My goal for the 4th of July weekend was to get a working kitchen in the house. I started on Friday morning with backsplash material partly cut, counters still in full-size boards, range and dishwasher just occupying space (but out of boxes) and sink, faucet, garbage disposal and range hood still in boxes.

I’m happy to say that we now have a working kitchen.

under-sink-direct.jpgA direct shot of the cabinet under our sink. I was trying to keep everything as clean as possible and keep space for storage. To that end, all of the hoses are run in the back and the waste line is very compact – though only having a single bowl sink helps with that. Since we have a pullout faucet and four water valves, I pegged the faucet supply line up on the left to prevent the pullout from getting hung up on anything.

under-sink-side.jpgThis shot is from further to the right – just another perspective on it. The white box near the top of the picture is our STUDOR® vent. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the black box near the plugs is the controller for our air switch. The dishwasher waste line is pegged to the back wall to keep it stable and prevent it from resting/rubbing on the air switch controller. I used some leftover 7/8″ hose as a buffer between the waste line and the plumbers tape.

sink-direct.jpgOur sink from above with all the bits and bobs installed. I’m not really happy with the air gap (on the right). It’s got a threaded plastic body and plastic nuts and they keep slipping the thread whenever I jiggle the hoses. I’m going to see if there’s a metal one avail and switch it out. Since our countertops are maple butcher block, I bought some maple planks to fashion the backsplash – that’s what you see here. The counter tops are 25″ deep and the cabinets with drawer/door faces are also 25″ deep. It didn’t look very nice to have the countertops and doors/drawers in the same plane so one of the reasons for going with such a thick backsplash was to push everything out. The backsplash is 1 3/4″ thick and we cut a 1/2″ thick, 3/4″ tall rabbet out of them. This gives us an extra 1 1/4″ of countertop past the cabinets and gives us a lip to hide any inconsistency where the backsplash meets the counter.

sink-side.jpgThe sink again, from the side so you can see more of the countertop (and a few of my tools).

sink-and-dishwasher.jpgThe dishwasher is installed and working. I tested it briefly by starting the cycle and then canceling. Beyond making sure it worked, I also needed to ensure that there were no leaks. No, it’s not really blue – that’s just the protective cover.

We’ll post some pictures of the range, vent hood and overall kitchen some time in the next week.

I updated the
Move-In Checklist to reflect these changes.


First off, the railing.  It isn’t quite finished, but we can at least let the kids upstairs without worrying so much!

Here’s our kitchen countertops

A shot of the end grain – they are finger jointed butcher block countertops, made by Perfect Plank in Chico, CA.


Here’s the mudroom and utility room with their new flooring

And the kids’ bath

The tub area of the kids’ bath

And the master bath  (the floor is much more blue than it looks in this picture, btw)

Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to see pictures of…  

Tile pictures

Kids’ Bath

Master Bath

Downstairs Bath

Doesn’t the floor in there look nice too?  And yes, we’re going to replace the white caulk with something that blends a little better!

And look, I do work on the house too!

(I never thought I would use pnuematic and power tools as easily as I do now…)

Drywall update

The drywall, taping and mudding, and texturing are now complete!  The house looks great – so much brighter and more like a home than a construction site.

We’ve started painting the ceilings and some of the rooms, and today Matt installed our first light fixture.   It seems like such a little thing, but when I think of all it took to get to the point where we could install a finish light fixture, it seems like a very big thing indeed!

Shantytown Pump House

Last year our well went un-insulated all winter and during a particularly cold stretch we had a pipe break. Fortunately I noticed it within about 12 hours because I saw that the electrical meter was spinning at a crazy rate. For the last 10 or 11 months I’ve meant to do something to prevent it from happening again this winter, but the house has always taken priority

Since we’re currently having drywall hung and textured, I can’t really work on the house so I decided to finally do something about the pump house. The fact that we’re expecting temperatures to be in the high teens had something to do with it too.

I figured it would take me a few weekends to really get a good pump house up and didn’t really want to spend that much time on it right now (much less the cost of building materials) so I “made do”.

well_power.jpgBefore I could work on anything up there, I needed power. When we ran the wires for the well back in the summer of 2007, we ran four so that we could have two hot legs for the 220V pump, a ground and a neutral for a 110 circuit. I used one hot leg and the 110 to put in a duplex plug.

IMG_7899_sm.jpgThe basic frame is made up of three pallets that my Dad had. I bought three 4×8 sheets of 3/8 OSB for about $9 each and cut and stapled them up with my pneumatic stapler. It ends up being a surprisingly stable structure.

IMG_7905_sm.jpgThe backside of the pump house. I’ve since gone back and cleaned up the gaps some by stapling additional OSB over them and using leftover mastic from our SIP installation to “caulk” them.

IMG_7908_sm.jpgThe kids hung out and helped. Here they’re playing in the “snow”. I had Emma help me a as a counterweight when cutting the OSB. I put the sheet in the back of my truck hanging out over the tail gate and Emma sat on the end in the truck so that it would remain horizontal for me to cut.

I cut a final sheet and used screws to hold it in place over the 4th wall. Now I’ll be able to access the internals by simply taking a couple screws out. This will give me the access I need to turn the light on and off to be doubly sure nothing will freeze.

Tile pictures!

IMG_2274.jpgThe wall behind the woodstove. Drywalled.

IMG_2281.jpgThe raised squares on the wall are spacers created from 2" square pieces of backerboard. They give us the air gap needed to decrease the distance that the stove must be from the wall by approximately 60%. I cut them with the diamond blade and used regular woodworking glue to hold them in place. I shot each of them with a couple 1 1/2" staples to hold them while the glue dried. The orange bit at the bottom is the anti-fracture membrane.

IMG_2282.jpgThis is a better view of the anti-fracture membrane. It’s not mortared down yet, that’s why it’s rolling up at the edges. This material gets mortared to the floor and you mortar the tiles to it. With this in place, cracks that develop in the slab aren’t transmitted to the tiles.

IMG_2319.jpgBig jump. The tiles are all mortared down and sealer was just applied (that’s why they look so dark).

IMG_2321.jpgA closer look at the tiles. You can see that I had to cut the row of tiles closest to the wall. The little blue bits between tiles are spacers that we leave in and just grout over. We needed to do the floor first, partly because that’s what the stove will sit on, and party because the vertical tiles will hang over the wall and it would have been difficult to install the floor after the fact.

Memorial Day Weekend

We took the opportunity of the long weekend and my Dad being in town to try to focus on the house. I got back into rough carpentry mode for a bit before putting my electrician and plumbing hats back on. I also got to try on a circus high wire hat – that’s one I don’t want to use again but I fear that I have no choice.

Since we’re putting a wood stove near our stairs, we need to build a wall behind it to protect the stairs from the heat and anyone from putting an arm through the stairs onto the stove. Instead of trying to mix a small protective wall with a banister and balusters we decided to just make a bigger wall and hang the banister off of it. We thought it would look better that way – less haphazard. I bought wood and cut it all on Friday. On Saturday, I assembled it and my Dad helped me put it in place and get it plumb. Sunday found me adding the fire blocks and yesterday, I pulled out the topmost fireblock to beef up the tallest stud into more of a corner so that there’s a place to mount the banister. It looks good, but I’m fairly out of practice at carpentry because it should have gone a lot faster than it did. I still need to get some OSB to take the wobble out of the lower end.


At one point, while take a break from carpentry, I went up and began manipulating the hot and cold water lines for the toilet and bath in the kids bathroom, attempting to force them through the holes in the stud and floor that I’d drilled for them previously. During the course of my wrestling, the cold water line came loose from the T that I (thought) I had crimped it to before I laboriously moved the tub into place. After examining the crimping ring (it’s PEX) I discovered that I had not in fact crimped it. I took apart the waste line plumbing (that I had just dry-fit, not glued) and proceeded to laboriously move the tub out of the way enough to get at the plumbing bits behind it so that I could check the other fittings to make sure they were crimped and fixed the one I disturbed. Now, I say “laboriously” because this is a cast iron tub which weights somewhere between 450 and 600 pounds depending on which literature or sales person you believe. The only way for me to move it by myself is to use the 1/2 of gap or so on either side (since it’s installed in an alcove) and slowly inch it out. First one side. Then the other side.

I did get the tub out and got my 3/4″ cold line fixed and discovered that I hadn’t crimped the 1/2″ cold line to the toilet so I fixed that too. I then proceeded to fold the 1/2″ hot water line to the shower back on itself and put a kink in it. This necessitated pulling the whole bit out and replacing it with an un-kinked bit.

This pretty much soured me on plumbing for the weekend so it was fortunate that I had a lot of electrical work to do.

I pulled wire for lights in the master and began drilling and pulling wire for smoke detectors in the bedrooms. I also finished getting the scaffolding together to perform my death-defying high wire work.

We have vaulted ceilings. We are quite enamored with our vaulted ceilings. They make the house look large and spacious inside. They make the wiring a bit of a challenge, but we’ve managed so far. Our vaulted ceilings are about 23′ off of the concrete slab at their highest point. We want a ceiling fan above the open area to help move the air around and help keep our climate nice in the house.

Originally, I’d been planning on using furring strips to great a gap for the wire and just hang drywall from them. I realized however that we’d have to do furring strips across a very wide space of ceiling, some of it 23′ up in the air and perhaps the ideas should be rethought. My second idea was to use the chases in the SIP panels where possible and furring strips only where I had to. This has worked out much better.


This shot is standing on the concrete slab, looking up past the scaffolding at the roof. The three white circles are where we’ve drilled the ceiling panel are about 3 1/2″ in diameter to give you a sense of scale. Now, the thing with pushing a fish tape through a styrofoam panel is that sometimes it gets hung up – especially when you’ve got a 12′ run in a 7-in-12 roof. Every time it gets hung up, you have to decide if it’s something you can fix by just wiggling around a little or if you have to figure out where it’s hung up and drill a new hole to “unhang” it. Between our top and bottom holes, we had to drill 3 other holes to get the fish tape unhung.


This was shot from the second story walkway and you can see all 5 holes in a neat line. There is about 2′ of 12-3 romex in a yellow sheath hanging from the topmost hole and a line leading from the bottom hole off to the right.

Now, you may be wondering how exactly I was able to work on this? Well, fortunately I was able to borrow some scaffolding from the guys who are building my parent’s house.


This is shot from the 2nd story and you can see how the upper platform is above the railing for the 2nd story walkway. I spent a good number of hours up there yesterday, wrestling with the drill, the cord, a small ladder to gain a couple extra feet at the tallest point, and my dislike of high places. Fortunately, I’m still here, the wire is all pulled and I won’t have to get back up there until I learn how to install a ceiling fan box in the panel in such a way to support the fan adequately – probably later this week.

Now, there are two rooms that really will only work to wire with furring strips – the two bedrooms with dormers. My dad and I spent additional time yesterday working on that.


These are 1x4s that my cousin and I ripped in half weeks ago. We spread subfloor glue on one side, and nailed the up. The nails should hold them while the subfloor glue dries and I’ll go back and put a few screws in later just to make triply sure that they hold. I’ll run the wire down center channel where the peak is and the ceiling fan will mount to a block of wood I’m going to anchor into the peak there.

Finally, here’s a shot clearly showing the ramifications of not having an attic space for wiring.


The orange cables are network and comm lines. The white is 14-gauge romex and the yellow is 12-gauge. These walls are not load-bearing – they’re just to delineate the rooms and provide a place to hang drywall.

DWV Tools

While working on the DWV plumbing, I’ve found some tools to be extremely useful to have around. Most I expected but some were a surprise.

IMG_1954.jpgA selection of hand tools. I used the awl on my pocket knife (far left) to help get the disks out of the hole saw. The chisels were what I was most surprised to need. I ended having to cut a small notch into a beam to get some fittings in the right place as well as tear out a bit of drywall backer on the ceiling. Throughout the construction process I’ve found chisels to be amazingly versatile and helpful to have around. I won’t ever start a construction project without a chisel or two in my bags. The nail pullers/pry bar were helpful both in removing studs (I put them back after I got fittings in place) and for helping to tear out the drywall backer same as the chisels. I even used the small puller to help get some recalcitrant hole saw slugs out of the hole when there was an errant nail keeping them down.

When you need to make a hole to carry a pipe from downstairs to upstairs and there’s no room to drill it from downstairs, how do you know you’re drilling in the right place? My method is to mark the whole location on the bottom of the floor and measure off the nearest (exterior) walls to wee where it should go upstairs. Then I climb down off my ladder, trudge upstairs and measure off the walls again to get a mark on the top of the floor. Now, I have a mark on the bottom, and a mark on the top, but no idea how well lined up they are. In comes the cordless drill with the 1/4″ bit. Just drill on my top mark, go back downstairs and see how close I am to my bottom mark and adjust accordingly when I drill with the hole saw.

IMG_1961.jpgAh, here’s the tool. I just bought this a couple weeks ago when I realized that I’d have to be doing a lot of drilling between studs and it wouldn’t really work to just keep borrowing one or renting one. I’ve already used it a whole lot and can’t imagine building a house without one. For the uninitiated, it’s a right angle drill. This particular model is more on the prosumer level. It’s not as big, beefy or speedy (or heavy) as the Hole Hawg (also from Milwaukee) but it’s also not as expensive and serves my needs admirably. The main drill body puts out 500 RPM at full go (variable speed controls in the tirgger) and the right angle adaptor (removable) has gears in it so that it can act as a reducer (300 RPM) if you put it on one direction and an increaser (I know that’s not the right word…) (700 RPM) if you flip it the other way. Since I’m mostly doing low torque drilling with hole saws, I’ve just got it on the high configuration. There’s a 2 3/4″ hole saw in the chuck and a 4″ and 3 5/8″ hole saws next to it. I used the bigger hole saws for 3 inch pipe and the smaller one for 2 inch.

I don’t know about you, but I never would have expected this guy to be as useful as it is. It’s just a basic jig saw but if you put a hole saw hole slightly in the wrong place or it’s just a bit (or more than just a bit) too small for what needs to go through it, this is the perfect tool for enlarging the hole. It’s also pretty small so it fits (albeit barely) when you’re working on top of a wall, 8″ from the ceiling above you inside joists on a 24″ center.

Ah, the sawzall. I’ve been borrowing this from my grandfather for months and it’s super handy to have around. There’s two main things I’ve used the sawzall for while plumbing. Cutting pipe off after it’s glued in place and I realize it’s too long (yes, even with the best of planning, measuring, marking and cutting – it happens) and cutting through nails holding studs in so that I can get the drill or fittings in there. Even though the drill is made to work in stud bays, it still requires close to 12″ of space to work with the hole saw on it and some of my studs bays aren’t that big. I just cut the bottom loose, swing the stud out of the way, drill my hole and then nail the stud back.

The miter saw with a solid blade. Thanks, Charlie [1]. I’ve seen guys cut pipes with circular saws and sawzalls – I’ve even tried to do it myself. I always have trouble getting a clean cut though. Usually it’s rough or not straight and then I need to work on the pipe before I put it together so that the fitting goes on cleanly. With this though, I can cut through a 3″ pipe in one pass, holding the pipe against the table and I get a nice, clean, straight cut with minimal work. Using the solid blade it’s really melting through the pipe and you don’t get a lot of little hammering blows that you’d get with a standard blade such that might not leave as clean a face.

I didn’t take a picture of my utility knife, but it’s been a big help in the process too, de-burring pipe and making sure it’s ready to fit. Those are the main tools I’ve been using. If I find others as I move on to through the roof work, I’ll post about them as well.

[1] My good friend Charlie gave me his miter saw over a year ago when he moved into a condo that had no place for this level of wood working. It’s been absolutely wonderful to have a second miter saw that I can just keep the solid blade on and use as a dedicated pipe cutter. Thanks very much, Charlie.

Kitchen Wall

Since our house is a SIP house, it’s some extra work to put plugs and switches in the exterior walls. There will be times when it’s unavoidable, but we’re trying to minimize the situation both because it will be easier and we don’t want to pierce the envelop of the walls if we can avoid it.

One area in particular where we have to deal with this is in the kitchen. Kitchen’s require more plugs than any other room and it’s just plain convenient to have lots of plugs there. In order to make our electrical job easier, we’re furring out a 2×4 wall just inside the SIP wall. This will also give us a place to run some water and gas supply lines into the kitchen.

This is what I worked on yesterday. [1]

IMG_1953.jpgThis is the “before” shot. Notice that the wall in the shot (the east wall) is entirely OSB and the flooring in the back of the shot meets the OSB at the top of the wall.

IMG_1964.jpgHere is the “after” shot. It’s not done as I still need to frame around the window and finish building the corner but it’s looking good.

The studs are kind of hard to see, but they’re there. I put them on 24″ centers and we’ll just put a plug on each stud to get our spacing pattern. It’s 2 different sections of bottom plate – they break around the conduit embedded in the slab to feed water and electrical to a possible future island.

If you look at the top, you can see that the flooring no longer (visibly) meets the OSB. We had some leftover appearance grade 4×8 lumber when we built the house (determining lumber quantity must get easier with experience) so we decided to use it to make that wall more interesting after seeing an example in a picture of another house. It’s installed about 1 1/2″ off of the SIP wall which will give us about an inch of reveal past the drywall.

I was working by myself and had some pretty tight clearances so I didn’t want to have to stand the wall after building it on the floor so I built it in place. First I cut and nailed up the 4×8’s to keep them in place. Then I cut and nailed my upper top plate. The upper top plate is nailed to the SIP wall (which has a 6×6 post in it) on the right and to the glu-lam beam on the left. It’s nailed up to each 4×8 joist running perpendicular to the wall and to each decorative 4×8 chunk parallel to the wall. This ties everything together solidly and nothing has any space to move. Originally I’d planned to use right angle brackets to hold the decorative 4×8 chunks in place but I found it almost impossible to get them nailed in (you ever tried holding a nail and swinging a hammer a few inches up inside of a 1 1/2″ wide space?).

Once I had the upper top plate up, I cut the lower top plate and the bottom plates (bottom plates are pressure treated) and marked them for stud locations. I then nailed the lower top place up and just placed the bottom plate where it’s supposed to go. Once I had that to work from I began measuring and cutting studs to go between them. I found there to be about a 3/16″ variance in stud length, probably due to some unevenness in the concrete finishing around the embedded conduit.

After I had about 9 studs cut (enough to get even pressure from top plate onto bottom plate) I glued the bottom plates down with subfloor glue and began nailing the studs in place. After the studs were nailed up, I then nailed right angle brackets onto the studs and then into the SIP wall to help hold the wall in place. Probably this was overkill, but it makes me feel better and I’m sure that the inspector will appreciate it.

This weekend, I plan to finish the wall in addition to more work on waste line plumbing and starting on supply line plumbing.

[1] I know it was a workday – I went out to the property in the morning to meet with someone about some plumbing questions and to borrow PEX tools. It was an absolutely beautiful day and I decided to call my boss and see if I could take an unplanned day off to work on the house. He was very accommodating.

DWV Plumbing

We’re well on our way on the next phase of house building – Drain, Waste, Vent plumbing. The last month or so, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and planning and the last couple of weeks have been busy executing, modifying and adapting the plan.I’m happy to say that I’ve now finished all 3″ waste lines. This means that the main waste stack is finished, toilet lines are in and all underfloor plumbing for the second story meets up with the main waste stack. I started out with about 5 feet of 3″ ABS pipe left over from slab plumbing and bought another 20 foot length when I started interior work. I now have only a 3 inch and a 2 3/4 inch piece of 3″ pipe left. Unfortunately, I also have a handful of 3″ fittings left over from various plan modifications but I figure that that’s just the way things are.I’m doing all my plumbing in 2″ and 3″ lines so that we don’t have any issues with clogs. We’ve had issues with previous places and I’m doing everything I can to avoid it here – one of which is to keep things big.Here’s the current state of things.IMG_1935.jpgThis is what I completed last weekend, but never got around to blogging about. The p-trap in the back left is for the master shower, the combo along that same line to the right is the vent for that line. The pipe that disappears into the left front corner behind the beam is for the master toilet. The combo in that line is its vent. The wye fitting which sends a pipe off at 45° from the toilet line is to bring in the sink drain from the master sink.IMG_1938.jpgThe same pipes, but from a different angle. Now you can see the line for the master toilet (back left) and the sink drain (just in front of it). We’ll have to soffit this space to hide the plumbing. It’s unfortunate to hide the beams and floor but we’ll gain a raceway for electrical lines. I knew from early on that we’d have to soffit here and I considered if it was worth using TJI’s 2 ft on center rather than the 4×8 joists on a 4 ft center. Given how the plumbing worked out, I’m glad I stayed with the 4×8’s because it gave me a much bigger box to work within and I didn’t need to worry about cutting through joists in this space. If you look closely, you can see my chalk and pencil lines on the underside of the floor. These helped me keep my pipes lined up and at the correct angles.IMG_1948.jpgThe single 3″ pipe that leaves the bay in the previous photo goes through some blocking that keeps our joists from rolling and enters a bay over the downstairs bathroom. The wye in the middle of the picture is where we pick up the drain from the sinks in the kid’s bathroom. We make a 90° turn and enter the main waste stack towards the back of the picture. The other horizontal 3″ pipe in the picture runs out to the right to the toilet in the kid’s bathroom. The master bathroom waste line joins the main stack with a 3″ san-tee with a 3″-2″ bushing so I can continue the vent straight up.IMG_1947.jpgHere’s another shot of that juncture where it’s more clear what’s going on. The master bath waste line is coming in from the left. I’ve got a 3″ san-tee going into a 3″ combo which runs up to a 90° elbow to send the waste line to the toilet in the kid’s bathroom. The other side of the 3″ combo has a 3″-2″ bushing in it and I’ll pick up the drain from the kid’s bath there.IMG_1946.jpgThis is the kid’s toilet connection. I’m using a 332 wye with a 45° fitting to run the vent back and behind the toilet. I built a 6″ plumbing wall there that we will put the vent in before running it out the roof.IMG_1950.jpgHere’s the base of the main waste stack. There’s a 4″ pipe coming out of the slab. I’ve got a 442 san-tee going right for the washer drain. Inside that is a 4″-3″ bushing so that I can switch to 3″ pipe for my main stack. Then I’ve got a 332 san-tee going left for the bathroom and laundry sinks. I may have to run those drains as 1 1/2″ instead of 2″ so that I end up with my drains at the right elevation. I’ll measure fitting sizes and see what fits. In the foreground is our drain line for the downstairs toilet (still sticking up where we had it when we poured concrete) and the little 90° elbow between the 4″ pipe and the stud on the left is the vent for the toilet. Originally, I was going to run that vent straight up in the same stud bay as the wast stack, but there wouldn’t have been any room to get it past the 332 san-tee for the bathroom and laundry sinks. Moving it over to run up this other bay gives me the space I need to let the pipes pass each other.I still need to put together the washer drain line and the downstairs sink lines, the downstairs shower drain and vent which I didn’t take pictures of, plus a bunch of vent stuff upstairs and the kid’s bath. All-in-all it’s going well. It’s definitely more difficult than I imagined it would be, but I feel like I have the tools now to really do the work. Some of those tools are pretty much what you’d expect but I was surprised at the need for others. I’ll write a follow up post talking about tools.