Monday, July 25, 2016

Beyond remediation

For the past month and a bit since we started with our new builder Michanie, most of the work has revolved around    remediation. A lot of very expensive remediation. Our neighbor is a general contractor and used to come by on a regular basis and tell us in a kind of gloating bravado what a crappy job was being done, and how this and that needed to be ripped out and done all over again. We aren't particularly eager to hear his opinion most of the time, but he's not shy on offering it anyway. But since the new builder started he's only been by a couple of times. He seems a little sheepish even. The latest time he came over was to actually pay a compliment, which I don't think I've ever heard him do before. He ended by saying "that's what I would've done too".

Anyway all that to say that we are basically done with all the major remediation work and now moving on towards making some actual progress on the house. There are still issues cropping up here and there but they have mostly to do with design problems. Things like the location of light switches weren't specified on the plans, for example, and in some areas there wasn't adequate space on the walls for them. So we had to make all kinds of on site adjustments including removing a pocket door, reducing the width of door openings, and altering walls in order just to get light switches in the places we needed them. But moving a light switch isn't the end of the world, and Michanie has been great at fixing issues as they come up - as issues always do. 

We're not as far along as we'd hoped to be by now but we're also not that far off schedule as far as I can tell. We can see stuff happening daily and that's encouraging. Here are some pictures toshow what's  been going on lately. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Hanging Garden

When we made the plans for our "modest second story addition" it had two bedrooms, a small study area and two bathrooms upstairs. It was a simple pop-the-top and build straight up sort of idea. But there was one problem. The Japanese-style bathroom was only accessible via the master bedroom. Now, I know it's all the rage the have sprawling master bedrooms with large ensuite baths. But a Japanese bath is a family thing. You wash yourself thoroughly before getting into the tub to relax. Because the tub stays clean, the whole family can use it without having to drain and run the water between each person. Which is good because Japanese baths are usually very deep. Now, it might seem a little odd to westerners but it is really no different than using a jacuzzi. And when you have little kids they may go with mom or dad to have a bath. In Japan when you go to a hot springs resort, you have to wash yourself thoroughly with soap and hot water before you go into the hot springs. The men's and women's baths are separated, so you just go in, wash and bathe with a small towel. When you get in the hot pool you leave the towel out of the water, sometimes by folding it and putting it on your head. And when you get out you might just hold the towel in front of you for modesty. If you're modest. 

Anyway, there's a whole bathing culture in Japan that's a far cry from running a hot bath and jumping in to stew in your own grease. And having the Japanese bath be accessible to the entire household was important. So this meant the design needed to be tweaked.

What we thought would involve relocating a doorway proved to be exceedingly difficult since we were working with a very small house to begin with. The architect tried dozens of ideas but eventually resolved that the program couldn't be completed without introducing an overhang, where the second story is slightly bigger than the first. So that is how the overhang came to be.

Now with the overhang, we had an odd unused space beside the stairs where they came up from the main floor to the second floor. What to do with this space? The architect decided to make it a small indoor garden. In Japan this is called a tsuboniwa, and they're common in the old merchant houses of Kyoto. So that sounded really great.

The only problem is this garden was positioned sort of halfway up between the first and second stories, on the level of the stair landing, so the floor and walls of the garden would have to be supported from below by either the carport structure or some funky internal steel structure. 

When it turned out - much to my frustration - that the carport had been designed without regard for the city bylaws on setbacks, it became necessary to go the route of the internal steel structure, and hope to be granted a minor variance to build the carport later. 

So we hired the engineer to redo all the floor structural design and specify the required steel. The builder then installed the steel beams, but here's the trouble: he didn't install the steel parts on the ends of those beams to support the garden. There were just these two big steel beams serving no purpose whatsoever. What the engineer specified was simply ignored. 

Those red steel beams were supposed to have drop-down steel "hangers" welded onto the ends to hold up the garden. Instead the garden was built with nothing holding up the floor, wall and roof above.

When our builder walked off the job, he left us with these serious structural issues and more. The carport had to be phased out due to cost, and both the engineer and architect strongly recommended opening the walls to add the requires steel supports instead.

Now, at the end of the day I'm not convinced that opening the walls and welding in steel posts and saddles was going to be all that much cheaper than building on the carport, but everybody including the new builder said it would save a bunch, so we went with it. We can add the carport later and it'll be a "belt and suspenders" approach to the garden. 

With all that backstory out of the way, the new builder was hard at it this week to complete all the structural deficiency work. Although they're awaiting some soil tests and a bit of strapping material, the end of fixing the structural issues is in sight. In the past week they completed the structural remediation for the hanging garden, a major part of the work. It was quite amazing to see this happen in the space of two or three days. 

The beam that supports the outside wall had to be dropped below the existing garden floor to avoid ripping the existing garden floor and interior drywall, so the bottom of the garden now sticks down about a foot lower than before, but I think that's ok. A major issue now finally solved and sorted out. We're one step closer to getting our home and our lives back!

And while the exterior structural work was happening, a tiler has been busy at work on the inside, and what a difference it makes to see the tile going on. It seems that he's done a very good job particularly with the difficult areas around sills and ledges. Our new builder also went the extra mile to level the ceiling above the bath, which the old builder had done such a bad job of that it drooped down about an inch in one of the corners. When you install tiles, nice and square, with straight grout lines, and crookedness in the walls and ceiling really stand out. So the new builder, without even being asked, simply cut out the drywall and leveled the area.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Time for an update. After running around in May looking for a new builder and feeling like the world was coming to an end, in June we began to see things start to happen. We've had a crew on site every day from 7am with the site supervisor continuously present and directing the work. Unfortunately all the work has been about fixing stuff that was done badly or just plain skipped, so the bank financing won't pay for that. They expected it to be done right the first time. We've spent tens of thousands of dollars just on correcting deficiencies, and it's all coming out of our own pockets, which needless to say is a... huge bummer.

But today in addition to a bunch of structural repair work underway to repair the deficiencies left by the previous builder, I saw some things that actually count as "progress" towards completing the house. It's not a lot, but the kitchen cabinets were pulled out, the floor leveled (it was full of bumps and lumps and the tiler refused to tile over it) and the tiles installed.  So here's that:

Because they had to put more self leveling cement down to cover the crap work from before, the tile sit slightly higher than the hardwood, but they out a thin metal transition piece down and hey, lots of houses have worse so it is what it is. We can live with it.

Also prep work in the bathroom areas getting ready for tiling. There's a waterproof epoxy coating they've put on the walls.

This particular wall actually had to be redone three times by the old builder because they kept messing it up. With the new builder you look at their work and it just looks way more professional, which you can see in the previous post too.

One of the basement support posts that had been skipped by old builder. He did remember to charge us for it, but forgot to actually build it, like the carport.

Trying to properly fix the damage caused by the old builder reefing on the corner support post and breaking the wall.

And we can get in the door now... Not the final latch set, but it works.

And some of the pot lights are in now. They're cool lights. They're super thin, like only 1/2" thick. LED.
The basement patio door is in.
And they are getting ready for stucco.

The Top of the Slope

After a year-long hiatus I've been wanting to get back to this blog because a lot has happened in the meantime, and a lot of interesting...