Sunday, October 17, 2010

From 2D to 3D

All of a sudden, lumber. Once the foundation is in place, the rough framing happens very quickly. Within a day or two half of the house is framed. This is the part of building that leads to a somewhat false impression that you are closer to being finished than you really are. Framing is fast, but finishing is slow.

But this is where the volume of the house is finally becoming clear. Walls are defined. Hallways become evident. Windows take shape.

Underneath it all there are cryptic messages to remind the builders exactly what they are constructing. Here is a twelve foot ceiling with a nine and a half foot soffit.

Although it isn't as dangerous as finishing the roof several stories in the air, it still takes some balance. And lots of nails. Lots and lots of nails. And nail guns.

And the nail guns take lots and lots of electricity. There are power cables snaking everywhere.

Here is the view from one of the Master Bedroom windows. Even the parts of the house that don't have a direct Strip view, still will have a pretty good view, especially at night when all the lights shine.

Now the house is becoming visible from afar. It's remarkable how you can see it from very far away. But that is a rule. If you have a good view, then people also have a good view of you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A House in 2D

When we got back from Australia, the foundation of the house was poured. Now we could walk the house in 2D. This is looking at the front of the house with James' studio and the driveway on the right, the entry door behind the second garage in the center, then the library, powder room and guest suite on the left. Behind the guest suite and library is the Great Room, then the kitchen, my studio, the Master Bedroom hallway. Down the steps is the Master Bedroom suite. Standing at the entrance and looking both ways down the gallery made me realize exactly how big this house is.

This is a closer view of the one car garage in the front of the entry door with the open courtyard behind it. Again there is the library in front of the great room.

This is the main two car garage on the left with James' Studio on the right in front of the theater, the other guest room, and the Master Bedroom suite below.

James and I are pretty good at reading blueprints, so not much surprises us when we see it built, but even so, there is something concrete about seeing the floor plans and walking on them. This small recess in the floor is for the theater screen. Our chairs will be at the edge of the stairs. It's a rather small theater, but then again we have a rather small family and we like to sit close, really close to the screen.

I will say that there were two design elements we didn't quite understand from the blueprints. First was the elevated seating area in front of the Master Bedroom shower. We knew there was a step up from the tub floor area to the seating area in front of the shower door, but we didn't really understand that there was a step down into the shower area itself. We are planning on sloping the shower to the left and put a floor drain across the shower head side, so the step shouldn't be as much as shown here in the concrete, although the concrete step will be covered with redwood/teak decking.

The most surprising element were the two floating triangles coming out of the Master Bathroom. The front one is between the sink areas. The back one is in the shower itself. Both of them are tall three pane windows that will be semi obscured glass. Both of them are shelf areas and not standing areas, so weight on these projections should not be an issue.

These are the only pictures we will have of the foundation itself. Before you could say the word, "construction", the cul de sac was full of lumber and the rough framing started. It should be finished by the end of the week! It seems fast, but there is still lots and lots and lots of detail work to do. After rough framing comes the roof trusses, then the start of the interior mechanical systems: HVAC, electrical, and plumbing. It will be a while before we have any real walls and long time before they start the drywalls. We are just trying to keep up with all the pieces before they need to be ordered. We have still not picked out ALL the plumbing fixtures. We will be working on that Real Soon Now. Tomorrow we have a meeting with the cabinetry builders and Friday with the HVAC people.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Several Weeks Ago

Several weeks ago we took these pictures, but then life intruded (chemo infusions and travel to Australia) and I haven't had a chance to put these up until now. This is the infamous Jones valve. It allows us to take non-potable water from a fire hydrant rather than using the increasingly expensive and unreliable water truck. (That was pumping water from a lower fire hydrant!) We now have water from the water system, but it seems like it has taken forever (actually it did take over a year). Water is vital for the next phase of construction -- pouring concrete!

That crazy pipe hanging in the sky is actually a pipe for pouring concrete. The contractor standing at the table is checking to make sure the concrete goes in the right places. Although the table is handy, it has ended up over the edge of the precipice more times than once. The winds can be fierce on the top of that ridge. I wonder if we will get waves in the pool from the strong winds. But the breezes should cool the house down nicely in the spring and fall when we have the windows open.

This picture gives a better view of the concrete pouring truck. That arm is long enough to put concrete almost anywhere on the property. I am glad that we have professionals doing that as I certainly wouldn't like to be pushing wheelbarrows of concrete into retaining walls. In fact, though we are handy enough to replace a faucet or troubleshoot a washing machine, I'd rather not take on any of the large construction jobs. In one spot in the great room we have a forty feet steel beam that needs to be placed. I want lots of machinery and skilled contractors to take on that job.

Here are the last of the retaining walls. Theoretically speaking this is not a retaining wall, but rather the footing of the master bathroom foundation. It just happens that we need to lift the final floor about six feet up before we get to the true floor level. Still, even standing down here we are finally getting a true feel for the size and scope of the finished construction. Yes, our master bath is bigger than the master bedroom. When you only need a bedroom to sleep, then this makes perfect sense.

The space at the end is for the two toilets and the large space to the right is actually two closets. The bedroom starts right at the turn on the left hand side.

Now there is a lot more finished than you see here. While we were in Australia, they started pouring the final foundation. The plumbers and electricians were busily digging trenches for any of their conduits that needed to be under the foundation before they did the final pour. At each step we re-evaluate everything that has been done or is about to be done. Although changes can be made at any step, we'd rather not waste money by tearing up anything that has been built. This means staying in constant communications with the contractors to remind them of any little changes that have been made (but maybe not communicated to the workers on site). It also mean thinking ahead to the next phases. Making changes before they build is always the best policy. So far everything is according to specs and we are absurdly happy about how this is going. We can't wait to move in!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How Firm A Foundation

Tired of walls and more walls? Well, when you have to shore up fifty feet of dirt and gravel, it takes a lot of walls. Yes, first they removed the dirt, then they built the wall, then they replaced the dirt. But this isn't any dirt. This is specially sifted and compacted dirt. After each compaction a soils inspector comes out and checks that the compaction is tamped down enough to withstand a 10.0 earthquake (even though this is not earthquake country). So the walls go up slowly. Dig, build, fill, check. Rinse and repeat.

And this is what an almost finished wall looks like. The bottom level is the rockery wall; carefully placed boulders that are wired in place and covering a concrete block wall. The next level of concrete block wall is a bit of a mismash of colors, but the entire wall will be covered with dark black and red stone tiles. Notice the 30% slope between the two walls. I'm not sure how the landscapers are going to deal with that slope, but there won't be any ground cover on it, just trees. Though after this compaction, how they will dig holes and watering lines to the trees, I have no idea.

This picture shows the final color of the rockery wall. When the local rocks are dug up out of the ground, they are white. Over time they will weather to a dark brown, but in the meantime the color is helped along by a coat of spray paint. Even the local canyon walls are spray painted. By the time the paint wears off, the color should be natural. You can just see the rebar for third and final level of retaining walls in the middle of the picture.

And finally all the retaining walls are completed and the foundation is started. If you look way, way down to the left hand side of the picture you will see the top of the rockery wall. Fifty feet of descent looks a lot steeper when you are standing at the top of it. These jagged walls are the last retaining walls before the foundation. The jutting out triangle in the front of the picture will be the location for our spa in the master bedroom courtyard. The entire master bedroom will be three and a half feet lower than the rest of the house. Since the descent is steeper on the east (master bedroom side), the only way we could make an almost one story house work is to slightly drop the master bedroom section. There is still a deep foundation on that side that acts as the final retaining wall.

But it was not all walls, walls, walls in June and July. We enjoyed a long road trip from Lexington, Kentucky, to Las Vegas. We also attended Westercon, a roving science fiction convention held in Pasadena, California, this year. Since most of our friends live elsewhere in the world, it is always good to get together and see them at conventions.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Walls, and More Walls

Some day the house will look something like this. The main shape of the building is pretty much correct, but the vegetation details are way wrong. First, there is no grass. Lawn in the desert is an incredible water hog. Unless you have small children or dogs, grass is not a necessity. Secondly, the house faces south. If the artist drew the house as it actually will be landscaped, you couldn't see it at all. We are planting as much shade on this side as we can. And that graceful branch in the top right corner? No. The house faces a firetruck turnaround circle and a cliff next to open space. The only vegetation on the ridge will be what we plant.

But before we can get to the foundation of the house, first they had to finish the retaining walls. The guys here were hard at work stacking cement bricks through rebar and building up the walls. They also had to wait for a couple of days for the acres of concrete to dry before they could apply the final finish to the interior of the wall. First they put tar paper against the wall and brushed it with more tar to provide a water tight seal. There are some weep holes at the very bottom of the wall to let any rain (all four inches of it per year) drain away in a timely manner. At least we don't have to worry about snow!

While we are waiting for the second wall to be backfilled and the last wall to be started, we continued to make interior decisions. We visited Arizona Stone and looked at some Black Mountain irregular rock facing for the fireplace. It will cover the entire wall up to the ceiling and the back of the wall (with two closets). We looked at a lot of material at Arizona Tile. Although luxury houses in the area are often floored with natural stone, I think it is a pain to keep clean and doesn't wear well if you have wheeled chairs and tables. James and I both found some porcelain tile that we liked for each of our studios and I think I have come to terms with the kitchen granite. Most of the kitchens I have designed have had some wildly patterned granite. They have been truly amazing slabs of stone with lots of quartz inclusions. This time, I think I am aiming for something blander and more uniform. With the incredible view and the artistic kitchen table, I think the counters should be more of a background.

We also worked on picking out plumbing fixtures and finally talked to the door guy. We are going for plain slab maple doors with dados (incised cuts into the door surface). We have seen a lot of doors in contemporary houses that are dark and have narrow strips of silver metal horizontially across the door. Since we will have light doors, we might have the dados painted black or look for a black metal strip. The strangest thing we picked out were the door handles. For the first house we built, we spend months looking for the exactly right handle that wasn't round and wasn't a lever. The elliptical knobs we chose were unique, but no one noticed them except contractors. This time we agreed on a lever handle in about 30 seconds. It's fairly plain, but functional. It is the exact same door handle that we have in the house we live in now and neither of us noticed it when we picked it out.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Pour

I am not a morning person. When our contractors called and said they would be pouring concrete for the second retaining wall at 7:30 am on Friday, I would rather have sent James out there with his better camera and just stayed bundled up in bed. But James was in the San Francisco Bay Area to see his doctor and go to Baycon. I stayed here for my Friday radiation treatment. So I piled on the layers (yes, it is the end of May in Las Vegas, but we haven't had a 100 degree day yet) and hustled over to the site. The wind was howling at 40 miles an hour and it wasn't more than 65 degrees F. Later in the day it got appreciatively warmer, but not that morning. I got there before the first cement truck, but shortly there was a platoon of cement trucks lining up to the boom crane.

In the trench with the rebar several guys were maneuvering the pipe and trying to spread the cement in an even layer. They had removed their shoes and were wearing rubber boots.

Two other guys were building the concrete block wall.

This is a one minute video of the process. I turned the audio down so that people wouldn't get blown away. In the bottom left hand corner you can see two guys building the retaining wall itself. Everything was moving very quickly. They thought that the entire pour would be finished by noon.

This is the mostly finished wall on the eastern (lower) side. Eventually the cement block will be covered with decorative tile.

This is the finished pour. The cement goes from the low point on the western edge and stairsteps up to the highest edge on the east. The east wall is about 20 feet tall. Eventually the trench will be backfilled with dirt and compacted. There is nothing planned for these levels except some trees that will be planted there. We tried to make sure that there was access for gardeners, but it isn't really a usable area.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rebar, Rebar

The soil was finally compacted enough (102%, is that even possible?) to start laying down about forty miles of rebar for the second retaining wall. Originally they were supposed to pour concrete on Friday, but it was hot and windy, so they decided to add another twenty miles of rebar and pour next Wednesday when it should be cooler and less windy. Once the concrete is dry, they will backfill that wall, compact the soil, and have it tested for proper compaction. Then they can start on the last wall which is a lot shorter than the first two walls, but has to hold up the pool. They have about a third of the house pad dug down four feet from the original level and should be pouring the foundation in about 45 days.

We also met with the architect for the first time since we got the permits. Our major questions at this time are the placement of the downspouts and the placement of the pulldown staircase to the attic mechanical room. Although many houses in Clark County don't have any gutters at all (we only get four inches of rain per year on average), we will have ones that spill through pipes in the exterior walls. Some of the channels in the drawings seem to be placed through window areas. Oops! A more serious problem is the pulldown staircase to the attic mechanical area. Most of the prebuilt ones are only nine feet tall. Right now the staircase is scheduled to be placed in my studio closet which would have a lowered ceiling to accommodate it. Even though we would only use the staircase rarely, we still need to leave access for it. Which really limits the amount of storage space that my closet would have. It would be better if we could put the staircase in the ceiling of the hallway to the kitchen. Our contractors will research longer ladders.

Both our architect and contractors seem to be surprised that we have so few changes to the architectural drawings. I feel as if we have been living in the house already. We really have tried to think of every little detail. But I have to admit that I am getting excited about getting to the framing stage. Once there are three dimensional walls it is so much easier to see how everything fits together.