Glenlochan -The Beginning

Glenlochan -The Beginning
Glenlochan - The Beginning

Glenlochan Today

Glenlochan Today
Glenlochan Today

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gritty Determination

To say that we've enjoyed every minute of this project would be a complete lie.  There have plenty of times throughout the last two years when we have been beyond discouraged - and even now when the project seems to be rolling along.  Unanticipated issues arise daily, and while most are fairly easy to solve, some are not, and we continually learn things we wish we had known earlier, little nuggets of knowledge that we store away in the hopes that they will come in handy for another project.  Like our Philly house - which is next in line for an overhaul if we ever finish, and recover from, this one.

The pressures of staying to schedule, budget (we've blown that one time and time again), dealing with weekly separations, driving across 2 states to get from one house to the other, and minor and major setbacks definitely take their toll.  We've had our share of sleepless nights and stressful days in which there just are not enough hours, disagreements, frustrations, and even thoughts of throwing in the towel (usually short-lived but very real in the moment).

Our current overarching stress is an almost impossibly tight schedule caused by soapstone.  Soapstone is a metamorphic rock that has been mined for over 100 years from quarries all over the world.  Relevance?  It's the material we've selected for our kitchen countertops.  It's really the perfect material for kitchens - stain resistant, heat resistant, easily cleaned with mineral oil, and tough enough to take the wear and tear of a busy kitchen.  I love the look of granite, but I don't love how easy the edges chip away.  Soapstone has all the advantages of granite without some of the downsides.  And, soapstone will only add to the vintage look we want.  Luckily for us, we didn't have to go to a quarry on the other side of the world - there is a great soapstone quarry in Virginia, near Charlottesville.  Soapstone is grey when mined, and turns a beautiful black once oiled (you can also leave it grey and it will age with a greenish hue).  Here's the before and after of  "Old Dominion" soapstone - the variety we have selected:

Soapstone can come heavily veined or almost straight black.  We had the good fortune to time our project needs with a terrific find in the Charlottesville quarry of Old Dominion (rated A) with some really interesting veining.  Because 18 almost identical slabs are cut from each block, and we need three slabs for our project, we'll be getting three very similar slabs.  Here's the slab we selected (it's been sprayed with water to see the veining, but will still be grey upon installation:

I realize that soapstone does not seem capable of causing scheduling issues, but trust me, it is.  The issue is that the installers either have to install it the third week of April or we cannot get it installed until early June.  The third week of April is really pushing it, but June was way too far out and would put us too far behind. So, in our impatience to keep the project on schedule, we agreed to aim for an April installation - never mind that this is less than a month away!  This means that there is absolutely no margin for error in the schedule.

Rob has said that he will have to "will" this house together, and I think that is exactly what is happening.  A quick example.  The inspection for the home was scheduled for yesterday- and we had to pass in order to have the spray foam insulation installed this week.  In order to pass the inspection, the ventilation fans had to be installed in all the bathrooms - the final task on the electrician's list for Monday.  The problem was that the fans we ordered (we wanted decorative fans with a vintage look, not square modern ones) were guaranteed to  be delivered Monday - the same day we had to have them installed.  When Rob arrived on site from Philly in the afternoon on Monday and discovered the fans still hadn't been delivered he became very concerned - he had passed a UPS truck headed out of town as he headed into town so he thought that the truck may have missed us.  After a quick call to me to see if there was anything I could do on my end in Philly (there wasn't), he promptly hopped in the car and went in search of the UPS truck.  Several miles out of town, he managed to catch up to the truck, tailed it to its next stop and approached the driver to see if our fans were in his truck.  Although I laughed very hard when I heard this story, I was also glad I wasn't there.  The UPS guy must have thought he was a complete nut.  But he did indeed have our fans on the truck, he was willing to hand them over to Rob in the middle of the road, and the electrician had them before the very end of the day and was able to install them in time for the scheduled inspection. 

I'm happy to report that we passed inspection and so, for now, we are on schedule.  But, a lot has to happen before the installation of the soapstone in April - insulation, drywall, kitchen wall painting (which means we actually have to select finish colors), and completion and installation of the kitchen cabinets - each one with possible inherent delays or unexpected setbacks.   Working backward from the soapstone install date, there are absolutely no spare days or we'll be looking at a six week delay.  Not the end of the world, for sure, but an expensive delay that we'd like to avoid if at all possible.  Rob's gritty determination (and willingness to flag down UPS drivers) will get us there, one way or the other, and we'll endeavor to not stress too much between now and then.  Because, when all is said and done, stress and setbacks aside,we are truly grateful for this project and the opportunity to transform this beautiful old house.  And, we are storing so many memories in the process. 


Monday, March 25, 2013

Fun with HVAC and a Brief Fireplace Update

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning, "HVAC," is in!  It's amazing how fast this project can actually progress when Rob doesn't have to do everything himself.  Our HVAC installers were quick to get the system installed after delivery of the duct work and supplies:

 First in were the basement units - luckily the cellar work was long done, reinforced and ready for the install:

 The cold air return was added:

 The duct work and vents installed throughout the house and in the attic:

And, finally, the setting of the outdoor units:
This system is a dual zone electric heat pump with a propane back-up (natural gas is not available, unfortunately).   Not pictured was the install of the brand new propane tank (buried), and the piping of propane to all 8 fireplaces. 

The home had seven fireplaces when we bought it, most not functional, and the eighth had been covered over in cement.  We managed to uncover that eighth one to restore it, and all eight will be functional gas fireplaces once the project is complete.  Although we've always enjoyed a natural wood burning fireplace, the cleanliness and convenience of gas was too alluring to resist.  No more vacuuming up muddy footprints, wood chips and log scraps from hauling wood into the house - one flipped switch and we will be able to have a small or roaring fire in any room of the home.  A future project in the pipeline will involve the fireplace finish work and mantels.

Up this week - final rough electrical work, inspections on all rough mechanicals and, assuming all is well on that front, insulation of the home.  Step by step, we are making steady progress now.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Entrances....or Exits?

Are doors entrances to the house, or exits from the house?  Does it depend if you are a glass half full or glass half empty type of person?  If they are in the front or back or side of the house?  I realize that technically they are both entrances and exits, but I'm do you view them?  If a fire was raging in the home and I needed to escape, I'm sure I'd view them as exits.  Other than that, though, I view them as entrances - inviting people to come in, visit, stay a while, get comfortable.  Maybe it's because "home" is my favorite place to be - I cannot wait to get to my home whenever I'm working, vacationing, or otherwise out and I really don't want to leave most days.  I am a homebody at heart and a good day is one spent puttering at home.   So having the doors finally installed was a red letter day.  The doors have been on site, tempting us for a while by leaning prettily against the walls.

We've been anxious to see how the doors we selected "work" with the overall look we've been working to achieve.  The doors were all installed in less than a day - here's the side door install:

 The back french doors with transom (note the water view in the second shot):

Upper and lower back french doors are in.

And, my favorite, the front door install:

The colored glass really shows in the indoor shots, but is hard to see on the outdoor shots.  We debated about the colored/red glass, and are so glad we took the chance - we love it.  We also debated about the size of the glass and elected the 3/4 over the 1/2 or full, and I think it was the right call.  Not all of our decisions come out exactly the way we hope or envision, but this one is a winner.  It's my favorite entrance by far.  It practically screams, "welcome" to me - I hope everyone else thinks so, too.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Durable Deck = Duradek!

The plans for Glenlochan that we developed with our architect originally envisioned a much larger second story porch in the back of the home.  However, for a variety of reasons, we more recently elected to extend the size of the second story game room which meant decreasing the size of the second story porch. 

Here's a shot of the actual second story porch on right, downsized a bit from the plans:

Two factors led to this change.  First, we made the change based on our likely use of the space.  Although a much larger second story porch would be a nice bonus, on balance, we felt that we'd enjoy more living space inside the home than outside, and we were fine with a smaller second story porch.  Much of the year, it's not all that comfortable to be outside, but the porch was still plenty big for enjoying time outside.  And, as it turns out, now that the porch is built and we've been able to stand on it, it's actually not all that small.  And, win-win, we're more than pleased with the increased size of the game room:

Second, there was also a construction consideration in this decision  -  the original larger porch on the second story meant that part of the screened porch would be over inside living space on the first floor.  Although we had planned to use state of the art impermeable membranes on the second story porch, we were told over and over by a variety of experts that, eventually (maybe a decade down the road) we'd have water problems in the lower level living space with an outdoor porch above it.  Since the plan is for Glenlochan to be our home for our golden years, it wasn't likely that this would be someone else's problem down the road, but, in fact, would be our problem to deal with in the future.  We realize that we cannot plan for every eventuality, but I'm all in favor of avoiding problems that can be avoided, even when they promise to be far into the future.  Hence the second reason for our decision to sacrifice the size of the second story porch  - to avoid water problems down below in the future.

But, this decision did not negate the need for an impermeable membrane on the second story porch floor, to keep water out of the first story porch.  Enter Duradek ( ).  According to the Duradek website, Duradek is a vinyl roof and walking deck membrane.  To us, it's the new floor on our second story porch, and it's a pretty cool exterior floor.  We selected a lovely gray color - Aspen Ultra Heritage - and it should last for our lifetimes.  Here's a few shots of the Duradek install:

 And, the finished product (with cardboard sitting on top blocking part of the view):

With the Duradeck install complete, the columns on the back porches were able to be installed.  Don't get me going about the price of columns, wow - they can be real budget busters and who knew that square columns are actually MUCH more costly than round ones (which will soon be installed on the front porch):

As you can see, the back porches are really taking shape.  The second story porch will also be getting hand rails installed and both will have full screens added towards the end of the project.  You'll notice I didn't mention the floor materials for the first floor screened porch.  We are still researching that since we have a lot more flexibility in material choice, and Ipe (pronounced EE-pay) is in the lead at the moment.  Ipe is, according to some, the finest quality wood available. Hmm...more to the point, ipe is an exotic hardwood that is naturally resistant to rot and decay, is 8 times harder than California Redwood, and is guaranteed for at least 20 years without preservatives.  You can see the attraction.  It's also particularly resistant to salt water damage (hence it's popularity on waterfront properties) and it looks utterly beautiful.  We'll let you know the final decision...and if you have a suggestion for a better floor for our first floor back porch than Ipe, please let us know!


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jacuzzi Dreaming

Now we are getting to the good part - picking out and buying cool items for the house that will be installed in the near future.  Up first, bathtubs!  We are re-purposing one clawfoot tub that was original to the house - more on that soon -  and we needed two new ones - one jetted tub for the master bath and one regular tub for the guest bath.  Several trips to the store and a lot of on-line research later and we selected the jetted tub we wanted - a Jacuzzi corner tub.

Generally, I'm not a fan of retail shopping these days - although I can spend hours at garage sales and thrift stores, I really dread heading to a retail store. Everyone else can have the malls - give me a great website, and I'm happy to avoid the crowds, lines, and general irritation of in-person retail shopping. My new favorite on-line store?  It's an on-line superstore for almost anything related to building and home improvement.  Rob found this site while researching and the timing couldn't have been more perfect.  The prices are, in many cases, the lowest available.  I was a bit leery of purchasing a large item like a Jacuzzi with a large pricetag online - so many things could go wrong and if it had to be shipped back, I could only imagine what horrible red tape would be involved.  However, one phone call to the customer service center and I was completely comfortable placing the order and the price was unbeatable.  The customer service was, hands down, some of the best ever (thanks, Joel) and the person who helps you initially becomes your contact forever - s/he provides his/her direct email address for follow-up questions (and I had some AND he answered... promptly!).  The price was too good to pass up - low to begin with, a sale on top of that, and free shipping - and the customer support was incredible.  I would definitely buy from the site again and I already have some future Glenlochan purchases earmarked.

The Jacuzzi arrived a short 2 weeks after placing the order:

Rob quickly had the frame built for the tub:

Now we have to select and purchase the tile so Rob can tile the top of the frame and get the tub set.  At the same time, Rob was working on a few other bathrooms items.  The other new tub for the guest bath also arrived:

And. Rob's been getting the shower beds ready in the two bathrooms that will have separate stand-up showers:

We've also selected the tub and shower hardware and toilets for the bathrooms.  It's pretty unbelievable how much one could spend on a toilet - not a fancy one with bells, whistles, heated seat, nope, just your normal everyday toilet that does nothing more than flush.  Needless to say, we did not go with top of the line toilets, but the ones we selected will still be a huge improvement over the cold hard, and did I say, gross, seat of the porto-o-potty currently servicing the project!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Roughly Plumbed

I've always wondered why the initial laying of the pipes and other necessary plumbing throughout the house is called the "rough plumbing".  Far from rough, it's actually a pretty exacting process that lays out and attaches all of the pipes that will bring clean water to all sinks, tubs, showers, toilets and appliances throughout the house, and connects all of the soil and other pipes that will remove waste and used water from the home to the town sewer lines.  The rough plumbing is now largely done at Glenlochan and even to my untutored eye it looks.....well......okay, I cannot say it looks fantastic.  Although I'm quite sure that it is a superb plumbing install, quite honestly, it looks just like a bunch of pipes in between the studs throughout the house.  But, because the plumbing is the first of the mechanicals to be installed on the project, it is very energizing in concept even if it's not exciting visually. Here's a few shots of our pipes:


Soil pipes!


 As I said, not very visually exciting, but beautiful to us.  Can you tell we're proud of our pipes?