Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ending August

Aug. 26

Still no sign of the fill dirt as we continue to move along toward the completion of the last of the foundation walls. Standing in the center of the foundation a decision based on the views from the various rooms was made last week to move the larger windows to the walls directly adjacent to the front door from their earlier positions one wall further back. This resulted in a wonderful realization: that the original locations planned for the two corner fireplaces-one for the living room and one for the dining room, can now be moved to an outside wall. (The earlier window placement made an outside wall location impossible. ) The earlier design would have required two flues to wind their way through the cupola at the top of the structure- an aspect of the plan I was never satisfied with. Now, two separate chimneys will rise symmetrically making the whole structure more balanced and will allow for an unobstructed cupola nine feet across at the top. The only concession to this new plan is the placement of two windows on the first floor off of center in the wall that will contain them. This seems a minor concession when weighed against the cupola/chimney dilemma. We hope to soon pour the footing for the support wall between the kitchen and the living room which will allow for the completion of the rest of the basement wall. By September the entire foundation and basement should be complete if the weather and my back cooperates!

Building a house over several years is a luxury few can afford. Designs of most modern houses are done quickly and there is little time during construction to contemplate the space and orientation of components. Working a site yourself each day allows you to feel the location, think about window views, walk day after day both the perimeter and interior and consider all the possibilities. Because the work proceeds slowly there is plenty of time to consider changes while actually occupying in a way the actual finished construction. I am hoping for many more changes as the work progresses in order to create the ideal structure that uses all of the site’s attributes to their greatest potential. I have discovered that the people who can walk through a construction site and actually see and experience the finished product long before it is done are few and far between.


Last footing poured and three rows of block up. It will only be a few days before all of the foundation work is done and the walls can begin to go up. We are still waiting for Tom to bring us our fill dirt so the walls can start to go up. The stone splitter was repaired with a new knife and several wedges. We split a couple of quoin stones to see how difficult it would be to create the needed 120 degree angles for the corners. It appears that the process will work but we will need to carefully hand-dress each stone to end up with a uniform product. With a little skill that should take about 10 minutes per stone… times the several hundred that will need dressing! On the supply front we have located an old porch with its gingerbread trim that we are negotiating to buy and re-construct on the octagon. We are still in need of lots of additional four inch stones for the facing between the quoins on the first floor. I may have located a pile on a farm field about 10 miles from here but will need to contact the farmer to see if they are available. Not nearly enough hours in a day to work and September is nearly here! Jim.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Six truckloads of stone

Aug. 17

For once it was beneficial to have a weak back. Sam had to unload the six truckloads of stone and all I needed to do was to direct traffic. What he doesn’t know yet is the many hours that will be needed to cut the large bars…mostly 4x8x40 inches, to suitable sizes and angles for the quoins that will be needed for the doors, windows and corners. Particularly difficult will be the angles we will need where the walls meet each other. The sharp angles needed will be both fragile until laid and quite difficult to chip to shape with chisels and a six pound hammer. Sam may wish he only had a truck or two to unload instead of all the stone cutting! The nice part of having the stone here before we need it is that we can now work on a wet or muddy day as the stone are located on a hard surface where wet conditions won’t affect the work. No days off for bad weather anymore until freeze-up! We are also at the mercy right now of the construction company that promised us some fill from a nearby jobsite. We need to get that in place before we can move any further along with the block or stone as the height of the wall will get in the way of placing the fill if we build any higher. Tom says that we will be first on his list when he is back on the worksite in town but that might not be until next week. We just have to be patient. The long-range fall forecast is for a mild but maybe wet fall….so much to do and so little time! Jim.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Collecting limestone

It has been a day for collecting. Jim ordered the limestone for around the doors, windows, and quoins. We were able to enlist Chad with his pickup and my brother lent me his to use. It took us three trips this morning to transport fifteen thousand pounds. The quarry loaded us and we unloaded the trucks by hand. Chad and I lifted fifteen thousand pounds in one morning! In the afternoon, after Jim cooked a wonderful lunch, I took a short nap while Chad went to his real job. We saw an ad in the paper for used block and picked up about fifty for ten dollars. It has been a heavy day of lifting, hauling, and collecting. A little rest and it will be back to building the walls on the house.  Sam

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beginning August

Aug 2

Sam worked alone in the heat this morning. I’m having trouble with the perennial back problem…(Can’t even tie my shoes! ) It usually takes a week or two for me to get things back in working order after a back injury, so Sam is on his own. I might have done just a little too much lifting of stone at the house site and wood at the mill than was good for me. It does look like the next few days will give us a break from the humidity of the last month so I’ll cook a good meal or two for the hard-working Sam while my back heals! Sam did manage today to complete the first layer of stonework on the last of the eight wall foundations. He did a good job on his own and it does make it appear as if we are finally getting somewhere. We also missed the heavy rain just to the north of us that otherwise would have left us back in the mud and unable to get anything done for the next couple of days.

Aug. 9

Finally after more than a week and with a little help from my chiropractor, John, I was able to do a little work on the foundation along with Sam…only small stones in little increments between stretches but work none the less. This has been a particularly bad stretch of back trouble and is far from over, but maybe the mend is beginning. We have two of 8 walls of the foundation at height and nearly ready to begin laying block on. Tomorrow if everything holds we should be able to complete two more. The stone piles appear to be enough to finish without having to hunt for any more materials. We will soon need some dirt for the backfill, particularly on the inside of the house before walls begin to go up. Perhaps the best part of the day was the dew points. The high temp today was about 75 and dew points were in the 50’s for the first time in almost two months, and better yet, the current conditions should hold for a couple more days! Maybe the worst of the heat is finally over but I’m not counting on it.

The hiatus on my part has given me some time to reflect on the project. Sam is indeed lucky at his age to have this experience. With the economy about to maybe enter a second recessionary period and job opportunities for young people so few, Sam couldn’t have a better time to make this multi year commitment. But it has also been good for me. I’m sure I would have found any number of activities to fill my hours but this large scale operation has kept me on my intellectual toes planning everything and has engendered lots of visits from curious and sometimes helpful friends who have been keeping track of the project. I begin to feel a bit sorry for those who don’t have opportunities like this and wonder why other retirees or semi-retired people don’t consider challenges like this…especially ones that include taking a young person on board and giving them a start in life using whatever skills and financial resources they have. There is always the risk if the project collapsing, never to be finished, but I think I have chosen both the project and the helper/recipient carefully. But if it did stop tomorrow, I already feel that it has been well worth the time and money for the pleasure it has given me. Sam will have to tell you if he feels the same.