Shangri La

Shangri La

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.