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.