Shangri La

Shangri La

Friday, December 24, 2010

Odds and Ends 2010

Happy holidays, everyone! (Or Merry Christmas/Happy New Year, if you prefer; I'm a practicing Buddhist, so I don't have a dog in the 'Christmas Wars' fight.) The holiday festivities in the Vermonster household began with a day trip to Shangri-La to make sure the cabin was still standing and that the crawlspace wasn't flooded. It was and wasn't, respectively. I drained the pressure tank last time we were up and shut off the pump, so there was nothing to freeze. I'm new to this game, though, so it seemed prudent to check.
Someday that Tyvek will finally be completely covered. Probably on the same day I finally haul away those pallets...
There was just a dusting of snow on the ground, and - with the exception of some new mouse droppings - everything was just as we left it. I took detailed measurements of the kitchen and bath for cabinets and fittings, and then an inventoried the remaining materials before locking up. It seemed a shame to drive all that way for 30 minutes' work, though, so I walked the perimeter of the property to stretch the time. Turns out I have parts from an old car on one end of the property, and some old cans and buckets on the other. Everything I found looked to be from the 30's or 40's, so at least it was 'historic' garbage. CVPS also cut a lot of hardwood installing the new poles in the right-of-way this year; I'll have to cut and stack it in the spring in preparation for the wood stove.
Looking over the posts to date, I found a few 'holes' in my documentation of this cabin-building journey. Here's a modest attempt to fill them:

Q: You spent a lot of time talking about prefab and kit options - any regrets not going that route?
A: Not really. During the research stage, they all seemed to be at least 1/3 more than framing the place myself. In the end, this was mitigated somewhat by paying a contractor to do the roof sheathing/shingles, and the additional time it took to do it all 'from scratch'. In the end, thought, I got valuable experience in framing that I can use for outbuildings and additions, the pride of saying we did it ourselves, and a little extra money to put toward finishing. As we're doing everything with cash, spending more up front to get the structure in place wouldn't have bought any time, as we would have just run out of money quicker and spent more time staring at the place rather than working on it.

Q: You neglected the blog through almost the entire framing process. What gives?
A: The framing work was intense and exhausting, and it was hard to spend time writing about it after 3-4 days of working. With the exception of the hipped porch roof, however, it really wasn't all that hard. Building the walls was relatively easy, and the sheathing was only difficult in that it was awkward to work with on ladders on the South side. The hardest thing about framing the roof was the sheathing and shingling - something that I would have done myself anyway had I not opted for a 45-degree angle. I knew very little about framing when I started, but two books gave me everything I needed:
  • The Ultimate Guide to House Framing by John D. Wagner
  • Working Alone: Tips and Techniques for Solo Building by John Carroll.
Q: When you were planning the electrical, did you consider going solar and staying 'off the grid'?
A: I did, but the fact that I had a CVPS pole less than 100' from the cabin made it just too easy to go conventional. Again - we're doing everything with cash, so a big outlay for solar now would just mean that the rest of the work gets done much later in the future, preventing us from actually using the place. My current plan is to add solar panels after we've finished to feed power back to CVPS. Vermont does net metering, so this should offset the cost of electrical significantly. Not quite 'off the grid', but arguably the next best thing. The other thing that worked against solar was the fact that it seemed to require a different well setup - low flow pump and underground storage reservoir - that would also make the well installation more expensive.

Q: No that the market has recovered, any regrets about cashing out the 401(k) during the panic?
A: Ah, yeah, have to be philosophical about this kind of thing. The story I tell myself these days is that I converted a stock investment into a real estate investment. Yes, the cost of land and materials dropped in the same time frame, but the truth is that I still lost more by cashing out than I gained in lower prices. No one was sure what was going to happen in those dark, post-crash days, though, so I rolled my dice and moved my mice. And now I own a place outright that I was forced to build myself to save money; I'm proud of both, and that's worth something.

Q: What's next?
A: Our goal for 2011 is to get the place to a point where we can use it. That will mean insulation, the primary heat (as opposed to the woodstove, which will come later), plumbing, and the bathroom. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holy Shizz! Look what happened to the cabin while we were gone

Apparently some squatters have moved into our cabin. They were sweet enough, so we're giving them until the New Year to get the hell out.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Here I Am!

LSW here. It’s been a while since I’ve been up to the cabin. It’s getting kind of hard now. The Boy has his own social calendar and frankly, it’s exhausting to both work on the cabin and keep an eye on His Highness. He did a great job when he was 3 years old, playing with his plastic food and searching the woods for mushrooms. But now that he’s older, faster and always a step or two ahead of me, it’s a lot of work.
But in one of those unexpected moments of good fortune, The Boy’s grandparents stopped by and whisked him away, giving the Vermonster and I free rein to go up to Shangri-La alone.
This was the first time I’ve seen the cabin since the land has been leveled and seeded. We have a yard! And what a difference it makes. Suddenly it’s gone from a structure built on sandy soil and rocks to a cute little cabin in the woods.
The weather report for the day was iffy, although the temperatures were supposed to be in the 50’s, not bad considering it’s Vermont. We realistically could’ve been stuck in a snowstorm this time of year.
It was pretty chilly and grey and misty. Certainly not one of Vermont’s better days, but we managed to get some work done. I stained lots of shingles while the Vermonster continued to nail them on the front of the cabin. He’s said before that it’s slow-going work, and he’s right. Four hours later, we got a lot done but it’s still not finished. I guess that’s the price you pay for charming shingle rather than a more practical type of siding.
We might have another decent day to do some more work in the next few weeks, but chances are, winter will settle in soon. It’ll be time to lay low and concentrate on our winter hobbies: dulcimer for the Vermonster, trying to maintain a writing career for me. Next summer should offer more projects of interest and hopefully we’ll actually be staying there. I’m thinking positive and I refuse to liken this project to the Taj Mahal; our beautiful home that we never actually get to stay in. In six months, get ready for blog posts about our overnights at Shangri-La. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

...and continues...

Back up last Tuesday as the quest to cover the Tyvek continues. Some notes:
  • Working on the porch roof was more difficult (and painful) than I expected. Sitting continually on an angle causes you to use muscles in ways your not used to, and you get sore easily. I ached for 2 days after.
  • Manually measuring and cutting shingles for two separate angles - the porch roof and the gable - isn't hard, but it takes time. Lots of it, if you're using a handsaw.
  • It occurred to me that snow may be sitting against the shingles within 2-3 feet of the porch roof, and so I decided to seal the backs and sides of each shingle before it went up. You can imagine how much time that took.
In the end, here's what 5 hours got me:


The work above this point will go faster, as I'll revert to not sealing the backs. There's still the west side to do, though, so I'm figuring 2 more trips...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tyvek as Taskmaster

The Tyvek is driving me nuts. The packaging warns that it should not remain exposed for more than 6 months, but the front of the cabin has been basking in murderous sunlight for almost a year. With average daytime temps dropping fast, I'm watching daily for those rare, remaining days when the mercury is predicted to be 50 and the chance of precipitation below 20%.

They are few and far between.

Last Thursday was one of them, though, and I was up at 5 with grand plans to finish the front siding and close down for the winter. I took a PTO day, carved a conspicuous hole in a critical project at work and packed the truck in the dark only to find that it had rained in Shangri-La until almost 8 am, and all of the siding was soaked.

[Insert profanity here]

So I set to work installing the front porch light, only to realize that the right way to do it is to cut a hole in the wall and place a single gang box behind it, not run the wires through the wall and splice them to the power supply unprotected. Duh. Unfortunately, I didn't have a jig saw with me, and so I compromised by mounting the gang box facing the inside of the cabin. It works, and will probably be fine, but I didn't feel good about it.

Figuring it would take another hour for the Tyvek to dry out, I began sealing the shingle that was already up. Easy, right? Should take an hour or two, yes? 3 1/2 hour later, the job was done, and I was looking at a late lunch and still not a single new shingle in place.

After a quick lunch, I gave up hope of actually finishing the siding and decided to mow the lawn, which was already almost a foot high. I set the lawnmower to the highest setting and discovered two three things:
  1. Mowing a sloping property is a lot harder than a flat one.
  2. Mowing on freshly spread and loosely compacted topsoil is a lot like marching on the beach.
  3. The thought that you might have a heart attack is more frightening when you have no phone, no close neighbors, and no chance the wife will wonder what happened to you until you don't show up at home many hours hence.

In the end, I put up and stained the final row of shingles under the porch, and began the process of rising up and around the porch trim work. Not a bad day's work, really, but the faded Tyvek mocked me as I pulled out at 4 PM and headed for home, knowing that I'd need to come up at least one more time.

I should have just used builder's felt.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Siding Intermission: Essential Tools

I was just making notes on what I want to accomplish on my next trip to Shangri-la, and the tools I need to be sure to bring, and it occurred to me that I've never commented on the tools that I've found essential to an effort like this. So without further ado...

First Place: A pickup truck. Absolutely essential. You cannot build something like this without one. Best tool ever. Once you own one, you'll never be able to live without it. You'll begin looking down your nose at the smooth-skinned pansies who drive around in European sports cars. You pity the guys you see at the dump who have to cram their garbage and yard waste into the back seat or the trunk. You'll also suddenly be the best friend of anyone who doesn't have one, unfortunately.
Second Place: A gas nail gun. Nothing will make framing go faster. The best tool I purchased next to the pickup. And it's like a gun, so it's got that going for it.
Third Place: 12" Compound Mitre Saw and stand. You cannot live without this for any kind of roof framing, and - as a bonus - it makes quick work out of walls, siding and trim.
Fourth Place: Clamps. From quick-release to pipe clamps, these are essential to working alone, taking the place of the slave labor you couldn't find.
  • Heavy-Duty cordless drill
  • Corded drill (because your batteries will run out, and you'll need it while they're charging)
  • Hammers (for small nails, and for when the gas nailer decides to go on vacation for no good reason)
  • Ladders in various sizes, from a step-stool to at least 24'
  • Speed Square (you'll be amazed at how much you use this)
  • Power Saw
  • Hand Plane (don't let Norm fool you - not all the best tool have power chords)
  • Assorted Screwdrivers
  • Tape Measures and Pencils (the more the better, as they are always getting misplaced)
  • Chalk Line
  • Pneumatic Finish Nailers and Portable Compressor (a second-place winner for trimwork or cabinetry)
  • Levels in various sizes, from 4" to 5'
Other things I always carry with me:
  • Compass (the pencil-and-point kind, not the directional one)
  • Chisels
  • Paint brushes
  • Sawhorses
  • Japanese saws - small and large (cuts on the pull rather than the push)
  • Hand Saw
  • Cat's Paws in various configurations
  • Nail cutter
  • Socket set or wrenches
  • Vice grips
  • Pliers

And to hold it all: A good-quality tote and tool belt.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

...and continues....

Had to get away from the Corporate Grind yesterday, so I high-tailed it for the cabin and continued the shingle work. Made it to the top of the first floor and then took a break to install the 2x6 facia boards for the porch. The sides weren't too bad, but trying to test fit the 15' front section was a trial; thank god for clamps - they are the MVP of tools for anyone working alone. The day was typical for New England - freezing and partly cloudy in the morning, ominously overcast and windy at noon, clear skies and warm by 2, and partly cloudy again when I left.Again - believe it or not - this was a solid 5 hours of work.

We'll have an 8x8 deck off the back door for the grill, and likely a patio to the left.

Someday I'll get those final two pieces of shiplap up.

*sigh* I'm going to be a slave to the lawn mower on vacation, too.

When the leaves start falling, it's clear I could have a nice view of the ridge with a little tree thinning.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The siding continues...

I did a quick day trip to Shangri-La last Monday to get concrete in the Sonotubes for the back porch and begin the front siding. I'd never worked with concrete before, but - other than lugging around the 80-pound bags - it was no big deal. The siding went faster than I expected, but I'm still guessing it's going to take 3 more day trips to complete it and the porch trim.

Dan was right - the grass is coming in pretty quickly. Enough so that I may have to bring the mower up next time. Looks good!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finishing the Porch and the Septic

Two day trips followed the big porch weekend. The first trip was on a Monday, which 'felt' strange. It was a holiday, but somehow everything seemed different from any given Saturday or Sunday. It was a beautiful day, but I couldn't quite bring myself to enjoy it - I guess Mondays suck everywhere.

A nice porch to survey the equally nice landscaping

Always one to underestimate, I figured that the porch roof would take less than 6 hours. After a solid 8 hours I ran out of shingles and was forced to call it quits. A few things about roofing if you've never done it before:

  • It's hot work, even if the day is nice. The sun is bearing down on you from above when you start, and as soon as you get enough shingles down, it's radiating up, too.
  • It's murder on the knees and hands. Shingles are covered in asphalt and stone, so they tear up jeans and rub skin raw.
  • Due to the aforementioned asphalt, you'll be filthy when you're done.
  • Shingles are really heavy. Fortunately, Dan and Tom were on site to continue the septic work, so Tom passed them up to me using the front-loader. God bless him.

Guys who do roofing for a living earn every dime they make - take my word for it.

On the second trip I arrived to find that Dan had finished the topsoil, seed, and mulch. The place looked great! The weeds, rocks and stumps were gone, the land was smooth and open, and the hardwood Dan had removed for the leech field was neatly stacked by the well. The place was almost starting to look finished from the outside. Nice. The only rough landscape work that remains is to hardpack the driveway - something that will run me about $1,200 and so will have to wait for next year.

On the other hand, I'm going to have a lot to mow...

The remaining shingle work - about 1/4 of the roof, the two ridges and flashing against the house - took about 4 hours total. At that point it was almost 2 PM, and I decided to pack it in rather than beginning a new job.

All said and done, the Septic came to about $7,250. This was $500 more than originally estimated as I asked Dan to bring in enough topsoil to take care of the land all around the cabin, not just over the septic work. The porch - which I originally estimated at $500 - worked out to closer to $1,000. 

The leaves were beginning to turn, and the air already had a touch of fall in it - it won't be long until we're closing down again for the year. I want to get the front siding on and finish the 4 or 5 remaining pieces of EWP on the back and sides. Trimming the eaves and porch would be nice, but somehow I doubt it's going to all get done this year. We've done pretty good this year, though, so I'm not complaining: Well, septic, landscaping, siding, porch, interior framing and electrical - not bad considering that it feels like we've barely been up there this year...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Cost of Being Hip(ped)

It was just after noon on Saturday when I reached my low point. While my father and Mr Big created knee walls for the back loft, I stood in the [future] living room and considered a declaration of defeat. I just couldn't see us calculating, cutting and installing all of the angles a hipped roof requires in anything like the time left, and building the porch roof alone on a subsequent weekend was an overwhelming prospect.

The work had begun just after noon on Friday, when my father and I arrived to find the materials that LaValley's had delivered that morning, and the first order of business was to create a 2x6 'box' between the deck joists over the beam to ensure that the porch posts' load transferred directly to the ground rather than relying on the strength of the decking and joists alone. That having been done, we turned to the decking.

I considered composite material, but - at over 3 times the cost of pressure-treated ($400 vs. $125 for a 6.5'x14' deck) - it was out of my budget. I think of decking as being 'quick work', but the process of ensuring uniform spacing both 1) of all boards and 2) over the length of each individual board required that one of us gauge the spacing and insert the screws while the other pushed or pulled on the end to compensate for each board's bow. We had just finished when Mr Big pulled in just in time for beer and steaks. Uncanny timing.

"If we were taller we'd be able to touch the top of this post."
 The next morning was spent erecting the porch posts and building the 'box' they supported: A ledger board (lag-bolted to the cabin just above the front window trim) and 3 sides of doubled 2x6s to support the rafters. By lunch, we were ready to frame the roof, just as soon as I figured out the angles needed. And here we ground to a halt. Or rather, I did. They quickly bored of watching me scratch my head and began building the knee walls for the loft.

In retrospect, here's where I went wrong: For some reason, I constructed a Byzantine process for holding the boards in place and marking the cuts by eye rather than simply doing the math and laying the rafters out with a carpenter's square. I let myself be intimidated by the fact that -- unlike the cabin roof -- I was dealing with a hipped roof that would require multiple compound angles. After futzing around for a couple of hours and finally losing all hope (maybe I should just build a pergola?), I pulled out the carpenter's square and did it the right way.

Its a miracle!

And wouldn't you know it worked perfectly better than expected. By 5 PM the porch roof framing was up -- all 15 rafters in all of their compoundy-angle glory. We had only 3 problems:

  1. The Paslode would periodically decide to go on a 15-20 minute holiday, its indicator light mocking us in green or red and refusing to respond to any of the manual's remedies until it was good and ready.
  2. I swear to God every other sentence uttered that afternoon was "Where's the pencil?" Why did we have only one pencil? Why didn't one of us keep it in a pocket? In the future, I'm bringing at least 5 pencils to the job site; one will be tied to the mitre saw, and another is going to be Velcroed to my hat.
  3. We forgot two ancient pieces of advice: 'Measure twice, cut once' and 'quit while you're ahead'. Rather than resting for the night on our framing laurels, we cut the first piece of sheathing into a shape that was breathtaking in how poorly it fit the roof. Breathtaking, I tell you.
On Sunday the team showed both determination and ingenuity in managing to sheath the entire porch roof despite being sure we had only enough material for about 80% of it. The tar paper, roofing shingles and -- as always -- the siding were left for another day.

"That's what all those games of Tetris were for..."

 While all of this was going on, Dan and Tom -- of Taylor Excavating -- were hard at work on the septic system. They began work on Friday morning, and were essentially done by Saturday night. The work will be inspected by Marquise and Morano early this week, and then Dan will finish covering, grading and seeding in about a week. He's also going to set the Sonotubes for the back deck, and -- depending upon the final costs -- possible topsoil and seed the east side of the cabin as well.

Our beautiful new septic tank in situ
 My father, Mr Big and I passed the evenings in the Saxtons River Inn while the LSW selflessly dealt with wrestling The Boy to bed. She felt that we might enjoy a 'guys weekend', and it certainly was appreciated. I owe everyone a debt of gratitude - this porch is one of my 'must haves' for the cabin, and without them it likely would have devolved into a simple deck with a pergola, an arrangement I would have grumbled about for years.

The first official beer on the porch.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Slow but Steady Progress

Interior, looking toward the bathroom and kitchen area
The cabin already lives in my mind as something we've been doing forever, so I was surprised to be reminded a few  days ago that we only started the work last May. Amazing.

My confusion probably stems from the fact that we were working almost every weekend last year, whereas this year we've only been up a handful of times. Last year we had a lockable shell to create before winter, and the process of framing a house yields dramatic results rather quickly. This year, the focus has been on the well, siding, and electrical, and the work is decidedly less glamorous.

The siding especially is monotonous work, made worse by the fact that my trim work is flush and needs to be cut around. I only have about 4 boards left to go (if you don't include the front, which I can't side until the porch is on), so we should be able to finish it next time around. Here's what I'd do differently next time:

  • First and foremost, I'd make sure that the trim and siding is not flush. This would allow me to rabbet the trim so the siding can tuck under it, eliminating the need to try and get every cut 'just right'.
  • I'd have gone with my first plan for window trim: Create a 'ladder' of trim that includes the window in the middle with sections of singles above and below it. The trim boards on each side would go from the bottom to the top of the wall. This would prevent me from having to cut around the windows at all, and would have tied the sides into the front (which I've now decided is going to be all shingle).
  • I'd have gone with my original plan to do the rear gable in shingles. Trying to work with 16' boards that have to be trimmed to the angle of the roof, cut to fit around windows and held in place vertically while trying to get the spacing right is a real pain in the @ss.
  • I would have sealed the back as well as the sides and face of each board. With the gaps I've got around the trimwork - small though they may be - I can't help but fear that they're going to rot before their time.
Almost done with the west side!

There's been two trips up since I last wrote: The first was a 2-night trip with the LSW and The Boy. Our primary goal was to flush out the well and test the water (everything checked out perfectly), and while this was happening we worked on the siding. By 2 PM on Saturday, we were exhausted and closed up shop when friends came to visit.

The second was a day trip with a friend. After a few beers the night before, he volunteered to accompany me the next day, and I'm guessing he was wondering what the hell he had been thinking when I pulled up at 6 am the next morning. I appreciated the help and the company, though I feel bad that I set him to work staining siding. We hung some additional siding and framed two knee walls for the front loft before packing up, hitting the Top of  the Hill BBQ joint in Brattleboro and heading for home. Thanks, Nick!

I should note that we had a little excitement during the day when the nail gun 'hopped' during firing and took a small chunk out of my right thumb. There was a lot of blood, but it turned out to be little more than a flesh wound. I can't really blame this on the gun - I was holding the boards together at an odd angle and without good bracing. While my thumb pulsed and ached the rest of the day, I realized that it was one of the very few accidents we have had so far in the building process - knock on wood.

The next trip up will be next weekend; my father is looking to lend a hand this year, and he's arranged to drive up on Thursday. We'll all head up to Shangri-La Friday morning, and Mr Big (my brother-in-law) will meet us there for 2 nights and 2 1/2 days of porch framing, front siding, and finishing what is left of the side/back siding.

Somehow I've got to fit a porch roof between the top of the door and the bottom of the gable window...

We've also decided to move forward on the septic system. Estimates on the system came in at right around $6,500, and once again we've decided to use Taylor Excavating. The work will include clearing the remaining trees, excavating, all materials, topsoil and seeding. I've asked Dan to estimate an additional load of topsoil and seeding for the rest of the property, and he noted that he would give us a credit for the pile of topsoil he saved during the initial land clearing. The work may begin as early as next weekend.

I hadn't expected to be able to do more than the well, electrical and siding this year, but it turns out we've run into a small annual inheritance in memory of my father's late wife. While this means the funding for the rest of the work is assured, the circumstance by which we receive it are sad. We'll think of her as the work completes, and she'll be a presence each time we use it. Rest in peace, Judy - you put up one hell of a fight.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review Tuesday!

LSW here. During these times of trial cabin-building days, we've often turned to the local library for advice, instruction and 25 cent coffee. One book that the Vermonster has found to be invaluable was this:
He's renewed it so many times that the librarians know him. And the book. It's been out of circulation for a few months now. Apparently it was pretty helpful, because we now have power in the cabin.
That was the book he found most informative.
I, on the other hand, was excited to find this at the library booksale:
I found it on the last day of the five-day booksale, and I have no idea how it didn't get scooped up way before I got to it. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but flipping through it, I was excited to see that it truly is a manual with instructions on how to dig and where. I just noticed that it's written by a woman. For some reason, this surprises me. Some feminist I am.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Put Out the Welcome Mat, Pa! We Gots Us Some Visitors

LSW here. We had guests a few weekends ago! The Vermonster, The Boy and I headed up to Shangri-La on a Friday night and the next morning we were up early and hard at work on the siding. The first thing we did was remove two wasp nests that were in the process of being built into the eaves of the house. Then we proceeded to work on the other side of the house, since there were some pretty pissed off wasps flying around. In all fairness, if some giant alien came and knocked down the cabin as we were building it, I'd be looking to blow off a little steam, too.
So we were hard at work on a beautiful, albeit humid day. Our strength was just starting to wane as our friends Susan and Bob and their kids Will and Alexandra pulled up. Thank God. We jumped in our cars and headed over to Grafton, to find what one guide book described as an "off-the-beaten path swimming hole with sanitary facilities."
(Bob and Alexandra checking out the guest room)

I was so ready to jump into a cool, refreshing pond,  but what we found was less like a Little House on the Prairie swimming hole and more like a cess pool. And the facilities? A knocked-over Port-a-Potty. We didn't even get out of the car. Instead, we headed back to Saxton's River (stopping along the way for some ice cream) and discovered a fantastic swimming area in the river. Let me tell you, nothing beats jumping into a cool Vermont river after working your butt off all day being pursued by angry stinging insects.
Then it was back to the inn where the kids had fun and, I'd dare say, the adults had an equally enjoyable evening. Shades of things to come, I hope. It can only get better as we get closer to finishing this damn thing.
I have to admit, it's kind of weird to have "visitors" to the cabin. I guess it's just human nature to wonder if they think we're absolutely off our rockers for A) building a cabin ourselves and B) building a cabin in a town with nothing in it. I mean, it's not like it matters to anyone but us, but of course, I also don't want to give the impression that I'm planning on a future of bomb-making and manifesto writing.
In other news, the Vermonster went up to Shangri-La today with his friend Nick, whereupon the first (and hopefully last) nail gun incident took place. I'll let him tell you all about that. I can't stand the sight of blood.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Hookup

Last Friday I did a day-trip to Shangri-La for the well hookup. The evening before, Taylor Excavating was on site to dig the trench from the well to the cabin. Record Concrete had left a hole in the foundation for the water with 2 PVC pipes that extended 4 feet beyond the foundation walls. As Dan Taylor had done the foundation excavating, he knew right where to find them.

On Friday, I rolled in at about 8 am, and Green Mountain Well pulled in at about 10. While I continued the electrical work - completing the rear lighting circuit and beginning on the bathroom - they installed the pressure tank, ran the lines, and lowered the pump into the well. After I made the electrical connection (they can do a run directly to the fuse box, but aren't licensed to tie into the line I had already provided), we fired 'er up. Pump? Check. Pressure? 50 lbs - Check. Cold, fresh water? Check.

We're in business.

Dan Taylor was back by 2:30 to fill in the trench, and by 5 pm I was back on the road. For those of you keeping score, the well package rang up at $6545, and the excavating $440. Water ain't cheap, but we sure are happy to have it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I am the Walrus

LSW here. Time for a little lightening up, wouldn't you say? The Vermonster has been busy brainstorming solutions for a few weeks now, but I think we've got it all figured out. We've organized the items in, what I believe, is a manageable and less stressful punch list. Now we can kind of take it easy, actually.
On our last trip to Shangri-La, we came upon several wonderful sites. This:
and this:Oh no, sorry. That's from the Museum of Natural History in New York. But we did discover wild strawberries growing on our property!
Now allow me to get a bit philosophical here for a moment. When we started this project, I wasn't so sure that it was a wise decision. After all, we're two people with no building experience, and one of us is clueless when it comes to things mechanical. One of us is also very clumsy, so it didn't really seem like the smartest thing to do. But I will admit (just don't tell the Vermonster), that this has been quite a learning experience for me. Today while I was at the gym, I actually chose to watch HGTV over the Food Network. They were re-doing a backyard and building a Japanese pagoda/deck. The host asked the owner of the house, "Have you ever used a nail gun?" The big, burly guy said, "No," and I was like, "What? Come on, wuss!" Because, you see, I believe that once you've used a Paslode, you can do almost anything.
Now I can change the belts in the vacuum cleaner. I can take the grill apart to clean it. And you know what? I even know what a fuse box is for. I may not have been able to light up a dollhouse in 7th grade science class, but check me out now, Mr. Vince! I can wire up a cabin for a microwave, stove and lights while simultaneously entertaining a 4-year-old. So while logistics like septic vs. well plague the Vermonster at night, I've been going to sleep feeling like Wonder Woman.

On Optimistic Estimates

Well, the fix is in: The revised septic is going to cost me about $6,700. Certainly better that the 11k+/- we were facing with the mound system, but significantly above the $5k I budgeted (and the $3,500 I was secretly hoping for). The same day the estimate came in, I happened to learn that psychologists long ago identified a systematic bias in humans toward overly optimistic estimates - even when those humans have experience with the thing being estimated. I don't have experience with estimating septic systems, but it helps to know that it wouldn't have mattered if I had. *sigh*

My original hope for this year had been to finish the siding (which means also building the front porch), install the electrical, hook up the well so we had water on the property (even if it was only through a hose) and get the septic installed. Doing this would mean that we could stay overnight and the exterior of the property would look finished - at least to the extent that the grass and grading would be complete.

The well, however, was about 2,000 more than I expected, and the septic looks like it will be the same, so something is going to have to wait. Our options:
  • Scrounge about $700 to put the septic in and wait on the well and porch
  • Finish hooking up the well, complete the porch and siding, and tuck away the remaining $2,500 toward next year's work.
I was on my way to arranging for the septic, but the LSW has convinced me that we should finish the well. Her reasoning? If we go with the well, porch and siding, at least we can say that everything we began this year is finished, and we have the option of staying overnight on occasion. If we go with the septic, we have the biggest remaining item out of the way, but only the electrical will actually be done, and we still can't use the place.

As always, I've asked Dan Taylor of Taylor excavating to take care of the trench from the well to the cabin, and Green Mountain Well will complete the process by adding the pump, pressure tank, hookup, sanitizing of the system and water testing. These items are supposed to come in at about $3,000 in total, and rest assured I've included a cushion to compensate for the so-called 'optimism bias' this time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Remains of the Day

Is there anything better than sitting in a comfortable recliner, fresh from a hot shower and a cold IPA in hand after 6 hours of travel and 5 hours of hard labor? Save your breath - I can state conclusively that there isn't. Unless you garnish the scene with a hot barbecue pulled pork sandwich topped with cold slaw. And maybe some sweet potato fries. Ah, well - 3 out of 5 ain't bad.

It's troubling, however, that my 5 hours of work bought me about 1/3 more siding on the back wall. That's about 6 boards total, to be honest. If you subtract the setup and tear-down time, that's an astonishing 1 hour per board. Now, granted, there was measuring, cutting and test-fitting multiple times to accommodate the upstairs window, and most had to be stained after they were up, but really, 1 hour per board?? At this rate, the siding will finally be complete - what? - just before I'm dead? They say slow and steady wins the race, though, so I plod along...

It was a milestone day, however, as I was finally working from a power cord plugged into an in-cabin outlet. Yes, CVPS hooked us up yesterday, and Hennessey finished connecting the various circuits into the box. The wiring itself isn't quite done, but the circuits that are now have power. The cloud to this silver lining, however, is that I also got the bill: $847 - about $200 more than I budgeted. Not that the bill from Hennessey was unreasonable - the criticism is aimed solely at my optimistic budgeting. For the record, Hennessey was a pleasure to deal with - I'd recommend them without hesitation.

So now we're waiting on the state to approve the revised septic plan, and Taylor Excavating to provide an estimate. I dare not hope that Dan will tell me that the septic will be $3,500 bucks, but unless he does we won't have both a well pump and a septic system this year. Still, with electrical in the house, we have the option of carting in our own water and staying overnight. Hell, we could even splurge on a solar camping shower and portable toilet and make the accommodations downright luxurious. Huh. I wonder how the LSW would feel about that?

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Quest for Water: Update

I just spoke with Green Mountain Well.

The good news: We have 20 gallons per minute.
The bad news: They found it at 300'.

Why bad? Because I had budgeted based upon about 200'. And I had assumed 20' feet of well casing. An extra 100' of depth and 80' of casing adds more than $2,000 to the total cost, putting my hopes of installing the septic this year in jeopardy.

The septic monitoring was also a mixed bag. We can move to an in-ground system (which is good), but the perk results dictate a system that is pretty big (which ain't so good). Still, the revised system should be a whole lot less expensive than the mound, so we'll see.

[7/18/10 Update: I got the preceding paragraph wrong. In speaking with the engineer, I understand that the perk actually isn't particularly bad. The system looks big because it is designed for a 3-bedroom home rather than our modest little shoebox. Could I reduce the size? Yes? Should I? Probably not. If I want to expand some day, things will be a whole lot easier and cheaper if I take the incremental cost during the initial install; if I decide to sell, the value will be much higher if the new owners can easily expand.]

My goal this year had been to get both the well and septic in so that:
A) The land that was cleared wouldn't completely regrow to engulf the cabin
B) The value of the property would be significantly enhanced on the off chance we were forced to sell for some reason.

Right now the budget is such that I can either wait on the well pump or wait on the septic system. To meet both goals, I should opt for the former. Though without the well pump, I've got no water for the fledgling grass, and - if the summer is dry - I could end up engulfed in weeds and trees again, resulting in extra expense next year. I suppose the next step is to get some hard estimates on the revised septic...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Quest for Water

The well was scheduled for 6/17 - 18, and so we checked into the Saxtons River Inn on 6/16 and were on-site by 7:30 AM the next day. Anticipation gave way to cautious optimism by 9 am, and by 10:30 I sent the LSW to the highway in search of a cell phone signal to find out what was up.

While she was away, I continued plugging away at the wiring, distracted by every vehicle I could hear (but not see) slowing to round the sharp curve at the bottom of our road. At 11:30 the LSW reported that the crew was about 1/2 mile away if we wanted to stop over and get a status.

So that was the racket we had been hearing in the distance all morning!

I worked all day, becoming more irritated with each passing hour, but - in fairness - a message had been left on our home answering machine the evening of 6/16 to let us know they would likely be a day late. We just didn't think to check it. At 5 PM we packed it in and drove the 1/2 mile to find that they were finished, packing up, and about to drop the well-drilling rig off at our place.
And so it was that drilling commenced on 6/18 at about 10 AM, while the LSW and I strung wire and The Boy sat in front of the back door watching the action around the well site. At 4 PM, they closed up shop, having hit ledge at 100', inserted the well casing to that point, and drilled another 20 feet looking for water. Ed stopped by in the middle of the day to check the crew's progress, and explained that the drilling starts using a water mixture that is heavy enough to prevent the hole from collapsing when they remove the drill. As water is continually flushed out of the hole, it is checked to determine if the drill has hit ledge. Once it has, the water keeps the hole open while steel well casing is inserted down to ledge level, and the drilling proceeds using air until water is struck. In our area, they are expecting water somewhere between 100 and 250'. The drilling is pretty slow while they are using water, but speeds up significantly after. This means they should know on Monday where we stand.

Best case: They hit water before 150'
Worst case: They don't hit water after 280' and we have to decide whether or not to spend $2,500 on 'hydrofracking'

At about $9 a foot for drilling, I've got my fingers crossed...


I have a new appreciation for why electricians charge what they do. It's not so much that the work is hard as that it takes forever. I have 40+ hours into the wiring effort so far, including design work at home and 2 solid weekends drilling holes, running/stripping/splicing wire, hooking up receptacles, switches and fixtures, and wrapping with electrical tape. The LSW added a few more in doing the same and attaching nailing plates to the studs to ensure we don't drive nails through the wire after the wallboard is up. Half of this work took place during the monsoons last weekend, as the LSW previously reported. The other half took place on Thursday and Friday.

Like anything, the process gets easier as you go. You run a circuit, realize you've made mistakes, and redo it. Or you find an easier way halfway through. A few things I learned the hard way:
  • Receptacles are polarized. The hot (black or red wire) should be on the side with the narrow slot, and the neutral wire (white) should be on the side with the wider slot.
  • Make the pigtails (short wires running from a switch or receptacle to a wire nut) long enough to work with.
  • Don't try and cram everything together. I tried to branch a feeder wire to 4 separate lighting circuits in a triple-gang switch box, and found I couldn't cram it all in once all the connections were made. After mulling this over all night I realized that I should have done the branching in a double gang box in the basement below the switches, simplifying both my connections at the switches and my ability to trace the circuit later.
  • Working in a crawlspace sucks. Every single time I went down there I tried to stand up and cracked my skull against a floor joist. Next time: A full basement.
  • Spacing floor joists 1 foot on center is great for stability, but makes it really hard to drill holes to run wires...
The monsoon weekend, I was able to run the 15-amp general receptacle circuit, the 50-amp range circuit, the 20-amp basement GFI socket circuit, and the 20-amp, 240-volt well pump circuit. With these in place, I left a key with Hennessey electric, and they hooked the circuits into the panel, installed the meter socket and got me ready for CVPS to hook up the power. There were two challenges here:
  • The service hookup in Vermont has to be to a gable end, has to be at least 16' above grade, and must be more than 3' from any window. This was a challenge, but CVPS allowed me to come in above the window at the very tip of the gable, despite the fact that I didn't quite have the space.
  • A load panel (aka 'fuse box') is supposed to be placed so that there is 36' inches around it for access. It can't be over a counter or in a closet, and it can't go in a crawlspace. There is no building inspector in Shangri-La, but I wanted everything to be code if possible. This meant that the panel had to go near the front door even though the serviced came in by the back door. To do this, Hennessey had to install a second 100-amp circuit breaker below the meter, to allow the power between the meter and the box to be cut if possible. (Not really a challenge, but certainly more money!)

At this point, I expect I have about 8 hours of wiring left to go. Adding up the receipts, so far I have over $1,300 in materials and - I expect - about $300 for labor. I'm thinking I saved about $1,000 in labor by doing it myself.

While we were working on this, Green Mountain Well was on site drilling for water. More about that in the next post...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rain, rain, go away!

LSW here.

Here's our new checklist before leaving for Shangri-La:
_Do we have the keys?
_Did we pack sweatshirts?
_Did we check the weather forecast?

This weekend we had the keys, but neglected the other two items. We arrived to find it A) pouring rain and B) freezing cold. In addition, our lumber hadn't been delivered.

Hmmm.This looked like quite a dilemma. And of course, there's always the question of what do you do with a four-year-old in a dark, cold cabin for eight hours? It was looking bleak. However, things turned around pretty quickly. The Boy was quite content to sit in the car and pretend he was driving while The Vermonster showed me how to hook up wires to sockets. Oh yes I did! I used wire cutters and a screw driver! I hooked up some electric shizz. No need for you, DeVry University.

Around lunchtime, I headed out to get some sandwiches and to find a place where I could get cell reception to make some calls. First, I called the lumber company and was told the wood was being delivered within the hour. Second, I called my parents who said they *might* come up to see the digs. I hoped to catch them before they left to say, "Don't come! It's raining cats and dogs!" But when my dad answered, he said they were at the Vermont rest stop.

Let me divert just a moment to say that the Vermont Welcome Center is an attraction onto itself. When you pull into the parking lot, there's an open barn/gazebo type place where the library raises money by selling home baked goods and used books. The main building is a huge, new barn-like structure with displays from area stores, tourist sites, etc. There are tons of brochures and of course, bathrooms. If you ever go to Vermont, be sure to take a break there.

So I got some sandwiches at the Putney Co-Op and got back to the cabin just before my parents arrived. Our first lunch guests! We showed them around the place ("This will be a closet, this will be a bathroom") and then I decided to head down to Brattleboro with them while the Vermonster worked on the electrical.

All that rain was a blessing in disguise. He got the bulk of the wiring done, which probably wouldn't have happened had it been sunny.

The Saxton's River Inn was booked for the night (there was a local music festival going on), so we stayed in a cabin at the Brattleboro North KOA campground. Had it been a nice evening, we could've sat outside and had a fire and roasted marshmallows. Instead, The Boy got to watch the first half hour of Toy Story and then we went in search of pizza. We ended up in Bellows Falls at the Athens Pizza & Family Restaurant. It's the kind of place where you give your order at the counter and then bring it to your table. We ordered a large pepperoni pizza and two glasses of Cabernet. The wine was chilled, so that tells you a little something about the place. We were hesitant to eat there because we live in Connecticut, the epicenter of fantastic pizza. We've never had good pizza outside of Connecticut, and the rest of New England suffers from Crappy Pizza Syndrome. I have to say, though, that this pizza was actually really good in a junk food sort of way. Even The Boy ate an entire piece. We went back to the rental cabin where all three of us immediately hit the hay and slept until 8.

This morning we went back to the cabin and The Vermonster finished up the wiring while I painted some more siding. We stopped at the Top of the Hill BBQ we always go to and had lunch and now we are back. For three whole days. On Thursday, the well drilling begins!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Look what I can do !

LSW here, trying to get in a quick blog post before my computer takes a dirt nap.
First of all, let me just state for the record that 1) the Vermonster knows I am not a morning person and work at only 1/8 of my capacity before 9 a.m.; 2) Not only do I have to pack and get myself out the door in the morning, but The Boy as well, which is no easy feat, I assure you; and 3) The Vermonster was the one who took my keys instead of his own, so I claim no responsibility whatsoever in the Great Key Mishap of 2010.
Now, onto the cabin.
I must admit, I've gotten off to a sluggish start this year. My enthusiasm has waned a bit, probably more out of the stress of having to manage a 4-year-old AND a 42-year-old, rather than building the cabin itself.
However, something happens every time we cross over the border into Vermont. All that green in the mountains makes my heart skip a beat. I can't wait to finish this damn thing so we can finally enjoy all of the beauty (and beer, and food, and artsy stuff) around us.We had a great weekend for building and The Boy was content to roll around in the dirt while we started building the front deck. I felt like hot $#@t on toast using the drill and the ratchet set, not to mention the Paslode. I'm convinced that the men of the world are keeping these tools a secret; they're afraid we're going to go all Martha Stewart on them and start building chicken coops and fixing our own bathrooms, thus taking from them all their super powers. I think I'm going to start a new section of this blog: "Tool of the Week." Stay tuned. You won't want to miss it. In the meantime, check out this beautiful river we accidentally found just down the street from Shangri-La.

The Other 60 Percent

I read somewhere that when you have a lockable shell, you're only about 40 done. That seems slightly pessimistic when I quickly tick off the remaining items, but clearly realistic when I sit down to write out what still needs to be done in detail. Add in the amount of time it actually takes to cross any given item off the list, and you begin to wonder if you'll ever actually be finished.

But "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step", and so each weekend I plod along, a bit overwhelmed but still enjoying the journey. Since the last post, there have been 3 trips to Shangri-La, two solo and one with LSW and The Boy in tow.

On the first trip I arrived with a punch list of items: Finish siding the south wall, build the bridge between the lofts, and put up the walls in the crawlspace. A solid day's work, I figured forgetting that a day is 24 hours at best, and only 8 hours realistically given the 6 hours of travel. In the end, the siding was all I accomplished, and even that I ran out of before the south wall was done.

No worries, though - we had planned an overnight the following weekend, and we had big plans to make bigger progress. We were up early and out on time for once, the wife actually stayed awake the whole trip and companionable banter sped the journey along. The Boy was in a good mood, the sun was shining and the mercury settled in the low 70s. Everything was absolutely perfect until we pulled up in front of the cabin and I turned off the car.

"Tell me you brought the keys," I said to the LSW.
"I thought you had them," she replied.
Son of a ...

Faced with a challenge from the universe to practice my zen actively, I calmly dropped the family at our beloved Saxtons River Inn, and spent the next 6 hours in a round-trip journey to retrieve the keys.

Here's the thing, though: Compelled to book a second night, we were pleased to be given the best room in the place "because we were regulars". Sitting that second night with a cold beer after a long day of work on our private front porch overlooking the main street, I had one of those moments where everything - and I mean everything - felt perfect and I knew life could not possibly be any better. So there was that, anyway.

And what did we get done? The deck framing is in place for the front porch, the rear gable is ready for the power hookup and both the general and oven circuits have been run. Less work than I thought we could accomplish, but what else is new?

This last weekend I was on the road by 5:30 am and hard at work by 8:45. I would have been there a little sooner, but I couldn't resist stopping at the Saxtons River Market for a bottled water and a hot donut. Those donuts will kill me one day, but what a way to go. The weather was deceptive: It was the kind of day where you felt slightly chilled while standing still, but were pouring rivers of sweat as soon as you lifted any tool. Really, really, really, humid. I didn't do too bad, though: The walls are up in the crawlspace and the bridge is finally built between the lofts. I rewarded myself with a hot roast beef and Cheddar from the Putney Co-op and listened to the dishy 'Mrs. Astor Regrets' on CD on the way home. The latter is a guilty pleasure, but then who doesn't like to hear about the self-destruction of the rich?

Unless of course, you're the rich in question. Then it just sucks.

In other news, Larry expects to get the meter socket on the house this week, and he'll be contacting me soon about running the power to the panel and hooking up the first couple of circuits. I understand that the revised septic plans are on their way to the State of VT as of last Friday, and even as I write I'm waiting for a callback from Green Mountain Well Drilling about moving my well date from the end of July to the end of June. All good stuff.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The 2010 working season begins!

So I'm up at 6 and ready to go at 6:30. The LSW, however, is sick, and The Boy has decided to spite me by sleeping in for the first time...well, ever. Despite these obstacles, somehow we're on the road by 7:45 - not bad, all things considered.

And what's the occasion? The electrician is meeting with me at 11 AM to talk through my wiring plans. I've got it in my head that I can wire most of the place by myself, and I'm looking for a paid mentor to ensure that I don't kill us all with wayward electrons.

'Larry' shows up promptly at 11 and is polite and professional, despite the fact that I've come up with a 200-amp, 13-circuit plan to wire a 16' x 28' shoebox. And 4 of those circuits are 240 volt. His changes are modest: Take the refridgerator off the GFI circuit and make all the 15-amp circuits 20-amp instead. And we agree to ditch 2 items in the original plan: A generator hookup and a motorhome hookup. Both can be added later if needed, and neither of us can envision my father being able to navigate his bus-sized RV up my narrow dirt road. So what am I planning?

Circuit 1: General purpose receptacle loop - 9 plugs, a smoke detector and a closet light
Circuit 2: Refrigerator plug
Circuit 3: Rear spotlight, kitchen light, kitchen work lights, bath fan/light and bath vanity light
Circuit 4: Front spotlight, entry light, porch light, and main track lights
Circuit 5: Microwave
Circuit 6: Crawlspace receptacles (GFI), exterior receptacles, and crawlspace lights
Circuit 7: Bath receptacles (GFI - separate circuit required by code)
Circuits 8 and 9: Kitchen receptacles (GFI - 2 circuits required by code)
Circuit 10: Range/Oven
Circuit 11: Well pump
Circuits 12 and 13: 9,000 watts of electric baseboard heating for the cabin and crawlspace

And why am I heating the crawlspace? Well, I'm not - not all of it, anyway. The land slopes, leaving half the foundation exposed. To be sure we can use the place in the winter without water lines freezing, I've Isolated all of the plumbing to the wall separating the kitchen from the bath. In the crawlspace below, I'm going to frame in an insulated 10' x 8' room for the expansion tank, hot water heater (electric) and plumbing. I'll heat this with a 4' baseboard heater on its own thermostat, and empty the lines when we're not there.

I considered propane heat for the cabin, but between the super-insulation and the small size, I'm thinking electrical might not be that much more expensive, especially as we're going to install a small wood stove. In the long run, we're likely to install solar and feed the power back to CVPS, which - given that we'll only use the place on weekends - should make our electrical essentially free.

So Larry will take care of the hookup and anything needed to get to the breaker panel, and then he'll inspect my work and hook it in when I'm done. I'm buying all of the materials from the panel on, running all the wires and tying everything together. Or that's the plan, anyway.

It was a beautiful day to work, as it turned out. 70 degrees, few bugs, and The Boy stayed on his best behavior despite the long day and long trip. And despite illness, the LSW managed to help me get another 15' of siding up, which was pretty good considering how slow the siding went when I was working by myself.

And so the work begins for another year...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

This Cabin Brought to You By ...

LSW here, dusting off the old blog and preparing for Vermont 2010: The Adventure Drags On. I've had the whole winter to sit and contemplate what it will someday be like when I'll have the opportunity to call up my pride of cougar friends and say, "Girls' weekend at the cabin! Chocolate, wine and sweat pants!" It's too exciting to think about, actually. I know that day will come, but the reality is that we still have a whole big butt load of work to do.
There's the septic and well, electricity and plumbing, flooring and tiling. It's a bit overwhelming, but we know we've got to take it one step at a time.
The other issue is the fundage. Until the well and septic are done, we have no idea how much we'll have in the budget this year for all the other stuff. It occurs to me: you know what we need? We need a sponsor! I can picture it now: print ads with the two of us, almost like American Gothic standing there in front of the cabin, saying, "We did it! So can you!" and then there will be all the info for, say, Owens Corning insulation or Kohler plumbing supplies.
We could even be like a reality show in ads. Where are we in the process this month? Check out the ad in Better Homes & Gardens!
Are we willing to sell our souls to the dark side of advertorial? You betcha! Bring it on, building supply companies. We're ready and willing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Checking In - March Edition

The snow is melting, the mercury is rising, and I'm slowly recovering my enthusiasm to get back to work. Looking at everything to be done, however, is a little overwhelming: Well, Septic, Landscaping, Electrical, Plumbing, Flooring, Wallboard, Cabinetry, appliances, fittings and fixtures, the remainder of the siding, front porch, back porch, deck, etc., etc. Easy enough if you're either made of money or willing to take out a loan. I'm not and I'm not, respectively, so I'm being forced to to scale back last year's end-of-season dream of hiring a contractor to do the rest for me. So what to tackle next, and how?

Mulling this over for the last month, I've decided on three priorities for this year:

1) Finish last year's work. This includes completing the interior wall framing (furnace room, bathroom and closet), completing the loft catwalk and installing stairs, and finishing the exterior siding. All of this can be done for less than $1,000 as I have half the materials on hand.

2) Get power to the cabin. I've been in full research mode on wiring, and I've concluded that 80% of it is work I can do myself. I'll hire an electrician to inspect the work, wire the load panel, and hook up to CVPS. Including materials, about $1,500.

3) Drill a well. Once we have water available on the property, the prospect of staying there won't be so daunting, even if the 'real' plumbing isn't yet in place. I also want to know for a fact that I have water before I invest in septic. So what's involved?

There seem to be 3 well drillers in the area, and I drove up today to meet with the one who's name I've heard most frequently. 'Ed' from Green Mountain Well Drilling met me promptly at 11 am, confirmed that he could get to the well site with his drilling rig, and then settled onto a stack of wood in the cabin to fill me in on the process. My notes:

  • Most drillers will drill the well, line it from the surface to the bedrock, test the water, install the pump, run the water and power lines to the house, install the pressure tank, and tie into power and plumbing if needed. Excavating for the power and water lines can be done for an extra fee.
  • Ed has done a number of wells in the area, including the one across the street. He expects that the lining will need to be about 40', and that we should hit adequate water at about 250'.
  • The worst case scenario is that we miss the water entirely and find we've got 400 feet and nothing to show for it. If that happens, I can do 'hydrofracking' (breaking new fissures in the bedrock by injecting pressurized water). It's expensive at $2,200, but he guarantees we'll get water.
  • All said an done, the job will be somewhere between $3,500 and $10,000, although he expects my job will probably work out to about $5,000.
  • Shangri-La's heavy equipment prohibition means we can't do the work until May 15th, although Ed noted that the lack of snow means the roads will likely be passable by late April. The work should take about 2 days in total.
  • He also noted that we may find that my water is high in minerals - particularly magnesium. If so, we may need to add a filter to the system.
It was a nice conversation, ranging from the business at hand to solar energy, the state of American manufacturing, local agriculture, and cooking. It occurred to me that it was the first time I had had the opportunity to invite someone inside the cabin to talk, and so - even though it was a professional call - you could argue that we've had our first house guest.

"This place is way overbuilt," he said, looking around. "It ain't gonna fall down, that's for sure."

"That's the nice thing about building it yourself," I replied. "You can do it the way you want to."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Checking In - February Edition

Ran up to Shangri-La on a Saturday morning in mid-February to talk with a CVPS field technician after receiving a letter informing me that poles need to be replaced in my right-of-way this year. I wasn't opposed to the work, but I wanted to understand how they would access the property and what the work would involve.

Remembering the winter before, I expected to have a hard time walking the property, figuring there would be 2 -3 feet of snow on the ground. I reality, there was less than a foot of very hard snow. I got there about an hour before we were supposed to meet and spent a little time in and around the cabin before walking the right-of-way down the hill to where our road meets the state highway. There were lots of animal tracks - including what looked to be moose tracks - everywhere. Living up here should give The Boy a good education in fauna to supplement his self-study in mushrooms.

Dave pulled up in a CVPS truck about a half-hour ahead of schedule, and we spent some time down at the new pole they put in last spring for my power feed talking about the work. Some notes from our conversation:

  • The company plans to put in heavier lines to protect against falling limbs and ice storms. This is going to involve adding a third pole to the right-of-way, but it should benefit us, as problems with any portion of the line will kick out power at the bottom of my property, meaning we lose power, too.
  • The company will access the property where the right-of-way meets the state road. They have equipment that will climb right over the stone wall, so no new curb cuts will be made, and no additional trees need to be felled.
  • They access the property the same way about once every 10 years to clear the undergrowth in the right-of-way. All brush is chipped and left on the property. Any trees cut can be chipped, but they can be cut into fireplace length and stacked if the homeowner prefers.
  • The connection to the cabin will need to be 16' off the ground and 3' away from the loft window. This is going to be close - I'll have to bring a measuring tape up next time to see if this will be possible. My other option - as discussed previously - is to go underground at considerably higher expense.
  • Dave noted that he has lived his whole life in southern Vermont, and had never heard of Shangri-La until he was assigned work here.
  • Dave's wife has people in SW Connecticut, one town over from where we live. Consequently, he's familiar with the area. Doesn't care for it, though - too many people and too crowded. "I'm a country boy at heart." Amen, brother.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Damn Yankee Flatlanders

LSW here. Let's just get this straight. We have no business building a cabin in Vermont. Case in point: this weekend. When we went up on Sunday, it was kind of a gray, mushy day. Vermont was not at its most beautiful, but-- good news-- the cabin was still standing.
We went into the big city to have dinner (trying to use a gift certificate, only to be told the restaurant is closed on Sunday nights), but we found another place and had a yummy spinach salad with roasted winter vegetables, candied almonds and fried goat cheese, pizza and a burger. The Boy behaved himself and even ate some food, and we returned to the inn for some reading and snifters of Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur.*
That's when it all started to go to hell. The Boy, who had been saying how tired he was, decided that, in fact, he'd rather just chat. All. Night. Long.
He finally fell asleep and around 4 a.m., I heard a loud noise. I recognized it immediately: a snow plow.We woke up to find about six inches of beautiful, shimmering white snow capping the trees. It was Vermont at one of its most stunning times.
We tried to go down to the dining room to have breakfast, but The Boy decided he wanted a particular croissant after having already picked out a muffin and proceeded to throw a fit. The Vermonster grabbed him and hauled him upstairs where we waited for the trauma to dissipate. It was time to leave.
So we headed out in the snow-- all of us wearing sneakers-- and realized that we didn't have an ice scraper to get the snow off the car. I'm embarrassed to say, an umbrella was utilized for the task.
Then it was onto the cabin, to take one more look and to take pictures of it in its winter finery.
Let's just cut to the chase: not only do I not have 4-wheel drive, I also have four almost completely bald tires. Yes, we got stuck, right in the middle of the road in front of the cabin. We tried pushing the car, only now it turned horizontally in the road, so now no one would be able to pass if they came up the hill.Picture it, friends. The two of us-- no gloves, no hats (fortunately The Vermonster had boots in the car), with our Connecticut license plate, trying to figure out what the hell we were going to do, while The Boy talked non-stop about anything and everything that came into his field of vision.
We checked one neighbor's house. He wasn't home, but there was a shovel. When that didn't help, we checked another neighbor. No answer there, either. I suspect they were home and laughing their asses off, waiting to see what we'd do next. We finally found another neighbor who had some sand in his truck. We managed to drive the car up a bit and then back it all the way down the hill.
We are so lame.
Is this cabin really going to happen? Because suddenly, I'm just not picturing it. Before, I imagined cozy nights in front of the fireplace. Now I'm envisioning being trapped in an unheated shell, trying to fashion some sort of snow shoes out of tree branches and signaling for help with a flare gun. We can do this, right? Please tell me we can do this.
*Have we told you about this? Vermont Maple Liqueur. This stuff is amazing. Sounds like it'd be overly sweet, but it's got a nice, smooth sweetness up front and then a serious kick at the end.