Monday, June 14, 2010

DONE!! .... well, not quite....

Anyone who knows the blog world will have recognized the signs of blogger's fatigue in the extended periods between my posts.  In fact, it is not so much blogger's fatigue, as builder's fatigue.  Ok, so what's really happening here?...we are doing this project on a really really tight budget.  Frankly, as a professional builder, I would have turned myself away if I had come to see me with a proposal for this project and this budget.

About the time of that last post we had to set our crew adrift and between that time and when we opened for business on May 23 (the weekend before Memorial Day), I had worked 60 and 70 hour weeks on this project, seven days a week, and I have to admit it took a toll.

'nuff said,, the good news:  Well, just look at this picture and what more do you need to see?  Opening Day in our new place!

We still have some work to do to have the apartment in livable condition, but we're getting there.  If you drive by, you'll see that we don't have all of the windows restored yet - that's next on the list.  Thanks to John Ivy and David Senseney for helping us get our hands on the right sash...that's a story unto itself - in short, we should have looked locally to start with.  And thanks also to Nancy Leach for landscaping guidance.

We have about half of a kitchen and that's coming along too.  Bath is done (except for a window that will be done soon).  Then there's work bringing the stairs up to code, doors to restore and hang, crown molding and baseboard throughout and window and door casings to small amount of work, but on the other hand, we've done so much that what's left doesn't feel like a burden - just a to-do list that'll get done soon enough.

Stop in anytime, we love to show off.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lots O' Progress

Wow, it has been too long since I posted last. It's sure not for lack of something to say (that's never my problem) but for lack of time and energy.  In the last three weeks, we have completed the electrical rough in, completed the HVAC rough in, completed the plumbing rough in, insulated, sheetrocked, taped and sanded the sheetrock, finished installing the window jambs, finished the siding, caulked and filled the old siding, cleaned up in preparation for painting and most recently I started building the brick piers (7 out of 17 complete).  If it's a measure of progress, we sent out our fifth trailer load of demolition and construction debris.

Of course, I didn't do all of this myself, but with the expertise of many on and off island professionals who I will list now by way of acknowledging their good work and attention to the particular difficulties that a restoration project brings:  Many thanks to Don Bachman (electrical), Bob Keys (plumbing), All Star Insulation, All American Heating and Air, Tommy Barnette (sheetrock) and of course, my crew, Jason and John and John.  We are by no means done, but we have moved into the "finish" stage of the work, much of which -due in part to a tight budget- we will complete ourselves.

The piers are each made of ninety bricks, times seventeen piers equals around fifteen hundred bricks and I will note that each one has to be put in exactly the right spot.  I am using a plain smooth faced brick, which will not have that "old brick" look which you might expect in a restoration, but in looking around the island at brickwork of a similar age as our house, I determined that what was used back then (1930's) was a simple, plain red brick.  No surprise, really, as I am sure the choice was limited and simplicity was the rule.

Brickwork is a sort of contemplative exercise, so if you stop by and find me looking thoughtful, you'll know why.  Six hundred down, nine hundred to go....

Monday, February 22, 2010

Restoration Can Mean Small Projects Too

This is a pretty big project that encompasses practically every aspect of residential construction and overlays the demands of historic restoration onto every detail.  It is complex and fun, but I want to make the point that most restoration work is not like this.  Much important historic work happens on a small scale without the fanfare of a big showy project. 

Take windows as an example.  Say you have an old house with old drafty windows, out of square jambs and sash that rattle and leak.  You lose a  lot of heat and air conditioning money out those windows and every spring at window washing time you think.... "it's really time to do something about these windows."  Before you go for the quick solution - vinyl replacement windows - consider this basic principal:  Restoration is nine tenths preservation.  In other words, if you throw those windows out, they can never be restored.  The decision to install vinyl windows is a step away from the historic value of your house and it is a first step down a path that could affect your house forever.

Old windows can be repaired and upgraded to last for many years. They can work easily and be nearly draft free and with tastfully designed storm panels, they can be almost as efficient as new windows while maintaining the architecural integrity of your old house.  It is worth noting that even the best new windows don't come close to matching the insulating value of the walls around them.  The truth is, every window is a thermal hole in the wall, so when you are considering what to do about your windows, I would suggest you consider restoration and preserve the beauty and the history of your old house.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Bigger Picture

Somebody asked me the other day what was so special about this house - he didn't mean it in a critical way, just wondering why this particular house should merit so much attention.  And it's a good question.  George Washington never slept here, it's not the homestead of a famous why does it matter whether or not we preserve it to historic standards?  My answer is that no house in the Ocracoke Historic District qualifies as "special" based on its individual merits as a record of history or even on its unique architectural merits, but what does qualify as special, even historically important, is the Ocracoke Historic District itself.  And every old home and structure, and indeed every old tree and lane in the District contributes to that important value.  As does the living history of Ocracoke - those people whose families have been here and over generations have woven a fabric of knowledge and experience that is unique to Ocracoke. 

When visitors come here and say, as I have often heard, "wow, I just love it here, it's so peacful and easy going," what they're talking about is Ocracoke's historic character and without the old houses and the big ol' live oaks and the commercial fishing community and the "mom and pop"stores and narrow streets, Ocracoke wouldn't be Ocracoke; it would be....well, just like the rest, only further away.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Three Days In Richmond

One of the most critical tasks of a GC is to keep the materials coming onto the jobsite.  That's always a bit of a chore, but all the moreso on an island.  You can't just make a quick run to the supply house for another bundle of insulation or box of nails.  Add to that all of those things that I usually leave to the owner to acquire, and the job of selecting, buying and transporting materials can take a lot of time. A real lot of time.

To that end, Carol and I went on a three day buying trip to Richmond last week to visit two architectural salvage places.  In particular we were looking for old doors as almost all of the doors in the house had been changed out to hollow core luans.  We also figured we'd look for door hardware, a bathroom sink, window sash, lighting fixtures, countertop, cabinetry, etc while we were there.  It turns out this can take an enormous amount of time, if for no other reason than the time you can spend looking at interesting things you don't need, like paintings, fireplace surrounds, clawfoot bathtubs, furniture, circular stairs...well, you get the picture.  We actually did a pretty good job of staying focused; we found all of the doors we wanted and a "ming green" pedestal sink  (I'll post a picture as soon as I get it out of the trailer.) 

And we spent hours and hours in Home Depot, Lowes and a Habitat recycle store.  We filled the truck and trailer and even then didn't find everything we were looking for, though we did get a great deal in Currituck on a 4' piece of granite for a section of countertop.  We spent so much money that Bank of America called to see if we were alright. And we are.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

We're rollin' (w/pics...)

Well, it's been a while, and we've made some serious progress.  The most noticeable change is the cedar shingle roof, which is spectacular...we're so glad we did this, even though the cost was more than "asphalt" by almost 60%.  We made the decision to go with cedar, despite the price difference for two reasons - historical accuracy and aesthetics.   If money wasn't an issue, it would have been an easy decision.  In the end, we traded that added cost against a delay on re-shingling the north side (and least visible) roof, which will remain as is for a few years.

Inside, we are moving on the mechanicals:  electrical, HVAC and plumbing.  The electrical is underway and Don Bachman is doing a meticulously careful job.  We are completely re-wiring, even moving the meter box to the rear bedroom.  Normally we would install duct for the HVAC first, but we've planned well enough that we can avoid any conflict between the duct and the wiring. HVAC and plumbing is going out to bid under separate contracts.  HVAC, especially, is a trade which is quickly advancing both in terms of theory and technology - it is important to work with a contractor who is up to date in his knowledge and flexible enough to adapt that knowledge to a variety of circumstances.  There are many good professionals out there and I am happy to be getting to know some of them.

We also pounded through a bunch of miscellaneous carpentry jobs that had been left "for later".  These punchlist-type items can accumulate and we had a good spot in our work schedule to knock them off.  It will make everything else move more efficiently to have those items done.

Where we're headed is to be ready for sheetrock in about a week and a half...maybe two weeks.  February is a short month, but I'm hoping by the end of the month to be sheetrocked and at least primer coat, if not finish coats on the walls and ceilings.  Stairs re-built, some or all of the windows restored.... installing doors and cabinets/ the beginning of March.  Meanwhile, Jason and Johnny are back outside completing the siding...

Sound ambitious?  Oh yeah...

It's a beautiful thing...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Gettin' 'er done...


Lest we forget what cold really granddaughters in VT
(note the Vermont siding on the addition..that's standard up there)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Oooh Baby It's Cold Outside

Happy New Year to all.  I'm in the cold clutches of New England for the holidays.  Right now it's snowing again - between the 14 inches we got just before Christmas while Carol was here, the 8 inches we got while I was up in Vermont with my son, and now, back in Connecticut, we're getting a few additional inches of the white stuff....I've just about had my fill and I am longing for Ocracoke's balmy 40's.  It's been mostly in the teens and twentys, but I did see (feel) a touch of below zero in Vermont, just to remind me of what that's like.

My brother and I went to look at a job this morning - building a screen porch onto a house we built many years ago for my good friends Ed and Shirley - My Favorite Customers Of All Time. (Marcy and Lou, you are a very very close second and I hope you-all will get to meet in March).  We are looking at getting the job started in pretty short order and questioning how deep the frost is relative to getting a backhoe in to dig for footings....a different set of questions than we ask in Ocracoke, eh?

We do have a historic project going here as well - it's funded by the State of CT Historic Commission and involves restoring the roof structure of an old two-story building that has been community owned - something like a grange hall- for over 150 years.  As our Ocracoke project is, this is done to Dept. of Interior Specifications, but this one involves also an architect and an engineer who jointly wrote the specs...and way way over engineered the structure.  But, what to say?  On behalf of the guys who built it originally, we have gotten a few laughs over the extensive engineering language specifying the modulus of elasticity/bending strength required for the oak pegs!

Our guys have been starting in the mornings by chipping ice off the scaffolding and ladders.  I have to say I don't miss that, but I have to admit that I do miss this old New England architecture.

See you soon.