Dec 15

Current State 2016

View of the new bedroom.

View of the new bedroom.

Sep 15

Building the bedroom additon.

It was the beginning of July and I was anxious to get started on the bedroom addition. The only thing stopping me was an obnoxious 7x16x8′ storage shed and kiln attached to the side of my house where the bedroom was supposed to go. BlgKitch26It served me well over the years but it was built for when the building was used as a workshop/garage. I had taken all the hardwood “Lightning Strike Cherry” out of the kiln in May but there was a lot of other lumber and crap left to deal with. You know the kind of building stuff you can’t throw out because you may need it some day? I was in denial about the problem of finding a good place to store all of it, not to mention the additional lumber from dismantling the shed itself. Like maybe I could just neatly pile it all up and cover it with a tarp? It didn’t take long to realize that idea was half-assed, the tarps would blow apart eventually and anytime I wanted to get something from the storage pile it would be like major surgery. Building another lumber storage shed was the only way to go.

New lumber storage shed.

New lumber storage shed.

So first things first and I built a new storage shed, keeping it simple going with an open-air design. That only took a couple days and then I started to remove the old shed. Fortunately for me it was mostly put together with screws so it came apart fairly easy and I was able to salvage almost all of the material including the screws. All this took a couple weeks in between camerawork jobs. By the last week in July I was ready to dig the foundation for the new bedroom.
About the same time I got a call from a clients asking me to do a 10 day job shooting in Hawaii for mid-August. Now that was a impossible opportunity to turn down. I am not a big fan of travel jobs at this point in my career but Hawaii? So I accepted the job and started to rethink my bedroom addition timeline. I was flying out on August 4th and returning on the 14th. If I could at least get the foundation pour done before I left for Hawaii- that would allow me to enjoy myself while working there and make me feel less stressed when I got back.

Starting the bedroom addition excavation.

Starting the bedroom addition excavation. “The Max” allows me to truck away the spoils and keep the job site clear.  The back-fill after the concrete pour will be sand and gravel.

It is always a little unnerving when you start to excavate because there is no turning back- unless you are a quitter. Quitting was not an option bad hips or not. On Saturday, July 25th I began the excavation and worked straight through till the foundation pour on the following Saturday, August 1st. At first I thought I could get it done in time but then on Tuesday the rains hit hard. Not all day rains but hard soaking thunderstorms that would cause big water runoffs. The secret to working in a trench is to have your drainage pipe set in the bottom and covered with clean stone. That is the first thing you should do, so when water does runs down into the trench it has somewhere to go and not fill up the hole like a bathtub. On the first leg of the foundation I tied into the existing living room foundation line that drained to daylight. Because of my sloping property, all my foundations drain to daylight, if possible it is always the way to go.

Bedroom addition foundation drain.

Bedroom addition foundation drain. Running water through too confirm that it’s clear after a soaking rain. Drain is lower than the footer.


Interior form wall. The lower metal will not be removed after the pour. Note the tarps around the trench walls to prevent muddy water from flowing into the hole during rain storms.

Another trick I use is to take old tarps and drape the walls of the trench so when the rain hits it doesn’t make so much mud. Mud is a battle that sucks you in, slows you down and saps your energy. You must prevent the mud from mixing with your clean stone as it compromises the perforated pipes’ ability to drain. So when your hustling and hurting, to watch the deluge hit is pretty sobering. You better be prepared. The rain knocked me back a bit. BlgBd31I was building the forms as I went and moved that process inside the garage to work during rain events. I made some calls and put a guy on standby to help me with the cement pour- if and when it happens because I still didn’t know if I could get it done before the Hawaii job.  When I called my normal concrete delivery company to put them on hold, I found out they went out of business. The next two companies I called said  the house was too far away. I pleaded with one lady and she said, “You won’t be able to work with the concrete by the time it gets to you.” Starting to feel sick I wracked my brain. I remembered seeing another company’s trucks around from the past and then visualized the name, they were not in the yellow pages but buried in the white pages. Great- they could do the Saturday delivery. Whew- now get the forms in.
A critical part too any building addition is ensuring that it is square to the existing one. With modern calculators it’s no big deal to find the hypotenuses of a right triangle and check for square. What is a big deal is actually holding onto two tape measures, alone, while standing in a hole and trying to position a form. You only need to be concerned about one leg at time but the thing that kept screwing me up was that the inside room dimension was a even 12×16′. The walls were going to be 8″ thick for an outside dimension of 152″x 208″. So for example the long wall leg, depending on what point I was measuring could be 192, 200 or 208″. The short wall could be 144 or 208″. The hypotenuse would change accordingly. The point is I was juggling a lot of balls in the air, watching the sky and trying to pour cement by Saturday. Your mind is going a lot of different places. I was putting the last outside corner form in place when something didn’t look right. WTF? Come to find out the 16′ inside corner form was too long. To make matters worse, I had it all secured in place. The only thing that saved me was I hadn’t back-filled the inside form. Fortunately there was enough room inside the trench to smack back the short leg then cut down the long form to the correct size and keep it all level. One hour later I was back on track but oohh-wee some crazy alternatives had sailed threw my head and then fortunately kept on going.

Finished new bedroom foundation.

Finished new bedroom foundation.  Inside dimensions 12′ x 16′

The concrete was poured on Saturday and I ended up with a very well drained, insulated, substantial foundation. I couldn’t be happier.
I just quickly want to discuss the version 2.0, John Davis, method of pouring a frost wall foundation. The inside form is permanent. It is constructed out of two layers of excess or used metal roofing. One layer is vertical ribs screwed to a second layer of horizontal ribs, which gives it strength to support the forces of gravel back fill. Each length of metal panels are screwed to a 2×12″ top plate. The wood top plate is perfect for lining up and leveling everything into place. The outside form is a double -sided, plywood, 2″ x 4″ wide panel with 2″ rigid foam insulation attached to the inside of it. Big rock goobers are placed in the bottom of the trench. 5/8″ holes are hammer drilled into the goobers and 1/2″ vertical steel rebar is pounded into the holes. Horizontal lengths of rebar is then attached to the vertical rebar. The bottom of the trench v’s out and is held apart by the big rocks. That becomes the footer. The outside form wall is back-filled with sand and the inside wall is filled with gravel. The outside wall is held in place at the top by wood spacers. Braces are placed on the inside top 2×12″ to stop the forms from moving during the pour. The concrete is vibrated down at the bottom of the trench when the cement is poured filling all the voids.

The John Davis method Version 2.0. Pulling out the form after the pour.

The John Davis method- Version 2.0. Pulling out the form after the pour.

After the pour- the next day- the outside form sand is partially excavated and a chain is strategically attached to the form. The form is gently pulled out and away by the backhoe, leaving the 2″ rigid foam insulation pressed against the concrete foundation wall. Nails were put through the rigid foam and let set into the concrete, preventing the foam from pulling out with the wooden form. The forms are held in place by the backfill. The backfill is not compacted allowing the forms to V out at the bottom somewhat from the pressure of the wet cement during the pour, creating a nice big footer. Voila!  Why do I do it this way? I hate bracing forms and I don’t have to worry about any of them blowing out or moving during the pour. I have seen it happen.

Insulated foundation wall.

Insulated foundation wall.

Next stop Hawaii!!

The Primalux Hawaii Crew.

The Primalux Hawaii Crew.


It was August 15th and the next order of business was to insulate the radiant slab and its’ perimeter, install the rebar, run the PEX tubbing, then pour the 6″ slab.   Two years earlier, before I poured the dinning room slab, I ran some 3/4 inch tubing that went from the radiant floor heat manifold, under the slab to what was then the outside of the building, or about 14′ to where the new bedroom would eventually be.

6 individual 3/4" loop run guides, installed from two years earlier.

6 individual 3/4″ loop run guides, installed from two years earlier.

These guide tubes were well insulated and just big enough to let me push through the 1/2″ PEX tubing. It actually worked as planned and I was able to do this.

Insulating the radiant heat slab was critical and I went a little overboard. Here is what I did; the first layer was a product called Insul-Tarp® which is supposed to be a miracle insulating, vapor barrier for cement slabs. It is controversial in regard to it’s insulating properties but it is not too expensive and I believed it to be an excellent vapor barrier. What ever insulating properties it could have- all the better. I had some  used 1″ rigid foam insulation salvaged from the old wood kiln and used one layer of that over the  Insul-Tarp®. The final layer was shiplapped 2″ rigid foam, for an approximate R-value of 15 to 19, depending on how you rate the Insul-tarp.

Three layers; Insul-Tarp, 1" ridged foam insulation and then 2" foam insulation.

Three layers;   Insul-Tarp,  1″ rigid foam insulation and then the final 2″ rigid foam insulation.

BlgBR1While doing this I had nice dry weather but lots of rain was in the forecast. Because of all the insulating layers used I was worried about water getting trapped above the vapor barrier and even floating my rigid foam around. So as much as I hated to do it, I covered the area with tarps. All the rebar and PEX tubing was installed under these tarps. This pain in the butt, trapped water issue was to follow me till the bedroom roof was covered. Trapped water under a radiant floor slab can cause heat to suck away- so to speak- don’t want that.

The next consideration was the rebar. As a rule, rebar should be closer to the surface of the cement than the bottom for crack prevention but my main concern was to use the rebar as a fixture for my PEX tubing. I had read the previous winter in an article found on the web that the Pex tubing should lay closer to the bottom of a 6″ slab. With this in the back of my mind I installed the steel rebar 2″ above the bottom at 16″ centers. Then I connected wire mesh on top of that, which allowed me to place my PEX on 8″ centers. The 8″ spacing was called for in my heat loss study and is pretty standard for homes. The problem was I started to second guess myself and went back to Siegenthaler’s hydronic heat bible just to double check. I got the cart before the horse on this one. Unlike the article I read on the Web,  Siegenthaler’s book recommends the tubing should go closer to the top for a faster response time. Well, raising the steel, after the fact was not easy to do, especially alone. First of all, the rebar ends were inserted into holes drilled into the walls and the wire mesh won’t let you put your foot down for proper leverage- not fun. In the end, I was able to get most of the PEX two inches from the top but it was not fun.

The next step was to run the 1/2″ O2 Barrier HeatLink® UV Stabilized PEX-a Tubing. I needed to run two individual floor loops and I wanted a wall radiator for quick heat response time for when I came back from being away from the place. There are different ways to run the floor loops but my idea in this case was to run the loops starting from the outside walls where hotter water would be needed and work my way into the center where the bed would be located and therefor less demand for heat.

1/2" O2 Barrier HeatLink® UV Stabilized PEX-a Tubing.

1/2″ O2 Barrier HeatLink® UV Stabilized PEX-a Tubing.  Note the 50 lbs. old elevator weights in the center to keep down pressure on the layers of insulation. These weights are removed as the cement is poured in the center.

Guide boards to break up the pour into 7' sections.

Guide boards to break up the pour into 7′ sections. Note insulation on side walls.

Finally I had to install some leveling guide boards in the center to break up the pour into two, 7′ sections with a final go back and fill 2′ center. It worked according to plan with my 2 local hire helpers. In fact, it was the smoothest finish pours I ever did.

The finished bedroom, radiant floor slab and foundation.

The finished bedroom, radiant floor slab and foundation.

All this was done in time for Labor-day weekend!




I poured the radiant slab floor in the bedroom addition on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. The cement truck pulled out by 1 p.m. and I paid and released my crew. As I was floating the concrete, I heard the lumber delivery truck roaring up the mountain. I rushed down the driveway to greet him and discussed how to unload the truck. It was a full size tractor-trailer with a Moffett forklift hanging off the back. He was 2 hours early but better late than never or something like that. The driver probably didn’t want any delays screwing up his holiday weekend either. I rushed back to finish my cement float finish job while he unloaded the truck. By the end of the day, I got so far as too attach the pressure-treated sill plates to the foundation. It was a great day.

I haven’t mentioned the design of the new bedroom and how it was meant to integrate with the house, so here it is: All the buildings that make up my “town” have either a 5/12 or a 10/12 roof pitch or a combination of both. Meaning the roof slops down 5” over 12” horizontal inches and the steeper pitch of 10” sloping over 12” horizontal. So those were my choices. You do not want to introduce a new roof pitch for something like this, as it will look wrong. The roof above where I was attaching the bedroom had a 10/12 pitch and I considered connecting to that and just continuing the slope out. The other option was to break the slope to 5/12. My drawings of the two options convinced me that breaking the 10/12 to the 5/12 pitch was the way to go. That way my outside bedroom wall could remain a full 8 feet high. As I look at it finished now, I am glad I made that decision.

When I had my epiphany three years ago and visualized my new compound, I chose to go with 2×8” walls for all new construction as opposed to the old 2×6” walls. That way, I could use a snug fit R30 insulation in the walls. With the amount of windows I was putting into the design, I could use the extra R-value. The other consideration for the new bedroom was to keep the windows low enough to see what was going on outside. There is nothing like lying in bed and looking out the window to watch the wildlife nosh away on the landscape (unless it is deer eating your shrubs).

I planned rows of recessed lighting on all four walls, with two independently controlled reading lights for each side of the bed.
Since this was my last hurrah for the new big house, I decided to go with a hardwood beam treatment for the ceiling. That would involve two 8×8” beams going down the ceiling and parallel to where the edges of the king bed would be. Then there would be two perpendicular rows of 4×4” beams going the other direction creating a hatch work look, with a ceiling fan in the middle. The upstairs bedroom has 8×8” maple beams, so this idea would integrate the house.

Placing the first bedroom wall with my backhoe.

Placing the first bedroom wall with my backhoe.

I had my first wall up by the end of Labor Day weekend, so things were going good with my plan to have an enclosed bedroom before the snow flies. You always have to plan ahead and I was thinking about those beams and how I was going to get them up. The 4×4” beams were not a problem but the 8×8” beams were something to consider since I was working alone. I figured if I had them ready to go before the roof was on, I could use my backhoe to put them in place. But that meant I had to have the beams, which I didn’t–they were somewhere out in the forest. Fortunately I had a lot of choices for trees to make the beams, as there was one section of my land that was still strewn with blow-downs from Hurricane Sandy.

Maple tree blow down from Hurricane Sandy.

Maple tree blow down from Hurricane Sandy.

It is one thing to look at a tree and think it is suitable and another thing to cut it up with a chain saw and find out it is no good. No good because the log is hollow or has some decayed wood. My first three attempts proved unsuccessful and I was annoyed. You want to find a tree that is big enough, straight, no knots and still alive. Even though a tree is lying on the ground, many of them still had leaves as their root balls were partially attached to the ground. Live trees are less likely to have started to decay and have fewer insects attacking them. The next trip back to the woods proved successful and I dragged out a few options for the 8×8” beams. The 4×4” were much easier to find and deal with.

Once I had my logs out of the woods I needed to get them cut up and that meant getting them to Bandsaw Bob’s Sawmill. Robert was 12 miles away and I had “The Max”- a 4×4, one ton, 350 Detroit diesel dump truck that could handle the load, but it had no plates. Do I risk it and take the back way–a seasonal road over the spine of the mountain–or hire Robert to pick-up and deliver the logs? Robert would prefer I do the hauling; he has helped me out before but I didn’t want to go knocking too often—my need might be more urgent next time. The last time I took this clandestine trip with the lightning strike cherry logs, The Max almost didn’t make it back. I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw-up on that trip. Since then I have repaired the truck, but still–it’s a rusty 1996 and doesn’t get used that often.

"The Max" ready to roll.

“The Max” ready to roll.

So early one fall morning at 7 a.m., with my heart pounding and a pit in the bottom of my stomach, I took the chance and headed down my mountain road with a load of logs. At the bottom of the mountain I had to go onto a more frequently traveled road. At the intersection, the coast was clear and I made the risky ¾ mile jaunt before I turned up the mountain road that took me to Bandsaw Bob’s. That all went fine and I didn’t run into any other cars, but on the way down his mountain toward the mill I became concerned about the brakes–smoke was coming from somewhere and there was a strong smell of burning brake pads. The brakes were one thing I had made sure were working properly when I originally bought the truck; I had spent about a thousand bucks on getting them tip-top. I didn’t want to attract any attention but I had to take it much slower, keeping it in 4×4 low and using the engine backpressure to slow me down. The brakes worked but they were hot! I made it to the sawmill undetected.

Bandsaw Bob"s Sawmill in action.

Bandsaw Bob”s Sawmill in action.

"The Max" is ready for the return trip. Loaded with Maple beams and 1x White Pine for siding.

“The Max” is ready for the return trip. Loaded with Maple beams and some additional 1x White Pine for siding I bought from Robert.

The seasonal road that goes over the mountain spine is one lane and hugged by trees. As luck would have it, on the way back, I ran into two huge Town Highway trucks that were working on getting the road in shape. Luck can go two ways and fortunately for me, each time I ran into a truck, there was a small area in the forest for me to pull over, leaving just enough room for them to squeeze by. Otherwise I would have had to back up for who knows how far to let them pass me by. Whew! I made it safely home with my new beams.

8x8" Maple beams for the bedroom ceiling.

8×8″ Maple beams for the bedroom ceiling.

BlgBed43By the middle of October, I had the roof on, things were looking good, and I raised the bar to get the siding on before winter. About the same time, the Pope came to town and for my real job as a TV cameraman, I had to chase after him one night working for Inside Edition. We didn’t have the right credentials so I never saw the Pope, but not wanting to go back empty-handed, the producer got the bright idea to interview Bernie Kerik– the fallen former NYC Police Commissioner–and get his comments on protecting the Pope and terrorism. Problem was he was on the East Side and we were on the West Side. I said let’s drive and she said we wouldn’t get there in time because of road closures. I disagreed to no avail. So we walked south maneuvering around all the barricades, fighting the crowds, then back up North. Me, with a 30-pound camera and bad hips no less. We got the interview and then had to walk all the way back to where our vehicle was parked on the West Side. The next day I wasn’t working and left my apartment to go somewhere. I had to turn back. I could not walk–my left hip just wouldn’t let me. It locked-up. This had never happened before. I struggled back to the apartment, got on the phone and scheduled an appointment with my hip surgeon. I said I wanted hip replacement surgery as soon as possible, wanting to be able to travel for the Christmas Holiday. They had a cancellation for November, Friday the 13th. I laughed and said, “Perfect!”

By that afternoon, my hip loosened up and I was able to walk-limp around. This changed things as far as my construction timeline. Two of the three bedroom windows were in but I still hadn’t ordered the final big 6×4’ window. That window was the next thing on the agenda, but it wouldn’t arrive for four weeks. It was too late; that would be just when I was going under the knife. I cancelled that idea.

New bedroom with temporary door where the 6x4' window will go.

New bedroom with temporary door where the 6×4′ window will go.

But I was able to get the bedroom almost completely sided and I put a temporary door where the window was to go. This temporary door was the only way to get in. I did not want to break down the wall and put a door into the house as the new bedroom was not yet insulated.


November 2015

So things worked out all right. I got the house to a point that made sense form a selling point of view-it was now a two-bedroom, two-bath house. Just in case anything happened to me during surgery, I did not have to worry about Deb trying to explain my dream to a realtor or anyone else.

Feb 15

Winter 2015

"The Max" is finally being put to the test after being out of service last winter.  1 Ton Chevy dump. 4WD.

“The Max” is finally being put to the test after being out of service last winter. 1 Ton Chevy dump. 4WD.


This is as far as I got on the porch and deck project from 2014. Didn't get time to finish the front siding and deck rails before the winter weather hit.

This is as far as I got on the porch and deck project from 2014. Didn’t get time to finish the front siding and deck rails before the winter weather hit. Working inside the new kitchen now. Getting ready for the cabinets that will be delivered by April. Very exciting.

Feb 15

Workshop to kitchen transformation.

Of course while working on the entryway I was formulating my plan for the kitchen. I knew where the sink, counter, refrigerator, and island stove were going but what the heck was I going to do with the ceiling? The old workshop ceiling was 10’ tall. The living room on the west side of the kitchen had an 8’ ceiling and the dinning area on the east side had an 8’5” ceiling that sloped down to 7’. I hated to just lower the high kitchen ceiling down to 8’ 5”. I wanted a tin ceiling in the kitchen but not throughout. I knew from installing the tin ceiling on the 2nd floor that it was not easy. When working with tin ceiling panels, the larger the area the harder it is to keep the lines straight. I don’t care how many lines you snap- especially when working alone and not being an expert, the tin panels will want to wonder. The answer was a large soffit surround that would blend all the ceilings together and leave a nice 10’ high rectangle in the center for the tin ceiling. The soffits have an added benefit in that they are a great way to run wiring and recessed lighting. A lot of work? Hell yeah! But what the heck- nothing has been easy so far.

The kitchen soffits framed in.

The kitchen soffits framed in.

When using new lumber straight from the yard you need to be concerned about the woods moisture content. I did not want to spakel and sand before the wood had acclimated to the surroundings, otherwise you can get cracks in the sheetrock joints later as the wood shrinks and dries. Winter is a good time to let this happen and I got the 2×4’s down to 9 or less on a moisture meter scale. Buying wood from a place that stores lumber indoors is a good idea if you are in a hurry.

This photo below shows my method of installing 5/8″ fire code sheet rock solo. These are called grip stands and are used in film & TV production for lighting. You raise one side a little and then go over and raise the other side, back and forth till it reaches the ceiling joists. I have never lost a piece of sheet rock since I started using this method.

Installing 5/8" sheet rock on the 10' ceiling solo.

Installing 5/8″ sheet rock on the 10′ ceiling solo. Dinning area in background.This room had been my workshop for over 12 years. Reorganizing all the accumulated stuff was overwhelming at first but I just slowly chipped away at it and it was not so bad.    The wood furnace in the dinning area will be replaced with a small glass door wood stove.

This is a 6" Tjernlund in-line fan to move hot air from the woodstove into other rooms.

This is a 6″ Tjernlund in-line fan to move hot air from above the woodstove into other rooms. The intake will be on the left photo.

Having these large soffits allowed me to install a warm-air handling fan and duct-work. The filtered intake side is directly over the wood stove and it will move this air into the living room or bedroom or both. The fan control is wall mounted, 4 speed and you can not hear it at all on low. High is noisy at the intake side.

Two types of Halo 4" recessed light units. Remodel on the left and New Construction on right.

Two types of Halo,  4 ” recessed light units. Remodel on the left and New Construction on right. They cost about the same and these take an incandescent bulb. The spring clips on the left can be a challenge to install and are not to be taken lightly.

Lighting is a big deal in the kitchen for any home and recessed lighting is the way to go.  This is a photo of two options; the remodel version on the left can be added to an existing ceiling but could be changed in the future and the new construction one on the right that could not be swapped out without ripping up the ceiling. I put this remodel version directly over the sink in case I wanted to change it for some reason. Why would you want to change it? There is a revolution going on with lighting now and LED is the rage. These units are for tungsten bulbs but both can be retrofitted with LED lights. In the past the color of LED lights was a problem but not anymore. Check the box. I wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go so I went with these so I could go either way. I am big on using dimmers and LED’s do not change color temperature when they are dimmed unlike tungsten bulbs which become warmer in color as they are dimmed down. The Cree brand of LED lights I bought from Home Depot and retrofitted for some of these kitchen lights have a slight buzz when they are dimmed way down low. The kind of buzz you would only notice when it is quite. If you are cooking or talking etc. you wouldn’t notice but it could be a problem in a bedroom or someplace you wanted to read or sleep.

Kitchen 2x6" sink wall.

Kitchen 2×6″ sink wall.

I went with a 2×6″ sink wall to allow for the plumbing. Especially the 1.5″ vent pipe for the kitchen sink and bathroom shower behind the wall. I put bridging in between the studs where the counter and cabinets will be attached to make it beefy and give me fastener location options.

To say I was totally confident about my kitchen ceiling design would not be correct. I thought maybe the soffits were too big and would overwhelm the look. What I am happy about at this point is the way the ceilings from the adjoining rooms flow into the kitchen. One is 8′ and the other is 8’5″. The soffits do create strong visual lines for a unifying design.

Now the Kitchen is starting to like like something. Not sure if I am happy with the look yet but I am feeling better.

Now the Kitchen is starting to like like something. Not sure if I am happy with the look yet but I am feeling better.


Tin ceiling tiles come in few different installation types. Nail-up is the traditional way but it requires furring strips underneath. I used nail-up tin tiles upstairs with the backing 12″ on center. Since then I discovered a new type called Snap LockTM. This style is available at www.americantinceilings.com in Florida.  I recommend this company.
Snap LockTM tin ceiling tiles have an interlocking flange system that allow the tiles to snap together. The beauty of this system is that no furring strips are needed and they screw directly into dry wall so you can install them into an existing ceiling with no modification.  The style I purchase were 2’x2′ finished in Copper Penny. 100 sq.’ for less than $500 delivered.

Snap Lock tin ceiling tiles being installed solo with the help of my grip stand rig.

Snap Lock tin ceiling tiles being installed solo with the help of my grip stand rig.


Snap LockTM tiles are the best style to install alone.

Because of the interlocking system the tiles are thicker around two sides so I used a filler to maintain the correct depth all around. This also helps when I put up my crown moulding.

Because of the interlocking system the tiles are thicker around two sides. When you trim a tile a filler is used to maintain the correct depth all around. This also helps when I put up my crown moulding.

This is the intersection of three tiles. It is very tricky to maintain a consistent gap and follow the snap line. I think it is a good idea to ignore the manufactured hole and screw directly into a joist where possible.

This is the intersection of three tiles.

It is very tricky to maintain a consistent gap and follow the snap line. The folks at American Tin Ceilings told me the gap is important or you will screw yourself eventually. They also said not to get carried away trying to get your recessed lighting to line up with the squares in the tiles. They were right. I think it is a good idea to ignore the manufactured hole and screw directly into a joist occasionally. I’ll put in a photo of the finished job when the crown moulding is up.

10 KraftMaid, full plywood construction cabinets.

10 KraftMaid, full plywood construction cabinets.

My experience with ordering kitchen cabinets from Home Depot was kind of mixed. I went into the local store right after the new year with my drawing and cabinet schedule layout just to get a ballpark idea of what the cost would be. I knew for sure I wanted custom KraftMaid full plywood construction cabinets. I knew the color and style. The salesperson was a little put off because she wanted to help me design my kitchen. It was a good size order and I am sure Julie would of enjoyed helping me but I had already been there and done that with my city apartment kitchen renovation. The Home Depot designer back then was a big help and I learned a lot from that experience. The problem started when Julie told me KaftMaid was having a big sale that ended in 3 days. The sale amounted to over $1000 in savings. I felt good about my design but had planed on looking at the prices and mull over some different options. No time to tweak- I had to place the order. The thing was I didn’t need the cabinets for three months at the earliest.

All plywood construction is worth it if you can spare the cash. This view is a base cabinet flipped upside down. This would all be made of OSB instead of plywood. These cabinets are much sturdier than OSB. But once it is place who cares? It is up to you. $1000 extra for 10 cabinets all plywood construction.

All plywood construction is worth it if you can spare the cash. View of a base cabinet flipped upside down. Cheaper cabinets would all be made of OSB instead of plywood. These cabinets are much sturdier and heavier than OSB but once in place who cares? It is up to you. $1000 extra for 10 cabinets all plywood construction.

As time went by I realized I had made a mistake about the pantry wall and base cabinets- they weren’t big enough. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to change the order but after about a month I went into Home Depot and talked to my sales rep and see if I could get her to make the change. Julie figured out the cost of my changes and it negated the discount I had received. She did not have the authority to change the discount codes. Unlike helping to design kitchens- this was a major pain in the butt to her I am sure.   Julie went and got the store manager. I explained to the manager that KrafMaid had called me to confirm the order and said they wouldn’t start to make my cabinets till March. It was the beginning of February so he called them up and explained the situation. They all agreed the change would be OK and I blew a big sigh of relief! I had been there for over two hours and finally the manager looked at me and said, “This is going to take some time and you should come back.” Discount codes are not to be taken lightly. Sorry.

The kitchen construction schedule plan was to get the sheetrock up, sanded and primed, followed by putting up the tin ceiling, finalize the sink wall plumbing and then start with the cabinets. First I needed to fix the floor where the sink wall base cabinets and also the stove island cabinets were to sit. These were actually 4″ deep rectangular holes left from the radiant floor heat install and thinslab pour. You do not want to heat these areas.

Freshly puored cement for stove island location. Electric and gas lines are visible . Perimeter has PT 2x on edge for attaching cabinets to floor.

Freshly puored cement for stove island location. Electric and gas lines are visible . Perimeter has PT 2x on edge for attaching cabinets to floor.

The sink wall bass raised 1.5 inches for the tall guy who washes the dishes.

The sink wall base raised 1.5 inches for the tall guy who washes the dishes. If you read the book on installing kitchen cabinets they talk about this option. Stove countertop needs to be standard height of 36″ but not the sink countertop. This will be 37.5″. Deb doesn’t mind and it makes a big difference to me.

BlgKitch14BlgKich16After the cabinets were put in it was time for the counter tops. I had seen a photo in the friday edition to The WallStreet Journal of a white kitchen with dark, hardwood countertops. That was my inspiration for this kitchen and I had just the hardwood for it. In June of 2012 a large bolt of lighting struck what must have been a 150 year old cherry tree outback. The lighting had blown out a large strip of wood from top to bottom. I found chunks over 200′ away. The tree was killed dead and with it all the ground cover from the leaf drip line to the trunk. This was not the kind of tree that a logger would ordinarily use for lumber because the tree trunk branched off too quickly. I couldn’t see letting it go to waste, so I cut it down in the fall and had it sawed up into lumber. Sure enough it wasn’t the best stuff, too many knots and checks but I was able to find some usable stuff. I named this hardwood- “Lighting Strike Cherry”

"Lightning Strike Cherry"

“Lightning Strike Cherry” The butt of this tree was over 3′ in diameter.

BlgKitch17These are 1×8″ cherry planks. Ordinarily hardwood countertops are 1.5 or 2″ thick, narrow strips glued together but I am not set up for woodworking and this seemed like the way I could pull it off. The plan was to glue and screw these 1″ planks to 3/4″ plywood, giving me a finished thickness of 1 3/4″. Then gluing and nailing a 2″ face surround. Both the cherry and plywood were down to a moisture content of 6. The problem for me with using narrow strips of hardwood was the sanding. I just have a 3×21″ belt sander and didn’t think I could sand it all down as smoothly as I would using this method. Also the nightmare of working alone and trying to line everything up during the gluing and clamping. This was hard enough as it was and I think I got lucky.

The planks are first edge glue with waterproof glue and then face glued to the 3/4" plywood.

The planks are first edge glue with waterproof glue and then face glued to the 3/4″ plywood.

I am not sure if I needed to screw this together but I did, drilling pilot holes very carefully so the screws do not split the hardwood. Out of all these screws only the tip of one came through which sanded down to being unnoticeable. The weight is added to help prevent any warping.

I am not sure if I needed to screw this together but I did, drilling pilot holes very carefully so the screws do not split the hardwood. Out of all these screws only the tip of one came through which sanded down to being unnoticeable. The weight is added to help prevent any warping. Kraft paper underneath stopped the counter top from sticking to the cardboard and could be easily sanded off.

Test fitting the Elkay sink. This type of sink is designed to be top mount or under mount.

Test fitting the Elkay sink. This type of sink is designed to be top mount or under mount.

To say installing this sink was easy would not be correct. The problem was the manufacture- Elkay and I had two different ideas about how it should be done. In the end we met in the middle. Elkay wanted a sink cut-out that was 3/8th inches smaller than the outer edge of the sink. That would of been much easier but structurally I hated the idea.

Ready to install the Elkay top mount sink.

Ready to install the Elkay top mount sink.

One of eight camps securing the sink.

One of eight camps securing the sink.

You can see by looking at this sink cut out that there was a lot of screwing around. I do not want to go into all the details except to say that the problem came in regard to the clamps. Note the 1/2 inch holes drilled around the perimeter of the sink cut-out. The clamps are attached to a slot on the underside of the sink and they can move in the slot. Nightmare to line this up by myself with the silicone chalk. There was a lot of cleaning up to do but in the end it turned out good.

4 coats of diluted Epifanes high gloss varnish and a final 2 coats of Epifanes rubbed effect varnish were used to finish the counter tops.

4 coats of diluted Epifanes high gloss varnish and a final 2 coats of Epifanes rubbed effect varnish were used to finish the counter tops.

The huge consideration about wood countertops is water contact issues. There are different opinions on how to finish wood for counters but no one that I have come across disavows the use of wood. I went with Epifanes marine varnish from Jamestown Distributors based in Bristol, RI. It is also stocked in local marine supply shops. The product costs over $40 per quart or 1000ml. This is the sort of varnish used on the deck and hull of a wooden boat, so constant water contact is a given. Scratches do not concern me and dings and dents over time will only add character. An occasional reapplication of varnish over the years is a given.

"Lightning Strike Cherry" kitchen countertop.

“Lightning Strike Cherry” kitchen countertop.

By this point it was the end of June and I was way past my schedule to start the new downstairs bedroom. My left hip had become a constant source of pain throughout the winter and spring. Limping around had become the new normal and my right hip was letting me know it was compromised also. I had gone to see a hip surgeon in February. I told him I wanted to try and build a bedroom addition before I had a hip replacement. Dr. Ranawat looked at me skeptically and said, “You are going to need a hip replacement and you can do it now or you can do it later but you will have to get it done.” I did not doubt his assessment. My reason for delaying were two fold; I needed to make more money and I felt like this new bedroom was critical to the value of our property. If anything went seriously south during or because of the operation at least the bedroom would be a reality. The thought of digging a foundation, climbing in and out of the hole along with climbing up and down from the backhoe made me cringe. Then the thought of climbing around on a pitched roof in cold weather made me cry. So my plan was to just take it one step at a time and stop if I had to.

Jan 15


After thanksgiving I moved inside and started on my winter projects. Transforming the workshop into the kitchen was my big goal but I had to finish the entryway first. The ceiling had to be sheet rocked, 2 walls re-rocked, lighting and electric finalized and the chimney enclosed. All that went fairly smoothly and with a big push the entryway was sanded and ready for paint by New Years Eve. Sanding spackle is hard and I was in bed by 9:00 PM.

View from the doorway with stairs to the second floor.

View from the doorway with stairs to the second floor bedroom.

Is anything ever finished? Yes I believe it can be but in this case a couple of issues still need to be tweaked in the future; the doorway to the kitchen hallway was not finalized because I want it as wide as possible but this is compromised by the fact that it needs to butt up against the chimney enclosure and the radiant floor heat controls- not the best situation. I left it wide, 38” and will finalize the framing and trim when I put the bi-fold doors on the heat controls. Secondly, the plan is to put the dryer to the right of the chimney enclosure, where it is easy to get at and can vent within inches to the outside. The problem is the little window there is preventing me from enclosing it properly- would hate to remove the window- so I will work that out in the future.                                                   Finally there is a two inch step up into the kitchen hallway because of the need for two inch, rigid foam insulation added to the floors on the rest of the house. People can trip over something like a 2” step-up, so I may pour a slope of concrete and then tile over the whole thing. The entryway floor could not be raised because the existing 2nd floor stairs would not be the right height to the first step and the floor did not need insulation because it was installed underneath from the beginning.

The electric clothes dryer will go in this corner. Note the problem window.

The electric clothes dryer will go in this corner. Note the problem window.

As is often the case I have too many other things to worry about and winter will be over if I let these three things bog me down. Thinking about my five-year plan, I am almost a year behind schedule because I put the porches on during the summer and spent so much time landscaping in the spring. These things needed to be done and were an important part of making the property valuable but they were not part of my original 5-year plan.

Strange- but something I think about- if I would accidentally die and Deb would be left with my debacle. I want the property to make sense so that if and when she sold it, people would get what I was trying to do. Having two houses that don’t make sense and me in the grave keeps me moving-on.


Oct 14

Last look October 2014

Current state of the 7 month long flying deck and wrap around porch projects.

The end of a 7 month long, flying deck and wrap around porch projects.  The red roofed shed/kiln on the right will be removed and the new bedroom will go there next summer.  October, 2014



Oct 14

Flying A Deck

Garage/Workshop transformation. June 2004 on left. December 2004 on right.

Garage/Workshop transformation. June 2004 on left. December 2004 on right.

In 2004, when I transformed what was a garage and workshop into a house, I also included a second story deck. The view over the Catskills was great. The deck was enclosed on three sides by the envelope of the house but open at the front. The deck had a self-supporting extension that jutted out 5 feet and was 10’ above the ground.



Deb and I loved to go up on this deck for our morning coffee, and it became a ritual. But, with no way to get out of the sun, on hot summer days we avoided it. Additionally, the porch opening was so big and high that the morning sun would stream into the interior of the house, at times blindingly so. In foul weather, rain and snow would blow in on the deck and pile up, causing issues.

As time went by, I realized I needed to put a roof over the extension. But it would be no easy task. The easterly facing opening had an irregular shape that was almost ten feet high. Furthermore, I didn’t think I should use the deck as its support. As I said, the deck extension was self-supported, but it was never meant to bear a lot of weight. For example, I would not want 10 adults to jump up and down on it. So if the roof could not be supported by the deck below how would it be? To make the roof look like it fit in what shape would it be?

This was a challenge, but the kind of challenge that makes building your own house so rewarding. I thought it over for a couple of years while I attended to other pressing projects. As usual, the final strategy did not reveal itself to me until a few weeks before I was about to tackle it.

Finished flying deck roof.

Finished flying deck roof.

The solution was the use of a steel finch plate to support the roof so that it could fly out on its own, self-supported, like the deck below does. The roof shape would be lopsided, but that would look fine because it followed the same pattern as the existing house roofline, with more of an opening to the south, where the sun poured in. Conversely, the bigger portion of the roof would protect the deck from Nor’easters. In the mountains, cold is more of an issue than heat, so taking advantage of solar energy was important. I needed to find he right mix of sun and shade, this design did that. The roof would fly                                                      like the deck below.

Structurally this was how I did it. The new roof was to be six feet in length and needed to support only itself and winter snow load.  Running across the existing second floor ceiling of the house were 2”x12” joists, on 16” centers. Perpendicular and above these, there was just enough height to sneak in two, 2”x8”x14’ rafters, where—and here is the key– I would add a ½” x 7” steel finch plate, sandwiching it in between the rafters, making a new roof ridge rafter. Inside the house, 8’ of this plate would be tied into the structure and outside it would fly 6’. This roof ridge plate would essentially hold up the roof.  The rakes were double 2”x6”x 14’, the rafters were 2×4, and Fabral metal roofing completed the job. The front, gable end, triangle was glued and screwed together, creating robust structural integrity going 8 feet into the house.

Getting this heavy steel plate up to the ridge by myself was accomplished with the use of the backhoe and this convoluted home made jig.  A little scary at moments because there was nothing to stop it from coming back at me.

Getting this heavy steel plate up to the ridge by myself was accomplished with the use of the backhoe and this convoluted home made jig.
A little scary at moments because there was nothing to stop it from coming back at me.

The roof is held up primarily by the finch plate and the OSB triangle tying all the forces together.

The roof is held up primarily by the finch plate and the OSB triangle tying all the forces together.





Knowing structurally how to accomplish this was important, but getting up there and working safely was another. This caused some apprehension as I have fallen off scaffolding more than once. I would be more than 20 feet up and at age 62, I wasn’t a spring chicken anymore. So I used 2x6x16′ studs that I screwed together with #8, 3” star drive deck screws and created quite a platform. The screws were very strong, and made the platform go together and come apart easily. (Later, I used these 2×6 studs on the lower porch roof).

The view from my working platform was fantastic and I would often pause to take it all in. We were having great weather, so this turned out to be the most fun project I did all year.

Once the roof was completed, I needed to replace the old temporary deck boards. But before I did that I needed to give the deck extension more support strength. In brief to do that, I added 2- 1/2”x5”x14’ steel finch plates: The picture explains it all.

These three steel finch plates should be sandwiched inside but were added later as the deck evolved so they are on the outside.

These three steel finch plates should be sandwiched inside but were added later as the deck evolved so they are on the outside. (click to enlarge).

A more interesting story revolves around the decking material I ended up choosing. I wanted something that was hassle free and was all but certain that I was going with Trex- the popular, composite, manufactured decking. But when I called my favorite building supplier, Katie told me they do not sell Trex and there are problems with it; however they sell a different product called Azek. It is much better but it costs 30% more. If I didn’t believe her about the Trex problems, I should go check out the local municipal building, where a Trex deck had been installed just eight years ago. So I did just that.

She was right. That deck not only looked like it had been around 8 years but, worse, it felt spongy to walk on in a weird way. No way did I want that crap. The Azek product was nice but now I’m wondering, “Who knows? Would it take eight years to realize it also had problems?”

Freshly cut 5/4 White Pine.

Freshly cut 5/4 White Pine.

My attention was captured by a stack of 5/4” white pine planks that had been drying on my property for 2 years–just waiting for the call.

Up to this point, I had planned to install the deck quickly and forget about it — but now the cost was $1,000 for the Azek product I was considering. Clearly, the 5/4 white pine needed a second look. This pine originally grew on my neighbor’s property, until the giant tree blew over in a storm. He told me I could have the logs if I cleaned up the mess. This thing was 36” in diameter at the butt. I                                                        had to trim the sides so it would fit in the portable band                                                      sawmill.

So I bit the bullet and sorted through my pile of white pine, selecting what I needed. The work was just beginning because the boards had to be trued, ripped to width, planed, sanded, stained and sanded again, then finally stained a second time for good measure. This all took more than 3 days.PinePrepTrioW


What a pleasure it was fastening these finished 5/4” boards into place–it was really nice stuff!




Behr Deck Stain

Behr Deck Stain

The beautiful dark blue stain I used is supposed to be good for 10 years on decks and I could not have gotten this color with any manufactured deck board product.

I’d like to say the story has a happy ending, but after all that work, the planks that were exposed to a lot of sun began to ooze out pine tar! This is the challenge that faces me now, because the deck is for people to walk on, and after they walk on the deck, they walk in the house and then there will be pine tar in the house.

I am not going to do anything about it now, but I will have to replace those boards in the future with ones that do not have all that pine tar in them. Live and learn: Now I know how to recognize what pine boards that have pine tar potential.DeckBVerticalW

After all is said and done, I still love my choice of the pine boards: they came from a tree that grew right next door, they are natural, and it feels great to have them underfoot.DeckBFiniW


Completed Flying Deck October 2014

Completed Flying Deck October 2014


View from the new deck Fall 2014

View from the new deck Fall 2014

Sep 14

Working with Acid Stain for Concrete

It should not be that big of a deal to acid stain a concrete slab like this one, but being new at it complicated things for me. There are many videos on YouTube about concrete acid stain. Also there are water-based stains, but I didn’t even consider them because I wanted something that would last.

Freshly cured concrete takes a stain the best, which is what I was dealing with. In simplest terms, all you have to do is clean the surface, protect the surrounding areas, and spray the stain. They recommend using a pump sprayer just for acid but those cost around $75 so I went with the garden variety one I already had. I figured it would all be over in a few minutes- how bad could it get?

I bought a commercial grade acid stain (they all are) from a masonry supply place. Brickform, Blush-Tone Acid Stain in olive. It cost about $80 for a gallon. Their olive color is a light green, I wanted dark green but I could not find it anywhere. Applying a second or third stain would make it darker.BLAstainL

The first side of the slab went well, then I had to stop and pump up the sprayer and things started to get weird. Towards the end of the slab, blotches of rust brown started to dribble out, discoloring the slab. When it was done I thought, “Oh well.  I wanted it to have a mottled look and I got that.” In some places the stain looked great.BLAsatinR2

I did not neutralize the acid and let it go for a week trying to figure out if I needed to apply a second coat. You do not want to neutralize if you are going to reapply acid stain. The rust color was becoming more prevalent as the sun worked on it. Then I discovered light scrubbing with a wire brush would remove the rust color, revealing aquamarine blue underneath. The blue looked cool but this wasn’t a swimming pool. I realized I needed some advice so I called the manufacturer.

Acid Stain with rust color contamination. Color enhanced.

Concrete Acid Stain with rust color contamination. The color was enhanced in the photo for visualization.

At Rafco Products you have to leave a message for technical support and the guy calls you back. I think he was some kind of a consultant because it sounded like he was on a work site doing a job. Anyway he was concerned about the results I got with the rust blotches and said he thought I had some kind of contamination in the concrete finish. He said I needed to use a floor maintainer and a red brush to buff the slab and then reapply the acid stain. I had a vague idea what he was talking about and said thanks. I wondered if the brown tarp I used to cover the slab for a week while it cured was causing this rust contamination. Or maybe it was just old acid stain. The manufacture says the product should be no older than a year. This jug looked like it had been sitting around in a warehouse for sometime – I don’t know.

Following his advice, I went to the Home Depot rental department and picked-up a floor maintainer and bought 3 brushes- black the harshest, red is medium and white is the lightest. In the meantime I decided against buying more of the old product and went with Home Depot’s, Eagle, Jade, Acid Stain, available online only. It was $20 cheaper and I liked the green color a little better. I also did more research about acid stain and learned two very important tricks- the concrete should be damp before you spray and you can broom the stain around as it puddles and dries, working it in. You think it is acid and should stay the hell away from it but do not let it intimidate you- work it in!

I started the prep work on the slab with a red pad and plenty of water, then went to the black pad because I liked what the floor maintainer was doing to the cement. Take caution if you ever use one of these things: when I first turned on the floor maintainer it almost took my arm off doing a 360 degree turn and sucking up the power cord. What I learned is this: tip it forward and it goes one way, back it goes the other, find a happy medium and it stays in place.

Concrete slab after a good work over by the Floor Maintainer. Red and black brushes were used with plenty of water.

Concrete slab after a good work over by the Floor Maintainer. Red and black brushes were used with plenty of water.


The buffing took all the rust color off and muted the green way down, (the concrete was only four weeks old so I was removing the surface.) That was done in the evening and the next morning I made the concrete damp, sprayed on a gallon of the Eagle Jade Acid Stain, broomed in the puddles, and let it dry for 5 hours. I think the floor maintainer, damp concrete and broom made a big difference in the consistency of the color. My job was 185sq. ft. and one gallon was perfect.

Home Depots Eagle, acid stain in Jade.

Home Depots, Eagle, acid stain in Jade.

This application dried a much darker green and I was not thrilled with the color but they always tell you not to judge the color until the acid has been neutralized and rinsed off. It was a rusty medium green but consistent throughout.

Acid stain while still wet.

Acid stain just after application while still wet.


BLAstainBroomBefore I neutralized the acid I waited as long as I could for the stain to work but I needed to get the floor maintainer back for my 24-hour rental. I mixed 16 ounces of ammonia with 5 gallons of water and poured it around. Since I had the floor maintainer, I decided to use the lightest, white pad and buff the neutralizers around. I flood rinsed this off and mixed another batch of neutralizer, repeating the process. It looked great. A nice, mottled, medium green. The rust look was gone.

The crazy thing about this stuff is that, as the concrete surface dries, you get a different intensity of color- lighter as it dries. You need to pay attention to this because the 2 types of sealer you can choose from will make it look different also. Acrylic or water-based sealer will make the concrete look a similar color as when the surface is damp and the high gloss, oil-based sealer will leave it with a color similar to when the concrete is wet. I went with Home Depot’s, Eagle, Armor Seal, for $36 a gallon online. It is an acrylic based sealer that was easy to use and could be reapplied years later.

Acid stain close up detail of one of the more interesting areas.

Acid stain close up detail of one of the more interesting areas.

Finished acid stained concrete after one application of acrylic sealer.

Finished acid stained concrete after one application of acrylic sealer.

Now that I’ve done this, I would definitely do it again on an outside project. It is a great look. But because of all the flooding with water for rinsing, I decided against doing it inside the house on my kitchen and dining area’s thin, hydronic, concrete slab.

Sep 14

Paint & Porch 2014

Guest House Summer 2014

Guest House Summer 2014

While I work on indoor projects over the winter, there is plenty of time to think about what I’m going to do when the weather breaks. Last year in the Spring of 2013 I did a lot of landscaping. This year, I decided the outside of the house was in serious need of transformation. Paint and porch were two words that would define this year’s transformation.

Neither of the two houses had been painted because my wife and I could not agree on a color. I wanted State Park dark brown and Deb wanted light to medium brown. As a compromise we went with Olympic, clear wood preservative. By now this look was pretty forlorn. In some places it looked disgusting, in my opinion.

So this time around, we ended up going with the color I preferred from the beginning–which is called slate and looks almost black. I pulled off this agreement on color by stealth mode. First I built a 5’x16’ wood shed and, without consulting Deb, I painted it slate. Then I built a 20’ x 30’ garage and painted it the same dark slate color. By this time Deb got used to the look and agreed (or gave in- I do not know for sure) that the slate color would look nice and give our “town” a cohesive, harmonious look.

Wood Shed & Garage

Wood Shed & Garage

The raw, rough-sawn, white pine happily soaked up the Behr Premium solid color wood stain. I used a 7” rough surface roller working it back and forth with force to get good penetration into all the knots and checks that occurred with age. I am very pleased with this product and would recommend it to anyone for use on bare wood. It obviously does not need a primer and is supposed to last 20 years. One of the reasons I promoted this color to Deb was that we should never have to repaint in our lifetime. It should look good as it ages, not peel, and maybe lighten some, which is fine by me. It also completely covered all blemishes in the wood.

One final thing about the color: a friend, seeing our newly painted place, said to me, “So, you painted your house black?” I have seen this color and similar very dark colors used many times around the country in State and Federal Parks on their buildings and in cabins or homes in the woods. The concept about the color is this- black or slate does not intrude on the natural surroundings. It does not make a statement that says “Look at me.” It celebrates the natural colors surrounding the house. Judge for yourself. I would some day like to paint the fascias, eaves and window trim a dark blue or dark green but I have too much to do now to worry about that.

Guest House summer 2014 with a new coat of Behr, "Slate" solid color wood stain in late afternoon sun.

Guest House summer 2014 with a new coat of Behr, “Slate” solid color wood stain in late afternoon sun.

After painting the small guesthouse in the spring, towards the end of May I moved on to make this year’s transformations on the main house. I didn’t start painting because, first, the house was in need of a porch as well as a second story deck roof. Scaffolding would be required to paint and also build the deck roof so the painting would wait.

To start I needed to build a foundation for the cement slab porch deck. I wanted to get the excavation done and slab poured before summer–this way I would have a clean area in which to work around the house. For the porch, a cement slab deck was the way to go. Although it was much more work-  it was low maintenance, permanent and I was excited about using a green acid color stain on the cement. This project took longer than I had anticipated–over 6 weeks, including time off to make a living.


Porch deck slab ready for cement pour. Divided into 3 sections for easy screed.

Porch deck slab ready for cement pour. Divided into 4 sections for easy screed.

First I needed to get the old rock terrace removed, which I had built 10 years ago. Then, install drainage tile and build a foundation wall of gravel and rock to support the cement slab. This was a wrap-around porch on a slope, which complicated things. Luckily, the Max- my mason dump truck–was back in operation after being out of service since the previous fall. I had spent four days over the winter playing mechanic getting it to run good. I like excavation using a dump truck because it makes the work site more manageable. I could put rocks, boulders, and gravel where they could easily be retrieved and move the spoils where I wanted, without causing were and tear on my backhoe, and the backhoe needed a new left front king pin.

Removing the old rock terrace into "The Max"

Removing the old rock terrace into “The Max”

Snakes, I noticed, had always loved this ten-year-old rock terrace because of its southern exposure and landscaped cover. They could stay warm, yet hide quickly if a predator approached. I knew the backhoe would crush them if I wasn’t careful. So after lifting up the small rocks by hand or the big ones with the backhoe, I would quickly grab the hiding serpents and carry them off to a sunny rock pile on the adjoining property. These reptiles were 6” to 30” long, including common garter snakes and small black ones with a light-colored ring around the base of their head. I removed so many snakes I got kind of skeeved out by it. I didn’t realize there were so many. The ones that I didn’t manage to rescue died of course, and since I couldn’t find them, they stank for about a week.

Snake in Alberta Spruce

Snake sunning in Alberta Spruce after a rain.

One thing for sure is that, when it comes time to pour cement, finding someone to help is always a problem. Because of the shape this slab was going to be, I needed someone other than Deb. It was to be 6’ wide, 13’ long on one side and 12’ on the other, with a wedge in between. The college kids I hired last fall for my indoor, thin slab pour were not available. The pitch I used for getting someone to help was this- $100 cash for one hour of work, then boom- you go home. Just get here ½ hour before the cement truck is to arrive. I did this because you need to entice people and make sure they show up. Once the cement is on it’s way there is no turning back. $100 for an hour of work is worth it to many people. Last fall- of the three college kids I hired, only two of them showed up for the $100. They had sweaty smiles on their faces when they left.

Luckily, I had a load of gravel delivered a few days before the pour and I asked the driver if he knew anyone who would be interested in the deal. Quickly he said he would do it and had a friend who would help also. They both had some experience with slab pours and this was a huge relief to me. They did a great job and made the pour much less stressful than usual.

Because I was going to acid stain the concrete, I was concerned about the proper finish of the cement. On past slab pours, it hadn’t been an issue– float and broom finish or just a nice smooth float. But because it was a porch and I wanted to use an acid stain, I needed something better. The research I came up with finishing concrete for acid staining was not what they call a hard finish but just a smooth finish. I went with an aluminum float about one hour after the big float. So as not to screw up the concrete cure, you need to wait to start the finish. The problem was, I waited too long and had to work like hell with my aluminum float. One end of the slab did not come out as well as I wanted. It wasn’t perfect, but it was OK.BLSlabDone2

Dec 13

2013 Corner Stone

The spring of 2013 started with some long-awaited landscaping to the roadside frontage of our property. The time was right because of what Hurricane Sandy did in the Fall of 2012. Let me explain.

Town Road damage after Hurricane Sandy.  October 30, 2013

Town Road damage after Hurricane Sandy. October 30, 2012


In front of the house, an acre or so of land stretches out to the road in a beautiful carpet of ferns and forest. It stops abruptly at this roadside ditch drop off of 12 feet. In previous years I had cut down two huge, old, dying trees there and just left the stumps. It was ugly. The plan was to excavate this drop-off, and slope it nicely to the ditch. I started to do this in 2012– before Sandy. I knew from that experience my backhoe really wasn’t big enough for the job- the boom didn’t have a long enough reach. It was a bank almost 150’ long and I had only graded about 15’ of it when I tore the drive shaft out of my dump truck moving the dirt away. The truck had to be partially in the ditch for the backhoe to reach it and the stress was too much for the drive train.                                                                                 I didn’t know how I was going to finish the job.

Twisted drive shaft from 93 Chevy Dump Truck.

Twisted drive shaft from 93 Chevy Dump Truck.

Then along comes Hurricane Sandy and raises hell.  Up road, the heavy rains caused the creek to jump the crossing culvert and rush down, ripping 2 large gashes into the road shoulder opposite my property. I knew these ravines would have to be filled, so I suggested to the town road crew supervisor that they use my two stumps for fill. Stumps can make excellent creek side buffers against erosion. He said to mark the stumps and he would consider it when they got to my part of the road. After being in the city for a couple of weeks I came back to discover they had removed the stumps and more. I was thrilled with the job they did, removing my stumps and grading the whole bank, sloping it nicely to the road. They needed the stumps, dirt and all, to fill the opposite roadside destruction. It pays to be friendly and cooperative with the road maintenance people.

Newly graded road frontage. October 2013.

Newly graded road frontage. November 2012.

So, with this nicely-graded road frontage, it was time to do some landscaping. I planted rhododendron, blue globe spruce, and built some rock wall surrounds. Further down the frontage, past this area, I cut down a lot of small, annoying beech trees, as well as some overpopulated soft maple trees. This was all to make way for a line of Norway Spruce, and a few Austrian Pines. I had been nursing these pines from seedlings for a few years in a plot out back, and they were due to be transplanted. The project took too long, over 2 months, and it is not much to look at now but in 10 years this should make a nice roadside presentation to the property.

So it was not until July that I got going on my new house-building project for 2013. The transformation of the guesthouse into the main house was behind schedule. I needed to convert what was the garage entryway into the new dining area. Not so fast- -this area had no foundation, a 6” cement slab covering it, a vertical beam which supported the whole front corner of the second floor, and the new room would need a roof that would have to be slipped in under the deck above. OK?

Spring 2013

Spring 2013

The way I have learned to deal with overwhelming odds is to take things one-step at a time. First, I carefully removed the cement slab. I removed the slab whole to save time and to reuse it elsewhere. Removing it whole caused some scary moments, as I did not want to send the beam off kilter since it was holding up the second floor. I used my hammer drill to loosen the tight spots and, after some serious pressure by the backhoe, it slid free. The backhoe did not like doing this because the slab weight was so great and it was in there tight. But it came out eventually and the beam stayed put.

After the slab was removed. Digging the foundation.

Digging the foundation while trying to avoid the 2nd floor support.

Second, I had to cut a large 18”x18” hole through the existing basement wall. This hole was to accommodate a large pipe that was going to be buried beneath the new foundation. The pipe was for future use to allow an insulated heating pipe from an outside wood-burning boiler to enter my basement. The problem was that the steel-reinforced concrete was almost 12” thick in that area. Cutting through the concrete took over a day with my new ½ Bosch Hammer Drill. I really broke that baby in. I felt sorry for the tool when I was done, but it still works well. Go Bosch! The job was done using a combination of two bits- drill and chisel. A sawzall was used to cut through the rebar.

John cutting a 18"x18" hole through the 12" thick basement wall.

John cutting a 18″x 18″ hole through the 12″ thick basement wall with a Bosch hammer drill.

Further complicating all this was the need to run an insulated heating pipe from this house that had the new oil fired boiler, to the other house. I only wanted one boiler to heat both houses. Also the outside wood boiler would send heat under my new dining area foundation, into the basement heating system and then onto the other house through this pipe I needed to run. Do you follow? (More on that subject- Installing a Hot Water Boiler).

After the hole was cut in the basement wall, I took the opportunity to run this “Grand Scheme of Things,” heating pipe. It was a flexible, insulated, 6” pipe, with 2 one-inch pipes inside of it, a feed and return. I already had run an 8” pipe   between the two house years ago just for this purpose. I didn’t want to try and snake this 65’ long pipe through the door, down the basement stairs, wind it past the oil tank, into the 8” basement hole and then try and pull it through to the other house. That would severely aggravate my old hernia. The pipe was flexible but not that flexible. I also failed to mention that, along with this pipe, I was running a RG6 coax cable for TV and 2, just in case, CAT5 cables for Internet.

58 feet of HeatSeal, dual 1" insulated underground pipe, by Heat Link.

65 feet of HeatSeal, dual 1″ insulated underground pipe, by Heat Link.

Now was the time to do this, “pain in the ass project.” I imagined I could lay the whole damn 65’ of pipe straight out and run it through this new hole I had cut in the basement wall, then straight into the little 8” hole at the bottom of the basement wall. Problem was, my pull rope kept snapping off from a snafu in the previously buried pipe between the houses. Each time this snafu caused me to pull the pipe back out, fish the pull rope back through, reattach it and start over. I did this about three times. Talk about aggravation- unfortunately, Deb got snarled at a couple of times during all this. “Sorry Deb.” Finally I succumbed to the realization that I had to dig up the existing pipe where the snafu was and fix it.

Digging up the snafu.

Digging up the snafu.

After that, the pipe pulled through with ease as planned. It took over a day of fits and starts but I got it done. Glad that is over and I hope the heating system all works as planned. Will not know for sure until I hook everything up, which probably will not be until 2015 or beyond.

HeatSeal 6" pipe. Into the basement, out the bottom of the other side, through the ground and out the side of the other house.

Into the basement, through a hole in the other side, through the ground and out the side of the other house- 65′ later.  Pulled gently by the backhoe.  HeatSeal 6″ flexible pipe.

Old culvert given to me by the town highway department. This will eventually be where I run my heating pipe from my outdoor wood boiler.

Old culvert given to me by the town highway department. This will eventually be where I run the heating pipe from my outdoor wood boiler.

Along with the heat access pipe, I ran conduit for satellite TV & Internet, outdoor temperature reset sensor, outdoor wood boiler power and thermostat control wires.

Along with the heat access pipe, I ran conduit for satellite TV & Internet, outdoor temperature reset sensor, outdoor wood boiler power and thermostat control wires.



It wasn’t until the middle of July that I started building the forms for the foundation concrete pour and the first week of August before we actually did the pour. I say we meaning Deb and I. By now she had done three major concrete pours with me. Not many women on this planet have done that nor would want too. She knows the strengths and stamina required, the urgency of setting concrete. She tolerates my steady, firm commands. In the TV business where I work, some new kids are taken aback when they hear me go into that mode, and are offended by it. I guess most of them never played sports or had a job and, if they did, it wasn’t paving blacktop or pouring concrete. I digress.

Ready for concrete pour.

Ready for concrete pour.


Deb shoveling concrete, helping to put the finishing touches on the foundation pour.

Deb shoveling concrete, helping to put the finishing touches on the foundation pour.

The walls are 4" higher than the floor to accommodate 2" of rigid foam insulation and 2" of radiant floor thin slab concrete.  Note the air intake for the indoor woodstove.

The walls are 4″ higher than the floor to accommodate 2″ of rigid foam insulation and 2″ of radiant floor thin slab concrete.  Note the air intake for the indoor woodstove, center left and right wall. The concrete pillar, in the background, will be removed when the walls are up.

After the pour, there is always a euphoric sense of relief and excitement for the building of walls. It doesn’t last long, as you get bogged down with details like removing the beam that holds up the house and slipping in the roof under the 2nd floor deck. And it had to be done by the end of September.

The new roof had to be slipped in under the upper deck. I had to remove most of the deck boards to do this.     Very expensive waterproof underlayment by WR Grace   was used. Later I added metal roofing on top of this.

The new roof had to be slipped in under the upper deck. I had to remove most of the deck boards to do this. Very expensive waterproof underlayment by WR Grace was used. Later I added metal roofing on top of this.


What was the urgency? I had to run radiant floor tubing in the kitchen and dining area, and then pour a thin, 2” slab of concrete over the tubing before winter. Why before winter? Because I wouldn’t be able to get a concrete truck up to the house in winter. If I didn’t get the thin slab poured in the fall that would screw up all my plans for winter.

Roof and walls up. Opening left in wall for bringing in the cement.

Roof and walls up. Opening left in wall for bringing in the cement. Windows also need to be framed in. Mid September 2013.

As the cold weather started to blow in, and the heartburn flared up, I started to get careless. I made a last minute angle adjustment to a board I was about to nail up and almost cut my left index finger off with a circular saw. IndexStitchTo make matters worse, a couple weeks later, I cut off the fingernail of my right middle finger in the table saw. Whoa!!! Slow down you moron!! The index finger is permanently damaged. I didn’t go to a hand surgeon as my doctor recommended because I was afraid of what it would cost and the actual benefit of the surgery was questionable. But mostly I want it to remain a reminder of how stupid I was.

This sense of urgency in the fall is a reoccurring theme. Deb says, “There is always something that needs to be done.” You have to ask yourself why do I do this? Why not just watch sports on TV? Or play golf? Or go to parties and hang out with friends and family? Instead, it has been an endless stream of challenges, accomplishments, satisfactions and then onto the next challenge. The winter is usually the time when I do not push myself as hard. But even then I do not allow myself the time to cross country ski as much as I should. When it gets late in the winter afternoons I keep pushing to get some task done and then it is dark. I usually try to ski just before sunset and finish in the dark with a headlamp but as the years slip by I do it less, knowing time is running out. Why is time running out? Well as I have discussed before, when I retire there will not be any extra money to build dreams.

In October I attempted to do something that I have lost some sleep over in the past few years, not a lot of sleep but thinking about it has kept me awake at times. The plan was to move the wood stove to the new dining area on the other side of the chimney. That means cutting another hole in the existing chimney. This can be tricky for someone who has never done it before- like me. You do not want to damage the structural integrity of the chimney for a couple of reasons: the chimney could fall down or, worse yet, you could burn the house down if you compromise the clay tile liner inside. I put up dust control tarps and go at it with my Bosch, 4” diamond blade cutter. It gets done without a hitch. What is that poem- “only I remain and the fear is gone” or something like that.ChimnyCutW

Now that I successfully cut a new hole in the chimney, the wall between the two rooms needed to be torn down and replaced with a cement block wall. I want the woodstove to sit safely in front of a masonry wall, not a wood wall. No more fires- please. So I jacked-up the adjacent upper floors and ripped the old wall out.


Ready for blocks.

Ready for blocks.

Rodger Grimsby

Rodger Grimsby

For some reason, I decided not to lay the block wall myself. I wanted it to look good and get done fast, so I hired a local guy, who gave me a reasonable price. Getting him to the job site wasn’t easy but ounce he showed up, it was done in a day. It was worth the hassle to hire someone for the job.


After the block wall was up, it was time to put down 2” rigid foam insulation on the floor of the kitchen and dining area. The original concrete slab was not insulated so this should do the trick. I have read different ideas about how much insulation to use in this situation but this is the solution I went with. Could there be more insulation? Of course there always could be more, but the theory is that this R10 insulation is of much greater resistance to heat flow than the ceramic tiles and the thin slab. Therefore, the radiant floor heat will radiate up into the living area and not go down into the ground.

On top of the rigid foam, I ran 3 independent loops of ½” pex tubing for the radiant floor heat. Not an easy task to do alone but I made my own homemade tubing dispenser and it went fairly well. The tubing is attached to 3/8” rebar from Lowe’s, spaced at 8” intervals. On top of all the rebar and tubing I placed wire mesh. The closets, cabinet, stove and refrigerator areas have no tubing runs because I have read that radiant floor heat is a waste in those areas and can cause problems.

1/2" PEX radiant floor heat tubing. Note left photo: the kitchen stove island center and sink, counter area on right. Photo right: dinning area. 3 separate adjustable loops were run for both areas. Perimeter pads were pre-poured by hand for screed purposes. It was the only way I could do it with my level of experience and crew.

1/2″ PEX radiant floor heat tubing.  Note left photo: the kitchen stove island center and sink, counter area on right. Photo right: dinning area. 3 separate adjustable loops were run for both areas. Perimeter pads were pre-poured by hand for screed purposes. It was the only way I could do it with my level of experience and crew.

The next big issue would be pouring the concrete thin slab. There was no way I wanted this to be done by just Deb and I. In fact I didn’t want to put Deb in this situation at all. It was a tough job that needed to be done perfectly because on top of this thin slab would be ceramic tiles. The concrete could not just be poured out of the truck chute onto the floor- it needed to be wheeled in via a wheelbarrow.   I needed at least 2 other guys along with me, and 4 people total would have been even better. I had no luck finding anyone at first and even started to call some cement contractors- I was that desperate. It was the middle of November and we already had several snow accumulation events, although none was on the ground at the moment. The contractors I called were not available for my timeframe but finally a guy gave me the name of a college kid who was taking the semester off. I called him and he was game and said he had 2 friends who would also be interested. Great, we set the date for the next week, Thanksgiving week.

As usual, I didn’t sleep well the night before the pour. After I finally went to sleep, I woke up to a beautiful winter wonderland. There was about 2” of snow on the ground and it was still snowing. The 3.5 yards of concrete was coming at 9:30AM. I went out at 8AM and started brooming the snow off the work area and some of the driveway. The driveway was over 200’ long so- so much for that.

The first 2 guys showed up late at 9:15. One of them lived about 20 miles away and he said the roads were terrible, especially the ones near here. Neither of them had ever poured concrete before and there wasn’t much time left for a lesson but I did the best I could. The kid who did have experience did not show up. I heard the big cement truck pull up out front and ran out to greet him. Recognizing the driver from a previous pour, I jumped up on the running board and passed him a twenty saying, “I got two rookie guys helping me out so keep an eye on them.” He smiled and nodded, putting away the $20. I guided him as he backed up the long, winding, snow covered driveway. The wheels didn’t slide until he turned at the top. He quickly controlled the slide. A sigh of relief went through me as he jumped out of the truck and started to put on his cement chute.

At this point I felt almost like I was in a dream and things were moving along out of my control. A cement pour is always a very sobering event because the concrete is going to harden quickly and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The cement was going to get poured in the house with the guys I had and there was no turning back. For some reason I wasn’t nervous or anxious, but a more Zen- like feeling had come over me. Maybe it was the effect of the sleeping pills or the snow-covered winter wonder world. I do not know, but things were going forward.

After the second wheelbarrow was dumped, I was totally in the here and now, heart pumping, wooden hand float pushing wet mud, screed working and calm instructions being given to the rookies. Pouring concrete inside was different in that I didn’t have to shout instructions over the noise of the truck engine. Never having poured concrete, the kid working the other end of my screed needed constant guidance. He went to college for PhysEd but was a little portly; beads of sweat were popping on his forehead. There was a commotion outside where the wheelbarrow was being filled. The driver stopped paying attention and overflowed my rookie’s wheelbarrow, dumping cement in the snow. The driver jumped out and helped shovel up the mess. Both of the young men worked hard, but I realized towards the end I should have had them switch positions. One kid got the concept of add more or less concrete when leveling and the other didn’t.

The the thin slab concrete pour crew. November 26, 2013

The the thin slab concrete pour crew. November 26, 2013

In the end it was my fault that things didn’t turn out perfect. I had a homemade 10’ screed that I put together last spring for the previous pour with Deb. I never checked it for true and, being wood, it had warped convex on me while out in the sun over the past months. The screed is what you use to level the concrete by working it back and forth, pulling and pushing the concrete. The convex screed created a ¾” low spot in the large dining room center. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I was going to use 12×12” ceramic tiles but I wanted to use the trendy large tiles and they don’t take to well to not being level. A week later I had to rent a heavy-duty concrete grinder and smooth off the side ridges. I had used one years ago on a summer construction job back when I was in college, so I knew what to do. $350 later and a day- now it should be fine.


My nephew, sister and her husband were coming for Thanksgiving the next day and when they arrived I was still cleaning up the mess from the pour. They were going to be sleeping in the finished upstairs apartment. Always moving forward, in the down time between libation and feasting, I took advantage of Dylan and Ken to help me set a 3”x12”x13’ hard maple beam. This beam was to help support the new dining room roof and a ceiling pitch transition. I wanted a tight fit and doing it alone would not have been fun. It went in easier than we thought and I used a hydraulic bottle jack to force it the final inches home. Just in time for turkey dinner.

Dylan Davis and Ken Mantai ready to hoist the beam.

Dylan Davis and Ken Mantai ready to hoist the beam.

The next day, nephew Dylan, who was a hair stylist by trade, said he wanted to learn carpentry. So I put him to work studding up the opening I had left in the wall to bring in the concrete. A large 3.5×5’ window was going in the opening and I wanted the boys to help me put it in place. They were leaving the next morning so we had to get after it. I put Ken to work varnishing the unseen inner wood frame of the window. I always do this to help stabilize it. Once we finally got the window in place, in my excitement to nail the window in and get out of the cold, I forgot to check for final level. I knew the windowsill plate was perfectly level but once the window was in place, it tilted down 5/8” because of the factory mull job, (factory joining of 3 different windows). Once you chalk the window flange and drive in 2” galvanized nails all around, you do not want to turn back. Ken and I discussed it and decided the discrepancy could be hidden with the interior trim and outside siding. This turned out to be true because when you look at it now, all finished—you would wonder what all the fuss was about.

Ken and Dylan hoist the Anderson combo window into place while John guides it home from the inside where it is warm.

Ken and Dylan hoist the Anderson combo window into place while John guides it home from the inside where it is warm.


Our Davis, Mantai, Thanksgiving group. Me, Dylan, Chris, Deb and Ken. We hope to have more people as the place expands.

Our Davis, Mantai, Thanksgiving group. Me, Dylan, Chris, Deb and Ken. We hope to have more people as the place expands. Note the 4″ x 12″ beam installed above.

The holiday was a success and I could now move forward with my winter plans no matter what happened with the weather. I love this time of year because it is the only period when I can ease up on the pressure I place on myself. If I have heartburn, it goes away then. That winter there was a slight hiccup in that “The Max”, my 4-wheel drive dump truck with plow, would not start. So I had to go to plan B and put my ‘86 Chevy plow truck back in action. That piece of shit, nasty truck always starts. It’s nasty because when the thing idles it either roars or barely putters in an ornery manner. The transmission is sloppy and mice run throughout its rust holes. When you shut it off after plowing, it usually backfires like hell.

3/4 ton, 86 Chevy

3/4 ton, 86 Chevy

I thought when I bought the diesel mason dump truck I could get rid of that thing; glad I didn’t because it saved my ass that winter. The winter of 2014 was the coldest winter in years in the North East and that piece of shit ‘86 Chevy started every single time.

So in the end, the year all went well. Maybe I am living the dream? My body tells me the dream is ending because that fall my legs started to go numb again every now and then. As the fall progressed they went numb more and more often. I did not know why and looming ahead of me was some terrible consequence I was sure. “Why don’t you get it checked out?” people asked me. Well, I did just two years ago and it cost me $2000 out of pocket to find out that my B vitamin level was low. What I needed were B vitamin injections to calm my pinched nerve. They didn’t know I had a pinched nerve because the expensive big time neurologist was too occupied with other things to pay attention to my description of a classic problem. Well, now the injections of B vitamin were not doing the trick and the numbness was becoming more frequent. I did not have a lot of confidence in the medical system in this country so I avoided it- thinking time heals all, literally.

Anyway, I, for the most part love this business of building, building and more building. Deb has gotten used to it and buys into it. We have a town to build–so let’s get ‘er done!

Get it done by 2017 or bust!