Thursday, December 31, 2009

Low voltage

Our electrician continues to drag while providing every excuse in the book. Here's a picture of some recessed lights he hung last Monday - he hasn't been back since then. He also hasn't done any of the big things such as set our meter outside or run the main line of power to the boxes. I can't stand him - I think today is his last chance to show up for work!
In the meantime we hired a security system installer (to start next week) and an interesting pair to do our low voltage work: Helen works full-time for Pepco and Gill works full-time for Verizon, and they, along with an assistant, ran a ton of wire yesterday for phone, internet & cable. Helen is also going to help me & Eric run our own CAT5 and speaker wire once we figure our what sound system to get - Eric is obsessed with being able to control it from his iphone. Here is a picture of the low voltage box near an outlet. It's important that low voltage wires are at least 6" apart from high voltage ones or there could be interference - see how the low voltage ones are coming from above into the box and the high voltage ones are coming from below?

Also, here's a picture of the distribution panel where all of the CAT5 comes into and out of. Our speakers will run through these panels too.
It still looks like there's a lot to do, but plumbing and mechanical are both done and passed close-in inspection. After electric & low voltage, we will need to insulate and then it's time for drywall!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Circus of subcontractors

I've been delinquent in posting but we're making a lot of progress. The largest challenge has been dealing with our circus of unsophisticated, irrational contractors. For the longest time our plumber was MIA and slow but he is a truly honest guy and now he's coming through for us. Then recently our HVAC contractor tried to guilt us into paying him before he was done by bringing up a "trust" issue, which we've heard before and makes us furious. Now, our electrician who's hard up for cash just hit us with a completely bogus $1,300 change order and since we said 'no' has not returned to work. It's just never easy!

The picture here is of Joshua, our plumber from Nigeria, testing the drain pipes today for leaks. He's going to use air to test the supply pipes since it's getting cold now, we definitely don't want water that could freeze in there.
The faucet also shown here caused a lot of headache. Unfortunatley the hardware on this one didn't match the install manual , our experienced plumber was totally confused, and communication with the UK manufacturer was non-existant, but finally Eric realized he could just hook a hose up to it and figure out where the water came out, so now we are good to go. We have a shower head on both sides of the tub so we each have our own... awesome!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stair details

We're planning to install white oak hardwood flooring with an ebony stain throughout the house with a special plan for the stairs, to wrap them in reclaimed wood from the attic joists. The experts tell us it's yellow pine and due to its age it's very dense with a lot of variation in color and grain. I'd like to stain it to draw out the contrast in the colors so that it matches the ebony floors but also stands out as a special feature of the house. Here's a picture of the wood in its original state and then another after it's run through a planer. Eric found a place in Baltimore that will plane all of the wood down for a few $100.

Our stairs will also be unconventional in that they won't have a lip on each step that extends over the riser and instead be more like an angled sawtooth. Eric got around the code requirement by making the steps extra wide.

There's a chill in the air.

Long underwear and a beard are Eric's secrets to staying warm this winter!


Eric has been borrowing his new friend James' truck for home depot and dump runs lately. He says its a stick shift with no leg room, radio or power steering, but it gets the job done. And its got some sweet green winshield wipers. Eric says he sings his favorite Mexican songs while driving it around. Thanks James!

Heroes of the day

Our cast iron tubs were delivered on Wednesday in the rain and they were so heavy that Eric could not get them into the house alone. He tried to locate a dolly but could fine one big enough so they sat in the steet in the rain a while longer until Jerome (a former colleague) & Oliver (our neighbor across the street) helped get them inside. Thank guys!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Medicine cabinets

Though Eric fell in love with the medicine cabinet with a built-in refrigerator, handy for drinks of cold water in the night, we opted for more economical ones. We're excited about how big they are and how nice they will look recessed in our white glass mosaic tile wall!


The house is bustling with activity these days! The plumber, HVAC installer and electrician are all on site at once for the next couple of weeks. Washington Gas also came out on Wednesday and moved our gas line from the center of the yard to the side (more for aesthetics than anything). This was actually a simple task but apparently no one digs by hand anymore so they brought all of this heavy machinery to do the job. The plan is to be able to get a close-in inspection in about 2.5 more weeks. Then it's time for drywall and finishes!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Done with DCRA

I spent 3.5 hours at DCRA today doing what should have taken 30 minutes, so the sign pictured here which is located in the Treasurer's office (where you pay for your permit) is very appropriate, I think. I arrived at 8:15 because they open at 8:30, only to learn that Thursdays are different and they open at 9:30 on Thursdays. Wow, wouldn't it be nice to have an extra hour of sleep every Thursday... Then when I get in at 9:30 everyone's talking about a fire drill that's going to happen at 10am. So, at 9:45 someone said to me, "now, we're just getting ready for the fire drill" as a reason not to do any work on my permit. I also heard from a DC employee, "you have to think of [the fire drill] from our perspective, it's a break!" A break from doing nothing? The fire drill took about 45 minutes and then all DC employees had to come back into the building before any visitors could. I finally got out of there at 11:45 and proudly hung our last and hopefully final revised permit in the window at 2300!
The plumber has turned out to be very unreliable and has a lot of work yet to do. The HVAC installation started today and will supposedly be done in 3 days. And electric starts on Monday. Yay, everything's moving forward. I also keep ordering samples and light fixtures, and getting closer to tile decisions... more on that soon!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Liens, O my!

Unfortunately I had to learn about liens this week when our framing contractor sent us a draft notice of one on Monday morning. I think this is the cheapest threat available to a contractor get someone to pay. I told him we'd be happy to pay once he finished the work, i.e. caulking & sealing the windows. I talked to our bank about the situation because I don't want this to impact future draws requests on our construction loan (they update title with each one) and they are not worried about it because it's such a small amount ($1,900) and we can easily get around it by "bonding it off" or putting $1,900 in escrow to protect the bank in case we lose the case when/if the contractor chooses to enforce the lien (which in DC has to happen within 180 days if filing it otherwise it goes away). The whole situation is stupid because it's such a small amount of money and it's not worth anyone's time or money to fight about it, but the lien just makes me angry and I'm prepared to play hard ball if necessary.

Framing photos!

Sorry the blog has been a little dry lately. Eric has been taking gorgeous pictures but not finding the time to send them to me. I got a bunch of them from him last night so enjoy! This week Eric is focused on determining what's necessary for a 1-hour fire-rated ceiling in between the basement and upper units. Once he's satisfied, we can make any final tweaks to the electrical and HVAC contracts and sign these guys up. HVAC is already scheduled to start on 10/19. You can also see the start of plumbing in a lot of these.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nothing's Easy

Framing is complete and we're really happy with John's work, except for his interpretation of "window installation" in his contract. He takes it to mean setting windows in the holes and we take it to include caulking and sealing. I was hoping we could caulk all weekend ourselves and get it done but Eric is seeking the perfect color match in all of the world and it may take a few days to come in. We've got $2,400 held back from his contract due Monday, and I'm not inclined to pay it just to be nice. I think our contract interpretation is fair and money doesn't grow on trees. I'd like to compromise at 1/2 or something but he told me directly today that there is no room to compromise for anything other than a 100% payment of our balance. Needless to say, he's really mad at me. Nothing's easy!

The picture here shows the shoddy stairs that were replaced this week. Also plumbing is moving forward and we just about signed up the electrician this week until he sent us an insurance certificate in someone else's name. Scary that he's been an electrician for 30 years and working illegitimately under someone else's coverage... this industry is ridiculous.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bernard Wood behind bars

Eric called me at work last Friday pumped with adrenaline and out of breath, saying "I caught him" over and over again. He was speaking so fast and out of breath that is sounded like he was saying "I cut him" and I had to clarify a few times what he was saying... so glad that wasn't the case. Anyway, Eric was sitting on the steps inside our house with the door open and saw the housebreaker walk right in front of our house! Immediately Eric was on his feet, on the phone with 911 and in pursuit. He succeded in getting the cops to swarm in and arrest who we now know to be Bernard Wood, a perpetual Adams Morgan criminal. We also found out that he was on parole (shocker!) and due to go in for his GPS ankle bracelet on the same day! Eric has been told that there are many counts against him and they're trying to put him in jail for 5 years. Eric was the hero of the block all weekend and has since been subpoenaed to testify in court.

The story continues to unfold as we found the blog of some neighbors on Wyoming St. ( who suffered a worse break-in than ours, inexcusable police incompetence, and weeks in pursuit of this guy!

Now we can move on to house progress... Eric has finalized the stairs, hot water heater selection, and has started the process of revising our permits for 2 separately metered units. We've still got $2,000 held back from John's final payment since there's 1 window left to install, a few punchlist items, the stair hasn't been framed (and he's thinking of every excuse in the world not to do this) and the caulking & sealing of the windows is still a point of disagreement. We're having a conference call with him tomorrow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

So much for good samaritans

Eric found a bike stashed in our light well yesterday, covered by some lumber. There's a huge black market for stolen bikes in DC and Eric noticed that this one had a CityBikes tag on it, so he walked it up to CityBikes, the neighborhood bike store. The manager told him that they knew whose it was and that it was stolen 3 days ago, so he felt good to have helped in getting it back to its rightful owner. However, then the crazy crack head who stole it came back looking for his bike, screaming "where's my MF'ing bike?" over and over and proceeded to kick in our $1,500 french door that was just installed last week, and kicked in easily because the strike plate had not been installed yet. Eric took his picture, called the police, and chased him around the neighborhood until he threatened to stab Eric with a screwdriver, at which point Eric retreated. It's not clear yet whether the door can be repaired or needs to be replaced. So unnecessary...

Monday, September 14, 2009


In order to make the front door fit in its masonry hole, we actually need to move the wood lentil, not ideal but better than ordering a new $1000 door. In order to make the patio door fit, we are setting it into the kitchen by a couple of inches, instead of directly into its hole (note the transom is not in on this picture hence the gap). It looks fine with the window above above and accentuates our thick walls not found in the burbs (as Eric says). John's crew completed a lot of their punchlist items today but John is still insistent that he doesn't owe us for sealing up the windows & doors from the outside. This is totally bizarre and annoying and may cost him a contract on the finish work. We also had all of the trash removed today, the Jiffy John cleaned, and tomorrow we're picking out recessed lights at 8am and Eric has a meeting with a stair fabricator. We're on a roll!


Last Thursday was a crisis day for Eric and he ended up bailing on our trip to LA for my company's annual beach party (I went anyway). The stairs were not working out right, the doors seemed too large for their masonry holes, Home depot made the emergency escape window in the basement wrong, and the contractor informed us that he was only setting our windows, not weatherizing them from the outside, despite the fact that the contract says "install." Everything is going better now and we don't have any more trips planned, except for a couple East Coast weddings this fall, so we're going to try to push through and finish this thing by end of year!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Window day!

The windows went in on the 2nd floor today! As planned, the aluminum cladding looks great with the custom blue paint I made at Duron. The silver finish will actually be a bit brighter after Eric removes the film on them - how he is going to do this on the 2nd floor, I am not sure, but this is what he tells me. Framing is moving full steam ahead. The plumber will be back for rough-ins next week and we're pushing to get HVAC signed and find a decent electrician ASAP.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Backyard amenity

I wanted to show you all what $4,000 of lumber looks like and introduce you all to our new backyard amenity, the port-a-john. If you're in Adams Morgan during the day and need to go, feel free to stop by. Otherwise we will be locking it at night. It will be here for 30 days!

Basement framing

John's crew is super fast. They've already installed the front door in the basement (a big milestone) and accomplished a lot in terms of the bathroom, kitchen, and floor joist repairs as well! We're leaving for Andrea & Tom's wedding in Vegas tomorrow so hopefully everything will continue to go well in our absence!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Basement bath finishes

So, we have it. The basement finishes have been selected. The floor is Parkland Arcadia (dark gray porcelain) tile, the tub surround is Daltile Fabrique Linen Blanc (linen-look white-gray striped porcelain) tile, there's a stripe in the shower that also runs out into the room of these long skinny glass blue gray tiles (from Ebay, yay), 1 wall of circle wallpaper, and the rest of the walls will be Loft, a Ralph Lauren gray paint. Awesome... but still so many finishes left to choose!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Autocad Bliss

Eric has been drafting and drawing and meeting with probably 20+ contractors and the idiot utility providers for the past 6-7 weeks. Today we signed a contract with John Moody of Thomas Archer Construction to fix the floors, finish off the interior framing and install windows & doors, all of which he thinks he can accomplish in 10-15 days. His attention to detail is great and I can see us hiring him to do the finish work as well.

Eric is drawing elevations for John of every room from the vantage point of each of the 4 walls (i.e., lots of drawings). It's so cool to be able to plan out every cut of every tile, something I never would have thought of.

We already have a plumber, are close to a contract with an HVAC guy, and have a few electricians bidding on the scope now, so I think things will really start to move. I'm still hoping for a December 2009 move-in!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Trash and next steps

This is a great aerial photo of all of the shit in the backyard, and just one of the not-too-many punchlist items Stanley's crew needs to complete before we make our final masonry & concrete payment. The concrete truck maneuvered into the alley too because we poured a concrete walkway outside of the light well. Next steps? Eric is about done framing the attic. We're considering hiring someone to do the floor & wall framing because Eric needs to focus on coordinating the separate metering & subs for a while. We're going to Chicago for a long weekend starting Thursday (more jetblue free flights), for some relaxation and inspiration!

Concrete Montage

The pics tell the story better than I can but this was an exciting day!! In the first photo you can see the concrete truck blocking 1 lane of Ontario Rd. during rush hour. The second photo shows the layers of plastic, insulation and wire mesh that will go below the slab. There's gravel and plumbing further below that. The black plastic wrapping the back bedroom area is called drainboard. Any water that was able to penetrate the exterior and interior waterproofing on the brick wall, would be captured in the drainboard & run into the french drain below. Photo #3 shows the first bit of concrete being smoothed around the back bedroom area (the sump pump is on the right). The aerial photo is made possible by the fact that we don't have a floor above yet! The rest are just progress photos as the slab got poured & smoothed all day. Note that there are 2 more windows in the back bedroom area that are not visible from this angle.

Roof framing almost done

After lots of research & coordination on Eric's part, we were able to replace the main roof beam last week, with the help of Eric's friend, Noah. This was a big milestone! It's girth is probably 4x that of the old twisty wood beam that it replaces. It consists of 3-9" LVLs bolted together every 24" as prescribed by our structural engineer. There's also flashing in the pockets so that it doesn't rest directly on the brick. This allowed us to remove the floor jacks throughout the house and prepare for pouring the basement slab (which happened today - pics to come).

Since last weekend, Eric has sistered all of the roof rafters with new ones to strengthen them (thanks Rob for the nail gun!), and I will definitely sleep better at night knowing the roof is less likely to collapse in on us. Yesterday Eric worked on the rafters while I reset some of the weak brick and nailers around the windows in the front bedroom. It's amazing how weak everything is, but more so than age, I think a lot of the problem comes from lack of maintenance over the past 101 years.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Old school vs. New school

Eric and his friends Cleve & Todd worked on installing the replacement roof beam yesterday, although it's not quite done. The 100-year old wood is being replaced with 3 of these LVLs. Check out the difference in grain. The work has physically been challenging for Eric lately, with a few days of back pain, so I'm trying to convince him to take it easy.

Long week!

It's been a busy week with no time to post, so I have much to report. The front steps were poured on Tuesday and have dried, so here's the latest & greatest photo of the front. The stone cap on the retaining wall will be installed on Monday and maybe I will paint the columns this weekend!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shiny New Gutters

Eric was very excited today that a gutter and downspout were installed on the back of the house. It was custom-painted, by Eric, to be shiny metallic, which will look great with our silver windows. This should really help with all of the water we've been getting in the basement. Stanley's also doing some pretty intensive waterproofing this week and the plumber is installing a sump pump, so our basement will be well-protected from water (unlike the one next door at the house that Eric rents!).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

LVL delay

The roof beam replacement is causing a bit of a delay. Eric has an engineer working on the appropriate sized/configured Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL)s, which are apparently stronger than wood. The split beam was removed last week so the roof is being propped up with floor jacks on every floor down to the basement, which is now holding up pouring of the slab. This is not a big deal, as the beam needs to be replaced correctly. Alternatively, we could just take the roof off build up from here, but I think that would be too much of a stretch for us financially right now...

You wonder why Eric doesn't post? That's because every other word would be F$%#. F*&% this, F#$& that, etc. Construction is a trying job. Have you seen Lost in Translation? Eric equates it to that, but without Bill Murray...

Friday, June 12, 2009

One step closer to a new slab

Today Stanley's crew laid a french drain in the basement and began putting down the gravel layer in the, in preparation for pouring the slab soon!


Eric was enlarging a joist pockets on Wednesday below the main roof beam and suddenly it partially split and caused some bricks to shift. Jose immediately helped Eric to brace it with several metal floor jacks. Everything is ok but it really rattled Eric - Jose says he turned white. Eric stayed up all night determining a way to replace the beam, got Tony's sign-off Thursday morning. Eric and Jose also went to Home Depot to buy the wood yesterday and I think they plan to replace it today. I'm glad I paired Eric up with Jose. He is so nice, trustworthy, and has a perfectly round head. He's done great work on my Lamont St. house.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wall Status

The retaining wall has made awesome progress in between thunderstorms. Today the crew worked on the short retaining wall adjacent to the sidewalk using the same block as the larger retaining walls. I also think we've settled on using a stone cap on the retaining walls (pictured here). They are much better than the 4" concrete ones intended to go with the blocks and add a natural feel to the yard. I can't wait to do some landscaping but Eric says we have to leave the yard all opened up for a few more weeks until Pepco and Washington Gas come in and move the lines, do the separate metering, etc. Also Stanley won't be pouring the stairs until he's ready to pour all of the concrete at once, which includes the basement slab, light well exit, and various landings. You will also notice that the new brick column to the left is slightly mis-aligned with the one above it - we're going to get them to fix this.

Mr. Ass

Any wrestling fans out there? "Benny" sports this T-shirt frequently on the job site. So funny!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Retaining walls nearing completion

This picture is from today. Eric then augmented it by noting where an additional course of block is needed and where our planters will be. I'm leaving work soon to go check out stone samples to cap the wall and also look for modern planters. I like the idea of aluminum but no rust is allowed. The brick column will be painted to match the color of the house (blue/gray) and we intend to finish the rough edge of the concrete porch by bolting a metal panel to it.

Eric and I spent Saturday doing manual labor upstairs. We used a Home Depot gift card from my aunts Donna & Candace to buy a 2nd hammer drill so we could both work on enlarging the joist pockets on the 2nd floor. Basically the original joists were only sized to support a ceiling below. We need to install larger ones to support a future 3rd floor! The work was hard for me but I got a few done. Tomorrow my handyman, Jose, who did all of the work on my Lamont St. house is stopping by see what Eric needs in the framing department and hook him up with some laborers.