just can't help myself.

    Today also marks exactly two months since we started construction, and we are already nearly done hanging sheetrock. We are thrilled, thrilled, with Davido's progress -- way to go!

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    42,000 words

    Here are some more photos. A lot has happened. Insulation was completed and sheetrock and siding have started.

    First peek at drywall

    I didn't want you all to have to wait until Tai posts, so here's the first peek at our drywall:

    That's in the dining room, stretching back into the kitchen area.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009


    It's been quite a while since I posted any pictures. Since the last posting the framing has been finished up, the roof has gone on, the rough plumbing has been finished and inspected, the rough electrical has been completed, the gas line installed, the house has been wrapped in Tyvek and the windows have been installed. Tomorrow insulation starts and should be done by Thursday. Turns out that Davido was able to negotiate blown-in insulation which will give us R-23 in the walls instead of the R-19 blanket we originally had bid.

    Here are a bunch of pictures of the last week or so.

    Who wants to see some more photos?

    Make some noise and let's see if we can get Tai to post the latest. For shame!

    (P.S. Our windows started going in yesterday and word from the hubby is that a couple of the big ones up front are also already in.)

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009


    It occurs to me that many people reading this blog (are there many?) are seeing the building coming out of the ground without any idea of what it is designed to look like. In the beginning this was deliberate and then I guess I just got lazy. Since our house is quite modern and permitting was stressful and painful enough on its own, we wanted to avoid the possibility of someone trying to slow down the process for us at the city because they didn't like our design. We were actually very careful to design the house completely within the zoning requirements without any variances. This was to avoid giving anyone else any input into the design of our house. Though it would have been nice to try to get some extra height, we have seen too many examples of modern home designs seeking variances get squashed by neighbors who would seem to think a nuclear waste facility was being put in next to them.

    With permit in hand and building well under way, we now unveil the elevations of our home.
    East Elevation

    South Elevation
    West Elevation

    North Elevation

    I colored these myself, so the colors aren't probably very representative of what it will actually be but the silver sections are two different profiles of 12" wide galvalume siding. The light brown areas are horizontal cedar 6" tongue and groove siding and the areas that are a darker brown are bronze window and door cladding and matching metal panels.

    We really love the design that Kenner and Matt came up with for us and we really love watching the Davido bring it out of the ground and make it a reality.

    Stupid Rain

    The roofers are scheduled for tomorrow. Mid-week last week, the forecast was looking pretty dry and we were feeling pretty good that we might actually get the house dried in without any major rain. Then yesterday happened. Every part of the house was completely soaked. We are told it's fairly common to get one or two good soakings before getting sealed up, but it still kind of sucks.

    It doesn't look much different on the outside, but the past week has seen major progress with the plumbing, mechanical and electrical subs. The framing is about 90% there and we hope it gets mostly wrapped up this week with the framing crew back on the job. Windows are supposed to arrive sometime this week and after the building gets wrapped in Tyvek, those will start going in as well.

    Sunday, September 6, 2009

    More good progress

    Friday marked 2 and a half weeks of framing and about 5 weeks from when we broke ground. Things are looking good. This week the second floor and roof were framed. The radiant for the second floor was put in and the rough plumbing was started. The duct runs for our a.c. were installed.

    Next week should see the rough electrical start and perhaps the roofing go on.

    Here are some pictures of the progress of this last week.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    11 views on YouTube = famous!

    We mentioned on Twitter recently that we had a visit from Park City TV to take a look at our current condo. We are clearly not TV stars, but we still get a kick out of seeing the finished product (and that remixed Jose Gonzalez song as the soundtrack!):

    (Plus, how classic is it that Tai's first reaction was, "the SWINYARD condo??!?" Totally makes up for all those times I've been called a Biesinger, darling!)

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    Catching up on the rest of the week.

    It was a busy week and lots got done and I'm just barely catching up to the blogging.

    Tuesday we started setting the floor joists for the second floor. Because of the unique design of the house and the various cantilevers and open spans, a lot of engineering hardware was required, so getting the second floor ready for walls consumed most of the week.

    Since a picture is worth a lot of words, here is the rest of the week in pictures:





    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Days 3 and 4 of framing

    The framing continues and we are moving fast. Friday the interior walls for the first floor were framed and they started roughing in the window opening for the front of the house.

    No work over the weekend and we were back at it Monday morning. The big task for today was to get the beams set. The house has 3 paralam beams. One to carry the second story over the vaulted space, one for the stair well and one to carry the roof over the stair well pop-out. Two of the beams are 7 inches wide by 14 inches deep and the other is 7 inches wide by 18 inches deep and they are really really heavy. We didn't really stand a chance of getting them set manually so we had a crane come to put them in place and in less than an hour, they were all set.

    We also got some more work done on the front of the house. A wood post carries the south east corner of the house and we poured a footing for it, but it was in the wrong place. I had the lovely task of digging to uncover the footing so it could be moved to the right place. Once that was in the right place, we were able to set that post.

    Sunday, August 23, 2009


    We just put our current condo up on the market.

    Here's the expanded "for sale" blog (same as how slc202 started), and here's our Utah MLS listing #908277

    Please help us out by sending the links around to whomever may be interested -- thanks!

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Framing Day 2

    Another productive day of framing today. We got the bulk of our south wall up as well as the shear wall on the front. 

    We also got 3 posts in on the corners of the double high walls and set the beam over the patio opening on the south side. The beam is a 5 1/4 inch wide by 18 inch deep over a 12 foot opening. Needless to say it was really really heavy. Fortunately Nick the concrete guy and Jared the excavator stopped by and with their help we were able to rig it to the bob-cat and transport and lift the beam in place. Thanks guys.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Walls in the Air, and Sewer

    Big day today. First of all, it's been 3 weeks since we got our permit and we got underway in earnest on framing. I have been waiting for this day for a long time. We also got our sewer connected.

    The excavators trenched out to the sewer main in the alley. They had to cut the road and dig down 12 feet to the main. Because it was so deep, the city required the use of a trench box to prevent the sides of the trench from caving in. Our guys had to do all the digging and bring pipe from the house to the main but the city actually cuts into the sewer main and makes the connection. Once it was connected, the city inspected and then it was filled back in.

    Yesterday the lumber was delivered and Davido did the lay-out for the first floor walls. I held the other end of the chalk line.

    Starting early this morning the framing crew showed up and we got started. As Kersten told everyone on the site today, I have been talking about framing my own house since she's known me. So, needless to say, today was really exciting for me. We got two of the double high walls up. Because they are so tall, we had to use engineered studs so the walls would be straight. Engineered studs are much heavier than regular studs though, and so these walls were a bear to get up. The first one we borrowed the excavating crew and the 8 of us got it up. The second one was in a tighter spot and much harder to get up and there were fewer of us. Fortunately, the excavator was able to get in and use the track-ho to help us lift the wall. At the end of the day, about half of the exterior walls on the first floor were up. Can't wait to see what gets done tomorrow.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    And now we have a floor.

    We had a really productive week this week.

    Monday they finished back-filling and prepping the inside of foundation for the slab. 4 inches of gravel were brought in to go under the slab.

    Tuesday our plumbers started the rough plumbing. They put in all the sewer and water lines that need to go under the slab.

    Wednesday all the work the plumbers did on Tuesday was inspected and then the interior footings were dug, the plastic vapor barrier was put down and a wire mesh was put down. The vapor barrier is to hopefully keep any ground water from making its way from underneath into our slab. It also serves to reflect the heat generated from the radiant tubing up into the slab and not down into the earth. The wire mesh should help keep any cracks in the slab from spreading too much.

    Thursday the plumbers started working on the radiant tubing for the first floor. The tubing was laid out in rows one foot apart. A loop was put outside the front door so that we can tie into it later and keep the porch heated and ice-free. We are really excited about the radiant heat. This was all inspected Thursday afternoon and ready for the pour on Friday.

    On Friday the concrete crew for the flat work was there early to get ready for the pour at 9:00 a.m. First they snapped a level line for the top of the slab then put rebar dowels into the foundation walls to keep the slab from slipping in the event of settling. We did a lot of compacting and hope that settling won't be an issue. We couldn't really afford a pump truck for this pour, but fortunately there was room for the concrete truck along the south side of the house. We had a really good crew on the flat work and they worked quickly and efficiently to rake out and level out the concrete. As soon as we started to pour the wind really kicked up causing the concrete to set up a little faster than we would have liked, but with the power trowel, we were able to get a really smooth surface.

    Saturday the slab guy came back to score the slab. Concrete slabs like ours have a tendency to crack. It's a pretty big area for a single slab and it is inside the foundation without anywhere to expand. This makes it pretty unpredictable and cracking is pretty much inevitable. By scoring the slab we hope to create a place for the slab to crack where it will be contained and unnoticeable. Like I said though, concrete is unpredictable and we had a few cracks overnight. One of them was pretty big right through the center of the house. I'm sure we grow to love our cracks here and there, and hope that we won't have many more.

    Sunday, August 9, 2009

    Back Fill

    The forms came off the concrete foundation walls on Tuesday morning and that afternoon I started my first sweat equity task. Waterproofing the foundation was dirty dirty work that took me about 14 hours Tuesday and Wednesday to complete.

    Wednesday afternoon and Thursday Davido and his his Ian started backfilling and compacting the inside of the foundations by hand and on Friday the excavator showed up to help us back-fill with the machines. Usually the dirt just gets pushed back in without compacting, which can lead to settling later. Since our concrete slab is also the finished floor, settling would be unacceptable. Therefore, we have been compacting the soil as we go. The dirt is pushed back in in 12 to 18 inch lifts and then we compact it before more dirt is pushed in. The compactors are essentially jack-hammers with a large plate on the bottom to tamp the soil. This is very jarring work and after a couple of days of this everything shakes when I close my eyes.

    The level of dirt is still a little high on the inside, so on Monday the excavator will take that out, put in the 4 inches of gravel that goes under the slab and finish filling and grading outside the foundation. We are scheduled to pour the slab on Friday. Before that the rough plumbing will need to be done and the tubing for the radiant flooring will need to go in. This should all get under way on Monday as well.

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    More concrete photos

    Here are a couple of photos from the concrete pour for foundation walls and the fireplace wall.

    We haven't done photos for a couple of days because the exciting stuff is at a pause. The foundation walls are in (as you can see from the pictures), and Tai has spent the last couple of days building some sweat equity (and GIGANTIC blisters) by waterproofing the exterior walls of the foundation. Now that that task is complete, the team is back-filling and compacting the dirt inside and around the foundation walls in preparation for pouring the slab.

    We're hoping to finish compacting and back-filling the dirt this week, work on slab prep early next week (including a few inches of excavation and rough plumbing for our radiant floor) and perhaps pour a slab by the end of next week? As usual, stay tuned.

    The long version of the permitting rant

    After weeks of gnashing our teeth, we finally got a permit from Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 29. The road leading there was a long and painful one that started many weeks prior.

    We initially sketched out a pretty ambitious and aggressive design, permitting and construction schedule. Part of that is because we just want a new house to live in, and the other part is because the duration of our construction financing is finite. The bank put a timer on our construction loan that will expire in mid-January 2010 regardless of how finished we are with the house at that point. We knew this from the moment we closed on the lot back in March, which is why we did a whirlwind design phase with an eye toward submitting a permit application June 4 and construction beginning in early July.

    Design was a blast and moved along quickly. We ate up a couple of contingency weeks fairly early in the design process due to vacation and travel scheduling conflicts, and we ate up another week or so with missed connections for engineering/contractor/architect/owner discussions. That pushed our target plans-submittal date to about June 15.

    A quick note about how you get a residential permit in Salt Lake City: your contractor must submit full plans for your house. Various city departments review those plans, either stamp them "approved" or note revisions they'd like to see you make on the plans. If they require revisions (and every city department that reviewed our plans did require revisions from us), then you have to satisfy their comments, re-submit the relevant portions of your plans and wait for that golden "approved" stamp.

    On June 15, we tried to submit plans but did not have a complete enough set. We were missing a mechanical plan and a detailed engineering plan. It had been a while since our architects had gotten a permit for a house in Salt Lake City, and last time around the city allowed deferred submittals for a lot of those things. Not so any longer. The city turned us away on June 15, and we spent the next 8 days scrambling to get a more complete set so that we could at least log our permit application with the city and get the process started. (We were able to log our plans with public utilities in June 15, though -- which makes the end of this story all the more frustrating. Oh, but wait for it...)

    We finally were able to log our plans on June 23 (already a stressful moment because we still had a June 4 deadline in our minds). Then the waiting -- the horrible, horrible waiting -- began.

    The first comments we got back were from the city's zoning plans reviewer on July 1 -- a quick turn-around. We had a few mistakes on the plans (including an oversight on the building height) that she caught for us, and she also made a comment to the effect of, I need to see the grades on your lot in order to properly process these plans. We had not ordered a topographical survey (cost: $5,000 or more) because 1) the city did not require it, 2) we could not afford it, and 3) the lot we're building on is relatively flat. But us vouching for the lot's relative flatness wasn't going to cut it for the city. They wanted numbers and grades.

    How were we going to get grades? How much would it cost? Did we even have the correct property lines? Oh #$%^, we didn't order a property line survey -- can we even build on this lot?!? Would the city believe us if we shot our own grades? Would they make us get an expensive topographical survey even though their code didn't require it? Could they even do that? How much would we have to redesign the house? How long would that take? How much would that cost? What is the contractor willing to help with? What are the architects willing to help with? What can we do ourselves? How are going to pay for this? How far off schedule will this put us? How much more review will zoning require after our resubmittal?

    And so on, and so on.

    We ended up ordering a property line survey (cheaper and less involved than a full topographical survey) and shooting grades on the corners of the property and the planned corners of the house to satisfy the city requirement for numbers. Based on those numbers, we discovered a bit of fall in the property (the street end of our lot is higher than the alley end of out lot), which necessitated a redesign of the first floor (farewell 9-foot ceilings -- we never knew ye), the site drainage plan, and the footings/foundation plan. It has also necessitated a redesign of our mechanical system since our previous solution for air conditioning will no longer fit on our first floor. Lots and lots of ripples.

    Remember public utilities? Remember how they got our plans on June 15? Well...three weeks later, Tai finally made a casual and extremely friendly phone call to inquire about the status of our application review. Oh, those plans? they asked. Those plans are still on the pile, but we'll get to it. And what's more -- you'll be lucky when we get to it when we do. (I'm paraphrasing the general front-desk attitude at the public utilities contracts counter. Public Utilities is known the city over for a lack of interest in public service.)

    We got the public utilities review a few days later and again scrambled to make changes based on their revisions. The changes we made based on the first review didn't pass, so we had to go back and make even more changes. Complicating this entire process was a short week due to a state holiday, a sick public utilities plans reviewer, and the unwillingness of anyone else in the department to look at our plans in this reviewer's absence. Each of these tiny little conditions would have been manageable in sequence, or spread over a long period of time, but compacting them into each other and on top of each other created a stress that I have a hard time describing. There's nothing like knowing that your hopes and dreams hang in the balance of a couple of ornery and over-worked city employees -- it's terrifying.

    Meanwhile, we got comments back from a building plans reviewer. Our only complaint there was that submitting on June 23 instead of June 15 put us at the bottom of a pile of applications that piled up on that reviewer's desk while she was on summer vacation for a week. I kid you not: our house-building process is now delayed because a city employee went on vacation without anyone covering for her. Other than that, her comments were pretty straight forward and required only a few changes.

    We had pushed, pulled, prodded, and shoved this process nearly to its bitter end last week. We had submitted all our review comments and received approval from zoning and building departments. Public utilities was all that's left. We satisfied their requirements and were hallucinating a building permit hovering over our heads when the public utilities plans reviewer said, "oh, so has anyone talked to you about a fee schedule?" (Hence, this rant.)

    Two very depressing days later -- I did not believe that we were ever, ever going to get a building permit...only that we would continue halving the distance between us and the permit without ever actually reaching our destination -- we finally satisfied the myriad requirements for a permit. And, got our permit. (Which, as it turns out, are two different things.)

    So, here's what I have learned from this bruising process:
    • If you're new to this, go to the city and get a punch list of what you'll need (we didn't and were immediately sorry).
    • Have an explicit conversation about the city punchlist with your architects/engineers/contractors.
    • No request from the city is too small. They WILL withhold your permit until they are satisfied.
    • Sometimes the city will make you do stuff that is not required by law.
    • All the time the city will make you do stuff that is required by law.
    • City employees will screen your phone calls and not call you back.
    • City employees might, if you're lucky, return your emails.
    • If they say they want the plans redrawn, then it means they want the plans redrawn.
    • Keep the controlled substance of your choice handy -- you will need it.
    • Public utilities needs some nice pills.
    • Venting helps.
    So, thanks for listening/reading/sending cookies/your moral support. And thank whoever you thank that we are finally underway and building. This is such a nicer place to be.

    Monday, August 3, 2009


    Starting bright and early this morning, the concrete crew was on set tying rebar and getting the forms ready for the foundation wall pour today. Part of this pour today is also the fireplace wall (where the fireplace will eventually go), a 12 and a half foot tall concrete wall on the front of the house that also makes up part of the entrance. 

    By 1:00 the city had inspected and the pump truck was set to go. The whole thing was poured and j-bolts set within 2 hours. The j-bolts are what attache the framing to the foundation. There are also tie-down straps for seismic stability that were placed in the foundation.

    Here are the photos of the day.

    Friday, July 31, 2009

    Photos of the footings concrete pour

    Here's a bunch of photos from today's concrete pour for the footings:


    We are not messing around, folks. We had a building permit at roughly 11 a.m. on Wednesday, our contractor had an excavator on site by 1 p.m., hole digging started at 2 p.m., and the footings depths were all dug out by 4 p.m. Wednesday. Then, Davido set forms for footings yesterday to prepare for an inspection and concrete pour this morning.

    This is the beginning of our first pour this morning:

    And here's the finished pour for the footings, an hour (!) later:

    I do not have words to communicate how thrilling this is for us.

    (And yes, yes, we will post elevations/drawings as soon as we can get pdfs from the architects. Then those footings will make sense.)

    Thursday, July 30, 2009

    Photo experimentation

    We're playing around with a couple of different options for displaying photos on the blog. Feel free to point us in the right direction in the comments — we're just looking for something that will let us easily upload and share construction/design photos.

    This one is Picasa, the Google photo partner.

    This is the very first scoop of dirt on the lot — a very exciting moment for us!

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Under Way

    As we posted earlier today, we have a building permit. I'll save the gory details of that struggle until another post, but we were able to finally pull the permit this morning at 11:00 a.m.

    Never one to let grass grow beneath his feet, our builder went straight to the lot and started laying out the building for the excavator. We will eventually live between the spray painted lines.

    Because we had been really hoping to have pulled our permit by the end of the day yesterday, the excavator delivered his track hoe to the lot last night. This turned out to be great because once Davido was finished with the layout, the excavator showed up and got going right away, hence our construction began in earnest at about 2:00 this afternoon.

    I had to run somewhere at 3:00 and when I came back at 4:30 they were done and had displaced a LOT of dirt.

    I can't even imagine what it would look like if we were digging out a basement.

    Oh, whew.

    We have a building permit.

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    Still no permit

    I am so deflated.

    And, time for a mini-rant:

    Really, public utilities, REALLY?!?!?!? In the last eight conversations that we've had over the past week about OUR #$%^ING HOUSE PLANS you could not, at any point during those eight conversations, mention the fact that your @#$%^#% department would not provide plans approval to zoning withour first attaching a fee schedule to our application? You had to mention this at 4:45 p.m. on the very day when we finally satisfy all your requirements to redraw our site plan (instead of accepting plan notations, like you have for all other residential plans up to this point) to mention casually WHILE WE'RE STANDING AT YOUR $%^&ING COUNTER, "oh, so has anyone talked to you about a fee schedule? Oh, no? Well, we can't release these plans to you until we have a fee schedule for your plans. And since so-and-so was out of town, things got backed up, so we'll add you to the pile." And then the kicker: "We might be able to get it to you on Wednesday."

    And now I'm off to search craigslist for firearms and large-scale explosives.

    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    Stump removal

    You may have been able to tell from the pictures of the tree clearing that we left pretty hefty stumps above ground -- the majority were at least four feet tall. We haven't been quite sure what to do with stumps (and have been thinking about it for a while, given that we knew about the need to remove them almost from the moment that we bought the lot).

    You can imagine our relief, then, when our contractor, Davido, called one morning and offered to bring an excavator around to dig them out.

    Turns out that Davido was working on another job in the area that required this, and he and the excavation sub-contractor were able to save us some transportation costs by bring this bad boy over to the lot this week.

    We are a bit saddened that we weren't around for the actual stump pulling. I bet it was exciting, with that bucket and thumb tearing away at the stumps. (It's so awesome to see heavy gear on our lot -- gives us hope that maybe someday we'll actually get a permit!)

    We stopped by at lunch time of the second day of removal and the lot looked like this already. And although the stump removal wasn't free/cheap, it took them only a couple of hours to get everything cleared.

    Compared to the DIY options (trimming the stumps to level ground with another round of chainsaw action, then renting a stump grinder, tackling the 12+ stumps on our own), this method was priceless.

    And, we're still waiting for a building permit. If I can paraphrase a bad piece of religious folklore: No one ever told us it would be fast. Only that it would be worth it.

    Friday, July 10, 2009

    Waiting for the book deal

    In the meantime, we're trying not to jinx ourselves more than necessary by revealing information that might come back to bite us. 

    Things are stressful, but things are moving. Now, just offer me that tell all and I'll unzip my lips. Soon -- I promise.

    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    The Trees

    We've been a little quiet lately, or maybe subdued is the word. After the thrill ride of house design, we had a few minor (and I do stress minor) setbacks that took the wind out of our sails. First, preliminary cost feedback came back a little high, which put us in budget mode — the stressful process of figuring out what to cut was one that we knew we'd eventually face (and we'll probably have another round later in the building process, too), but that did not make it any easier. 

    Second, our permitting attempts did not go quite as planned. We are very happy working with our architects, but they are the first to admit that residential design is not their core business. We also have never applied for a building permit. Setbacks at the permitting counter cost us a couple of weeks.

    Then, there is the tree saga. Anyone who has been following us on Twitter (or facebook, via my linked twitter account) may have noticed a stream of tweets about the neighbors and the trees. Here's the deal, folks: 1) yes, we had many tall, old trees on our lot, 2) yes, they encroached into the building footprint and utility trench, and 3) yes, they really, truly, honestly had to come down.

    The lot is 37 1/2 feet wide — a narrow start at best. Even though our house is several feet under the sideyard setbacks required by Salt Lake City zoning, our sideyard utility trenching will run directly under those trees. A line of Russian olives, Chinese elms and old cedars ran the full length of one side, at points extending in about 10 feet into the width of the lot and 6 feet into the building footprint. 

    We'll spare you the gory details of a neighborly interaction. Suffice to say that it's unfortunate that the most visible change to the lot is the one that had to happen first. The trees are no longer standing, but it is, for the first time, possible to see how a house may actually fit on this lot.

    Here's the lot before any major tree clearing, but after Tai did a little assessing and discovered a snail's paradise, crazy thorn patches and many parasitic climbing vines:

    This is our contractor, Davido Biesinger wielding a chain saw, and thus preventing Tai from self-inflicting another major injury:

    This is the beginning of day two of clearing, with the help of a former Forest Service employee whose job used to be solely tree felling in national forests. You really get a sense of the mass of green material that came down:

    And this is the after shot, including the piles of cut lumber after the bulk of the clearing was done:

    We still need to go back and take out the rest of the trunks and grind down stumps, something that may be happening on the long weekend ahead. Given that we're already about 3-4 weeks behind where we'd like to be, we don't want the lot preparation to be any cause of delay to breaking ground. Our fingers are crossed for breaking ground mid-July.

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Itching to start

    Tai is at the lot right now clearing brush from some pretty nasty overgrowth on our sideyard. If the weather cooperates, we'll be cutting down some trees tomorrow. If the weather doesn't cooperate, then we'll doing tree removal two-by-two during the evening next week.

    As often happens with me these days, my earlier Tweet about applying for a building permit today isn't going to happen. For many reasons (with many people at fault), the permitting and bid sets of drawings won't be finished today in time to visit the Salt Lake City permit desk. We're hoping that visit will happen on Monday morning, which puts us about two weeks behind when we originally thought we would start the bid process (again, many people at fault).

    Our current circular pinch point is that we cannot start construction until we get a full set of construction drawings from the architects. We can't get a full set of construction drawings from the architects until they are, rightfully, paid for their services. We can't pay the architects until the bank releases money from our construction loan, and the bank won't release any money until they have a detailed cost breakdown. We can't give them a detailed cost breakdown until we have completed bids from the contractor and his subs...which takes us back to the permit/bid sets of drawings that will be done by Monday morning. Stay tuned.

    Monday, June 8, 2009

    Dumped On

    I spent some time on the lot on Friday and noticed that it has become quite the collector.

    We hope to start clearing the lot this weekend.