We are IN the new house!  It’s been two weeks and two days, but we’re having internet connectile disfunction (AT&T sent out a tech to hook it up, who instead told us our address wasn’t valid.) and we are therefore nonexistent in the blogosphere.  This also means a photo-deficient post.  😦
Our awesome families helped us make the move; mine spent Saturday prepping, cleaning, packing, installing closet systems, moving and unpacking kitchen stuff.  Melissa’s family took over the Sunday, moving the bulk in several trips (understatement) and unpacking.  Melissa and her mom also spent a couple extra (vacation) days after unpacking, cleaning the old apartment, and picking up necessities.  Troopers!
Here’s the harrowing part: we didn’t know if we would get to move as late as the week leading into it!  The builder was sure the bank had stipulations on Occupancy, meanwhile, we were pressing him to avoid another end-of-month loan extension.  The bank didn’t care.  Nor did the municipality.  Occupancy was determined solely by the contract agreement with the builder.
However, in order to close the loan, the bank had to see final grading, grass seeding and landscaping.  Baffled by these requirements, the builder was suddenly scrambling (despite the prior 3 weeks of no work on site), and making no promises due to a rainy forecast.  We had clear (enough) skies and it all came together.
We pulled landscaping out of the builder’s scope, and the bank wanted to see landscaping to close the loan, so we had work to do too.  But they wouldn’t say how much had to be completed; it was up to the 3rd party appraiser who they are not allowed to have direct contact with.  I spent the Monday after the move filling the front landscape beds with 3.5 tons of dirt and plants, only to hear that the appraiser had ‘okayed’ us after seeing the grass seed alone.  Regardless, that part of the landscaping is done.
We’ve made interesting discoveries during and after our move.  Like the refrigerator doesn’t fit into its alcove (cabinet installer error).  The numerous drywall spots we marked for patching on our punch list walk through were only partially attended to, and no more.  And the painter left footprints in the polyurethane finish on our steps.  It’s almost whimsical, except they’re big sweaty man-feet prints, and totally not what we’re going for.
The builder is no longer responding to our requests for satisfactory completion of punch list items (drywall, footprints, etc.) after providing some inadequate excuses so we are lawyering up.  We are long overdue for a post summarizing his performance, but will make sure we’re legally clean first (even though we have never dropped his name here).
That aside, we are REALLY HAPPY to finally be in our home!  There are a number of projects to wrap up (linen closet shelves, etc.), but the eagle has landed!

On the Threshold

We’ve agreed on final costs for changes, we’ve had a final walk through and made a punch list, and the bank is on the verge of converting the construction loan into a mortgage.  We’re moving in this weekend!  Sounds so simple, right?

Settling the accounting was “fun.”  I’m glad I’m organized and well documented.  In his first pass, the builder had errors and inappropriate add-ons that had us paying $10k more than what we eventually settled on.  We still made concessions in the end because legal action is a drag.  For instance, we paid extra for Sturdi-Mount blocks that were clearly noted on the construction drawings.  (Long story.)  Furthermore, we had an earlier change order to frame out the basement walls.  Turns out that change order included material but not labor, so the builder met us half way to cover labor costs.   In the end we still came in almost $17k less than what our loan covered.  It certainly took a lot of sweat and stress on our part, but SCORE!

A punch list covers items to be completed or corrected.  Our friend, Kyle (a stickler for construction details, and someone not ‘too close’ to the project like us) helped us walk through and identify these.  The majority of items are in our scope, (undercabinet lights, closet organizers, etc.) but no cause for delay.  So…  the project lives on.  Luckily, we’ll be on site and not schlepping back and forth to get to these things.  During the walk-through the builder was incredibly detached.  I think we’re all ready to be done (with each other).

The final pay out  from the loan was hampered because final grade, seeding, and landscape are incomplete.  I played phone jockey and eventually got everyone on the same page, allowing us to move in (avoiding another construction loan extension), the builder to finish and get paid in short order.

Keep your fingers crossed that this all goes according to plan (and bring your muscles this weekend!).

So Close

The final push always seems to be the slowest.

The driveway and stair path FINALLY went in after a couple months delays.  Part of the delay was waiting for correction of the retaining wall steps.  Another part was out-of-whack schedules .  The biggest was the excuse of intermittent rain.  For serious, you rainy locales, how do you even concrete?

71_Driveway 01  71_Driveway 02  71_Driveway 03

The drive looks great.  The yard, however, is overgrown again.  Final grade, and seeding will happen after move in, and we’ll be doing our own plantings.

71_Driveway 04   71_Overgrown

Evenings and weekend hours went toward some of the finish items.  Melissa and Soren did their level best to spend these hours with family, so Darla came and kept vigilant lookout for me.  And attempted to taste every speck of debris on site.  For the umpteenth time: NONE OF THIS IS EDIBLE.  “Really?  What about this?”  “Nope. <sigh>”  She pre-conditioned the front and back door with dog-nose-prints.

71_GuardDog   71_Lights 02   71_Lights 01

I installed a few more lights.  The exterior sconces look sharp!  We also noticed that our super sculptural entry fixture hung too low (the front door would brush it) so we swapped it with the master closet light.  Much better than getting back pennies on the dollar due to ridiculous restocking fees!

71_Sconce 02   71_Sconce 01   71_Door-Knobs   71_Door-Stops

Closet doors got remounted.  Door knobs and handlesets went in.  Our modern floor mounted door stops are in…

Appliances also went in except refrigerator (builder’s mandate.  Dunno why.).   Thanks for the help Jon!

71_Range  71_Mirrors  71_Shwr Glass

The mirrors and shower glass are in.  Soren came on site to test the shower glass.  Report: satisfactory.

There are still a lot of small touches dangling over us that will happen after move in.  We sorted through the final change order paperwork with the builder (worthy of a separate, albeit picture-starved post).  We will do a final walk through on Monday, with the rest of the week to knock those items out, then we are just waiting for the bank to allow us to move in!

Half Lit

We’ve been waiting weeks to see the trellis complete, the driveway poured, landscape finished, etc.  …In the mean time, we finished the shoe mold, installed some light fixtures, laminated and installed the island top, and put in hand rails.

There are a lot of little things waiting on other little things; I can’t install the vanity lights because the electrician hasn’t pulled the power out of the wall, because he’s waiting on the mirror sizes before doing it.  I reminded the builder to get the ball rolling on mirrors, and we’re in the middle of hashing out options.  There are also a number of back order items, that keep getting strung along.

70_StepLights step lights and dirty stairs   70_Artichoke artichoke (knock-off).

It’s funny at this stage how each task requires different problem solving (and trips to the store) – each fixture and condition is different.  I needed #8 washers for one thing,  #10 for another, and needed 4″ recessed light trim to seat the pendants on the acoustic panels right.

70_BdrmFan  70_MstrClLt  70_LRlights

Two huge chunks of black cherry (milled from our lot) remained due to indecision; to mantel or not to mantel.  They have become our island counter top!  I had them planed (too wide for my machine) and one was so twisted it had to be cut in half to make flat.  I asked the shop to glue them together too, and they refused to glue a butt joint between the (now) two shorter pieces because of differential expansion  Ok, fine.  My brother in law, Josh, helped me route out dado joints and the boards are glued together with full length splines.  My dad helped me move the beastly result into place and he installed the pendants above it to boot.

70_CherryTop_01   70_CherryTop_02   70_CherryTop_03

Some folks like poured epoxy coatings for bar tops, but it looks like cheap plastic melted over the top.  I used Spar Varnish – a marine grade coating.  It lifted some of the stain (@$#%!! we’re trying to match the floating stairs and have a deadline!).  Melissa’s dad suggested tinting the varnish and it works!  AND looks dead sexy.  There is still several coats to add, but it’s installed so the backsplash can go in, so the power receptacles can go in so that…  on down the line.

Here are the installed hand rail brackets from Inline Design.  My colleague Adam W. introduced me to them.  I was struggling to find something between the mundane $5 bracket at the big box, and the $100 high end bracket worth noticing.  These are $30.


We’ve requested yet another loan extension.  Big long awkward audible sigh.

We will also have the pleasure this week of meeting a sub contractor to discuss why we are withholding some pay.  He made a mess, but ain’t seeing it.

And now, a joke:  What doorbell do you put on a custom home with no other cheap white plastic doodads on the outside?


The Beginning of the Finishing

When we’re quiet online, we’re REALLY REALLY busy.

We installed the island ceiling and lower stairs lickety split after a lot of help from our friends Jason and Andrew, (and a stair tread jig from Lowes).

69_Island Ceiling                                                            69_LowerStairs

The painter came in and started with lacquer on all the woodwork.  Despite new regulations cutting VOC content that goop is still POTENT.  I was cutting boards 15′ from the garage door and the fumes wafting out still burned my eyes.  (The lacquer really makes the woodwork POP!)

IMG_3165     IMG_3164     IMG_3163     IMG_3162

Interior paint went up – we sort of threw spit balls at a color chart and it actually worked out REALLY WELL!

The front deck and trellis finally went up.  The trellis still needs guard rails and the polycarbonate top to keep rain off of our leisure street-watching.

69_Decking  69_Trellis  69_ExtPaint Trellis

Exterior paint also went  up.  We agonized over the exact shades of orange and gray, and it paid off.  We like it!  There are a couple details to straighten out; the orange panels should include the batten board (trim piece) going around the windows.

69_Tile And Bamboo   69_Fireplace Slate   69_Main Level-01

The flooring (hired out by us) went in.  The bamboo looks great!  (Too bad it has to be covered up, but it needs protected from subsequent work.)  The floor tile, an alternating 12 x 24 and 6 x 24 looks fantastic!  And the wall tile looks good too!  Just a couple things left to finish after more materials arrive.


Plumbing fixtures started today, and will finish next week after the countertops go in.

We can see the light at the end and can hardly contain the excitement!

This Door

This door embodies the best of the worst of our contractor.


Before we signed on with our builder we gave a very specific list of items we were interested in doing ourselves.  Included was providing and installing wood wall base and wood door casing (trim).

When it came time to do these, I asked when doors were going in so I could install the base before the doors and the trim after.  That’s when we found out that he expected us to “get the doors” too, since he typically gets doors, base, and trim as part of an interior carpentry package.

We were livid; this should have been communicated shortly after he reviewed our list from long ago.  But I gathered quotes for the doors, provided him the itemized quote of choice, and he made payment from the construction loan.  Among the doors we bought was THIS one, to fill the vacant opening between the garage and basement.

The interior doors went in and I left this one (considered an exterior door) to the side to avoid all but the last of construction traffic abuse.  Then I got an email from the builder saying, ‘hey I’ve got a door for that opening.  It was installed with the windows, but I had it taken right back out to avoid getting beat up.  Let me know when you want it.’  I said, ‘that’s awkward, I’ve got one too.  Can you buy it from us?’  He said he had no use for that door.

I called and offered the door again.  He reiterated no use for it, so why would he buy it?  I explained that he told us to get the doors, and we did – including this one since it was missing.  He denied telling us to buy the doors, stated this was an exterior door and not part of the interior package, admitted no perceived obligation to review itemized quotes outside of his normal chain of supply.  (Having the quote was an opportunity to review the doors on order.  And he was hands off, despite being in charge and earning overhead and profit for it), and then continued to interrupt every point I attempted and kept steamrolling.  You don’t win arguments with interruptions and high volume.  Two year olds practice that technique.  I told him I was too angry to continue talking and hung up.

Ten minutes later I received a text that he never even saw an itemized quote until after he made payment.  After I cooled off, I forwarded the e-mail in which I attached the quote and asked him to make payment at the same time.  Most importantly, if he never told us to get the doors, why did he never question the door order?

When I fully cooled off I finally pieced it together.  We Z’s were discussing doors in the context of the interior carpentry, which we were ‘providing and installing.”  When he told us we had to “get the doors too,” he only meant installation.  But then he never questioned why we sought quotes for the doors either.  This guy is NOT an effective communicator.

He eventually offered a credit for the door, but I had to install it because “the interior carpenter normally does that.”  He actually said this, after insisting it was not part of the interior package, and after his window crew had already installed a door there.  What a big fat liar!  (Them’s fighting words.)  I pointed out his inconsistencies, accepted the credit and installed it shortly thereafter.  This was by no means a win win solution; I carry for liability for the door, and he gets his reputation dragged in the mud.

68_Door Installed

TLDR; Hire a builder who is at least as organized and detail oriented as you are, provides leadership over the entire project, and communicates thoroughly and effectively.

Rise and Run

The last 2 weeks have proved to be, by far, the greatest show of force on our part.  Both families came out in full 2 weekends ago to help and while we didn’t meet the goal of finishing the stairs, we got all the components ready to go and that was a MAJOR feat.

67_Milling Beams_01  67_Milling Beams_02  67_Gluing Trellis Beams


  • Ripped extra beams into screen wall boards,
  • Cut the cherry (from the trees cut on site) down to length.
  • Glued composite beams for the trellis
  • Glued composite cherry steps (planing imperfections resulted in too-thin boards).
  • Sanded and stained screen wall boards
  • Stained, routed pockets, and mounted brackets on the first set of stringers
  • Picked up the yard because the builder has yet to “keep the site clear of the accumulation of debris.”
  • Collected stones
  • Cleaned up base to drywall caulk
  • And set the finish nails sticking out.
  • Cut a template
  • Cut, stained, and set new stringers
  • Installed it!

67_Cherry To Length_02   67_Cherry To Length_01  67_Cherry To Width_01  67_Cherry To Width

67_Picking Finishes_01   67_Stone Collection

I made a HUGE mistake and caused a setback; I didn’t use a template to lay out the tread brackets before we cut them in.  I was so heartbroken and stressed when we held them up side by side and the brackets didn’t align.  A lot of time was lost.  Redemption came the next day when my brother-in-law Matt stayed on his day off to help get things back on track.

67_Screen Wall Prep_01  67_Base Board Follow Up  67_Screen Wall_01

Demolition of the framer-installed stringers was a careful dance, taking down one part, replacing it with new and continuing in that vein to ensure we didn’t get stuck on a landing without a slow way down.  The top run went first with the new stairs lifted into place (6 25/32″ spacing…  I’m no pro for measuring this out each time) after the stringers were secured.  Then the screen wall went in, then the lower run, completing the 1st to 2nd floor flight.  And it packs a visual punch!

67_Stair Stringers_01  67_Stair Stringers_02  67_Stair Stringers_03  67_Stair Stringers_04

This week/weekend we’ll install the treads and risers over the basement to first floor flight and that will complete our interior carpentry!

67_Stair Stringers Pt 2_01   67_Stair Stringers Pt 2_02   67_Stair Stringers Pt 2_03

We CANNOT THANK EVERYONE ENOUGH for their help, time, encouragement, company, and energy.  Nick Zabel, Jason P., Barb, Becky, Dan, Sue, Josh,  Katie, Brandt, Ethan, Andrew A., Brian O., Mallory O., Daniel K., and Matt…  you are always welcome here!!!!

67_Treads-Brackets Mounted  67_Treads-Install  67_Screen Wall_02  67_Screen Wall_03

67_Stairs_02   67_Stairs_01   67_Screen Wall_04