Shangri La

Shangri La

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Impending Construction

Driving to the Home Depot yesterday, I thought I had a revelation: Build the floor, cover it in plastic, and put in the well, and bank the remainder for the septic system after the 'supplemental' test next April. My thinking: The well and septic are the 'big ticket' items; the cabin can be built as money allows. And a site with well, septic and foundation would maximize my resale should I have to sell before being able to build the cabin. On the way home, however, I realized the that what I was really looking to do was find a way to escape the occasionally overwhelming logistics and anxieties that come with building a house, even if it is only a 'cabin'.

Here's the thing: I'm down to about $13,000, and I still have structure, well and cabin to go. The well will likely cost about $5,000, the septic about $6,000, the cabin shell about $10,000, and finishing about $10,000. My usual annual bonus, though modest, would have been a big help, but the recession/depression has ensured that I'm unlikely to see it again until - what? - 2011?

Installing well and septic with the money might ensure the best resale, but we can't envision a scenario in which we'd sell, so who cares? And is it really feasible to build the cabin 'as money allows'? What good is a floor and two walls, or even 4 walls and a loft? And so we come back to the original plan: Build a simple, lockable shell this year, and bank anything left over for septic next year. At least with a shell we have a place to 'camp', even if we're carting in our own water and using a mulching toilet. We've got a place we can use, if only for weekends. And a place we can stay while we're working on the rest.

The LSW has already reported on the foundation sealing work last weekend. (And how she got lost and found herself with a speeding warning while I paced the streets of Saxton's River wondering where the Dickens she was. With no cell service around Shangri-La, I couldn't just call her and ask.) I'm currently waiting for the excavator to let me know that backfilling is complete and the path to the nearest CVPS pole is cleared so I can get temporary power installed. Our hope is to do an overnight on June 13th to both install the sills and attend the meetinghouse fundraiser that Saturday. My sister and her family are planning on camping with us on June 27 to begin the construction proper, so things are going to start moving quick.

To do:

1) Finalize the plans and place an order with the local lumberyard
2) Install the sills
3) Contact the electrician to get temporary power service installed
4) Contact CVPS to let them know the pole can be replaced and temporary power hooked up
5) Make reservations at the local campground for June 27th and July 4th
6) Dig out the camping equipment and see what we're missing (its been a long time since we camped!)

For those of you keeping score, the foundation sealant was a petroleum-based, fibered foundation/roofing tar that came in 5 gallon containers from my local Lowe's for about $35 each. We went to Shangri-La with 20 gallons, but only needed 10 for two coats. Each coat took about 4 hours, and it was a mess despite our best attempts to be careful. Here's a few more pics from the foundation sealing weekend:

PS: The change in management at the Saxton's River Inn has had generally positive results: I felt that the food was just as good, while the LSW thought that it had gone just slightly down-hill. The breakfast offerings - though still limited - were about 50% better, however, so overall we were satisfied that it would remain one of our favorite New England Inns.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

What in tarnation?

LSW here.
Last weekend marked the opening season of Cabin Building 101, as evidenced by this:
That's the warning I got from the kind officer who pulled me over for doing 47 in a 35 m.p.h. zone. This, after a long day of painting tar on the foundation, then getting lost for two hours in God's Country with the Boy who was saying, "I just want dinner!" By the time the officer got to my car door, I was in tears. Anyhow, all turned out well, as evidenced by this:

Two coats of tar on the foundation. Yep. That's me, in the trenches, literally and figuratively. Now the real fun begins. I looked at the calendar today and realized that we will be in Vermont for the next five weekends, only from now on we'll be camping. I'm trying to be very zen about it. Breathe in, breathe out. It's kind of overwhelming. But then I get to thinking of all the times I'll be able to say, "Hey girls, let's ditch the husbands this weekend and go up to Shangri-La," and it suddenly seems all worth it.
The Vermonster will be posting with some real details shortly.

Monday, May 18, 2009

On Foxes and Porches

Last week the excavator asked me whether or not I wanted him to seal the foundation. With my dwindling bank account in mind, I decided it was time to get some skin in the game. Apparently I would need to break of the form ties with a hammer, fill in the holes with roofing tar, and cover the exterior with sealant up to ground level. Easy enough.

And so it was that I pulled onto the site Sunday morning and was struck by the fact that construction had, in fact, begun. The presence of the foundation transformed the lot and made it, for the first time, very easy to see how our little cabin (and we) would actually inhabit the land. Over the next couple of hours, I found myself again rethinking the design.

We originally wanted the cabin to ‘face’ south, into the land, with a full-width porch that would look down the slope toward the leech field. This presented a couple of problems, though:

1) There would be no ‘face’ to present to the road and driveway. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but houses always seem more welcoming when they face you as you approach them. A house presenting its back seems to say ‘go away’. (I’m curmudgeonly enough to prefer that most people actually stay away, but it would be nice if the house would welcome me when I arrive.)
2) Given that the south side would not be on a gable end, I had (for a number of reasons), decided that I would need 10’ walls on which to secure the porch roof. It was now apparent, however, that that the foundation would rise 4’ about the ground on the south side given the slope of the land. This would mean 14’ to the cap plates, which was higher than I’d prefer to work, given the 12/12 roof pitch and the fact that I myself am well short of 6’. Furthermore, building the deck would be more complicated as it would range from 4 – 6’ off the ground as the land sloped away.

It occurred to me that I could solve both problems and simplify construction by opting instead for two 12’ porches, one on the east side facing the driveway, and one on the west side letting out from the kitchen. Using the gable ends of the house meant that I could revert to 8’ walls, and both porches would give us better access to the leveled portion of the property that wraps around the north and west of the cabin.

When I look back at my sketches over the last few months, it’s interesting to see that what began as a simple 14x24 box kept growing and becoming more complicated, eventually bulking up to 20x30 and sporting a tower facing the road. Once the actual work began, however, the sketches get smaller and simpler as I begin working out the logistics of actually building the thing.

“We only need something like a hotel room with a kitchenette,” the LSW kept saying. “We can add to it later. And she’s right. The simpler it is, the better chance for success.

I hammered off most of the form ties, which – true to form – took longer than expected, and decided to wait until next weekend on the roofing tar. I still needed to check out 3 local campgrounds, and I wanted to get home in time to relax a little before the work week began again. Just before I left, however, a fox emerged from the woods and we stood for a few minutes looking at each other before he casually trotted back into the underbrush. Probably a common site to the residents of Shangri-La, but rare enough to feel a bit magical to those of us trapped in the ‘burbs. I wonder how the Boy would have reacted?

PS: Interim bill for the foundation work - $1967.50 with the rat slab still to go.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Prelude to a Cabin

Spent most of last Saturday in the truck, making the 6 hour round-trip to Shangri-la for a final inspection of the site before the trenches are dug for the foundation. It was 'green up VT' day, and everywhere I looked families were picking up roadside garbage (precious little, compared to CT) and stuffing it into green bags. Those who weren't seemed to be fly-fishing in the West River. I love this place.

On site, the leaves were just emerging, as were the bugs. I stayed for about a half hour before the swarm reached critical mass and chased me back into the truck. The excavator did a pretty good job leveling the land; the only change I made was moving the foundation markers 10' to the east to get a clear line of sight from the gable end to the nearest CVPS pole without having to take down a 50' pine.