Thursday, May 31, 2007

Stucco and concrete

Lots of progress today. The stucco guys were here and finished up stucco'ing two entire walls of the house. The back of the house, and the south side of the house (adjacent to the garage). This encompassed both the new part of the house and the old, so that the texturing would match. I really prefer smooth (untextured) stucco, but it would have looked dorky to do the new part in smooth while the rest of the house was textured. So the compromise was we did one half of the house. The front half is still textured, as is the north wall, but you will never see the textured and the untextured parts together. I think the stucco is now done, because they took the coverings off the windows.

They also poured the concrete for our front porch, so I feel pretty certain that the tiling is also about to start!

I put together a rough schedule for the remainder of the project (since we really haven't had a schedule since the beginning). I think we might be able to finish by end of July, but it will be tight. If we can finish all the finish work in the next month, then we could potentially convince the city to turn on our hot water prior to finishing the kitchen, since the kitchen wasn't part of the original permit.

Which paint color would you choose? Vote early and often! (We've actually already chosen a color, one of the five you see in the picture. But let us know what you think; who knows, we might change our minds!)

More pics for today can be found at Kurt's site -- I'm just too pooped to post any more.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Our new digs

We spent the rest of the weekend unpacking and getting our house more livable. Kurt's got his office/music room, and I am hanging out in the master bedroom. No TV, no desk (yet, but I am getting one from Craigslist), but we got clothes and lots of 'em. The bathrooms have been cleared away, and we're using the second one as our temporary kitchen. Well, part of our temporary kitchen, the rest is in the garage where the fridge and microwave are.

The house is pretty livable, really. We have to be out of the house early every day this week to miss the contractors, so we don't get in their way. The drywallers will be here this week finishing up with the mudding. Kurt's put up some more pics on his Picasaweb site. I hope that they'll start on the flooring some time soon!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Home sweet (and stinky) home!

We're home!!!! Well, we're living in two rooms of our house, but even so, we're home. I am surprised at how happy I am to be home, given that our house isn't finished yet. There's just something about sleeping in your own bed in your own house that can't be beat. I don't really have anywhere to work other than my bed, since there is no desk in the bedroom here. But even so, it's nice. I'm typing this blog entry looking out at our view, listening to Elvis Costello, and enjoying a nice breeze. What could be better?

I spent much of the day moving all the stuff we moved out of the scraper into our new cabinets in the garage. I haven't finished yet, but I made a pretty good dent in it. Tomorrow I'll get the garage back into shape so the contractors won't have difficulty moving around in the garage.

We're only here until next weekend, when we move into another rental, but I'm going to enjoy it while I am here.

We no longer own a TV having given both our TVs away. However, we do have TiVo, and TiVo to Go, so I should be able to watch TV on my laptop. That's the plan, because I don't want to buy a new TV for just a week. When we move back into the house for real, we'll buy our ultimate hang-on-the-wall flat-panel TV. By then technology will have advanced and prices will be cheaper, so it makes sense to wait as late as possible to buy the equipment.

Movin' out!

We are finally all moved out of the scraper, may it rest in peace. We worked all day yesterday cleaning out room after room. The movers (Oasis Movers in SF... highly recommended) came yesterday at 8:30 pronto. By 10:30, they had loaded what's left of our furniture, including the 200 lb TV, and unloaded everything (but the TV into the garage), and then transported the TV over to our friend Phil's house, where we deposited into his living room. (We had determined that the TV was never again to move back into our house.) So basically, two hours to move our stuff to two locations, not bad!

We spent the rest of the day unpacking bags/boxes from the scraper into our beautiful newly installed garage cabinets (the remnants of our old kitchen cabinets). The contractors had cleaned out the garage on Friday, swept it up very nicely, and the old white kitchen cabinets are all installed, giving us lots of nice out-of-the way storage space for supplies and other stuff. We set our microwave up on one of the shelves, and everything is ready for our arrival.

We also got internet working in our house. The DSL had been moved over a week ago, but we didn't have power to turn the router on. Now the 2nd bedroom is set up as an office, and the DSL is hooked up. We gave Kurt's folks our wireless router so they'd have wireless, and we have to go hook up new wireless today.

While Kurt was showing the house to Phil yesterday, I finished packing up every last little bit in the scraper. I'm completely and totally beat today. It was a tremendous amount of work, way more work than I thought it would be. Kurt went back to the scraper last night to move the remainder of the things to the scraper. Now we're both beat.

So, the plan is, we'll live at home for the next week (with the two rooms we're living in powered on), and then next weekend we'll move to a new temporary rental, very near where I work, for the month of June. Come July, hopefully all the really stinky stuff will be done and we can move back in for good.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Taping and stucco

Lots of progress today. The drywallers came and taped all the seams in the drywall. The stucco guys came and put the first cut of stucco on the outside. So things are moving right along! Apparently the drywalling will take place in phases. They have to put the mud (or whatever you call it) all over the drywall, let it dry, do it again. It's almost like a thin coat of plaster on the drywall. They also need to retexture the master bedroom shear wall; but since we had chintzed out on the master bedroom and gone with a light skip texturing, it won't be as much work to get that in shape. They've also fixed the hole in the master bathroom ceiling. It's a good thing that we saved all the master bedroom paints, because one of the walls is green and would have been hard to match.

Over the weekend I got nine samples of paint and painted the outside wall in an attempt to settle on an exterior paint color. I've narrowed it down to five choices, but I don't have the mental energy to make any more decisions, especially one so important as this. I'm going to let our architect have the final say. Or maybe I'll take a vote. I sure don't know. We only have one more decision -- the carpet -- and then we're DONE! I think.

Moving day is Saturday, and we'll have to have everything out of the scraper by then. It looks like the garage cabinets will be installed by then, so we should have a spot for the furniture.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Trip the fantastic

And now for the saga of the lights. As I mentioned earlier, I ordered my lights from I place the order while I was in Prague, over a Skype call, which at the time I thought was oh-so-cool and oh-so-clever. Sometimes too clever is dumb. There was one set of lights -- the office and kitchen overhead lights -- that had changed several times due to decisions about whether we were going to dim them and whether we were going to install a Lutron GrafixEye controller, which we ultimately decided to do. We had finally settled on an Artemide Ventana 18" fixture, which is a very simple glass ceiling-mounted flourescent fixture, with a Lutron dimmable ballast, which is not commonly installed in that particular fixture.

So, when I was ordering my lights, it turned out that I couldn't get them with the desired ballast. While I was in Prague, I got on the phone with the lighting salesguy at, who also got a VP from Artemide on the phone, to advise about these particular lights. The Artemide lights normally would come with a Universal ballast, but apparently those won't work with the GrafixEye switching system. What the VP advised us to do was to just order the lights with the stock ballasts (which are very inexpensive), then have the electrician rip 'em out and put in the lutron ballasts. Sounded like a good plan, so I ordered them.

Upon return home, the lights had arrived very quickly. In speaking with the electrician about it, he had received a price from his wholesale supply company for those lights which was quite a bit higher than what I'd paid. However, his guy had given him a price with the Lutron ballasts. When I explained to him what I'd been told by the Artemide guy, he had to check into it further. Much discussion ensued between him and his supply company, and between the supply company and the lighting designer/local rep. It turned out that the local Artemide rep was saying one thing "Lutron ballasts can be shipped with the lights from the factory" and the Artemide VP was saying something else "Lutron ballasts won't fit in the fixture, and have to be remoted...". At this point I was getting very confused and frustrated, and by now, the lights were no longer returnable, because the return period had passed.

So finally my architect contacted the Artemide rep, and somehow they got together with the Artemide VP, and it turned out that the VP was wrong. As a result, Artemide and Ylighting agreed to return the lights, and to sell me the lights with the correct ballast! So all's well that ends well. The pricing I got was still substantially cheaper than the price my electrician got (probably about $1000 less in total), and at this point, every little bit helps.

The moral is: wait until you have agreement on specs from everyone involved before placing that order. I should have waited until I had a chance to talk with my electrician before ordering those particular lights (kind of like we did with the Smedmarks). Live and learn!

I also have to make a plug for They have been fantastic through the whole process. The salesguy I have been working with has been really helpful, and has helped make sure that I am happy (just like you'd want any business to do). And ultimately they were able to fix the problem. Their prices are the best I've been able to find, and the lights have arrived very quickly. So I'm quite content!

The walls are all up -- it's starting to look like a house!

The drywall is complete. All the walls are up and ready to be taped and textured. The house is very very white, and quite echoey. But it's starting to look like a house again!

Once the garage wall has been taped, the contractor will be able to install the cabinets in the garage. Not a moment too soon, as the movers are coming on the 26th to move the furniture back to the garage. In the meantime, we've moved a bunch of stuff to my in-laws' garage, which really helps so we don't have to cram everything in.

This weekend we'll be moving more stuff, all the dribs and drabs. We have to finish cleaning out our two-bedroom living area, should we wind up living there. We have been moving things over to the folks' house all week, a little bit at a time, so hopefully we are almost there. We also have to return a couple of our lights (more on that in another post), which will temporarily free up some space. Tomorrow we'll move the remaining things from the scraper to the home. It's exhausting just thinking about it. I knew it was going to be a bad month, and it has been; I'll be happy when June arrives!

The next two months... plans C, D, E

As mentioned earlier, the city refused to turn on our gas so that we could have hot water when we moved back to the house. Plan B was to rent our next-door-neighbor's downstairs so we could have hot showers, but one of their daughter's is coming back for the summer and would like to have the downstairs, and we really don't want to put them out.

Plan C was to put in an electric tankless water heater. This would have been sooooo nice, killing two birds with one stone: giving us more hot water in our master bathroom so that both of us could shower at the same time without running out of hot water, and allowing us to have hot water during the time we have no gas. However, it requires 220v service, and we don't have that in the place it would be necessary. Since the drywall is now up, it's too late to fish new wires downstairs. (How ironic, isn't it?) So onto plan D. We're going to try to get a tankless gas heater installed instead of upgrading our water heater, as I think that will solve our long-term hot water problems in a better way than making our existing heater bigger.

Plan D is portable propane camp shower. Solar showers don't work, because Kurt likes to shower in the morning, and the water wouldn't be hot by then. But portable propane-driven camp showers could work. So we're investigating using them.

Plan E is to rent a short-term furnished place nearby. I have a line on a couple of places, but nothing concrete yet. It turns out that it's much more difficult to rent if you have a dog, even a cute little 12.5 lb border terrier. Some people consider her some sort of animated toy, but others still think she's a dog. So it just depends.

Plan F, which I hope we don't have to go to, is to shower at work.

Hopefully by the end of this weekend we will have an answer!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The walls are closing in!

The stairs were just a tasty appetizer to the main course of finish work. (No one said I was a writer!) The drywalling has begun in earnest, and in a day they were able to cover over half the house! We have to get all the "rock" up before the outside can be stuccoed, since the nailing will cause the stucco mud to fall off. So in a couple of days, the mudders will be here too.

Over the weekend we moved more stuff to our house and to the storage pods. The scraper is almost empty; this coming up weekend we'll have a few more dribs and drabs to move. Our landlord was very nice and is allowing our furniture to have a home for an extra week, since his demolition permit has been delayed. This will allow our contractor to finish putting the cabinets in the garage, which can't be done until the wall adjacent to the new office is rocked. So we can really use the extra week! We turned off all our utilities as of yesterday, so hopefully he'll be able to get the gas meter pulled soon. He promised to let us watch the demolition, since we didn't get to witness any bulldozer drama with our house.

We are now housesitting at Kurt's folks' house. It is so nice to be in a house with light, a working bathroom with decent faucets, and hot water that lasts for more than five minutes! The kitchen is close to the bedroom, so you don't have to walk a mile to get a cup of coffee as you did in the scraper. The south Palo Alto location is very convenient for me, so I can ride my bike to work. (That being said, yesterday I got a ride to work, but I did walk home!)

Over the weekend we decided to look for short-term rentals as a possible plan B of not having gas. We found a 3-bedroom place nearby that was okay with pets. It's amazing how having a dog (or smoking) cuts you out of so many places. Kurt says I should start responding to ads that say "No smoking or pets" since we don't smoke. But I suspect they really meant they don't want either.

Our current plan B is actually quite clever, I think. Hopefully the city isn't reading this blog. We are going to get an always-on electric hot water heater installed for our master bath. This kills two birds with one stone: we will truly always have hot water, which has been a problem, since the hot water doesn't last through the two of us showering; and it allows us to bypass the whole need for gas. Since it's spring we can live without heat, but we need hot water for showering. The electric always-on heaters sit between the pipes close to where the water goes. Energy wise, the usage is approximately what it would be for having a gas hot water tank; in other words, the electric tankless heater is approximately the same energy use as the solution we have now. (In the ideal world, we would put in a gas tankless heater, but we don't have gas at the moment, so electric it will be.) We had actually asked our contractor to install a larger water heater in the garage; if we have thought of this solution in time, it's possible that we don't need to do that at all, which would make this a wash cost wise, since it will probably be about the same price (or cheaper) than installing a new water heater. Of course I haven't heard back from our contractor yet as to why this _might_ not work... so the jury is still out.

We'll continue to scan the postings for short-term rentals. If a furnished rental at a reasonable price comes up, we might just jump ship for a while. In the meantime, we continue to clean out the two relatively untouched rooms in our house, prepping it for our arrival. Kurt's folks were nice enough to give us a section of their garage, so we're storing breakables and smaller furniture there, at least until the cabinets get installed in the garage (at which point we may be able to move some stuff back into the garage cabinets).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Deal or no deal??

The remodel is moving forward slowly. Finishing details have begun, which is pretty exciting! The stairs are now finished (they have put the hardwood on the stairs) -- they look very nice and will look nicer when stained.

A few problems have cropped up (natch). Kitchen cabinets are not arriving until late June (they were supposed to be here at the end of this month). Some of the lights I ordered I'll have to return due to the ballasts that were included. (Yes, going to a graphikeye system is nice, but it's caused all sorts of ripple effects.) The cabinets can't get installed in the garage until the drywall is done, and we can't move our furniture back until the cabinets are installed. I'm getting a bit nervous that we're going to have a problem. I'm not really sure where the safest place is to put our good remaining furniture without worrying that it will get banged up.

And, the biggest problem of all: the city won't turn on our gas unless we sign something that says we won't live there. Which is, of course, the main point. So we'll be living without gas, which could get pretty stinky pretty quickly. Our next-door neighbors had offered to let us use their in-law cottage downstairs, so we may have to take them up on it unless I can find a series of housesitting arrangements.

I am SO ready to be done with this renovation! The next couple of months are going to suck, living without a kitchen, hot water or washer and dryer.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Counting down the days

We have to move by May 20th. The scraper is being scraped. It will be no more. So we have to be out before then. A lot needs to happen with the house between now and then. We need to get the rough inspection, so that they can start drywalling and we can beg the city to turn the gas back on. The old kitchen cabinets that are in the garage need to be installed in the garage so we can move our furniture into the garage.

The house construction is moving right along. The interior doors are installed, and they just put in all the insulation. They finally sheared up the master bedroom wall (meaning, they closed it up with plywood), and will presumably rock it and finish it within the next couple of weeks so we can move back in.

We had our rough inspection on Friday and failed because we don't have enough floor outlets in the great room. The electrician is coming on Monday to install the outlets, and then the inspector will come back on Tuesday and hopefully we'll pass. As an added bonus, the inspector will sign off on the insulation as well, and we should be able to start rockin' on Wednesday. The rocking will take a couple of weeks, as we moved to level-5 drywall with a flush door detail which takes longer. As soon as that's done they need to tile the kitchen floor, as the cabinets will be arriving soon (early June it looks like now).

I finally chose the new kitchen faucets. We'll go with Dornbracht Elio, the compromise being that we won't install the pot filler. We also chose the Caesarstone color: cement. Or was it concrete? Honed (matte) finish. It should go nicely with the wood and the glass in our kitchen, and with the floors and will be somewhat of a contrast with the fireplace stone.

Yesterday we moved a bunch of stuff out of the scraper and put it in the semi-empty pod. I've packed much of the kitchen, and most of the books and other knickknacks in the scraper that we're not going to need. It's really somewhat goofy to be doing this; I know it's going to take me months to unpack, and I probably will sell or give away most of what I unpack. We have way too much stuff! I found that I packed several boxes of items that I'd moved here to sell on eBay but never did get around to it. Once the remodel is done, I'll occupy myself by selling stuff on eBay, since I won't have anything else to do any more.

Speaking of selling, I managed to sell our Yamaha Clavinova piano and our Ikea desk within two days on Craigslist. Both people came to pick up their purchases in minivans.. they are the ultimate utilitarian vehicle! We borrowed our friends' minivan this weekend to speed the moving process.

Next week we'll start housesitting for Kurt's folks, and assuming the city will let us live back in our house, at that point I will put everything in motion to move the DSL, cancel the cable/electrical/water at the scraper, etc. It's making me tired just thinking about it. I wonder why I've been so tired lately? If we can't move back to our house, we'll have to figure out a plan B.

More pics can be seen on Kurt's picture website. Now it's time to get packin!