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.